Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Maggie, the Moon, and Me in Miami

Checking in here quickly from the Miami airport where I have stopped off en route to Viña del Mar, Chile to rejoin the Latin American Poker Tour.

After kicking off at the PCA in the Bahamas in January, Season 8 continues this week with the LAPT Chile stop. This will be a return trip for me as I was able to go to Chile around this time a year ago.

Looks like nice, mild temperatures there right now, not unlike what I’m leaving at the farm today where the sun was out and the snow from a week ago has all but disappeared entirely. Meanwhile the moon has risen to chase the sun away, as evidenced in the above pic texted to me by Vera. That’s Maggie -- who more than occasionally gets referred to as “Maggie Moon Pie” -- looking on with interest.

Looking forward to reuniting once more with all of the LAPT folks. Also curious to look in on some of the side events that will be going on alongside the $2,500 Main Event that starts on Friday. Among those are included a “mix-max” event, a straight PLO one plus something described as “PLO High Only Dealers Choice 4 or 5 Cards Freeze-Out,” and a H.O.S.E. event (all with lower buy-ins). There is a $5K High Roller on the sked, too.

The eight-and-half-hour flight from here will carry me to Santiago and to dawn tomorrow, then I’ll have another hour-and-a-half ride to the coast and Viña. Will start checking back in once there as usual, while also directing you over to the PokerStars blog for reporting from Friday through Tuesday.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

RAWA Hearing Nearing

This Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) has reared its head again, with the bill having been introduced here in the new Congress. I was just reading about the hearing for the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations to discuss it that had been scheduled for Thursday morning, although it appears that has now been postponed to a later date.

RAWA is the Sheldon Adelson-backed bill proposing to rewrite (not really “restore”) the Federal Wire Act of 1961 to prohibit most forms of online gambling. That would include current state-regulated online gambling (and poker) such as we have in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, although horse racing and fantasy sports would be excepted.

The bill got some notice last December during the “lame duck” session with some thinking it could get added to the big omnibus spending bill passed then, but that didn’t happen. So RAWA got reintroduced this year in both the House and the Senate, and now it is sounding like it is getting more attention early on in the Congressional cycle this time around.

The fact that it’s the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations gives you an idea where the focus will be when it comes to this impending discussion of possibly prohibiting online gambling. The list of folks slated to appear as witnesses at the postponed hearing also suggests we should be ready for a mostly one-sided discussion of how some believe online gambling fits into one or more of those categories.

There’s John Kindt who teaches business at the University of Illinois and has been out there comparing online gambling to crack cocaine ever since the internet first became a thing. Les Bernal, the National Director of a group called Stop Predatory Gambling is another on the list. So is Michael K. Fagan, another whom I recall turned up once before as a “Law Enforcement and Anti-Terrorism Consultant” before to express reservations about one of Barney Frank’s online gambling bills in the past (back in 2010).

The only witness who won’t be opposed to regulating online gambling is Parry Aftab, a lawyer who is the Executive Director of WiredSafety.org, a group whose purpose is to increase safety online. She’s also been a witness at previous House hearings regarding such as one in which she spoke in favor of one of Frank’s bills (in 2009) and another where “internet gaming” was discussed (in 2011).

Folks have been opining lately about the prospects for RAWA, with Nolan Dalla not long ago giving 10 reasons why he thinks it could be passed and Steve Ruddock responding with 10 reasons why it hasn’t got a chance. Tend to lean toward the latter view, at least at present.

Am glad, actually, the hearing got postponed, as I’m going to be traveling and thus wouldn’t have been able to follow on Thursday. Still want to see it, even if it’s easy enough to guess how it will go. What happens thereafter with RAWA is less clear.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Community Building at the APA

Definitely followed with interest all of the reports from that American Poker Conference and American Poker Awards from last Friday in Los Angeles. Hard to find anyone who participated in either having anything but positive things to say.

The conference appeared especially intriguing, with a day-long schedule of sessions that reminded me a little of my days as a graduate student traveling to conferences where I’d deliver papers and listen to others’.

The sessions covered an interesting variety of topics, including poker media and marketing, technology, social media, strategies to grow live poker, the current and future state of online poker (with a special session about the situation in the U.S.), and a players’ panel.

The tweets were interesting to follow, and I read a few articles summarizing some of what was said, but afterwards I thought how the whole conference would have been interesting to see online either streaming live or archived to watch later. (Donnie Peters wrote a good recap of the day over at PokerNews today that included some suggestions, and that might be another I’d add.)

The awards dinner sounded like a fun time as well. I had a chance to attend the European version of that ceremony in Deauville once, and so know a little how such things go as well as how the process of highlighting certain individuals in that way can strengthen the community as a whole. And of course I was glad for friends and colleagues whose work was being recognized.

Unlike with the conference, there was no shortage of video from the awards ceremony, and I enjoyed watching some of the presentations and acceptance speeches. Here’s a full highlight reel, if you’re curious.

Following it all in pieces as I did from the other side of the continent, the collective message emanating from the SLS Hotel seemed to be not just a well intentioned plea to grow the game, but an effective, constructive means to accomplish that goal with tangible plans and the creation of genuine incentives for doing so.

Those academic conferences I’d go to were mostly pretty positive experiences. It was always satisfying to present work and get feedback (especially when it was positive), and usually hearing what others were up to was inspiring, too. The best part, though, was meeting new people with common interests and goals, and feeling like there really was a community out there of which I was a part.

Poker does this in little ways all the time, but we don’t always notice. Heck, any time a group convenes to play the game it resembles in miniature a kind of conference the subtext of which is the livelihood of poker itself. Nice job by Alex Dreyfus and the GPI to make something like that happen in a grander, more conscious way.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

When They Introduced Mr. Spock to Poker

Sad news today regarding the death of Leonard Nimoy at age 83. Nimoy was most famous, of course, for portraying the half-Vulcan, half-human character Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series that aired for three seasons (1966-69), then reprising the role again later in several films.

Some years ago I wrote a lengthy column over at PokerNews detailing all of the many references to poker in the later series Star Trek: The Next Generation. That one ran much longer than the original did, airing for seven seasons (1987-1994).

In that column I referred in passing to “poker turn[ing] up here and there amid the franchise’s many incarnations,” although in truth at the time I was mainly focused upon (and familiar with) poker being a kind of recurring theme in ST:TNG. (The series even ends with a poker game punctuating the final episode, titled “All Good Things....”)

I remember at some point later on tracking down other connections between Star Trek and poker, and did find one instance in the original series that involved the character of Spock. It came up during the first season in an episode titled “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

The episode begins with the Enterprise starting to notice an approaching object that proves increasingly worrisome the closer it gets. It won’t respond to any communication, and eventually they try to race away from it but it follows the ship, shooting radiation toward the Enterprise. They end up destroying the object, then a little later a second, larger object appears to threaten them.

This time they are able to communicate with the object -- it’s a ship called the Fesarius and its commander, named Balok, is threatening to attack. Things are looking pretty dire, and while others are getting emotional the always logical Spock discusses the situation with Captain Kirk, letting him know that he sees no way out for them.

“Chess,” Spock says to Captain Kirk by way of explanation. “When one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.” “Is that your best recommendation?” asks Kirk with a sneer. “I regret that I can find no other logical alternative,” answers Spock.

Kirk isn’t ready to give up, though, and eventually he stumbles on a plan.

“Not chess, Mr. Spock... poker. You know the game?” asks Kirk. He does not.

Kirk then turns his attention to Balok, explaining there’s a substance on the Enterprise called corbomite that will cause a “reverse reaction” ensuring the destruction of the Fesarius should it attack. It’s a bluff, of course, and it works, earning a “well played” from Spock.

“A very interesting game, this poker,” says Spock. “It does have advantages over chess,” answers Kirk. “Love to teach it to you,” adds Chief Medical Officer “Bones” McCoy.

There’s more to the story, including a twist of sorts showing that the Fesarius was bluffing, too (and the menacing-looking figure that is supposedly Balok is actually a much less frightening figure played by then-child actor Clint Howard).

I could be mistaken, but I don’t believe they ever did teach Spock poker, which obviously could have led to some interesting scenes highlighting the battle between logic and emotion his character always evoked on the series. Meanwhile the later poker games on ST:TNG involving the similarly emotionless android Data did get to explore those areas.

You can check out “The Corbomite Maneuver” streaming over on Netflix, if you wish. All 79 episodes plus the pilot of the original Star Trek can be seen on the site, one to which I imagine quite a few this weekend will boldly go.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Relatively Speaking

Big snowfall here overnight last night, starting around dusk and lasting pretty much until the sun came up this morning. Was kind of an eerie scene walking up to feed the horses around 6:30, with something around eight or more inches having accumulated.

We’ll sometimes go an entire winter without snow here in western North Carolina, so whenever it does happen we don’t necessarily take it in stride the way the top half of the country does. I happened to be in the grocery store yesterday midday and it was kind of a mad house with folks stocking up in anticipation of the storm.

As it happened, it wasn’t too long after I fed the horses and then put them out with some hay this morning that our power went out, no doubt due to some lines going down under the weight of the snow. We have a working generator here and had to use it last winter after losing power. We probably would have cranked it up today but the power returned during the late afternoon to make that unnecessary.

Since most of my work involves me being online, I had to tether with my phone for a few hours early in the day to connect and finish what I had to do. After that I signed off and enjoyed playing around in the snow a bit and also reading for several hours.

Still, the electricity was off long enough to start to miss a few of those amenities like heating up lunch in the microwave, having running water to shave and shower, and being able to keep our electronics all charged.

It reminded me vaguely of a short strategy piece I had over on PokerNews last week titled “If You Lose a Few Hands, Don’t Lose Your Mind” that focused in part on the psychological effect of losing hands at the start of a session and that feeling of being “in a hole” that we’ve all experienced.

It’s such a hard-to-shake feeling -- that is, feeling “down” after losing your first few pots, despite the arbitrariness of looking at your stack size when starting a session as a reference point. As an example, I talked about depositing $100 in an online account, running it up to $150, then sitting down to play again and promptly losing $15 right away. You’re up $35 overall, but you feel down.

Check out the article for more, including a funny cameo by my nephew. Meanwhile, I’m going to heat up some water in our electric kettle and have a cup of tea while watching the snow melt outside.

With the temps in the high 30s, it already feels a lot warmer. But you know, it’s all relative.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Four-Handed Action on the Farm

The other day I stepped outside to witness an interesting scene involving all four of our “barn cats.”

Two of the cats “belong” to us -- that is to say, when Vera and I bought the farm we inherited them from the previous owners. Mo (mostly white with gray and beige spots) and Freckles (mostly gray with a few light brown streaks) both had lived here for many years before we arrived, having wandered over at some point after a neighbor had moved away.

There’d been a third cat -- Lily -- among that original group, too, but sadly she disappeared following a heavy storm early last year. We fear the coyotes whom we occasionally hear howling from the other side of the neighboring woods might have gotten her.

Mo (pictured above, lower left) and Freckles (upper left) we’ve gotten to know very well, and I’ve even taken Mo to the vet once although I’ve yet to catch Freckles to take her. More recently two other cats have begun to take up residence as well, although we consider both guests.

One of them, a black cat whom we unimaginatively call “Blackie” (lower right), we think came over from the farm to the south of us.

The other, a young orange-colored male who hasn’t been neutered, we know belongs the neighbors on our north side. But they have several other cats as well as about a half-dozen dogs, so we figure they aren’t missing him as much as they might otherwise.

The orange cat we typically call “Ballsy” (upper right) -- a reference both to his non-neutered status and the audacity he’s sometimes shown when pushing his way to help himself from the bowls of Mo or Freckles. In polite company, however, we call him “Bullseye,” a reference to the striking concentric light-colored circles drawn into his fur on both sides.

That’s the cast of characters, then -- Mo, Freckles, Blackie, and Ballsy -- making up the tableau I witnessed.

Blackie was underneath my car, his yellow eyes peering out with great alertness. He was watching Ballsy, positioned about ten feet away and hunched over, eyeing Blackie with just as much attention. Those two have scrapped now and then, and I’ve seen black tufts in the barn on several occasions suggesting that Ballsy has consistently gotten the better of it when they have.

I looked to the left and saw Mo sitting on the short brick wall bordering the driveway, looking back and forth between Ballsy and Blackie. Much more laid back than either in character -- in fact, I’ve seen Mo curled in sleep with Blackie before, and rubbing noses with Ballsy, too -- she seemed very interested though not nearly as concerned.

Meanwhile, up on the hill leading to the barn was Freckles, watching all three carefully. Freckles can be skittish and has been involved in loud chases with Blackie before. More than 25 feet away, she was in a position to watch it all play out without putting herself at any risk.

I marveled at the scene for a while, then finally walked up to the barn. Mo and Freckles -- for whom this is “home turf” -- followed me up, while Ballsy and Blackie continued their heads-up battle in the driveway for a while longer before Ballsy gave up and wandered off.

The scene made me think of a poker hand in which the cutoff has opened the action with a raise, and the button, small blind, and big blind are all still left to act.

With all four cats I could describe particular relationships between each pairing (who got along, who didn’t), and could even talk about how three of them tend to interact and treat each other when together.

But to have all four involved at once created a much more complicated dynamic, one harder to describe simply. Think of the button looking down to see a hand the strength of which makes it equally optimal to fold, call, or raise after the cutoff’s raise, with the particular tendencies and styles and stack sizes of all three opponents creating further variables to consider.

Anyhow, we’re probably going to be making a stand here pretty soon with regard both to Blackie and Ballsy and work on encouraging both to spend more time at their respective homes.

I mean, it’s much easier just dealing to Mo and Freckles and letting them play heads-up.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Analyzing Analytics

Yesterday ESPN published kind of an interesting piece in which all 122 professional teams in the country’s four major sports -- that is, the MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL -- were assessed with regard to their relative commitment to “analytics” or using the advanced stats available to guide them in the development of their franchises.

They say they came up with the list “after looking at the stats, reaching out to every team and dozens of informed sources and evaluating each front office." Not sure what stats they looked at, actually. In fact, it almost sounds like they eyeballed it. (Rim shot.)

I wrote a couple of posts some time back about reading Moneyball and reinvigorating an interest in the topic that for me traced all of the way back to reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstract each year as a teen.

The Oakland A’s and their sabermetrics-using general manager Billy Beane were the focus of that book, and they earned a spot inside the top 10 at No. 9 in the rankings. Meanwhile the Philadelphia 76ers -- for a time earlier this year the worst team in the NBA -- sit atop the rankings as the franchise that has “embraced data the most.”

Within each league teams are broken down into categories as either being “all-in” with analytics (using a poker metaphor), “believers,” having “one foot in,” being “skeptics,” or being “nonbelievers.” The New York Knicks -- the team that took over the distinction as the NBA’s worst this year from the Sixers -- ranks dead last among NBA teams, with their president Phil Jackson described as a “conscientious objector.” The Knicks rank just above the Philadelphia Phillies at the very bottom of the overall list.

There are a handful of NBA teams who are “all-in,” but in the NFL not one team is accorded that status. Only one NHL team is -- the Chicago Blackhawks -- while the MLB has the highest percentage of teams “all-in” with analytics (nine of 30 teams), reflecting how most of the earliest work in that area occurred in baseball before making its way to other sports.

My Panthers are described as “skeptics,” while my Hornets have “one foot in” the analytics door. I’d probably describe myself as having “one foot in” as well, and so tend to feel better about the Hornets’ commitment than that of the Panthers.

In fact, I would guess that each team’s fans feel more or less encouraged by the report according to how closely their team’s evaluation matches their own views of using advanced stats to guide roster decisions, the management of salaries, line-up creation and other in-game moves, and so on.

Someone should poll fans of all 122 teams and with the results build a spreadsheet, then measure the findings against team performance, attendance figures, regional climate, the city’s GDP, and other relevant factors to create a Fan Contentedness Index to be used for the scheduling of promotions and ticket pricing.

Or, you know, they could skip all that and just listen for cheers and boos.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Recent Reads

Thought I’d take a post today to pass along some interesting poker-related reads from the last few days.

Last week over on BLUFF there appeared a lengthy, entertaining feature by Will O’Connor describing “The Last Hours of the Taj Mahal Poker Room” that’s worth a look.

Late last year it appeared as though the Trump Taj Mahal would become the fifth Atlantic City casino to close in 2014, though it managed to remain open after declaring bankruptcy in September, then settling a major dispute with employees over the paying of benefits, then getting a $20 million loan from a creditor in late December to help keep the doors open.

The poker room -- the one Mike and Worm take a trip to in Rounders and a one-time focal point of east coast poker -- closed down just before midnight on February 15th, and the feature describes in detail the scene during those final hours. Word is there are intentions to reopen the room this summer, although that plan (like the future of the Trump Taj Mahal) is uncertain.

Late last week another longish -- not entirely unrelated -- piece went up over on Rob’s Vegas and Poker Blog titled “Dominick Muzio and the State of Poker Today.”

Readers of this blog have likely found Rob’s blog over the last three-plus years since he started it to share interesting stories of his own low-limit adventures among many other items of poker-related interest. In this post he speaks at length with Muzio, a dealer in LV since 2009 who also works as a floor/shift supervisor at Treasure Island.

The theme of the conversation concerns why live poker has become less fun (and less popular) of late, and Muzio shares a number of thoughts to help explain that trend while also proposing ideas for reversing it. Some topics covered include math-versus-feel players, the dominance of no-limit hold’em, payout schedules for tournaments, the (relative) lack of online poker, and the social aspect of the game.

Check it out, and for an addendum adding other thoughts on the same issue see Grange95’s post “Making Poker Fun Again.”

Finally, you probably heard about the Bitcoin-based Seals With Clubs site going down a couple of weeks ago, and now apparently for good. You might also have heard how Bryan Micon, the best-known face of the site, had his Las Vegas home raided by gun-toting agents serving a warrant from the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Giovanni Angioni spoke with Micon for PokerNews and the interview appears amid a feature explaining what happened with the site and the raid titled “Seals With Clubs Chairman Bryan Micon: ‘The Police Raid Was Completely Unnecessary.’

Micon talks about the history and final demise of Seals With Clubs, his hasty move to Antigua, and plans for the impending launch of SwC 2.0. Kind of a wild, confusing story, and thus another intriguing read.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Poker Cheaters and Public Confidence

Today Daniel Negreanu posted a new entry on his blog provocatively titled “A List of Players Who Should Be Barred from WSOP?

The post goes on to answer the title’s question with discussion of six different individuals, each of whom has distinguished him or herself in the poker world via significant controversies that ultimately reflected poorly not just on themselves but the game, generally speaking. Negreanu doesn’t, in fact, propose banishing all six of those whom he discusses, but instead presents a specific criterion for earning such a penalty -- namely, having been found to cheat at poker -- then applies it to each of those he examines.

You can probably guess most if not all of the six persons Negreanu chooses to discuss as candidates for being barred, as well as who among them would be chosen for banishment by Kid Poker and who would not.

The WSOP’s official tournament rules cover a number of violations for which the penalty includes being ejected from a given event and/or losing the privilege to participate in future WSOP events (or even ever again being able to enter the Rio). Various forms of cheating are obviously covered under that heading, with tournament officials likewise able to use their own discretion on how to treat other behaviors thought to compromise the integrity of a given event.

In other words, if you cheat, collude, chip dump, or soft play, you’re risking being made to forfeit your chips, having to give up any prize money won, being ejected from the tourney, or losing the ability to play at the WSOP ever again. Other disruptive behaviors while playing in WSOP events can be penalized similarly -- you can check out Section IV of last year’s rules for a complete rundown of offenses.

The last rule listed in that section looks like it does give the WSOP authority to impose the kind of “barring” Negreanu discusses -- that is, to keep someone from participating who hasn’t necessarily broken any rules or committed other acts in a WSOP event, but who would nonetheless create problems for the WSOP should he or she try to register for an event.

“Where a situation arises that is not covered by these rules,” reads that rule, “[the] Rio shall have the sole authority to render a judgment, including the imposition of a penalty, in accordance with the best interests of the Tournament and the maintenance of its integrity and public confidence.”

I think it’s safe to say tournament officials would hate to face the prospect of delivering that kind of judgment upon a player who hasn’t actually violated any rules while playing a WSOP event, but who by attempting to participate in one would somehow compromise either the integrity of the tournament and/or damage “public confidence” -- like a known cheater would.

Check out Negreanu’s post and decide for yourself what might happen if any of the six he discusses happened to show up to play an event this summer.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Looking for a Way to Make the Story Hold Together

On page 831 of RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the story of the former president’s life has reached March 1973, the point where “the Watergate affair” (as Nixon often referred to it) had suddenly bloomed into an all-consuming crisis for the administration. By the way, when you reach page 831 of RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon and you are reading an old, used paperback version of the 1100-plus page book, the book starts to fall apart like the one pictured at left.

It’s really quite symbolic, given what is discussed during the last few hundred pages.

It’s at the bottom of that page Nixon begins a new section with the interesting line “It was already clear there was not one truth about Watergate.” From there he identifies no less than four “truths,” sounding a bit like a philosopher for a moment stepping back from the increasingly unpleasant situation he’s been describing to reflect more broadly on epistemological questions.

“There was the factual truth,” he begins, “which involved the literal description of what had occurred. But the factual truth could probably never be completely reconstructed, because each of us had become involved in different ways and no one’s knowledge at any given time exactly duplicated anyone else’s.”

Indeed, whether one reads Nixon’s own blinkered account or that of others who have tried to chronicle the labyrinthine story of Watergate, it’s a bewildering drama filled with players contradicting one another regarding practically every detail of the break-in, the subsequent cover-up, and everything else even tangentially related to the “affair.” This New York Times article from a decade ago states that 69 different government officials were charged with crimes, with 48 of them ultimately serving time.

Nixon’s account unsurprisingly focuses on the most prominent among those group, and as he notes everyone involved had a particular perspective that necessarily excluded the possibility of full awareness of the complicated “factual truth.”

“There was the legal truth,” Nixon continues, “which, as we now understood, would involve judgments about motive. There was the moral truth, which would involve opinions about whether what had been done represented an indictment of the ethics of the White House. And there was the political truth, which would be the sum of the impact that all the other truths would have on the American people and their opinion of me and of my administration.”

It’s kind of a stop-and-make-you-think passage, although soon after it concludes we jump back into the minutiae of meetings and the ever-growing web of entanglements in which Nixon and so many others were to become ensnared. The descriptions of those meetings illustrate that in fact each of these three latter “truths” (as Nixon fashions them) could more accurately be considered strategies for obscuring the factual one.

The “legal” truth omitted or reduced the relevance of facts to their potential status as evidence to support accusations of criminal behavior. The “moral” truth viewed those facts through still another lens, one guided by judgments of right and wrong (or, as Nixon and his men often would overlay on top of such a distinction, what was “good” or “bad” for the country). And the “political truth” -- by far the most important one for the administration through the 1972 election and even into the first part of 1973 -- only considered facts insofar as they could potentially affect Nixon’s ability to govern.

In other words, all of these latter “truths” were themselves particularly motivated interpretations of the factual truth which was itself only partially known and understood by each.

I’ve been preoccupied lately pursuing poker analogies to help explain and understand not just Watergate, but other events in Nixon’s fascinating life. The Watergate affair, it seems to me, existed as a complicated collection of “partial information” heads-up matches being played by Nixon with others and between others all around him. As in poker, there’s the factual truth that no one can possibly know comprehensively, then there are the other “truths” each player imposes on what he or she knows (or thinks he or she knows). And of course, with Watergate, the stakes started small and then got bigger and bigger.

It’s one method of trying to make the story hold together, anyway.

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