Monday, July 30, 2007

Xmas in July

Xmas in JulyYeah, I know. Not really a present if it was yours already . . . .

I haven’t written too much here about NETeller over the last few months. There’s a reason for that. Haven’t had much to say about the online payment processor because as of the afternoon of Wednesday, January 17, 2007, I have had no business with them whatsoever.

That was the day I happened to withdraw the hundred clams I had sitting over there. I’ve mentioned before how early that Wednesday I read Bill Rini’s post about the arrests of NETeller co-founders John Lefebvre and Stephen Lawrence, including his suggestion that Americans should consider transferring their funds out of NETeller to their favorite poker site or bank account.

I followed Bill’s advice, and within hours came the message from NETeller that “effective immediately, U.S. members are no longer able to transfer funds to or from any online gambling sites.” Wasn’t too long after that when NETeller’s American members discovered they weren’t going to be able to get to their funds at all.

I had gotten quite a bit of use out of NETeller. Besides using it for all withdrawals from the various sites on which I have played, I generally would always keep a hundred or two in there for deposit bonus offers, such as the ones that came up frequently over on Party Poker (when they still served us Yanks).

By the way . . . I happened to be watching some of the Sunday tourney on Party yesterday and wondered why they still use U.S. dollars over there. Anyone know?

I know some folks used NETeller for other reasons, but my account was exclusively for online poker. I believe the most I ever had in NETeller at any one time was probably around a grand or so. That was back in October 2006, shortly after the UIGEA was passed, when I -- like many others -- panicked a bit and withdrew almost all of my funds from online poker sites.

With NETeller gone, I didn’t bother to pursue any other means of depositing, instead focusing my energies on nursing the bankrolls I have kept alive in Stars, Absolute, Bodog, and Full Tilt. A personal mania about record-keeping has served me well here, I think. Indeed, I’m starting to believe bankroll management might well be my best trait as a poker player. It is certainly the one more than any other that has kept me in the black month after month.

Not having the means to transfer funds from one site to another means that I -- like a lot of players, I imagine -- have essentially had multiple “bankrolls” to manage. And, as I say, things have gone relatively well this year. Did have one slip up in early March when I allowed my Full Tilt account to fall dangerously low, then was bailed out (so to speak) by a good friend who swapped me $25 there for $25 from my Stars account. (Not going to identify my helper here by name, as he probably doesn’t need others coming around asking for such assistance -- but thanks again, bud!) After basically staying away from Full Tilt for a few months (aside from the occasional AIPS tourney), I’ve recently clawed that back up over $100 via some conservative-minded PLO sessions and a few hundred hands of $0.50/$1.00 limit HE.

After withdrawing that Wednesday afternoon in January, I wrote a post the next day where I voiced various frustrations about the situation. I also speculated a bit about future withdrawing/depositing options as well as what might happen to the relative level of play online once bad players began disappearing. Today I’m wondering how much of that $94 million (or whatever the amount really is) NETeller is returning to its U.S. members will find its way back into online poker. Probably very little, although some sites might enjoy a small jump in traffic here over the next couple of weeks.

Incidentally, if I were logging onto to retrieve my funds from NETeller, I would not be agreeing to that “Release” they are inviting folks to sign. I’m with G-Rob and Otis on this one.

In any event, I’m glad to hear that it appears my many American friends who play online poker will be getting their moneys back. I do hope the process goes hitch-free. Go buy yourself something nice.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fish Story

Fish StoryDidn’t play any poker at all the last couple of days. This here post is about poker, nonetheless. You’ll see.

Had the chance this weekend to hang out with my father at his trailer located on a lake up in the picturesque Blue Ridge mountains. Dad’s a lifelong fisherman, and so greatly values having a place where he can take out the boat and take on the challenge of trying to outwit the (mostly) small-mouth bass, large-mouth bass, and stripers that populate Smith Mountain Lake.

Friday afternoon was a bit overcast, making for a pleasantly mild setting as I rode out with Dad for an hour’s worth of fishing before dinner. I didn’t even take a rod myself, content instead just to sit back and enjoy a serene moment out on the water. With a beer in hand and In a Silent Way softly piping through the boat’s stereo, I got a great deal of enjoyment out of just watching my father pursue one of his most favorite activities.

Another reason why I didn’t take a rod is, well, I don’t really fish. Which is perhaps why I find simply following the mechanics of someone else fishing more interesting than would the person who knows more about it. Dad explained to me how he had been working on a couple of new strategies, one of which concerned the way he was concealing -- or actually, not concealing -- the hook with the lime-colored artificial worm he was using.

We rode around the edge of the lake and parked it near one of the wooden piers where Dad pitched his line in on the shady side. Wasn’t thirty seconds before a tug on the line signalled he’d already hooked something. He had little trouble pulling the modest-sized -- about a pound-and-a-half or so -- large-mouth bass into the boat. There was, however, a bit of slapstick when after Dad unhooked the fish it slipped out of his grip and onto the carpeted floor of the boat, flopping maniacally a foot or two into the air several times before finally being secured and delivered back into the water.

We trolled across the lake to fish near another pier, Dad occasionally peeking at the depth finder to get an indication of the activity below. As we travelled, he mentioned something about moving from place to place, mentally mapping the lake by “eliminating bad water” (i.e., non-productive spots). Took just a few minutes before he’d landed another, similarly-sized large-mouth, again without too much struggle.

Eventually we headed back, stopping one last time near the property just across the lake from Dad’s trailer. Again Dad dropped a line in, and again he quickly felt that familiar tug as another large-mouth had taken the hook.

“Look at that!” he suddenly exclaimed, and I moved to the front of the boat to see.

As the hooked fish moved back and forth about a foot or so beneath the water’s surface, a much larger -- probably five- or six-pound -- large-mouth was following it closely behind. It wasn’t clear whether the larger fish was in fact contemplating a meal of his own or just curious about his twitchy colleague.

Dad moved the rod over to his left hand and leaned over to pick up a second rod, thinking he might be able to land the larger fish as well. However, after three or four trips back and forth in front of the boat, the larger fish had disappeared. Dad released the catch and we sailed back.

We tied the boat and walked back up the hill to the trailer. I mentioned in a non-specific way how fishing was like poker, and together we quickly sorted through the many parallels. I had thought I might spell out some of those analogies here, but I decided to leave ’em unsaid. They all already occurred to you as you read, anyway, I’m sure . . . .

Like I said, sometimes it’s fun just to sit back and watch.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Calling All Suckers

Absolute Poker's new, terrible 'Bad Beat Jackpot'Almost titled this post “Absolute Applesauce.”

I hadn’t been playing too often over over Absolute Poker lately. So when I logged on this week and took a seat at a low limit ($1/$2) Hold ’em table, the “Bad Beat Jackpot” bar at the top of the screen was new to me. The scrolling numbers had nearly reached $90,000 at the time, I believe. I played a few hands, then clicked around to find out more about what the Bad Beat Jackpot actually was.

According to the site, if you lose holding a hand of Hold ’em after making quad eights or better, you “win” the Bad Beat Jackpot. To be more precise, the entire table wins. 65% of the current jackpot gets distributed among the players who were dealt into the hand. Half of that goes to the lucky sap whose quad eights or better got cracked, 25% goes to the winner of the hand, and the other 25% gets divided among the other players. What happens to the other 35% of the jackpot? 25% goes back into the jackpot (so it never gets completely exhausted). And the last 10% goes “to the house,” as Absolute puts it.

Still reading, I go back to the table and play a few more hands. That’s when I notice that second pile of chips to the right of the chip rack at the top of the screen. I went back to read a little further. Hmm . . . in addition to the usual 5% rake, I see there’s an extra “jackpot rake” happening at these Bad Beat Jackpot tables. Whenever the regular rake reaches a quarter -- that is, whenever the pot reaches at least five bucks -- an extra fifty cents is taken out of the pot for the Bad Beat Jackpot.

How bad is that? Playing at low limits like the $1/$2 tables, the added jackpot rake essentially means the rake is more than doubled on just about every single hand. And while Absolute trumpets that it has apparently happened a couple of times -- that someone with quad eights or better has lost a hand and the jackpot has been duly awarded -- this can’t be the sort of thing any rational person could expect to see. Thinking back, I can’t say I have ever seen such a thing a single time in, I dunno, a quarter million hands of Hold ’em or so. I do recall once witnessing a quads over quads situation in a micro fixed limit game, but the loser had quad threes, if I’m remembering correctly.

What a truly horrific promotion. Especially for poor suckers like me who don’t have any sort of rakeback in place at Absolute. And Absolute keeps 10% of the jackpot as well! In other words, the site has figured a way to take an extra nickel from every pot played at these tables.

I quickly trucked my fanny over to a non-jackpot table, though I noticed there were fewer of those running. Jackpot tables are highlighted in red in the listings -- and there seem to be a lot more red tables running at the low fixed limits ($0.50/$1, $1/$2, $2/$4) than non-red ones. That’s players’ choice, of course. One can always open a new table -- of the Jackpot variety or otherwise -- if one desires.

After an orbit or two at the non-jackpot table, I formed another hasty impression: there were a few more decent players at this table than at the jackpot one. A lot more preflop raising and suitably aggressive play here than at the jackpot tables, where had been several instances of 6-7 players limping to see flops. Would be interesting to discover if that’s a trend -- if less-skilled players gravitate toward the jackpot tables. Makes sense on the surface, actually, that players with a bit of a clue about how to play -- and about the significance of the rake -- would actively avoid those profit-punishing jackpot tables.

A trade-off, then? Pay more to “the house” to play at the easier tables? If I bother to look into this any further, I’ll let you know. Such an investigation might be too pricey for me, though. It’s not like I have a special expense account for such sleuthing.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Reason to Root for the Machines?

Phil Laak takes on 'Polaris' in the 'First Man-Machine Poker Championship' in Vancouver, Canada.  Click on the image to go to the official match website.Followed that “Man-vs.-Machine” poker match with keen interest. After a rough start, it looks like Phil Laak and Ali Eslami managed to comeback yesterday to “win” the contest against Polaris, the poker-playing computer program developed by the University of Alberta’s Computer Poker Research Group.

The match took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver, Canada as part of the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. As someone who has been to boring academic conferences before, this here meeting of the AAAI sounded like a hell of a good time, comparatively speaking.

There’s a neat live blog of the event, eagerly written by a reporter whose enthusiasm is pretty infectious. Complete hand histories from the four sessions has also been promised. Not sure if those will be appearing on the official match website or over on the Poker Academy website. (Someone from Poker Academy also has provided another live blog of the event, if you’re interested.) My understanding is that some of the CPRG’s research has been incorporated into Poker Academy’s poker-playing software already. Reading around on the Poker Academy site, it looks as though they will be making it possible for us low limit hacks to take a crack at Polaris sometime in the near future.

Of the four sessions, Laak and Eslami won two and lost one, with the other being declared a “statistical tie.” Each session involved 500 hands of $10/$20 limit Hold ’em, played as “duplicate” matches. That means the pair played a total of 4,000 hands against Polaris, and in the end came out with only a small advantage in terms of number of small bets won.

Both the humans and Jonathan Schaeffer -- chair of the University of Alberta’s Department of Computing Science and leader of the CPRG -- acknowledged that the match represented a much too small sample size from which to extrapolate any profound claims regarding how near or how far researchers are from “solving” two-player limit Hold ’em. Schaeffer does think it will happen, though, in the near future.

I think I get how studying games like checkers, chess, or poker affords useful information for those interested in “advancing” artificial intelligence as well as our understanding of how other systems subject to uncertainty tend to function. While contemplating the possibility of someone actually constructing a computer program that will always make the best choice in every possible situation in a two-player limit Hold ’em match, something occurred to me. Something regarding that tired old “skill-versus-luck” saw. Tell me if this makes any sense:

If it is possible to create a computer program that will always make the best choice in a given game, then that game necessarily requires “skill” in order for anyone to be consistently successful playing it.

Take tic-tac-toe -- a much easier example for a pea-brain like myself to consider. You and I learn the rules and some basic strategy, then play 100 games, with every game ending in a draw. We each possess enough “skill” to “play perfectly” (so to speak), which is why every game ends in a tie.

Here . . . try your luck against a computer to remind yourself what I’m talking about (click on ‘Computer vs. Player’ to begin):



If tic-tac-toe were a “a game subject to chance” -- I deliberately am using language from the UIGEA here -- skill-levels wouldn’t matter. But think about it. If you happened to lose a game up there against the computer, it certainly wasn’t bad luck that lost it for you. You made a wrong move. Tic-tac-toe is not a game subject to chance. There is such a thing as “perfect” play that ensures skill is always going to be more significant than luck in the play of the game. (By the way, this computer doesn’t always play perfectly -- you can beat it. Keep trying.)

Now consider limit Hold ’em. You and I learn the rules and some basic strategy, then play 100 hands. I win some hands, you win some hands, and in the end one of us likely has more chips than the other. Neither of us possesses enough “skill” to “play perfectly,” of course, a fact that does have some effect on how our little match ends. Also relevant here: limit Hold ’em is a game subject to chance. Thus, the cards we were dealt also influenced how we came out.

However, if the researchers at the University of Alberta are able to reach their goal of constructing a program that always makes the best choice in every possible situation in two-player limit Hold ’em, that program is going to come out ahead against us humans who don’t possess the same degree of “skill” -- given an adequate number of hands, of course. Would not such a finding definitively prove that poker -- or at least two-player limit Hold ’em -- is most certainly a “skill-based” game?

Of course, such a finding would not prove that poker is not “a game subject to chance,” I don’t believe. But it would help distinguish poker from, say, something like the lottery which can never be “solved.”

Wouldn’t it?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Plotting a PLO Strategy

Pot limit Omaha -- the 'Action Game'Been kind of a quiet summer for me as far as my own poker playing goes. During the 47 days of the WSOP I played much less than usual. Looking back through the records, there were nine days I didn’t play a single hand, and many other days when I played a half-hour or less. On the days I did play, usually it was just for one brief session of PLO25, often just 25-30 hands or so. Ended up ahead overall for that period (about 100 clams, overall), though my sporadic schedule means I have little feel for how well I’m playing and/or running at the moment.

There have been times when I feel very smart about pot limit Omaha, and other times when I feel completely at sea. Like most players of average skill, I’m probably a bit too “results oriented.” Nevertheless, I am aware enough to know that some of my best sessions profit-wise haven’t been my best in terms of play (and vice-versa). Such is the case in any game, but I think the disconnect between “level of play” and “results” will appear exaggerated (sometimes) in PLO since the outcome of a session can be affected so dramatically by a single pot.

Partly from big swing fatigue, partly from simple ennui, I’m thinking of moving back over to the limit tables. For a while, anyway. I’m also very interested in learning more about split games -- specifically Stud 8/b -- for which purpose I’ve been reading (very slowly) Ray Zee’s High-Low-Split Poker.

Since I have been fairly immersed in PLO for a while now (nearly 22,000 hands since mid-March), I thought I’d take a moment and record a few thoughts about the game here before moving on. These are basically ideas I wrote down somewhere along the way as reminders to myself -- not that I always was successful at following my own guidelines. Kind of helped, though, just to keep certain basics fresh as I went.

None of these ideas is terribly original, by the way. For better advice, go read Bob Ciaffone’s Omaha Poker (about half of which concentrates on PLO), Lyle Berman’s chapter on PLO in Super System 2 (which advocates a pretty tight approach, mainly for beginners), or even just go spend some time perusing the Omaha High forum on 2+2. (I’ve yet to look at Rolf Slotboom’s book yet, though I mostly hear good things.)

A couple of reasons why I’ve decided to set these ideas down here. For one, I have been winning at a modest enough clip -- I’m presently sitting a little over 15 big blinds/100 hands. (For me, the big blind has usually been a quarter.) Not phenomenal, but not too bad. So perhaps something here might be worth a tiny bit to the person thinking about wading into some low limit PLO games. The main reason, though, is to solicit feedback. If anything here sounds out-of-bounds, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment correcting my misjudgment. (By the same token, if any of these ideas ring true to you, let me know that as well.)

PREFLOP

1. Try not to call preflop raises out of position, especially with marginal hands. Sometimes you’ll be sitting there in the big blind and someone in early position will raise and get five callers. You’ll be looking at some sweet odds -- like 6-to-1 or even better -- to make the call, but you’re holding Qd7c4s2h or some such crapola. Only a miracle flop puts you in the lead, and even then you’ll be out of position (and at risk to be outdrawn). Let it go.

2. Don’t overvalue pairs that aren’t also working well with your other two cards. I almost simply typed “don’t overvalue pairs” -- which might be even better advice here. Even two aces turn to mush following a lot of flops. And flopping a set with your JJ is still usually a pretty vulnerable situation. (Just ask Phil Laak.) Stay out of harm’s way unless that JJxx hand is also double-suited and/or you’ve got a K and a Q sitting beside ’em (or something else that makes your hand coordinated).

3. Try not to play hands with “danglers.” The difference between, say, QhJdTd9h and QhJdTd2c is considerable. Think twice before playing hands with danglers from out of position and/or calling preflop raises with these hands.

4. Suited cards without an ace are just about equivalent to non-suited cards. In such cases, suitedness should really be a secondary (or tertiary) consideration. You really don’t want to be hoping to hit a queen-high flush in order to win a hand. Rather, you hope you hit something else good (trips, a straight, etc.), and that queen-high flush redraw might subsequently turn the tide in your favor if you’re heads-up at showdown.

5. Position is more important than just about anything else in PLO. True after the flop as well, of course. Goofball raises under-the-gun just won’t cut it here. You’ll get five callers, and even if a good flop comes you’ll be mighty vulnerable. Tighten up in EP (including the blinds).

ON THE FLOP

6. Don’t unthinkingly call draws and/or bet made hands. I like to open bet big draws (e.g., when the flop gives me more than 12 outs), as that often ensures action later if I hit. I also don’t like to call draws that might not get paid off if I do hit. Let’s say the board comes 9d8d5h and I’m deciding whether to call a pot-sized bet with my AdKd7c7s. It’s 2-to-1 to call, so pot odds should make chasing the flush seem a bad idea. And I’ve no implied odds, really. If the flush hits, my eager flop-betting opponent (who more than likely has a straight here) probably won’t be paying me off. All circumstances (and opponents) are unique, of course, so you have to look at the situation. Still, I generally don’t like this call.

Additionally, let’s say we have the same flop -- 9d8d5h -- and I have something like AcKc7s6s in my hand. There are a couple of reasons I might not be too eager to bet this flop hard, even though I hold the current nuts. I have no redraws -- not even of the backdoor variety -- to improve my hand. There are a ton of turn cards that are going to make me uncomfortable here: any diamond, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, or 5. That’s something like 23 cards, over half of the unseen cards for me. I’m probably just going to sit tight here and if a friendly 3c rolls off on the turn, then I’ll push. Side benefit: by waiting to the turn, it isn’t necessarily obvious to some players I have the straight.

7. Beware of low/middle sets & the “underfull,” as you could be drawing dead. Easier said than done, sometimes. But getting too randy in these situations is a terrific way to lose your stack. An “underfull” is a full house that is among the lower full houses possible; e.g., having two fours on a board of 884QK. There are five different full houses (KKK88, QQQ88, 888KK, 888QQ, and 88844) that top your fours full (not to mention quad eights). A lot of times if you are sitting there with your underfull, the only action you’re gonna get will be from the guy who has you completely dominated. Better to be cautious and win small, than reckless and lose big.

8. Flopping bottom two pair = missing flop (usually). Puts you in all kinds of uncomfortable situations, including turning not-so-wonderful underfulls. Bob Ciaffone says that “bottom two at limit Omaha is just one more hand that missed the flop!” I tend to carry that idea over to PLO as well, treading very carefully after flopping bottom two. (Especially from EP, where I’m almost always uninterested in this flop.)

ON THE TURN

9. If you have the nuts and your opponent has draws to beat you, time to push! And I mean hard. You might be up against one of those supah-monstah-killah, 20-plus out draws (in which case you might only be 50-50), but more often than not you’ve got a decent advantage here if you hold the nuts. And if you yourself have a redraw, even better. Bet now!

ON THE RIVER

10. Bluffing is rare. When people bet the river, they almost always have the goods. Don’t talk yourself into calling with a so-so hand because you think (or hope) you are up against a bluff. Great way to bleed chips. There will be situations when an unexpectedly large river bet looks suspicious, and you will have to use your best judgment regarding the player and situation. But more than 9 times out of 10 that person betting on the river is going to have your less-than-the-nuts hand beat.

I’ll bluff occasionally if it appears obvious my opponents aren’t interested in an orphaned pot, but usually won’t risk too much to do so. Another move I like is to make a huge (pot-sized or slightly less) bet on the end when I have rivered the nuts -- the kind of bet that looks a lot more like “please-don’t-call-me” than a properly-sized value bet. I’ve won some big pots that way, where I’ve made the nut flush and the guy with two pair decides I couldn’t possibly be so dumb as to make a pot-sized bet on the end.

* * * * *

That’s all. Like I said, those of you with some PLO experience, please let me know how far off-base I am with any of these here shots in the dark. For those of you who haven’t played a lot of PLO, I hope these thoughts might be worth a little something to you. Do keep in mind going in that the swings can be fairly huge, particularly if you have trouble disciplining yourself to leave a bad situation.

And also -- you can turn a profit in PLO by simply playing the role of “nut-peddler,” particularly at these low limits (I think). Gotta be patient, but don’t worry -- you will find plenty of folks who think two pair is automatic gold. And they’ll pay you off, I promise.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beating the Game

Checkers has now been 'solved'Saw an article yesterday that reminded me of the whole “poker bot” madness that grips the online poker world every now and then.

“It took nearly 2 decades, but computer is king of checkers” read the headline. The article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, and reported how a group based at the University of Alberta has at last “fully solved the game, creating an unbeatable program that will choose the best move in every possible situation.”

Hundreds of computers were employed to search through and analyze the 500 billion or so scenarios checkers affords. The project began in 1989. Within a couple of years, the team had developed a program -- called Chinook -- that amid protests was allowed to compete against humans in checkers’ world championships.

The Tribune article says that “Chinook beat the reigning world checkers champion,” although I’m not sure that is precisely accurate. In 1992, current champ Marion Tinsley defeated Chinook. Then in a 1994 rematch, Tinsley and Chinook played six games, all of which ended in draws. Tinsley then withdrew from the competition because of health complications. Soon afterwards, Tinsley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and would die seven months later.

Upon Tinsley’s withdrawal, Chinook played against the second-highest rated player and in twenty games won one, lost one, and had eighteen draws. (So, technically, the program did not really “beat the reigning world checkers champion.” Not then, anyhow.) Chinook’s creators then decided to stop competing with humans and instead try to “solve” checkers, a goal which has now apparently been realized.

According to the article, “the resulting program proves conclusively that checkers is a ‘draw’ game; in other words, perfect play by both players will always result in a draw.” Meaning checkers is like tic-tac-toe, I guess. If you and your opponent both know what you’re doing and play “perfectly,” there is no way the game cannot conclude as a draw.

Incidentally, this Alberta group is the same one whose poker-playing program called Polaris will be playing fixed limit Texas Hold ’em against Phil Laak and Ali Eslami next week at an artificial intelligence conference in Vancouver. The contest takes place on July 23 and 24 and will be structured a bit like the “duplicate poker” games Bob Ciaffone has been writing about recently for CardPlayer. Read more about the Laak/Eslami-vs.-Polaris match over at the “First Man-Machine Poker Championship” website.

Hearing the group has “fully solved” checkers brings a couple of thoughts to mind. One concerns the seeming futility of the enterprise. As the team leader, Jonathan Schaeffer, himself says, “In some sense, it is not interesting . . . . People play games for fun, and knowing you can never beat it is not fun.” By the way, you can actually play against Chinook online, if you want. (Software is a bit clunky, but it works.) You’re gonna lose, though.

I realize that such research isn’t simply about checkers, insofar as it advances our understanding of how systems work, generally speaking. The article notes how some of the findings here might be applied to business and biology. Still, doesn't pursuing the goal of “solving” a game -- and thus making the actual playing of the game seem somehow less significant -- feel like another example of how “we murder to dissect”?

The other thought that comes to mind is how different poker is from checkers, primarily because it is a “partial information” game where we don’t know precisely what our opponents’ have or what is coming next off the deck. For that reason, I tend to doubt that even limit hold ’em can ever be “fully solved.” (Indeed, for the same reason, poker is endlessly “fun” to me in a way that, say, tic-tac-toe is not.)

Of course, I suppose poker bot programmers needn’t worry about finding an absolute solution -- just one that works more than half the time should be sufficient to be profitable.

Or even slightly less than half the time, with rakeback.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jerry Yang Makes Good

2007 WSOP Main Event Champion Jerry YangLet’s see . . . .

On PokerWire Radio’s “Final Table Preview” show, Joe Sebok picked Philip Hilm to win and Jerry Yang to go out in 9th.

Somebody wrote on this blog that the Main Event blind structure would translate into a fast final table. Same guy suggested Lee Watkinson’s early aggression would have a “big influence on how the final table plays out.”

And about 4:30 p.m. Vegas time yesterday, Johnny Chan -- perhaps a bit hopped-up on dozens of cans of his All In energy drink -- said he’d bet “anyone in the world $100,000” the tournament would be over by midnight.

This is why poker is fun. For everyone. (Except, of course, Prahlad Friedman’s opponents.)

Ended up watching the first half of the final table on ESPN’s live stream, then went to bed once they hit the dinner break. Which means I saw the first 91 hands, but only read about the rest this morning. Have to say, those first 60 hands -- during which five players busted out -- were about as compelling as it gets, viewing-wise.

The 2007 WSOP Main Event Final Table (photo courtesy FlipChip)From the moment he made that UTG raise in Hand #1, Jerry Yang had everybody unsettled -- fellow players, those commenting and reporting, as well as those of us just watching from afar. Sebok’s misfire on his prediction can’t really be criticized. Absolutely no one saw the Yang Express coming.

Within the first orbit, Yang had won five pots, including one worth over 11 million when he forced Lee Childs to fold QQ with an all-in flop bet. After starting in 8th place with 8.45 million, Yang had incredibly climbed to over 20 million, not too far from the two chip leaders, Philip Hilm (23.3 million) and Tuan Lam (21.3 million). This barely a half-hour into play.

In Hand #14, Yang opened with a huge raise from the cutoff -- raising to 2.5 million (when the blinds were 120,000/240,000). Chip leader Hilm called him from the big blind, then also check-called Yang’s 3 million-chip flop bet. When Yang pushed on the turn, Hilm finally let it go. Yang had vaulted into the chip lead, cracking 25 million.

Yang had tripled his starting stack, winning six of the first 14 hands. And, most importantly, he hadn’t shown a single hand. This factor was key, I think. No one had the first clue whether Yang had been hit over the head with the deck or was full of applesauce.

He finally did have to showdown the next hand, but it was worth it. Perhaps a bit steamed from the previous hand, Hilm tried to put Yang to the test with an all-in push on a KdJd5c2h board. Yang fretted for a bit, but made the call with AdKs. Hilm had 8d5d, and when the river didn’t help him the chip leader was suddenly out in 9th. Yang, meanwhile, was up close to 45 million -- over twice second-place Lam’s stack.

More wackiness ensued. Just a few hands later, Lee Watkinson tried to make a stand with A7-offsuit and got called (and eliminated) by Yang’s A9. I did expect Watkinson to be aggressive early, although I didn’t necessarily think he’d settle for a hand as vulnerable as A7 with which to make his move. Two hands after that, Yang called Lee Childs’ all-in and found his Js8s dominated by Childs’ KhJc. An eight on the turn gave Yang the hand, however, and three orbits into the final table Yang had over 60 million in chips.

Hevad “Rain” Khan went out in 6th after a dubious push with AsQs versus Yang. Yang showed his inexperience on that hand, nearly turning over his pocket jacks preflop even though all of the chips weren’t in as yet. His JJ held up, though, and Khan was out.

Englishman Jon Kalmar then lost an AK-vs.-JJ race with South African Raymond Rahme to go out in 5th. A little while after that, I hit the hay. When I did, Yang had over 71 million in chips, while his closest competitor (Rahme) had 33.2 million.

Took over a hundred hands for the next bust out to occur, when Russian Alex Kravchenko’s AK lost out after Yang flopped a set with his pocket eights. Kravchenko had been the short stack at the beginning of the night, and did a fine job to improve all of the way to fourth place.

Just two hands later, Rahme would give all of his chips to Yang when he decided to push an ace-high flop with KK, only to be called by Yang’s Ac5s. Heads-up play began with Yang holding over 104 million chips to Tuan Lam’s 23 million. They’d battle for 36 hands.

The winning hand of the 2007 WSOP Main Event (photo courtesy Flipchip)On the decisive hand, Lam decided to push it all in with AdQd, and Yang called with 8c8d. The flop brought Lam some help -- 5s9cQc -- and it looked as though the Canadian might be back in contention. The turn was the 7d, giving Yang a few more outs with an inside straight draw. That draw hit, as the 6h gave Yang the pot and the Main Event bracelet.

As I said, I only watched the first half of the final table, so I’m looking forward to seeing the rest sometime down the road. A lot has already been made of Yang’s relative inexperience as a player, as well as his openly-avowed Christian faith. He comes across as a very likable, humble guy in his post-tourney interview on PokerNews, and I do think he’s already positioned himself well to take on the task of “poker ambassador” that gets thrust upon the winner each year. He’s already made clear his intention to donate 10% of his winnings to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, and the Ronald McDonald House.

I was fairly ambivalent about Jamie Gold following last year’s final table, not really caring one way or the other how well he “represented” poker. Have to say I feel a little differently this time around. I’m sincerely rooting for Yang -- for his sake and ours.

That Yang is an amateur doesn’t bother me a bit. Can’t really understand why non-professional poker players feel as though having a pro win the Main Event is somehow “good for the game” -- the last five years have proven pretty decisively that the opposite is the case. Neither do I mind a guy professing his faith the way Yang does, as long as he doesn’t become overly evangelical about it.

Of course, the mischievous side of me likes the idea of man of faith -- indeed, one who potentially will wield some influence here -- out there endorsing poker. As Barney Frank pointed out at last month’s hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, “there is a moral disapproval of gambling” among many lawmakers and others. That moral disapproval is why the UIGEA became law last fall. That moral disapproval is also the single greatest factor determining the fate of future legislation designed to combat the UIGEA.

In his PokerNews interview, Yang directly countered moral objections to poker -- quite eloquently, I thought:

“I think we all should support poker,” said Yang. “Some people play poker professionally; they play for a living. And there is nothing wrong with that. And [if it is] something that we can do to support our family and to support our community and do something good, [then] we all should join together and fight for [our] right [to do it], and do something good about it.”

The man makes sense.

The Main Event winner -- particularly if an amateur -- is always an easy target on forums and blogs. It is human nature to respond to another’s success by trying to lessen its significance. Thus it is almost axiomatic that Yang’s “luck” will be emphasized over his “skill” by many in the coming weeks. Indeed, that was certainly a lucky river card on the last hand. And we know from Yang’s own self-analysis of his play that he enjoyed a few other moments of good fortune along the way. But you don’t wade through over six thousand opponents without some idea of how to play.

Still others will direct their criticism toward Yang’s belief that his Main Event success is somehow connected to his faith. Again, we’re talking human nature here -- that which we don’t understand, we dismiss. But these jabs (already fairly prevalent on the forums) are even less constructive than are semi-resentful cries of “luckbox.” As an existentialist, I believe each person makes his or her own meaning of the world. So I’m certainly not going to deny the champ his understanding of what happened last night.

All of which is to say, having Jerry Yang as champ is just all right with me. Oh yeah.

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