Friday, June 27, 2008

Grand Stacks are good, not grand

The Grand Casino in Tunica MS has been owned by Harrah's for some time now. It's the largest casino in the U.S. in between Atlantic City and Las Vegas. I don't know how they measure largest, perhaps number of players or maybe number of hotel rooms. It's gigantic. On May 23, they changed the name from the Grand to Harrah's and made some changes in the poker room. They moved it and it has slightly more space now; it looks really new and nice. One quibble, no shuffling machines. What's up with that? They don't cost that much (I assume this because most other casino poker rooms have them) and they speed the game up.

[EDIT: I went back to the Harrah's Poker Room on Saturday and took some photos. It was hard to get a decent shot. I suppressed my flash, so the lighting wasn't as good as is necessary. The room is spread out and photo above shows only some of the tables.]

A friend told me about a new tournament held there on Friday evenings at 6 p.m. (to draw players in for the weekend) that is deep stacked. You start with T10,000 chips !! The name they give this is "Grand Stacks."

I played there tonight (more on that later). Even though you begin with T10,000 in chips and 20 minute levels, the blinds and antes moved up at a lightning clip, and you can't sit back and play too conservatively.

Arnold Snyder, in his superb book, The Poker Tournament Formula, presents an excellent way to evaluate how fast a tournament plays. When choosing between tournaments to enter, you can find one with a slower structure (which is advantageous to the better player). Further, the book gives you an idea how tight to play. Obviously, if the blinds move up quickly, you can't sit and wait for the nuts.

I won't go into painful detail about Snyder's method, but I used it to calculate what he calls the "patience factor." For the Grand Stacks, it turned out to be 6.9 and that means it is "medium fast," to use Snyder's terms. If you sit there and never play a hand, you would be blinded off after 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Then, for a comparison, I did the same calculation for the Goldstrike's standard tournament in which you start with T4000 and 20 minutes levels. For the Goldstrike, you could again play for around 2 hours and 30 minutes and so had the same patience factor!! The difference is that the blinds and antes go up much more slowly.

Snyder assumes you would play about 10 hands during each 20 minute level, which is pretty close. Here are the blinds and the cumulative chips you would have to put in just to meet the blinds and antes as they advance:

Harrah's Blinds--------Cumulative chips
Level 1 25/50------------75
Level 2 50/100----------225
Level 3 100/200---------525
Level 4 200/400/25-----1350
Level 5 400/800/50-----3050
Level 6 500/1000/100---5550
Level 7 600/1200/100---8350

G'strike Blinds-------Cumulative chips
Level 1 25/25----------50
Level 2 25/50---------125
Level 3 50/100--------275
Level 4 100/200-------575
Level 5 150/300/25---1275
Level 6 200/400/50---2375
Level 7 300/600/75---4025

In both tournaments, you would be out or almost out of chips after 2 hours and 20 minutes. The deep stack concept that they use to promote the tournament is somewhat smoke and mirrors in that you get about the same amount of play at the Strike; Grand Stacks just sounds, um, well, more grand.

I saw two Tunica regulars (players who live around here and play a lot) make fancy plays that just didn't work.

Regular Player A had been playing loose and only had around T5500 of his chips left. With the blinds at 400/800/50, two players limped in and he went all in from the big blind. There were chips sitting out there and he was getting low. The first limper called him, however, (the second one folded) and turned over A Q. Player A (a regular) turned over 4 5 --- OOOPS! That sound we all heard was his hand in the cookie jar -- he was eliminated.

Next case: Three players limped in and saw a flop which was A 7 3 (or something similar, but all clubs). It went check check to Regular Player B who moved all in. The first limper thought and finally called him and the other limper folded. The limper who called turned over A and a rag that I don't remember -- no clubs! Player B turned over 4 5 with neither of them being clubs. Two more cards were dealt and he was on the rail.

Folks, you can't bluff these people. They don't know what you have (or are representing). They only know what they have and will call, even with bottom pair sometimes. I'm just sayin'.

There were 66 players. The entry fee was $100 of which $80 went into the prize pool, the other $20 going to the house. I swear some of these donkeys players have never been in a casino before. An old man came to my starting table. The dealer looked at his receipt and told him he was in seat two. The old man asked "Which one is that?" During an early hand (the blinds were T25/50), the flop was KJ7 rainbow. The old man bet T100 and got a caller. The turn was an insignificant rag and he bet another T100. This was promptly raised to T500 which he called. The river was a queen (no flush cards out there). The old man checked, the other guy bet another T500 and the old man called and turned over J 9 (!) losing to K Q. About 30 minutes later they moved the old man to a different table and I was sick -- I hadn't received my share yet. You can afford to give the house 20% of your buyin when there is so much dead money.

My stack hovered around T9,000 to T11,000 for most of the night; I never really got going. I had J J and raised 3X the big blind and everyone folded. I had A Q and again made the standard raise and everyone folded. This allowed me to tread water, but I was never able to chip up.

When we got to Level 7, there were two tables left and I was moved. When I was in the big blind, a lady limped in and the small blind completed. The blinds were 600/1200/100 so there was T3400 out there if my math is correct. I peeked at my hole cards to see A K (I might have the suits wrong) and had a dilemma. If I make a raise, it has to be more than 3X the big blind because (1) there are antes out there and (2) two players have already entered the pot. That big a raise pot commits me as I had T14,075 and would be nearly one-third of my stack. I went ahead and shoved.

Now the limper starts counting her chips. Okay, great. She couldn't enter the betting for a raise, but now she's thinking about calling an all-in. That's pretty much absurd, of course. I was hoping she had AQ or AJ and didn't want to give it up. Here's my chance to double up and take the pressure off me for a while.

She did make the call and turned over 10 10. Well, crap, but at least it's a race. The board bricked out, however, and her 10s held up. Nice hand, good game, good luck all, the usual ritualistic comments.

Even though the structure isn't as good as it at first sounds like, overall I liked the tournament and the new poker room. The structure isn't super dooper, but it's not bad, and I think I'll try it again next week -- but with a different conclusion!

The walls of the poker room at Harrah's have photos of big-name poker stars. Do you recognize the man in the one on the left. If you're not sure, note the white stetson hat he's wearing. Can you find the photo of Jesus?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the comment, Mojo. No, I wasn't able to make it over last night, as my step-daughters decided to come for the weekend.

    The structure comparison was interesting. I had a feeling it would be a fast one. Still, I think it would be worth playing. I'm not sure about my schedule next week yet, but I'll try to make it. I'll let you know.