Posts Tagged ‘Poker Wisdom’

Running Up to Vegas

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

I’ll be heading up to Las Vegas for a few days next week, to do book-launch events associated with Decide to Play Great Poker (now number one in poker books on Amazon and I’ll be damned). A Barnes & Noble in-store, some local TV, then a biggish event at the Rio where, I can confidently predict, the line of people wanting Annie Duke’s signature will be — oh, let’s call it somewhat — longer than mine. This doesn’t bother me. Really. As I’ve pointed out in the past, she has 31,000 Twitter followers, whereas I have 200. Who wouldn’t be happy drafting along in that slip-stream?

Let’s not forget that Annie and I go way back. She hired me in 1996 to write for the short-lived and long-lamented magazine Poker World, and gave me the opportunity to write my first published poker fiction. Later, she hired me on at UltimateBet as content provider and blogger without portfolio. Was it only five years ago that I spent the whole six weeks of the World Series of Poker blogging for UB and doing final-table commentary for Bluff Radio? Seems like a lifetime. So much has changed since then. Yet here I still am, still writing about poker, still making some kind of splash. I’ll be interested to see me in Vegas. I haven’t been there for quite some time.

Now, in the name of nostalgia, here are a few photos from my many blogging road trips to Vegas and a reprint of the first story I ever wrote for Poker World. More later, -jv

This was an ice sculpture at a press party. No ice sculptures anymore. No press parties. No UB.

The big hue and cry was over players wearing logos that promoted online gambling. Since there was a distinction between the money side (.com) and the free-play side (.net) it was determined that players could wear their brands, but only with the .net suffix pasted over the .com. You can see how I treated this outcome.

Offered without comment.

I collected all the chocolates they left in my hotel room and glued them into a super-tower. Why? Oh, hell, do I ever know why?

by John Vorhaus

If money is joy,

is not more money more joy?

Back in the slick middle of the ‘90s, everyone with a flash  computer and a fast modem and an itch to get rich on the internet kicked around sexy techno phrases — “content provider” “ethernet link” — like so many badminton birds. Plastic, magic words, they resonated of treasure in the same way that Cibola, legendary Seven Cities of Gold, once ached in the hearts of  Spanish explorers. Investment bankers hemorrhaged at the checkbook in their urgency to fund any start-up shop that mentioned web presence in its marketing plan. The wild west and the Roaring Twenties and a great good gold rush all rolled into one.

Any good gold rush, it’s the shopkeepers not the prospectors who grab the cash. So it was for John Balthazar Calvin, who got in early with a phat database, cashed out to a greedy media megalith, made a shipload of dough. He was flush; he should have been happy.

But Calvin was a buzz-chaser, never happy with anything except the next thing, the new challenge, the great beguiling unknown. Ignis fatuus, they call it, will o’ the wisp. It sucked him in like Cibola sucked in Spaniards for four generations in the 16th century, until the New World was all subdued and its native Americans reduced to myth and physical shadows.

John Calvin fell into poker, pure pursuit of the buzz. Soon became a ghost, haunting the card clubs of Southern California, seeking the weak game, the soft target he could shred with his superfine mind.

Calvin played great poker, innately great. He could read opponents, parse pot odds, catalog tells, all with an unstudied ease that seemed to flow from his pores. And so won big, though the more he won the less the money moved him. He wanted a game with something full and real and scary at stake.

One night he’s ripping up a stud game in the top section of the Palms Palace when a gnomelike little man whispers in his ear, “Heard you like action.” Slips a folded piece of paper into John’s pocket. Nothing but a date and a time and a place; a map just the same, delusive ticket to the Seven Cities of Gold.

As conquistadors would, armed with their muskets and their Jesuit justification, John Calvin followed the map to a home high in the Hollymont Hills. Found there a game that was no limit in the truest sense: What you see is what you bet, and nothing less than everything is always on the line.

This all explained by his host, monocled Aldo Janiger. “We don’t bother much with money in this game,” said Janiger. “Meaningless exchange of trinkets from where we sit. We play for true value.”

“Fine,” said John Calvin, the buzz boiling his blood. “Name your stakes.”

Stakes named: car, home, business; all assets, convertible like a sofa or not. Furniture, phones, cans in the pantry. Underwear. Socks. Everything you got. Lose here and it’s square one, pal; your life begins again, with damn-all to bootstrap your ass.

All Calvin said: “Deal me in.”

Astonishing pots. Pink slips, trust deeds, mortgages, zero coupon bonds, business franchises; nothing less than everything. Fortunes gained and lost with the recklessness of dimes and nickels pitched across schoolyard cement. At one point, Calvin found himself the owner of a Telluride slopeside condo, but as he didn’t ski, he put it in the next pot; easy come, irrelevant go.

Life is defining moments. John Calvin’s came just at midnight when his seven stud dream/nightmare/dream hand began with ace-ten underneath and an ace with its face to the sky. He pushed the keys to his Land Rover into the pot.

Janiger said, “See your wheels, raise you my MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.”

“Call.” Cold. A cold call.

Janiger showed a queen, and Calvin put him on a pair, so Janiger’s next card, a four, scared him not at all.

“The contents of my safe deposit box,” bet Calvin.

“Call with mine,” said Janiger, and Calvin knew he was getting odds, because his own box held just some indifferently performing certificates of stock, plus a gun he’d ratholed there in a paranoiac pique one day.

Fifth street, a third ace. Janiger caught a suited jack. Went all in: Slid his home, cars, kids’ trust funds, a reverent Picasso and desultory diamond tie pins into the pot. Calvin called: all his own material goods, up to and including a set of  sexy Texas oil wells.

Forget the dull particulars of Janiger’s flush catch. Focus instead on the expression on Calvin’s face as confidence bled into shock and thence to grim awareness. He’d lost it all, capital A All.

Lost to win, somehow, or anyhow that’s how Calvin saw it. A man who’d made money, then more money, till he bent beneath the weight of wealth. Till he went  into the Hollymont Hills one night, siphoned it all off into a card game. A card game. And set himself free.

John Balthazar Calvin went home, changed into comfortable shoes, shrugged into a warmish coat. “You don’t own things,” he said to his house as he bade it farewell. “Things own you.” A man not owned is a free man. John Balthazar Calvin, free man, strolled out into the pre-dawn dark, elated to find the great unknown tomorrow just around the corner.

Reality is subjective: What you see depends on where you stand. From where he stood he could see a place the rest of us with our heavily husband-and-wived lives never get to see. Life, take two, and no telling what might happen next.

What might happen next? Got an idea for fast cash on the i-net? I know a man between jobs just now who’s interested in anything so long as it’s the new thing. He can turn your notion into gold. John Balthazar Calvin. He’s just around the corner, just out ahead of his hand.

If money is joy, then more money is more joy. But money’s only joyful if there’s nothing joyful in your life. Check it out.

Five Beer Reviews Without the Word “Hoppy”

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I have so much to share with you. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know the story behind this?

But it’s almost midnight, I have to be awake in too few hours, and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those nights. So I’ll have to limit tonight’s bloggage to my attempt to review five beers without using the word “hoppy,” courtesy of a hand-crafted Belgian style brewery called Brouwerij ‘t IJ, conveniently located in the shadow of this windmill.

… de Gooyer, if you want to Google it.

Okay, the five beers, left to right

PLZEN: 7-Up grows up.

IJWIT: If wheat’s your mother, this is mother’s milk.

NATTE: And by Natte we mean nutty.

ZATTE: Starts like lemon zest, finishes like formaldehyde.

COLUMBUS: I want to say hoppy. Oops, I lose.

More later, -jv

The Thing About DECIDE

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I’m always thrilled when the first box of a new book of mine shows up on my doorstep. The latest looks like this.

… and can be found at Amazon @ but that’s not really the point. The point is this: the more I think about this book, the more I realize what a foundation it is for a poker player’s game. Honestly, no matter what your level of development, DECIDE’ll take you to the next level or the one after that or the one after that. And it’ll do so repeatedly, every time you re-read it (as I am right now — at last I get to enjoy the book as a reader not a proofreader).

You know, years ago my friend Bill Bleich and I used to throw the I Ching before we went to play poker, and we let those symbolic stones dictate what image we’d bring to the club: frisky, loose, tight, aggressive, clueless, whatever; the I Ching told us how to play. I was musing on that today and realized that, among other things, DECIDE lets you be completely blind to your image. You can take the correct line of play (you’ll always know what it is) and then dress it up with any threat-posture or nonsense-posture or clueless-posture you wish. It simply doesn’t matter what image you project, because your fundamental play of each and every hand will be so strong.

And you know what? As I write these words I think I sound very much like a guy who’s hawking his own wares. But I don’t feel like that at all. Rather, I feel like I’m proselytizing for the new religion, one I have a huge affinity for, regardless of any role I may have played in its genesis. No, I can put it more simply: I’m a fan; I’m reading a book that’s changed everything for me in poker, and I know it’ll have that effect on virtually everyone who reads it.

So check it out on Amazon (many positive reviews – yay) or check out the excerpts at But in any case, do get acquainted with this book. Although I wrote it, I didn’t conceive it, so therefore I can say without fear of looking “up myself” that it’s the best poker book of this generation. Check it and see.

More later, -jv

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Friday, June 10th, 2011

What’s special about this place?

It’s the San Francisco Bay Area card room where today I won — first place, last man standing — a no-limit Texas hold’em tournament. This is of note not because it’s my first tournament win (it’s not) but because I ran through the field with a confidence and competence borne of my absorption (at last!) of the new poker book I’ve co-authored with Annie Duke, DECIDE TO PLAY GREAT POKER. I did. And it worked.

Campers, if you’re among my non-poker playing readers, feel free to do nothing more with this post than to say (or think silently to yourself) mazel tov, JV. But if you DO play poker and you want to play better, this is a book you simply must get. I’m saying that now not just as co-author, but also a user and, in fact, disciple. Annie Duke is the smartest cat in pokerdom, and now I know what she knows. You can, too.

More later, -jv

(Still a little high off the win – can you tell?)

Decide to Play Great Poker

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

That’s the name of my massive new poker tome, co-authored with the fabulous and brilliant Annie Duke. The book will be out round-about the first of June, but you can pre-order it now, by clicking, well, here. Want to know who’s responsible for what in the book? All the brilliant concepts are hers; most of the pretty prose is mine. Here’s the lovely cover.

And here’s an excerpt. You know what they say: The first taste is free.

Excerpt from Decide to Play Great Poker

Decide to Play Great Poker by me and John Vorhaus is finally almost here. It was two years in the writing and I am so proud of this book. You can read a small excerpt from the book below and you can preorder the book on Amazon here.

Before getting to the first excerpt (I will be posting at least one more), a bit about the approach of the book. It is a different take on the game of poker, approaching from a decision making point of view. The goal of the book is to get the reader to really start playing purposeful, goal oriented poker, problem solving situations, understanding deeply all the factors that good play in a hand depend on.  As an example, much of the book is dedicated to post flop play but in a way which really gets the reader to understand how small changes in a situation can drastically change how a hand is played. So the first type of hand tackled in the post flop section of the book is a set. The book looks at what you do when you flop a set of 9′s (a big hand, almost certainly the best hand in hold’em). It starts with a situation where you flop a set of 9′s, you are heads up, you are last to act, you were the preflop raiser and the board isn’t scary, like As9h3d. Once that situation is covered, the preflop raise is changed to your opponent. Then we put you out of position and make you the preflop raiser. Then we make the other guy the raiser. Then we add more people to the table and go through those scenarios again. Then we start all over at heads up but change the board to something scary, like AsTc9c. The book applies this method to a variety of hand categories, like big hands, big draws, small draws, one pair, etc. We methodically dissect what the best players in the world mean when they answer your question about how they play a hand with, “It depends.”  This book tells you what it depends on.

So, without further ado, the excerpt. This particular excerpt is about why your primary goal at the tables is to reduce uncertainty.

Your Primary Goal is to Reduce Uncertainty
Reducing uncertainty makes all our decisions easier by completing the information picture. Of course, there are two other ways to make your decisions easier. One, you can opt out of the decision-making process entirely by folding. If you fold, you have no more decisions to make during the hand. Two, you can also opt out of the decision-making process by putting all your chips in the pot. Once you’re all-in, you have no more decisions to make. We’ll discuss the all-in play later and when and how to apply that tool. For now, just recognize that of all the tools at your disposal, the all-in tool is something of a blunt instrument. You’ll want to use it sparingly.
So our main goal is to try to reduce our uncertainty and make our decisions easier. At the same time, we also have a secondary goal: to make our opponents’ decisions in relation to us harder. If poker is a decision-making problem and if you can make better decisions than your opponents, you’ll end up with all the money.
How do you make better decisions than your opponents? Not just by being smarter than they are (though presumably you are), but also by making your decisions easy and their decisions tough. How important is this? Is crucial important enough? Because if you think about one given hand of hold ’em, in Vegas let’s say, where four raises per betting round are allowed, that makes five possible decision points on each betting round and four rounds of betting per hand. That sounds like 20 chances for you to make a slightly better decision than your opponents. Trust me, even if you’re only a slightly better decision-maker than your opponents, you’ll end up winning all the money in the world if you have 20 chances per hand to leverage that small decision-making edge. And if you become a much better decision maker than your opponents? The mind boggles.
Viewed through a certain filter, poker is a bidding war. I set a price and you set a price back to me, then I set a price back to you, and every time we have this little pricing war where we each put bids out there, we give ourselves an opportunity to make a good decision or a poor one. Every time we can force our opponents into a bad decision, we win. I want to repeat that, because it’s fundamental to what this book is about.
Notice that nowhere in this discussion have I said that making money is the goal. Why isn’t it? Simple. Making money is not the goal. Money, in this game, is just the fallout from good goal-setting and decision-making. You end up with all the money through your good decisions. Money is merely our score keeper. You could just as well be playing for matchsticks or marbles or dandelion fluff.
It might seem to be a trivial distinction, but it’s not and here’s why: If you set your goal as making money, you tend to play poorly when you’re losing, because you’re focusing mainly on outcomes. However, if you set your goal as being a good decision-maker, it won’t matter whether you’re winning or losing, because all that matters—all that matters—is the quality of your decisions, not the outcomes of those decisions.
Look, you’ll sometimes lose when you get all your money in with pocket aces against your opponent’s pocket fives. You’ll get drawn out on about 18% of the time. But here’s the thing: You won’t care. Why not? Because you made a good decision to get your money in with the best hand and your opponent made a bad decision to call. You won the decision war. So what if the outcome didn’t fall your way? In the long run, it will. And the long run is the only thing that any serious poker player cares about.
Bad beats? Who cares about bad beats? Let me tell you, if I never took a bad beat, I’d be playing in some really terrible games. I want bad beats. I adore bad beats. Every time someone puts a bad beat on me, it means they got their money into the pot with the worst of it. Folks, that’s a bad decision—just the sort of decisions you want your opponents to be making. Bad beats make me happy. Bad beats mean I’m in a good game, that I’ve chosen well. Hooray for bad beats!
So before you go any further in this book, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Are you prepared to make great decisions and ignore bad outcomes? If you are, you’re ready to take your game to the next level. You’re ready to focus on information and decisions and let the rest of the noise just float away. If you think you’re ready for that, then here we go, because here comes the dealer to toss us some cards …
This book is going to change everything, poker-wise. It’s so brilliant that I wrote it, have read it many, many times, and it still routinely makes my head explode. That’s how wise Annie is. As for my pretty words, well… you know…
More later, -jv

A Free Read

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Want to score a free copy of THE ALBUQUERQUE TURKEY? Just click below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Albuquerque Turkey (Hardcover) by John Vorhaus

The Albuquerque Turkey

by John Vorhaus

Giveaway ends February 23, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Killer Poker: Excerpt

Killer Poker: Strategy and Tactics for Winning Poker Play
by John Vorhaus


killer poker 2

I’m a bully. I’m a bastard. I push people around. I frighten them and manipulate them, lie to them, menace them, pressure them, threaten them, mislead them, outthink them, outfox them, run rings around them in every conceivable way. And then when I’m done… (more…)

Killer Poker Online: Excerpt

Killer Poker Online: Crushing the Internet Game
by John Vorhaus

Chapter One: True Facts of Online Poker

killer poker

First fact: Online poker is not the same as online gambling. If you put your money into play at or or any other online gambling site I might make up, one thing is for sure: You will not win. Not in the long run. (more…)

Killer Poker No Limit: Excerpt

Killer Poker No Limit! A Winning Strategy for Cash Games and Tournaments
by John Vorhaus

Introduction: Most Fun Wins

killer poker no limit

I’m just sitting here this morning musing on the nature of addiction. I certainly have my share of addictions spread out around me. At my left hand is a mug filled with hot coffee, to which I am addicted. It’s not just any mug, either, but my Comic Toolbox promotional mug, from which I’ve been addicted to drinking ever since I wrote the book of the same name. I know it’s just subjective reality, but I swear the coffee tastes better in that mug. At my right hand is the sudoku from this morning’s paper. Sudoku has lately replaced crosswords as my number one puzzle addiction. And puzzles are a sick addiction for me. I swear I could do life behind bars if I had enough acrostics and scanagrams. My mind hates to be idle. Believe me when I tell you that I can’t even stand to stand in a supermarket checkout line without something to read, even if it’s only a National Enquirer headline. (“Angry Trucker Fires Five Shots Into UFO!”) Among other things, I am addicted to the written word. (more…)

Poker Night: Excerpt

Poker Night: Winning at Home, at the Casino, and Beyond
by John Vorhaus

Chapter Two: The Gulp Limit

Poker Night

No one has to play home poker, you know. If you live in California, New Jersey, or some twenty other states in the union (or Canada, Australia, Estonia and many other civilized countries), you’re probably within shouting distance of a perfectly safe, perfectly legal public cardroom. Thanks to the internet, you can play online poker against real opponents for real money, in the nude if you like, any time you like. And planes fly to Las Vegas every day. So then there’s the question, “Why?” Why play home poker at all? I can think of a few reasons. (more…)