Friday, February 29, 2008

Playing Favorites

Being famous has its perksI suppose I’m not the only one who was glad to see Phil Ivey finally break through and win that WPT title last night at the L.A. Poker Classic. Thought that first hand -- in which Ivey crazily lost nearly a third of his chips after calling an all-in with A9-offsuit -- was a bad omen. But obviously Ivey recovered and once again demonstrated why he’s so justly revered as a poker player.

It’s an interesting phenemon, really, how we poker fans tend to root for the “name” guys whenever possible. All of the buzz yesterday on the forums and blogs collectively demonstrated a sincere desire to see a Hellmuth-Ivey heads-up showdown last night. (Hellmuth departed in sixth.) I referred to this phenomenon in passing in a post just after the Giants’ stunning upset of the Patriots earlier this month. There I pointed out how most of the world was in fact pulling for the underdog. Yet when it comes to the professional poker tournament circuit, that otherwise instinctive allegiance to the little guy just doesn’t seem to apply.

I followed the live updates last night over on the WPT site. I like how they present the hand-by-hand reports -- essentially similar to what PokerNews did last summer for the WSOP, plus that nifty auto-refresh feature on the live blog page. Was playing hands of H.O.R.S.E. up top and watched as each new hand appeared below.

Speaking of those reports -- and our fascination with “name” players like Ivey and Hellmuth -- I saw Terrence Chan’s recent post (by way of Andrew “Foucault” Brokos) in which he points out how when it comes to poker tourney reporting, the more famous players tend to come off better when reporters recount hands in their articles.

Chan offered a couple of examples in support of his thesis. In one, he tells how the Australian edition of Bluff left out certain details when reporting a hand in which he knocked Chris Moneymaker out of a tournament in Sydney. In the hand, Chan held J9 preflop vs. Moneymaker’s JT. Chan made a straight on the turn, which is when Moneymaker ended up putting all of his chips in the middle. However, the article simply stated that “Moneymaker fell to Chan’s straight despite being marginally ahead preflop.” In other words, the report -- though not inaccurate -- implies the all-in occurred before Chan had made his straight, thus making Moneymaker look better (or the victim of misfortune) and Chan lucky (or less skillful).

By the way, Foucault gives a counterexample in which he quotes PokerNews’ report of the hand in which he busted Barry Greenstein from the 2007 WSOP Main Event. That hand report similarly omits details, this time making the more famous player -- Greenstein -- appear to have played the hand less well.

As far as live reporting goes, I have a lot of respect for the difficulties those guys face. They are forced to work quickly and oftentimes cannot obtain every detail from a hand, yet must report on it anyway. Am somewhat less forgiving of a misleadingly incomplete hand report for an article appearing some time after the fact, but even there I can see where certain factors outside of the reporter’s control (e.g., space considerations) might force an ambiguity-causing abridgement here and there.

While I don’t think these omissions clearly add up to an agenda among journalists to reinforce the notion that “the more famous you are the better you play” -- as Chan says (with tongue partially in cheek, I’m imagining) -- these anecdotes do highlight a couple of truths about poker reporting. One is that details, even those that perhaps seem superficially insignificant, matter greatly. All poker players know there is a host of meaningful information that comes with every single hand that would escape even the most meticulous rail-watcher. So even the most exhaustive hand report is going to omit something.

The other is that famous players certainly do get more attention from reporters and probably a bit of bias in their favor as well. Sort of thing comes with being famous, really. Reporters are (or should be) mindful of the fact they are writing for an audience. And when it comes to poker tourneys, the audience is usually made up mostly of folks who are more interested in hearing about the likes of Hellmuth and Ivey than about the other players sitting around the table, no matter how good those players are.

All of which provides a good rule of thumb for reporters to remember: If you must omit details from hands, try not to do so in a way that paints an inaccurate portrait of what actually occurred (no matter who the players are).

So . . . if any good hands come up at tomorrow’s Saturdays with Pauly (which I plan to play), I’ll try my very best to report ’em fairly!

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ivey’s to Lose?

Ivey's in chargeDidja happen to see who has made that final table at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic (set to start at 5:00 p.m., Pacific time)? The most famous and accomplished of the Phils -- Ivey and Hellmuth -- are first and third, respectively. Nam Le is there as well as the short-stack in sixth.

Ivey, of course, has never won a WPT event, though he’s made a whopping seven final tables. His highest-ever finish was second at the Jack Binion World Poker Open back in ’03. Hellmuth hasn’t won one either. He’s made two final tables, his best showing having been a 3rd place finish at Foxwoods, also in ’03. Heading into tonight’s final table, Ivey’s stack of 4.1 million means he has nearly a third of the chips in play. Scott Montgomery is in second with 2.68 million, followed closely by Hellmuth with 2.38 million.

A couple of items worth noting. First, CardPlayer has the blinds at 40,000/80,000 (with a 10K ante) when play ended yesterday. Not sure if they’ll pick things back up there, or perhaps roll back to the previous level (30,000/60,000+10K), which is what the WPT site seems to be indicating. Regardless, Ivey’s stack puts him in fine shape here. And if this tourney follows the form of other WPT events this season, there should be a fairly gradual progression as they move through the levels. In other words, unlike in past seasons where the final tables were marked by rapidly ballooning blinds and antes, Ivey may well find it less necessary to gamble at this final table.

Another point of interest: If CardPlayer has accurately reported tonight’s seating assignments, at the final table Hellmuth will sit in Seat 3 and Ivey in Seat 4. Meaning Ivey will have the advantage of acting after Hellmuth every single hand other than when Hellmuth has the button. And Nam Le is in Seat 2, so Ivey will also often be able to act after Le as well.

Looks as though the stars might be aligning in Ivey’s favor here. Will be interesting to see if the cards -- and that other Phil -- cooperate as well. I know I’ll be checking in on the hand-by-hand reports over on the WPT site.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On the Senators’ Letter Regarding UIGEA Regs

LettersTwo weeks ago, two senators, John Sununu (R-NH) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The letter was in regard to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, and particularly concerned the proposed regulations currently being contemplated by the feds.

Both Sununu and Domenici are generally considered “conservative” Republicans. I think it is safe to say that neither is particularly interested in making gambling easier for anyone. Neither is listed as a co-sponsor of Barney Frank’s proposed H.R. 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act. Nevertheless, both have a problem with the UIGEA.

The recipients of the letter are the ones whose present charge is to consider the many comments that were submitted in response to the UIGEA regulations. You’ll recall those regs were first made public back in early October, when everyone was given ten weeks or so to submit comments on the regs.

That comment period ended in mid-December, and now the feds are in the process of “finalizing” the regulations. I’ve read various estimates, but it sounds as though this finalizing process should take something like 180 days. Which means it could well be early summer when we hear that the “financial transaction providers” will have to start doing what the UIGEA tells them do with regard to their clients’ transactions with online gambling sites. (Or be guilty of felonies and face the stiff penalties described in the Act.)

Reading through the senators’ letter, it is obvious that Sununu and Domenici have become aware of the many problems with enforcement brought up in the comments to the regulations. (Indeed, they refer to the comments in their letter.) “The effectiveness of any law is reliant on sound implementation,” the senators begin. “Federal regulations are intended to provide clarity and guidance for those subjected to their reach. The value of such regulations is to prevent non-compliance while minimizing wasted effort, time, and cost by those being regulated. Clear rules also promote interstate commerce by facilitating uniform enforcement.”

That sets the tone for the pair’s chief complaint, namely, that the UIGEA is unenforceable and the regulations don’t give financial institutions enough guidance to do what the law is trying to tell them to do. “In failing to provide more detail,” write Sununu and Domenici, “the proposed rules would inordinately burden every bank, credit union, credit card company, money transmitting business and payment system in the country, leading to non-uniform compliance and confusion.” As such, finalization of the UIGEA regs will increase “the likelihood that risk-averse financial institutions will simply choose to block every transaction that may be interpreted or could resemble gambling, whether legal or not.”

In conclusion, the senators “urge” the feds to provide the banks, credit card companies, et al. “a list of restricted transactions and instances that are covered by the law.” (Neither the UIGEA nor the regs even provide clear guidelines for creating such a list, much less an actual list.) They are also requesting that the feds further distinguish what activities are covered by federal law (e.g., sports betting) and what are not.

Reading the senators’ request, a couple of reactions come to mind. Well, three. There’s that same old frustration at the UIGEA -- an unfair, unclear law that should never have been passed and which has created such inordinate (and utterly purposeless) grief for so many. That reaction has been revived again here in yr humble servant.

Setting that response aside, though, a couple of other notions occur to me.

The first is kind of a mixed reaction. I’m glad to see these senators taking to heart the primary issue brought up in the comments to the regulations. And I’m also glad to see them trying to encourage the folks who really matter here -- the Treasury Dept. and the Federal Reserve System -- to pay attention to those comments as well.

Even so, my appreciation of the senators’ efforts is compromised by a sense that their letter will not have much of an effect on the finalizing process. Sort of feels like one of those “resolutions” a non-authoritative body might declare, hoping that those who really have the authority might bother to consider their feelings on the matter. Frankly, I don’t see the feds caring too much what a couple of senators might be saying at this point. The Senate passed the UIGEA, so technically, they’ve had their chance to speak on the matter. (I say “technically” because we all know the UIGEA didn’t really receive any actual debate the night it was passed.)

My last reaction concerns what the senators’ letter actually implies, namely, the very real possibility of “non-uniform” enforcement of the UIGEA. My sense is the letter further confirms the threat of banks of “overblocking” transactions that seem as though they might be covered by the UIGEA. Wrote a bit about this back in November.

We Americans are still enduring certain, specific hassles when it comes to funding and withdrawing from online poker accounts. And, of course, there are a number of sites that won’t allow us to play at all. Still, I think overall we are in a fairly comfortable place with our ability to play online poker -- much more so than in late 2006. However, all that could change very quickly this summer the first time our bank says it won’t cash a check sent to us from an online poker site.

What are we gonna do then? Write some more letters, I suppose.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Antes & Options

Have mentioned a few times of late how I ain’t playing a lot of tourneys these days. I guess we can’t all be Hoyazo. (Congrats on taking down the Fifty-Fifty, man!)

Had to miss Saturday’s with Pauly last week -- way to go, Pauly (1st) and Amy (4th). Am hoping to be back there this weekend. Also had a conflict causing me to miss last week’s AIPS III in 3-D event, though to be honest I’m not too broken up over having to pass up a Stud hi tourney.

And I have yet to try that Bodog Poker Blogger Tournament Series. Happens again tonight at 9:05 p.m. EST. Follow the link at the end of this sentence for more on the Bodog Poker Tournament.

No, am still primarily sitting down at the cash tables, splitting time between PLO and H.O.R.S.E. Have preferred H.O.R.S.E. on Stars as the antes in the stud games are half what they are on Full Tilt (e.g., a nickel for the $0.50/$1.00 games on Stars, as opposed to a dime on FTP). For a relative novice like myself, it is preferable to be allowed a bit more time to sit and wait for playable hands.

Speaking of . . . was listening to the most recent episode of The Poker Edge (the Feb. 22 show) on which Phil Gordon answers listener questions. Someone sent in a question about H.O.R.S.E. tourneys, in particular asking about how best to endure those games in which one is less strong. Gordon has confessed before on the show his lack of knowledge concerning mixed games (stud games, in particular). He even had a recent series of shows devoted to H.O.R.S.E., though had guests on to offer their knowledge rather than try to do it himself.

In his answer, Gordon says to “play extraordinarily tight during those rounds” where one is least comfortable, and “don’t get involved with marginal hands.” Then his co-host, Andrew Feldman, asked him what to do when you get short-stacked and suddenly it is time to play your worst game? After joking around a little, Gordon added the following:

“The great thing about a H.O.R.S.E. tournament is that there are no antes. You know, it’s always the small blind or the big blind in the Hold ’em and Omaha rounds. And I think that’s a really powerful weapon you can use if you’re willing to play tight. You really have a lot of time to wait to get involved.”

Huh? No antes?

I think Gordon must’ve been thinking of pot limit games. Obviously, there have to be antes in H.O.R.S.E. tourneys, otherwise a player really could just avoid “R,” “S,” and “E” without much penalty at all (other than having to pay the bring-in now and then). E.g., here's the structure for the 2007 $50K H.O.R.S.E. event. (Pic courtesy the Fail Blog.)

Will cut Gordon some slack for the slip-up. Like I said, at least he has admitted he ain’t a big H.O.R.S.E. guy.

Meanwhile, as I’ve been promising, I’ll provide some H.O.R.S.E. stats here once we reach March. Have a feeling I’m going to be reporting big success in one of the five games, and a lot of mediocrity in the other four. (Betcha can’t guess which game has been my big winner.)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Ween Rocks

Ween, live in concertA few weeks back Vera Valmore and I went to see Ween. First real rock concert I’d been to in a good while. Am thinking the last one had to have been Todd Rundgren (about 4-5 yrs. back), although that was a fairly laid back show. (Hell, he had the ukulele out for “Bang on the Drums.”)

Have long been a Ween fan, though never had had a chance to see ’em live. They were supporting their latest, La Cucaracha -- not the greatest Ween album, but fun nonetheless. The band rocked out for three solid hours. Went with some others who had seen Ween several times, and they declared it the best show they’d seen.

Ween is hard to describe, really. They are a pop/rock act, technically, though each of their albums tend to run through several different styles, with tracks often sounding like a parody of a given genre or group. Thus any given album tends to come off as some weird-ass mix tape compiling, say, the Beatles, the Doors, Curtis Mayfield, Hank Williams, Motörhead, Marty Robbins, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Queen, Prince, Jimmy Buffett, Led Zeppelin, 10cc, David Bowie, and/or someone Dr. Demento might regularly play.

But it works. In the end the albums always tend to hang together, forming surprisingly coherent “narratives” (of sorts). And in Zappa-like fashion, they’ll invariably try at least once per disc to sabotage the whole kaboodle with some sort of unsavory scatalogical reference that’ll make the disc all but impossible to recommend to yr more uptight colleagues.

Shane 'Shaniac' SchlegerHappen to be killing some time railing the Sunday Million on Stars yesterday and was reminded that erstwhile-blogger and poker pro Shane “Shaniac” Schleger was a Ween fan, too. How do I know? ’Cos he’s got the Ween logo -- a.k.a., the “Boognish” -- as his avatar (see pic).

Can’t remember when I’d heard Schleger was a Ween fan, but when I did I was instantly predisposed toward liking the guy. Yr average Ween fan -- according to my take, anyhow -- probably has some smarts about him or her, isn’t satisfied with predictability, and definitely possesses a sense of humor (be it dark and/or juvenile). Good qualities, all.

Of course, as I say, that’s just my take. Others might categorize all Ween fans as unrepentant crazies.

Yes, learning a person’s musical tastes does tend to give some idea of his or her personality. I remember long ago getting to the end of Phil Hellmuth’s Play Poker Like the Pros where, on the last page, he says how if we happen to see any WSOP videos from 1988-2000, we’ll see him with “headphones on, probably listening to Pearl Jam, Hootie and the Blowfish, Alanis Morissette, Snoop Doggy Dogg, the Rolling Stones, or some group of the 1980s.”

I think Hellmuth might’ve been trying to sound cool there with his sign-off. Let’s just say it didn’t quite land with this reader . . . .

Still, I always enjoy hearing about folks’ fave groups/music. Ever since I started the blog, I’ve been listing what I’m “currently spinning” down there on the lower right-hand column. Recently I added that widget from the Poker Players Social Network where you can actually tune into a few tracks from the week’s selection. And if you click on the “Hard-Boiled Poker Record Shop” you can see all of the records I’ve ever listed down there. (Closing in on one hundred titles.)

Now, theoretically, once you get to the Record Shop you might click through that page to Amazon and buy something, which would throw a couple of pennies my way. But I know almost nobody actually buys music that way these days, so it ain’t like I’ve got a true money-making scheme in the works here.

No, the Record Shop is mainly just for fun. (Am planning before too long to try to set up something similar with the “HBP Bookstore” as well.) Dunno what all those records I’ve listed might say about me, exactly. Probably depends on yr tastes whether or not they add up to anything meaningful.

Take a peek, though, and let me know if you like any of them titles, too. And if you have anything to recommend.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Reporting on Absolute Poker; or, If a Tree Falls

Caught part of Keep Flopping Aces last night. Jennifer Newell (a.k.a. California Jen) joined Lou Krieger as co-host, and they had Todd “Dan Druff” Witteles on to talk more about the Absolute Poker scandal and its aftermath.

I only picked up the show about fifteen minutes after it began. As far as AP is concerned, what I heard essentially reiterated ground already covered several times over. Witteles -- who spoke for just about the entire 35 minutes or so I heard -- made almost all of the same points on Wise Hand Poker back in early November. There was an interesting bit toward the end about bots starting to pop up more frequently on certain sites, but otherwise I’d heard it all before. (If you missed the show, you’ll just have to wait for it to appear in the RSS feed.)

Of course, just because I’ve heard it all before doesn’t mean a lot those listening in have. As was pointed out on the show, not many people are even aware of the AP scandal, never mind up to speed on what happened, how it was discovered, and how AP and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission chose to deal with the matter.

This point briefly came up on the show. Krieger mentioned how he’d been writing about the scandal on his blog, and also referred to the series of articles Newell has written about the scandal for Poker Player (here is the first). He then said [to Newell] “I think that essentially it’s you and me and maybe a little bit of Gary Wise and that’s about it.”

Gonna have to disagree with Krieger there on that last point. Others have written about -- and continue to write about -- the scandal.

It is true the mainstream “poker media” (i.e., the poker mags I wrote about on Wednesday) aren’t really providing much in the way of true, unbiased reporting on the matter. But, come on. It’s not as though no one else is writing about Absolute Poker.

For example . . .

Haley Hintze has written eight articles on the scandal for Poker News:
  • Tough Times for Absolute Poker (October 18, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker: 'We Had a Security Breach' (October 19, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker: Consultant Cited in Latest Statement (October 21, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker Situation: Unattributed Statement Released; Seif Video Names AJ Green (October 31, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker Situation: Unofficial Interim Audit Statement Released (November 9, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker Situation: Q&A with Nat Arem, Part 1 (November 9, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker Situation: Q&A with Nat Arem, Part 2 (November 16, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker Situation: Kahnawake Gaming Commission Releases Final Audit Results (January 12, 2008)
  • Poker Listings has also had a number of articles reporting the scandal:
  • Absolute Poker debacle results in audit (October 18, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker reports security breach (October 20, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker condemned by poker players (October 22, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker fall out far from over (October 30, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker issues update on scandal (November 10, 2007)

  • Poker rooms respond to online security questions (November 20, 2007)

  • Absolute Poker investigation nearing end (November 23, 2007)

  • KGC releases Absolute Poker report (January 13, 2008)

  • Absolute Poker responds to KGC report (January 15, 2008)

  • Final Thoughts on Absolute Scandal, PCA Bannings (January 18, 2008)
  • Additionally, Poker Pages has weighed in on the matter from time to time:
  • Absolute Poker Cheating Blamed On Employee (October 19, 2007)

  • Further Details Emerge in Absolute Poker Scandal (November 9, 2007)

  • Absolute(ly) Poker Scandalous (November 12, 2007)

  • Kahnawake Gaming Commission Releases Absolute Poker Findings (January 12, 2008)

  • Absolute Poker Responds to KGC Report (January 13, 2008)

  • Is There Integrity in Online Poker? (no date)
  • Should also mention this one -- For Cryin’ Out Loud, You Are Not Being Scammed at Absolute Poker! (September 25, 2007). Poker Pages probably regrets jumping the gun, there. But at least they were trying to cover the story.

    Moving on, Life’s a Bluff has offered some poignant commentary:
  • Absolute Mess (October 22, 2007)

  • Happy Halloween (October 31, 2007)

  • War of Words (November 14, 2007)

  • Online Poker Is Rigged (January 11, 2008)

  • Absolute Poker Punished (January 18, 2008)
  • Pokerati, in addition to passing along some of the above-mentioned items, has had a number of posts on the matter, as well. Here are just a few of them:
  • Absolute Issue Raises Serious Questions (October 17, 2007)

  • Mark Seif, Absolute Respond with Call for Investigation (October 17, 2007)

  • Absolute Admissions: You Buyin’? (October 19, 2007)

  • It's On: Mark Seif v. Dan Druff, Round 1 (October 31, 2007), in which California Jen passes along the RawVegas vids

  • Mark Seif Speaks (November 1, 2007)

  • What Cheating Looks Like (November 1, 2007), in which Dan links to the YouTube Potripper vids

  • Absolute Issues Statement Claiming No Super-User Account. Yeah, Right. (November 9, 2007)

  • Absolute Cheating Report Released (January 11, 2008)

  • Unpeeling the Absolute Onion (January 12, 2008)

  • Absolute Poker Releases Statement (January 12, 2008)
  • Big Poker Sundays devoted a lot of time during its initial episodes to the story, as have other podcasts such as Ante Up! and the old Rounders, the Poker Show (now Two Plus Two). Oh, and Dugglebogey was already drawing cartoons about it back in September.

    And, while I’m at it . . .
  • Playing Catch-Up (September 23, 2007)

  • Absolute Crap (October 19, 2007)

  • Would You Like to Leave Absolute Poker? (October 21, 2007)

  • Cleaning Out (October 24, 2007)

  • Poker Still "a Game Subject to Chance" (Even for Cheaters) (October 30, 2007)

  • World Upside Down (November 6, 2007)

  • Update on the Updates (November 11, 2007)

  • Get Ready to Rumble (November 17, 2007)

  • Absolute Apathy (January 4, 2008)

  • Something Is Missing Here (January 14, 2008)

  • CardPlayer Sez Go On & Play at Absolute Poker (February 5, 2008)

  • Absolute Poker "Security Summits" (In Search Of) (February 13, 2008)
  • And I haven’t even mentioned other forums and blogs that have reported (and continue to report) on the scandal.

    No, I think for anyone interested, there’s plenty of information out there about the problems at Absolute Poker. That’s the problem, though. For a variety of reasons, ain’t a lot of folks all that interested.

    A month-and-a-half ago, Gary Carson pointed out the pointlessless of blogging about the Absolute scandal, explaining the generally lackadaisical attitude of most poker players’ towards cheating ensures such efforts will largely fall on deaf ears.

    Carson’s probably right. Indeed, sometimes I think even those who are interested in the scandal aren’t listening all that closely.

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    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Inertia

    InertiaNat Arem had a post a couple of days ago in which he offered some ideas related to creating websites and marketing oneself over these here intertubes. The post looks to be the first part of series on the subject, and in this one he focuses particularly on “the idea” one is trying to sell, as well as how clients/consumers tend to behave in response to one’s idea.

    Interesting stuff, but really I just wanted to quote his conclusion in which he recommends (in bold) to “Get inside the minds of your users and never forget that you’re fighting irrational levels of inertia.”

    Nat’s point about human nature -- about how we tend as a species to resist anything different or unfamiliar -- has wide-ranging application. Will probably play some role in the 2008 Presidential election in November, I’d imagine. Has fairly obvious application to what happens at the poker tables, as well.

    Was playing my usual H.O.R.S.E. game yesterday ($0.50/$1.00). Am doing okay; nothing too spectacular, though (making about a big bet per 100, on average). Still feel like Omaha/8 is my weakest link, but I continue to compile data to try to get a better idea. After each session, I’m recording how I’ve done in each of the five games. Once I get a decent sample together, I’ll share what I’ve found.

    Yesterday I experienced several instances of players -- including myself -- exhibiting “irrational levels of intertia.” You know where I’m going here. I’m talking about the never-folds. The guys who cannot let a hand go once they’ve put that first chip in the middle. In H.O.R.S.E., the phenomenon is particularly obvious in the three stud games (Razz, Stud, Stud/8). You’d think the key moment (or “inflection point,” as Harrington says in another context) would usually be on fifth street, when the bets double. But in reality, it is fourth street -- or even third -- where a lot of players seem to commit to going all the way.

    As I say, I, too, am guilty of this “irrational” unwillingness to stop calling from time to time. Here are a couple of examples showing me demonstrating such tendencies, then one more showing someone else doing so.

    The first example is a Stud hand where I was dealt 7c9c4c. With my 4 showing, I was forced to bring-in. There was one caller (Jd), then a player with As showing completed (to fifty cents). I called, as did the other player. Fourth street brought me the 6c, giving me four to the flush, but also brought the Ah to the fellow who’d completed. With his pair of aces showing, a double bet (of $1) was allowed, but he chose just to bet fifty cents. The other player folded and I called. The pot was now $2.50.

    Fifth street brought him the 8s and me the 3h, and he bet ($1). I have good odds here, actually. It’s 3.5-to-1 to call, and, in fact, four to a flush on fifth street is a 1.75-to-1 shot to hit. (Of course, I could be drawing dead.) Not really thinking of any of that, though -- my interia ain’t letting me even consider letting this one go. So I call, and a Jc nicely arrives on 6th street. End up getting three more big bets out of my opponent. He’d made three aces by 4th street, but failed to fill up.

    “Good for you,” he types afterward. Then adds, “Just don’t leave.” I didn’t bother to defend myself.

    A little later had a Razz hand where I again let inertia take over. This time I’d made a “rough” 8 by fifth street. In fact, it was as rough as it gets: 8-7-6-5-4. Meanwhile, my opponent, who’d raised on third and had been leading the whole way, had 3-2-4 showing. I called his fifth street bet, though. The pot was relatively big -- $5.25 when I put my buck in on fifth -- and I found it hard to let go. Then sixth street brought us both jacks. He bet out again. I decided it possible he’d paired one of those low cards and so now only had a jack-high. Of course, a more likely explanation for that read were those “irrational levels of inertia” guiding my behavior . . . .

    Whatever the cause, I decided to raise. When he just called, I knew I was right, though of course I still had to dodge seventh street. I did, and ended up winning a ten-dollar pot. Got a comment again from my opponent: “terrible.” He might have been right.

    My last example also shows me in a less than favorable light, though I think someone else provides a better illustration of Nat’s principle. It’s an Omaha/8 hand, and I was in late position with 2c9sAdQd. An ace and a deuce, and single-suited. Playable, I guess, though that nine kind of kills the hand, really. I limped in with three others, and the flop came TcThJs.

    I was last to act, and all three checked to me. I decided to bet, expecting anyone with a ten (or full boat) to call me, in which case I’d be done with the hand. Two players did call. The turn was the Kh, giving me Broadway. Again, both checked (kind of quickly). Maybe I’m good here? I bet again. Again, both players called.

    The river was the 6d and both players again checked. Well, now I must be good. I bet again, and again both players just called. Talk about inertia. What could they have?

    Turned out neither had a ten at all. One mucked 8sQsKs9c -- a lower straight. Then the other showed 6c6sQc8d. Wha? He’d rivered one of the two sixes to make the baby boat.

    How could he have called that flop? And turn?

    Nat has the answer.

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    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    On Poker Mags

    I like Gary Wise’s podcast, Wise Hand Poker. Took me awhile to decide, but I realize I’ve come to look forward to listening to the shows whenever they turn up in the feed.

    (Of course, Rounder’s Radio could upload them suckers more regularly. And more quickly. As I have mentioned before, I don’t generally sit around the computer waiting to hear live shows, so if it ain’t available as a download, I probably will miss it.)

    Wise writes for Bluff Magazine, ESPN, and some other outlets, and so has a lot of connections in the poker biz. His two-hour shows generally consist of a couple of lengthy interviews with fairly well-known guests. The long format suits Wise -- he does like to talk . . . a lot. But he gives his interviewees a lot of room, too, to respond to his usually thoughtful questions. And ultimately I almost always feel like I get something out of the interviews.

    On the February 6th episode of Wise Hand Poker, Wise had recent Women’s Poker Hall of Fame inductee Linda Johnson on as a guest. Johnson is another highly likable and thoughtful person (I recommend the interview, which takes up the second half of the episode). She is sometimes called the “First Lady of Poker” thanks to her important contributions to the industry, as well as her accomplishments as a player. Besides helping establish the Tournament Directors Association and being the publisher and owner of CardPlayer from 1993-2000, Johnson also has over a quarter million in tourney winnings to her credit, including a WSOP bracelet in the 1997 $1,500 Razz event.

    About a half-hour into the conversation, Wise asked Johnson some questions about her prior experience overseeing CardPlayer. I was particularly interested in his question “Was CardPlayer intended to be a journalistic magazine, or was it intended to be . . . more entertaining?”

    Without hesitating, Johnson answered that the magazine was not intended to be “journalistic.” “At least when I ran it,” explains Johnson, “we never made the pretense that were [producing journalism].” Rather, the primary purpose of the magazine “was to support the poker industry.”

    Johnson then immediately brought up how this orientation affected the way CardPlayer would address, say, a scandalous story that might reflect poorly on the industry. (Her example was of a tourney director who was stealing from the rebuy pool in his tourneys.) Johnson explained how CardPlayer wouldn’t necessarily publicize such stories, “because I felt like we were sort of a ‘good will’ part of the industry.” Besides, if they did report such stories, “the advertisers would not support us, and unfortunately you have to have advertisers’ support to make it go.”

    Makes sense, frankly. And such is most certainly still the case today, with advertisers having an even greater influence (I’d argue) over the editorial content of industry mags like CardPlayer, Bluff, All-In, and the like.

    I mention all of this because I noticed the latest issue of CardPlayer (Vol. 21, No. 3) does, in fact, include an article on the Kahnawake Gaming Commission’s January report of the Gaming Associates’ audit of Absolute Poker. And yes, the article comes just ten pages after a two-page spread featuring Serinda Swan (in a Wicked Chops-esque get-up) encouraging us all to sign up over at Absolute (when we’re done lookin’).

    The article (by Bob Pajich) is a straightforward summary of the report of the audit, with no editorial reflections on what the report says (or -- more importantly -- fails to say). Nor is there any attempt to address the relationship between the KGC and AP, or how that relationship perhaps makes that paltry $500,000 fine even less meaningful that it would be otherwise.

    I suppose I appreciate CardPlayer’s having at least acknowledged the story. Still, rhetorically-speaking, a simple report might be read as implicitly arguing that all is A-OK at AP and we needn’t worry ever again about entrusting our moneys over there.

    Which is fine, if we all understand how the relationship between CardPlayer and its advertisers means it cannot be a reliable source for unfettered, “journalistic” treatments of the poker industry. There’s great stuff in there -- the strategy columns, book reviews, and many of the other features all make it a worthwhile magazine, as far as I’m concerned. But for actual news about the industry, we still need to look somewhere other than in CardPlayer -- even if it does refer to itself as “The Poker Authority.”

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    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    Robbe-Grillet est mort

    Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008)The French novelist -- or “anti-novelist” -- Alain Robbe-Grillet died yesterday at the age of 85.

    It has been a long time since I’ve thought about Robbe-Grillet. I read his first published novel, Les Gommes or The Erasers (1953) ages ago. I remember it as a kind of an inside-out, experimental detective novel with a lot of long, meticulously-detailed descriptions that tended to put one on the wrong track. I also remember something about the detective turning out to be the murderer, or the murder not having happened yet, or something strange and altogether against the usual rules for detective fiction.

    I started his next novel, The Voyeur (1955), though I don’t believe I ever finished it (despite its scandalous rep). Read a few short stories, too, which also could loosely be described as experimental mysteries or detective stories. And, of course, I remember seeing Last Year at Marienbad, the 1961 Alain Resnais film for which Robbe-Grillet wrote the script.

    'For a New Novel' (1963), Alain Robbe-GrilletRobbe-Grillet came to be associated with a group of writers who explicitly rejected the realistic novel of the 19th century in favor of a more experimental style that called into question assumptions about things like plot and character. Their creations were referred to as the “new novel” (or “nouveau roman”). Robbe-Grillet ended up being regarded as the leader of the movement, thanks largely to a series of essays he wrote that were collected in 1963 under the title For a New Novel.

    Robbe-Grillet was fascinated with games and puzzles, and a lot of them turned up in his writing. In fact, what I remember most vividly from Last Year at Marienbad was a game that gets played more than once in the film, a game I’ve since learned is called Nim. The game can be played with coins or matchsticks or dominoes or anything. In fact, over the years I’ve introduced the game many times to folks as a fun time-waster.

    A character in the film proposes the game, saying it is a game he always wins. In fact, this is a game you can just about always win if you know how to play it and your opponent does not.

    Playing Nim in 'Last Year at Marienbad'Let’s say you’re playing with poker chips. (Looking around online I’ve discovered that Robbe-Grillet has them using poker chips in his script, though I don’t think they do in the film.) Start by arranging the chips in four rows of seven, five, three, and one. Nim can be played with different arrangements, but that’s how they play it in the film. Players then take turns removing chips from the table. One can take as many chips as one likes, but only from the same row. The player forced to take the last chip loses.

    Doesn’t matter too much if you go first or last, although technically speaking, if you go last you will always win. So invite your opponent to go first. Doing so has the added benefit of making it seem as though you aren’t controlling the game as much. If you opponent refuses to go first and makes you start, it is possible you could lose, but only if your opponent doesn’t make a mistake. And trust me, unless you are playing Bill Chen or Chris Ferguson, your opponent is probably going to need to play this a few times before catching on to what is going on.

    Now there’s a way to master Nim that involves converting all of the amounts of remaining chips to binary numbers, but I ain’t even gonna try to explain that one. (True math geeks can go see for themselves.)

    Basically all I’m telling you to do is try early on to leave your victims three rows with 7-5-2, 6-4-2, 5-4-1, or 3-2-1. (Also, leaving yr opponent four rows of 3-3-1-1 is a winner for you.) From there it should be obvious how to win the game. Also, if possible try to leave ’em two rows with the same number of chips in each -- from there, all you have to do is mimic your opponents’ moves until one of the rows has one chip left, then take the other row and leave the last chip.

    Easy enough to remember, yes? If you want to try it out, here’s a neat site where you can play Nim online against an animated, wise-cracking opponent. He doesn’t play it the 7-5-3-1 way, but these winning moves will still work. (You’ll notice him using them, too, if you give him the chance.)

    As far as the film goes, while it’s certainly an important moment in La Nouvelle Vague, it ain’t for everyone. Same goes for Robbe-Grillet’s novels, too. Still, for lovers of games and/or detective fiction, his passing is worth noting.

    Meanwhile, please remember to toss Shamus a percentage of any coin you happen to scam from yr friends playing Nim.

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    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Consolation Prize

    Won a consolation prize on SaturdayLimped to 15th in the Saturday’s with Pauly PLO tourney. Found myself playing against the likes of AlCantHang, Iggy, Stewman, and Change100 this week. Kind of a bummer not to break through into the cabbage, but again, had a fun time.

    Had a big hand with Change during the first level, actually. (She mentions it over on Pot Committed.) She was on my left, having arrived there right after doubling up to 2,990 at her previous table. Meanwhile, I was still hovering right around where I started with 1,480. I picked up JhAh9dQh in the SB -- a decent PLO hand, but lousy position -- and watched as a couple of players limped. I completed, and Change checked from the BB. Pot 80. Flop came Tc6hKs, giving me the Broadway wrap. I checked, Change bet 80, the others folded, and I called. The turn was the 2h, giving me the nut flush draw as well. I bet out 120, and Change quickly raised 480 to 600.

    The pot was now 960, so I was facing exactly 2-to-1 to call. With my two draws, I surmised it was just about 2-to-1 against me hitting -- I figured I had the eight hearts, plus the remaining aces, queens, jacks, and nines (11 more outs, I think). So I called. The turn was the 9s, giving me my straight, and I pushed my remaining 780. Change thought a bit and looked me up with her two pair, and now I had 3,000.

    Within a couple of hands of that the two of us got it all in again when we both were dealt A-A-x-x, but we chopped. Then a couple of orbits later I gave back a chunk to Change in an ill-conceived flush chase. Eventually I was moved from that table, but never could get things going again, finally getting unceremoniously bounced late in Level 6. Meanwhile, I was glad to see Change made it all of the way to the money, finishing in fourth.

    After getting knocked out, I decided I wasn’t ready to quit and so jumped onto a PLO25 table. Often joining a ring game moments after being eliminated from a tourney is a recipe for failure, but things worked out for me Saturday. Why? Because I had the good fortune to play with one of the worst PLO players I have ever encountered.

    He arrived a few hands after I did, buying in for $15 (the default buy-in on Stars for PLO25). On his third hand, he was felted after a turn card that gave him two pair also gave his opponent a flush. A pretty obvious misstep, but when I checked his hand I noticed he had made a pot-sized reraise on the flop with nothing but top pair. Hmm, I thought. Better pay attention to this guy.

    He rebought for another $15, and within 10 hands or so had bled down to $3 after a bunch of passive calls of raises. He added $10 to his stack, then started raising pot preflop every hand. He made a couple of bucks this way, then came this hand: Someone raised pot preflop to $1.10, and three players called, including our hero. Flop came Kd7h9h, the preflop raiser bet pot ($5.25), our hero raised the rest of his stack ($14.15), and got a call. Turns out preflop raiser had a set of kings (which improved to a boat by the end). What did our hero have?

    Ad2d8dKs. That’s right. He’d flopped top pair (with no draws whatsoever). He’d played about 20 hands, and was already down 40 clams. And look! He’s rebuying for $15 more.

    I sat up in my chair. I wanted to play a hand with this guy.

    This time he wasn’t so aggressive, but sure enough, about a dozen hands later he was felted once more. Two pair versus a flush again. And again, all the money was going in after the flush had hit. He rebought again for $15 more.

    Within two hands I finally get to play a pot with the wild man. I have 8c2dQdTh, and the flop comes Jd5h9d, giving me the monster wrap plus a flush draw. I bet a buck on that flop, which he called. Then the turn brought a most cooperative 7, giving me my straight. We got it all in (total pot just under $30), and my hand held up. He mucked 7s3dJs6d. Once again, he’d made two pair on the turn, then got his money in bad. He was down $70 at this point.

    And, answering the silent prayers of everyone at the table, he rebought yet again.

    He took about five hands to lose the next $15. Then he rebought for $20, lost about $10 of that, and finally left the table, having dropped nearly a hundy in about 50-55 hands. I left the very next hand.

    Such a phenomenon doesn’t happen that often. When it does, my read is that these guys are probably Hold ’em players dropping down limits to experiment a bit with PLO.

    Wherever they come from, it’d be nice to have one waiting as a consolation prize every time we get bounced from a tourney. Wouldn’t you say?

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