Beating Gnome Chess?

Since my previous post about my chess ability or lack thereof, I have not until now felt the need to post anything on chess. I had decided that I did not have the time or inclination to achieve anything higher than beginning chess.

Since that time I have been playing for fun and only chess against whatever program is on whatever electronics I have near. Nothing serious, just casual play. I started to take Hold’em much more serious as Hold’em is where the money is. I feel that I am short of time to devote to playing chess well. Well enough to actually earn any money from chess. To be truthful, Hold’em is a lot easier – for me at least.

In hopes of becoming better at Hold’em, I have a few five minute games I play daily to help my visual awareness become stronger. Or at least that is the plan. They are both tile games. One game is Mahjong and the second is a game is named Shisen-Sho, both played with tiles. Mahjong has always been the easier of the two games for me. I have had to work at Shisen-Sho.

In the last year or so, I have cut my puzzle solve time almost forty percent. I attribute this to improved visual awareness. I find matches more quickly. The hope is, improved visual awareness will transfer to Hold’em as I will have better focus at the table.

If you have watched videos of the master chess games, perhaps you appreciate the beauty of their moves. Watching those high level games is like watching a complex choreographed dance. Moves and counter moves flowing over the board. Opponents lose their King to such pretty combinations of play.

I appreciate the same beauty when I play chess engines though they are not as pretty. Every move I make has a more powerful counter move both thwarting my move and creating a stronger position for the chess engine. It makes getting thrashed by an over powerful chess engine less painful and more fun. I provide the dancing clomp-about that spurs the engines power.

I choose for the most part to limit my chess to casual levels where the machine moves are fairly mindless. When I lose, the next game is only a click away. Until last week that is when I became bored with mindless chess moves and wanted to play a stronger opponent. I downloaded a number of boards and chess engines to play against (I use Linux).

Most beat me easily, I almost feel like a spectator in the match. Last night one game was different. I played against the chess engine Fairy-max. I could not find a definite Elo rating, but the few posts I found seem certain Fairy-max is rated around 1800 – 1900.

I beat Fairy-max! It was not pretty. There were no ballet moves and pretty combinations. There was me playing as a barbarian, hacking and slashing whenever there was opportunity, all the while waiting for the ax to fall and the game to be over.

I managed a checkmate before I made a bumbling move or two and lost the game through poor play and decision making. I was really proud of myself. My game was not pretty, and I am sure to someone who really plays chess, my mate is quite ugly. But a win is a win and I will take it.

Then came the sad news. I played Fairy-max through Gnome Chess, which previously has been unbeatable for most people. After my win, I knew something was not right as the game was sloppy on the computers part.

Ugly Checkmate

One ugly checkmate, but I’ll take it

After looking around, I found Gnome Chess now has preferences. There are now three levels of play strength. Gnome Chess defaults to the lowest level. So much for my vastly improved ability….

I am not able to determine what level play the levels really are. I am able to beat Fairy-max in the normal setting, which is the middle level. I have not tried the top difficulty level yet.

I doubt you will ever read a post by me on Chess.com extolling the beauty and strength of a game I played, or seeing a checkmate twelve moves out. I enjoy leaving these things to others. I am grateful for what I have achieved in the moment and that is enough for right now.

I almost forgot to mention, my Hold’em game has improved too!

Holdem Collusion and You

I read hand posts on a poker forum occasionally to gain insight on how Holdem thinking is changing. Poker is dynamic, and how we play poker, changes with time. What was a breaking edge thought or play a year ago, is likely old hat today.

There was an interesting post I read from a player who was confused about a hand. The stakes were low limit no limit Holdem. Two players were in the hand to see the flop. The poster and a second player (Villain). From the poster’s opinion they were the two best players at the table and had been taking the other players chips.

Pre flop, Poster bets, and all fold except for Villain who calls. So far so good, all is normal. On the Flop Villain is first to act and makes a smallish bet. Poster raises over the size of the pot. Villain is surprised and makes a comment about why Poster is making the large raise. This comment confused Poster.

What was important in this thread was the wording of Villains comment. It reads as if Villain has decided without any verbal agreement between these two players, that implicit collusion was the order of the day between himself and Poster.

When Poster raises the flop bet, Villain realizes his implicit collusion partner doesn’t exist. Now a question is created in Posters mind, “Is this behavior common at the poker tables in live games?”

Collusion though rare does happen.

Collusion though rare does happen.

In my experience, sometimes yes, sometimes no. I have watched (and played this way myself), light betting action when the hand becomes heads up. In most of these hands, both players realize they have no real advantage in the hand.

Each player was hoping to take down the pot uncontested or against a weak player. Now neither player is willing to risk as many chips as if there were weaker players in the hand. This type of action is not in my opinion a fair example of implicit collusion.

What I do see which I identify as implicit or explicit collusion is three or four players always in the pot together playing against a single (perceived weaker) player. A weaker player enters the pot, and by the time it is back to the player, the pot has been raised. The odds are acceptable and the weaker player calls the raise, followed by the other players in the hand. Other weak players may have called too.

The flop is dealt. Play is checked to the weak player. If they check or make small bet, the bet comes back with a healthy raise. Remaining colluding players who are yet to act after the raiser fold.

Generally the raise is enough to drive weaker players out of the hand. The pot is awarded to the raiser. What makes this form of collusion so effective is it looks perfectly normal when viewed as a single hand.

There was a bet or raise, callers, the flop is dealt, there is a bet and raise or a large bet made, everyone folds to the flop bettor. What occurred to arouse suspicion? These same actions happen several times an hour in any Holdem game.

For Neophyte players or weaker players, it looks like the same few people are catching cards while he/she is not. More seasoned players know that as money flows around the table so do the cards. No one catches good cards for extended periods. Better players take action.

To be fair I have never seen this in Las Vegas, and I would not expect to see it in Atlantic City or any where there is major competition for poker players. I have seen types of Collusion in smaller card rooms where there is not a lot of card room competition for players and a generally small player base.

Generally, players participating in this behavior are full time players logging fifty or more hours a week in the card room. In their defense, I think this behavior develops over time, and in many cases there has never been a formal or verbal agreement among these players to collude. It happens over weeks and months of playing together.

There are ways to use players colluding as a weapon against players who are colluding. Generally as soon as they figure out you are on to them, the game changes quickly. You will see tight play, and one or two walking players. The game will change to generally nitty play, and your action dries up.

Unfortunately, if you think collusion is happening at your table, your options are limited. Change tables, the time of day you play, or card rooms. Even if there is no collusion taking place, if the play you see makes you uncomfortable, you are being outplayed. The end result is the same.

Collusion is very hard to prove especially when it is sixty plus hour a week regular players verses a casual player. Management can be a little short sighted and slow to act. These players are their bread and butter. Card Rooms tend to take no action on a single accusation or incident. Eventually Card Rooms do act, but not until it starts to hurt the bottom line.

Collusion in any form is rare in a poker room. If it looks like collusion, it may really be a group of players who sit at the same table every day and know each others playing style as well as their own.

If you are a new Holdem player or new to the card room, you will be put to the test. This is common and should be expected. Have fun and make good decisions, and the rest usually takes care of itself.

Cowboy Charlie, Low Limit Poker Pro’s, and Prostitutes

I just came back from a few days in Las Vegas. It was an exceptional time. Met with friends, took in a floor show, had some great meals and did some gambling. The National Final Rodeo is in progress and Vegas was full of Cowboys, Cowgirls and a few tourists thrown in.

In the gambling department there are two things I really enjoy. Craps and Hold’em Poker. They both are challenging, need some amount of knowledge, and are a lot of fun to play. At the poker tables is where Cowboy Charlie made his personal debut.

Craps is fast, challenging and also a lot of fun. Between the Poker Room, the Craps Tables and my room was where the Prostitute entered the story. There are also a few assorted small stakes Poker Pro’s who are out there every day trying to grind out a living.

Playing Poker is unique to a Poker Room. It’s not really a social event except for small talk and banter between players, half of whom happened to be drinking at the Las Vegas tables. Because drinks only cost a tip to the server, drinking while playing poker solves two reasons people go to Las Vegas.

Prostitutes are not found in Poker Rooms. Prostitutes are found between the Poker Room, the Craps Table, and the room you are staying in. Cowboy Charlie is a rare event generally unique to a few poker rooms, but generally quite rare.

Cowboy Charlie is pretending to be Cowboy Charlie because of the Rodeo finals going on in Las Vegas. Other times Cowboy Charlie, might be Tourist Bob, Gambler Joe, or Bubba from the Gulf. As Cowboy Charlie he played a tired out, overly drunk, and generally burnt out guy who was killing time at the poker table. Cowboy Charlie was all those things, but most of all he was a good poker actor, and a better poker player.

The local low limit pro’s are fun to play, because they are always serious, sober, and overly consumed with the state of their chips in front of them at the table. Some of these local card sharps are very players, and others are really struggling. I was lucky in most games this feel, as mostly struggling Pro’s were the only Pro’s present. They are fun to play, because they weigh their options carefully before acting.

What makes local low limit Pro’s fun is they weigh their actions towards protection of their chips. They go into pause mode, make some spread sheet comparing their hand to the hand the opponent may be holding and error on the side of caution. It is fun to watch them act out their scene before they fold and tell the table what [they think] your holdings are. Of course they have only lost a small percentage of their chips in the process.

When it comes to Prostitutes, I am fairly open minded. With few exceptions, I think in Las Vegas the women who circle the casino’s gaming areas, looking for men rich enough and willing enough to pay them for sex of some sort, can not make a living any other way. While I wish they would find other work, I treat them with the same respect I treat all people with.

I also wear a wedding ring, and do not look like some famous actor, or for that matter, look as if I have much much money as I walk between room, craps table, and poker room. Not deterred, I hear such pleasing conversation as, “Hey, want to take me to bed?”, “Can I go to your room?”, “Want to have some fun with me?”, and so on. None of the lines are better than worn out pick up lines, women must hear in the clubs on a Friday night.

I am polite, and mumble out something. When they press on, I explain I am happily married, old enough to be their Father with a few years extra, and finish with the idea they are pretty young women.

When some of the Prostitutes press further it restarts to bother me. I gave a 15 second presentation on my morals, ethics, and state of life, and they go right over the top of it. I mean come on, trying to make a living is one thing, but playing with someone’s ethics, morals, and life state is a little too much.

I try to be polite, and respectful instead of being mean and derogatory, but too often it falls on deaf ears. Respect is a two way street, pressing someone to break their moral, ethical, or religious code is a serious life infraction.

So back to Cowboy Charlie the very sober, actor playing a drunk, tired cowboy. At the poker table, lying and acting is expected by most of the players. When it comes to the low limit ‘Poker Pro’s’ they put themselves out to be lied to and and cheated within the boundaries of good poker play.

This is part of the game of poker. When you run into Cowboy Charlie at the poker table, give him a lot of respect, he will take your chips because you aren’t paying attention. When it comes to the real life, each of us should respect the wishes of another, Prostitutes included. Respect for each other helps make the world a better place for all of us.