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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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Twitch Talk

Have you looked at Twitch, that live streaming video platform that has been gaining some notice in the poker world over the last several months?

I’m trying to remember when I first heard of Twitch. I think it was last year at some point when I heard Marcel Luske talking about the site and playing on it occasionally as marcelluske, although I never looked in.

Twitch launched in 2011, and quickly became very popular among the multiplayer online gaming crowd. It took poker players a little while to find the site and start using it, with Luske and Jason Somerville among the first to gravitate to it. I did watch some of Somerville’s “Run It Up” sessions -- played under his jcarverpoker account -- which were both interesting and entertaining.

It was easy to see while watching Somerville how the medium would work well for poker coaching -- much like instructional videos, only live and even interactive (via chat). You can watch him for free, although it looks like those who subscribe for a few bucks per month get access to special sessions, too.

I learned a bit more about Twitch at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure where Somerville, James McManus, Lee Jones, and Barry Greenstein presented a panel about poker’s past, present, and future. It was there Somerville suggested how Twitch could well attract a lot of newcomers to poker, and how in his experience many of those tuning in to watch him weren’t already deep into the game (as one might expect).

I’ve looked at a few other Twitch streams over the last few weeks.

I watched David Sklansky playing tourneys on WSOP.com on a couple of occasions on the twoplustwo_poker account, his cockatoo perched on his shoulder and cats climbing all over him as he did. He offered lots of justifications for his nittiness while responding to comments and some often funny questions in chat.

I also looked in on Casey Jarzebek’s “Monday Night MTT Grind with Beers!” a couple of nights ago over on his bigdogpckt55 Twitch, watching him play several hands well and make good reads in a tournament, although by the time I looked in I think he’d imbibed enough for his self-commentary to be reduced to repeating how easy poker was for him while touting his training site. Still entertaining, tho’.

I’m imagining some real interesting applications of Twitch, including for covering both live and online tournaments. The GPI guys are already planning to use it in some fashion, apparently, for that Global Poker Masters event next month. The delay for these I’ve been watching is just three minutes, I think, which tightens the window even further from the usual half-hour or thereabouts usually observed for “almost live” streams, which I think might present issues if hole cards are shown.

I haven’t read any cultural critics discussing Twitch as yet, although I assume it is being viewed as a logical next step in social media, making it even more simple than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. for everyone to broadcast his or her own life as a performance, packaging and presenting themselves in ways that satisfy various predilections (including the desire to “monetize” one’s existence, if possible).

I’ll ask again... have you looked at Twitch? What do you think of its potential relevance to poker?

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

“What the Hail?” Says Caesars, Changes Bad Actor Stance

Been reading around some regarding the recent news that Caesars has changed course in a notable way regarding its stance toward PokerStars being allowed back into the U.S. (in those states that would have ‘em, now or later).

It was late last Friday that the story first began to circulate, with Chris Krafcik tweeting that Caesars Executive VP Jan Jones Blackhurst had told him Amaya/PokerStars “should be considered for legalization in the U.S.” The statement suggests a change of opinion from Caesars regarding the inclusion of “bad actor clauses” in online poker legislation, something they had been in favor of previously.

Caesars has lobbied pretty hard over the years for those clauses that would close out online poker entities that served U.S. customers during that post-UIGEA, pre-Black Friday period (October 2006-April 2011), making them either unable to get licensed and regulated or force them to wait several years before becoming potentially eligible to do so.

Indeed, the whole “bad actor” issue was more or less all about PokerStars, currently the world’s biggest online poker site by eightfold (or more) over its nearest challenger. Caesars (and others) didn’t want such a formidable competitor back in the U.S. once the games began to be dealt again, and so did all they could to help keep that from happening.

But now -- not long after Caesars’ largest operating unit has declared bankruptcy and amid other financial woes and restructuring of debt -- they’re suddenly for Amaya/PokerStars. A further indication of the new position came in the form of Caesars’ partner in California the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians making known their support of a couple of current bills in the state, including their own similar change of heart regarding so-called “bad actors.”

Krafcik wrote up the story of Caesars’ newfound stance over at Gambling Compliance, although the piece sits behind a paywall. You can read more about it all at PokerNews and over at Online Poker Report.

The PN story includes the further quote from Blackhurst to Krafcik that Caesars now intends “to focus on where our opposition really lies, and clearly it’s not Amaya and PokerStars” whom they now consider “are a strong ally in the space.” Amaya Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser also told PN that from their side they “will work closely with Caesars to promote the US online gaming industry and support responsible legislation at the state and federal levels.”

Caesars Interactive Entertainment’s WSOP.com sites are attracting greater attention though still boast very modest traffic since opening up in Nevada and New Jersey in late 2013. Caesars’ change from considering PokerStars as an antagonist to now considering them an “ally” necessarily invites a lot of speculation regarding what might happen in various states, as well as thoughts to what could come well down the road from such an alliance.

There’s a lot that remains uncertain, though, when it comes to guessing what all this might mean going forward -- or even right now. Generally speaking, it does seem a potential positive, at least insofar as it appears to lessen some of the in-fighting among those on the pro-online poker side of things. Of course, that situation has already had a deep and lasting effect on Online Poker 2.0 in the U.S., including positioning proponents of online poker well behind the hard-charging Adelson-backed machine working the other side.

Last Friday was the 13th, the day this news broke. Recalls another Friday the 13th in online poker history, the one on which then-president George W. Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 into law. Meanwhile, we all know the Ides of March comes on the 15th, but did you realize the Ides of February is the 13th?

Like I say, it seems like positive news. But I’m wondering... should anyone beware?

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Highlight TV

Last night there were a couple of shows on against one another that ended up drawing a lot of eyes -- that three-and-a-half-hour 40th anniversary Saturday Night Live show and the almost-as-long NBA All-Star Game.

Reading over on ESPN today, it looks like the ratings for the SNL show added up to 23.1 million viewers, which they’re saying is the “most watched prime-time entertainment telecast” for NBC since 2004. Meanwhile the NBA says the All-Star Game drew 6.1 million viewers -- big for the game, but still behind shows like 60 Minutes (10.4 million), CSI (almost 7 million), and a couple of others (according to TV by the Numbers).

I had various work to do during those prime time hours last night -- including taking care of the horses as we ready for a winter storm later today -- but when in front of the teevee I ended up flipping back and forth between SNL and the NBA. Neither was all that compelling, as it turned out, which made it easy to tear away from one to check in on the other.

There was a lot of buzz for that SNL special, and while the show featured a lot of fun “call backs” it overall seemed to fall well below expectations. The All-Star Game was hyped as usual, too, although I think most basketball fans know better than to expect too much from what is traditionally more an exhibition than a competition -- although really all that gets exhibited is a predilection for three-pointers, alley-oops, and lackadaisical defense.

Perhaps going back and forth between the two artificially encouraged the identifying of parallels, but the two programs struck me as being very similar in both form and content.

Both were in New York. Both were essentially live, albeit with a lot of pretaped material interspersed and a healthy percentage of time taken up by commercials. The SNL show was sort of a “best of” or “greatest hits”-type package, while the All-Star Game is also nominally presenting the NBA’s best, though in truth there was a lot of non-greatest stuff mixed in with both.

The SNL show featured a lot of montages that rather than present entire skits just showed a few seconds so as to trigger the memory for those in the know. The All-Star Game similarly kind of boils down basketball to a nonstop highlight reel of dunks and flashy plays, with both teams operating as if the shot clock were six seconds rather than 24. (I suppose one might compare both to the all-in fests that characterize many televised poker shows, although there you still often get some variety in the pacing.)

I guess both programs were varieties of entertainment once-removed -- shows about shows, in a sense -- that served as reminders of the actual entertainment to which they referred without exactly providing the same.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

The Real Reporters

Kind of a weird, unsettling confluence of events related to the reporting of news and journalism this week.

Much revered television correspondent Bob Simon died Wednesday in a car accident at the age of 73. Best known for his regular contributions on 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II, Simon had a long, storied career reaching back to reporting on the Vietnam conflict and including covering the Persian Gulf War in in 1991, the latter assignment having involved him being imprisoned with his crew for nearly seven weeks. Read more about his incredible life and career over at CBS here.

Then yesterday New York Times columnist and author David Carr died suddenly at age 58, collapsing in the office not long after having just moderated a panel discussion earlier in the day about Edward Snowden. During his career Carr produced a lot of insightful commentary about the media and popular culture (including social media), and among the tributes being written today is a good, detailed one over at the NYT.

Just this past Monday, Carr was writing about Brian Williams, the NBC anchor who found himself in an imbroglio after revelations came to light over his having misrepresented details of a story regarding his reporting on the 2003 Iraq War. Carr was highly critical of Williams in the piece, although expressed some sympathy for his plight as a 21st-century network anchor-slash-celebrity.

“We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy,” concluded Carr, summarizing points he had made about Williams and his purported role. “It’s a job description that no one can match.” (Williams, as you’ve probably heard, has been suspended by NBC for six months, a move many think will serve as a means to remove him entirely as the network’s lead anchor.)

Also on Monday came Jon Stewart’s announcement of his intention to leave The Daily Show at some point later this year, the “fake news” show he has hosted since 1999. There was a point somewhere during the mid-2000s -- right around the time or just after the much-misreported Iraq invasion, I believe -- that you began to hear statistics reporting how more Americans were getting their news from Stewart’s satirical program than from “straight” news shows and networks.

I’m fascinated (and at times awed) by journalism and journalists, an interest that has been further fueled by all of the political reporting from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that I’ve immersed myself in as I nurture my fixation with Richard Nixon (and JFK and LBJ). There is so much that is good to read -- and to watch, too, as practically everything you might be curious about when it comes to presidents, politics, and reporting on both is readily available online.

The work of those who helped chronicle those decades first-hand -- from whom I’m gathering information and knowledge and a true education -- is incredibly valuable. As is the work of those serving similar roles today.

While I’ve had many chances to play “reporter” over the years -- both in poker and in other contexts -- I’ve never considered myself a journalist per se, even if whenever I write for an audience I earnestly endeavor to adhere to standards recognized by actual journalists.

Being a journalist -- a good one, that is -- requires such a difficult balance of effort, energy, honesty, integrity, creativity, imagination, and intelligence. It also requires a kind of instinctive selflessness that helps one to know how a story is supposed to be reported (that is, what is correct and needful as defined by one’s audience) as well as how one can report a story (that is, what one’s own limits are, defined both personally and in terms of audience).

There are other ethics -- a whole, detailed “code” -- when it comes to journalism with which many aren’t necessarily familiar, the details of which I also find fascinating to contemplate sometimes as I read and respond to others’ reporting. The more I do -- and the more I am exposed to genuinely excellent reporting -- the clearer it becomes how those who become good, solid, actual journalists have not just made a commitment, they’ve chosen a particular way of life.

“If you want to be loved, journalism is a poor career choice,” tweeted Simon about a year-and-a-half ago, perhaps representing that sentiment somewhat. It’s a line that carries a faint irony in retrospect, given the love for his work many have expressed in the wake of his passing. It’s also one that reminds me that as much as I admire the real reporters, they’ve made a choice I have not.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mixing It Up

Just finished making Asian-Spiced Broccoli Tacos with Asian slaw and Sriracha mayo for dinner. There’s a picture of a couple of them at left before they were swiftly devoured.

Vera gave me a subscription to a site that sends menus each week, and so I’ve been mixing things up quite a bit when it comes to the meals I’ve been making. This dish was easier to prepare than you’d think, and something I’d never have thought to have fixed without the prompting. A lot of it just involved putting ingredients together in separate bowls and then... well... mixing them up.

Speaking of mixing it up, I wanted to point to a couple of articles over in PokerNews’ strategy section this week that talk about something other than no-limit hold’em.

The first is an interview from a couple of days ago I did with Ken Lo, author of The Poker Player’s Guide to Mixed Games, in which I asked him for his thoughts about the 2015 WSOP schedule -- specifically the non-NLHE offerings -- as well as for a bit of strategy advice.

Ken made some good points about the schedule and offered some worthwhile tips as well for players new to some of these games. Check it out: “The Schedule and Strategy: A Look at Mixed Games at the 2015 WSOP.”

Then today Neil Gibson shared a strategy article in which he passed along terse tips about five different non-NLHE games -- the kind of shorthand advice someone might tell a friend about to play a game he or she had never tried before. See “Tips You Can Text: Abbreviated Advice for Five Non-Hold’em Games.”

I remain a huge fan of non-hold’em variants. Sort of like appreciating other non-standard fare when preparing meals. Speaking of, I think I might have enough broccoli, slaw, and Sriracha mayo left for one more taco.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Over a Barrel in Niagara

Last year around this time I was in cold, snowy Niagara Falls (NIAGARA FALLS! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch...) to help cover the World Poker Tour Fallsview Classic. It was a fun trip -- coinciding with Canada winning that gold medal in Sochi -- and as I’d never been before those majestic, ice-filled falls were certainly something to see.

I didn’t make it back this year (the $5K WPT Main Event gets going in a couple of days). Like most of you I have heard this story about the $1,100 preliminary event and the ticket scalping that went on -- something pretty unusual to hear about in tournament poker, though apparently not unique at Fallsview.

If you haven’t heard that story, you can read about it here. The combination of a tournament for which entries were capped, transferable entry tickets, and no alternates added up to entries being sold for more than the buy-in by enterprising “scalpers” -- with some apparently going for as much as $1,800.

I enjoyed reporting on the WPT there last February, and was unaware of the scalping that had occurred at a prelim then, too, but which didn’t affect the Main Event. I was quite aware, however, of all of the restrictions in place on both players and media thanks to local gaming regulations. No pictures or videos can be taken in the tournament area, nor are players allowed to use their smart phones at all at the tables.

We obviously could report on the tournament without providing photos or videos. And players could play without tweeting, texting, or Facebooking, too. But it did create a very different, archaic-seeming vibe, and makes the apparent abuses associated with the “scalping” of tourney entries seem all the more incongruous amid such a restrictive setting.

Stepping back from the story, it’s curious to consider even the possibility of securing tournament entries and finding buyers willing to pay more than face value to participate. I read stories of some who had traveled there to play the event, though, and who were thus in a difficult spot when it turned out the only way to play was to pay more than they’d expected.

Sort of creates a situation in which some players are (in a way) firing more than one time (e.g., like 1.5x) without the event being a re-entry. And, importantly, without the added amount being paid going into the prize pool.

Skews the whole risk-reward ratio, that. Then again, still better than actually going over the falls in a barrel, I imagine.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I Said “Lady, Step Inside My Hyundai”

Didn’t see the Grammys -- can’t say I normally do -- although have absorbed the requisite amount of buzzing about it over the last couple of days, as will happen if you click on your computer machine and look around.

I like Beck’s Morning Phase, the disc that earned the trophy for album of the year, although as most who’ve followed his career have acknowledged, there are other, better titles in the catalogue. For me, Midnite Vultures and Sea Change are the twin peaks. The latter does the melancholy thing more consistently for me than does Phase, while the former is an inspired amalgam of faux funk.

I realized this morning when my alarm went off I’ve had the first few seconds of “Debra” as my ringtone for so many years I’d stopped thinking of the song when it goes off. Meanwhile, just now I clicked on the video below and reached for my phone.

I remember seeing Beck do this one on teevee close to two decades ago on some show wearing a white suit and referring to it not as “Debra” but something like “I Wanna Get With You Only You and Your Sister.” I knew Mellow Gold and Odelay and was a fan already, then later when “Debra” finally found its way onto Vultures I was fully hooked, destined to keep checking in on Beck thereafter.

Beck’s been hit-or-miss for me in some respects, although he’s always intriguing. I even spent a week or two last year exploring that Song Reader release for which Beck issued an “album” of 20 songs without recording them -- i.e., just as sheet music. I learned a couple on the guitar, and watched a number of vids of others’ versions which all somehow sounded more or less like “Beck songs.”

I also saw and heard the odd-seeming rant by Kanye West about Beck’s win. That seemed to have began as a humorous, self-effacing reprise of his “Imma Let You Finish” performance at another awards show a few years back, then became less funny after West’s incoherent manifesto about Beck needing “to respect artistry” and give the trophy to Beyoncé.

I wonder if those Global Poker Index-sponsored American Poker Awards coming up later this month in Los Angeles could drum up some analogous controversy? Maybe I’ll try to stir things up over Twitter among the nominees for Media Person of the Year -- Nolan Dalla, Chris Grove, Kevin Mathers, and Rich Ryan -- to create conditions for something similar.

I mean, Dalla seems like a good candidate to deliver a Kanyesque rant, wouldn’t you say? He definitely provided some good Grammy-related criticism this week, reaching back through the years with his post “The Most Baffling Grammy Award Winners of All Time (i.e. “My Anti-Grammy Awards”).”

Meanwhile, I’m heading out. Gonna step inside my Hyundai and go out for a real good meal.

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Remembering Dean

It was my senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill. I found myself sitting in the back of a first-semester Latin class, something I’m going to guess had been recommended to me by one of my English professors (my major). It was an elective for me, as I’d already had French to cover the foreign language requirement. It was the first day, and there were a lot of freshmen in there.

The grad student teaching the course went over the syllabus, part of which involved reiterating a point about the final exam with which I was familiar given that I’d heard it many times before. If I remember correctly, there was a provision that applied to all courses that stated if you had three finals within a two-day period, you could get one of the finals rescheduled. However (the teacher explained), you had to take care of rescheduling your exam at some point before the end of the semester by contacting the Dean.

At that one of the freshmen raised her hand.

“Dean Smith?” she asked uncertainly.

The class laughed. I just grinned, spending the next few moments thinking about how little I had known when I’d first arrived at Carolina. Did I know what an academic dean was my first week in school? I can’t say for sure. But I knew who Dean Smith was, all right.

My earliest memories of basketball go way back almost to the mid-70s, and Dean Smith is right there at the heart of most of them. I remember Virginia upsetting UNC in the ACC tournament finals in 1976, then UNC losing to Marquette in the national finals the next year when Walter Davis -- “Sweet D” -- had to play with a broken index finger. From there the memories become more vivid, highlighted by the ’82 championship team with Worthy, Perkins, and Jordan. By ’93 I’d be on the campus to celebrate that year’s championship, and of course followed Smith’s continued career thereafter very closely until his retirement in ’97.

I played basketball growing up. The sport was a very important part of my life, something I did practically every single day, usually for at least a couple of hours. Some of my best memories involve playing for teams coached by my father and my friends’ fathers. When I think of those teams, I feel extremely fortunate to have had such adults in my life providing me with opportunities to play and enjoy being a kid, but also guiding me to become a good person via lessons in sportsmanship and teamwork.

Later on when teaching full-time at a small college I was offered a chance to serve as the school’s Faculty Athletic Representative, kind of a catch-all position serving primarily as a liaison between the athletic department and the academic side. I eagerly accepted the offer, because I loved sports and because I believed strongly in their value. That is to say, I thought -- and still do think -- that sports serve an important purpose when it comes to education, even higher education.

It was a small school and perhaps it was easier to think that way about sports since there wasn’t the big money and other temptations that at large Division I schools help create ambiguities about sports’ influence. I served as FAR for many years, only giving it up after the school suddenly veered in a direction that I believed not only compromised the school’s athletic department, but the school’s academic purpose, too. It was the beginning of the end for me in that position, in fact, as I’d eventually leave altogether.

I’ve always thought of sports and other games (including poker) as being very important -- valuable in the lessons they can teach, in the pleasures they can provide, and in the ways they bring individuals together in meaningful ways that transcend those competitions. These are things I first learned from my coaches. They are also things I learned (and my coaches did, too) from Dean Smith’s example.

It was impossible to watch Smith’s teams play and listen to how he spoke of their games and not absorb the many lessons he was constantly imparting to the men who played them. They are too many to list, although the lesson of the importance of humility stands out for me most strongly as I think of his life and legacy. That also seems to be the lesson many others are focusing on as they celebrate his life in the wake of his passing, the eagerness with which they are championing him directly proportionate to his own desire not to have done so.

No, Dean Smith couldn’t have helped us reschedule our final exams. But he helped a lot of us in a lot of other ways, something for which this student remains grateful.

(For a little more reminiscing about UNC hoops and Smith, listen to the podcast Dr. Pauly and I made about the 1993 UNC-Michigan NCAA final.)

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Poker and Sports (and Fun and Games)

Earlier this week Victoria Coren Mitchell was interviewed over on PokerNews about various topics, one of which was the participation of no less than 22 men in this year’s women’s event at EPT11 Deauville. You might have heard about the men overrunning that event, with one of them eventually winning. In fact there were but 83 total entrants in the €200 buy-in tournament, meaning men made up more than one-fourth of the field.

I’ve written here before on several occasions about the subject of men playing in tournaments designated as women’s events. In fact I’ve even written about Coren Mitchell’s opinions about the subject, a post occasioned by my having covered the Ladies Event at the 2012 WSOP when around 10 men participated, as did Coren. That was before she would add Mitchell, and before the WSOP would add that inflated 10x price tag to the event for men wanting to play.

To summarize that earlier discussion, both she and I find the men playing in ladies events a huge bummer, a point of view she reiterated in the interview this week. There was another point she made at the end of the interview, however, that I found newly thought-provoking, something that came up in the context of discussing the Hendon Mob database.

Coren Mitchell has known the Hendon Mob guys from way back, having participated in the old forum, written columns in the past for the site, and also shared many funny anecdotes about them in her excellent poker memoir, For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker.

In her comments she somewhat laments the Hendon Mob site’s having been taken over by the Global Poker Index group, primarily because it disconnects the site from what it once was (and from her friends the Boatmans, Joe Beevers, and Ram Vaswani). “It was all a bit of fun, and now they are not involved in it anymore,” she says.

Continuing from there, Coren Mitchell speaks directly to the effort by the GPI and Alexandre Dreyfus to “sportify” poker.

“If the website is trying to seriously make poker a sport, I think they may have lost some of the comedy of the enterprise,” suggests Coren Mitchell. “But it doesn’t matter. Is snooker a sport? Is darts a sport? Is chess a sport? I don’t think it’s an important question, really.”

Again I’m finding myself agreeing with Coren Mitchell, sharing the same ambivalence about arguments over poker being or not being a “sport” (something else I’ve written about before.) But the idea that focusing on poker’s sport-like elements could potentially drain some of the “comedy” or fun from the game isn’t necessarily something I’d considered before.

I can see the point -- that is, how heightening the significance of competition perhaps diminishes that of community, thus (potentially) making things more serious and less fun. But it’s an idea I’ll need to think about further before deciding if I agree.

What do you think? Whatever your thoughts might be about efforts to “sportify” poker, do you think those efforts might in some way serve to reduce “the comedy of the enterprise”?

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Super Bowl Postscript: Replaying the Last Hand

Just a short postscript today on Super Bowl XLIX after reading New England fan Bill Simmons’s lengthy “Retro Running Diary” of the game.

To refer to anything Simmons posts over on Grantland as “lengthy” is redundant, as word count often trumps most other considerations with his stuff (a subject about which I’ve written here before.) But in this case there’s a decent amount of quality along with the quantity as he narrates in minute detail the roller coaster ride taken by the world’s most verbose Pats fan as he watched that incredible game and finish on Sunday.

The most intriguing part of the article (for me) comes near the end when Simmons attempts to come to grips with the seemingly baffling decision made by New England head coach Bill Belichick not to use one of the Pats’ two remaining timeouts when there was almost exactly one minute to go and Seattle was readying for a second-and-goal at New England’s one-yard line.

Rather that call the TO, Belichick let the clock run with more than 30 seconds ticking away before the Seahawks snapped it with 0:26 left for what would become a stunning interception to end (essentially) their title hopes. Like most everyone, Simmons found the lack of a timeout bewildering at the time, and if you scroll down to that part of his article there are some funny animated .gifs helping underscore his confusion.

At that point Simmons steps back and with a full day’s worth of hindsight is able to construct a kind of hypothesis to explain Belichick’s thinking, aided in part (he says) by a Washington Post article by Adam Kilgore explaining why it could be considered a “sneaky-brilliant decision” insofar as in a strange way it might well have helped coerce Seattle into the pass call.

Simmons also spoke with a couple of N.E. guys (“two of my Patriots sources”) in addition to rewatching the end several times. “A long, fascinating email from a poker player helped” as well, explains Simmons, who then goes into a further elaboration of Kilgore’s idea that by not calling the timeout, Belichick invited Seattle to consider other options when it came to that second down play call, options which in the frenzied, pressurized atmosphere of the moment perhaps became trickier to evaluate.

In other words, the idea Simmons pursues is that by not calling the TO, Belichick did something that momentarily perplexed an opponent that had expected him to do just that. “He wanted confusion and chaos,” opines Simmons. “He wanted that in-game pressure to tilt Seattle’s way.... [He] felt that in-stadium energy shifting after Lynch’s first-down run [the previous play],” and so in the moment decided not to stop the clock and thereby mess with Seattle’s collective head.

The decision also had a concrete purpose -- to elicit the possibility of a particular pass play (the slant) against which New England had specifically prepared to defend. In any event, it sounds like the poker player (who? I wonder) helped Simmons put the whole situation into terms that made Belichick’s move not only seem understandable, but truly inspired.

“This was now a poker game,” writes Simmons. “What do you do when you know you have the lousier hand? You bluff.”

I like the analogy, and not just because Belichick often wears a hoodie. The Pats absolutely had “the lousier hand” in that spot, although I’m not sure I’d describe the non-action of not calling a timeout as a “bluff.” Rather it was just an unexpected play that suddenly put the pressure on Seattle when deciding how to answer -- as though one player has made a confident bet that looks like it will be enough to win the pot, then another makes a surprising all-in push that forces the first into a much-harder-than-expected decision.

I mean, folding seemed the right play, if we want to regard calling the TO there thusly. Heck, announcer Chris Collinsworth was even bringing up the “let them score and get the ball back” idea, which of course would have represented another kind of folding in this spot.

But no, Belichick didn’t fold. He shoved. By not stopping the clock, he made it clear the game was going to end on this hand, and there would be no next one.

If you’re still thinking about the game and that crazy ending, I recommend spending a short while reading Simmons’s story of it. His lyrical conclusion regarding Belichick’s persona, reputation, and possible legacy works well, and is somewhat persuasive, too -- so much so that even this non-Pats fan couldn’t help but appreciate it.

Whether or not Belichick knew exactly what he was accomplishing by not calling that timeout, I’m convinced it wasn’t simply a momentary lapse or something done without purpose. He absolutely meant not to call the TO, all right, although I’m not quite ready to allow that he knew what would happen next with as much precision as Simmons appears ready to believe.

It was assuredly a poker game, that ending. And good gosh, what a river.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Understanding Standing

Dipped into the always entertaining EPTLive stream today to watch some of the action from Day 3 of the EPT Deauville Main Event. I was there the last couple of years, but after the PCA trip last month I’m not minding getting to spend the days here watching the action from the farm this time around.

The field had shrunk down to under 90 players from the 592 who started, and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier was among those at the feature table. Not long after I tuned in, a hand arose in which a shorter-stacked opponent found himself all in and at risk against ElkY -- Joseph El Khoury, sitting to Grospellier’s left.

The hand was mildly interesting with Grospellier starting out behind with K-J versus El Khoury’s K-Q, then flopping a jack to grab the lead. The turn was a second jack, but a nine on board also gave El Khoury a gutshot, and when a 10 dropped on the river, he survived with a king-high straight.

As the board was dealt, commentators Matt Broughton and Joe Stapleton discussed how El Khoury rose from his seat to stand behind his chair as the community cards were being delivered.

“We were just talking about this move,” said Stapleton of El Khoury’s standing up. “We don’t like this move when you’re ahead.”

Broughton picked up on possible superstitions involved with standing while a mathematical favorite. “The thing is you’re asking for trouble, because now if you do get sucked out on [others are] going to go ‘Well, you did stand up.’” But Stapleton suggested there could be a slight etiquette problem involved, too.

“I don’t know, it’s almost kind of poor sportsmanship, I think,” speculated Stapes. “You’re ahead... [it’s] a needle, you know what I mean?”

Broughton noted how El Khoury’s being at risk probably was enough to absolve him from such a charge. “I guess his [El Khoury’s] tournament is the one that’s on the line, so there’s a bit of anxiety and you can go ‘Okay, okay’” and forgive standing while ahead.

Then the jack fell, and El Khoury was suddenly behind. In fact, by the time the second jack came on the turn, he had already started to put on his jacket when the saving 10 fell on the river.

While the etiquette question is certainly applicable in similar situations, I think most of us would file the standing up and even going for the jacket under the heading of “reverse jinx” behaviors, if we assign any meaning to them at all. That is to say, we’d look at the actions as those of a person who has accepted his fate (or is trying to appear as if he had). But his readying for that eventuality also serves to lessen expectations the reverse will occur, with the superstitious among us viewing the latter as somehow helping to elicit the hoped-for friendly card.

As poker players, our minds often instantly focus on negative outcomes such as when all in and at risk in a tournament. Even in non-poker situations, it can be hard (if you’re human) not to let our thoughts seize upon potential misfortunes. Whether we’ve “got it in good” or not, we focus on the bad cards that will hurt us rather than the others that will not. Standing and backing away in such situations would almost constitute a “tell,” if it weren’t already beyond the point of tells having strategic significance.

I myself tend not to stand from my chair in all-in situations, whether ahead or behind, at risk or not. But I think I can understand standing.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

2015 WSOP Schedule Released

Just a few quick thoughts today regarding the 2015 World Series of Poker schedule which was posted in full yesterday. We’ve got nearly four full months to look more deeply into it, but on a first pass there were three items catching my eye -- not counting that initial response to there being 68 bracelet events this year (!), three more than a year ago.

The very first item to stand out for me was the note attached to the Main Event structure sheet that “players making “the final table of this event will each receive a minimum of $1,000,000 if this event reaches or exceeds the 2014 entry number.” In other words, there will need to be at least 6,683 entrants (last year’s total) for that fairly significant change to the payout schedule to be made. That proviso hadn’t been part of the announcement last week.

While the several new events are interesting to consider -- that $565 “Colossus” event and another low buy-in $777 “Lucky 7’s” event among them -- Event No. 64, the $1,000 WSOP.com Online No-Limit Hold’em event was the most intriguing new addition at an early glance. Sounds like they’ll play that one down to heads-up on Day 1 then try to complete it live the next day, so it won’t be an entirely-online event. Still, I’m remembering back during the latter part of the “boom” (around 2006) when the growth of the WSOP (and poker, generally speaking) was continuing unabated how the idea of an online-only bracelet was first starting to be tossed around.

Finally, the third bit of schedule-related news that raised the eyebrows was the increased starting stacks for all sub-$10K events, something that immediately sent me to the structure sheets to start deciphering what that news really meant. For example, players in $1,500 buy-in events will now start with 7,500 chips instead of 4,500, which like most of the other increases is 66.7% more. But what about the structures -- will they be altered, too?

Remember back in 2009 when the WSOP went from “double stacks” to “triple stacks”? That meant in $1,500 events players began with 4,500 chips rather than 3,000. I remember going through then to see whether the blinds/antes had been altered as well so as to diminish the significance of the change (they hadn’t). (I can’t recall now, but I think when the earlier change from 1-to-1, dollar-to-chip stacks to “double stacks” had been made a few years before that one, the blinds/antes were mostly all doubled, too, which had made that change relatively meaningless.)

Well, a look at the structures shows a little bit of tinkering but not a lot, meaning the deeper stacks will be changing things on those Day 1s. Comparing a $1,500 NLHE event from 2014 to the same in 2015, the only structure differences will be:

  • the removal of the 25/25 level (meaning antes kick in Level 5, not Level 6)
  • the addition of a 250/500/50 level (Level 8)
  • the addition of a 2,500/5,000/500 level (Level 18)
  • increasing the ante from 500 to 1,000 in the 3,000/6,000 level
  • So there’ll be more play at the start, some more in the middle, and perhaps some longer tourneys overall, too, although I’ll let better number crunchers opine further. In other words, the deeper starting stack is indeed a meaningful change.

    Like I say, we’ve got a while to keep looking this sucker over. What stood out to you on a first pass?

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    Monday, February 02, 2015

    The Super Bowl of Second Guessing

    I remember once playing in a rec basketball game as a teen in which we were trailing a stronger opponent heading into the latter part of the final quarter. The coach that night was my friend’s father, standing in for the regular head coach who had to miss the game for some reason.

    My buddy’s Pop was either an assistant or just helped out in practices here and there, I can’t recall. In any event, I remember him calling a timeout and instructing us to start fouling the other team’s worst shooters, a fairly standard approach teams often take to try to get more possessions and stage a comeback should the other team miss enough free throws.

    The strategy worked especially well, and within just a couple of minutes we’d whittled a double-digit lead down to just one. Then we fouled again, they missed again, and we took the lead with less than a minute remaining. The other team called a timeout, and as we huddled up my friend’s Dad had an idea.

    Let’s foul again, he said, almost sounding like he was asking us when he did whether or not we thought it might be a good idea. The other team was struggling mightily from the line, he noted, and if we fouled they’d likely miss again, we’d get the board, and the game would be in the bag for us. I remember thinking it seemed like a goofy plan, but he was so enthusiastic about it we were all pretty easily convinced it was somehow a genius move.

    You can probably guess how this story ends. We fouled, their player hit both free throws, and we ended up losing. It was initially disappointing, but ultimately the game became a fun, much-referenced collective experience we often talked about afterwards. I remember whenever it came up, my buddy’s Dad often saying with a touch of humility and a wide, mischeivous grin -- “It was such a great idea!”

    Looking back, I’m reminded a little how the game represented what was perhaps one of the first times -- and in a thankfully low-stakes way -- I was exposed to the idea that adults didn’t always know the right thing to do. I also can’t help but think of how my buddy’s father continuing to argue for the plan despite the outcome might well have been an early lesson in the dangers of being results-oriented in one’s thinking.

    His plan to foul when ahead was pretty obviously not a good one, regardless of the outcome. But his (half-joking, half-serious) insistence that the idea was still valid despite the way things turned out definitely forced a young Shamus to think about how results don’t necessarily confirm or deny the correctness of a strategy -- something the older, poker-playing Shamus came to understand even more clearly.

    Obviously it was the stunning conclusion to last night’s Super Bowl XLIX that inspired this bit of reminiscing from me today. Seattle’s decision when down 28-24 to throw that second-and-goal slant pass with 26 seconds left and the clock running rather than run the ball was certainly a surprising choice, with the calamitous outcome of an interception inspiring instant second guessing that will continue unabated for as long as the game continues to be discussed.

    New England’s decision not to use one of its two remaining timeouts prior to the play was itself especially odd, too, letting the clock run down from 1:00 to 0:26 and all but eliminating any chance to get back down the field for a tying field goal should Seattle punch it in as expected.

    As a Carolina Panthers fan, I think back to Super Bowl XXXVIII in which New England got the ball with the score tied 29-all and used up almost all of the last 1:43 gaining enough yards to set up a winning FG. If Seattle scores on second down last night, NE has but 20 seconds with which to gain (likely) at least 40-45 yards to set up a tying kick.

    Anyhow, I tend to think that NE not calling a TO last night perhaps led Seattle to think they needed to be wary about how they were going to use the one they had left. That is to say, had they run the ball and been stopped, they’d face a third-and-goal and thus would be forced to call their last timeout, which would then (essentially) take away the option to run on third down.

    That’s what I’m led to believe, anyway, by Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s statements afterward about wanting “really to kind of waste that play.” That, of course, could have been accomplished by spiking the ball on second down, though that would’ve seemed an odd choice. In truth, they didn’t want to “waste” the down, but to run what seemed a low-risk play that would either stop the clock with an incompletion or get them in the end zone. But neither of those outcomes happened.

    I don’t want to wade too deeply into analyzing the play or decision, though, something everyone else is doing ad infinitum today. And I’m sure there will be a few who -- like my buddy’s father long ago did with his unorthodox move -- will stubbornly build cases for why the pass call was not such a bad idea. Indeed, the quants at Five Thirty-Eight are already doing so, pointing out how NE letting the clock run down was a more egregious error than was calling that pass play.

    But most are taking and will take the other view regarding the decision. And bolstered by the outcome will forever second guess.

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