The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Poker


Courtesy of a Mr. A____ R____ I heard good things about Pandánte. The fact that Sirlin’s new card game makes a good cash game caught my attention, so I picked up a copy. Initial testing (with the Taoling) indicates that the gentleman’s opinion was not mistaken.

The rules aren’t difficult. This really is Texas Hold’Em mixed with Coup, and a bit of “Dragon Poker” special effects. As always, small changes have organic consequences.
There are three rounds of betting with fixed bet amounts. You either bet or fold. The first round of betting is post-flop, and you can’t fold until the turn (or river). The twist — your bet also declares your minimum hand type. You can never lower your bet, so why bet high? The reason is that after the flop (and turn), players can drawing a card and then discard it or replace one of their original hole cards.
This is never bad, since at worst you’ve seen one card. But only the player(s) who claimed the best hand get this option (called “Snacks”) for free. The rest pay $2 for each level difference between their hand and the claimed best. (A pair is level 1, a straight flush is level 10). Two pair isn’t a level, so if you have that you can safely claim a pair (level 1), but maybe you want to claim a full house (level 4) to jack up the price for everyone who just claimed a pair. After all, if other players can replace their cards, they may get a Floosh (4 card flush — Level 5) or Flush. [The deck has 6 suits, flushes are rarer that normal poker, hence higher than full house].
But if you do this you may miss your Full House, Floosh, or whatever. Once you get past the river then each hand can use their hole cards special abilities (or any special abilities, by claiming to have them as hole cards) and then bet again (to raise their hand type).
At that point, If you have the highest hand players can challenge or not. If anyone challenges and you don’t have the hand you claimed; you fold. (And any challenge for high hand, or having cards in abilities, results in a direct side payment between challenged and challenger).
Let me quote an example hand posted by the Gentleman on a mailing list (this example assumes $1 ante).
So, let’s take a typical 4-player hand:
One player buy new cards ($2), everybody antes and bets first round ($12)
$2 goes in for draw-1-discard-1 option, one person folds, rest bets ($6)
$2 goes in for draw-1-discard-1 option, all bet ($6)
Orange/Green (Hand improvement) Abilities are called, a player successfully calls bluff (no pot effect).
Red Ability is used (all other players fold or add $5), 1 player folds, other player adds $5 to pot
Black (stealing) ability is used (no pot effect).
One player adds $2 to the pot to increase his final hand declaration.  He now is claiming the highest hand.
One player calls his bluff, and is correct, the player did not have the declared hand (no pot effect).
There is only one player remaining, he takes down the pot.

As the example implies if the highest hand gets challenged and was bluffing, then the next highest hand gets a shot. But only active (un-folded) players can call a bluff, so if everything else gets challenged away the lowest hand wins automatically, without having to reveal. Clever.

Now, the side bets. There are two types — if you claim an ability, everyone can challenge. If you were bluffing you pay each challenger $5 and can’t use your power. If you had the cards, you reveal the suit(s) of your card(s), challengers pay you $5, and you take the actions. For the full hand, if you are challenged and bluffing, you pay each challenger $5 and don’t reveal your hand. If you were telling the truth, each challenger pays you $5 per player that started the hand.
So a double bluff can take down a huge amount if you can convince everyone to challenge you. (In the extreme case, for a six player game, where everyone thinks you are bluffing, that’s $150 + the pot).
Just to make it more dangerous. If you win before the showdown (or during it, when you could have been challenged) and were bluffing you can grab a special ability (“Panda Lord”) to use in the next hand(s). So is that massive hand call out of nowhere a bluff to get the pot and a the panda lord (maybe risking a few extra $5 bets), or a sucker player to try to get a bunch of big payouts?
Combine all of this and you can imagine that while Hold ’em has bluffs and setup plays, Pandánte is filthy with them. For example, I can claim a Red/Black hand for abilities, and then claim a flush (which requires me to have say, Red/Red). Or I can claim a red/red ability, get called on it pay out $5 per challenger then claim a flush requiring Red/Red. If people challenge me on it and I have it, now they’d have to pay me $10-30 each (depending on how many players started the hand), and I’d only have to pay $5 a challenger if I’m bluffing. So did I actually have Red/Red and paid that off to set up the obvious challenge?
That’s just one example, the rules make Pandánte an action game:
  • Being forced to play at least to the river means that terrible hands can hit.
  • If you don’t win, you can keep your hand (unless you successfully stole money with a special ability). Since some suits protect you, others build pots, do you keep? But your opponents may have gotten a read on you. Changing hands isn’t free (except for the winner, which it is free and mandatory)
  • Snacks provide more information, and let you shape your hand. Sometimes you split a pair to go for a straight (or rainbow straight) or floosh. These decisions can be tricky.
And then there’s the joker.
Let’s face it, in poker the joker is a terrible idea. When I heard Pandánte had one, I was skeptical. But despite being an immensely powerful card, it has drawbacks. First and foremost, you can use the joker as any suit, which means you can use all the abilities. But if you reveal it, nobody has to pay a side bet for being wrong. And that applies during a showdown AND you only get half the pot. So if you flash the joker during the ability phase, everyone knows its a free challenge.
In what other poker game would you ever consider throwing away a joker mid-hand.
Even playing Heads up with the Taoling revealed interesting decisions every hand.
  • Folding early with nothing?
  • Do you split your hole card pair for a flush draw?
  • How high should I push my declared value to force others to pay more for snacks? Should I (after abilities) raise my bet to go first?
  • Sometimes you don’t want to have the highest (declared) hand, particularly if you didn’t make. And then you definitely don’t want to flash the joker, as everyone will challenge you and get paid out for your bluff.
  • Do I keep my (losing) hand or chuck it for a fee?
  • How do I string people into calling my (made) hand?
  • If I have a tie (for a floosh, say) what exact value do I declare for my hand? (Remember, hands are challenged in order).
  • When should I push a bluff hard to win a Panda Lord?

Remember, all bets (and side bets) are fixed, so you don’t bluff by throwing lots of money at it, you think (and act) correctly. This isn’t No Limit Hold’em “all in” bludgeon. Pandante is fought with rapiers.


Written by taogaming

August 23, 2014 at 9:36 am

Posted in Poker, Reviews

Tagged with ,

Adventures in Low Limit Hold’em

My business trip had unexpected Casinos. [Unexpected in the sense that I don’t really know where to expect them, beyond Vegas, Atlantic City, and a few other cities that I’ve found one]. So I played a bit of poker. I got on the waiting list, ate dinner, watched some baseball, then played for perhaps 2.5 hours. (I was in the Casino for under four hours total).

I suspect that 75% (or more) of the players were locals, with the prototypical passive-loose play. People who see almost every flop, look for excuses to stay in the hand, and then throw it away when the last card shows they’ve got nothing.

You know what? I’m not sure playing that counts as enjoyment anymore. I get to play ‘real money’ poker so rarely (and I prefer a structured game like Hold’Em, Stud, etc, over the free-wheeling dealers choice types). The issue is that (barring a few places), the casinos are only dealing out the lowest limits, and nobody feels the monetary pinch. I don’t feel a glow from winning. It’s grinding. I simply play <50% of the hands, and that gives me a huge edge. In fact, I had an atrocious run of cards and still made money. I saw a single pair in my time (3s), and only had three hands with two high cards (AJs and KQo twice). [Not that pairs are great hands against many players].

I could have made more money, but once I was safely ahead I started playing mediocre hands (still not the crap that the table played). I missed several pots where I folded Q2o and the board hit QQx. In 50+ hands, you get excellent flops a few times, but on most of those hands you should have folder earlier).

But anyway, that win was less interesting than my No Limit loss from January, simply because the play is less interesting. Most of the players are just gambling (and the casino encouraged this with a huge bad beat jackpot, as well as a “busted aces” payout, which I’d never seen before. (If you hold AA and lose, then you get $40. We literally had that happen four times in a hour, which was high, but given how people play, I’m surprised the Casino has that deal. Aces 221:1 against (I believe), so with a full table you’ll probably see them once every 22 deals, and they’ll probably lose over half the time (given how everyone sees the flop), so they’ll probably pay out every 44, and a poker table only earns $4/hand. I guess those little jackpoints keep people coming.

The real issue is that most of my opponents just aren’t interesting. Gaming snobbery. I should stick to tournaments, but I probably won’t, so I do this so rarely.

Written by taogaming

May 25, 2007 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Poker, Session Reports

Tagged with

Wilson Poker Software

After my trip to Vegas, I decided to ‘invest’ my winnings in Wilson Software’s Turbo Texas Hold’em.

I haven’t signed up for any of the online poker sites, mainly because I can easily imagine playing online for several hours a week.

Now that I’ve played with it for a week or so, I recommend it. I’ve found a number of leaks in my game and I haven’t even begun to investigate varying strategies (through computer profiles). I particularly like the “Play 50 hands against the computer” feature, where you play 50 hands, and then a computer player plays the same 50 hands and you see who did better. [I do wish that it provided a result sheet that showed the hands that you differed against the computer]. I may spring for the upgrade where the computer will analyze your style in a conversational manner.

The computer, of course, doesn’t bother trying to read the opponents. It just has a (massive) spreadsheet of hands, positions, flops and uses them as a basis (modified by pot odds and other factors). Still, there are computer profiles that give feel like standard profiles … calling stations, weak tight, agressive, maniacs and plenty of variations.

For most gamers this software is too specialized. But if you are serious about poker it’s good to work out technical aspects of your game. You can download a demo and try a few hands yourself.

Written by taogaming

March 19, 2005 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Reviews

Tagged with

More on the Poker Craze

My recent experiences (and the comments) at the Luxor have made me wonder about the Poker craze. I do not consider myself a good poker player (I’m mediocre), but I saw stunningly bad plays at the table. To be fair, I made one or two of them myself (in my first outing at casino poker), and it’s low limit. It reminds me of a line from one of Victor Mollo’s classic bridge books … “Clearly, he does not play Bridge for a living, for he continues to survive.” I guess the same factor is at play.

Borders has a book by Chris Moneymaker (and a ghostwriter, I presume) on winning the world series of poker a few years ago. I guess that’s part of the appeal … sometimes the bad plays work, and the pros lose money to the everyday guy. [Not to imply Moneymaker isn’t talented]. Part of the appeal is that everyone can imagine winning it all, and have it be only improbable. By contrast, my odds of leading the Spurs to the NBA championship have pretty much faded. [I can do it, provided that “Leading” is defined as “rooting for”]

I expected the poker rooms to be packed, and had been asking myself “How high a level should I play if I can’t get into one of the crowded low limit tables?” I settled on 6-12 or maybe 10-20. But there was nothing above 4-8, and no waiting. I’m coming to the realization that the poker craze has a lot to do with filling dead airtime on cable channels (as well as a real component). I do think that a lot more people are preferring to play tournaments (where the downside is fixed ahead of time).

I didn’t play in the tournaments at the Luxor (that Chris mentioned) mainly because I had heard that they blind structures were raised too quickly, and I thought that the live game gave me better chances…

Ah well, hopefully I’ll get in some real games soon. Although there’s a poker night later this week.

Written by taogaming

March 7, 2005 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

Popularity, Puerto Rico & Poker

I’m thinking about Chris Farrel’s session report on Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico taunts you with strategic elements, but it’s really just a brutal short-term optimization game with a minimal strategic component.

In the comments, Chris expands:

“Strategic” and “Tacitcal” are of course notoriously tractable terms. I could probably redefine “strategic” on a case-by-case basic in a way such that no game would ever be considered strategic.

But one concept I might use is “can I take a short-term loss for a long-term gain?” To me, the answer in Puerto Rico is always no.

Although I bloviate about Puerto Rico strategy, I agree. While you have to be able to look ahead (a bit), winning means evaluating, prioritizing and optimizing. Puerto Rico leaves plenty of room for skill, to be sure. But forward planning? Pshaw. Given the decision set, the skill is interesting enough, but I’ve stopped looking for games of Puerto Rico face to face. A single strong player usually wins, but if you get two (or more) strong players the game turns on the choices made by the others. Either way, my interest suffers. I’m left with online play for the most part (the game takes half the time, and players have 50+ games under their belt. At that level, I’m not sure who is making the weak plays, me or my opponents?

Then I thought about the Puerto Rico tournament at the Gathering last year. I lost in the first round by (I believe) 2VP. I have a recollection of several plays that struck me as strange. Not particular details, but I remember the basics. And, once I got to thinking about it, I could remember some friends describing their games.

I was struck by the similarity to poker. First, I can remember some poker hands I played years ago. But there’s another connection. Both games flatter the players. Ask a poker player how he did, and you get two answer: “I won $X” or “I’ve had terrible luck.” I don’t play much poker; but how often have you heard the following story? “Yeah, so I completely misplayed the hand. I had QJs and I put my opponent on a small pair, or maybe Ace small suited. Anyway, my opponent read me like a book, but I sucked out with runner-runner full house, so I turned a small profit.”

I’ve heard plenty of bad-beat stories, but nowhere near as many good beat stories (despite the fact that each story requires both sides). Why? They aren’t flattering. I’ve walked away from a poker table a winner, and a loser. When I lost, I can shoulder the blame onto luck or a few bad beats. Obviously, the variance in poker does explain the losses, but it explains many of the wins. But I never think of that while I’m at the table, winning.

I witnessed the same phenomenon in Puerto Rico. I just didn’t notice it.

I realized this about Settlers of Catan after owning it a few months. It’s easier to spot how the game “gives you an out” when chance is involved, I guess.

The “Flattery effect” must contribute to the massive popularity of these games. In each case, you can be handed a win or a loss. If you lost, you still may have played well but the (other players/cards/dice) just (played oddly/hated you/took a funny bounce). Strategy matters, of course. You need to be able to congratulate yourself on winning. A world-class PR player at a four player table should expect a much higher percentage of “winning sessions” than a world-class poker player. (I’m not sure how the champion Settler’s player would fare. Do the opponent’s recognize him?)

On the spectrum of skill versus chance[1], I think that all three games hit a sweet spot that just appeals to human nature. You can crow when winning and complain about outrageous fortune when losing. Given human nature, I suspect it’s a large spot.

[1] I don’t normally include player choices as chance, but as the number of players increases and the number of reasonable decisions grow, they both fall into a similar category of “things you can’t control and can’t predict exactly, even if you know trends”.

Update: Fixed the quote, had the last one of Chris’s comments as my own.

Written by taogaming

February 8, 2005 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with , ,