Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It Goes Without Saying

From the Department of Redundancy Department: Yesterday my local sports page featured not one but two editorials by regular columnists calling for Tiger Woods to tell the world what exactly happened during the wee hours of last Friday morning when he crashed his Escalade.

The op-eds ran side by side, both beginning on page one of the sports section, then continued together on page four. But it wasn’t one of those “you take one side, I’ll take the other” deals -- no, both writers were making the same point, in almost the same terms.

Both mentioned how Woods named his yacht “Privacy.” Both brought up David Letterman as a counterexample of public confession. Both seized Woods’ statement that “This situation is my fault” (from his website) as opening the door to a wider range of possible behaviors or actions for which he might be culpable.

“There's a difference in hiding something and choosing to keep it private,” concluded one. “Clearly, you're hiding something here,” said the other, speaking directly to Woods. “Explain yourself. First, to the police. Then, to the public.”

More than a little presumptuous, really. Not to mention superfluous. I wondered if the writers had themselves been too private about what they’d chosen to write about for their columns yesterday -- a little talk over the cubicles might’ve prevented our having to read the same message twice like that.

Of course, they weren’t the only ones making the same argument. Most of the media seems to have taken up an identical cause over the last day or two, appearing to devote more attention to the Woods incident than to the news that 30,000 more troops are heading to Afghanistan. By doing so, they prove their own argument that the less Woods says, the more others will speculate about him.

You’ve probably picked up on my cynicism regarding it all by now, and indeed, I have no intention to provide any sort of “op-ed” (in either direction) on the topic. Instead, I’ll just make an observation about it all that is perhaps obvious to poker players. Some, anyway. The kind of thing that goes without saying. Namely...

The less you say, the more others will speculate about you.

In terms of poker news, we’ve kind of witnessed a version of this idea with the whole “Who Is Isildur1?” phenomenon of the last few weeks. But I’m referring more specifically to the frequently encountered situation at the tables wherein the player who refuses to give any extraneous information via speech or physical tells becomes increasingly provocative to others, especially if that player is winning and/or has otherwise demonstrated a proficiency with his or her play.

'Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II' by Dan Harrington and Bill RobertieIn the second volume of his Harrington on Cash Games, Dan Harrington includes a chapter on “Tells and Observations” in which he largely diminishes the importance of reading others’ physical tells (making note of betting patterns is more important, he argues), but does say that “controlling your own tells is ‘Job Number One.’”

Harrington offers some advice regarding how to go about revealing as little as possible about yourself, including describing what he calls “The Patrik Antonius Way.” Explains Harrington, the Finnish pro well exemplifies the “classically simple” method of information-hiding when “he just sits at the table, stiff as a board, and stares silently at a fixed point in space.”

If you think about it, these same sports writers have been heaping praise on Woods for years for what might be called his “classically simple” method of hiding (or keeping private) any extraneous information on the golf course -- of being able to shut out all and incredibly maintain his famous “focus.” He’ll show emotion sometimes, sure, but there’s no disturbing him from that next shot. And that ability to focus disturbs his opponents.

Or it can, anyway. Many have noted the “Tiger Woods Effect” over the years, whereby other players play less well when partnered with him or even when playing in the same tournament. In fact, there was a scientific study published late last year by Jennifer Brown (a professor in Northwestern University’s Department of Marketing and Strategy) that attempted to quantify “the (adverse) incentive effects of competing with superstars” in which Woods was used as a primary example. Among other findings, Brown noted how in the tourneys she studied players averaged 0.8 strokes less per tournament when Woods was also playing.

Says Brown, “My calculations suggest that Woods’s PGA Tour earnings would have fallen from $48.1 million to $43.2 million between 1999 and 2006 had his competitors’ performance not suffered the superstar effect.” “Viewed in this light,” the effect of Woods’s mere presence in the field represents “is economically substantial,” she concludes.

Brown isn’t specifically referring to Woods’s ability to resist giving his opponents extraneous information while playing, but I think we can add his unwavering focus on the course to the list of qualities that unnerve his opponents, perhaps increasing the significance of that “superstar effect.”

Anyhow, now the superstar ain’t talking. And that’s causing everyone else to talk about him. Such a strategy works well -- can even be “economically substantial” -- at the poker table, or even on the golf course. But as the preponderance of these editorials suggests, I guess the “effect” is probably a little less desirable here.

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Anonymous Big D said...

Just like there is now somewhat of a MJ backlash, I think one will develop with Tiger.

12/02/2009 11:12 AM  

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