Friday, October 02, 2015

Getting It Wrong

Watched that Thursday Night Football clash last night to the bitter end. Was a pretty poorly played game, with a lot of endgame weirdness to create an unexpected outcome and thus enough extra drama to keep me watching to the last.

A couple of weeks pack I shared a pleasure-pain ranking system for evaluating my Pigskin Pick’em picks. Last night’s game -- which I got wrong -- ended up way over on the extreme pain side of the spectrum.

I picked the Steelers, who thanks to an unreliable field goal kicker and some especially bone-headed coaching decisions allowed the Ravens to complete a 13-point comeback to win in overtime. Making things worse, many in the pool (including the leader) had taken Baltimore, making it doubly unpleasant to lose after having with a couple of minutes left prematurely congratulated myself for having picked a winner. (Amateur move.)

I mentioned how the Steelers’ field goal kicker, Josh Scobee, had a rough night, missing two in the fourth quarter. Both were very late, and both happened with Pittsburgh ahead 20-17. The first miss was a 49-yarder with 2:29 to go, and the second a 41-yarder with 1:06 left.

As I had a rooting interest, I wasn’t happy to see Pittsburgh missing field goals. I was less happy, though, to see the Steelers even attempt them. Why? Because I was convinced each time that trying a field goal lessened rather than increased their chances of winning the game.

If Pitt. had made either FG, they’d have gone up by six, thereby forcing Baltimore to drive the length of the field in the hopes of scoring what would be a winning TD. Down just three, Baltimore instead played for the tie and overtime, and after being unsuccessful on the first try did manage to do so when given a second opportunity.

Because Pittsburgh missed their FG attempts, Baltimore played for the tie and overtime. They failed the first time, but given a second opportunity the Ravens were able to get close enough to kick a long tying field goal at the end of regulation.

When Pittsburgh missed the first FG attempt, then, it more or less assured they would not lose the game in regulation, as the Ravens then went for the tie (they still could lose in OT, of course). If Pittsburgh had hit the FG, however, there would have been a non-zero chance they could lose in regulation. Weighing the chances of losing in overtime (after Balt. hit a game-tying FG following a Pitts. miss) versus losing in regulation (after Balt. scored a game-winning TD after a Pitts. make), I suppose hitting that first FG would have been marginally better than punting, although not by much.

But when the Steelers held Baltimore on downs, then faced a similar decision with less time on the clock (and Baltimore having used their timeouts), trying the FG again was surely a poor decision (especially considering the inconsistent Scobee had just missed one). Punting and pinning the Ravens inside the 20 would have been a much, much better choice. Doing so would have further reduced the chance of Baltimore driving for a winning TD (because of a longer field), although that likely wouldn’t have been the Ravens’ aim, anyway, since the tying FG would’ve been a primary goal for them.

A Twitter exchange at the time involving Grantland’s NFL guru Bill Barnwell succinctly summed up the situation. A follower asked him “why did Pitt go for FG?” adding “Wouldn’t you rather be up by 3 than 6 there? Have Balt play for FG and OT instead of TD and win?” (This is the point I’m making.)

Barnwell’s response delivered the same observation in a different way: “NFL coaches optimize decisions to put off losing for as long as possible, not to win.” This was a point he made in greater detail a couple of weeks ago in a column where he was describing almost exactly the same scenario in a different game:

“Trailing by three in a two-minute drill, coaches will almost [always] settle for a field goal to try to push the game into overtime,” explained Barnwell. “They optimize their decision-making to tie, which only improves their chances of winning to 50 percent (or whatever the implied odds were from the pregame spread), because they still have to win in overtime. Down six and without any other choice, they get aggressive and optimize their play calling to try to score a game-winning touchdown.”

I’m trying to think of a decent poker analogy here (and struggling a little). Looking at it from the perspective of the team that is behind, being down a FG and playing for a tie would be like being short-stacked enough to fold your way into the money. Meanwhile being down six forces a team’s hand (so to speak), kind of like being too short to take the passive line of folding into the money and instead having to go into shove-or-fold mode.

That’s not really describing the perspective of the team that is ahead here, though, who makes a choice that seemingly provides a temporary benefit but isn’t the best decision long-term. That would be a little like risking too much to win a single tourney hand when doing so doesn’t really improve your chance at realizing the more substantial goal of winning the event.

All of which is to say, Pittsburgh’s choice to try a long field goal to go up six with less than two minutes to go -- a decision they ended making twice -- was at the very least questionable even if they’d had a more reliable kicker. And in fact, I tend to think it was just plain wrong (especially in the second instance).

I’m remembering as I write this a game from two years ago in which Pittsburgh similarly decided to try a long field goal with less than two minutes to go in a close contest. In that case the game was tied and the FG was 54 yards, i.e., a would-be career long for their then-kicker Shaun Suisham. Things went similarly badly for the Steelers there, too, and in a post here I surmised their chances of winning were decreased merely by the decision to kick a FG instead of punt.

Pittsburgh made some other bad choices, too, most glaringly with regards to a couple of fourth down calls in overtime. Indeed, I think last night it was obvious the team I’d picked had hurt their own chances of winning because of in-game decisions -- i.e., because of things they could control -- which definitely added to the pain of getting it wrong.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

PS Gets the OK from NJ

My first thought last night upon hearing the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement had authorized Amaya to begin operating both PokerStars and Full Tilt in the Garden State was “finally.”

That such an announcement would be coming is something we began hearing not that long after New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed the state’s online gambling bill in late February 2013. Since then the likelihood of PokerStars’ return to the U.S. via Jersey has swung back and forth between just-around-the-corner to not-bloody-likely a few times before several hints over the summer punctuated by the phrase “end of the 3Q” made late September seem a real possibility again.

My second thought was that when news finally did arrive it coincidentally did so on the anniversary of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 being passed by the House and Senate (as noted in yesterday’s post). Something oddly symmetrical there, I suppose, given how the UIGEA’s history and that of PokerStars (and Full Tilt) have been intertwined over the last nine years.

After that I found myself less specifically thinking in generally positive terms about the news, not necessarily because of what will immediately come of it but rather how longer term the story of “U.S. Online Poker 2.0” will surely be a lot more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Felt like there was very little to look forward to before; now, perhaps, there are at least more possibilities, including more good ones for U.S. players wanting to play online.

That said, it’s been so long since U.S. Online Poker 1.0 -- an era that ended mid-April 2011 -- it is hard to think all that concretely about how last night’s news might conceivably lead to the reintroduction of the game online in more than just a few states here and there.

But it does feel a little like after enduring several orbits of garbage cards while sitting behind a dwindling stack, a hand with some potential has finally arrived. The attention is newly engaged, but the hand still has to be played skillfully. And luck still matters, too, going forward.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Positions and Juxtapositions: Nine Years Later, the UIGEA Then and Now

I’m just going to juxtapose a few items here today, inspired both by an anniversary and some items I’ve read and heard this week.

On this date nine years ago -- just a few months after I started the Hard-Boiled Poker blog -- I wrote a post here called “Deals in the Dead of Night” noting how the night before, after midnight in fact, a federal bill had passed through both houses that thereafter change the course of online poker in the United States once it was signed into law by then-president George W. Bush a couple of weeks later.

As it happened, that same bill -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 -- provided legal justification for the birth of a new online industry, fantasty sports.

1. “Senate Passes Bill on Building Border Fence” (The New York Times, Sept. 29, 2006)

“At the urging of conservative groups and the National Football League, among other interests, the port security measure carried legislation cracking down on Internet gambling by prohibiting credit card companies and other financial institutions from processing the exchange of money between bettors and Web sites. The prohibition, which exempts some horse-racing operations, has previously passed the House and Senate at different times but has never cleared Congress.”

2. “Frist Statement on Passage of Internet Gambling Legislation” (Sept. 29, 2006)

“U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.) made the following statement after the Senate passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act:

‘Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society. Congress has grappled with this issue for 10 years, and during that time we’ve watched this shadow industry explode. For me as majority leader, the bottom line is simple: Internet gambling is illegal. Although we can’t monitor every online gambler or regulate offshore gambling, we can police the financial institutions that disregard our laws.’”

3. “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006” (Oct. 13, 2006)

“The term ‘bet or wager’... does not include... participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization....”

4. “NFLPA Adds DraftKings to Partnership Lineup” (Sept. 25, 2015)

“The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), via its licensing and marketing arm NFL Players Inc., and DraftKings, a leading destination for daily fantasy sports (DFS), today announced a group licensing partnership that will allow some of the NFL’s top-rated players to participate in DraftKings’ marketing efforts this season.... The NFLPA licensing partnership will provide DraftKings the right to employ active NFL players for in-product and promotional campaigns across broadcast, print, social media, digital and mobile properties, as well as via experiential, memorabilia and content activations....

As the popularity of fantasy sports continues to grow with more than 56 million players in 2015, a nearly 40-percent year-to-year increase according to global market research company Ipsos, the deal provides DraftKings with a new degree of connectivity by directly involving a group of active NFL players in the marketing and promotion of its daily fantasy sports experience to fans.”

5. “Fantasy Sports Sites DraftKings, FanDuel September Spend Tops $100 Million” (Advertising Age, Sept. 30, 2015).

“According to estimates, DraftKings and FanDuel together have funneled $107 million into the networks' coffers since Sept. 1. Nearly half ($50.3 million) of that outlay was spent on national NFL broadcasts on CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and NFL Network....

DraftKings ads have aired a skull-clutching 16,259 times over the course of the month, which works out to 135 hours and 25 minutes of 30-second spots. That's more than five-and-a-half days, or a full work week, of commercial messaging that's been hammered out in the span of a 29-day period.... By iSpot's reckoning, FanDuel ads have aired 9,463 times since Sept. 1. That translates to nearly 79 hours of total airtime, or a little north of three days.”

6. Dan LeBatard and Jon Weiner (Stugotz), The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz (ESPN, Sept. 29, 2015)

LeBatard: “DraftKings is spilling money all over the place, and now they have made an allegiance with the NFL Players Union where they are able to put players in their advertising. And I’m trying to find exactly the right analogy here, because what DraftKings and FanDuel and what the fantasy phenomenon has captured here is, it’s not quite legalized cocaine... because cocaine has a stigma with it.... But we are in an area right now where DraftKings and FanDuel... and their ilk have found this place.... They’ve found a place where it’s gambling -- it’s obviously gambling -- [and] they’re able to spill and sponsor everything in sports and everyone is taking their money.... People want it.”

Stugotz: “I agree with you about the stigma, but wasn’t online poker... didn’t they ban that?”

LeBatard: “Yes... but online poker is a little sketchier, not nearly as popular as this is....”

Stugotz: “I agree, but I’m just trying to figure out the difference between the two.”

LeBatard: “Oh, there is no difference. One’s legal and one’s not.... One is legal because it’s a game of skill, the other is illegal because, poker players will tell you, it, too, is a game of skill, but it’s the same thing.... It’s amazing to watch the arbitrary moralities that we have with this.”

LeBatard: “I just think it’s weird that we are always applying arbitrary moralities, and in this case we are doing it with our legal system and we’re doing it with our government. It doesn’t make any sense to me that this is legal and online poker isn’t.”

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Great Deal of Fun in WCOOP Finale

Fun stuff earlier tonight railing the final table of the World Championship of Online Poker Main Event on PokerStars, mainly because of the ongoing deal discussions that began even before play got going today with nine players left.

The $5,200 buy-in tournament drew 1,995 players which meant it came just five players shy of reaching the number needed to match the $10 million guarantee for the prize pool. A total of 243 players cashed in the sucker, but over half of the prize pool -- $5.446 million -- was still up for grabs with nine left.

During the minutes leading up to today’s restart, the table’s short stack, a Belgian going by “Coenaldinho7,” was proposing to everyone a hilarious nine-way chop in which (if I remember it correctly) each would take half a million, leaving the rest (nearly another milly) up top for the winner. No one even acknowledged that he was saying anything.

The deal requests continued from Coenaldinho7 thereafter, pretty much after each knockout, and finally with five left they got to talking seriously about the possibility. No deal happened then, but one finally did with four remaining -- you can read details over in the recap on the PokerStars blog.

Interestingly, once the deal was made both Coenaldinho7 and beertjes79 (also from Belgium) willingly gave up money to ensure the chop would happen. In fact, beertjes79 -- then the short stack among the four -- volunteered to give up over $50K (taking $800K). Coenaldinho7 meanwhile readily gave up about $27K to ensure a guaranteed payout of $1.1 million. Watching that made it easy to root for both of them going forward, and it was kind of amusing in the end to see Coenaldinho7 take it down to earn a $1.3 million score.

Have written here before many times about the sometimes fascinating psychology of final table deal-making and how it really becomes in many cases an extension of the game itself. As the WCOOP ME final table was progressing, I noticed talk reviving on Twitter about the WSOP and its draconian prohibition against final table deals (again).

The WSOP changes its line regarding this policy from time to time, and depending on who is addressing the subject and when, you’ll hear different explanations. Sometimes they say it has to do with regulations from Nevada Gaming, which doesn’t really make sense. Other times they’ll suggest not allowing deals protects the players, although that, too, seems counterintuitive, given that the policy forces deal-making “under the table” (so to speak).

Meawhile in the WSOP Conference Call last May it was suggested the policy actually has more to do with spectators and fans than with players. “The general public really doesn’t want to see skill-based games played that way,” explained WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. “I can tell you ESPN producers and viewers [also] don’t want to see poker played that way,” he added, suggesting perhaps the prohibition has more to do with what ESPN wants than what the WSOP does.

But as we saw today -- and at many EPT Main Event final tables, too -- the deal-making can sometimes be as entertaining or even more so than the poker itself.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Packers Are Freerolling

Sitting here with Monday Night Football on the teevee, watching Aaron Rodgers exert his mastery once more as the Green Bay Packers are rolling over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Not to get too carried away with a fast-crowding bandwagon here during Week 3, but the Packers look great and Rodgers in particular has become kind of incredible as one of the more dominating quarterbacks around. This has been building for a couple of years now, with Rodgers’s ability to see the field and react insantaneously to what is happening around him giving him an edge even we non-experts can see unfold in real time.

The MNF crew just made a persuasive comparison between Rodgers and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, highlighting how quickly each is able to translate thought into action.

Rodgers similarly makes me think of other sport-transcending players like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky -- guys who could survey a scene filled with more variables than most of us can track, “chunk” them somehow (as psychologists talk about) into manageable units, then act accordingly with precision and efficiency, seemingly “one step ahead” of everyone else.

A favorite play of Rodgers’ that I’ve enjoyed tonight and during recent weeks is the “free play” whereby he is able to induce the defense to go offside with a hard count, then call for a quick snap that allows him to fire deep down the field without any fear of a negative outcome. It’s something no other team aside from the always edge-seeking New England Patriots even seems capable of trying, let alone executing. But Rodgers and the Packers have done it multiple times already tonight, with a TD pass and another 52-yarder resulting from a couple of them.

In poker we are familiar with the concept of “freerolling,” say, when you’re all in with AcKc against AdKd and two clubs come on the flop. You can’t lose, but you could win big. Don’t see that scenario so often in football or other sports, but Rodgers and the Pack have found a great example of “freerolling” in football. And there’s something exceedingly enjoyable about watching it work.

(EDIT [added 9/29/2015]: Here’s an article discussing the eight “free plays” Rodgers and G.B. have enjoyed so far during the season’s first three games.)

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Friday, September 25, 2015

On Predictive Reviews; or, “It Probably Sucks”

Earlier tonight Vera and I decided on dinner and a movie. Was kind of spur of the moment, with no particular idea in mind when starting out for either half of the date.

For dinner we ended up at a burrito place down the road a bit that we like but hadn’t visited lately. For the movie we traveled over to a small theater located just around the corner from the restaurant, and of the available offerings decided The Intern starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway appeared the most inviting of the choices.

Apparently others were thinking similiarly, as the showing was sold out. We drove a few miles up the road to another, larger theater where we discovered another showing was also sold out, but another one a half-hour later was not. We bought tickets for that one, spent time at a nearby Barnes & Noble looking at magazines, books, and vinyl records (I was surprised to see), then got back over in time for the movie.

I’m not going to provide a review here other than to say it was an enjoyable couple of hours, with both DeNiro and Hathaway giving solid performances (as usual).

For DeNiro such roles are obviously a million miles away from his finest work. I had to chuckle a little at one kind of silly sequence when he was looking at himself in the mirror and testing out lines he’d deliver in a later meeting with Hathaway’s character, thinking back to the severe contrast of Travis Bickle threateningly asking himself “You talkin’ to me?” in another mirror long ago. Meanwhile Hathaway is more obviously portraying a character that evokes an earlier one, here playing the boss rather than the personal assistant as she did in The Devil Wears Prada.

One observation I’ll share about the film has to do with the music, which I realized about halfway through was kind of relentlessly designed to keep the mood as light as possible at all times. Every transition and most empty auditory spaces within scenes were filled non-invasive snatches of “easy listening” that helped lessen any sort of apprehension about what was coming next. It was the exact opposite of, say, better horror soundtracks (of which I’m a great fan) that produce the opposite effect of making it impossible to relax.

In any case, the main point I wanted to make about The Intern in this non-review has to do with how when it comes to movies so many are so quick to fire off reviews without having seen the film at all, usually forming those judgments on either the trailer (or a 30-second TV spot), what the “Rotten Tomatoes” site is saying, or both.

For example, there is a new piece on FiveThirtyEight currently discussing “The Three Types of Anne Hathaway Movies.” The article begins with a one-sentence summary of the The Intern’s premise (DeNiro portrays an elderly intern working for the younger Hathaway) followed by the flat judgment “That’s the extent of the joke.” A total, unambiguous dismissal.

Then comes the next sentence: “And judging by the trailer, the movie doesn’t get any more sophisticated than that.”

That’s right. The author, Walt Hickey, hasn’t even seen the film he’s just dismissed. (From there he goes straight to Rotten Tomatoes, natch, for supporting data.) It’s like deciding a hand isn’t worth playing before you even get a look at your hole cards.

The article goes on to share another one of those catalogues of subgenres 538 likes to create, then analyzes each category according to box office and, of course, Rotten Tomatoes ratings (which somewhere along the way has become an unquestioned quantitative measure of cinematic value). The conclusion then suggests Hathaway’s track record “means ‘The Intern’ may suck (and it probably sucks, barring a brilliant twist or a terrifically inaccurate trailer).”

I guess that’s the point of the 538 site which tries to use data to predict outcomes of all kinds -- politics, sports, entertainment, business, and so on. So maybe it isn’t entirely fair to complain about someone on the site providing a kind of “predictive review” of a film before actually seeing it.

I’ll agree the trailer for The Intern didn’t exactly enthuse me much when I saw it a couple of weeks back. Nor did it suggest the film was going to be anywhere near as brilliant and moving as Interstellar (the last film with Hathaway I’ve seen). Now that I have actually seen the move, I’m not going to defend it too vigorously as an especially remarkable achievement in film, although as I said it was entertaining and even somewhat thought-provoking despite its efforts to avoid challenging the audience too aggressively.

But think about it. How often does “it probably sucks” essentially stand in for reviews by those who actually watched a film? Or really listened to an album? Or carefully read an article on which they’re commenting (something I’m remembering coming up here before)?

I guess in a way the film itself is trying to explore that common phenomenon of preconceived ideas -- in this case about age and about working women -- overwhelming our ability to exert fair, unblinkered, informed judgments.

How well or deeply does it explore this phenomenon? That’s something you can judge a lot better if you see it.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bernstein, O’Rourke, Politics, and Zero Sum Games

Had Richard Nixon in mind yesterday, the anniversary of the “Checkers” speech. Was thinking about Nixon again today thanks to a visit to the campus of UNC-Charlotte by Carl Bernstein and P.J. O’Rourke. The pair appeared as part of UNC-C’s Chancellor’s Speakers Series, with the event called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House.”

Bernstein, of course, is half of the famed journalist team with Bob Woodward heavily involved in reporting on the Watergate case as detailed in their All the President’s Men and depicted in the film of the same name. O’Rourke, meanwhile, also has a four decade-plus career writing about politics, dating back to the early 1970s when he was part of the National Lampoon.

O’Rourke was there with Nat Lamp when they were doing a fave of mine, the National Lampoon Radio Hour, which ran from late 1972 through the end of 1973, a period exactly corresponding with the evolving Watergate scandal. Thus did the NLRH often feature Nixon and Watergate-related material, with The Missing White House Tapes LP (released in early 1974) compiling some of the best bits.

The presentation was pretty wide-ranging, and while I was disappointed there was very little said about Nixon or Watergate during the 75 minutes, there were a lot of interesting points made by both, most of which concerned contemporary politics and the current presidential race.

O’Rourke arrived late, actually, which gave Bernstein a chance to talk about Pope Francis’s current U.S. visit and contrast his message of humility with the “grandiosity” of current politics. Once O’Rourke showed up, though, he grabbed a lot of attention with various one-liners such as “I’m not stupid, but I’m a student of stupidity... I’m a political reporter.”

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got a lot of attention during the discussion. Bernstein’s latest book was a biography of Clinton, and so he had a lot to say about her “server issue” (although made no comparisons to Nixon and the tapes, which many others have). Meanwhile O’Rourke made the point that Trump can’t be called a demagogue, because “a demagogue is someone with a bad idea who is good at selling it, and Trump has no idea.”

The only time Watergate came up at all was after a questioner asked how the scandal would be covered today amid all of our social media, the internet, and other differences since the 1970s.

“The web is a fabulous reportorial platform,” said Bernstein (with some surprising optimism), who describe the current era as a “golden age of investigative reporting.” O’Rourke’s rejoinder was that while there’s a lot of reporting being done, it has become harder to decide about how authoritative it is. O’Rourke also added that if Watergate happened today, he guessed the scandal might have been discovered sooner since “the conspirators would have been more leaky.”

O’Rourke made one other point about politics I found interesting, describing it somewhat cyncially as a “zero sum game” in which no one benefits without someone else suffering. “What I got is something you can’t have,” is the phrase he used to describe the politician who has earned a vote or some other bit of power via whatever means are at his or her disposal. Nixon most definitely thought of politics in this way -- as a “zero sum” game -- which for me makes it all the more inviting to compare Nixon’s politics with his poker playing (as I have been doing in earnest for some time now).

Bernstein wasn’t as ready to give up hope when it comes politics and the possibility of good leadership, even though he largely agreed with O’Rourke that the crop of presidential candidates at present leaves a great deal to be desired. And in the end Bernstein’s liberal leanings and O’Rourke’s conservative coloring were mostly balanced out, which made for a thought-provoking afternoon on campus.

(EDIT [added 9/29/15]: If you are curious, you can watch the event yourself by clicking through to UNC-Charlotte’s website where they have archived it.)

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The “Checkers Speech”: When Nixon Bet and Dared Eisenhower to Call

Fifty-three years ago -- September 23, 1952 -- California senator and vice-presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon went on national television for a full half-hour to defend himself against accusations that he had inappropriately used campaign funds for his personal use. The presentation was positively received by the American public, and as a result thoughts about replacing Nixon with another VP candidate on the Republican ticket were swept aside.

Early on in the half-hour Nixon tells how an independent audit had been ordered to examine the fund and that it had determined no improprieties to have existed regarding it. He then provides numerous details about his personal finances, sharing practically every bit of trivia regarding his modest upbringing and the money he and his wife Pat had made and saved over the years, right down to exact amounts owed in mortgages and loans, details regarding his life insurance policy, and the fact that he owned a 1950 Oldsmobile.

It’s quite a tale, this financial autobiography provided by a politician on a national stage. Nixon omits one interesting item, though -- the money he won at poker while a Naval officer serving in the Pacific during the latter stages of WWII. He does mention how at the end of the war he and Pat had about $10,000 saved with which he was able to launch his first Congressional campaign, but in truth some (perhaps even most) of that total came from his having cleaned up in games of stud and draw on Green Island.

After defending himself, Nixon goes on the offensive, speaking about the Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s own campaign fund (bigger, and less well monitored), then moves on to praise the candidate at the top of the Republican’s ticket, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He concludes the speech with an invitation to viewers to send their judgments to the Republican National Committee, and as noted the response was quite favorable, showing that Nixon’s defense had succeeded.

The most famous passage of the speech comes at the very end of that catalogue of items regarding personal finances, beginning with Nixon saying “One other thing I should probably tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too.” He describes the family having been given the gift of a dog, a cocker spaniel, while on the campaign trail. He explains how Tricia, their oldest daugher (then aged six), named the dog Checkers.

“You know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog,” says Nixon. “And I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.”

It’s certainly an attention-grabbing moment in the speech. It’s jaw-droppingly maudlin, too, and one of several points during the half-hour that seem almost comic in retrospect. It’s part of a somewhat complex rhetorical strategy employed during the presentation, a stirring of the emotions to go along with the more rational-seeming presentation of facts and other attempts to establish credibility so as to persuade the audience that Nixon was not at fault, was honest, and could be trusted going forward.

Incidentally, the reference to a dog in a defensive political speech had a precedent, something Nixon was well aware of at the time. Exactly eight years before, on September 23, 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had responded to accusations that during a tour of the Pacific -- right after Nixon had left, in fact -- he had left his dog (named Fala) on one of the islands and had ordered a destroyer to go back to get it (at great expense).

The story was false, and FDR jokingly talks about how he personally didn’t mind the Republicans attacking him, but that his dog was much more sensitive. “His Scotch soul was furious... he has not been the same dog since,” Roosevelt cracked, adding that he felt it incumbent on him “to object to libelous statements about my dog.”

Given that he was speaking on the anniversary of the “Fala speech” and was making a pretty deliberate allusion, I can’t help but think Nixon had his tongue in cheek somewhat with his decision to highlight Checkers in a similarly humorous bit of self-justification. But the move meant more in Nixon’s speech, and came to be remembered much more vividly thereafter when people throughout his career would point back to the “Checkers speech.”

One aspect of the speech I find fascinating is how it can be viewed as a strategic move by Nixon in a conflict not against the Democrats or the press who were raising concerns and attacking him for the fund, but rather a part of a kind of “heads-up match” between himself and Eisenhower -- also a fine poker player, as it happens, although there are no stories of Nixon and Ike ever actually playing against each other.

Eisenhower -- a five-star general and war hero, but not really a politician -- was being led by his advisors, who had suggested he choose Nixon as his VP, then were suggesting he find a way to remove him from the ticket once the “fund crisis” broke. In fact, Ike’s advisors likely helped make the crisis bigger than it should have been insofar as they didn’t encourage the presidential candidate to step in and defend Nixon early on when talk of the fund first arose.

How, then, to move forward? Ike didn’t want to ask Nixon to step off, preferring instead that Nixon make the decision himself. But Nixon didn’t want to be the one to make the decision, either -- he wanted Ike to decide.

They had reached impasse, and by going on TV and asking the American public to weigh in, Nixon cleverly forced Eisenhower’s hand (so to speak). It was as though Nixon made a big bet on himself and was daring Ike to call it.

I like how Garry Wills describes the situation in his 1970 book Nixon Agonistes. Says Wills, Nixon “knew this was not what it appeared -- Nixon against the press, or the Democrats, or the people. It was Nixon against Ike -- a contest that... no one can be expected to win” because of Eisenhower’s enormous popularity. Nixon, explains Wills, “was reaching out across [the viewers’] heads to touch swords in a secret duel with Ike.”

When I watch and consider the “Checkers speech,” then, I think not of the board game after which the cocker spaniel was named, but the card game both Nixon and Eisenhower played successfully. And how early in his career Nixon found a way to win this particular, crucial pot.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Learning

There was a time years ago when I’d read any poker strategy book I could find. I scribbled about many of them here, and ended up writing reviews of dozens for various outlets over the years, too.

My consumption of such titles has slowed down considerably of late, as I imagine it has for most of us here in the distant wake of the poker “boom.” But I’ll read one every now and then, and will review them occasionally, too.

A couple of days ago Daniel Negreanu wrote a blog post offering to answer the question “Which Poker Books Should You Buy?” in which he makes a few different points about how to judge strategy texts, most of which make sense to me.

Negreanu spends some time in the post distinguishing between “mental game” books or those that might be filed with other sports psychology texts, and nuts-and-bolts poker strategy texts. He notes how when it comes to the former category, the author’s own record as a player isn’t necessarily a crucial issue. After all, people can help you become mentally stronger without necessarily even being poker players themselves.

However, when it comes to strategy texts or “books that teach you how to play the game better,” Negreanu maintains that “it is essential that the author is a successful, winning player over an extended period of time.” Thus does he strongly advise readers to check the credentials of the strategy authors -- i.e., their results -- before considering reading their books.

It’s reasonable advice, and I tend to agree with the distinction Negreanu makes between poker and other sports in which successful coaches need not have been players themselves.

Negreanu doesn’t really focus on the fact that there are plenty of very good players who aren’t so great at writing strategy books. (I’m remembering a few of examples of such books, some of which still gather dust on my shelf today.)

Thinking back, I’m remembering I actually reviewed a couple of Negreanu’s books back in the day -- his Power Hold’em Strategy (compiling chapters from many contributors) and More Hold’em Wisdom for All Players (which collected syndicated columns he’d written). I liked both books, although I’m remembering there were some sections of Power Hold’em Strategy I liked more than others, including Negreanu’s own good explanation of his “small ball” strategy.

Poker is also unlike other sports in another important way, one not irrelevant to this topic.

Most of us know instinctively whether or not we are expert enough at basketball, baseball, football, tennis, golf, or other sports to advise others. In poker, though, where accurate self-assessment can be more elusive, it can be a lot harder to arrive at such certainty.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

My, My, My Such a High Roller

So that $51K World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars finished a little while ago. Not just a high roller, but a “super high roller.” Or so the official name went. Saw it also referred to here and there as an “ultra high roller,” which I guess it was, relatively speaking.

It ended up drawing 46 entrants, making for a $2.3 million prize pool. Decent-sized turnout, it seemed to me, although it sounded like some thought there would be even more taking part.

Ben “Ben86” Tollerene took it down, earning over $616K after a three-way chop at the end. Tollerene has won a high roller ‘COOP before (a $21K heads-up SCOOP event), and is a regular in all of these high buy-in events on Stars.

José Ángel “Cejakas14” Latorre finished runner-up. As I mentioned on Friday, PokerStars offered betting on players in the event, and looking back at a list of odds from yesterday, Latorre was on there (at 16-to-1), as was the third-place finisher Nikita “fish2013” Bodyakovskiy (at 20-to-1).

Nopaleva who finished fourth -- and who won his way into the event with FPPs -- was on there, too (at 50-to-1). Meanwhile Mike “Tîmex” McDonald (who finished fifth) and 2014 WCOOP Main Event champ Fedor “CrownUpGuy” Holz (who finished sixth) registered late (like Tollerene) and thus aren’t on the list. They had final table betting, too, I believe. (All of that is a little fuzzy for those of us here in the U.S., of course.)

Will be curious going forward to see whether or not the $51K thing is tried again, or even bigger buy-in events, as well as whether betting on online events will become more common. In any case, the WCOOP continues to rage on, doing well as usual without the Americans.

Meanwhile, every time I see another one of these high rollers come around lately, can’t help but think of a certain Cheap Trick track:

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