Mascarade (2013)

Mascarade is one of the many tabletop games that Danny and Caylie came back with after their trip to Gen Con, and it was my clear favorite of the group that we played – which is unsurprising given its similarity to the psychological aspects of poker.

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The game creator blogged about it, describing it as taking the psychological and face-to-face aspects of poker and putting it into a purer “gaming” context, stating that ever since Moneymaker won the world series of poker and made poker mainstream that the game became too technical and non-adventurous for his taste.  The effectiveness in which he captures that aspect in Mascarade is striking – the game is all about making deductions based on incomplete information, and bluffing or calling out the bluff based on misinformation, reading people, and imperfect memory.

The opening of the game requires players to reveal their single dealt card before turning it over face down to give them an opportunity to memorize where things are – despite the fact that it quickly changes and not in a way that is easily memorized.  Because we only played the game twice, i felt pretty novice at the memory aspect of the game – the second time i had to resort to some basic Memory Palace techniques that i have not at all trained in but know about and have done some basic versions of from watching too many episodes of the Mentalist, and that broke down fairly quickly after people started passing cards – i stopped being able to hold all of it in my head and started focusing on one or two potential cards at a time.

I think it’s the sort of thing i could get better at just through repetition – to be able to glance at any card and know what it is and what it does as opposed to having to look at a cheat sheet – but even so, the game can be played with over 10 people, and i think there’s a breaking point somewhere in there – with so much going on, the ability to keep track of the cards on top of being able to read people and deduce the likelihood of them doing this or that action would require some actual Effort at memory techniques that i haven’t done since i was a kid.

And that’s what makes the game stick out to me – if you put strategy games such as Chess or Catan or Dominion on one end of the spectrum in that the most successful players have a solid understanding of seeing the big picture based on facts that are laid out very clearly, and if you put poker in the middle of that spectrum in that the most successful players have a well-balanced understanding of the obvious facts (one more card could give me a flush) and non-obvious facts (there’s a 36% chance of that happening by the river and the immediate odds of my opponent’s bet aren’t favorable, but the implied odds are…) with the psychology of the players (…based on my read that if i hit my flush there’s a high likelihood that he’ll pay me off), Mascarade leans towards the other end of the spectrum in a place that very few other games i’ve played lives, and that makes it pretty fantastic.

I kind of want someone to create a Google+ Video hangout version of the game.  I wish i had the programming chops for it.  It’s totally something i would do if i did.

Photo credit to boardgamegeek.

Winter Bayou Poker Challenge – PLO

So i ended up winning the 2nd Pot Limit Omaha event during the 2011 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge yesterday. It was a tough battle for me because i suffered an early beat that put me at a fairly short stack for most of the middle levels, but i was patient and chose my battles and think i played some of the better poker that i’ve played in my life. There are aspects of the tournament that i need to write down before i forget it.

Poker talk

maximizing value and ease of decision: same hand, three different scenarios

last night when i went to the casino to play poker i ended up winning a pretty big pot by rivering quad queens over my opponent who had turned the nut flush, and as i replay the hand in my head it further enforces how slow-playing a strong hand is not always the best idea because a) it doesn’t maximize the value and b) it makes calling decisions much easier.

First, i’ll put out how the cards played out from my viewpoint:

in my hand i had QQ
board comes out AQ5 with two clubs (not the ace).
turn comes 7 of clubs.
river comes Q.

One of the books that i’ve read talks about “manipulating the pot size to make decisions easier”, and this hand played out in a way that is a very good example of that. I had QQ under the gun. I preflop raise to $15 (on 1/2 blinds) and get four callers. After the flop, i bet out $45 because i hate slow playing a set with two flush cards on the board. I got one caller. On the turn, i was scared of the flush, but i didn’t want to slow down in case he was holding the Ac with a big kicker or 2p or whatever, so i bet out $75. He reraises me all-in for an additional $75-85ish.

Based on how he had been playing the whole night and how he pushed all-in, i was certain that he had a flush. But also at that point because of how i was controlling the size of the pot, it made it very easy to call. Basically i had to call $75 to win $375 (pf $60 + flop $90 + turn $225) which is 5:1 odds. I had 10 cards remaining in the deck that could improve my hand (any A, 5, 7, or the last Q) which is also 4:1 odds, which means that it’s correct to call even if i know i’m behind, and i improved my odds to call by a fraction on the small chance that he was holding 2p or a lower trips. So i call. He turns over AK of clubs. i river the Q and take down the pot.

Now, let’s suppose that i decided to play that differently. Suppose i checked the flop and for the purposes of this example it checked around. The turn comes a flush card, I bet out a 2/3rd sized bet, which is $30. There are now two different ways that that could go: AK raises me, or AK smooth calls.

Let’s say that he raises me. If i put him on the flush for certain and thus know i have to draw to make my hand, i now have that same 5:1 to hit. If he min-raises me, i have to call $30 into a $120 pot. the immediate odds are *just* favorable (4:1) and the implied odds are cut based on the fact that a) he’s a fairly tight player and that if the board pairs on the river it’s going to scare him, and b) i’m out of position, so if i bet out after calling his raise, he may fold if i make the bet big enough, and if i check the river there’s a danger that he’ll check behind.

(if he decides to smooth call me instead, it mimicks the above scenario pretty well also).

if he does more than min-raise me, it’s even worse for me. Say he raises me to $100. Now, i have to call $70 into a pot that’s $120, which is a horrible immediate 1.7:1 odds, and the variables of a) the board pairing and scaring him and b) him having position on me makes it so that if i do decide to call, it’s turned from an easy call to a gambling call. and in that situation i might have made the tough laydown.

Let’s say that i try one of the other weapons in my arsenal: bet the flop, representing as a continuation bet, then check the turn, representing, say, JJ or KK and now i’m scared that he has an ace or that the flush card helped him. it’s unlikely that my opponent is going to check because he wants to build a pot and he doesn’t want me to catch up if he puts me on 2p or trips, so he bets out. Again, if he bets out an amount that doesn’t offer me good immediate odds, it’s a gamble, but if he puts out an amount that does offer me those odds, it doesn’t build the pot, so instead of winning a $425ish pot, i now have a pot that may barely eke beyond $200.

Later in the evening, someone else who raised pf in the sb and got one caller checked the flop of Axx rainbow, checked the turn which was a K, and then checked the river which was a blank. After the guy in later position checked the river, he turns over KK and wins a $30 pot. Someone asked why he didn’t bet out, and he said, “i was trying to slow play” and shrugged, and that resonated in me as a situation similar to mine played incorrectly, where he allowed the player in position to take control of the pot. If he had bet out on the turn and the guy didn’t have anything, he would have won the same size pot as what he tried to do, but if instead he bet out, he might have gotten an Ax to call, and a bet amount that he dicated rather than his opponent’s. He may even have gotten a river call or river raise if the guy hit 2p or a lower trips.

More enforcement to the idea that the princples behind “strong hands should build strong pots” is something better controlled by me than someone else. Hopefully a lesson that i’ll continue to learn and bank with.