Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own AdventureCaught up with PokerRoad Radio this week, a podcast I’ll admit I hadn’t really paid too much attention to over the last few months. Just too many out there at the moment -- including some relatively new ones -- that have been competing for (and winning) my attention of late.

The Rabbit Hunt (over on CardRunners) and a few episodes of the PokerNews podcast are a couple I’ve found myself dialing up over the last few weeks. And, of course, the “Cold Call Show” on DonkDown Radio has claimed extra hours on the listening schedule, too, thanks to all of the Travis Makar-UB drama.

Feeling the void left by the recent end of The Poker Beat, I did manage to find time to check in on a couple of the new PRR shows from the L.A. Poker Classic, specifically the 2/27 and 2/28 episodes, co-hosted by Joe Stapleton and Barry Greenstein.

Both episodes were quite entertaining and informative, I thought, with Stapleton and Greenstein both quite funny and interesting throughout. There were a long catalogue of items covered, including some observations from Greenstein about the Makar revelations (on the 2/27 show), plus a number of interviews along the way, too.

I’m not going to summarize it all, but will point you to the PKRGSSP! blog where you can find daily rundowns of a number of podcasts, blogs, news sites, and other pokery productions. Also, over on Pokerati our buddy Merchdawg is offering weekly “podcast round-ups” as well, usually on Fridays, I believe, so check those two sources if you’re looking for poker podcast suggestions.

I did, however, want to highlight something from the 2/27 show I found particularly thought-provoking. Among those interviewed on that show was Joseph Cheong, third-place finisher at last year’s WSOP Main Event, an articulate, humble, and intelligent guest whom it’s hard not to like.

There was, as you might imagine, discussion with Cheong of the hand from the WSOP when at three-handed Cheong six-bet shoved with A-7-offsuit (a hand which I, too, discussed here). While the merits of the play weren’t necessarily being debated, Greenstein did ultimately express some appreciation for the fortitude Cheong showed in the hand and in the way he’s answered questions about it ever since.

“In some sense, Joseph sleeps well at night knowing that he didn’t dog it,” says the Bear, acknowledging that while things didn’t turn out so well in that hand or subsequently for him in the Main Event, Cheong at least had committed to a play that his decision-making process had suggested he make at the time, and thus wasn’t left wondering what might have happened if he hadn’t done so.

PokerRoad RadioThat discussion also included some more talk about how winning a tournament completely changes the way one looks back on it afterwards -- how, in other words, results really do tend to affect our thinking about our play. “When you win,” says Greenstein, “you don’t have to think about the stupid hand you could’ve played [differently], because it’s like all sins are forgiven.”

“Because it’s all on the path to victory, is what you’re saying?” asks Stapleton, and Greenstein agrees, saying further how not winning automatically causes one to think “well, if I’d have done this different, [or] if I’d have done that different, I might have won.”

Amid all of that Stapleton tosses in a quick analogy by referring to those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books some of us read as kids. Remember those? In which you would read a page or two and then get to choose what the characters did next, each choice sending you to a different page in the book? At some point, say when “you ended up in the pit” (as Stapleton says in his example), you might end up having to backtrack to find the choice that led you astray.

I liked thinking about that analogy afterwards and how well it applies to the labyrinth-like experience each player has when playing a poker tournament. Every decision sends each of us in a different direction, with many other possibilities constantly occurring to us as we wind our way through our chosen adventure.

I still had those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books in mind later in the 2/27 show when Greenstein related the story of an interesting hand he’d played in the L.A. Poker Classic Main Event involving Josh Arieh, Allen Cunningham, and two other players. (The story begins around the 50-minute mark and lasts about five minutes.)

Tournaments are like labyrinthsIt’s a complicated hand, but to sum it up quickly, Greenstein found himself in an awkward spot, not knowing what exactly to do preflop with AQ-suited in middle position. He ended up just calling an early-position raise along with four others, then getting out after a ten-high flop encouraged significant action from Arieh and Cunningham.

In the end, Arieh’s pocket kings were crushed by Cunningham’s flopped set of fours, but that didn’t prevent Greenstein from indulging in a lot of second-guessing regarding his own play. All through the narration of both the pre-flop and post-flop action, Greenstein humorously points out time and again how he was wondering if he could’ve either forced everyone out or set up a reasonable heads-up situation with the all-in shove he never did make.

Even after Arieh and Cunningham end up all in on the flop, Greenstein jokes he had to sweat the turn and river, even though he was already out of the hand. “This is a self-centered story,” laughs Greenstein. “How did this affect Barry?”

As he explains, if an ace had spiked on the turn or river, he’d have felt bad thinking he’d missed that opportunity to shove before the flop and set up a heads-up situation versus Arieh’s K-K which Greenstein would have won.

In fact, a queen landed on the turn, giving Greenstein more (theoretical) outs. “Thankfully, no ace or queen came” on the river, Greenstein says, which amid all of this second-guessing enables Greenstein to congratulate himself -- again, with a lot of humility and self-deprecating humor attached -- that from a gleefully unembarrassed, results-oriented perspective he had indeed made the right decision not to have shoved all in. “I got to feel good that I didn’t go broke.”

In a way, Greenstein is acknowledging here (quite humorously) that he didn’t have the fortitude he was crediting Cheong for having earlier. Admitting that he was feeling “out of sync” with his play throughout the event, he further confesses to second-guessing himself constantly in this particular hand, only feeling better about things after the result of the hand shows he managed to avoid making a decision that would’ve resulted in his elimination.

Would seem self-contradictory but for the fact that the Bear obviously knows what he’s saying here about his own uncertain play. In any event, I found his “self-centered story” quite entertaining, not to mention further proof of how in tournaments we are constantly “choosing our own adventures” -- as well as how we tell of those adventures afterwards, too.

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