Friday, February 27, 2009

Seeking Sequels

I began the week going to see a sequel (George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). Then yesterday I wrote kind of a belated sequel to a post I’d written long ago. Today I’m still in “follow up” mode, wanting to continue to discuss various items that came up during the week.

Vivek RajkumarOn Tuesday, I wrote a post called “A Heads Up for the WSOP (Courtesy the L.A. Poker Classic)” in which I commented on how over at the L.A. Poker Classic they had followed an interesting double-elimination format for their $10,000 buy-in heads up tournament. I noted that I thought the World Series of Poker might consider following such a format as well since doing so tends to lessen the overall effect of giving players byes, something that becomes necessary if the tourney is not capped at some exponent of two (e.g., 64, 128, 256, 512, etc.).

I heard Vivek “Psyduck” Rajkumar, winner of the LAPC heads up event, interviewed a couple of times this week (on PokerRoad Radio and the Two Plus Two Pokercast). I’d heard Rajkumar interviewed before -- a very likable, smart guy for whom it is no surprise to hear he had a lot of friends and fans pulling for him on the rail.

On one of the shows he was asked how old he is and he answered “22 and a half.” Childlike? Nerdy? Who cares? I personally am a fan of making note of the half-year.

Rajkumar’s win pushed him up over the $2 million mark in career earnings already (he won the WPT Borgata last September), so not only is he likable, he’s obviously a player. On the Two Plus Two show he explained how he made his way through the losers’ bracket at the LAPC to win the sucker, and pointed out how those over on that side had to win more matches than those who managed to stay in the winners’ bracket. That meant by the time he faced Chris Moore in the final, he’d already won nine or so matches while Moore had only had to win six to get to that point. And, of course, Rajkumar had to beat the previously-undefeated Moore twice to take the title.

Sounded like besides reducing the relative significance of byes, there were other ways the double-elimination format further tempered the luck factor -- especially welcome when the event has a $10,000 buy-in (as is the case for the WSOP heads up event this summer). Also sounded like there were some complaints at the LAPC about the unwieldy nature of the event, which took three long days to complete even though only 111 players competed. That latter problem makes me think there is little chance the WSOP will bother with trying any sort of double-elimination format (since they’ve only allotted three days for the tourney). Understandable, but lamentable.

(The pic, by the way, is from a thread on 2+2 celebrating his win -- Rajkumar has lots of friends/fans over there, for sure.)

Roy SullivanOn Wednesday, I wrote in “What Do the Numbers Show?” about one statistically improbable session of limit hold’em I had played this week. Had another highly unlikely event occur yesterday while sitting at two six-handed LHE tables ($0.50/$1.00).

I had roared out to a fast start, and in fact was up over 30 bucks within just 100 hands, thanks in large part to having had the good fortune of sitting across from some especially poor players. (The river is no time to bluff check-raise, dontcha know.)

It was right about then when I was dealt AdAs in the cutoff at one table. Then, at the other table, I received AsAc in the big blind. Just twenty seconds apart, say the hand histories.

At the first table, I open-raised and had both blinds call me. The flop came 9dJc2d. The SB bet, the BB raised, I three-bet, and only the BB called. The turn was the Jd, and the BB -- now down to just $1.75 -- check-raised with the last of his stack. The river was a five, and he turned over JhKh to take the nearly ten dollar pot.

Meanwhile, at the other table a late position player had raised and I reraised with my pocket rockets from the BB. He called, the flop came Kc2h6d, I bet, and he called. The turn was a queen, and we ended up capping it. (I think I was a little agitated from losing at the other table -- not much reason to think I’m good here.) A five came on the river here, too, and I check-called my opponent’s bet. He showed pocket sixes for the flopped set, taking the $13.75 pot.

Nutty stuff. Had a bit more misfortune after that (flopping a set with pocket queens, then losing to 7-4 when he chased down a gutshot), but ended up climbing back up close to my previous high mark for the day before quitting.

February is going pretty well, all things considered. Not as well as January, but still winning. And made Silver Star on PokerStars, too, meaning I’ll have an additional cash bonus to claim once I get to 5,000 FPPs to go along with that deposit bonus I wrote about last week.

(Guinness Book of World Records fans might recognize the above picture -- that’s Roy Sullivan, the U.S. forest ranger who survived being struck by lightning seven times. Quite the occupational hazard, eh?)

More Than 90% of Statistics Are Made Up On The SpotThen on Thursday, I was once again “Speaking of . . . Online vs. Live.” There I was soliciting others’ thoughts regarding the different skill levels one encounters online versus live. Got a lot of very thoughtful and enlightening comments from several live game players on that one -- check ’em out.

The general consensus appeared to confirm Bart Hanson’s claim that the play at live games is much, much less tutored than what one normally runs into online, with most saying his suggested 10-to-1 ratio rang true. That is, according to Hanson, a live $5/$10 no-limit hold’em game plays about the same as a $0.50/$1.00 online NLHE game in terms of how savvy one’s competitors tend to be.

Interesting, for sure. I have a Vegas trip planned in April, during which I’ll surely try to play some. It’s hard, though, to imagine just jumping into a game the stakes for which I’m not really mentally prepared to play. When one plays live as rarely as I do, one doesn’t want to go drop a large chunk then have to live with that for several months before going back.

(The above graph from GraphJam, natch.)

Finally, while we’re on the subject of continuations, the ongoing saga of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show should be revived here very soon, with episode 14 just around the corner. Will give a shout here & on the show’s blog when that happens.

As they say, to be continued....

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Speaking of . . . Online vs. Live (Part II)

Relative Toughness of Online vs. Live?I mentioned here before occasionally Bart Hanson’s podcast Cash Plays which ran for about a year over on PokerRoad Radio. Hanson left PRR back in December and moved his show over to the online training site Deuces Cracked, picking things back up there in mid-January.

Hanson is calling the new show “Deuce Plays” (a title which I’m not too sure about), and it follows pretty much the same format as his previous show, with Hanson having lengthy interviews with various guests. He may be primarily interviewing Deuces Cracked pros and instructors on this new show, but as was the case on PRR, the show is still focused on middle and higher stakes cash games.

(Incidentally, it appears PokerRoad will soon relaunch the Cash Plays show with a new host, Jeremiah Smith.)

As someone who plays almost zero no-limit hold’em (particularly cash games) and certainly doesn’t even come close to playing the stakes Hanson and his guests usually play, I probably shouldn’t find Hanson’s show as interesting as I do. I always somehow find the shows compelling, though, and I think I probably pick up certain tidbits that are of use now and then.

The most recent show (the 2/24/09) features poker pro and coach Tommy Angelo, author of Elements of Poker. I believe it is the first of a two-parter. Some of you might have heard Angelo on the Two Plus Two Pokercast back last August (episode 36), where he was a big hit. If you haven’t read his book or heard him before, you might check out the new show as a good introduction to some of Angelo’s ideas.

Deuces CrackedAnyhow, like I say I shouldn’t really care for Hanson’s show but I do. Case in point: A couple of weeks ago Hanson had Sean Nolan on as a guest (the 2/10/09 episode), and about 20 minutes into the show the pair were discussing the relative merits of 20-tabling $5/$10 full ring NLHE games versus playing four $25/$50 six-max. tables. What business do I, a guy who generally sticks to playing just two or three limit hold’em games at once, have listening to this debate?

Still, like I say, I’m listening. And frankly, several of the factors that Hanson and Nolan focused on in their discussion -- variance, relative skill levels of opponents, theoretical differences between short-handed and full ring play, and so forth -- are relevant to all of us, no matter what limits or games we’re playing.

One other interesting item came up on that show with Sean Nolan -- really, this was the whole reason I decided to mention Hanson’s show. At the very beginning, Hanson talked about how six months ago he was struggling a bit at the $10/$20 no-limit hold’em tables at the Commerce Casino (in Los Angeles, where the LAPC is currently winding down). In order to “retool” his game decided to move back down to the $5/$10 NLHE tables (a 150-big blind capped game), which he found “a world of difference” with less variance and, apparently, less difficult competition.

“Then I watched your videos,” he told Nolan, referring to the instructional vids Nolan had created for Deuces Cracked, “and then I put in about 80,000 hands at $0.50/$1.00 full ring (which is 100NL).” That’s when Hanson said something I found fairly provocative:

“I think that a $0.50/$1.00 game [online] is way tougher than $5/$10 no-limit [live].”

He asked Nolan for his opinion and he essentially agreed that 10-to-1 ratio sounded “about right” when comparing the relative toughness of online and live play. I recall Isaac Haxton making a similar claim on PokerRoad Radio -- I believe it was last January (the 1/5/08 show) -- where he also suggested something like a 10-to-1 ratio between the skill levels online and live.

I wrote a post a good while back concerning the whole online-vs.-live thing, so I thought I'd make this one a sequel. As someone stuck in a part of the country with no live poker, my live experience has been quite limited and thus I can’t comment with any authority on this issue at all. Additionally, there are differences between the way limit games and no-limit games are played that would likely make it problematic simply to apply the same 10-to-1 ratio over on the limit side.

But are these guys right? Is the difference in skill levels that huge? Are $0.50/$1.00 games online as tough as $5/$10 live?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Do the Numbers Show?

Secret NumbersIf we’re going to be honest here, I’m basically more of a word guy than a numbers guy. Sometimes numbers fascinate me, though. Especially when they leave me at a loss for words.

Had a happy little session of limit hold’em over on PokerStars yesterday. Was two-tabling for about an hour and 45 minutes or so -- one full ring, one six-handed, both $0.50/$1.00. Played 249 hands and ended up $31.35. That’s an unusually high win rate (12.59 big bets/100 hands), way above the 1.5-2.0 rate I’ve been enjoying since Jan. 1 when I decided to move back over to LHE. Probably highlights a weakness of mine that I’m more apt to look over the stats after that kind of unusually good session than after a losing one.

Whatever the reason, I was doing a little post-game with PokerTracker, trying to see if some factor jumped out to offer an unequivocal explanation for the inordinately high win rate. I had won a lot of my showdowns -- 57.14% -- though not that much more than I usually do (54%). Other stats like preflop raise % and VP$IP (voluntarily put money in the pot) were basically the same, too.

I looked at my starting hands and saw I did get pocket aces three times -- and won all three. That helped considerably, no doubt. Playing just 249 hands, I should normally expect to get A-A just once (it is a 220-to-1 shot), so that was definitely a bonus.

Picked up A-K four times, about what I should expect. Of the 1,326 possible starting hands, there are 12 ways to get ace-king offsuit, and four more ways to get Big Slick suited. That means you normally get A-K about once every 82 hands or so (about 1.2% of the time). So being dealt the hand four times in 249 hands, I got it once more than averages would have suggested. But I lost twice with that hand, and was nearly six bucks down overall with it.

Kept hunting around a bit. Then -- FLASH! -- I saw it. A huge anomaly. Don’t know if it fully explained my high win rate for the session, but it definitely had its effect.

In 249 hands, I was dealt A-Q a total of 14 times. That’s right -- nearly five times as often as I should’ve expected. Got ace-queen offsuit 12 times, and suited twice.

Even crazier, I was dealt ace-queen at one of my tables -- the full ring one -- 11 times in just 112 hands. That means I was getting A-Q about once per orbit, when normally I shouldn’t expect to get it but once every eight orbits or so.

ace-queenHow did I do with ace-queen? Okay, I guess. I won half of the hands (7 of 14), for an overall profit of $6.90 (about half a big bet per hand). Looking at the individual hands, I notice most of the pots were small, with only a couple creeping up to four or five bucks. I raised preflop most of the time with A-Q (11 of 14 hands), though I also folded it once preflop from UTG+1 after a tight player had raised from UTG at the full ring table.

Even if I didn’t necessarily make most of my profit from A-Q, getting dealt the hand so frequently at that full ring table did have a significant effect on my image, I’m sure. My preflop raising percentage was actually higher at the full ring game than it was at the six-max. game yesterday, and while I didn’t necessarily consciously note the frequency with which I was getting ace-queen, I did pick up on the fact that the rest of the players at the table (most of whom were tight, with one notable exception) were starting to react to my relative aggression.

Ace-queen can be a frustrating hand in LHE, no doubt. Especially in full ring games. I think that explains my being relatively unfazed by getting it so often -- I wasn’t necessarily glad to see it over and over again. But I should have been. Not only was it a winning hand for me yesterday, it probably helped me win other hands, too, given the way it helped shape my image.

Am still enjoying the return to LHE after my lengthy sojourn with pot-limit Omaha. Of course, the “stories” about individual hands aren’t nearly as riveting as happens with PLO. I suppose one reason for that is the fact that LHE really is more of a “numbers game” than is PLO.

For some of us, though, the stories numbers tell can still be interesting.

Some of us (of a certain age) may also recall that vaguely suggestive picture above of the men in trench coats flashing numbers as coming from an old Sesame Street short from the 70s. Really, was that appropriate for the kiddies...?

Here is another Sesame Street short, which perhaps also helped inspire for some viewers a fascination with numbers. Or pinball. Or mind-altering chemicals....

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Heads Up for the WSOP (Courtesy the L.A. Poker Classic)

A double elimination bracketBeen following the live reports and various news items emanating from the L.A. Poker Classic currently going on over at the Commerce. It’s a helluva series, lasting for six weeks and including 35 different events. As this year’s Tournament Director Matt Savage noted over on PokerRoad Radio over the weekend (the 2/21/09 episode), the LAPC is starting to rival the World Series of Poker in terms of its variety of offerings.

The series schedule included a number of non-standard events. There were eight non-hold’em events, including that $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event won by Scotty Nguyen. The Main Event (also a $10,000 buy-in) attracted 696 entrants. They have now completed three days of play in that one, with three more days to go.

There was one other $10,000 event in the series, Event No. 32, the Heads Up Championship, won by Vivek Rajkumar. That one was originally capped at 64, with the original plan being to allow any additional entrants to play $5,000 play-in matches so as to participate. I’m not quite sure how that would have worked, but they eventually attracted a total of 111 players, and thus ended up eliminating the $5K prelim rounds.

The event was planned all along to be a double-elimination tournament, and they kept that format, somehow figuring out how to make it work for 111 players. There was a draw on Day 1 (last Wednesday) to determine the first-round matches as well as which players -- 17 in all -- would be receiving first-round byes. Once the first-round matches were complete, the winners and those who received byes then moved to the “winners’ bracket” (a total of 64 players) while the 47 losers all met up over in the “losers’ bracket.”

Since the losers’ bracket had that odd number, they had to draw again to determine who got byes. Seventeen got byes, while the other 30 played matches. The 15 losers of those matches, having lost twice, were done. That left 32 players, each with one loss apiece, over on the losers’ side. If I follow it correctly, the 32 losers from the winner’s bracket then came over to play these guys, and so on and so forth, until Chris Moore, the lone player remaining on the winners’ side, faced Rajkumar who emerged from the losers’ side. Rajkumar then had to beat Moore twice to take the title.

If you’re curious about the event and want to try to piece together the entire bracket, you can go over to the World Poker Tour page and read through B.J. Nemeth’s excellent live updates from the Heads Up event.

Have to say I very much like the use of a double-elimination format as a means to lessen the overall effect of drawing for byes. I’m remembering the fiasco at the 2007 World Series of Poker, the first time the WSOP tried a heads up tournament. 392 players signed up for that $5,000 buy-in event. If I remember correctly, officials had hoped to attract 512 and didn’t get there, and so they drew and 120 players got byes into the second round, meaning the unlucky 272 who didn’t had to play an extra match. Not too cool when you consider everyone had to pay the same entry fee for the sucker.

Doyle Brunson's blogLast year the WSOP tried it again and this time capped it at 256 (and made it a $10,000 event), thus avoiding the issue altogether. That worked out okay, if I remember correctly, although some players who wanted to play the event got closed out, including Doyle Brunson. “Unbelievable!” wrote Brunson on his blog. “To think they would limit the number of players in a WSOP tournament. I am aware of the structure but they should change it, make another bracket, have alternatives, or something!”

The Heads Up event is part of the 2009 WSOP as well, again as a $10,000 “Championship” event (Event No. 29, to start June 13th). Structures/formats have not been announced as yet for this summer’s WSOP, but I’d think the WSOP might consider taking a cue from the LAPC and try out a double elimination format this time around.

Of course, it simply might not be feasible for the WSOP to pull off a double-elimination tourney (which would require dealing about twice as many matches) during the three days they have allotted for the event. Still, I think it is definitely an idea worth considering, if it can be managed.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Speaking of the Dead: An Afternoon with George Romero

'American Zombie'“Do zombies ever get full?”

That was the joke question asked of George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead and all of its zombie-themed sequels, by Michael Felsher, the fellow who moderated a two-hour Q&A session with the director I attended yesterday.

A nearby museum of contemporary photography and film (The Light Factory) had arranged a weekend-long tribute to Romero, with a schedule packed with events. There were screenings of half a dozen films (followed by Q&As with Romero), some sort of zombie-themed costume party on Saturday night, a couple of other sideshows, and the two-hour “One-on-One Seminar” on Sunday afternoon.

I was too busy to commit too much time to the sucker and so opted just to go to the seminar on Sunday as well as watch one of the films, Dawn of the Dead, which I’d never seen in a theater.

As any of you who have ever heard Romero speak (say on DVD commentaries or in interviews) already know, he’s not just an intelligent thinker and commentator on film and culture. He’s also a funny, extremely likable guy who has a lot of enthusiasm both for making films -- and talking about making films.

I guess like many impressionable young boys, I found the horror films of my youth fairly compelling. (I suppose that’s a phenomenon common to any generation.) So I became aware of Romero and his oeuvre early on -- films like Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977), Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow (1982), Day of the Dead (1985), and others.

Of all of those films and directors, though, Romero is one of the few that I continued to follow and admire after becoming an adult. So when I heard he was coming, I thought I’d check him out.

Romero turned 69 earlier this month. He’s now moved to Toronto, having fully rejected the Hollywood system with which he butted heads for so much of his four-plus decade long career, and now has returned to being a fully “independent” filmmaker. He’s also fully committed himself to making more zombie films (all with “of the Dead” in the titles). A new one -- as yet untitled -- is apparently nearly finished.

“It’s my ticket to ride,” he explained of the “Dead” films. “I have this franchise,” he noted, “I can bring the zombies out of the closet.” (That line got a laugh.) But he’s hardly interested in making the same film over and again. “The movies are not about zombies anymore.... In a way, they never have been. I’m not feeling restricted in any way. I’ve been able to make movies about a lot of different things -- they just all have zombies in them.”

'Night of the Living Dead'If you’ve never seen any of the “Dead” films, you might not be aware that what Romero is saying is true -- while all are based on the same premise of having the dead return to life to feast on the living, all are unique, too, and often concentrate on advancing different social commentaries (e.g., Night’s implicit observations about the family, the civil rights struggle, Vietnam; Dawn’s satire on consumer culture).

“I’ll make ten more,” Romero said, to the delight of the crowd. “I’ll die, come back and make another one.” (That got a big laugh, too.)

Since this is a poker blog, I won’t go on too long with all of the interesting points Romero touched on during the session regarding his various films, the commercial aspects of filmmaking, his creative process, among others. Rather, let me pull out a couple of poker-related moments that came up during the afternoon.

One came during the talk when Romero was discussing his latest film, Diary of the Dead (2007), the fifth in the series. That one focuses on a film student trying to document the crisis and the commentary there is focused largely on the media and how it aggressively shapes our ideas of ourselves.

With reference to Diary, Romero was noting how we’ve gotten to the point where the “media is not just taking over… it’s becoming life!” He alluded to virtual reality technology and research being conducted at various places, including Carnegie Mellon University in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Such research, fueled by corporate dollars, is working on creating comprehensive VR environments (virtual apartments, etc.) in which consumers can “live.”

“It’s like this f*cking gigantic Monopoly game!” Romero mused.

That analogy made me think briefly of being one of hundreds of thousands of folks logged into online poker sites playing one another. I suppose we start to resemble zombies, too, after a while.

'Dawn of the Dead'The only other time I thought of poker yesterday was during the screeening of Dawn of the Dead. There’s a point about two-thirds of the way through the film when a couple of characters are shown playing poker. In the film, a group of four people have managed to escape the zombies momentarily to find refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. They are able to secure the mall and for a brief interlude get to enjoy a kind of Shangri-La-type existence before a gang of marauders on motorbikes arrive to screw everything up.

I actually think this is the part of the film that appeals the most to viewers, this idea of creating a self-contained, worry-free existence such as the characters in the film try to do. Of course, as Romero shows, even once you’ve managed to enclose yourself into such a world, it ain’t gonna satisfy. Not really.

Anyhow, two of the guys play poker and are tossing real hundred dollar bills back and forth, the now-worthless cash having been taken from the bank located in the mall. There were a few chuckles in the crowd, actually, at the sight of the money. In the context of the story (the apocalypse had come), the money meant nothing.

I didn’t think too long about poker then. The bikers arrived shortly afterwards, and there was their threat to focus upon. But afterwards I did consider how for most of us the money is what makes poker interesting, but how we’ll never, ever be satisfied no matter how much we get.

I guess we’re sort of like zombies that way, too. We never get full.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Games of Life

FriendshipYesterday afternoon I found myself stuck between meetings and a bunch of other I’d-rather-be-playing-poker-but-gotta-do-this-other-crap all day and thus missed lunch altogether. Found a small window of time there in the middle of the afternoon and so ran over to the fast food chicken house not too far from where I work for a quick bite.

Grabbed a two-piece dinner and settled over in a corner of the mostly empty dining area with some reading material. After a while I noticed that besides a couple of kitchen workers taking a break over on the other side of the room, the only other people in the establishment were a collection of elderly women -- eight in all -- gathered around three tables. I glanced up briefly from my meal to make a mental guess at their ages. None seemed less than seventy, I was certain.

I went back to the food and reading, but got distracted when I realized that the women didn’t seem to be talking to one another. In fact, only one of them seemed to be saying anything, and she was doing so in a most peculiar way, following an unnatural rhythm of short statements while the others kept quiet. I looked up and saw that none were looking at each other. Strange.

When I discerned the words being spoken, I finally figured out what was going on.

“G-56.... O-72.... O-68.... B-12.... I-22....”

A small purple plastic cube was positioned on the table in front of the lady making the utterances, and between each one she depressed the yellow half-sphere on its top side. She was repeating whatever the voice emanating from cube was saying, and her colleagues were dutifully noting on cardboard cards whether or not they could find a match for the numbers called.

“Bingo,” one eventually answered. “Gotta bingo,” said the caller lady, employing the same monotone she used when calling the numbers. The lady passed her card to another woman who verified its correctness while sipping her tea through a straw.

Bingo, the 'kite' versionI was there long enough to hear several games, and noticed the caller announcing different ones with words like “kite” and “two stamps,” referring to variations that require players to form something other than a straight line. For example, for “kite” you have to make a four-square box in the corner with a diagonal line going from it to the opposite corner (like a kite with a tail -- see the picture).

I thought about the ladies again later in the evening when I went for my run. Still running every day, by the way. Usually two miles. As I motored over the sidewalks, I contemplated that Thursday afternoon bingo game, considering what it probably meant to the women who played it.

Am reasonably sure they weren’t playing for money, although they could have been. No, it seemed like it was mostly just for fun. And to be together. The group’s average age suggested it could very well be the case that most or all had outlived their husbands, if they’d had ’em. In any case, it was easy to see getting together like that -- being with others, and having some activity to provide an occasion for the get-together -- was important stuff. The most important stuff.

As I ran, last week’s episode of “Keep Flopping Aces” came to mind as well (the 2/12/09 show). Host Lou Krieger had Ashley Adams on to talk about the many, many poker rooms the latter has visited in his extensive travels. An interesting hour.

About halfway through the show, they got into discussing various promotions some rooms offer, and Adams brought up Joker’s Wild in Henderson, Nevada as a not-so-great room for atmosphere, but a terrific one for its promotion. As Adams outlines in his recent review of the room over on PokerNews, regulars can get a whopping $599 bonus a month for playing 130 hours. That discussion led Krieger to point out the preponderance of senior citizens regularly playing low limit games who could benefit greatly from such a bonus.

“Certainly, there are so many people in Las Vegas that are retired and on fixed incomes and they’re not getting wealthy,” said Krieger. “They sit in these low limit poker games, day in and day out, hour after hour after hour, trying to supplement their pensions by a couple of bucks an hour and waiting for a tourist or some terrible player to come into the game and spew money around.”

Picking up an extra few bucks an hour could help out a lot for such folks, Krieger concluded. Adams agreed. “It’s not the kind of existence that I’d want or you’d want,” said Adams. “But, hey? If you’re retired and you’re already just sitting around in some other poker room gathering dust, waiting for the bad beat to hit while you’re in there so you can get a fraction of the jackpot, it’s not a bad gig.”

The chicken house bingo ladies reminded me that for many in this crowd there’s another bonus to be had, too -- the non-monetary one that comes from getting out regularly, interacting with others, and being part of the world. That general effort not to be “gathering dust,” one might say.

I suppose I understand what is meant by the idea that such an existence is not necessarily preferable. But really, how different is it from the ones we already lead? What is it we are all running around trying to accomplish? To find something interesting to do, to have fun, to endure. And finding others to do these things with, well, that’s a big part of what’s going on, too. Maybe we’re sometimes playing against each other, but we need each other to have a game at all.

Have a good weekend, friends.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

American Vendor

Part of that PokerStars 25 Billion Bash promotion this past week included a bonus for depositing. Stars doesn’t offer those that often, and this one was quite generous -- 25% up to $250. In fact, the site was calling it their “Biggest Ever Reload Bonus.”

When I heard about the offer, I reacted pretty much as I have to all bonus offers since Neteller shut its virtual doors to us Americans.

That is to say, I didn’t react at all.

I’ve told the story a few times here how I started playing online poker back in late 2004. Like just about everybody who played then, I moved my initial roll to a poker site (Stars, actually) using Neteller. I started with the minimum deposit of fifty bucks, broke even for three months or so on the penny tables, then began winning some and pretty soon had built up to a couple of hundy.

Looking back at my log book, I see that I had $232.33 in my Stars account when I made my first withdrawal -- a hundred bucks’ worth. Basically followed that pattern for a while there early on, taking out a hundred every time I got back up to $200-250 or so. As those who remember Neteller know, you first had to move your money from the poker site to Neteller, then another step was required to move it from Neteller to your bank account.

Stars was my only site until 2006 when I finally opened an account over on PartyPoker. That was about the time I became familiar with deposit bonuses and how lucrative they could be. Unlike Stars, Party offered such bonuses constantly -- it seemed like every other month. I started keeping a few hundred over on Neteller to have ready whenever one of those came up.

And they were so easy to clear, too. I can’t recall exact details, but it seemed like it only would take an afternoon to claim the $20 or $40 or whatever Party was giving me for depositing. Once I cleared a deposit bonus, I instantly would withdraw the money I had deposited back out of the site.

I eventually got a Full Tilt Poker account, too, and took advantage of their deposit bonuses when they came around as well. Then came the UIGEA and the exit of Neteller, and I basically stopped doing the deposit thing altogether because of all the added hassles.

That’s why I didn’t react to the recent Stars offer, instead shrugging my shoulders and thinking, well, this was yet another way Americans are playing at a disadvantage thanks to our bass ackwards legislators.

It was after a short spell of reading some folks on forums chirping about the promotion -- expressing unfettered glee at all the free moneys they were enjoying -- that I decided to look again at deposit options available to me over on Stars. There aren’t many, but this eChecks thing looked fairly simple to use.

The way the 25 Billion Bash deposit bonus went, one stands to earn 25% of whatever one deposits up to $1,000, meaning the maximum one could get would be $250. One has to earn a certain number of VPPs to clear the bonus -- I believe it is 20 VPPs for every dollar. Not too hard to do.

eChecksI ended up exchanging several emails with PokerStars support in an effort to figure out how I could best take advantage of the offer. (As is always the case with Stars support, they were very helpful and accommodating.) There are limits on how much one can deposit via eChecks if one has never used it before. Long story short, I was only able to deposit $200 before the promo period ended yesterday, meaning I will be earning a $50 bonus once I accumulated the needed VPPs. Having now made my first eChecks deposit, I’ll be able to take better advantage of such offers with Stars whenever they come up again.

As far as I can tell, the process of using eChecks to deposit was super smooth. And a bit of an eye-opener. Things may well change between now and December 2009 when banks will be required to follow the UIGEA regulations that were published in November 2008 and went into effect on 1/19/09. But for now, depositing online doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue for Americans. Not to Stars, anyhow.

Hell, now that I think about it, depositing is even easier than before (no Neteller = no middle man). And in my experience, withdrawing has always been a breeze, too.

Gonna have to stop thinking myself as an American to whom all the online poker options are not available. At least until December, anyway.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Watch & Wondurrrr: The Tom Dwan Challenge Has Begun

Tom 'durrrr' DwanAm sure most of you reading this here blog have at least heard of that high stakes, heads up challenge issued by Tom “durrrr” Dwan late last year in response to which a few players -- Patrik Antonius, David Benyamine, and Phil Ivey -- have agreed to take a shot. The first match began a couple of hours ago, with Antonius and Dwan each taking spots across from one another at four different $200/$400 pot-limit Omaha tables (especially named “durrrr Challenge”) over on Full Tilt Poker.

For those who don’t know exactly how Dwan set up the challenge, he invited anyone (other than his friend Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond) to play heads up, four tables of either PLO or no-limit hold’em, at a minimum of $200/$400 blinds. The challenge would last for 50,000 hands, at the end of which whoever was ahead -- even by a single dollar -- would be the victor. If Dwan won, the loser owed him $500,000; if Dwan lost, he’d pay his vanquisher $1.5 million.

The winner would also (of course) claim whatever was won during the challenge itself, an amount which has the potential to exceed the bet amount. Considerably.

I’ve actually railed a little bit this morning, and it appears both players are mostly playing tight with big pots erupting only occasionally. Of course, with blinds this huge even the small pots are not insignificant, and with four tables going the swings are noteworthy.

Here’s the biggest pot I saw during the short time I was watching, a $90,000 pot won by Antonius. Took place on “Table durrrr Challenge 3” around 8:10 a.m. ET:

Kind of curious to see both players pushing the flop with what appear to us mortals as fairly thin holdings (even for heads up). Such is the world of high stakes PLO, I guess.

Just glancing at the sure-to-be-monstrous thread over on Two Plus Two (where folks are posting lots of hands), it appears Antonius might have taken an early lead, going up about $68,000 after 170 hands, then Dwan won a couple of huge pots, including one over $100,000. But Antonius battled back and appeared to be enjoying a $70K lead or so after 300 hands of play when the pair took a short break. All that seems a bit fuzzy, though, as posters appear unsure whether or not Antonius might have rebought on one of the tables.

Not to mention that in the time it took me to type that, all has no doubt changed.

I suppose I am as intrigued as anybody about the challenge. Kind of harkens back to that legendary match between Johnny Moss and Nick “the Greek” Dandalos at Binion’s Horseshoe back in 1949 or 1951 or whenever it did (or didn’t) take place.

That was that four- or five-month long match staged by Benny Binion that some want to say planted the seed for the World Series of Poker (which started in 1970), although the connection is a bit tenuous. Although much that surrounds the Moss-Dandalos match is shrouded in mystery, certain details have been repeated many times, including the fact that pots sometimes reached as large as half a million dollars, and in the end Moss won a heady amount off of his Crete-born opponent, perhaps as much as $2 million.

Binion's Horseshoe, circa 1950sThe pair began their match back in the poker room, but Binion apparently moved them out to the casino’s entrance so as to attract the attention of those passing by on Fremont Street. In Big Deal, Anthony Holden notes that “the crowd stood six deep around the table, marveling at the nerve and stamina of these two poker titans, and at the vast amounts of money passing back and forth between them.” James McManus says in a Card Player article there were “200 or 300” watching the match. I suspect a few more than that might be railing over on Full Tilt right now.

In fact, even Albert Einstein -- who was living out his last years in the U.S. at the time -- was reported to have been among the railbirds. (If yr curious, you can read more about the whole story of the Moss-Dandalos match here.)

There is one huge difference between the Moss-Dandalos match and the “Durrrr Challenge,” though -- the historical record. When it comes to the final results of the Antoinus-Dwan battle, one thing we can all be assured of is that it will be reported widely. That wasn’t the case for Moss-Dandalos; in fact, some (including Michael Craig) have expressed doubts about whether the match even took place at all!

No, there will be no doubts, I wouldn’t think, about what actually happened between Antonius and Dwan. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone took all of the hand histories, imported them into a hand replayer such as the one above, and built a YouTube movie of the match for all to watch.

And analyze. And wonder.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Losing Focus

Losing FocusI mentioned yesterday that over the weekend I’d played a large number of hands over on PokerStars. Actually has been an inordinately high volume couple of weeks for me here in February, as I’m already approaching Silver Star status while playing strictly $0.50/$1.00 limit hold’em.

As far as results go, the month has been fairly uneven thus far. Had a particularly poor day yesterday while two-tabling, during which I think I experienced a somewhat unique situation in which a player at one table negatively affected how I did at the other. Let me try to explain.

I have been making it a habit to two-table these 6-max. games, and as I normally do, I sat down first at a single table to play a few rounds and get to know the players before opening the second one. I recognized a player on my left from before -- TheAgitator -- a somewhat aggressive type whom I remembered as mostly solid.

On just the fifth hand I picked up JcJd under the gun and raised. The table folded back around to TheAgitator who then three-bet from the big blind. Knowing this was TheAgitator’s usual modus operandi to reraise with a wide range of hands preflop (indeed, I’d already seen him do it at least once during the first four hands), I went ahead and capped it and he called.

The flop came 7hQcJh, giving me a set, and The Agitator check-called my bet. The turn was the 6h, and again my opponent check-called. The river -- wouldn’t you know it -- brought yet another heart, the Ah. This time TheAgitator bet out, I made the crying call, and he showed 4s3h for the backdoor flush. (Cut to cartoony shot of steam comin’ out from under Shamus’ fedora.)

Not a great way to start. TheAgitator subsequently went on a nice little rush, and took full advantage of the swell advertising that resulted from his having played four-trey offsuit in such a nutso fashion. I mostly kept out of the way, and indeed managed to get some chips back from him by being patient.

Incidentally, sitting there to TheAgitator’s left, I thought a little bit about how, contrary to popular wisdom, some strategists have noted that my seat isn’t always the best spot to be in such a situation -- that is, to the immediate left of the loose-aggressive maniac. If yr curious about that topic, here’s an article by Rolf Slotboom that makes the case against sitting to the maniac’s left (both in LHE and PLO). The article is reprinted as two pieces in Slotboom’s newest title, Secrets of Professional Poker 1.

Meanwhile, as I dealt with TheAgitator there on Table #1, I opened Table #2 and quickly proceeded to drop a load of big bets in short order thanks to my own loose-aggressive play. Perhaps in response to the way TheAgitator was handcuffing me there on the first table, I was open-raising with a wider range than I normally would on the second table, and unfortunately (1) I couldn’t hit a flop, and (2) my opponents often were. Not only were my opponents catching cards, they were catching on to what I was doing, too, thereby smartly maximizing my losses on hand after hand.

A disinterested observer watching me play might have described what I was doing over on the second table as a poor parody of TheAgitator’s approach on Table #1. I finally figured out I needed to readjust after getting successfully called down by a player holding only king-high. I was holding my own against TheAgitator at the first table, but thanks to his influence had become an incoherent mess over at Table #2.

F-Train was writing yesterday about doodling down in these low limit HE games online (referring specifically to $0.25/$0.50) and he made a few valid points. One was mostly implied, namely, that even these low stakes games can provide an interesting challenge, even for a guy like F-Train, who can occasionally be found at middle stakes live LHE games. He also noted how these low limit games are quite “beatable” (though can be “frustrating”). Hear, hear.

The other point he made, which I think my session yesterday illustrated, was “that losing focus or discipline for even a moment can be very costly” (relatively speaking, that is). I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to me, even though I didn’t consciously realize that was the case until afterwards.

Of course, that’s what losing focus generally amounts to -- becoming less “conscious” of the here and now.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Milestones (in Cluelessness)

Played a ton of hands over the weekend over on PokerStars. Thus was sitting at a couple of tables (occasionally three) when a number of those “milestone” hands were being played elsewhere.

Yes, elsewhere. Didn’t manage to luck my way into playing one of those hands with the juicy extra cash prizes attached to ’em. Not sure what the precise odds were for hitting one of those, but it felt like one in several thousand at least.

I assume most of those reading this blog were aware of the big promotion over the last few days Stars had to commemorate the dealing of its 25 billionth hand. Several promotions, actually. One of which was a series of cash prizes handed out every ten million hands starting with hand 24,850,000,000.

Those hands were treated sort of like “jackpot” hands, with every player dealt into the hand getting an extra cash prize, then the winner of the hand getting an additional bonus. The cash prizes were given out according to table stakes, meaning if the hand happened at a “Micro” table, everyone got $125 and the hand’s winner an extra $300. At the “Low” tables, all got $250 and the winner $750 more. At “Medium” stakes tables, everyone got $500 and the winner an extra $1,250. And at the “High” stakes games, everyone got $1,000 and the hand’s winner an additional $2,500.

There were some shenanigans early on, I heard, involving two-player teams sitting with each other at two dozen heads up tables and folding every hand, thereby trying to increase the chances of getting dealt a milestone hand. Stars actually had to suspend their “1-on-1” tables for the duration of the promotion in order to thwart that bit of blatant collusion.

The Milestone Hand is Currently Being Dealt!When one of the hands was about to take place, Stars gave a little announcement in the chat box. They also were linking to milestone hand tables from the main lobby, and a couple of times I clicked through to watch the hands take place.

Here was one of the milestone hands, a $0.02/$0.05 six-handed no-limit hold’em hand from Friday afternoon:

As I usually do, I changed the player names -- in this case to protect the clueless. As this was a “Micro” stakes hand, all six players won $125 just for being dealt cards. Then the winner stood to receive an extra $300 on top of that.

No one had more than $8.60 when the hand began. One player, out2lnch, posted both the small and big blinds (that is, seven cents). Before the flop comes down, there is a delay while PokerStars’ support announces in the chat box that it is a milestone hand. I believe there is also a banner-type announcement that briefly appears over the table pointing out the same. In other words, anyone paying even a little bit of attention should know something is up.

Of course, not everyone knew about how the promotion worked, specifically how the winners of these hands got extra cabbage. That was clear from how this one played out. Two players -- spacey & zoned out -- fold preflop! The replayer doesn’t show it, but zoned out actually left the table immediately after he folded. Clearly he wasn’t tuned in to what was going on here, and was probably surprised to see the extra $125 in his account later.

Two more players -- out2lnch & in a fog -- subsequently fold to einstein’s 15-cent bet on the flop. Then dopey folds on the river. No showdown, even!

Take the case of spacey, who had $2.22 when the hand began and folded preflop. That’s something like 135-to-1 odds spacey is turning down -- assuming he would have to commit his entire stack at some point -- by deciding not to play this one out.

If one hops over to the forums, apparently this sort of thing wasn’t unusual at all during the promotion, as many of the milestone hands saw players folding out, obviously unaware of what they were giving up by doing so.

The big one -- the 25 billionth hand -- went off sometime early this morning, around 4:45 a.m. ET or thereabouts. For that one, those dealt into the hand split a cool $100,000, and the winner stood to grab an extra $100,000 plus an EPT Monte Carlo package, a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure package, a WSOP Main Event package, and a World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event entry.

That hand ended up happening at a $1/$2 Omaha/8 table, and there was a bit of controversy as one player either accidentally folded his hand or there was some sort of connection issue that caused him to fold. If yr interested, Otis wrote it up over on the PokerStars blog.

I generally liked this promotion. Brought a hell of a lot of traffic to the site -- there were over 250,000 players logged on during the afternoon yesterday, with something near 60,000 of them playing cash games at one point. The best part about the promotion, of course, is that the players aren’t paying into the “jackpot” as happens on other sites. That is, they aren’t paying over and above what they’d be paying for rake in order to contribute to some “bad beat jackpot” thingy or the like.

Guess I’ll just have to try again when they get close to the 30 billionth hand. Only took Stars six months to deal the last five billion, so I’d estimate four or five months until that promotion happens. I know that’s a long way away, but please, try to remember: if you happen to get dealt into one of those suckers, don’t fold!

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Friday, February 13, 2009

The (Unexpected) Return of the Prodigal Son

'The Return of the Prodigal Son' (1668) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van RijnSo I’m listening to yesterday’s episode of The Poker Beat (2/12/09), that new podcast over on PokerRoad hosted by Scott Huff in which he has on various poker media types to discuss news of the day. After a discussion of that Russ Hamilton video and its possible significance, Bluff Magazine Editor-in-Chief Matthew Parvis came on to talk about this new “Bluff Magazine Online Poker Challenge” announced earlier this month.

The Challenge sounds interesting enough. It looks like a great chance for the sponsoring site, Lock Poker, to get some publicity, although in the interview Parvis says it was his “brainchild.” As one can read about over on Bluff, the “competition will bring together some of the best online poker players and each will be given an opportunity to build a bankroll playing multi-table tournaments and sit-n-gos exclusively on Lock Poker.”

As Parvis explained on the show, “we are basically depositing $200 into a Lock Poker account” for each player invited to play in the Challenge. The accounts are apparently “locked” (pun intended?) so no other deposits or transfers can be made with them, and as the Challenge proceeds they will be audited each night “because we don’t want any scandal to be associated with the Challenge itself” (explained Parvis). The players will have 30 days to try to build their rolls, and the one who manages to earn the most will make the cover of an upcoming issue of Bluff. I believe all of this will happen in March.

“We were lucky enough to get some really quality guys,” noted Parvis on the show. He mentioned several, including the magazine’s 2008 online poker player of the year David “The Maven” Chicotsky, Adam Junglen, Matt Vingren, Eric “Rizen” Lynch, Søren Kongsgaard, “Bodog” Ari Engel, and Jeff “Yellowsub” Williams. “A really, really good line-up of quality guys,” said Parvis, adding that he was only listing some of the 20 players who had been invited.

The article over on Bluff mentions some of the others who have been invited, including Garrett “GBecks” Beckman, Phil “USCphildo” Collins, Brett “Bhanks11” Hanks, and Maria Ho. Sorel Mizzi is also listed, he of the “account selling” incident from December 2007 that caused him to be banned from Full Tilt Poker.

Parvis talked a bit about Mizzi on the show. He also talked more than a bit about one other controversial name appearing over there on the list of invitees: Josh “JJprodigy” Field. No shinola.

You remember Field, don’t you? First banned from PartyPoker back in February 2006 (when he was just 16) after he won their $500,000 Sunday Tournament in which he was playing under two screen names (JJProdigy and Ablackcar). He was then caught cheating at other sites, as well, from which he was also banned. PokerStars even banned him from playing in their PokerStars Caribbean Adventure once he turned 18.

It was right around the time he turned 18 that Field issued some “apologies” (of a sort) on forums and in interviews. I transcribed a bit of the PokerRoad interview (the 1/14/08 episode) in a post titled “Uncorrected Personality Traits That Seem Whimsical in a Child May Prove to Be Ugly in a Fully Grown Adult.”* Among other questions, Field was asked in the PokerRoad interview whether or not he was then “playing on the sites you’re banned from and you have no plans to play on [those] sites.”

“At this moment in time, yeah,” answered Field. “I can’t tell you in a month I’ll be thinking the same, because it’ll be really hard not playing all those sites. But right now, yeah.”

On The Poker Beat, Parvis said he’d spoken with Field at the recent Aussie Millions and afterwards felt he was worth inviting to participate in the Challenge, even though Parvis admitted Field had made some “serious, serious mistakes in his life in terms of the poker world and cheating, and multi-accounting, and ghosting, and selling accounts... whatever the scandals may be.” “That’s a hell of a laundry list,” joked Huff in response.

Well, now it appears Field will not be able to play in the Challenge after all. Parvis told Huff he received an email on Wednesday which reported “there was some situation” over on Cake Poker (for which Lock Poker is a skin, I believe) with an “account hand-off” involving Field. “Whatever the case is, it appears that JJ has been involved in another sticky situation here,” said Parvis, and so will not be allowed to play in the Challenge.

To Parvis’ credit, he expressed humility to Huff about having been fooled into thinking Field had indeed changed his cheating ways. Still, one has to wonder about the initial decision to invite the notorious JJProdigy to participate in such a Challenge. They don’t want “any scandal to be associated with the Challenge itself,” but then Bluff invites the most notorious, scandal-ridden player in online poker to participate?

As I was listening, I was amazed Field could even resurface in this way as part of any story -- much less one involving selecting top online pros to participate in a freeroll like this. As Seth Meyers would say over on Saturday Night Live Weekend Update, “Really?!?”

Yet another head-scratching moment from the ethically-ambiguous world of online poker.

'I Often Dream of Trains' by Robyn Hitchcock*By the way, that earlier post title came from Robyn Hitchcock’s twisted a cappella number “Uncorrected Personality Traits” that appears on one of my all-time favorite discs, Hitchcock’s 1984 masterpiece I Often Dream of Trains. And speaking of masterpieces, that’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by the Dutch master, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, pictured above.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009


A 'minimalist' painting by Mark RothkoSome of you might’ve noticed that title from yesterday’s post was a play on the title of a short story by the American writer Raymond Carver, a story called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

The story appears in a collection of the same title that was published in the early 1980s, a few years before Carver died (in 1988). Carver’s fame peaked right around the time of his death and just after, actually. Robert Altman was kind of riding the Carver wave there when made an interesting, unwieldy film called Short Cuts in 1993 that cleverly weaved together a number of different Carver stories into a lengthy feature.

Not a lot “happens” in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Two couples sit around a kitchen table one afternoon drinking gin and sharing anecdotes about themselves and others, all of which present differing definitions of “love.” Eventually the sun goes down, the bottle is empty, and the story just ends.

'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' by Raymond CarverIn terms of plot, the story sort of resembles a poker game. The four characters each have their own “styles,” with one (Mel, the cardiologist) kind of dominating the action. And there’s no particular “resolution” -- the story just ends.

Carver often got grouped with a few other writers like Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Frederick Barthelme, and others into a category called “minimalism.” The category gets defined in different ways, but chiefly refers to a “lean” or “sparse” style that eschews flowery description and other judgmental intrusions in favor of letting the characters speak for themselves. The style or subgenre can be traced back to writers like Ernest Hemingway and even some “hard-boiled” guys like James Cain and Jim Thompson.

Actually, the name “minimalism” is a bit misleading when it comes to Carver, and, indeed, to most of the writers who usually get filed under that heading. But I suppose the main idea -- that when it comes to the storytelling the author tries to keep out of the way and let the reader decide what to think of the characters -- is a valid way of describing these authors’ approach.

Thinking about Carver got me wondering about how one could be said to employ a “minimalist” style at the poker table.

I’m not necessarily talking about the business of minimizing one’s tells at a live game, the kind of thing Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie talk about in Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II when they discuss “The Patrik Antonius Way” in which the Finnish player “just sits at a table, stiff as a board, and stares silently at a fixed point in space... giv[ing] a good expression of a catatonic trance” while his opponent decides what to do.

No, what I was thinking about was how that effect the so-called “minimalist” writers sought to achieve -- namely, not to “tip their hands” (so to speak) with regard to how they intended their stories to be interpreted -- was probably also an effect one desires to achieve at the poker table. That is, playing your hands in a manner that hides your intentions, your values, your “style.” You let your “cards speak” -- and your bets and your folds -- just as the authors let their characters speak, withholding overt judgments by which to guide readers’ interpretations. Let your opponents try to figure it all out. Show, don’t tell.

The paradox is that it takes maximum effort to be a minimalist. I think that’s one reason why Carver and some of the other writers who were pegged as such didn’t necessarily care for the designation -- it made it sound like they weren’t trying!

It’s a lot easier just to sit there and explain yourself over and over to everyone else. In fact, next time you’re playing, take a look around the table and notice how many of your opponents are doing just that.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poker

What We Talk About When We Talk About PokerAbout ten days ago, a poster over on Two Plus Two decided to begin a new thread in the “Books and Publications” forums by quoting Mason Malmuth’s review of Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker. The review appears in the February 2009 issue of the online Two Plus Two Magazine.

I also recently reviewed Angelo’s book here on Hard-Boiled Poker, despite the book being published over a year ago. I only just got to it last December, and found it highly enjoyable and instructive. Call me a bandwagon guy, but I think it’s one of the best poker books I’ve read in a long while. Here’s my review, if you are interested.

Malmuth’s review of Elements of Poker is much less favorable than mine. He does credit Angelo for being “witty” (and, backhandedly, “cute”), and even calls “worthwhile” some of the strategy advice. Ultimately, though, Malmuth doesn’t see the book as having much value for beginning or intermediate players, and in the end concludes “this text is certainly not recommended, even as supplemental reading.”

The post sharing Malmuth’s review engendered a provocative discussion (I thought), with posters taking sides over the relative value of Elements of Poker, as well as (somewhat tentatively) debating the criteria by which Malmuth based his review. There also emerges what might be called a theoretical divide among the posters that roughly corresponds to the wildly differing positions represented by Malmuth and Angelo -- specifically with regard to each author’s approach to writing/publishing poker books.

Some posters were “disappointed” with Angelo’s book, finding it “overhyped and overrated,” ultimately echoing Malmuth in expressing their belief that reading the book yielded no practical benefits for most poker players. Others defended the book as being of immense help to poker players, especially those with some experience with the game and the many emotional/psychological ups & downs it produces.

One such poster, explaining why he liked Elements of Poker, says that in his view the book is not “a beginner’s guide to playing better poker,” as some appeared to have wanted to read. Rather, said the poster, he believes the book to be “a better player’s guide to being a better person, which will make you a better player as well.” Another poster less specifically praised Angelo’s book as being “much more real than anything published before” -- ostensibly pointing out how the author’s voice manages to connect with the reader more effectively than generally happens with most poker writing.

Still another poster made what I thought was an especially interesting distinction by saying “Tommy Angelo writes poker LITERATURE. Mason writes stiff, clumsily worded cookie-cutter advice.” I’m actually one of those who doesn’t necessarily think Malmuth’s style is “clumsily worded” -- in fact, while it isn’t always flawless, it is for the most part quite clear and precise.

But I think I get what the poster is saying. There is most certainly a more obvious “literary” sensibility present in Elements of Poker than one finds in most poker books (including those Malmuth has written or co-written). And some of us happen to think literary writing and/or modes of expression have something to offer us, too.

Eventually, both Angelo and Malmuth join in the discussion, with the author of Elements of Poker demonstrating humility and graciousness in response to the praises and criticisms directed toward his book, and the owner of Two Plus Two continuing to press his case to devalue the book. (There’s also a brief detour in there where Malmuth appears to be explaining how comedy works -- and, not surprisingly, implying that Angelo fails to be humorous, too.)

The conversation turned toward the subject of editing, and couple of days ago Angelo supplied a bit of background info regarding the editing process for Elements of Poker, prompting Malmuth to fire a tangential (and personal) shot at one of the book’s editors. What had been a provocative, enlightening discussion that pointed up a number of key theoretical issues regarding poker writing and its purposes rapidly derailed.

Malmuth shuts off another debateFinally a poster of the Malmuth camp summed up the thread to that point by saying “Mason did not like the EOP. Most of the posters liked the book. I am not sure that there is more to discuss.” Malmuth agreed, and locked the thread.

Actually, the thread itself, both in the course it took & the way it prematurely ended, well exemplifies what for me is the fundamental distinction between Malmuth and Angelo’s outlooks -- on poker, books, life, what have you.

The former seeks concrete, tangible, readily quantifiable answers to all of life’s problems, and, importantly, believes such answers can be found to all questions worth asking. As a result, the idea of “dialogue” or any sort of inquiry without a specific goal -- the achievement of which unmistakably signals its conclusion -- is to be roundly dismissed as an utter waste of time.

The latter also seeks answers, but additionally values that which is abstract, intangible, and not-so-readily quantifiable. The latter outlook also understands that there are, in fact, some questions worth asking for which there are no single, unambiguous answers. Thus, a premium is placed on the idea of “dialogue” or keeping the conversation going, since value is to be had in the exchange of ideas (even if such value is hard to compute). In fact, rather than wasting one’s time (or other resources), such inquiry is the best possible use of it.

As the poster “jlocdog” (one of those who likes Elements of Poker) put it, Angelo “has a knack for not putting closure on any concepts or ideas he talks about so as to keep you thinking about them and trying to expound on them within your own game/life.” Meanwhile, Malmuth most decidedly has a knack for closing off discussions whenever possible. This had been an interesting thread with a number of intelligent, serious posters contributing (not always so easy to find on 2+2). But as soon as an apparent impasse had been identified, Malmuth decided there was nothing more to discuss.

I guess another, more cynical way of describing the difference between the two thinkers would be to say that while Angelo teaches, Malmuth preaches. The teacher expects you to ask questions, to challenge assumptions, to think. The preacher expects you to sit quietly in the pew. And believe.

Not saying the preacher doesn’t have something to offer us. But you better understand that with this one you’re not expected to raise your hand and ask questions or talk back.

When he’s finished, however, you may shake his hand. On the way out.

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