Monday, February 29, 2016

Breaking the Game

Watched that Golden State Warriors-Oklahoma City Thunder game on Saturday night, the one in which Stephen Curry capped off a truly jaw-dropping week by draining a game-winning jumper from 32 feet (or so) for a record-tying 12th three-pointer of the game. Take a look:

I’ve already written here once this season about Curry and the Warriors. I freely admit I’m kind of fascinated by both the player and the team (now 53-5 and a genuine threat to break the ’95-’96 Bulls record of 72 wins in a season), as well as this idea that they’re somehow “breaking” the game with their unprecedented efficiency.

Curry made 12 of 16 three-pointers on Saturday, scoring 46. That was two nights after getting 51 against Orlando via 10 three-pointers, 10 two-pointers, and a free throw. The night before that he scored 42 (with “just” six threes) and back on Monday he scored 36 (with five from beyond the arc).

You might’ve heard some of these crazy percentages Curry has been shooting from especially long range. I’d seen one stat prior to the OKC game that he was 35-of-52 on shots between 28 and 50 feet (the range from which he fired up Saturday’s game winner). No shinola.

If a player shot 52 lay-ups and made them all, that’d be 104 points. Curry meanwhile had scored 105 points shooting 52 shots from 28-50 feet.

I used to play a lot of pickup ball. I remember once getting into a series of games with a dude who would frequently launch shots from 30 feet or so, hitting just enough of them to keep his teammates from getting too angry about him doing so.

It was a little disruptive, in a way, causing not just his team but the defense also to play differently in expectation of the long one going up yet again. Rather than chase our guy around in a standard man-to-man, we essentially had to start blocking out as soon as the dude crossed midcourt. Makes me think a little of what occasionally will happen in microstakes games online when a crazy raiser gets bored and starts shoving every single hand, necessarily changing the game for everyone.

But these latter examples of the pickup game pooh-bah and the maniac at the micros only partly parallel Curry, who can also very ably make his way inside that 28-foot arc where everyone else is and play it “straight.”

I guess that’s what makes what Curry is doing even more remarkable to watch -- the fact that he doesn’t have to make shots from 32 feet to be the best player on the floor, but he can do that, too.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Spring in the Garden State for PokerStars

At long last, PokerStars is returning to the United States. Or at least to part of the United States. One of the states. It’s a start.

We first started hearing about New Jersey as a possible initial post-Black Friday reentry point into the U.S. for the world’s largest poker site way, way back in late 2012, even before New Jersey finally had an online gambling bill get signed into law in late February 2013.

You might remember how Governor Chris Christie kind of surprised us with his non-veto of the bill back then, deciding at last to change his tune on the issue. (Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Christie abruptly changing his mind regarding another subject earlier today.)

It was a couple of months before that PokerStars had been talking to the Atlantic Club in Atlantic City, negotiating to buy the failing casino as a prelude to getting an NJ license to offer online games. That deal fell through, and the Atlantic Club stopped just failing and failed altogether in January 2014.

In mid-2013 PokerStars partnered up with the Resorts Casino Hotel, and after New Jersey held up their application for a license later that year the Amaya purchase in July 2014 helped change things in a positive way for Stars’ prospects in the Garden State. After many months of back-and-forthing including tentative launch dates being frequently bandied about, the NJ license finally got preliminary approval last September.

Then yesterday came the news of a concrete date for PokerStars NJ to go online -- March 21, 2016, the first day of spring. PokerNews summarizes the announcement, while the Online Poker Report offers a comprehensive discussion of what happens next, including some speculative thoughts about both the near-term and long-term.

From the latter, I’m most intrigued by the prospect of a PokerStars-branded live poker room being constructed at the Resorts (the plan for which was announced some time back), as well as the possibility of live PS-sponsored festivals happening there down the road. In the meantime it’ll be interesting to see how the NJ-only site fares, knowing of course that in relative terms it’ll be super-small change like every other U.S. regulated site has necessarily been.

Image: PokerStarsNJ.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Global Poker League… You’re on the Clock

Had that Global Poker League Twitch channel on the teevee during the afternoon and early evening, watching some of those American Poker Conference panels and then the draft for the Global Poker League.

Watching Twitch through the Roku is much, much better than on the laptop, I’ve discovered. For me Twitch never works properly via Safari, and while it plays okay on Chrome my laptop tends to run hot whenever I leave it on for a while. Meanwhile watching on television is a breeze, and so I was able to let the sucker play on over in the corner of the room while I worked on other things.

While my attention was coming and going, the panels were interesting and kind of reminded me a little of academic conferences from long ago where I gave my own presentations, listened to others’, and did the same sort of discussing and networking afterwards. Meanwhile the GPL draft similarly did a decent job of imitating the familiar, lengthy draft shows ESPN puts together for the NBA and NFL drafts. Kara Scott was even there to tell teams “you’re on the clock” when it was their turn to pick.

I’ve never much liked those other draft shows, mainly because I’ll know of only a few of the players being drafted (usually at the very start), making the rest of it kind of tedious. Meanwhile with this GPL draft I knew practically every player, team manager, and even the folks running back and forth in the background and turning up in random crowd shots, in many cases personally.

That alone made watching a little more fun. The team identities and logos are kind of interesting as well, and there is something kind of cool about a “global” league with various big cities represented around the world (four in the U.S., and one each in Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, and Russia).

Like many I’m still more than a little unclear about how the teams work, how the games will go, and the whole playing-while-standing-in-a-cube thing. There’s also the larger question of how exactly the GPL might invigorate poker, generally speaking, although with that I’m willing to exercise some patience. Gets a little fatiguing to keep hearing “stay tuned and find out,” but my curiosity about it all is certainly piqued enough to keep paying attention.

I will say this -- the apparent contrast between the GPL and the last attempt to create some kind of professional poker “league,” the ill-fated Epic Poker League, couldn’t be more stark.

Besides being incredibly short-sighted and impractical in the way it was run, the EPL from the start was purportedly about creating a context in which only the best could compete against the best. In other words, it was mostly about finding a way to keep others out the game.

The league’s commissioner Annie Duke introduced the EPL as “incredibly pro-centric” back in early 2011, arguing (unconvincingly) that the league would somehow represent “the one piece that’s kind of missing from the poker landscape right now... something for the best players in the world to compete against the best players in the world.”

Such an approach -- along with steep $20,000 buy-ins for events and fairly severe restrictions on who could enter them -- was enough to keep a lot of players away, then eventually the whole thing collapsed in on itself with the company that created the league declaring bankruptcy before a single season could be completed.

Meanwhile it’s clear that the Global Poker League seems to have a much different ethos, trying instead to be more inclusive and bring poker to a wider audience, if possible. The whole idea of having a league spanning the Americas, Europe, and Asia is one indicator of such a mindset, and watching the draft yesterday there’s obviously a lot of focus on marketing and spreading positive messages about poker that go beyond just what the league itself and its teams will ultimately be doing.

Interestingly, the GPL used Global Poker Index rankings -- the lone piece of salvage remaining from the EPL wreckage -- to establish criteria for draft eligibility, having invited the top 1,000 ranked players to “opt in,” with a little over 200 doing so. The 48 players drafted yesterday came from that smaller group, and teams can now add two more players each as “wild cards” with no restrictions other than not being able to select any of the almost 800 who didn’t opt in for the draft. (That rule was implemented for the sake of fairness, not exclusion, as the GPL didn’t want top-ranked players to opt-out and then join teams later.)

We’ll see how it all goes and whether or not the GPL gathers any momentum in its own right, as well as whether it does produce these intended effects as described by entrepreneur and league founder Alex Dreyfus to help promote the game in positive ways. I’m intrigued about it, and as long as I can watch via my Roku I’ll probably do so once the season gets going.

Image: Global Poker League.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nothing Endures But Change

Strange weather here on the farm today, where the skies were constantly going back and forth from dark gray to bright blue as the sun played hide-and-seek. Temperatures varied wildly as well, with winds up around 25 miles per hour at times. Precipitation came and went a few times, too, though we had none of the hail or more severe stuff that occurred all around us, including tornadoes in the Carolinas and surrounding states.

During the late afternoon I was cleaning stalls and taking care of some other barn-related duties. When inside our modest-sized (four-stall) barn everything sounds a bit more ominous than it actually is. Even a medium-strength drizzle gets amplified to a booming drone on the barn’s roof, while the wind whipping through conjures thoughts of the black-and-white scenes in The Wizard of Oz.

While working I thought in passing about where I was just a few days ago, standing amid tables’ full of poker players who together created a different sort of whirlwind as their chips went scattering around and around. There, too, everything is in constant flux, with any snapshot taken at a given moment becoming relatively less indicative of the scene once another orbit’s worth of hands go by.

At one point I stepped outside the barn to refill some water buckets, and was almost taken aback by the breathtaking sight above.

The sky had been dark and slightly menacing-looking just a few minutes before, as shown in that photo up top. Now it was light again, with a brilliant and vivid rainbow splashing down in the woods that run alongside the edge of our property. A double-rainbow, actually:

(Click either of the pics in this post to embiggen.)

That only lasted a few minutes longer, too, as the sun began to dim and dark clouds swiftly tumbled back to fill the skyscape. Later in the evening I talked with Vera’s mother, describing the scene to her as well as I could. She joked that a leprechaun might have followed me back from Ireland and over in the woods had hidden a pot of gold.

Looks like tomorrow there will be clouds but less of the craziness, if the prognosticators are to be believed.

Perhaps I might wander over to those woods at some point today, just to be sure no one has left anything.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2016 WSOP Schedule Released

This afternoon the World Series of Poker released details regarding this summer’s 2016 WSOP schedule, another monster with 69 bracelet events this time around.

They’re advertising the series as starting on May 31, although in truth the first bracelet event doesn’t kick off until June 1. The Main Event will again play down to a final table and then come back to finish in the fall, with the last day of that scheduled for July 18. The “November Nine” will actually start in October on the 30th and last three days, finishing November 1. Here’s a .pdf with details of the Main Event schedule.

There appear to be a lot of changes from previous years both in terms of the events being offered, the schedule (11 a.m. starts), payouts (15% getting paid for most events), starting stacks (50,000 in the Main; 5x stacks in other events) and accompanying structure changes, and so on.

There’s a new “top-up turbo” event with 20-minute levels with bonus chips for satellite players, a “triple draw lowball” mixed event featuring ace-to-five TD, deuce-to-seven TD, and Badugi, another mixed event featuring three Omaha variants, a “tag team” event in which groups of 2-4 players enter as a team, among other new stuff.

Kind of interesting trying to absorb such a mass of information all at once. Seeing lots of quick responses already by folks, with most seeming favorable and a few less so regarding specific items. It’ll take a week or three for more substantive evaluations to emerge, I imagine, then once we get to late May and into June we’ll probably hear more intensely delivered opinions once players realize exactly how specific events have been planned.

The WSOP will continue to enjoy its central spot on the poker tournament calendar. It also will probably always remain unique in the way it continues to attract players from around the globe, in particular non-professionals. But with the year so jammed with tournaments already, both in the U.S. and everywhere else, it’s hardly as distinct as it once was, even just a decade ago during the early “boom” years.

The full schedule can be found here, while the WSOP’s presser highlighting the new events and changes is here.

Image: WSOP.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Epilogue -- “Hey, Shamus!”

On the way back to the train station in Dalkey on my last full day in Dublin (described here), I was walking on the platform when suddenly I heard a voice calling out behind me.

“Hey, Shamus!”

I turned around to see two Irishmen walking briskly toward a third, a fellow most obviously named Seamus (not Shamus). I laughed, thinking how occasionally people do actually call me Shamus, exclusively on poker trips. I could be forgiven for thinking perhaps the person was, in fact, calling to me.

“Shamus” of course is a slang term for a private detective, also used to refer to policemen. Starts turning up around the 1920s or so and at least one etymological explanation connects it to the preponderance of Irish-American cops (particulary in the northeastern U.S.). The word pops up in hard-boiled novels, with both Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler using it. That spelling is in truth a misspelling, a phonetic representation of the traditional and popular Irish name, Seamus.

Flying home yesterday, I thought again of that funny moment and the little double-take that followed. Then I thought a little more about Ireland and how connected I seemed to feel with the place and the people while there.

I mentioned during some of the earlier trip posts some of the reasons for my affinity with Ireland, reasons which could also explain the not entirely expected experience of feeling “at home” while there (or something). All of that helped contribute to the feeling that it would never seem all that strange for someone to call out to me by name to greet me.

On the flight out of Dublin I happened to get into a conversation with the fellow seated next to me. Soon enough we figured out we were both heading to Charlotte, and in fact he lived in the neighboring town from me here on the farm. We were about 3,700 miles from our respective destinations, which were in fact only about half-dozen miles apart.

It was nice to chat and already to be thinking about home -- my real one -- and to enjoy talking with someone about things that were familiar. But my time in Ireland was been very pleasant, too, even comforting at times in a similar way.

Photo: “A large tricolour flying from CuChulainn House in the New Lodge, Belfast,” Ardfern (adapted). CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 9 -- The Sea and the Seanchaí

When on these trips I try to share my little “travel reports” here, which often amount to hastily-written notes about something or other that stood out for me as unique or at least somewhat interesting amid long days of tournament reporting.

As anyone who has played a lot of poker tournaments or reported on more than a few well knows, as fun and intriguing as they can be, they often produce the same kinds of narratives, episodes, anecdotes, and even characters. After a while they become challenging to write about -- to tell stories about, I should say -- in ways that are interesting both to readers and to your humble scribbler.

My last day helping cover the EPT Dublin festival started out with another very fun and different excursion away from the usual, familiar path. Actually in truth it was a trip down a similar path as my friend Gareth ended up taking me back down to Dalkey, the place we visited a week before.

This time we went for a different reason, although in fact I had no idea what it was. “I promise you’ll like it,” said Gareth, and having had the great experience of the previous trip to the Dublin coast with him, I was ready to trust him regarding our return.

We took the same train down, getting off on the same stop, then took a slightly different path walking along the sea before finally getting to a handsome cottage facing the coast. Gareth knocked and soon we were welcomed into the place by a friend of his, Brighid, introduced to me as Biddy, a Dubliner with some renown as a storyteller, journalist, and folk artist.

The cottage was filled with the distinctive smell of an Irish turf fire about which I received a quick explanation, added to a little with some online searching afterwards. Rather than firewood the fire was made from Irish peat which burns very slowly and essentially is allowed to smolder for days or weeks at a time (or longer). A little incense-y, perhaps, and very nice for adding a layer of cozy, inviting ambience to what was an especially enjoyable visit.

We had Irish tea with milk along with some of her homemade oat cakes while swapping stories of ourselves. Biddy told of a trip she’d once taken to South Carolina where she’d become acquianted with both the good and the bad of the South, filling the story with well remembered details and laugh-out-loud asides along the way. As Gareth would explain to me later, Biddy is rightly regarded as a gifted seanchaí (or seanachaí, or Englished as “shanachie”) -- pronounced “sen-uh-kee” (I think). However you spell it, we’re talking about someone who tells stories, and tells them well.

We’d eventually take our conversation to a place nearby, switching to coffee while also switching from topic to topic while finding lots of common ground in our shared interests in cultures and subcultures and the people and stories they produce.

Before leaving the cottage, however, I hit upon an idea to get Vera a gift of a print of one of Biddy’s remarkable paintings. The cottage was full of them, and there had been something instantly pleasurable and comforting to have walked in from the beautiful view of the Dublin sea upon which the cottage looked to find a room of pictures of that very sea. Maybe a bit like all these little blog posts I keep producing and putting up here, day after day -- things I’ve seen out these two windows and felt somehow compelled to show others -- although as I said at the start some are so hurriedly pulled together they’re necessarily only abbreviated synopses of the more detailed stories to which they refer. (As I’m afraid this post is, too.)

I picked one showing a marriage proposal (with another wonderful story behind it), something I know Vera will like (see at left, and click to embiggen -- as you can do as well with the photo above that also shows Dalkey Island and its Martello tower). The coincidence of it being a belated Valentine’s Day gift adds even further to its just-right-ness.

Gareth’s promise was a good one, and it was more than lovely to meet Biddy and get to know her and Dublin a little better. We’ve got each other’s email, too, and I’ll be reporting back to her soon to share Vera’s reaction to the gift. (It could be I have a new Irish pen pal.)

The High Roller ended early and the Main Event later on -- you can read the stories of both, told in full, on the PokerStars blog. For now I’ll cut this one short, though as I get ready for my trip back home, carrying the print and lots else from a most memorable time on the Emerald Isle.

Photos: Dalkey island (top); “Proposal at Coliemore harbour with jealous dog” by Brighid McLaughlin (bottom).

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 8 -- You’ll Know Them By Their Limping

Bookmarks are pretty ephemeral things. For most of us, anyway. I tend not to use actual rectangular-shaped thin cardboard products specifically designed as bookmarks, but rather whatever odd index card or other scrap is lying around for the job.

I have a memory, though, of having had and used repeatedly a laminated bookmark at some point during my college days, one that had an old, familiar Irish blessing written on it in some sort of calligraphy. Or was it a curse? You’ll no doubt recognize it:

“May those who love us, love us; and those who don't love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn't turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping.”

That one suddenly came back to me today amid another long one of racing around the tournament floor, and realizing it was an eighth straight day of doing so and I’m more or less starting to limp to finish. I speak figuratively, of course, referring to a kind of slowness of thought and creativity that tends to creep up toward the end of one these jaunts, especially the longer ones.

That’s not to say I don’t feel like I can think or be creative, it just takes a little longer. Just as walking with a limp doesn’t keep you from your destination, it just makes it a little more arduous getting there.

Gonna go ahead and put a bookmark right here for now in this ongoing story of my Ireland adventure. Got one more fun excursion planned for tomorrow, another venture with my friend Gareth who carried me to Dalkey earlier in the trip. We did a ton of hiking that day, and I imagine we might do a little more tomorrow. We’ll see.

We’ll also see how well I manage to limp to the finish of the High Roller tomorrow. Check the PokerStars blog for updates and reports on the conclusions of both the €10K High Roller and the Main at EPT Dublin.

You can watch the live stream of the Main final table on EPT Live, too. Look in the background as you do and you might see some of the reporters, whom of course you’ll know by their limping.

Image: Old Gaelic blessing.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 7 -- Pub Talk

Was focused primarily on Day 1 of the European Poker Tour Dublin €10K High Roller for the afternoon and early evening today, an event drawing all the usual suspects and since it featured a single re-entry there was a decent amount of action through the first several levels. Shaping up to be a big event, perhaps to produce another of the star-filled final tables these HRs often do.

Managed to get out before it got too late, though, and so made it over to a place not far from the venue, Searsons of Baggot Street, for what turned out to be a long and relaxing dinner full of fun conversation, not to mention a good dose of Irish pub ambience.

Had the lamb shank which was tender and delicious and came with braised carrots, asparagus, and a small Shepherd’s pie on the side. Then as my mates were all ordering more Guinness and I was having water, I went for the cheesecake afterwards and went back to the home-away-from-home mightily satisfied.

While there I enjoyed hearing more from Howard and Stephen about the early years of the EPT, kind of a sequel to our conversation from a couple of nights before. I’d heard some of the stories earlier, but our new colleague Jack had not and I didn’t mind hearing them again.

From there we got onto a number of other topics, including a lot about sports as Jack is a big NBA fan and Stephen a lifelong baseball obsessive. I always kind of delight in talking American sports with non-Americans, and it was again fun going over favorite teams and games and stories with a couple of Englishmen.

Another theme of the evening was the important place games have in people’s lives, with poker naturally coming up as an example. We swapped stories about ourselves and others illustrating the point in different ways.

Going back in tomorrow and likely sticking with the €10K High Roller for what will prove a more interesting day as the re-entries end, the money bubble will burst, and the serious contenders for the title will emerge.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 6 -- Picture This

Spent the greater part of the day at the RDS again in Dublin, helping to cover Day 3 of the European Poker Tour Dublin Main Event where they managed to play down to 45 players by the end of the night.

Nothing especially out of the ordinary to report from today. I suppose one of the funnier moments for me came some time after the bubble burst.

Having covered poker tournaments for many years now, it’s been a long time since I’ve been at all inspired to take a photo from inside the tournament rooms. When I get home from these trips, I usually have a few dozen photos taken as a tourist of the city I’m visiting, and perhaps just one or two snuck in there that provide evidence that I was actually at a poker tournament.

However the one time it occasionally occurs to me to snap a pic at a tournament is on the bubble, usually during an all-in-a-call situation. The scene is just interesting enough -- probably more because it simply looks differently with players standing and media gathered around -- that I might pull out my phone and snap one.

That’s what happened today (as shown above). Of course that’s a moment when there are usually a lot of other folks taking pictures, too, namely those who are being paid to do so.

One of them today was my friend Danny Maxwell here shooting for PokerNews. (You can see Danny in the photo above, taking pictures along with Jules Pochy and Neil Stoddart.) I’ve had a few conversations with Danny this week about Ireland (his home country). A little later he tweeted a picture, noting how he could spot me in it. Can you?

(You can click on both of the photos above to embiggen.)

Will be back at it tomorrow, this time moving over to help with the first day of the €10K High Roller. Check out the PokerStars blog for coverage of that and the Main Event. You might see me around the edges of some of the photos, although I doubt I’ll be taking any pics myself.

Photo (bottom): courtesy Danny Maxwell/PokerNews.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 5 -- Gutshots

We had a somewhat shorter day yesterday with the EPT12 Dublin Main Event as Day 2 only lasted six 75-minute levels, meaning we were done before 9 p.m. or so. The rest of the evening was also short for me before getting back to the hotel around 11:30, although the time spent in between was very enjoyable.

First came a delicious dinner at the Italian restaurant called Belluccis which is just across the road from the Royal Dublin Society. Went over with my colleagues Howard Swains and Stephen Bartley and had a terrific caprese salad followed by a ribeye steak while listening to the two of them share stories about the Gutshot Poker Club.

Open from 2004 through 2007, the Gutshot was essentially an illegal poker room in London that purposely challenged the Gaming Act, eventually losing the case brought against it and closing thereafter. Howard and Stephen spoke of a brief revival of another club with a different name, though that, too, only had a short run before getting shut down.

Was fascinating to hear about the various characters associated with the Gutshot and to compare how the club, Late Night Poker (which originally ran in the U.K. a few years before), and other details of the explosion of poker’s popularity in London paralleled the “boom” in poker that happened in the U.S. during those same years. As both Howard and Stephen played at the club and in fact helped chronicle it by writing about it at the the time, I told them they needed to compile an oral history of it (or some kind of narrative about it). They’d surely be the best to do something like that, if they wanted to.

As entertaining as the conversation was, I couldn’t stick around long post-meal, though, as the media tournament was scheduled at 10. I ran back across Merrion Road and soon was seated along with around 40 others for the tournament, among them Lex Veldhuis of Team PokerStars Pro Online and Friend of Team PokerStars Felipe “Mojave” Ramos.

We played in the cash room which has actually been set up inside the Royal Dublin Society library. Was kind of a comfortable setting for your humble scribbler, the walls around us all lined with shelves full of books from floor to ceiling. (That pic above taken by Mickey May is from the tournament, although you can’t see the books over to the side.)

I know Felipe pretty well from covering LAPT events -- in fact, most recently in the Bahamas I talked to him at length about poker’s growth in his native Brazil. He and I ended up playing a somewhat memorable hand in which he raised under the gun, got a caller in middle position, I called from the button with K-J, and someone from the blinds came, too.

The flop came 9-10-J, giving me top pair and a gutshot straight draw. Felipe jokingly asked the dealer if king-queen made a straight before continuing with a small bet that only I called. I called another slightly bigger bet after a blank came on the turn, then the river brought another jack and a check from Felipe.

I’d made trip jacks and thought I was probably best. I’m sure I would’ve called a bet again, and perhaps even for all of my relatively short stack (given that we were playing lightning-quick 10-minute levels). But after he checked I thought about it for a few seconds and decided just to check back. He turned over K-Q, and when I showed my cards the table was surprised I’d escaped without losing more. But I couldn’t see him calling any bet from me on the end there with worse.

Anyhow, felt a little like I was freerolling after that, but soon lost my short stack in a hand that saw me pushing with A-10 and getting called by K-10. If I wanted to be dramatic -- or press forward with some sort of leitmotiv here -- I’d call the king that came on the flop a “gutshot,” but that would be misleading. Was a fun hour or so of poker, and I didn’t mind that much having an early night of it for once.

Ending up having to walk back to the hotel through a pretty steady and cold rain, but I wasn’t soaked too badly and am glad to get to sleep at a decent hour.

Back at it on Wednesday for Day 3. There are 127 players left from the 605 who entered the EPT Dublin Main. Check the PokerStars blog for more today.

Photo: courtesy Mickey May/PokerStars blog.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 4 -- The Girl from Kilkenny

Was another long one at the Royal Dublin Society today helping cover a couple of different events in the EPT12 Dublin festival.

The first half of the day I spent with the 10K Single-Day High Roller, then after that I moved over to help out with Day 1b of the Main Event. Went for a longish walk beforehand and again during the later dinner break, seeing a couple of rugby stadiums nearby and even watching part of a practice. All that added up to 18,000-ish steps by night’s end, so I’m pretty beat.

The most memorable part of the day, however, had to do with an exchange of emails I had early on with a person living here in Dublin. I’m afraid fatigue is going to force me to make a long story short, but hopefully I can convey the gist well enough here.

Way, way back when I was just eight or nine, I had a pen pal in Ireland, a girl of my same age from Kilkenny. Perhaps some of you experienced something similar, too, when you were younger. My elementary school set it up. I remember most everyone else got pen pals in France. I think the idea was for the French kids to practice their English (although we weren’t studying French). But for some reason mine was from Ireland. Actually I might’ve chosen that, perhaps just to be different.

For a few months or maybe a year she and I wrote letters back and forth to each other. Some time after that -- late teens -- we picked back up our correspondence and wrote each other a lot more, probably up until we were 19 or 20.

My memory isn’t very clear, but I think we probably wrote back and forth for at least two or three years during that latter period, and quite frequently. Not only did we write each other a lot, but we shared a lot about ourselves, too. Somewhere we trailed off writing, though, and while I’ve thought about her off and on I’d never really spent any time looking for her online or anything.

Now I’m in Ireland, my first ever visit. And I suppose it was inevitable I’d think about my pen pal again and wonder where she might be. So I searched a little and found someone with her name who just happened to be right here at Trinity College, a place I visited my first day here.

From details about her on the college’s site she seemed about the right age, and interestingly we seemed to have a lot in common (academics, teaching, writing). Could it be...? I couldn’t resist sending a note just to see if she perhaps might be my friend (whom, of course, I have never met in person).

She wrote back right away, sending a very nice note letting me know she wasn’t my pen pal. I may search around a bit more while I’m here, although I’m not too optimistic given that it has been over 25 years and chances are good that my friend has married and has a different name today.

I was kind of caught off guard, though, by how emotional that exchange of emails was for me. Just the act of writing her again (even it it turned out to be someone else) -- of addressing her by name in the greeting -- made me think all sorts of thoughts about being young, getting older, and the people who give our lives meaning as they pass in and out of them.

Only about a half-hour or so passed before the reply came. During that brief period I became filled with a kind of nervous hope, and then afterwards felt a strange sort of sadness. I miss my friend.

I’ve said before how I have always had an affinity for Ireland even before coming here. Studying Irish literature had a lot to do with it, and I do happen to have a great-grandparent or two from Ireland as well. But I’m realizing now it was the girl from Kilkenny who really drew me here, who made me want to see some of what she described to me so many years ago.

Photo: “Ireland,” John Flannery. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 3 -- There Is Only One Mustapha, and There is Only One Kanit

Checking in here at the end of an especially lengthy day at the European Poker Tour Dublin festival where Day 1a of the Main Event played out. Also finishing up was that €25K High Roller, won by the entertaining and talented Mustapha “lasagnaaammm” Kanit.

There was a funny moment at the end of Day 1 of the €25K involving Kanit when players were bagging up their chips. There was a slight delay getting the bags out at his table and he was growing impatient. I think he had a couple of friends there ready to leave, and so was wanting to get out the door as soon as he could.

Finally he got a bag and quickly grabbed a pen and began hastily jotting down his name and chip count on the front. As he did, the dealer said something to him about the need to write clearly. After all, he was going to have to transcribe all of the players’ names and counts onto a sheet, and so needed to be able to decipher who they were. Kanit looked up to respond.

“There is only one Mustapha... and there is only one Kanit!” he said, and the other players erupted in laughter. Kanit was grinning, too, as he inserted his chips, sealed the bag, and skedaddled.

The Italian loves to talk at the table (that’s him on the right above chatting with Igor Kurganov). And if you read through the live updates of an event in which he plays, you often find lots of references to his banter. His English is quite good, and his predilection for adding “bro” at the end of sentences -- especially when joking around (which he often does) -- tends to add a degree of levity at the tables that is sometimes missing among more serious-minded players.

That said, Kanit is seriously skillful as a player, and proved it again tonight. We’ll see if he can add anymore silver spades this week before the festival is over.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 2 -- Ineluctable Modality of the Visible

Woke up on the tired side this morning -- internal clock is still not quite adjusted from EST to GMT just yet -- and after getting some breakfast got some work done with an idea I’d be taking it easy for a few hours. I wasn’t due to go back to help with coverage of the €25K High Roller until later in the afternoon, and so was thinking mainly of resting in the room.

That’s when my friend Gareth Chantler shot me a note to see if I might be up for some further touring of Dublin to see some literary-related sites. I jumped at the opportunity, and before long we were on the train headed down south to Dalkey, a hilly seaside resort that looks over the Dublin Bay.

Upon arrival we started out with a great lunch at Finnegan’s of Dalkey, an excellent restaurant made well known a couple of years back when Michelle Obama and her daughters met Bono and his wife there for lunch. It was also a favorite place of the novelist Maeve Binchy who was born in Dalkey and is one of its most famous residents.

From there we passed through a few streets as Gareth told me some of the history of the Dalkey Quarry and we looked upon the remains of the Norman Castle (pictured up top). We then took a turn and began working our way up a hill, and soon Gareth pointed out a house that was in fact the schoolroom described at the end of the second chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses (pictured at left).

Was kind of uncanny to see, in part because I’d picked up Ulysses a couple of weeks ago and reread the first two chapters, so the scene involving Stephen Daedelus and the headmaster (the ironic “Nestor” figure of the episode) was still very fresh in my mind.

We continued climbing, surrounded by greenery and high-reaching rocks. Eventually we circled back up through Killiney Hill Park where there was a lot of activity with children playing and a lot of dog walking on a crisp Saturday afternoon. We stopped briefly by the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, a site Gareth suspects might be the inspiration for the Majestic in J.G. Farrell’s novel Troubles (which after hearing Gareth’s summary I’m now going to have to read).

Soon we were high and clear enough to enjoy some breathtaking views of the sea on one side and the city on the other. It was cold and the wind whipping up top added to the chill, but such was a minor price to pay to enjoy such sights.

That line up top by the way is the first sentence of the third episode in Ulysses (“Proteus”), one that I think for many readers ends up being the one that forces them off the path entirely never to finish the book. It leads into one of the more opaque-seeming chapters in the book, where the stream-of-consciousness style already exhibited in the first two chapters is let loose even more experimentally.

To me the line has always generically referred to the preeminence of sight over our other senses, although I know it is a more complicated allusion to Aristotle and an involved, philosophical explanation of the process by which vision works. In any event, to me it works as a signpost of sorts highlighting the kind of sight-seeing I was able to enjoy today. Or is it site-seeing? Which is correct, and which is the Joycean pun?

We went back down the mountain, stopping at one point to marvel at how high the waves were crashing against the wall barrier along which we walked -- some 30-40 feet. I snapped a few more photos, then suddenly another rush of water leaped over the barrier and doused myself, Gareth, and a couple of others standing nearby. Was kind of hilarious, actually, as though nature itself was dotting the end of our journey with a loud, cold, and wet punctuation mark.

Got back to the hotel in good shape and over to the Royal Dublin Society venue where for the next 10 hours or so I helped with the €25K High Roller coverage. The always entertaining Mustapha Kanit carries the chip lead to Sunday’s finale (you can read a Day 2 recap here).

Very grateful to Gareth for guiding me through another fun excursion through a different part of Dublin. Gonna try to sleep late on Sunday and recharge a bit before going back in to help with the start of the Main Event. As always, head over to the PokerStars blog for updates throughout, and remember you can watch the High Roller final table on EPT Live (starting at 8:30 a.m. EST/1:30 p.m. GMT).

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Dublin, Day 1 -- Something Wilde

That’s Oscar Wilde looking especially relaxed on a rock there in Merrion Square Park, not far from Wilde’s childhood home, actually. Saw that and much else during the bike-riding excursion yesterday about which I was telling you. A suitable enough pose for that whole “life is too important to be taken seriously” point of view, yea?

Things got relatively serious today as far as the EPT12 Dublin festival goes with the start of the €25K High Roller event, the continuation of the UKIPT Main Event, as well as a number of other side events including a “Chess and NL Mixed Tournament.” That latter one caused a bit of a double-take as I walked past and saw chessboards and pieces, not cards and chips.

And of course the work of reporting began in earnest today, and we all know the importance of being earnest. That said, I think everyone -- players, staff, media, and others -- who together make these EPTs run so smoothly well knows how to have fun, too, amid the seriousness.

The arrangements for reporting are fine, and in fact the food at the venue is above average (at first taste, anyway), which is always nice. As Algernon says in Earnest, “I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.”

I greatly enjoyed reuniting with friends and colleagues today while reporting on the event, which as expected drew a lot of big names as it is the highest buy-in tournament on the 67-event schedule.

Gonna cut it short today as it is late and I’m already tuckered. Check the PokerStars blog for updates, features, and more regarding everything happening at the Royal Dublin Society.

Had thought I might sign off with another Wilde allusion, but I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Dublin, Arrival -- Ballad from Kilmainham Gaol

Checking in here at the end of a very, very long day for your humble scribbler. In truth it was a night plus a day plus part of another night, as that’s what has transpired for me since my last post from the Charlotte airport Wednesday afternoon.

From there I flew up to Philadelphia early last evening, then after a longish layover took the redeye across the ocean to Dublin, Ireland where I landed around breakfast time here. Took a taxi into the city, and despite being a little fuzzy-headed from a lack of sleep on the crowded, narrow-bodied 757 that American Airlines chose to fly me over the Atlantic, I greatly enjoyed the conversation with my amiable driver who taught me a great deal about the current tram strike (“53% pay increase they want!”), the upcoming elections (“They serve one year then get lifetime pensions -- a sham!”), and the identities of those piloting other stop-light-ignoring taxis we witnessed (“Not Irish.”).

Got to my hotel -- my home-away-from-home for the next week-and-a-half -- where I thankfully was able to check in early and rest up a little. Soon, though, my colleague Howard Swains arrived and he recruited me to accompany him on a sight-seeing excursion that wound up carrying us all over the city.

We rented bikes for the purpose, and pedaled clear across to the west side of Dublin where we arrived just in time for a fascinating hour-long tour of the famous Kilmainham Gaol. First built in 1796, the prison was the site of public executions while housing men, women, and children throughout the 19th century. It became a flashpoint during the 1916 Easter Rising as the site where leaders of the revolt were executed almost exactly 100 years ago. The prison closed in the 1920s, then in the 1960s became a museum.

Kilmainham has been used as a location for a number of films, including The Italian Job, In the Name of the Father, and Michael Collins. U2 shot an early video there, too, in which they run about the panopticon-style jail and in the famous prison yard where the executions occurred.

It was an eerie place to walk about, with the tour guide doing well to evoke some of the horrors experienced by those who long ago had tread the same paths through the narrow hallways, in and out of the small cells, and around the yard. (That’s Howard below, serving a sentence of a moment or two in one of the cells.)

We saw a lot else and I managed to take a lot of photos, too, some of which I’ll try to share over the next several days. By the evening I managed a quick trip over to the venue to meet up with Gareth Chantler during the dinner break of the UKIPT Main Event which he’s playing, and we had a very enjoyable visit talking about his many travels, James Joyce, and Jonathan Swift. Then after that Howard, Stephen Bartley, and I had a nice dinner at the restaurant located at the Schoolhouse Hotel not too far from where we are, followed by a visit to the adjacent pub.

I’m a little disoriented but I think that added up to about 24 hours, close to 4,000 miles of flying, around 10 miles’ worth of bike riding and walking, and well over 20,000 steps (says Fitbit) since I was sitting in the airport terminal.

Too tired to scribble more now, but I’ll be back again with more tomorrow, likely after having spent a less manic day watching folks play poker at the Royal Dublin Society. More to come.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dublin Up

Another post from the airport today as a little later I’ll be boarding a flight up to Philly, and from there will be heading to Ireland for the European Poker Tour Dublin festival.

This’ll be a first trip to Ireland for your humble scribbler. Closest I’ve ever gotten before has been London (several times), so am definitely excited not only to visit a new place, but to go somewhere I’ve focused a decent amount of attention on over the years thanks to degrees in English and many years studying and teaching literature.

The Irish authors I’ve read, studied, and taught the most over the years were undoubtedly Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and James Joyce. W.B. Yeats, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Beckett, and C.S. Lewis come to mind as well, although I don’t believe I ever taught anything by them except for one valiant attempt at carrying a group of undergrads taking World Lit through Waiting for Godot.

Was fascinated by Joyce for a time, reading up through Ulysses and starting Finnegans Wake (though like many, never finishing). I taught several stories from Dubliners over the years, and still have moments from “The Dead” randomly occurring to me as a result.

With Wilde I had a more casual acquaintance, reading The Importance of Being Earnest and Dorian Gray and duly appreciating his many one-liners. I remember De Profundis as well and becoming very interested in his imprisonment and relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas for a time. I taught Earnest a few times, which went over pretty well I recall.

Having focused on Restoration and 18th-century literature for the doctorate, Jonathan Swift is probably the one Irish writer whom I’ve spent the most time with over the decades, routinely teaching Gulliver’s Travels, A Tale of a Tub, Battle of the Books and, of course, “A Modest Proposal.” I even had students reading some of the Drapier’s Letters and a bit of Martinus Scriblerus here and there.

Beyond just appreciating his artistry and wit, the Swiftian world view has probably influenced me as much as the view of any writer I’ve seriously studied. (Vladimir Nabokov is perhaps the only rival.) I’m referring to a perspective that looks upon practically everything that we experience with a skeptical eye that at once seizes on flaws (causing irritation and pain) while also appreciating the humor and even absurdity of what is being witnessed (causing amusement and pleasure). That includes the various “systems” (especially political ones) on which Swift comments, but also just to human nature itself.

Sometimes when taking care of the horses here on the farm and “communicating” with them as I do, I think of Gulliver at the end of Book 4 who by then has decided horses (or the Houyhnhnms) to be much preferable as companions when compared to the hopelessly flawed, irrational humans (or Yahoos). I don’t go as far as to agree with Gulliver’s conclusion, but I’ll admit I find myself understanding his position sometimes.

I’m constantly thinking of episodes from Gulliver’s earlier voyages, too, to Lilliput, Brobdingnag, and the Academy of Lagado. There’s so much truth in all of those fictions.

It’s with a literary frame of mind, then, that I travel to Dublin. Will report back once there, hopefully with some stories that entertain and edify.

Image: “Dublin is located in Ireland,” NordNordWest. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Recency Bias in Politics and Poker

Was sitting here this evening with the teevee on hearing the talking heads reacting to early results of the New Hampshire primaries. Most polls had Donald Trump winning big on the Republicans’ side and Bernie Sanders similarly coming out on top for the Democrats, and that is just how things have played out.

Many of the commentators nonetheless seem to be expressing some amazement at the twin triumphs of Trump and Sanders. To be fair, they’re prefacing such comments with statements about how a few months ago it would seem unlikely that either of the two “outsider” candidates (a term that somewhat differently applies to each) would not just win in NH but by large margins. Even so, most seem to be influenced more by the fact that neither won in Iowa (although both nearly did), thus making the overwhelming wins in NH seem more dramatic by contrast.

Now I’m watching the speeches of the winners and other candidates. Man, they are going on and on. Couldn’t just say “nh” in NH, and move on, I guess.

(By the way, I’m assuming someone has already conceived of an op-ed comparing Donald Trump and Cam Newton and how each handles winning and losing, probably mapping those responses onto some conclusion about the relative maturity level of the culture as a whole.)

Thinking ahead, what happened tonight will surely inordinately affect the response on February 20 when the next round of voting occurs with the South Carolina primary and caucuses in Nevada and Washington state. The focus on what just happened is partly influenced by the 24-hour news “cycle” (which isn’t really even a “cycle” anymore but rather a kind of perpetuum mobile running without interruption). But it’s also, I think, just “part of the game.”

Many poker players are well aware of the idea of “recency bias” and that tendency to think things in the recent past are reliable indicators of what is about to happen next. And the fact is, those indicators often are fairly reliable, but not always -- another reason for the resulting bias.

Trying to pick winners each week during the NFL season highlights the problems that can arise from a too great reliance on recent events. Heck, the huge point spread in favor of the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 and all of the betting on Carolina -- more than 70% of the bets leading into Sunday, I read -- exemplified recency bias especially well, as everyone was influenced by their trouncing of Arizona in the NFC Championship.

The presidential race will continue to experience turbulence for the next few weeks, I imagine, but by the end of March more than half the delegates will have been determined for each party, thus making what happened most recently relatively less influential.

But what just happened will still affect responses to what happens next, as it always does.

Image: “New Hampshire Primary - Illustration,” DonkeyHotey. CC BY 2.0.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

Denver’s Hand Holds Up

Well, obviously I did something wrong yesterday.

With just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter of Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers’ opening drive of the second half stalled on the 26-yard-line of the Denver Broncos. Facing fourth-and-11, the Panthers attempted a field goal which would cut the Denver lead to three.

It had been an ugly first half for the Panthers, with a couple of fumbles including one converted into a touchdown by the Broncos. But they were only down six, thanks in large part to the Carolina defense having mostly stifled Denver throughout the first two quarters. And a made FG here would mark a good start to what Panthers’ fans hoped would be a better second half.

Alas, Graham Gano’s 44-yard attempt stayed right, then at the last moment struck the upright and bounced away for a miss. It turned out to be an especially appropriate symbol for the entire game for Carolina. A bit of bad luck, though if skill had prevailed luck didn’t necessarily have to matter as much.

The missed FG that hits an upright always seems like a lucky (or unlucky) play. Sometimes the ball still caroms through after hitting the upright, if the end-over-end turning ball happens to catch it in a favorable way. Other times it doesn’t. Then again, if the ball had been kicked even just a little closer to the center of the uprights, the ball’s spin or that fateful breath of wind wouldn’t have made any difference.

On Denver’s subsequent drive, they converted a field goal to make it 16-7. Then the Panthers drove 52 yards in four plays, and on the fifth Cam Newton overthrew a receiver and Denver safety T.J. Ward intercepted the ball. Ward ran a couple of steps then fumbled, and ball bounced crazily toward the Panthers’ end zone before being covered by Ward’s teammate, Danny Trevathan (his second fumble recovery of the game).

Again, it seemed like an unlucky bounce that prevented Carolina from scooping up the loose ball around the Denver 5. But of course, the fumble doesn’t happen without the interception preceding it. Then we went to another interminable-seeming commercial break. (Let me tell you, when your team is losing in the Super Bowl, the commercials aren’t nearly as fun.)

Luck mattered in the game, and we can put under the same heading some of the penalties handed out and calls made as representing judgments by others outside of the players’ control. It felt like Carolina was picking up big hands over and again but somehow failing to scoop any decent-sized pots with them. But as second half wound down it didn’t feel like Denver had gotten lucky to win. They’d earned it, just as much as Carolina earned the loss.

Then again, it could have been my fault. I mean, I did what I could, including holding my lucky Panther, Sweetie, for much of the second half (against her wishes, mind you). I guess some Denver fan must’ve done me one better, holding on a little tighter, much like the Denver players did a better job holding on to the ball.

And as a result, the Broncos’ (better) hand held up.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Staying Put for the Super Bowl

I remember some twenty-plus years ago living in Chapel Hill and going to graduate school. After getting an undergraduate degree there I continued on for the M.A., then would make a change for the doctorate afterwards (going to Indiana). Several years later I would return to my home state of North Carolina to live and teach.

In other words I’d been a lifelong Tarheel fan by the time the ’93-’94 season came around. The team’s run to a championship that year remains vivid in my memory, something I wrote a little about over on Ocelot Sports a couple of years ago and also chatted with Dr. Pauly about on a podcast we did for the 20th anniversary of the final game between UNC and Michigan.

One part of that memory that stands out was the way my friends not only found it necessary to watch all of the tournament games at the same place (one friend’s apartment), but for all of us to sit in the same seats as well as the Heels kept winning each game.

I recall more and more people joining us as they proceeded through the tournament, with about 20 crammed in the small living room for the final. But the core group all kept our same seats so as not to disturb the spell of Carolina’s streak. As my buddy the host explained, “You can’t prove it doesn’t have an effect.”

At the time I vaguely thought about the logic class I’d taken as an undergrad and phrases like “proving a negative” and “proof of impossibility” and “correlation does not imply causation.” I played cards occasionally then, but this was before I’d get heavily into poker and the study of the game, and so I don’t think I knew about the “gambler’s fallacy” then, or I’d have probably thought of that, too.

My buddy Bob (a.k.a. the “Poker Grump”) who regularly writes strategy articles for PokerNews has written smartly about the latter. In “What is the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’ and How Does It Apply to Poker?” he explains how it works, starting with the example of a roulette player allowing the phenomenon of a ball landing on red nine straight times influence him to think that has something to do with what will happen on spin number ten.

Superstitions among sports fans aren’t quite the same thing, although they share a common lack of rationality. A poll conducted by Associated Press-Ipsos several years ago found that a little more than 20% of sports fans “say they do things in an attempt to bring good luck to their favorite team or avoid jinxing them.”

The Super Bowl is Sunday, and Vera and I have already been invited to a couple of viewing parties. As readers of the blog surely have picked up on by now, I have a rooting interest in the game, one that matches where I was with the Heels back in the spring of 1994. In this case my fandom has also been building for decades and through a long, exciting season’s worth of games, most of which have gone my team’s way.

I’ve watched all of those games this year from the couch here -- from the same side, actually, where I’m sitting and typing this post.

I’m thinking it might be nice just to stay at home on the farm on Sunday.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

On the Square

My Pop gave me a call about a week-and-a-half ago. He had a question for me. Having retired, he’s living down in Florida now in a pretty great community where he’s spending a lot of his time fishing, playing golf, playing music (he’s a guitar player), and having fun.

A Super Bowl gathering is being planned there where he’s living, and the organizers of it had an idea to raise a little bit of money for use in future activities. They’re going to do a “Super Bowl Squares” pool, and while he had an idea what that was about, he was wondering if I could describe to him what it involved.

I was able to explain it to him fairly well, noting how I remembered at last year’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure a game had been organized during the playoff games one weekend. You probably know how the game works, too.

A 10 x 10 grid is created with the rows and columns each numbered 0 through 9. Players contribute whatever the entry fee is to the pool, then put their name or initials in one of the squares. Each side goes with one of the teams, so, say, the rows are the Panthers and the columns are the Broncos (as above).

Then at the end of each quarter, whatever the score is determines who wins that quarter’s worth of the cabbage. Say the first quarter ends with the score 13-7 in favor of Carolina -- that would mean whoever had the square in row 3, column 7 would win the quarter (the last digit in each team’s score). Same happens at end of second, third, and fourth quarters, too, with the pool divided up among the four winners.

Unfortunately for him there’s no choosing squares -- they’ll just draw ’em out of hat -- otherwise there would be some strategy involved. Upon learning how the game worked, he noted how it’d be great to draw 0/0, then for the game to go to overtime as a scoreless tie, thus giving that square all four quarters. I noted how there ain’t gonna be a scoreless tie on Sunday, but he knew that already.

Curious, I looked around a little and found an article on The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective website offering “The Optimal Strategy for Playing Squares.” Of course, these were the guys who also published something last July suggesting the Miami Dolphins would be making the Super Bowl this year (and giving the Carolina Panthers a 22% chance of making the playoffs, ranking them 22nd out of 30 in the NFL), so I suppose we should take this squares advice with a grain of salt.

Even if the game won’t be a scoreless tie after four quarters, the 0/0 square is actually one of the best squares to get (unsurprisingly). 0/3, 0/4, 0/7, 3/0, 3/3, 3/4, 3/7, 4/0, 4/3, 4/4, 4/7, 7/0, 7/3, 7/4, and 7/7 are also good ones. Meanwhile pretty much any square with a 2 or a 5 in it is terrible to get, with the ones with a 1, 6, 8, or 9 also pretty bad -- no shocker there for those who know how scoring typically goes in NFL games. That said, the new 33-yard extra point increasing the chance of a miss (and perhaps encouraging teams to go for two) may affect things a bit this year.

The Harvard article actually factors in the favorite-versus-underdog variable to create its chart, although I think that’s probably more fiddling than you’d really need to think about when picking a square (if allowed to pick your own). Even so, for them the 7/0 square in which the 7 is the favorite side is worth about twice what the 0/7 square would be, so perhaps it is something to consider.

Would taking the faves/dogs distinction into account be how the sharps play squares?


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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Searching The Simpsons

Was alerted earlier today to this new website called Frinkiac which purports to have three million searchable screen captures from The Simpsons. Just enter a word or phrase and if there are any matches it quickly delivers the images and lines for you, complete with season/episode info and timestamps.

Indeed, it will likely find a match no matter what word or phrase you enter. After all, the show has been around for more than a quarter-century now, with nearly 600 episodes.

Entering the word “poker” brings back more than 50 moments from the show, although there are a number of duplicates in there. In truth, I think it amounts to about eight or so actual poker references total.

Here are three good ones, turned into “memes” with the click of a button:

Of all of the ones that come back, the only one I really remember is of Homer freaking out over one of Cassius M. Coolidge’s “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings, which came up during one of the first “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween eps.

The scene with the painting was just one of those little interstitials between the episodes in the anthology show, in this case framed by Homer wandering through an art gallery. “We come now to the final and most terrifying painting of the evening,” Homer explains before delivering the above lines.

He goes on to say “We had a story to go with this painting, but it was far too intense.” Now that I think about it, there is something unnerving about dogs playing poker.

Anyhow, if you’re a Simpsons fan you might go crank up the Frinkiac and see what your searches turn up.

Images: Frinkiac.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Here Comes HoldemX

I played a few games of this new HoldemX today. There’s a site up and running now where you can create an account and play. I think the site actually just launched, with this being called the “alpha version” of the game meant to introduce it and get feedback from players.

This article on PokerNews gives a bit of background about the game and a little on how it fits into this larger vision of Alex Dreyfus and the Global Poker League. The article points out how the game combines hold’em and other card-based games like Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone (about which I was writing a little here a while back), and Uno.

It also explains how the game involves both the regular 52-card deck used in hold’em and (in this version) a 15-card “Discovery Deck.” If you go over to the site and mess around as I did, you’ll see these are listed as “Xcards.” They’re essentially game-changing cards, letting players do things like change or add to their hole cards, change community cards in various ways (including adding sixth street), and so on.

Here’s a picture of the 15 “Xcards” to give you an idea (click to enlarge):

Hands are played like hold’em, with extra rounds inserted along the way where players are able to employ those “Xcards” to change how the hand is going. It’s a bit like playing hold’em with wild cards, but with a lot more variables greatly affecting strategy. The games are timed as well meaning you can get through one in just a few minutes.

Dreyfus is quoted in the article explaining how this is in fact a rudimentary version of the game using “only” 15 of these “Xcards” or “Discovery Deck” cards. The idea, he says, is to provide “an educational experience to give players a chance to play around with the fundamental mechanisms of the game before flooding the platform with multiple deck options, special cards, and other features.”

The article also emphasizes that the game is not intended to be played for money -- only chips. “Hearthstone is not about money: it is about fun, special effects, and skills,” explains Dreyfus, who envisions HoldemX to function similarly (and not to compete with poker).

The tagline is “Poker Enhanced,” but I’m not sure what poker players are going to think of the game. It seems like you’d have to have an interest in poker to want to try it out, but the differences from regular hold’em -- or even from most forms of poker -- are so great even in this “simple” early version, you’d have to have a more substantial interest in games and problem-solving to want to play.

A decent percentage of poker players do like these sort of challenges, but they also like playing cards for money, so that, too, seems like another hurdle HoldemX will have to clear.

I may get back on there at some point just to mess around some more. If you do, let me know what you think.


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Monday, February 01, 2016

Trump and the Poker Analogy

A friend forwarded me this new article appearing over on the Time magazine website over weekend, one offering to explain Donald Trump’s unorthodox campaign strategy (a topic I was discussing here last week).

The key to unpacking the mystery of Trump is suggested in the title: “How Poker Explains Trump’s Campaign.” The mildly clever piece has a couple of good moments, and author Alex Altman does demonstrate a good enough knowledge of poker strategy to speak knowledgeably when pursuing the politics-and-poker analogy.

Nothing super novel here, of course, as politicians and campaigns have been likened to poker for, oh, two centuries or so. I did enjoy going through the list of poker strategies, though, and recalling how practically every one of them has already come up in the course I’m teaching again this semester, “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Politics, and Poker.”

The article starts out hailing Trump as “the best poker player in the Republican field.” Then -- with a nod toward Trump’s casino-owning background -- it goes on to catalogue some of the moves he’s “ripped from the poker player’s handbook.”

The very first one -- “Be unpredictable” -- was a cornerstone of Nixon’s own strategy as a poker player, in his campaigns, and while in office.

In our class we are constantly quoting Nixon in an 1983 interview complaining about various traits leaders lack, including the understanding of how valuable it can be to keep one’s next move hidden.

“One of the problems... in foreign affairs particularly, in dealing with great leaders abroad, particularly those that are adversaries,” says Nixon, “[is] the almost insatiable tendency of American politicians to want to put everything out on the table. Their inability to know when to bluff, when to call, and above everything else, how to be unpredictable.”

That last point then earns some extra emphasis from Nixon.

“Unpredictability is the greatest asset or weapon that a leader can have.... And unless he’s unpredictable, he’s going to find that he loses a great deal of his power.”

Nixon’s campaigns were full of such “surprise” moments (and “dirty tricks”), as was his presidency with his frequent announcements and “big plays.”

The rest of the list about Trump’s poker-like tendencies on the campaign trail reads in a similarly familiar way, highlighting aggression, being able to “change speeds,” and fearless boldness. Regarding the latter, Altman includes the quote “In order to live, you must be willing to die,” attributing it only to poker players generally and not to the late Amir Vahedi (whom I think many of us would probably first think to credit with line).

There is one item on the list that seemed at first glance to be suggesting something a little different (and not a strategy on Nixon’s list) -- “Play in position.” But the explanation by Altman actually has nothing to do with position or acting last, but rather being selective when it comes to getting involved and vying for pots (such as when opting out of debating, as Trump did last week). “Tight is right” would probably have been a better header for this section.

In any case, I wouldn’t suggest Trump’s apparent poker sensibilities as he’s being attributed with having in the Time piece make him more like Nixon. Rather they make him more like practically every other politician who has ever gotten involved in the vote-getting game.

Image: $5 trump taj mahal donald trump casino chip atlantic city new jersey, Amazon.

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