Friday, December 02, 2016

Poker on Pause at the Unibet Open

If there’s one experience all poker tournament reporters have shared, it’s that anxiety associated with not being able to cover everything that’s happening.

No matter how many are assigned to an event, there’s always more going on that can be adequately chronicled. Heck, even if there is just one table left and there are two of you each taking turns watching hands and writing them up, there are often still lots of non-essential-but-still-meaningful details associated with any poker hand that necessarily escape the attention of an observer.

Most get used to this feeling, not letting it bother them too much that while they are at one table watching a hand there’s a lot going on elsewhere that cannot be covered. Even so, there will arise those moments when even seasoned tourney reporters wish everyone would just stop for a moment in order to give them a chance to catch up.

Today the gang at the Unibet Open created what I couldn’t help but experience as a visual representation of that very desire, shooting one of those “mannequin challenge” videos during a break at the Unibet Open Bucharest Main Event.

It’s fantastic, really, involving 300-some people, and like I say does a neat job dramatizing the reporter’s dream to freeze the action in order to get a look at everything that’s happening.

I think my favorite moments are Frank Op de Woerd’s best supporting actor cameo and the one-outer at the end. Take a look and enjoy:

Photo/video: Unibet Open.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

“It was a Euphenism”

I’ve graded thousands of student essays over the years. I’ve long considered such work one of the more important and meaningful aspects of teaching, regardless of the subject matter. Helping students learn how to communicate effectively is another way of helping them learn how to think in logical, constructive ways. That’s what they’ll carry forward and will help them later, more so than anything else they learn in a given class.

As important as it is, though, I’ll admit grading papers is among my least favorite things to do. It can be especially challenging when the essay is so riddled with problems -- both “surface-level” errors (grammar, usage, punctuation, etc.) and issues having to do with the content (poor reasoning, factual errors, improper citation, etc.) -- that it becomes hard to decide where to start with one’s response.

In such cases, it becomes necessary to prioritize the problems, picking one or two big ones to concentrate on rather than fuss over every detail and thus overwhelm the student with negative feedback.

Imagine the poker pro hearing a novice player describe a misplayed hand riddled with mistakes at every step. Rather than highlight each one, the pro decides to focus on the decision to limp in from early position with king-six offsuit as an initial misstep. Let’s talk about position and starting hand selection, thinks the pro, and for now leave aside other errors coming later in the hand.

Earlier today our president-elect gave a brief speech during the afternoon in Indianapolis, and I happened to tune in as it began. He spoke at a facility belonging to Carrier, the company that manufactures and distributes heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. The point of the speech was to celebrate news that the company would not follow an earlier plan to outsource jobs to Mexico and shut down its Indianapolis plant, with Trump himself claiming credit for having brokered the deal.

It was a complicated bit of propaganda, frankly, and a few (though not many) reporting on it have already pointed out the claims made by Trump regarding both the deal itself and the planned-for outsourcing of jobs aren’t necessarily to be taken at face value. It’s also highly unorthodox and even threatening to a free-market system for a president or president-elect to be directly involved in attempts to save individual companies or jobs in such a fashion. Again, some have noticed that, but most seem not to be focusing on that so much with their reports.

Setting those deeper issues aside, though, near the start of Trump’s remarks he referred to having made a promise on the campaign trail that the Carrier plant wouldn’t close and jobs wouldn’t be outsourced. In telling the story, he confessed he’d forgotten he’d ever made such a promise for Carrier specifically, though did recall making more general statements about keeping jobs in the U.S.

Apparently, Trump saw a worker -- “great guy, handsome guy” -- on television reiterating Trump’s assurance, saying “Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.” He had no memory of making such a pledge, but then he saw a video showing that indeed he had said exactly that. “They played my statement,” said Trump. “I said ‘Carrier will never leave.’”

“But that was a euphenism,” Trump continued. “I was talking about Carrier like all other companies from here on in.”

I had to rewind the DVR to make sure, and indeed that was what Trump said. Like a teacher grading a paper, it was one of those “where to begin?”-type moments.

In fact, transcripts and articles of the speech are silently editing out Trump’s weird mispronunciation, with those responsible perhaps feeling too embarrassed to bother drawing attention to the mistake.

But I will.

First, the word is euphemism, not “euphenism.” As they say on Monday Night Countdown, C’MON, MAN!

Second, what Trump is describing is not a euphemism. That would be choosing a less harsh way of describing something in order to remain polite or observe a certain level of decorum. You know, like saying “to pass away” instead of “to die.” Not really Trump’s style, if you think about it. I mean, after all, his catch phrase on Celebrity Apprentice wasn’t “You’re being let go.”

No, it was more accurately metonymy, although no one outside of English class is going to say “I was using metonymy” there. That’s when a speaker refers vaguely to something specific (like, say, “Washington”) in order to suggest something more general (like “the government”).

Third, it seems more clear that what Trump really intended to say was that the promise he’d made (and forgotten) on the campaign trail regarding Carrier shouldn’t have been taken literally. “I didn’t mean it that way,” said Trump, implying a kind of amazement that the worker he’d seen on TV had taken his words at face value.

“I wonder if he’s being sarcastic,” added Trump when recalling how he initially responded to seeing the fellow saying “Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.”

You can see where this is going.

There’s a surface-level problem, a bald-faced, easy-to-spot “error” that can be easily corrected by circling a word and writing out the correct spelling nearby.

But the word is the wrong word, so that would require more writing in the margin to correct.

But there’s an even more serious problem being demonstrated regarding a lack of appreciation of the relationship between words and what they normally signify. The speaker doesn’t believe what he is saying, and when someone else does he’s surprised, thinking his auditor perhaps isn’t being truthful (is “sarcastic”) when expressing such belief.

There’s not enough room in the margin to explain all of this. And even if there were, someone with such a strange understanding of words and their meanings would likely have a hard time following the explanation, anyway.

I think this is the position in which a lot of media covering Trump might be at present, finding it a lot easier to make “silent edits” than to try to investigate and explain all of the deeper, more profound errors being demonstrated just about every time he opens his mouth.

I liked the tweet appearing below that popped up in my timeline yesterday after the speech. It’s conclusion is not really an available option to the writing teacher, but it’s one the present circumstance seems to be forcing upon a lot of people:

Image: “blah blah blah” (adapted), Michelle Milla. CC BY 2.0.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Global Poker League’s First Finale (Finally)

The Global Poker League’s first season is finally coming to an end with their playoffs running this week in “the Cube” in Las Vegas.

Way back when this first season of the GPL got going back in late March, the plan then was apparently to stage this finale at the SSE Arena, Wembley where (presumably) there’d be a big live audience on hand to watch it all.

There were a lot of particulars having to do with this first season that hadn’t been pinned down then, actually, and at the time I think most were a little skeptical that there actually would be some sort of season-punctuating event attended by thousands.

In May came news that the playoffs would be starting in late September-early October and be played at the TwitchCon 2016 event in San Diego, then finished up at Wembley in November. That plan was eventually scrapped, then in early August we heard the playoffs would be happening this week in a Las Vegas studio.

So it’s a decidedly less spectacular spectacle, but still all being streamed live on Twitch for those who are curious. Yesterday the sucker went on for more than 15 hours before the Montreal Nationals emerged as the Americas Conference champs.

I tuned in occasionally, and will probably do so again today as the Eurasia Conference gets decided, then tomorrow for the championship. It remains kind of a challenging watch for more than short stretches. Still, I’m glad to see them managing to see this first season through, and there something kind of entertaining about the playoff format.

Have to imagine Season 2 will be scaled back considerably, though, the eight-month grind (with the breaks) being a bit too lengthy to keep the attention of most. There remains all sorts of challenges, really, making it hard to imagine poker working as a genuine spectator sport, sans the “reality TV”-type bells and whistles that has made it work in other formats and incarnations.

Image: Global Poker League.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Krautrockin’

Wanted to share a note today about another bit of writing I’ve been doing lately. Actually I have kind of a big announcement regarding a long-time-in-the-works writing project that is just about to arrive at the “ready to order” stage. But meanwhile, here’s something else you can read right now.

Of course, I imagine it’ll only be a small percentage of you who’ll be that curious. You’ll need to be a music fan, and also a fan of music from the late ’60s through early ’80s -- in particular progressive rock, jazz and fusion, and/or ambient or electronic music. Those are some of the categories that overlap with so-called “Krautrock” music, about which I’ve been writing over on the Phish Coventry blog for the last several weeks. I’ve long been a fan of Krautrock, that somewhat hard-to-define subgenre that includes a lot of German prog starting around ’68 or so and lasting up through the early ’80s and after.

After many years of listening to bands like Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, and Popol Vuh, I came across Julian Cope’s history-slash-love-letter to Krautrock titled Krautrocksampler (first published in the mid-’90s). I like some of Cope’s albums, too, especially Fried and World Shut Your Mouth, and enjoyed his book a lot as well even if it is kind of over-the-top sometimes as he gushes over the bands he discusses.

When Cope wrote the book, many of the albums he talked about were relatively hard to pick up, only available as expensive imports. Nowadays just about all of them are easy to find online, which made it possible for me to fill in a lot of gaps as I tracked down records included in Cope’s overview of Krautrock.

A highlight of the book is Cope’s list of “50 Kosmische Classics,” records he designates as “essential” to those wishing to learn more about Krautrock. It’s a good list, even if I’d probably switch out several if I were to make my own top 50.

In any case, I decided to use Cope’s list as an excuse to try my hand at writing about Krautrock, and so have begun doing my own reviews of his “50 Kosmische Classics,” a list that’s arranged in alphabetical order. Here are the 10 I’ve written up so far:

  • AMON DÜÜL I - Paradieswarts Düül
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Phallus Dei
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Yeti
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Carnival in Babylon
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Wolf City
  • ASH RA TEMPEL - Ash Ra Tempel
  • ASH RA TEMPEL - Schwingungen
  • ASH RA TEMPEL & TIMOTHY LEARY - Seven Up
  • ASH RA TEMPEL - Join Inn
  • CAN - Monster Movie
  • Still to come are Krautrock titans like Cluster, The Cosmic Jokers, Faust, Harmonia, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and others.

    Writing about music isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s a bit like writing about poker, for me at least. In both cases I know how to play a little bit, and even feel like I’ve managed to enjoy some occasional “success” (relatively speaking). But it can be humbling sometimes to try to describe and evaluate what those who are obviously more agile and adept are doing.

    If this sort of thing interests you at all, take a look at some of the reviews and let me know what you think.

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    Monday, November 28, 2016

    Going Over Their Heads

    This week in my “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics” course the assignments include a viewing of Nixon’s televised resignation speech, delivered on the evening of August 8, 1974.

    Nixon begins the speech saying “This is the 37th time I’ve spoken to you from this office,” an opening move designed to suggest a kind of “transparency” that contrasted sharply with the whole idea of a “cover-up” which had led to the offenses listed in the articles of impeachment that had already been recommended by the House Judiciary Committee (obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress).

    There is conflicting information out there regarding just how many times Nixon delivered televised speeches from the Oval Office -- some places agree with him and say 37 times, others list fewer. Most agree, though, of all the presidents of the television age, Nixon used the medium as much or more than anyone else, with Ronald Reagan the only one to challenge him for such a title.

    Nixon considered such speeches a way for him to communicate directly with American citizens without having his words or ideas filtered through the interpretive lens of those reporting on him. Doing so enabled him to have more control over the response, or so he believed, and not have to rely on a press with whom he was on increasingly antagonistic terms as his career went along -- not to mention his steadfast belief in a bias against him shared by most media.

    A few of these speeches represented examples of Nixon’s greatest political triumphs, going back to the “Checkers” speech of September 1952 on up through the famous “Silent Majority” address on Vietnam in early November 1969. They also now retrospectively appear as some of his most ignominious moments, such as the three Watergate speeches (given in April 1973, August 1973, and April 1974), each of which present evidence of Nixon delivering what were later conclusively shown to be blatant lies and intentionally deceptive statements.

    In any case, Nixon always valued the idea of having what felt like a “direct” line of address to the American public. Writing about the “Checkers” speech and the role of television in politics in general in his 1990 book In the Arena, Nixon told of reporters then having “naturally found it very difficult to accept that by going over their heads to the country on TV, I had proved them wrong.”

    That’s how Nixon viewed such televised addresses -- a way of reducing the power of the press by “going over their heads” and getting his message to the people without any interference.

    Yesterday I couldn’t help but think of this notion of a president speaking “directly” to the people when reading president-elect Donald Trump’s barrage of tweets strangely calling into question the legitimacy of the election he won nearly three weeks ago.

    You’ve no doubt seen or heard about the tweets. The most wild-eyed and crazed of them refers to how Trump believes he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” (Trump won the Electoral College, but Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.2 million, according to the most updated counts.) In another he specifies Virginia, New Hampshire, and California (three states won by Clinton) as sites of “serious voter fraud.”

    “Why isn’t the media reporting on this?” asks Trump in the latter tweet. “Serious bias - big problem!”

    Trump provides no evidence to support such claims, nor does he refer to any sources that do. From the reporting of others it sounds as though Trump is repeating some unsubstantiated claims made shortly after the election by a conservative activist named Gregg Phillips (also delivered via Twitter) that were subsequently promoted on the conspiracy site InfoWars.

    InfoWars is a site identified with conspiracy theorist and talk show host Alex Jones and has provided a means for him to advance various fictions about historical events -- e.g., that the Oklahoma City attack, 9/11, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all “false flag” operations conducted by the government to increase its power; that the Sandy Hook school shootings didn’t even happen, nor did the moon landing in 1969; that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States (an idea Trump promoted and used as a gateway for his entry national politics); that global warming is a fiction invented by the Chinese and Muslims in New Jersey publicly celebrated on 9/11 (ideas Trump has also repeated); and so on. Jones even argued Mitt Romney really won the 2012 presidential election.

    Like Nixon, Trump’s antagonism toward media and its “serious bias” inspires his “going over their heads” to communicate directly with the public, although Trump appears to favor Twitter over television as a preferred medium. In his 60 Minutes interview the Sunday after the election, Trump described Twitter as “a method of fighting back” against “bad” or “inaccurate” reporting on him. (He also said he would be “restrained” -- or, rather, “do very restrained” -- when using it going forward.)

    But what Trump is presenting as his own, “unfiltered” message about what he thinks to be true is itself a kind of reporting being presented by sources that aren’t just biased in favor of a particular ideology, but seemingly unbound by reality, free to manufacture “info” out of whole cloth.

    Nixon lied and covered up and did all sorts of things an elected official -- never mind a president -- should never do. He often claimed he rarely bluffed as a poker player, but he bluffed a lot as a politician, including repeatedly at the very end when he was called down and went busto.

    But as paranoid and delusional as Nixon could be, he at least operated within a largely recognizable, shared actuality with others. These aren’t even “bluffs” Trump is tweeting out -- they don’t even meet the minimum standard of credibility to be characterized as such.

    I suppose some believe there’s a method to the madness, though that would be even scarier than what is more likely the case. It’s an instinctive response to Trump, I think, wanting to impose some kind of order on what seems utterly chaotic (and frightening, given the stakes in play).

    Tim Murphy tweeted an interesting comment yesterday. He’s a writer for Mother Jones, I’ll hasten to add, so as not to sound like some who simply tweet “I hear” and leave it at that.

    “People act like Trump’s playing like eight-dimensional wizard chess with his tweets,” began Murphy. In other words, for those who don’t understand the president-elect’s intentions, he is communicating “over their heads,” perhaps only to those who for whatever reason can follow what he’s doing.

    “But the much more obvious explanation,” added Murphy, “is he’s unstable.”

    Image: “Donald Trump” (adapted), Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Friday, November 25, 2016

    The Game-Watching Game

    Vera and I spent a nice quiet Thanksgiving on the farm yesterday watching a lot of football. Then today we spent some time driving around visiting family and enjoying leftovers.

    Got to hang a little with my nephew, which is always fun. He’s seven-and-a-half now, and as usual during our reunions he introduced me to his current interests.

    One was a new app he’s enjoying called My Singing Monsters which he insisted I download on my phone, too. Sort of a funny game with a creative element involving arranging “monsters” you’ve collected in ways that allow them to sing repetitive, catchy songs together.

    He’s also handy on YouTube these days, and introduced Vera and I to a couple of his new favorites.

    One is this nutty series of shorts called “The Annoying Orange” which I believe started out as a web-only thing before eventually becoming a series on the Cartoon Network. (And no, in case you’re wondering, it isn’t about the president-elect.) One of the videos just involved characters from the show playing a video game and commenting over it, my nephew giggling all of the way. That one is pictured above -- has over 6.8 million views!

    Another are these videos made by an English fellow (I didn’t catch the name) that seem to involve him just acting funny on camera while sitting at his desk. Kind of minimal, but super-popular apparently as indicated by the huge views he gets.

    I’m not sure what the standard format of the latter is, but the videos we saw all involved him kind of challenging himself to guess which of two choices would be the most popular in a “Would You Rather?”-type game. Stuff like “Would you rather spend five years in prison and then get a million dollars when released or never go to prison and not get any money?” He made his decisions entertaining by forcing himself to eat sour candy (and make lots of faces) should he choose the less popular of the two.

    My nephew thought he was hilarious, and while I wasn’t laughing as much I think the target audience has to be kids. I found myself thinking how similar the dude’s videos were to ones produced by those playing online poker on Twitch, at least formally.

    In both cases, the audience is basically watching someone play a game while trying to make it compelling viewing in some way. Both combine entertainment and education, too, via game show-like structures (or at least they can). And of course, in both cases the performer has figured out a way to monetize the performance.

    We play games for a variety of reasons. There are a lot of different motivations for watching others play them, too, some of which make the games themselves somewhat incidental.

    Something to think about, I guess, as I go back to watching football this weekend.

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    Thursday, November 24, 2016

    Have a Turkey Leg

    I am of the generation that grew into adulthood without the internet or smartphones. But I adapted pretty well, I think, and am as comfortable as anyone with these life-affecting innovations.

    I do realize occasionally, though, that I’m affected by some of the ornery-seeming resistance to change more typical those who older than I am. I’m referring to the way I’ll occasionally respond to certain technological advances with impatience or even outright opposition to having to learn how to use them.

    Took me forever to get on board with DVR-ing (for example), as I stubbornly continued to keep the VCR hooked up and in use. Was still using the sucker recording WSOP episodes just a few summers ago. (Finally came around on that one.) I still like using my iPod for music, too, which recently elicted a comment from someone referring to it as “old school,” although it still feels kind of newfangled to me.

    I’m handy with texting and tweeting, although don’t do either nearly as often as others. I’m also much less likely to incorporate emojis when I do deliver such messages, although sometimes will when it seems right to do so.

    I’m not at all versed in emoji-speak, though, like many of those who have grown up having incorporated these little pictures into their text (itself sometimes abbreviated with acronyms and other shorthand).

    Several months ago, I was in the middle of a multi-way chat where everyone was firing off these emojis at a high clip. As a joke, I clicked on the “turkey leg” emoji and sent it along -- a kind of non-signifying signifier saying “Hey, I’m here!”

    Since then, Vera and I have gotten in the habit of sending turkey legs back and forth to each other. I’ve even used it with others in random places, realizing that in certain contexts it doesn’t matter what little picture you send. Or at least it doesn’t matter to me, as sometimes I’m sure those receiving them aren’t quite sure what they mean.

    Imagine my delight today at being able to send turkey legs all around, and without any additional explanation needed!

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    Wednesday, November 23, 2016

    Poker on the Radio

    A quick one today just to point you to a new “Poker & Pop Culture” column that went up yesterday on PokerNews, this one concentrating on popular poker songs over the decades.

    The column is titled “Top 10 Most Popular Poker Songs,” although that’s a little misleading as I didn’t necessarily try to present a definitive ranking, but rather just highlight 10 poker-themed songs that were inarguably popular among contemporary audiences.

    The list is chronological, starting with Bert Williams’s “The Darktown Poker Club” (1914) and ending with Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” (2008).

    Nearly all of the songs included are poker-centric, you could say, with only T. Texas Tyler’s “The Deck of Cards” (1948) and Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” (1964) perhaps being less specifically about poker. (Tyler’s could refer to any card game, while Presley’s is of course about gambling and Vegas, generally speaking).

    It’s mainly meant to inspire some debate and perhaps some suggestions regarding other songs not mentioned in the article that ought to be part of such a list. Take a look and let me know if you have any thoughts.

    Image: “Vintage Westinghouse Wood Table Radio,” Joe Haupt. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Tuesday, November 22, 2016

    Rigged!

    It’s probably undeniably partisan-sounding to suggest something as audacious as the idea that there is a non-zero chance the result of the 2016 presidential election was entirely unaffected by some variety of selective tampering or outright fraud.

    Making such an overture is probably also an invitation to charges of groundless paranoia, not unlike the reaction many had nearly a decade ago to suggestions that online poker could in any way be rigged.

    Earlier today poker pro David Paredes -- one of those who originally began to raise suspicions about cheating on UltimateBet (which turned out to be true) -- sent a tweet alluding directly to the latter while indirectly commenting on the former.

    “When my friend and I first examined odd-seeming data on UB, every smart poker player called me an idiot. We wound up getting 22M refunded,” said Paredes.

    We’re two weeks on, now, from that surprising Election Night that began with continued confirmations of Hillary Clinton’s wide lead in the polls suddenly being consumed by actual returns that reversed the outcome in favor of Donald Trump. The initial response by some included dismay regarding the seemingly erroneous polling data, with many exceedingly curious about how the pollsters could have gotten it so wrong.

    In the last few days talk of recounts and closer scrutiny of the ballots in certain states is getting a little louder. It still doesn’t feel much like anything will come of it, but it’s enough to inspire some interesting lines of speculative thought.

    Stepping back from it all and imagining a scenario in which there was some form of tampering done in a few key states that affected the outcome, I’m reminded of poker’s early history and the rampant cheating that marked the game’s first century. In particularly I’m thinking of schemes followed through by card sharps in saloons and steamboats who set up their victims initially with unsupported accusations about cheating and/or games being unfair before cheating themselves.

    One method falling into this category was for the card sharp to lose a few hands, then call for a new deck as a way to imply a belief that something untoward was going on. The request might be accompanied by grumbling about cards being marked, which ideally would elicit protestations from others that the game was honest. A new deck would then be introduced -- one that he himself had doctored earlier -- enabling the sharp to cheat and win in a game others had already declared to be square.

    Another tactic sometimes used by cheaters would be to make conspicuous pronouncements about how much they were losing when in truth they were cleaning up. For example, there’s a long story in John Nevil Maskelyne’s Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill (1894) about a Spanish sharp named Bianco who marked cards in advance and had decks shipped to locations in Havana he subsequently visited.

    “He played everywhere, of course, and where he played he won,” explains Maskelyne. “To avert suspicion, however, he was careful to complain constantly of the losses he had sustained.”

    Going further, sometimes among a group of colluding players the one managing the cheating would himself purposely lose in order to throw off the scent. George Devol refers to such a scene in Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi (1887) when once was playing with his cheating partner Canada Bill Jones. “Bill did the capping,” he says, “and as he lost, their suspicion did not light on him.”

    The common thread here is that losing players are less likely to be thought of as cheaters, and more likely to be of the group accusing others of cheating. Meanwhile the winners are more likely to be defensive about games being fair in order to ensure their victories are understood to be legitimate.

    During the final months of the campaign, Trump (who according to the polls had been consistently positioned as losing) consistently forwarded a “rigged election” narrative, even going so far as to enlist supporters to volunteer to be a “Trump Election Observer” and “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” (Here’s an archived version of the invite from Trump’s website, now removed.)

    In fact Trump went so far as to file a lawsuit on Election Day in Las Vegas having to do with how voting was being managed in the state. The complaint concerned early voting and polls being allowed to stay open later than scheduled, something the Trump campaign characterized as evidence of a “rigged system.” A judge rejected the suit that afternoon, directing the campaign to take it up with the Secretary of State, but the story lingered throughout the day and early evening as a continuation of the “rigged” narrative being advanced.

    Here’s an overview from Politico detailing the many types of fraud that were preemptively suggested by Trump’s campaign. The narrative earned a predictable response from the Democrats (who by all indications were “winning”) who decried the suggestions as not only lacking evidentiary support but a threat to the stability of the nation’s government. “Why Trump’s talk of a rigged election is dangerous” was the headline of one CNN article that made the same sort of argument found in many places during late October/early November.

    Many of those calling for audits now find themselves in a position not unlike the one occupied by those poker players who’d earlier insisted on the game being square who then later themselves began to harbor suspicions about cheating.

    What might come of it remains anyone’s guess. Indeed, amid such an atmosphere of failed predictions, it is hard to be confident about any forward-looking statements, although it seems more likely than not that nothing substantial will result from these calls to “audit the vote.”

    That is to say, as was the case in 1960 and 2000, there may remain doubts in the minds of some about the legitimacy of the election result, but ultimately it doesn’t appear there will be any serious, legally-consequential revisiting of the matter during these next couple of months.

    I wonder, though, how the story of the 2016 campaign and election will be told decades from now -- and in what ways the word “rigged” will be used in the telling.

    Image: “Vote!”, kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop). CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Monday, November 21, 2016

    Risk Versus Reward

    I continue to lead in my Pigskin Pick’em pool, which means I’m necessarily locked in and following closely just about every NFL game each week. I’d be watching and checking scores anyway, but my motive for doing so has increased considerably thanks to the pool standings.

    Amid all those missed extra points yesterday (which created a few interesting spots, strategy-wise), there were a few instances of coaches faced with key fourth-down decisions late in games. A couple stood out, both involving teams that were ahead and looking at a fourth-and-short with just a few minutes left.

    One came late afternoon when the Los Angeles Rams were up 10-0 against the Miami Dolphins with six minutes and 45 seconds remaining. The Rams had a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 30-yard-line, and rather than go for it decided to try a 48-yard field goal that like those PATs ended up a miss (hitting the left upright).

    Miami subsequently marched down the field to score a touchdown in less than three minutes, held the Rams to a three-and-out and got the ball back, then took just a minute-and-a-half to mount another TD drive to win 14-10. Rams coach Jeff Fisher was maligned somewhat afterwards for not going for the first down rather than try to stretch the lead from 10 to 13 -- certainly more so than would have been the case if L.A. had managed to hang on to win.

    Another instance came in the night game between Washington and Green Bay. In that one the Redskins were up 29-24 and in fact there was exactly the same amount of time left -- six minutes and 45 seconds. In Washington’s case, they were on their own 41-yard line and facing a fourth-and-1. They decided to go for it, got a couple of yards and the first down via a quarterback sneak, then went on to score a TD themselves and more or less seal the game.

    Of course, in the latter situation Green Bay’s offense was proving hard to stop for Washington (they’d scored TDs their last two possessions), so the desire to retain possession was higher there than was the case in the Rams-Dolphins game where Miami hadn’t scored a point in any of their 11 possessions. In any case, Washington coach Jay Gruden earned accolades for what was deemed a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth in that spot, although again it’s easy to imagine the decision being judged differently had it not worked out the way it did.

    “Gruden was feeling risky all night,” writes ESPN, alluding both to the fourth-down try and Washington having gone for two-point conversions twice earlier (failing both times).

    Meanwhile many noted the very conservative game plan followed by the Rams who had rookie QB Jared Goff making his NFL debut, with Fisher’s decision to try that field goal earning some censure for being too risk-averse. “Los Angeles could have won that game if Jeff Fisher was less conservative on fourth down late in the game,” concludes RamsWire, articulating a thought shared by many.

    Neither of these fourth-and-1 decisions were unambiguous in terms of their reward. That is to say, making the first down didn’t guarantee victories, although certainly would meaningfully improve the team’s chance of winning the game. The risk each presented wasn’t cut-and-dry, either, although it appeared Washington faced a greater one with a smaller lead and worse field position.

    I saw a stat not long ago stating that over the last 20 years nearly half of all NFL games ended up being “one score” games decided by seven points or less. Games finishing with margins of eight points up to 16 are also often still in doubt by the middle of the fourth quarter, which means the majority of NFL games present situations in which teams that are ahead face similar challenges to weigh risk versus reward when it comes to clock management and possession.

    Like a player with a final table chip lead, such teams and coaches still often have to continue to take risks in order to increase their chances of winning. In other words, they usually can’t just “fold” their way to the win.

    My frontrunner status in the pool is causing me to identify somewhat with this position. And the example presented by these coaches and their disparate ways of handling the endgame is making me recognize I shouldn’t become too conservative with picks going forward, since being overly risk-averse may lessen my chance at the reward of winning the sucker.

    Photo: Advanced Football Analytics.

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