Thursday, December 06, 2012

Eating It Up: Open-Face Chinese Poker

Whenever I hear someone referring to “Open-Face Chinese Poker,” it makes me think of food. In fact, it often makes me hungry.

One reason is the way the name of the game -- the latest new variant to capture the poker community’s attention -- sounds like “open-faced sandwich.” As in oh, man, you’ve simply got to try this Open-Face Chinese with avocado and sprouts and a slice of cheese melted on top. Delish!

The other is the excitement with which many people who’ve played the game seem always to talk about it -- as if their appetite (so to speak) for more open-face Chinese is unending.

For example, Jason Mercier not long ago wrote a post over on the PokerStars blog titled “Why I love Open-Face Chinese Poker” that begins with him referencing a recent session wherein he played the game for 34 consecutive hours, slept, then woke to play 20 hours more.

Again, it sounds like the game is some sort of lotus-like delicacy that once you try it you cannot stop eating it.

Mercier goes on in the post to discuss reasons why he is so “hooked” on the game, although I suppose the points he makes aren’t necessarily unique to OFCP.

He likes how unlike other forms of poker there is no betting involved during game play (just points tallied at the end), although that is an aspect of the game that is similar to regular Chinese Poker. He also likes the fact that it is a new game to many and thus “no one’s ‘solved’ the game” nor have “standard” plays been developed as yet. That, too, one could argue, is always going to be the case for whatever new variant comes along, at least at first. It depends on the nature of the game, however, how great a resistance to being “solved” it might have.

Mercier also talks about the many variables OFCP can have, especially when played four-handed. Again, something similar might be said of other poker variants, with some games presenting many more variables than others.

If you’re not familiar with OFCP, Jennifer Shahade has written an article describing “How to Play Open-Face Chinese Poker” for Card Player. There she spells how OFCP differs from regular Chinese Poker while also delving further into the game’s sudden popularity.

The big difference with OFCP is that rather than being dealt all 13 cards initially, players only get five cards to start, then the remaining cards one at a time thereafter, setting their hands as they go (top, middle, and bottom as in regular Chinese).

It is therefore harder to make strong hands in OFCP, and so royalties are adjusted accordingly. Indeed, royalties are a lot more prominent (and complicated) in the game, awarded not just for super-strong hands but all of the way down to having a pair (on top). There’s also a greater danger of missetting one’s hand -- that is, “fouling” one’s hand by not ensuring the highest-value hand is in back, then the second-best is in the middle, then the weakest is on top -- than is the case in regular Chinese poker.

As an indicator of OFCP’s popularity, there is actually going to be an Open-Face Chinese Poker event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure next month. It’ll be a $2,000 + $150 buy-in tournament that will incorporate a “shot clock” so as to force players to make decisions about setting their hands more quickly.

I enjoy regular Chinese Poker, which can be an especially fun game for passing the time when traveling or in situations where it isn’t feasible or convenient to get out chips and set up to play other forms of poker. I haven’t really tried OFCP that much as yet, only having had a taste of the game thus far. A bite or two, so to speak. So I haven’t come close to experiencing getting “hooked” on it such as has happened a few times for me when learning other variants of poker (pot-limit Omaha springs to mind).

It does seem a little like OFCP edges over into territory occupied by card games like gin or bridge or spades, at least in some respects (e.g., the rhythm of the game, the points system), while still being poker.

Am kind of curious how the game got its name. I understand how calling it “open-face” helps indicate the difference between setting your hand secretly (as in regular Chinese) and out in the open (as in OFCP), but why “open-face” rather than just “open”? I guess there is a precedent in blackjack, as there is an “open-face” version of that game. But again, why the “face”?

Anyhow, will have to try it for real soon. Meanwhile, I’m going to have some lunch.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strip Poker, Art, and Cultural Commentary

Warning for 'I'll Raise You One...' performanceThis week I’ve seen a number of articles about this performance art happening up in New York City involving a strip poker game. You’ve probably seen stories about it by now, too, if you spend any time on the poker news sites. Or even several non-poker news sites where the story has proven attention-grabbing enough to rate a mention.

Zefrey Throwell is the artist behind the performance, titled “I’ll Raise You One...” All week at the Art in General studio on Walker Street in Tribeca, a group of 48 people are playing an ongoing game of strip poker. The game is taking place from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. each day through Saturday in the studio’s front window, meaning passersby can look in and watch the game as it proceeds.

According to a report in the Village Voice, the performance is meant to offer a commentary of sorts on American culture, a commentary which seems to either have some affinity with or to have been inspired by the “Occupy” protests in New York and elsewhere.

“Throwell sees strip poker as a metaphor for the economy, with clothing symbolizing money,” the article states, quoting from the studio’s explanation of the piece. “While skill can help, the people who show up with the least clothing are in the worst shape, and no one can control the luck of the draw.”

from 'I'll Raise You One...'Like I say, there’s plenty online already about the strip poker game. Here’s a short video put together by The New York Post presenting it, and here is the page on the Art in General website explaining it further.

Throwell was in the news back in early August after another of his performance pieces, also involving public nudity, was swiftly shut down within minutes. That one also had an awkward title -- “Ocularpation: Wall Street” -- and involved 50 people suddenly stripping on Wall Street. Was sort of a visual pun, I guess, on the “flash mob” idea.

A few were detained for disorderly conduct, the others quickly put their clothes on, and that was that. Other than the news articles, that is, which helped spell out the artist’s intended message “to lend more transparency to Wall Street, a street which is so damn mysterious.”

I was intrigued to hear about this performance piece thanks in part to the fact that last month I’d written a short piece about strip poker in American history and culture for the Epic Poker blog. But the more I read about “I’ll Raise You Once...” the less enthused I am about the piece.

Like that “Ocularpation: Wall Street” performance, this one, too, seems to be delivering a not-so-interesting political message, in this case regarding the unequal distribution of wealth and material goods. And again, public nudity gets the piece extra attention, thereby extending the reach of that message.

But I dunno... can’t say I’m all that inspired by it.

Maybe it’s because as a poker player I am already too well acquainted with the message. We players well know that having more chips gives a player more options and thus an advantage over his or her shorter-stacked opponent. And sure, we’re also well aware that we’re all subject to luck, and that while having more chips makes it easier to absorb potential misfortunes, there are no guarantees.

Poker is unfair. Life is unfair. Being good doesn’t guarantee reward. Got it.

from 'I'll Raise You One...'“Using the language of small stakes capitalism mixed with America’s favorite gambling pass-time [sic], and the flirtatious teenage party game of strip poker, Throwell draws a fluxus parallel between what we consider winning and losing in the world today.” So explains the studio.

“Fluxus” refers to that category of experimental art across a variety of media usually designed to deliver various kinds of cultural commentary -- including commentary on art itself -- often with an emphasis on humor. Sorta big in the ’60s, it was. Think John Cage or Yoko Ono.

The strip poker piece reminds me of a similar but more interesting work, a short film titled “Naked” in which poker pro and chess champ Jennifer Shahade plays chess against a nude male amateur, Jason Bretz. That piece plays off of a famous photo of Marcel Duchamp (a big influence on the Fluxus crowd), reversing the roles of the man and woman to make a comment on the relationship of the sexes.

In Big Deal, Anthony Holden famously observed that “whether he likes it or not, a man’s character is stripped bare at the poker table.” Holden’s point was to emphasize the inescapability of “exposing” oneself (figuratively) at the table. And the need to appreciate that fact if one hopes to endure as a player. “Unless he is both able and prepared to see himself as others do, flaws and all,” says Holden, “he will be a loser in cards as in life."

I suppose strip poker kind of weirdly literalizes this process of being “stripped bare,” although losing your clothes needn’t signify much in particular about your character. (Other than perhaps a willingness to party, that is!) Nor does it say too much about your abilities as a player, either. Not in the short sample size marked by a few garments and a pair of shoes, anyhow.

Does it say something about the U.S. economy? Or the unequal distribution of wealth in this country? Or “a world where money has taken supreme importance and all functions of life are commoditized”?

Eye of the beholder, I guess. Or of the voyeur.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 44: Unwind

RelaxThe schedule for the World Series of Poker Main Event possesses a certain aesthetic appeal. Six days of poker, then take the seventh day off. Then six more. They’ve followed the same pattern the last couple of years, and I think it works fairly well.

Kind of resembles Wimbledon, with the early rounds taken care of during the first week, a day off for all, then the good stuff leading up to the final at fortnight’s end. Of course, with the WSOP ME we then have to wait another four months for the final, the climax here being the determining of the November Nine.

Was chatting with Jennifer Shahade a little last night about the schedule. She’s playing in the Main Event, and has made it through to Day 3. “You’ve been in the Main Event for a week,” I said. When I told her I kind of liked the format she noted how it wasn’t the best for players. Indeed, make it through the first two days and you’ve had to pay for a week’s worth of Vegas.

And on top of that, you’ve won nothing at all yet.

The day off was fun and relatively restful. After I spent the morning writing, the Poker Grump and I hit the Palms buffet mid-afternoon where I enjoyed an improbable mix of entrees and desserts while we talked about his Main Event experience and other topics.

Later came the WSOP Media tournament, which also provided a lot of entertainment. Like last year, about 130 participated, and it was fun to meet and talk to a number of folks I’ve mostly seen while criss-crossing between tables over the last three weeks.

AlCantHang was trying to sell his action on Twitter prior to the event -- which was inspired, given this was a freeroll. Al was actually the first to be eliminated, for which he won a small golden statue of a toilet. Had his pocket aces cracked by the mighty K-3. I wasn’t able to better my third-place finish of a year ago, finishing up around 40th or so after a couple of hours of play.

Annie Duke played, too, giving everyone copies of her book Decide to Play Great Poker. After covering her in numerous tourneys in the past, I finally met Annie a few days before, and so it wasn’t a first meeting when early on she was moved to my table to sit on my immediate left.

2011 WSOP Media tournamentWe joked around a bit, but didn’t get involved in any big hands. Once I opened from the cutoff as a sort-of-steal (had K-10), she reraised from the button, then a player pushed all in from the blinds and I got out.

Once the blinds and antes had risen to a certain point, we were all relatively short, essentially in push-or-fold territory. Somewhere in there Annie was all in with pocket jacks once against the player to my right who had A-4 or something and survived. As it happened, I’d later be all in with J-J against the same guy -- this time with A-9-suited -- and he’d river the flush to send me out.

I stuck around some after getting busted, but left prior to the tourney’s conclusion, finding out later that Annie actually won the sucker, defeating Zimba (a.k.a. @PokerCurious) heads up. F-Train final tabled, finishing seventh.

Next came some more pub trivia at McFadden’s. We had a big group there, and so formed two teams. I played with Absinthe, Katkin, Ebhizzle, Poker Grump, F-Train, and Timtern. Meanwhile, at the next table the squad was comprised of Andrew Feldman, Oskar Garcia, Lance Bradley, B.J. Nemeth, and Gary Wise (who arrived yesterday). Our team won, they took second, and a group including Vanessa Selbst, Liv Boeree, and Jeff Madsen took third.

AlCantHang and Nolan DallaI ended the night hanging out for a while at the Gold Coast bowling alley where the WSOP staff and all the interns were having a great time, as were a number of other media types. Al had a neat come-from-behind bookend to his day there, picking up a cool hundy off of WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla after nailing an improbable spare by clearing nine pins on the second ball.

The bowling alley is where I spoke with Jennifer. I spotted a few other ME players there as well, trying to relax as they readied for the mental challenge that awaits them today.

It’ll be a grind. It always is. Some of the days may be relatively short. Indeed, I’m hearing today’s Day 3 may only go four levels. However it goes, they’ll try to manage it so as to get to 27 next Monday (Day 7) and nine on Tuesday (Day 8). Most of the players will only be at it another day or two; a select few will be there to the end. Meanwhile, pretty much all of the media -- including your humble scribbler -- have six more days of work ahead.

So it was good to rest. Play some cards. Be challenged to remember Oscar Wilde plays and the name of Spongebob’s starfish friend. To unwind. ’Cos everyone is gonna get wound up good and tight here over the next six days.

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