Wiesenberg (s102 poker): Sophie and slot machine

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.

Michael Wiesenberg index.

Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie and the slot machine by the elevator

“I got some odd quarters, Dollinks,” said my Aunt Sophie. “Let me play them off.” She motioned to a bank of six machines opposite the elevators.

We were waiting for the elevator up to our rooms. I had just gone out on the bubble in the Hello Kitty Classic. Aunt Sophie had been playing pan in the cardroom adjacent to the tournament area and went to the cashier ahead 10 racks when she heard my name announced. Sara was along for the ride. We were staying at the Sanrio Hotel, so fortunately didn’t have far to go. The elevators were near the cardroom.


Sara and I waited as Aunt Sophie put seven quarters in a machine, one at a time. Not even a cherry came up.

We had the elevator to ourselves. I pressed my thumb on the identiplate and the elevator ascended.

“How,” I began, “does what you just did relate to poker?”

“What?” she asked. “You mean playing that slot machine?”

“Yes,” I replied, “and I’m thinking of what some players do when they’re nearly out of chips.”

“Do you mean,” interjected Sara, “compulsive gambling? Having to get rid of their last money?”

“That’s not quite it,” I answered, “but it’s very close.”

“Very close?” demanded Aunt Sophie. “Some change I had that I didn’t want to drag around. And in the machine I got rid of it. Maybe a jackpot I’d hit, and then I got a lot of change, but I don’t mind. But what can I do with seven quarters? And what does that have to do with poker?”

The elevator softly signaled our floor, 157, and the door silently slid open.

“So,” she sibilated, “to my room you’ll come and have a nightcap? And maybe enluminate me about this subject?”

We walked the half length of a very long corridor to 15777 and Aunt Sophie pressed her thumb on the identiplate. The door disappeared into the jamb and we walked in. The door slid closed. Aunt Sophie pressed “wine” on the touchscreen above the bar. She chose “Merlot” from the submenu and then “Duckhorn.” She pressed “spirits” at the top, “mixed drinks,” then “vodka,” and finally, “martini.” She clicked “special instructions,” and then typed “three olives.” She pressed “done” and the screen went blank. At the same moment, the door to the small refrigerator clicked quietly. She opened the door and removed her martini. She opened the glass door at the side of the refrigerator, where a bottle of Duckhorn and two glasses now awaited. She poured a glass each for Sara and me, and handed them to us.

L’chayim,” we all chorused in unison.

Aunt Sophie carried the bottle and her own drink to the table by the floor-to-ceiling window, through which we could see the moon-bathed desert beyond the lights of the city. We sat. The lights seemed very small and very far away. Even the top of the Stratosphere was below us.

Nu,” she prompted. “Now maybe a bissel enlumination you’ll give?”

I rarely corrected Aunt Sophie’s neologisms, solecisms, and malapropisms, and so just launched into my explanation.


“What,” I began, “is the attitude of someone who puts a last quarter or two into that slot machine by the elevator?”

“Well,” she temporized, “he doesn’t expect to win.”

“Exactly.” I agreed. “And, in fact, since the player on his way back to the room after a gambling session doesn’t expect to win, the casino deliberately sets that machine such that it is very unlikely to pay off. Usually the few machines by the elevator in any hotel-casino have the highest house edge. Just like you said, when you’re waiting for the elevator you want to play off those quarters. That is, you expect to lose them. So too, a player down to his last two or three bets wants to leave the table and get rid of those few bets. You’ll see otherwise sane players make ridiculous plays for their last few chips. In my online notes I often enter about a particular player, ‘Throws off last chips.’ This might be my assessment of a player I have also indicated as tight — and it’s not really contradictory. But when he gets down to a few bets, the player either plans on buying more chips or just leaving. In a brick-and-mortar cardroom, the player can’t be bothered making a trip to the cage with those few chips, and just heaves them into the pot at the first opportunity. In an online cardroom, the player probably thinks, ‘It’s not going to make much difference to my bankroll to quit with these few bets, but if I get lucky and win this pot, maybe I’ll have enough to give me a chance to get even.’ Or something like that. But the point is, the player knows that he’s taking the worst of it and doesn’t expect to win. That’s why you see someone who has been playing solid all along but who got a few hands beat suddenly cap the betting in a hold’em game with two random cards — and often in a situation in which it’s clear he has way the worst of it. Big pairs, aces, he knows that’s what the others likely have, but he’ll still cap it with 7-2 offsuit. He doesn’t expect to win, any more than you expected to win at that machine. You were just playing off those few quarters, and he’s just playing off those few chips. You’ll see someone in a draw game raise or reraise on his turn with something like A-K — not even a pair. Does he think he has the best hand? Not likely. He just wants to play off those chips. Maybe he’ll get lucky, and then he can stay at the table. And if by some fluke he does win the pot, you’ll see that the player, if he’s normally unimaginative, goes back to playing his usual tight game.”

“Ah,” Aunt Sophie mused, “no wonder such strange plays sometimes I see and usually they’re not wild players.”

“Right,” I offered. “The slot-machine-by-the-elevator syndrome.”

“But, she protested, “that way I don’t play. I buy more chips before I get too low. Or if I’m in a tournament, my best I play every hand.”

“Fortunately,” I suggested, “you don’t have a slot machine mentality at the poker table.”

Sara yawned, which reminded me we had stopped by just for a moment.

“Thank you, Aunt Sophie,” I concluded. “I think it’s time to call it a night.”

Next: 103 Aunt Sophie: waiting to pounce


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