Friday, March 14, 2014

To the Victor Belong the Spoils

Immersed right now in basketball, in particular the college conference tournaments.

My Atlantic Coast Conference is unrecognizable right now (something I wrote about a year ago over at Ocelot Sports), having bloated to 15 teams including Notre Dame which it seems like might be a far piece away from the Atlantic.

The bracket -- with byes and double-byes -- is like an algebra final, and while I think I can figure out who plays whom from this point forward, my Heels losing this afternoon has me reduced (more or less) to pulling against Duke.

Carolina most assuredly deserved to lose their game today against Pittsburgh. They came out flat, let the Panthers build a huge 20-point second half lead, then forged a too-little-too-late comeback to make the final score seem respectable. But while certain breaks didn’t quite go the Heels’ way, Pittsburgh deserved to win and UNC deserved to lose.

I found myself reflecting a little this afternoon how in sports, for the most part, that’s how games go -- the team who wins is generally given credit for having earned it, even if luck were involved. Only on those rare occasions when an official unreasonably influences the outcome with an erroneous call do fans or players or coaches ever bother to say the winner didn’t deserve to win or the loser didn’t deserve to lose.

I mean fans will say their team should have won or lost -- but generally they will still concede the outcome as creditable.

Poker, however, isn’t always like that. Especially tournament poker, where luck can play a crucial role. I know I’ve won tournaments in which I couldn’t necessarily argue without qualification that I “deserved” to win. And, of course, I’ve lost them, too, when I felt as though I was somehow robbed of a victory by an unfortunate sequence or some other fate-tipping factor.

These thoughts were inspired, I think, by a post published today over on the PokerStars blog by my buddy (and transatlantic running partner) Rick Dacey, titled “Opinion: Giving credit where credit is due.”

In the article Rick discusses how sometimes those following a poker tournament -- i.e., the “spectators” either watching a live stream or following live updates -- sometimes unreasonably deliver judgment regarding the skill level of those involved. He brings up in particular two recent tournament winners, EPT10 Barcelona winner Sotirios Koutoupas and UKIPT4 Isle of Man champ Duncan McLellan, as having earned some ill-informed criticism based mostly on an impression that they were unreasonably lucky to win their titles.

I watched Koutoupas’s win in Barcelona with Rick, helping him cover the event for the PS blog, and knew first-hand how the Greek player had impressed us all with his play for several days in that tournament. Rick notes how some fortunate hands for Koutoupas at the final table inspired some trolling, and so he invited Team Online member Mickey Petersen to do some analysis of a few key hands to help show how such judgments miss the mark.

A similar procedure is performed with McLellan’s performance, and the whole adds up to an interesting read that includes some worthwhile poker strategy discussion to boot.

Rick’s piece won’t stop the cries of “The bum got lucky!” when the next tournament is won, but it does remind us how hard it is to make unambiguous conclusions about poker players’ skill, especially given (1) the incomplete information we generally have as observers, and/or (2) the incomplete knowledge most of us possess when it comes to understanding how the game is played.

Anyhow, wanted to give Rick his due credit for a thoughtful and well written opinion. Meanwhile, I’m going to turn back to this N.C. State-Syracuse game and hope that the Wolfpack earns a well-deserved victory. After all, the last time these two played the Pack wuz robbed! (Or not.)

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