Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thoughts About Not Thinking

You big dummyWas writing yesterday about going deep in that $1 tourney on PokerStars which ended -- for me -- with what seemed a disproportionately small payoff for having outlasted exactly 1,201 players (98.36% of the field!). I kind of deserved it, though, having jumped into the sucker like I did without really thinking.

Football was on when I’d begun the tourney, and it was still playing when I finished, now having switched to that New York Jets-Miami Dolphins game. I left it on, but didn’t really pay close attention, and in fact made a run to the grocery as it headed toward its conclusion in order to pick up some dinner for Vera and myself.

Among the items I got for us were a couple of roasted chicken leg quarters. As we ate, I told Vera a little about the tourney and how I’d won five bucks for my efforts. “Winner winner chicken dinner,” she grinned, noting how I’d won just about what the meal had cost.

The Jets-Dolphins game ended as we ate, and we noticed afterwards on the post-game how they kept showing a replay of a certain play involving a Miami player running down the sideline. Eventually we’d figure out what had happened on the play.

It was late in the third quarter when Miami, leading 10-3, punted to the Jets. Miami player Nolan Carroll was racing down the sideline, having been blocked out of bounds by a couple of feet, when he suddenly tripped and fell. When the play concluded, Carroll remained on the ground, apparently injured.

The replay showed that -- incredibly -- a Miami assistant, Sal Alosi, appeared to stick his knee out slightly as Carroll had run past, thus causing Carroll to fall! The video from NFL.com shows that announcers spotted the action immediately:

After the game, Alosi did not try to deny or explain away the incident, but rather admitted he’d done exactly what it looked like he’d done, and was apologetic and unreservedly self-critical in his statement.

“I made a mistake that showed total lapse in judgment,” said Alosi shortly after the game. “My conduct was inexcusable and unsportsmanlike,” he added, saying that he alone “accept[ed] full responsibility for [his] actions as well as any punishment that follows.”

Luckily Carroll was not injured. (That Alosi is a strength and conditioning coach only adds an extra layer of “wtf” to the incident.) Yesterday Alosi spoke to the media again and once more apologized.

“I wasn’t thinking,” he said. “If I could go back and do it again, I’d sure as heck take a step back.”

Last night Vera and I had a vegetable medley (peas, corn, greens, and mac & cheese). Among the topics of our dinner conversation, we discussed the incident with the Jets coach who’d acted without thinking and had made a regrettable mistake.

We talked about how the incident might be compared to certain kinds of cheating or “angle-shooting” that occasionally come up in poker that perhaps could be described as analogous to what Alosi had done.

I mentioned a recent poll on Two Plus Two asking posters what they would do if they “stumbled” onto a so-called “superuser” account and could see opponents’ hole cards while they played, and how the great majority of those who responded chose “profit” over “inform site about the glitch.” Vera pointed out how that didn’t really correspond to Alosi’s having acted “without thinking,” although it did perhaps say something similar about human nature.

We talked about the common occurrence of catching a glimpse of one’s neighbor’s hole cards at the table, but that, too, seemed to fail as an analogy. I suppose you could say that having someone failing to protect his or her cards sitting next to you presents an opportunity to try to cheat -- sort of like that Dolphins player running down the sideline toward you as you stood there coaching the other team -- and you either “get out of the way” or don’t.

But again, it’s hard to draw a perfect comparison here. Alosi described his action as somehow instinctive or irrational. “I wasn’t thinking,” is what he said. He also has described what he did as “an illogical act by a logical person.” In other words, it almost doesn’t sound like his action was a genuine attempt to “cheat” per se, but rather an example of someone having gotten carried away by his own competitiveness -- an overly emotional, “heat of battle” kind of response.

Which is sort of understandable, I guess. Although the more I think about it, I can’t help but believe most of us would have acted differently there. That is to say, our instinct would have been to follow the rules, to protect ourselves and each other, to get out of the damn way...

And to have done so without thinking.

I might be wrong, though. Too Pollyannaish for my own good. Four out of five posters in that Two Plus Two poll say they’d cheat if they could. Maybe there’s something about competition that necessarily turns us against one another, especially when the stakes get really high.

What do you think?

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