How Poker is like the NFL Playoffs

Reports & Blogs by biffo99 Posted

I was in town to visit my sister, who wanted to learn how to play poker. I had always noticed that the better poker rooms had “lessons” in the morning, so we tried one of these at Binions. I’ll toss in a couple of my sister’s “newbie” observations for what they’re worth.

A non-related tangent: Some table talk ultimately involves ideal poker background music. Guys with headphones seem to have their screamer favorites (which they do a whisper scream along with, startling nearby players), but I always liked more of a country/blues instrumental. This for example would be great, but will never be heard in any casino I know of:

On this trip, I missed the cut in all 3 entries and am now down to 6 for 15. My sister says, "how can you lose with all the statistics running in your head?" Well, kiddo, there's about 10,000 people who have statistics or insights or just lifelong experiences playing this game. It’s disappointing losing. One of my poker buddies remarks that the big brain humans try to find causality to explain even events we know are random. Maybe it is just random luck sometimes, even in a skill game.

Related tangent: On this trip, I had an incredible run at the craps table, rolling for perhaps twenty minutes, scoring 7-8 consecutive points along the way. And in my mind, I’m thinking, “Gee, every time I roll, I hold the 1-3 position on the dice and release toward the exact same spot. Maybe I’ve got dice control of some kind and this setting just makes 7s just a whole lot less likely.” When I did bust out a seven, I noticed there was a strange carom off the wall that took the dice into a row of chips, a completely different direction than the previous tosses. “I was off on my toss”, I thought, “that’s why I ended up with the 7”. Later, my sister was on a roll for maybe 9-10 minutes. The stickman then says to her, “Hey, could you please not tap the dice on the felt like that? Kinda wears out the felt.” Sure enough, the one time she doesn’t tap and the 7 comes out. Deterministic? Just blind luck?

So, when playing poker, I use essentially the same playing style, whether on line, in person, with buddies, or in Vegas with strangers. I win more than I lose and figure I must know what I’m doing. But on this trip at several points, I appeared reckless and foolish in the repeated replays rolling through that little ol’ left brain that is chattering all the time.

Moment one:
I’m doing pretty well in the 2:00 Saturday tournament. It was a full set of tables and Treasure Island limits the number of tables to 3 or 30 players. I don’t know if they always do this or just do this because they’re dealer limited. Anyhow, several players are on “standby”. They will play only if someone gets busted out in the first hour. Now I can’t figure out why a player would want to enter in the lower third of the pack, with several chip leaders at twice or three times the stack of theirs. More on this later.

Anyhow, a lady, maybe a Virginia Madsen with glasses ( has recently entered after having been in standby. I am involved in a hand as the big blind with a King-7 suited. In my mind, I think I can intimidate the newcomer with a bigger stack and her having not seen me before. So, we’re heads up in a pot of little interest. A flop of Ace-Ace-six comes out. I bet the pot amount. Virginia calls. The next card is a deuce. Check-check. She’s not willing to lead with a bet, even after my check. I figure, she might have the six and I’m one good bet away from bluffing her out. The last card is another 6 – 2 pair on the board. I reach for a “tweak” bet, thinking that the Ace would play an “extraction” amount rather than all-in, just hoping the opponent overreacts. So I go 20 % of the pot. She calls. The dealer, always a professional at Treasure Island, says, “OK, you bet [pointing to me] and she called, so you have to show.” I say, “well, I’ve got nothing” and show the King-7. She flips the Ace for a full house. The WHOLE WORLD sees a complete bluff on my part – I lose credibility, every future bet is met with skepticism and I can’t get a hit on the flop to save my soul. Game, set and match with this one moment.

An aside: someone is thinking to themselves right now, “hey, how can you even think that no one else has an Ace? Pre-flop, almost anyone with an Ace will at least limp in?” Well, in most circumstances, I would agree, but when 2 cards on the flop are Aces, that means there’s only 2 left. Of the 16 cards dealt to the 9 players out (32% of the deck) and with a deck of only 2 remaining Aces, there’s about 2/3 of a chance each Aces is still in the deck. That’s a net of around half a chance that nobody has an ace [1 minus (2/3 times 2/3)].

Now, here’s a lady with a full house Aces over. How can she have not raised by bet on the flop, I ask you. How could she not have made a bet on the turn, I ask you. Finally, how could she not have re-raised to all-in on the river?

I’m going to generalize here and say that 90 % of female players are pragmatic to a fault in poker. By the way, poker is one of the few places left where you can generalize and play off of that knowledge. Not all but a significant majority of women are this way, and I should just book the phenomena as being true. You just can’t bluff a female player. You can nickel and dime them to whittle their stake with their often folding very playable hands. But if they ever hit, they just resort to becoming a calling station and don’t reraise. As bluffing is a big part of my game (remember the 6 out of 15 placing result, so maybe I’m not an idiot/maniac), I need to work in the fact that only male players can be bluffed. I would argue that the worst thing that can happen with a bluffing style is to get exposed – I actually count on the fact that a stronger hand will raise my bluff bet and I can fold gracefully, leaving all to think that the 2-pair just folded to a 3 of a kind or whatever they want to believe.

Moment two:
During the Sunday 2:00 game, an early round hand ended with my opponent going all-in over the top raise on me pre-flop. I had Ace-King and the raise was another 30 % of the pot. I thought my chance of winning to be better than 30 % so I called with the Ace-King. It ended with my opponent, a Forrest Gump kind of guy (on the right: with the aw-shucks accent, but killer game (as it turns out) had a pair of 10s. It was cards over, his slight advantage, but I hit a King on the river and knock him out.

But no, he’s back in the chair about 2 minutes later. He had re-entered with a re-buy for $50. I kept winning and eventually became the chip leader at this table after the first hour at the table. But before the first hour was up, not just Forrest, but 3 other players all re-buy. Question for any readers – is it any even money bet to get back into a tournament with a rebuy, even though some players will have 2-3 times your chip count? I thought not. But the 2nd guesser living inside of me allows for the opposite. Does your answer change if the chip count leader is a loose player? Does your answer change if the chip leader is an idiot who has lucked out until now and will basically serve as the table’s ATM for the remainder of the game?

I think they thought the latter of me, based on my calling down with Ace-King offsuit. Or maybe someone had seen me pull the King-7 naked bluff the day before. Anyhow, people couldn’t wait to get back in the game.

Moment three:
So it’s past the break and now the blinds are at 500/1,000. Forrest comes at me again with a 4,000 bet. I’m sitting with Ace-King and call. The flop comes out Jack-Jack-6 and I bluff with a 6,000 bet. Forrest only has 6,000 left and calls. Once again it’s 10-10 against my Ace-King. No help on the turn or the river and Forrest has doubled up and I’ve returned to average chip stack.

This part is actually interesting to me. I often found that after I luck out against a given player, they will be actually more reluctant to go heads-up. Essentially, I think they say to themselves, ‘this guy is just lucky against me and I don’t want to see him again.’ But kudos to Forrest for having the guts to call a 75% pot bet with his (2nd) tournament stake on the line. Or maybe he just labeled me the village idiot and knew I was a loose cannon. But I’ve placed in 6-out-of-15 tournaments. In fact, this is now my new mantra: 6-of-15, 6-of-15… Anytime there’s a moment of 2nd guessing, I’m just saying 6-of-15 will tell you not.

Moment four:
Blinds are still 500/1,000. Now the Under-the-Gun Blake Shelton guy ( goes to 3,000. I know that betting big from early position is a sign of a high pair and I’m at Ace-10 offsuit on the big blind. All have folded. I should fold, right? Blake has been as conservative as Bill O’Reilly and I know he’s not lying.

But I think to myself that he may have a low pair and as there’s only 7 at the table, he’s hoping to have scared a few. I’m betting 2,000 to get 6,000 and have a better than 1/3 chance of winning (I think). Anyhow, the flop is all-hearts Queen-7-4 and I have the 10 of hearts. I check and ol’ Blake bets 3,500. Similar situation. I put him on Queens or maybe 3 of a kind. But I’ve got a flush draw and my bet only needs to be 25 % of the pot. Do I have a 25 % chance of getting the flush? Well, yeah – so I bet. The next card is a Jack of hearts, he bets 1,000 (a mere 6-7 % of the pot and yes, I think I’ve got a 6-7 % chance of winning) to put me all in. I call, as I’ve now scored the flush. And whoah, he’s got the King of Hearts (along with an Ace of Spades) for the higher flush. I’ve only got the 10 of hearts. How stupid I was, I think to myself. Blake was obviously holding a whopper to have made the Under-The-Gun bet. How could I not think that he had an Ace or a King of hearts? A clown – a stooge – any of a million names to describe how one can go from chip leader to busted in 20 minutes.
So I kicked myself in the a*s and moved on.

But just now, thanks to the wonders of this poker odds website (, I see that the odds of my winning with the 10 of hearts and this flop, against a player who will only play Slansky groups 1 and 2 is 66 %. I was a 2/3 favorite. I’m not the Fool On the Hill after all, generously sprinkling the other sharks my excess chips. It’s back to simply being a bad beat – and my mind is slowly learning to forgive the playing style (6-of-15, 6-of-15).

Random observations:

I’m thinking of how many plays (5-6)went right in the first hour and then just 2 got badly in the remaining 20 minutes and wondering what I did wrong. And it occurs to me: poker is just like the NFL Playoffs. You play a whole season (the first hour at the poker table) to basically just make the playoffs (survive) and if you’re really a good team to have the home court advantage (a chip lead). But just as fast in the playoffs all you need to do is lose a home game (lose one bet with blinds 20 times higher than the beginning of the game) and you can be out. It didn’t matter how good your regular season is or was. Just like in the NFL, one bad game and you're out.

My sister asked why the stakes get raised at all. If people enjoy playing, why not raise the stakes much more gradually? Well, I indicate that 3-4 hours is enough for most people and so they do this to speed up the game. But her comment was that ‘maybe they raise the stakes to knock off the bad players’. Well, oddly enough, when the stakes go up, the skill level I think actually diminishes as players just start going all-in at their chosen moment.

So how can you make any money at this game, with the house taking 25 % of your money in these tournaments (more like 30-35 % if you tip like you should). I have rationalized that maybe 50 % of the players don’t know what they’re doing and that’s how.

But as I looked around the table, I see that I’m not playing the rummies found at the craps table or the sports book. You ask the poker players what their “other job” is and they’re business owners, lawyers, accountants, mathematicians and maybe just one who’s a carpenter’s wife.

Basically, I don’t think that even 25 % of the poker players are novices especially with good players rebuying. Therefore I can’t claim that there’s any player advantage when most players now know what they’re doing.

I really enjoy playing and I don’t intend to quit by any means. But I can’t get over this ‘house take’ despite my winning streak here of 6-of-15 times placing in the money. If betting NFL football had a 15-to-get-10 (instead of the current 11-to-get-10) vigorish, I wouldn’t ever walk up to the ticked window.
The house take is ridiculous in Vegas poker, I’m concluding.

My idea:
This idea is based on my observation that I’m seeing the same set of people at the games. On the weekends this is especially true. So why not reward the regular players with something lower than the 25 % house take? The dealers are great and they are definitely worth what they’re paid and more. But for a 30-player game using 6 hours of dealer time, does the house really need to take in $375? $60 an hour?
Why not have a “poker players club” offered by a particular casino? You like playing? You want to keep coming back? Buy a 5-pack. The casino offers 5 tournament entries in the next 2 months, but not for $50 each. How about for $225, cutting the commission in half? Players sign up for the discount – the house take is now 15 % which is comparable to the higher priced tournament’s house takes (the Bellagio $300 game has only a 10 % casino cut). Players like too being able to play in multiple tournaments so they have 5 chances to get in the money.

The casino gains player loyalty – they won’t be going across the street when they’re committed to the TI. The other table games will get some bump up from the committed players (between games, try a little craps or blackjack). The casino has another path to makes profit if the players don’t show. This is just like real life gift certificates given out at Christmastime which only get redeemed at an astonishing 90 % rate ($5 billion in gift cards out of $50 billion goes unused: The TI gets money in hand immediately – there is also a easier way to predict player attendance at games. By the casino knowing how many cards are not yet cashed out, they can predict how many players will show up in the next few days. No one has to wait standby either, a potential loss of cash when a given player moves on rather than waiting standby.

Other casino experiences:

For the poker lesson, Rick at Binion’s was just fantastic. He could describe the game in a friendly way and had plenty of examples to set my sister straight on her play. It was a shame we couldn’t just sit down and play at Binion’s but the entry fee is $100. Can Binion’s offer a $50 game? I bet they would get many more players. I wonder how much longer Binions will remain. They already have shut down the coffee shop and don’t rent out rooms. Even the gift shop was shut down on this trip.

I went to the Ellis Island casino. Why would I do that? After I dropped my sister off at the airport on Sunday, I told myself to go to the first casino I could find that had a sports book, to watch as much of the games as I could. What a whacked out crowd! Every team is hated, every referee is hated. Comments abound like “Hey, just my luck – the one time I bet against the Lions and the f**-in referees are on the Lions’ side. “ Or – “Any f**-ing freshman football f***-up knows how to make an onside kick.” Or “f***-ing pansy a*s Cowboys, why run the ball into the ground, you c**-s**ing f***ers.” But get this – this was from the sports book employees! Yeah, they guys came around the crowd and watched the games like the rest of us. I’m not really into the swearing or the hating. In fact, I like sports and don’t think every referee and coach is getting side payments and that every game is fixed. It was an eye opener at the Ellis Island - the poker crowd is a breath of fresh air compared to almost any other group you can bump into.

The Cosmopolitan just opened and is worth seeing. They’re like the old newspaper joke – all black and white and red (read) all over. I’ve not seen a casino with so much glass and padded walls. I don’t think I can afford the lowliest slot machine, but it is an architectural wonder (besides the “wonder why they built this in today’s economy?). Make sure you do a pass through at the Cosmo, just south of the Bellagio.

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  1. Nice report, glad you enjoyed your time here at TI. We don't usually limit the entries for tournaments, the more the better! Perhaps we didn't have enough alternates to open another table for that tournament, or possibly like you mentioned, we may have been short on dealers. See you next time!

  2. Very nice trip report. An easy yet interesting read. Nice angle on addressing tangential topics not usually covered. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for the report. Glad you had fun.

    However, I disgree with what you write about female players, even as a generalization. The majority of good female players I play with are not like that, and neither am I :wink: Maybe you are just used to women who are just learning.

    Funny, my first trip to Vegas for poker -- about four years ago when I knew 1/100 of what I know now -- I chopped a TI tourney with my husband, won the very next one (back to back same day), then bubbled the next day. I also bubbled the third day at a Harrah's tourney. I'm now a TI fan, too:) However, I've switched to cash, so not sure if I'll play the TI tourneys in March. Probably will, though, just to see if I can continue my streak.