Monday, August 09, 2010

Competitions, Cards, and Crapshoots

Diagram of a dressage arenaHad a fun weekend with Vera Valmore at a horse show. It was a lot of fun to get away and be off the “grid” for a couple of days.

I’ve written before about how Vera competes in dressage, that equestrian sport that involves training a horse to perform various gaits and movements -- e.g., walk, trot, canter, passage, piaffe, pirouette, etc. Sometimes dressage gets referred to as “horse ballet” or compared to gymnastics, although the judging (in my opinion), while necessarily subjective, is much more heavily technique-based. (That’s a diagram of a dressage ring, by the way.)

Vera had a couple of nice rides this weekend, although her competitiveness and drive necessarily caused her to think she could have done better. We were at the show with some other riders, one of whom did particularly well in her two rides, netting a couple of high scores and first-place finishes in her classes. After her first ride, our friend came away expressing surprise that she had scored so well.

“It’s such a crapshoot,” she said, although I think she was being mostly humble.

Like I say, the scoring is somewhat subjective -- it has to be, to some extent. But I do think that since the scoring is so carefully managed by a detailed score sheet on which judges mark the quality of every prescribed movement in a given ride, it really isn’t as much of a “crapshoot” as is the case in other kinds of competition.

That said, like in poker, there is definitely a “chance” element that can have something to do with how riders end up doing. At this particular event, one of the rings in which riders rode was unfortunately close to a nearby highway. Thus would the passing of a loud truck or some other traffic noise potentially startle the horses, and thus perhaps negatively affect a ride. Even just a stray rock stepped on by the horse during a ride can upset things in a significant way.

We were all talking at the show at one point when someone mentioned poker. I had brought some cards and a chip set, and eventually had fun teaching one of the other husbands there how to play no-limit hold’em. Without knowing what I’ve been up to this summer or over the last few years, the woman who had had the good rides then mentioned how her employer had gone to Las Vegas recently.

“Yeah, he played in this... what was it? World Series or something? World Series of Poker?”

I laughed and nodded. Did he play in the Main Event, I asked? She wasn’t sure. Was it a $10,000 buy-in event? Yes, it was. Indeed, he’d played in the ME, busting on one of the Day Ones.

I told her how I’d been there reporting on the Series, and while I didn’t recognize her employer’s name from the thousands who’d played the ME, I told her how he and I may very well have crossed paths at some point when he was there.

She went on to say how her understanding was that he is a very good player, although his credentials primarily consisted of his being a card counter. “He was even banned from one of the casinos because he was so good,” she said. I didn’t explain how card counting wasn’t so relevant in poker, but assumed that indeed the fellow probably had at least some acumen when it came to poker.

“Small world,” I thought, additionally considering how people from all sorts of backgrounds and locations go to Las Vegas each summer expressly to compete in the WSOP Main Event.

On the way home, I chatted some with the fellow to whom I had taught hold’em this weekend about how the ME worked. He was surprised to learn that only the top 10% of finishers got paid.

“Kind of like buying a lottery ticket, huh?” he asked, and I had to agree that in some respects it was. Though I did go on to explain that while one did probably have to get lucky to get all of the way to the final table and the millions of dollars waiting there, like with dressage, it wasn’t quite right to call it a complete “crapshoot.”

Then again, I guess just about anything -- especially any competitive endeavor -- could be regarded as a “crapshoot,” depending on one’s perspective.

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