Episode 50: Keone Young

Keone Young is a character actor whose decades-long career has spanned television, movies, theater, and even video games. He’s also a serious poker player and a regular contributor to the comments section of the Thinking Poker Blog. He joins us to talk about his early life hustling sailors on the streets of Honolulu, the work he puts into his career, what acting has taught him about poker, what poker has taught him about acting, and what both have taught him about life.


0:30 Hello and welcome
15:58 Strategy: He flashed a Jack!
49:15 Interview: Keone Young


Live $5/$10 NLHE cash game, 9-handed. Effective stacks $4000. Three limps, Hero limps Kc Jh in the hijack. CO and BTN fold, SB completes and BB checks.

Flop ($60) Qd Td 9c. Checks to MP, who leads out for $55. Hero raise to $135. SB folds, BB calls, two folds, and MP calls.

Turn ($465) 8s. BB bets $500. MP folds, and as Hero contemplates, Villain says, “Do you want me to help you?” Then he flashes the Jc.

26 thoughts on “Episode 50: Keone Young

  1. Very interesting interview. Yours is a really inspiring tale, Keone, how you overcame the crappy hand that was dealt to you as a youngster (sorry for the lame poker metaphor. It just appeared in my tipsy head), and through a lot of hard work, became a master of your chosen profession. I think this episode requires at minimum a second listen, lots of valuable info to be had.

    You were talking about poker on quite a general level with the guys, which was great hearing how has helped influence areas of your life, but I would also be really interested to hear some more in depth thoughts, like commenting on a hand history of yours for example. Do you have something you could post here that we could discuss? I really enjoyed hearing you describing your actions at the table (dropping a Sklansky. Maybe we can get it in the dictionary?) and how you go about getting reads on villains.

    Also, results from the strategy segment? I know it’s not important. But right now, in tipsyland it is. I have to know, did hero get a chance to bomb bluff a scare card OTR?

  2. “That’s why we play games, right?” Dude dropped Stanislavski AND Skalnsky. Andrew used opprobrium in a sentence. For like the sixth time. Very smooth edit. This cast is +EV for my mind and makes me happy. Not to be results oriented (as your guest points out, poker teaches us early on that we often make the right decisions and fail) but WHAT IS THE STRATEGY REVEAL??

    • Glad to see you lump Keone and me together as equally pretentious, because he has a history of making fun of my high-falutin’ vocabulary. Though if you’ve never seen Deadwood, well… I needed a dictionary. Although I guess Keone’s character has a pretty limited English vocabulary.

  3. Congratulations on Episode 50! Your guest lives up to the honor of having that spot. It will take time to mull over a lot of what he said.

  4. Great interview, it was very interesting to learn about Keone. I’ve watched him most recently in True Blood, but was quite surprised to learn that he was the original Storm Shadow, one of my favorite characters in the 80’s. Good luck at the tables Mr Young!

  5. With regard to the hand discussion, Nate says that showing a card is a sign that the player is feeling pretty comfortable, and in this spot will almost always have a hand stronger than that represented by the single card shown. I can certainly see the reasoning for that in general, particularly in cases when the single card on its own represents a made hand (as opposed to the showing of a card that is only of value when paired with specific hole cards).

    However, in this specific instance I’m wondering what should be made of the villain’s motivation for showing that card? Given that it was of great benefit to us to see the card, we can conclude that his thought processes and consequent decision-making are likely not great. However, besides mere confidence and feelgood, he must have had *some* reason (that he thought was good) for wanting to show us he had a straight.

    If he thinks we have a bare jack or KJ, I can’t for the life of me work out what benefit he’s hoping to accrue from showing us his own jack. In fact, the only benefit I can see is in those situations where he *doesn’t* have KJ but fears hero does, and thus feels he can fold his bare jack if hero raises (on the basis that hero is not going to raise with anything worse once he knows for a fact that villain has at least the Q-high straight).

    If villain has KJ, I can’t see why he’d want to discourage people with less than a straight from putting more money in the pot. And I can’t see why he’d want to let someone with a bare jack know that the best he can hope for is to split the pot. It makes no sense at all on even the most basic level of reasoning, and I just don’t see even a very bad player not figuring this out.

    It seems to me that there’s only one plausible motivation to ascribe to villain – and that’s fear. There are a bunch of scare cards that could come on the river that could give hero a flush, full house, or even a better straight (and this applies most especially in cases where he has only the bare jack). Plenty of bad players are so terrified of getting drawn out on that they’ll happily do everything they can to get you to fold a hand with outs – they’re far happier taking the pot down rather than trying to maximise value.

    I therefore think it very likely that in this spot villain is afraid of either getting drawn out on (and shows you the straight because he wants you to fold), or he’s afraid that he’s behind to the K-high straight (and thus shows the jack knowing that he can then happily fold to the raise). In all cases it makes so much more sense to me that in this spot he would make the move with a bare jack rather than KJ, and accords perfectly with the thought processes of bad players. I find it far more difficult to construct a plausible set of motivations that would make him do this with specifically KJ but not the far more numerous bare jack hands.

    • Excellent comment, Chris. I thought about some of this when I first saw the hand (though not nearly as articulately as you), but Nate is so damn convincing it just flew straight out of my head. Thanks for posting.

    • I started thinking about what a great comment this is and only then remembered that I’d already gotten word from Andrew that someone named Chris had left a really good comment about the hand.

      So, yeah. Thanks very much!

      • Thanks, guys – I’m really flattered you like my comment.

        It occurs to me also that in situations where villain does have KJ, and feels like showing a card to try and mess with you or whatever, he’s surely more likely to show the K than the J (even a bad player can work out that the K is a “tricksier” card to show). The fact that he shows the J instead in itself makes it a little less likely he has a K to go with it.

        If we do go with the probability that he just has the J, and he is afraid of either being already beaten, or of being drawn out on, it’s interesting to consider what the correct play is. He knows we know what his hand is, so he’s highly unlikely to put us on a bluff when we raise the turn – he’ll (probably quite correctly) assume that a raise almost always means KJ. It thus seems like he’s going to be very reluctant to call any decent-sized bet or raise from us and so we have our work cut out to get much more value. I’m not sure there’s any value at all in raising the turn, unless we are masters of speech play and can somehow convince him to level himself into calling.

        Assuming that’s not the case, then our best hope of getting more value might be to just call on the turn, while doing a great acting job of someone with a monster draw, and then, rather than hoping for a flush card or board-pairing card to come off, instead hoping for a complete blank. We can then try and represent some sort of ultra-spewy bluff made by someone with a missed draw who is desperately trying to represent KJ. This is a long shot, admittedly, and relies on some pretty good acting skills (Keone could probably pull it off) but it might be our best chance of extracting more value!

    • Wasn’t Villain described as having plenty of money or being wealthy or something?

      If the money in the pot isn’t significant to him don’t discount the possibility that he’s just having fun. Maybe he’s showing the J just because it is entertaining to him. Maybe he’s truly trying to make it easier for you – a quick fold or a check down and chop. I’m sure we’ve all played with people that are at the tables just messing around and having a good time.

  6. nate you mentioned during hand analysis that villain could occasionally bluff scare cards on the river? on any non K/J couldnt we profitably jam over on any scare card? since its literally impossible for us to be beat? wouldnt him ‘bluffing’ into us be preferable to him c/f river?

  7. I enjoyed this as well. I learned a lot from Keone in the “analogy” post and learned even more here. I hope I get to meet you one day. I’m not a big movie or TV guy, but I will look some of these up so I can say hey I know him!

    Also, I llol (that’s not a typo. it’s literally laugh out loud) whenever I hear my name mentioned on the podcast. My giddiness has yet to wear off.

    I like how you like to “F” with people to get a reaction. My favorite from a while back is the idea of asking a white dude (especially my friends down here in Georgia) what country he is from. That really confuses people and makes them think.

    Really enjoyed the interview. Hopefully we’ll get to hear “The Lost Files” one day soon.

    • Hey Carlos! Thanks for your kind words. You would be interested to hear that I recently worked with Will Smith in Men In Black 3. Will was always surrounded by an entourage of people but I did have private moments with him as he and I had a scene together. I always wanted to ask him about how he trashed “Gangsta rap” and said “Gangsta rap is whack”. We talked about a lot of things. About African music, particularly about his partnership with JZ and producing Fela on Broadway. We talked about Patti LaBelle and her performances in the play. Will was very straight forward and a kind and compassionate man. I wanted to confront him about Gangsta Rap and tell him I thought Tupac was the greatest rapper of all time. But he was so nice to me I just couldn’t bring up the subject. One day I went to my room after I wrapped the day and I found a dozen yellow roses and a card saying THANK YOU. IT WAS A PLEASURE WORKING WITH YOU-WILL. I just let it pass hoping that someday we will have our discussion.

  8. Thanks for the interview guys. Loved Deadwood, so I was excited to hear Keone was a poker player and podcast interviewee (i’m relatively new listener and really enjoying, keep up the good work).

    My comment on the general interview is that I was surprised. Not to be negative, but there seemed to be so many generally airy, open philosophical statements dropped by interviewee about life, poker, etc, that seemed very undefined. Like the bit about we should expect dishonesty from people, and it doesn’t or shouldn’t bother us. Also agree with weekendwarrior that it would be nice to hear some specific hands from Keone.

    On the upside, I really loved hearing Keone’s story and how he’s learned life lessons from poker – I totally agree, and hearing that in others makes me think harder about my own experience with the game. That kind of self-reflection, I’ve always thought, helps me with tilt and general run-bad.

    Great guest, thanks again.

  9. I want to thank you all for your positive response. When Andrew and Nate asked me to come on I was hesitant as I didn’t think I could contribute to the poker library of great guests. The more I got into poker I realized how much I didn’t know and I wasn’t really gifted when it came to mathematical equations and game theory. Here I was an actor working with abstract outcomes trying to make people believe 1 plus 1 equals 2.5. This is what we do in the performing world. But I believe this is why poker is so hard.
    You often hear about hand discussions in the final analysis that remark, “unless you have a strong read on the villain”. That is all in the subjective world. The subtext is often more important than the text itself. I don’t care how good at math you are, you cant forget you are playing with other human beings. And you have to take humanity into consideration. That’s why I say its important to be a good human being to be good at anything. I don’t mean nice-nice. But one who is compassionate and understanding of human nature. To be saint like almost. Only then can one govern and rule.
    I never was a smart guy in the school world. As a matter of fact my high school counselor once told me it was useless for me to go to college and I would do better in Technical School instead learning a trade. Thank god I was fortunate to find good mentors and teachers. I count my poker buddies CPOner and PPforlife as my teachers. Two guys I met at online poker forums.
    But I somehow was most lucky to become a performer. To be able to traverse into peoples mind and souls and make them understand themselves. Make them laugh at themselves. Make them feel sad for others.
    Today I finished my last day on Sons Of Anarchy. I was shot 7 times with an AK-47. It was a particularly gruesome scene and one full of drama. But I kept thinking of you guys and hoped that I had explained myself clearly. The scene went very smooth and I hope you will be able to see the 12th episode this season. We all shook hands and hugged. I packed my bag and went to seek my next bout with the devil.
    I know it might seem odd to have my kind of perspective with poker. I always tried to think outside of the box. Well I think if you looked in history the most successful have always dared to eat the forbidden fruit to quench their hunger. When I sit at a table I look at the tableau and the dialogue.
    I try to retain it and memorize the feelings that come with it and try to replicate it. But with a different hand. For example, on one occasion I was sitting in MP. The blinds were 100/200. UTG+2 limped. With a pair of 88 I wanted to raise it to 800 but I accidently threw in 8 $1K chips after I said RAISE. Everyone jumped up at the table and laughed. I slapped my forehead and said, “Oh damn, what did I dooooo?” and sunk my head into my left palm. I had a stack that was about $22K to start. The big stack in hijack looked at me and laughed and shoved his 60K stack knowing I didn’t have a premium hand. I had to call with all that money in the middle for by his actions he told me he didn’t have premiums either.
    He turned over KQ suited and beat me in a race. I felt humiliated. Not because I didn’t like my chances but how I was so transparent. I lost that race. But then I started thinking what if I did have KK or AA and the same dialogue and scenario happened? The big stack would have shoved against a hand he did not possibly think I had. It is easy for me to recreate the same moment. “Oh damn, what did I dooooo?”. The results might have been different.
    Im not saying this to say this is some kind of great poker revelation but it is how my mind works. I have seen many examples of human behavior at the table. Observe with the third eye and you will come to different possibilities in the game of poker.
    Just a note. There was some sound issues with the recording and that was due to a faulty microphone on my part. Sorry guys. Anyway thank you for letting me be a part of this community. For it is bonding with others that is equally important for me as is results on the felt.

    • Thanks again, Keone. I know there was a lot we left unexplored, and a few things from the first interview that didn’t make it into the final product but that we still have on hand. FWIW part of the reason we used mostly the second interview was that the sound quality was better, so no need to worry about that.

      Agreed about the value of bonding. I’m too cutthroat for that to happen much at the table, but it’s a big part of the reason for the podcast – to find a noncompetitive way to connect with other people who enjoy our game. Thanks for being one of them!

      • The best “cutthroats” are the ones who can bond. Like Vito Corleone said “Its nothing personal, itsa bizanezz!”. Look at the greats like Brando, DeNiro, Pacino, etc. They charm you, make you laugh, but you know they could slit your throat in a quick second.

        Which reminds me when we lived in the country my class mate, we were 10 years old at the time, was handed a hatchet by his mom and told to go get the chicken. Which meant for dinner. He tried and tried to kill it but the chicken would fight and scratch and my friend just couldn’t. His Grannie, about 5 foot tall, grunted and took the hatchet from his hand and picked up the bird gently and chopped his head off in a flash. No pain, no problem. It was her who had raised the bird from a chick and it trusted her calming hands.

        When my friend asked his mom about how Gran could kill it so easily. She said Grannie knew the bird would give its life so our family could be fed and we should be thankful for its sacrifice.

    • It was a great interview. In your high school counselor’s defense I think most people would be better off going to technical schools post secondary. I think it’s a shame there’s a sort of stigma that only dumb people choose that route over a 4 year degree. In my career as a bill collector I’ve come across many people who get crippled financially from student loans but end up working at Taco Bell. In poker parlance both routes are plus EV chip decisions, but technical schools are the superior choice with ICM considerations.

  10. Thanks so much for giving the guys two doses of your time Keone. I have fallen behind on my podcast listening and jumped ahead a couple when I saw your name as this week’s guest. That was an awesome interview/discussion.

    I think its neither admirable or not-admirable that you cheated/hustled early in the game. It is what it is. When it comes to survival on the streets morality is a luxury for luxurious men.

    I don’t have too much to add really. I just enjoy hearing someone who gets it, works really hard, and has experience from which to speak.

  11. I think a call on the turn is by far the best option in this spot.

    Unless villain is completely bad, if you raise turn, villain knows that you must be super strong. The villain knows that you know that he has a straight. If you raise turn, you are essentially announcing that you have KJ, because what are the chances you would try to bluff him off of a straight? Especially when there is a good chance, as you say, that villain could have KJ. So raising the turn is the last thing I would do.

    Calling the turn also makes him feel better about value-betting the river (assuming scare-cards don’t hit). So if a blank hits, let him bet and we can raise him then.

    One other nice thing about calling. If a scare card does hit, like the flush card or a paired board, and if he does have KJ, we could potentially get him off a chop. No matter what card comes (unless it’s the K I guess), we’re going to bet or raise the river. So he either pays us off w/ his straight or we potentially get him to fold a chop.

    That last part was a little rough, but my main point is that, if villain is at all decent, raising the turn is essentially announcing to the villain that we have KJ. The only time I’d raise turn is if villain is super-bad and not willing to fold hands.

  12. On second thought, if he’s at all competent, he can’t value-bet the river because he knows that you know that he has the straight. So assuming he’s decent he wouldn’t be value-betting the river, unless he has KJ for the better straight. Weird spot, more I think about it. So if he’s decent and a blank hits, and he doesn’t have KJ (or a rivered better straight), he’ll be checking and then we can value-bet. Our best hope, I guess, is that a scare card does hit, then hopefully he can call us w/ just a Jack, thinking that we’re making a move.

  13. Another excellent episode. I must confess that I’m a sucker for quintessentially American success stories like Keone’s. I also want to take a little of the heat off of Nate because villains WILL do odd things like show cards when they are comfortable. In this situation, I agree that villain’s action was chiefly motivated by fear of being behind or drawn out on, but that doesn’t change the fact that some really weird shit happens in live poker. Often a player’s flamboyant actions make no sense, and can be explained via alcohol, tilt, eqo, or inherent assholishness.

    BTW, I definitely cringed during the section of the interview where Andrew was trying to justify utilizing sterotypes in poker. When Keone disagreed, Andrew’s concession was essentially that he started with stereotypes but would of course modify his view based on his personal experiences with a player. For the record, I think this is entirely appropriate. The typical poker stereotypes nclude (1) older white guy always has the nuts if he checkraises; (2) asians are more likely to “gamble” on draws; and (3) young white guy in hoodie=agressive regular. Now, take Andrew’s statement and apply it to some other racial stereotype, and most people would be outraged. “I always assume black guys are good at basketball, but I will modify my opinion based on personal experiences with particular people.” I know I’m being difficult, but I got douche chills when Andrew tried to justify his position as weakly and defensively as he did. We are at the poker table to make money, and if you create stereotypes based on empirical evidence, and their use is +EV for you, just say that. It’s OK. Even for a poker ethicist.

    • Thanks, glad you liked the show.

      Did I really come across as so defensive? I guess I just worry about what I’m saying being taken out of context or misunderstood. The problem with stereotypes, in my view, isn’t that they’re always wrong, it’s that they’re used as an excuse for intellectual laziness. Poker is a rare case where you sometimes have to make big decisions with extremely limited information about someone. In those cases, I think stereotypes can be better than nothing.

      I suppose my discomfort stems from the fact that the debate on racial profiling in the US is full of people drawing analogies between very different instances, as in “does it make you nervous if a young black man is walking behind you at night? Well then surely you agree that the NYPD is justified in stopping and frisking black people at five times the rate of white people?”

      I would argue that in the vast majority of instances where people rely on stereotypes, they are doing so out of laziness rather than necessity, so I wanted to make clear that I was talking about a rare exception and not a general endorsement of stereotyping either at the poker table or anywhere else.

  14. At one point Nate says that when Villain flashes a card, he will usually have a hand that is stronger than just that one card, but later he absolutely discounts the possibility that he could have AJ. I know we are supposed to think of ranges instead ascribing particular hands, but I can easily see him holding AsJc or AcJc. He may not raise preflop because he’s out of position and will have to plow through multiple players, then calls two cold on the flop with an open ender, backdoor NFD.

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