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Many casino games can be traced to antiquity; still others are associated with specific historical moments in time and place. Today’s casino game of Keno is one such, with its roots in Chinese prehistory and history, as well as having a specific historical significance for Americans. In China, a game very similar to Keno has been played for several thousand years—by emperors, warlords, merchants and peasants—even communists have been known to try to make some capital from picking “the numbers” although such activities are frowned upon by the party bosses (known in Chinese as party poopers). The name of the Chinese game was/is Kino.
In the 1800’s, when the American west was being conquered and then connected to civilization, and the railroads were being built, cheap labor was imported from China, and with it was also imported the game of Kino. It was so popular with the Chinese laborers that soon enterprising Americans, seeing the incredible profits that could accrue from winning said laborers hard-earned pay, took over the game, changed its name to Keno, and set up “Keno parlors” throughout the west. Keno was known as the “Chinese Lottery,” and like any lottery it was a boon to its owners and a bane to its players. At one time just about every town in the west had its Keno parlor.
Still, for those of you who enjoy playing lotteries, or local charity chance books, or if numbers are your thing, the casino game of Keno might hold some interest for you. It is indeed the equivalent of a lottery but much faster! You don’t have to wait a few days for the results, just a few minutes. Of course, like the lottery, Keno comes in with very high edges for the house—25 percent, more or less, depending on the casino where the UFA game is being played and the type of wagers being pursued.
The players’ tickets are numbered one through eighty. You can choose to play between one and twenty numbers on a given ticket. The numbers to be played are “X’ed” out in crayon (back to childhood we go!). To win a multi-number bet, you often don’t have to select all the numbers, just some of them. Here are some of the most popular betting options at Keno:
Types of Bets at Keno
- Straight Ticket: A player can mark one, two, or more numbers on a ticket.
- Split Ticket: Player can bet on two or more groups of numbers on a single ticket by circling the groups to be played.
- Way Ticket: Combining several groups of numbers on the same ticket.
- Combination Ticket: The player selects two or more groups of numbers and indicates how the groups are to be combined to form many tickets within one ticket.
- King Ticket: One number is selected to be used with all the other groups that have been indicated.
- Multi Race Ticket: This is a ticket that indicates that it will be played for two or more sessions in a row.
Sometimes I receive mailings from individuals who are selling systems to beat Keno. They claim that they have found patterns to the numbers that can be exploited by their “super-seven Keno buster” or their “Keno pyramid” method or their “ping-pong power play.” The costs of these systems are—to say the least—exorbitant. The claims of the systems are—to be frank—bogus. Is there a magical system for beating Keno? Sorry, no. The system sellers are scamming us. The Keno numbers are selected randomly, either by air-driven ping-pong balls (just like many state lotteries) or by computer. The fact that some numbers may have hit several times and other numbers may not have shown their faces for quite awhile is no indication that a number will continue to hit or is due to hit. Picking numbers is sheer guesswork.
So why play Keno? First, it offers a relaxing atmosphere. Keno lounges are usually pleasantly appointed places, with comfortable chairs. You can drink a cup of coffee, pick your numbers in a leisurely fashion, and not worry about other players telling you what to do or what not to do. Played properly for small stakes, Keno, even with its abominably high house edges, will not drain your gambling bankroll any time soon as it is the snail of casino games.
And like anything in life, there is a better or a worse way to approach a Keno game. Walter Thomason, in his excellent book 109 Ways to Beat the Casinos (Bonus Books, $13.95), gives some great advice when it comes to Keno. “Don’t select more than eight numbers on a straight ticket. The odds of hitting all eight are 230,000 to 1—but the odds of hitting all nine out of nine numbers are 1.3 million to 1! Bet way tickets rather than straight tickets. The odds are the same, but you’ll hit more payoffs.”
The 5-Step Keno Strategy
- Play the minimum amount allowed, which is usually a dollar or two, as the house edge is very big at Keno—25 percent more or less. Luckily the game is slow, maybe one game per 6–10 minutes.
- If you are betting on several numbers, always have them in some kind of small or large sequence as you’ll note how often numbers run in sequence (but the game is still random!). This can be done on “way” tickets as well.
- Use Keno as a break from more adrenaline producing games when you want to stay in the action but you need a little rest from betting serious money.
- Video Keno, while much faster than regular Keno, has much better paybacks—more like your typical slot machine. However, you can play video Keno so fast that the speed makes up for the decrease in the house edge. My advice is to stick with the slow game and relax, have a cup of coffee or read a paper between games.
- Avoid betting the multi-race ticket. Don’t get caught up in Keno mania, the desire to hit your “lucky” numbers. Some people obsess that if they play the same numbers over and over, sooner or later these numbers will hit. They then fear not to play lest their numbers hit when they aren’t on them. To forestall Keno mania, don’t play the same combination of numbers all the time. Mix them up and try, do try, not to remember which numbers you played in previous games. Bet one game at a time only!
In hold’em, when you suspect an opponent might be bluffing, what’s the lowest hand with which you can call? In the big blind against a suspected blind steal, it may not be as much as you think.
In a $20-$40 hold’em game in Las Vegas recently, I was in the big blind. An extremely aggressive player sat two seats to my right. Everyone around the table folded to the aggressive player on the button, who made the expected raise to $40. The small blind folded. The next decision was up to me.
Much has been written about what it takes to call (or raise with) in this spot. When facing a suspected blind steal, it’s sometimes necessary to defend your blind, albeit selectively — or you’ll be identified as an easy target and get run over by aggressive players. Something told me the player raising my big blind didn’t really have much of a hand. In fact, the way that he thrust his chips forcefully into the pot convinced me that I wouldn’t need much of a hand to outplay him after the flop. I called.
The flop came rags, 8c 5h 3d. Although I didn’t have a pair, I considered tokyoslot88 betting-out and going for a steal. But I still wasn’t convinced that my opponent didn’t have a real hand. Before I could rap the table signaling my intent to check, the aggressive player reached quickly for his chips. From the way that he seemed to be so eager to bet, I was becoming increasingly more confident in what my first instinct had told me — that he was bluffing.
Then and there, I made a decision based purely on instinct. Barring unforeseen developments, I was going to play my hand all the way to the river. It appeared my opponent was aggressive enough to blast away at the pot all the way to the end in a desperate attempt to recover what he already had invested. If my assessment was correct, I didn’t want him going anywhere. Indeed, I wanted him to continue bluffing, with me hemming and hawing, playing the role of the hayseed tourist as though I was contemplating seriously whether or not to call his bet.
The turn paired the board. This presented some wonderful options for me. In standard game situations, when the board pairs, a bet or check-raise can be a very powerful play (even without three of a kind). However, I suspected my opponent was simply going to continue shoveling his money into the pot, which I would gratuitously accept — if my presumptions proved to be correct. He bet and I called.
The river was a blank.
I checked again, and sat completely still. I didn’t want to give my opponent any indication that I was fully prepared to call. Again, I wanted him to bet. Many players in this spot who are head-up against an opponent who is smooth-calling all the way to the river simply will check behind and reveal a hand. A bet, especially a forceful one coming from a very aggressive player, just screams, “I’m bluffing!” It’s the final act of desperation. The player bet and I called.
“I missed,” the player sadly announced as he turned up Q-10.
Suddenly, I felt like a proud peacock, swelling with pride. “King high,” I said, revealing K-9, which seemed to be a stunningly weak hand with which to be calling in a muscle game like $20-$40 hold’em. The other players at the table were in disbelief. The modest-sized pot was pushed to me. More important than the money won was the table image that I had established for the remainder of the session. The success of my bizarre play accomplished two things: First, the aggressive player on my right now would be neutralized and no longer would threaten to steal my blinds. Second, I had telegraphed mixed messages to the other players — that I was either a complete baffling idiot or a very solid player who shouldn’t be messed with, which — although contradictory — isn’t a bad image to have at any poker table.
Of course, my instincts just as easily could have been incorrect. Critics may even suggest that I was lucky. My decision to call down a pure bluff with K-9 would have been atrocious had I guessed wrong and the player shown me a real hand. Worse, he could have shown me a weak hand (such as a small pair or ace high), and I would have been forced to concede the pot and face embarrassment.
My blind defense raised interesting questions. Afterwards, I was eager to discover the long-term value (if any) of calling suspected steal attempts with relatively weak hands, based purely on mathematical principles. In other words, with how LOW a hand could I have called with in the previous scenario to ensure positive expectation? Could I have called my opponent down with any king high? What about a hand such as Q-J? Or, Q-2? What about J-10? As you are about to discover, hands that are playable in this spot (under the previous assumption, that the opponent is bluffing) may be surprising.
The following examples assume two things: (1) You are playing against a very aggressive opponent, and (2) The player must be capable of raising initially and running a bluff with any two cards. Otherwise, none of this applies. These conclusions do not apply when facing typical players, so-called “tourists,” or tight players. The recommendations apply only when playing against semi-sophisticated players and maniacs who are aggressive enough to consistently blast away at the pot. Since a fair number of middle-limit hold’em games around the country are comprised of players fitting this description precisely, the following recommendations are hardly inconsequential. In fact, calling down a suspected blind steal may be quite profitable if certain guidelines are examined carefully and selectively applied.
I consulted with J.P. Massar, who made the final table at the 1999 Tournament of Champions and has won and placed high in a number major events. Massar has as solid math credentials as any poker player I know. Massar noted that the calling requirements on the turn are stricter than those on the river (which is no surprise, since you will have to call two big bets to get a showdown). Therefore, Massar had to construct his examples in terms of calling on the turn, assuming a call on the river, instead of just in terms of a call on the river. Given the anecdote above, Massar reached some interesting conclusions:
The effective odds of calling a bet on the turn (assuming that my opponent will bet and I will call on the river 100 percent of the time) are $80 to win what’s in the pot now — which is $170, plus my opponent’s bet on the river of $40, or $210 total. The math says that one needs to win at least 28 percent of the time at the showdown to make a profit.
Suppose that the board on the turn is 8-5-3-5 (rainbow). Computer analysis shows that J-9 is enough of a hand to win at least 28 percent of the time!
Instead, suppose that the board on the turn is Q-8-7-3 (rainbow). Now, analysis shows that K-2 (that is, any king high) is good enough.
Suppose that my opponent is not a total maniac and will raise only initially with the best 70 percent of his hands instead of every single one. How does this affect the quality of hand that you need to make the call? In the 8-5-3-5 example, one needs a Q-7 (as opposed to J-9) to call him down. In the later Q-8-7-3 example, a K-9 (as opposed to any K) is good enough.
Note once again that these results are valid only when using the assumptions listed above. Furthermore, any particular board may present flush possibilities; the examples above use boards with no flushes possible on the river. If flushes are possible and you cannot make a flush, the quality of hand with which you need to call down will go up. Also, there are hands such as low straight draws with which it would be correct to call the turn but not the river if you miss.
Finally, I don’t claim that calling down with hands at least as good as the threshold hands given above is always the most profitable play, only that it is “profitable.” Betting or check-raising the turn or the river with some of the hands might turn out to be a better play than simply check-calling.
When it comes to giving or taking poker advice, every situation is unique. There is certainly no such thing as a situation in which it is 100 percent correct to make a “blind defense.” In most cases, when the bet is raised before the flop, it’s proper to give up the blind and wait for a better opportunity later, since you are placing money at risk and will be out of position throughout the hand.
But as you can see from my K-9 story, and probably from your own playing experience, you should be able to recognize the signs of a blind steal. It’s easy to run a bluff. It takes quite a bit more sophistication to call down a bluff and make the correct decision, based on good instincts combined with sound mathematical principles.
The last two decades have witnessed an explosion in the number of poker books available to the aspiring player. This has significantly impacted the way poker is played in today’s casinos and card rooms. However, just because poker has grown like wild over the last several years doesn’t mean that the first poker book was written in 1979. One of these earlier books was A. D. Livingston’s Poker Strategy and Winning Play, written in 1971. This book was reprinted in 1991 as Poker Strategy. So, how does it compare to more recent works?
Overall, most of Livingston’s strategic advice is sound, including the admonition to play tight. Many of the concepts he writes about have been echoed by more contemporary authors, including his belief that bluffs should pay for themselves. That is, that Livingston believes that bluffing just for advertizing is a mistake. On the other hand, it will come as no surprise that some of his notions are very much dated. For example, the high-low split games discussed in this book never require a qualifier for low. Also, it’s amusing to hear Livingston talk about an exciting new form of poker called “Hold Me” played with two cards dealt down and five community cards dealt face up on the table. His advice on strategy for this game isn’t any good by contemporary standards, but even without a great deal of experience in the game, the author realized the importance of kickers, which shows some general understanding of the game in question.
The second section of the book covers mathematics. His introduction to determining event probabilities using combinations is reasonably well explained, but much of Livingston’s calculations aren’t very important in the ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล games that are commonly played today. The general focus of the book is not on the games that are typically found in the modern card room, but rather on home games. Therefore, determining the probabilities of events in Cincinnati or Deuces Wild Draw is on topic for the book, even if it won’t seem terribly relevant to most poker players.
The third section of the book is a description of many kinds of poker played in home games, including some brief strategic information about each game. Much of this would be pretty obvious to the veteran poker player, for example, that one should play awfully tight without the ace of spades in the hole if the game is Chicago. At the same time, some of it is insightful. Occasionally, the terminology used in the book may be a little confusing to people used to the vocabulary of contemporary poker literature. When speaking of games with community cards, Livingston refers to every round of betting in which a new card is exposed as a “turn”. As long as the reader is aware of this, it probably won’t be too distracting.
By today’s standards, nothing in Poker Strategy would be considered ground breaking. There are some strategic errors in the text, but at the time it was originally written it probably contained some of the better poker advice available in print. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, no updates have been made to the original printing. Poker Strategy might be useful to those players who either want some pointers on how to improve their chances when someone calls for Baseball in a home game, or if they want to learn about some different and unusual games they might want to play next Friday night. Poker book junkies might find this book an amusing read, but I believe that $15 is a little steep for a book that hasn’t been updated in over 30 years.
Poker Strategy is a reprint of A. D. Livingston’s 1971 book Poker Strategy and Winning Play. While the book shows its age, it does contain some insight, especially when it comes to the wilder varieties of poker often played in home games. There’s nothing fundamental in this book that isn’t repeated more carefully in the contemporary poker literature, but for those who just like to read poker books it can provide some entertainment.…
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