Saturday, October 04, 2008

It's possible that I'm at least partly human after all

First, let me recount something I wrote in August, the day my worst-ever losing streak finally got snapped (with the bits most important to the point of this post rendered in bold):

Like I said, this sort of streak does crazy things to the mind. I've even
found myself entertaining thoughts that maybe this new PokerStars sweatshirt
I've been wearing is what's bringing me bad luck, because it was right around
the time it arrived in the mail that I started losing. It's the sort of silly,
superstitious thought that I would normally laugh off the instant it occurred to
me. But desperation sometimes trumps rationality, and I can't easily shrug off
even the most far-out ideas that offer to make understandable what is otherwise
beyond comprehension.


Something peculiar happened when I got to the Venetian. The parking spot I
found was between two Honda Fits. Just about as soon as Honda released the Fit
to the U.S. market a couple of years ago, I decided that that's probably what my
next car will be, when my current one finally collapses into a pile of shards,
like Oliver Wendall Holmes's Wonderful One-Hoss
Shay
. They're great little cars, just right for my needs. But demand for
them has vastly exceeded Honda's initial projections, so they haven't been
making enough of them, and it's still quite uncommon to see them on the
streets.

With the way my thinking has been warped and distorted and made vulnerable
to all manner of loopy ideas by this losing streak
, something in my head clicked
about this fortuitous parking spot. It's a sign of some sort--an affirmation
that, yes, things will turn around and I'll be able to afford a new car when I
need one. No, I don't seriously believe deep down that the universe caused these
two cars to be where they were just as a personal manifestation to me, but my
ability to banish such absurdities has been mightily compromised.

Now go read this news story from yesterday. In short, research published in today's issue of Science shows that when people are feeling that they are not in control of their lives, they are more prone to superstitions, to conspiracy theories, to seeing patterns that do not objectively exist in collections of random data.

I was absolutely feeling that my destiny was slipping beyond my control during that losing streak, and it really did make me a lot more susceptible to irrational thoughts about what was causing things to go so badly, as I tried to describe in that post. And now I learn that such connections between a sense of loss of control and the development of superstitions or other illogical explanations for what one sees happening are, well, human. Normal, even. Normal is not a word that people who know me well would tend to label me with. But at least in this one respect, maybe I am.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mr. Can't-Take-A-Hint




Another story from tonight's session at Imperial Palace. I was in Seat 10. The guy in Seat 7 is basically directly facing me. At several points in the course of my time there, he tries telling new players that sit down the same start to a bad-beat story: "You should have seen what happened to me earlier today. I lost $600 in five consecutive hands, and I never had worse than ace-king."

Each time he says this, I dread that he's about to launch into a detailed recitation of the whole thing, but fortunately he doesn't. He is either interrupted by other conversation or the play of a hand, or he gets a sufficiently uninterested nonverbal reaction from his audience that he shuts it down.

But the fourth time he offers this introduction, it's to a nice young married couple who has joined us in Seats 8 and 9. They are too polite to cut him off, either verbally or by body language, and, as I feared would happen, given an apparently willing audience, he begins. "First hand. I have ace-king of hearts....." Blah blah blah.

He gets maybe halfway through describing this first hand, when he has to stop to look at his hole cards and decide what to do. Even though he calls the big blind, so he's going to be playing, he looks back to the couple, obviously about to pick up where he left off.

I take the momentary pause to try a desperation move. With exaggerated inflection in my voice, as if I were a game show host, I say, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm afraid there's a house rule against telling bad-beat stories at the table." I smile, though it hurts. I don't want there to be bad blood among the four of us. I just want him to shut up. I want him to take the OBVIOUS hint, but not take offense. I didn't want to be, y'know, grumpy about the whole thing.

But I did want him to stop. Even the awful din of slot machines' bings and and beeps and whoops, random craps shooters hitting their points and screaming like banshees, and the bad singers that punctuate one's time at Imperial Palace is a cacophony far more welcome to my ears than a bad-beat story--especially one that is going to encompass five consecutive hands in excruciating detail.

He at least acknowledges my humerous tone by flashing me a socially acceptable smile. But it only delays him for about one second. He immediately turns back toward the couple and picks up where he left off. And yes, we got the whole litany: every card, every bet, every outcome, everything he was thinking, every word that got exchanged as those five notorious hands played out. He droned on and on. If a gun had been handy, I don't know whether I would have shot him or shot myself, but one way or the other it would have ended the torture.

I will never, ever understand why people like this believe so intensely that others care about their stories of woe. Surely if they took a little self-inventory, they would recognize that they don't give a damn about hearing anybody else's bad-beat stories. Yet they somehow delude themselves into thinking, apparently, that their own bad-beat stories will be endlessly fascinating to any captive audience they can corner. It takes a bizarrely inflated ego to be so obtuse.

I just wanted to grab this moron by the lapels and yell in his face, "NOBODY CARES! DO YOU HEAR ME? NOBODY! THERE ARE SIX BILLION PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD. YOU COULD TELL THIS STORY SIX BILLION TIMES, AND NOT A SINGLE PERSON WOULD BE INTERESTED! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU THAT YOU CAN'T SEE THAT?"

If I had my own poker room, telling a bad-beat story would be grounds for immediate expulsion. Or maybe execution. Depends on how generous I was feeling on a given day.

The inmates are running the asylum





Played at the Imperial Palace tonight, only my fifth time there (mainly because of unpleasant noise and smoke issues).

There was an Asian guy on my right who repeatedly folded out of turn. Two consecutive dealers politely asked him to be sure to wait for his turn.

Then he did it again. The player two to his right was taking some time to decide whether to call a raise. Mr. Impatient looked right at him and then just picked up his cards and chucked them toward the dealer. He wasn't in a hurry to get up and go have a smoke, or any such thing. It appeared that he just got tired of waiting, and wanted his turn to be done so he could zone out again. It was so obviously intentional that for the first time I said something to him: "There are still two people ahead of you." He said, "I just don't care."

So I turned to the dealer (the third one in the box since this has been going on) and told her, "He's been acting out of turn all night, and it's obviously deliberate. He has been warned by both of the previous dealers about it."

Now in my mind, there is only one thing for a dealer to do after witnessing the player's conduct and hearing the report that he has been warned about it by the two prior dealers: Call the floor. It's obvious at that point that the player isn't responding to ordinary reminders and requests, so it's time to put some teeth behind a warning.

Right? Isn't this obvious?

Instead, the dealer just said, "I know," and then carried on as if I hadn't said anything of significance. This stunned me. Does she really care so little about keeping control of her game?

Maybe ten minutes later the guy left. At that point the dealer turned to me and confided, "He plays here all the time, and he always does that. We tell him not to over and over again, but he just keeps doing it."

So I ask the only logical question: "Why do you put up with it?"

She said, "We can't do anything about it. The floor has to take care of it, and they won't."

Ah. So maybe there is more to the story. My first thought was that obviously the floor can't and won't do anything about it if none of the dealers report the situation. But if it's really that chronic, the dealers may have developed a form of "learned helplessness"--over repeated encounters, they have learned that they call the floor, the guy gets another warning, and that scenario repeats reiteratively without anything more ever occurring. Giving up on it is still not the correct reaction for a dealer in that spot, but it's at least understandable.

Were I a dealer there, I would call the floor over to deal with it every time the guy did this. Sooner or later, the floor staff is going to get sufficiently annoyed at having to handle the same situation a hundred times in a day that they will either kick the player out or formally instruct me--in front of all of the other players--that this player is to be allowed to act out of turn whenever he wishes to without further comment or action from the poker room staff. Then at that point, I get to ask whether this treatment is unique for this player, or whether I, as the dealer, should allow everybody to act in whatever order they choose to. I also get to talk with the poker room manager and ask to have that floor decision put in writing into the house rule book. That would make an interesting item for visiting Gaming Commission representatives to look at.

Of course, all of that bravado is easy for me to muster from my safe, unemployed player's seat. If I had reason to think that my employment was viewed as expendable, perhaps I wouldn't actually turn out to be so brave and audacious. But at least I'd like to think that that's how I'd handle it: kick the problem upstairs over and over again until it actually gets resolved. I can make myself pretty damn hard to ignore when I try.

The player has obviously learned that reminders and warnings never amount to anything more than empty words, and he just doesn't care what impact his actions have on the integrity of the game or on the other players, so he continues doing what he has always done. (This is rather like Phil Hellmuth and his repeated "warnings" from the WSOP staff, which never turn into any actual penalties, so he ignores them and continues his ill-mannered behavior unabated.)

If this dealer's implication is correct, then it's a failure of the floor staff. From my little slice of watching tonight, I can't judge who is more to blame, the dealers or the floor. But one way or the other, this is a piss-poor way to run a card room. What's the point of even having rules if, when challenged, you're ultimately not going to enforce them?

The Imperial Palace hereby joins the Tropicana on the Grump's Dishonorable Mention Roll as a poker room that does not care about rules or player's ill behavior.


Their appallingly lax approach to the rules notwithstanding, I picked up a nice little profit during my visit tonight, as well as the nice commemorative chip shown above.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

My best investment ever




I was playing at the Venetian last night. A new player came in, two seats to my right. He was under the gun for his first hand--didn't even have chips yet. Before he looked at his cards, he started asking the dealer how he could get some Advil. Could he get them from the desk? the cocktail waitress? food service, perhaps?

At this point, I have looked down at my cards to find the A-Q of diamonds. Since I know I'm going to be playing this hand, I really don't want to get distracted by becoming involved in this guy's medication issue. But one of the things I always carry in my dorky fanny pack is a pill case. In addition to a couple of prescription things, I keep acetaminophen and ibuprofen with me, because sometimes long hours at the table give me headaches, what with the noises and lights and concentration.

New Guy limps in. I raise to $10. Action is back around to New Guy, who is my only caller. During this time, I give in and offer him some of my ibuprofen, despite how I dislike having such things distract me from concentrating on what's happening in the hand. I plop a couple of the pills on the table for him just as the dealer puts out the flop: K-J-x, with two diamonds.

New Guy says a very sincere "thank you," and adds, "Just for that, I'm going to check, even though I'm ahead."

This gives me pause. It sounds completely honest to me. It's not hard to believe that he came in with a king or a jack, of course, but what he said and how he said it scare me. He would have to know that A-K is easily within my raising range, so he's basically telling me that he can beat that. Of course, for all he knows I could have K-K for the nuts, and I don't think he has that. But I am thinking he likely has two pair or the bottom set, either of which would give him plenty of reason to believe that he's in the lead.

Normally in this spot I would bet. I have position, I was the pre-flop raiser, it has been checked to me, and I have both the nut flush draw and the nut straight draw plus an overcard. That makes a pretty good case for betting, right? But his warning has made me wary. So I check behind.

Before the next card peels off, New Guy says, "In fact, you're so nice I'm going to check this all the way for you." Turn card is a blank. I check, too. True to his word, he checks the river in the dark. It misses me, so I check again.

He shows me K-J for top two pairs.

I don't know exactly how the hand would have played out without the Advil exchange. Perhaps he would have led out with a bet on the flop, which I surely would have at least called. If he checked, I would likely have bet, and either been called or check-raised, giving me a difficult decision. I could have even gone broke with it, if I had decided to fire three bullets at it, or if it went bet-raise-reraise on the flop, to which I might have responded by moving all in. We obviously both had hands that we'd be willing to invest a lot of money in.

But because he decided to be nice by not only checking the flop but honestly warning me of the strength of his hand, all I lost was my initial $10 raise. In other words, a few cents of generic over-the-counter ibuprofen saved me at least the $15 or so that I would ordinarily have bet on the flop, and maybe the entire $150 or so that I had sitting in front of me.

Sometimes it pays to be nice.

"The Soprano's Last Supper"




I got a free ticket to this show last night from showtickets4locals.com. Went to the Riviera to see it. Not the worst show I've seen in Vegas, but very disappointing. Got a couple of chuckles out of it, but just not very funny. About half of the show is the actors getting the audience members to get up and dance, which doesn't interest or amuse me.

I'm a big fan of "The Sopranos," and you'd have to be to have any shot at enjoying this thing. If you don't understand references to Adrianna's FBI friend, get the joke about Ralphie when they hold up a bowling ball bag with body parts in it, or grasp the significance of a mounted singing trout given to Tony, then the whole show will undoubtedly seem incomprehensible.

It wasn't incomprehensible to me, but it also wasn't worth an hour and a half of my life. I had hoped for a smart send-up of HBO's best show ever, but instead got a pretty pathetic song-and-dance that just happened to feature the characters.

ESPN goes 0 for 2 on its "facts" this week

A few weeks ago, I had an out-of-town visitor who was watching other things on TV during ESPN's World Series of Poker broadcasts, so instead I downloaded them from an online site of questionable legality. Since then, I've taken to doing it that way every week. I don't have a fancy, modern HD television set, so watching the shows on my computer gives me higher resolution (and the wider screen version). Also, my computer speakers are better than my TV speakers. (In case you couldn't figure it out, I spend a lot more time in front of the computer than in front of the TV.) And as an added bonus, somebody else has already clipped out the commercials this way! It's just better all around.

However, until tonight, I was unable to do screen captures of the "poker facts" that ESPN has been inserting lately. Tonight I discovered the key: you have to disable "hardware acceleration" in the video player. Then screen capture software works normally. (This is another of those baby steps toward something like actual technical competence for me.) So with that overly wordy introduction, here's the first of this week's ESPN poker "facts":





But, as with most of the previous ones in the series, this turns out to be wrong. There are 1326 different starting hands in hold'em (because C(52,2) = 1326). (I'm giving them the assumption that they're talking specifically about hold'em here, because the number is obviously different for Omaha or stud-type games.) How many of them have one ace? Well, each of the four aces can be combined with any of the 48 non-aces in the deck, so there are 4 x 48 = 192 starting hands that contain one ace. 192/1326 = 14.48%. Not 14.93%

It seems clear that once again ESPN just isn't being careful about matching its statements with its numbers. Apparently they included the 6 additional starting hands that contain two aces. That makes a total of 198, and 198/1326 is indeed 14.93%.

But you can see for yourself that the wording of the statement is "one Ace," not "at least one Ace." Furthermore, the voiceover accompanying the graphic explicitly said "just one ace."

That makes ESPN 0/1 so far for the week.

But viewers were treated to another "poker fact" in the second hour:



Apparently my previous critiques have sensitized some readers to be watching out for errors, because before I got a chance to watch the shows tonight, two people had already emailed me, pointing out that ESPN got this one wrong, too. One of them even posted it in his own poker blog, giving me a little shout-out for having started the trend: see here.

(Incidentally, "Mr. Subliminal" wonders why I wasn't all over this the instant it hit the air. Because there are tourists to be fleeced, that's why! I like poker on TV as much as the next guy, but it ain't my highest priority in life. I'm usually in a poker room when the show is first on, and often don't watch it until a few days later in the week. You might notice that the first post on this subject was done on a Saturday. I get to it when I get to it. If that means somebody else scoops me on ESPN's screwups, well, I'll double my Prozac dose and keep the sharp knives out of reach, lest the shame overwhelm me.)

Fortunately, I don't have to do any work on this one, because I tackled the whole "worst hand in poker" myth reasonably thoroughly last year. See this post, as well as the comments attached to it, where another important point on the subject is made.

This time, ESPN's claim isn't so much demonstrably wrong as it is incomplete. The Reader's Digest condensed version of that old post is this: Deuce-seven offsuit is the worst starting hand in hold'em against a full table of random/unknown hands. But it's not the worst hand in heads-up play (and may not be the worst in other short-handed situations, such as three players--but I haven't checked the math on that), and even at a full table is often not the worst against specific hands that opponents might have.

Nevertheless, it would have been plenty easy for ESPN to add a little more specificity to its statement, and thereby change it from being questionable to being definitely correct. For its failure to do so, and what I think is a clear error on the problem noted above with the "fact" in the first hour of the show, the network gets a solid "F" for this week in my grade book, going 0 for 2 attempts.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Maybe not the best call ever




Bill's last night. Final board is 10-8-8-10-3 with no flush possible. There were two players in the hand (not I). No action on the flop or turn.

On the river, Player A checks. Player B bets. Player A calls. Player B sheepishly says, "You got me. I just have a 5." He shows his pocket 5s. His hand is, therefore, two pairs (10s and 8s) with a 5.

Player A re-checks his cards, then pushes them towards the dealer face down, surrendering.

Eyes are bugging out around the table.

Player B is astonished to have the pot coming his way. He asks A, "You really couldn't beat that?" Player A's cards have not yet been brought into the muck, so he reaches out and turns them over: 3-4. His hand is, therefore, two pairs (10s and 8s) with a 4.

Double-paired boards can be confusing, so let me make it explicit for you: The only hands that Player A could beat were 3-2 and 2-2--and yet he called. He had the second-worst hand possible*--and yet he called. His opponent only needed any one card bigger than a 4 to take the pot--and yet he called.

But believe it or not, that's not the strange part.

The strange part was what he said, in complete seriousness, by way of explanation for his call:

"I thought you had an ace."



Do you see why I play at Bill's? Do you see why I advocate value betting rather than bluffing there?


*One might quibble as to whether he has the second-worst hand possible or third-worst hand possible. I think it's probably a bit more accurate to say he had the second-worst hand possible, because both the 3-2 and 2-2 hands would be playing the board. In other words, the worst hand possible was the board: 10-10-8-8-3. The second-worst hand would therefore be 10-10-8-8-4, which is what Player A had. However, one could argue that Player A could beat opponents holding both the 3-2 and the 2-2, so he had the third-worst hand possible. If somebody were adamantly of the opinion that that way of saying it were more accurate, I wouldn't waste much breath trying to argue my side of it. It's six of one, half-dozen of another.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The PPA's Kentucky brief

I was just looking over some of the materials pertaining to the Kentucky domain-name seizure case, as collected by the Poker Players Alliance web site. I had not previously heard that the PPA had prepared an amicus brief for the court. I just read it.

Wow. This is a shamefully bad piece of work. Hey, they're preaching to the choir with me. I want to accept their arguments. But the holes are glaring. If it seems shoddy to one who desperately wants to like what the brief has to say, how bad will it look to a judge who may have no love of the game?

The first criticism I have is that this is obviously a made-in-advance brief. Somebody wrote it before having any idea what case it might be submitted for, then just added in a few bits specific to this Kentucky case. The central idea of the brief is that poker is more a game of skill than of chance. It's perfectly understandable that the PPA would have such a brief on the shelf and ready to go, because that's going to be a central question in a lot of legal cases involving the legality of poker.

But I'm not sure this is one of them, and even if it is, I'm not sure the PPA is analyzing the legal question correctly.

Most of the brief (which you can read here) is spent explaining poker and trying to demonstrate why skill is needed to play it successfully. It gives specific card situations and shows how one has to calcuate the pot odds, the odds of making one's hand, the expected value, etc. (Heck, I think they could have just handed the judge a copy of The Mathematics of Poker and asked him to pick about three pages at random to read, if the goal is to illustrate that poker problems are genuinely complex.) There follows a section of quotations from various poker authorities to the effect that skill predominates over luck, plus some excerpts from research papers making the same point, because test subjects who are taught strategy do better as novice players than those not taught strategy first. (Of course, the same would be true of blackjack. So I guess the PPA is willing to argue that blackjack and poker must either rise or fall together as games of either primarily chance or skill, right? Ha!)

The core problem, though, comes back to the pre-manufactured, cookie-cutter approach that this brief takes. "Gambling" is defined by the relevant Kentucky statute (528.010(3)(a)) as follows:

"Gambling" means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a
contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of
chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive
something of value in the event of a certain outcome.

Looking just at the face value of that text, it cannot be seriously maintained that poker is not "based upon an element of chance." Yet that's exactly the point the PPA tries to make.

The face value isn't the end of the matter, though. There are other states where similar language has, contrary to reason, been interpreted by the state appellate courts to mean games that are primarily or predominantly based on chance. The PPA brief quotes some of them. The problem is that it appears that Kentucky's courts have not adopted such an interpretation--at least I assume that if they had, citation of such a case would be prominantly featured in this brief.

Instead, the brief cites state attorney general opinions. Lawyers cite AG opinions when they can't find a court case that says what they want. But AG opinions are not binding on courts. Courts disagree with and politely ignore AG opinions all the time. This is partly because AG opinions are nearly always heavily political documents, rather than objective, scholarly, detached analyses of what the law says (though they are written to sound as if they are objective).

In short, it appears to me that the PPA brief is basically assuming and glossing over the main point that it should be trying to convince the court of. If it's true that the statutory phrase "based upon an element of chance" has not been given an authoritative interpretation by Kentucky's appellate courts, then it seems to me that the PPA's brief should be trying to persuade the trial court to adopt the "predominance" test, rather than trying to sweep that question under the rug as if it has already been settled. Surely no judge is really dumb enough not to recognize that this brief has a gaping hole in its legal logic.

I'm reminded of the classic Harris cartoon (which you can see here). One scientist has written a complicated scheme on the blackboard. One step of the proof says, "Then a miracle occurs." The scientist's colleague, looking over his work, says, "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."

Well, that's how I feel about this PPA brief. It's glossing over the key question of statutory interpretation, if its goal is to get poker legally recognized as not constituting "gambling" under Kentucky law. The only way to succeed at that is to take on directly that ugly "element of chance" language. On its face, that phrase is a death sentence for legal recognition of poker, so efforts should be directed at convincing the court that the facial reading is not the correct one. This brief utterly fails at that task. In fact, it doesn't even seriously attempt it.

The brief says (pp. 20-21):
The only rationale [sic; the brief really needed better proofreading!]
interpretation of this statute is that "outcome" must be based upon an element
of chance. If this reading is accepted, then poker is not included because in
poker the outcome is based primarily on the skilled play of the players.

See what I mean about glossing over? It goes directly from "based upon an element of chance" to outcome based primarily on skill. Those are obviously not saying the same thing, or even asking the same question, and it insults the reader's intelligence to pretend that they are.

Like I said, I want to be persuaded, but I'm not. A skeptical judge would read this and think, "They've got to be kidding, right?"

A few pages later I find another oddity. The brief correctly notes that whether poker is primarily based on luck or skill is a question of fact, which means that both sides would present evidence on the question. (If, that is, the judge decides that that question is relevant to the case. But if he takes the face-value reading of the statute, he could easily conclude that testimony is unnecessary, because nobody could possibly deny the proposition that poker is "based upon an element of chance.") The brief then criticizes the state for not having presented any evidence that poker is primarily a game of chance. Huh??? First, it's not yet clear that that is a question that will need answering in this case. And second, there hasn't been a trial yet! The lack-of-evidence argument might make sense if a trial had occurred, and the state had failed to produce an expert witness that said that poker was predominantly a game of chance. But it's way early to be complaining about what has or has not yet been produced in the way of evidentiary material. This is a completely frivolous argument.

Another smaller problem in the brief is that it takes things said about tournament poker specifically and tries to make them sound as if they are true for all poker. That's disingenuous. Were I the judge, the PPA's counsel would get no brownie points for honesty here.

I hate having to come to this conclusion, but this legal brief is a sloppy, shoddy, amateurish, mostly irrelevant piece of work. I recognize that it's not a primary brief, and as an amicus brief is designed to inform the court in more detail of things that the litigants' briefs may pass over, either because of lack of space or lack of expertise. That's why I'm not criticizing it for failing to tackle the big questions, like jurisdiction, and that hard-to-ignore definition of "gambling device." Those are questions best left to the defendants themselves.

But even taken for just the specific and limited role it is apparently meant to have, the PPA brief is bad legal work--bad enough that I'm ashamed that it is speaking for me as a PPA member.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Insight on the Kentucky case

A few days ago, I opined, in a completely unresearched, off-the-cuff post, that the Kentucky governor's attempt to take control of various gambling-related domain names was doomed to failure.

The minimum I probably should have done before popping off like that might have included taking the time to read the statute involved--the one under which the state claimed the right to the court-ordered seizure. Had I done so, I'm confident that the ENORMOUS hurdle identified by Bill Poser at Language Log would have jumped out at me.

Expanding a bit on Poser's point, the statute defines a "gambling device" in such a way that all of the following properties must be met:

1. It is a "machine" or "mechanical...device."

2. It is "designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling."

3. When "operated," the device "may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property," or the operation of the device may entitle the operator to same.

Kentucky is rather ludicrously arguing that the Internet domain names themselves constitute "gambling devices" under this statute. I've read a ton of court cases involving statutory interpretation, and I find it unimaginable that any court could accept the argument that this definition is sufficiently broad to include a domain name.

It will be interesting to watch the state's attorneys tiptoe through this, and explain to the world how a domain name is a "machine" or a "mechanical...device," how it was "designed and manufactured" at all, let alone designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling, and how operation of this "device," as a result of the application of an element of chance, either delivers a monetary/property reward or entitles the operator to such.

The comments to the Language Log post are also well worth reading. In particular, the one touching on how Internet registries and registrars work was all new to me. That adds a complication beyond what was already puzzling me about whether ICANN is potentially subject to and/or willing to comply with state court orders, and I have no idea what to make of it. (See here for even more about how it matters where the registrars are physically located, and about ICANN's own rules for dispute resolution, responding to court orders, etc.)

But it now appears to me that that question will quickly become moot, because I doubt that the state can withstand even the most superficial challenge any defense attorney might make to the applicability of the statute.

Beer pong








I mentioned the other day taking a break from poker at Bill's by walking the short distance from there to O'Shea's.

What I didn't mention, because that story was already at risk for needing the entire team of Reader's Digest condensers to work on it, was that while at O'Shea's I saw something that wasn't there last time I visited: a whole area set up for beer pong. It has nothing to do with poker, but it's something I've never seen in a casino before, so I snapped a few photos, and I have nothing to do with them now other than posting them here.

Maybe this is a permanent set-up, maybe there was a special occasion. I don't know. In fact, I know nothing about beer pong besides that it has something to do with throwing ping-pong balls in cups of beer and drinking them. Not exactly my thing. (The sum total of the beer I've consumed in my life would not fill one of those cups. Not even halfway.)

But if you love beer pong, this is your official notice that O'Shea's appears to be the place to go for your game.

Then, please, come play a little poker with me when you're drunk and I'm sober!

Celebrity sighting




Joe Awada was at the table next to mine at the Palms tonight, playing a little $2-5 NLHE. That's him, with his head framed by the door in the background, looking off into space (looking at the football game on TV, actually). I understand he's there not infrequently. I'm not sure I'll ever grasp the economic rationale of people who routinely enter $10,000 tournaments playing what seem to be abnormally small cash games. Maybe some of them get staked for tournaments, but play cash games with their own money, and don't have nearly as big a bankroll as the tournament scene would suggest. Just a guess.


Horrible poker night. Doubled up on my first hand, which was nice, but it proved not to be a harbinger of any kind. All downhill from there. Nothing connected from that point forward. Finally busted out when my top pair/top kicker was the fourth-best hand! That, my friends, is a bad night of poker. Don't feel like saying another word about it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My record-keeping

Warning: One of the most boring posts ever is coming your way.

Since I occasionally mention here specific results for a session or a particular location, it occurs to me that it might be useful to some readers to show you how I keep records. This is a system that has evolved over time. It works for me. It tells me what I want to know, without being gummed up with factors that I don't really care about. That's the main reason that I don't use any of the various software packages or online services that will keep and sort this data for you, if you choose: I haven't seen any that do a better job than what I've codged together on my own.

I have four Excel spreadsheets, each with a different purpose.

The first is a monthly one that I make fresh from a master template each month. It has a sheet for every day of the month, plus a "totals" sheet. Here's the entry from last Wednesday, when I entered the Green Valley Ranch HORSE tournament, then played an unsuccessful cash game for a while afterward:




I have the cursor on the "Hours" column so you can see how that works and copy the formula, if you're interested. Excel is, in my opinion, a nightmare to work with on time functions. It took me a couple of hours of work to finally put together this formula that would do the seemingly simple task of translating my start and stop times into number of hours played. The problem is that sometimes I play past midnight, so that the stop time is on a different date from the start time, and if you don't make explicit allowance for that in the formula, you'll get wonky results. Don't ask me to explain how the terms in the formula work--just trust me that this is what it takes to account for sometimes ending before midnight and sometimes after. Pain in the neck.

Here's the "Total" sheet. I made up October's in advance, because I didn't feel like showing the world my income for any actual month.



If you're at all familiar with Excel, setting up a sheet like this is completely straightforward; the cells just grab the data from the individual days' sheets, then do a bit of adding and averaging in the obvious places.

The individual months' sheets are stored in folders labeled by the year.

The next spreadsheet is "Year to date." I'm not showing you that for the same privacy reason. But it's an extremely simple page with columns for the names of the months, the running net to-date income total, and hours for that month (all automatically grabbed from the first spreadsheet), plus a simple division function to get $/hour for the month and for year-to-date.

The third spreadsheet is called "Summary by place." As you can see below, there is a separate column for each casino, with the dates running down the left-hand side. The summary lines at the top give me a running account of various aspects of my win/loss record for each place, then there is a totals column on the far right. There is an identically set up sheet for tournaments, though it gets a lot fewer entries, since I play very few tournaments.



The "discrepancies" sheet that you can see tabbed at the bottom is just a place where I can account for the rare instances in which I do some sort of gambling that isn't poker. For tax purposes, I can lump all gambling wins/losses together, because the IRS doesn't care whether the money comes from poker or a sports bet. But I care, and I don't want those other amounts to foul up my pure poker results. The final spreadsheet, described below, is the main one for tax purposes, and mixes in the poker and non-poker gaming, so the "discrepancies" page here is where I explain the three or four times a year that I make or lose a few bucks on something other than poker, which causes the sums on these "Summary by place" pages to differ from the totals on the last spreadsheet. I use it so rarely that it's not even formatted; it's just a few text entries with dates and explanations. For example, when I had a friend visiting from out of town last year, I noted this: "9/7/07, lost $5 on video blackjack at MGM Grand." Yep, that's me, Mr. Big-Time Gambler.

The "totals" tab just adds the cash games and tournaments together, formatted the same way.

The final spreadsheet is "Cumulative graph." Shown below is the first month or so that I played poker in Vegas. I have two screen shots of this, so that you can see the formulas used to calculate and display the weekly and monthly totals. The weekly one was pretty easy, but that monthly one was a bear to figure out. As you can see, I had to resort to "lookup" functions, which were new to me. As with the hours thing, don't ask me to explain how all of the terms in the formula work together; they just do. Copy it if it's helpful to you, ignore it otherwise.




There's a summary section for my entire time playing; I've blotted out the totals.

Finally there is a graph further down the spreadsheet page. Shown below is the section covering the same time period as for the data entries. The blue bars are individual days' results, and the pink graph is the cumulative amount won or lost. As you can see, I started out like gangbusters the first couple of weeks, but since I really didn't know much what I was doing, I gave it all back plus a bit, before recovering my footing. Fortunately, the graph has not come anywhere near to crossing back over that ugly net-zero line since then.



The way this all works together is that when I get home from playing, I copy the times and in/out dollar amounts from the piece of paper in my pocket into the tab for that day in the current month's spreadsheet. I then open and close the "year to date" one just so that it automatically updates itself. (Don't really need to do this every day, but I do anyway.) I then enter the totals in the "Summary by place" record and again in the "Cumulative graph" sheet. So basically every dollar amount gets entered three different places. I suppose that with something like a relational database I could get the same kinds of outputs by just entering the data once. But I don't feel like going to the trouble of purchasing and setting up such a system. The way I have it works plenty well for my needs, and takes less than two minutes, so it's not like there's a ton of time savings to be squeezed out of setting up something that might be slightly more efficient day to day.

Here are some things that I do not record, though you'll sometimes see published recommendations that you keep track of them:

Game. For now, what I play is so overwhelmingly $1/2 or $1/3 NLHE that there would be minimal benefit in entering that same data over and over. So I don't. If I graduate to consistently playing a wider variety of games and/or stakes, I may incorporate that information when it becomes needed.

Number of players. Sure, it's probably useful to know whether you make more money at full tables or when playing short-handed. But most of what I play is full ring games, and when that's not the case, it's usually just a transient state until the game fills up again. It would be incredibly cumbersome to try to break down a few hours' playing time into how much I was making per hour separated by how many players were at the table moment by moment.

Name of supervisor on duty. I've seen in several places the claim that you should record who the floor person or other supervisor was, in case of a tax audit. Frankly, I think that's ludicrous. I'm completely confident that the level of detail in the records that I have here would pass every legal test of reasonableness. No supervisor would ever remember, and therefore be able to verify, whether I was present on any given day, nor would they know how much I won or lost. The only potential value that I can see in this information is that theoretically the IRS could double-check with the casino and see if the name I wrote down matched their employee records, thus providing some degree of evidence that I was really there, and didn't just cook up the data. But I think that's silly. They still wouldn't know whether my income numbers were honest, because there is no possible source for that information other than me. Besides, I could presumably provide independent evidence of my attendance that matches my records by getting printouts from the casinos where they swipe my players' club card in and out. Not every place does this, but I think that if I needed corroboration, any court would accept the fact that my records match the places where it could be checked as reasonably suggesting that I was probably honest about hours at the other casinos, too. And, once again, that still wouldn't tell the IRS anything about the money, which is, in the end, all they really care about. If I ever get to playing for tens of thousands of dollars per session, and thus make a more tempting IRS audit target, maybe I'll think about following this piece of advice. For now, I think it's just ridiculously unnecessary.

So there you have it, my boring record-keeping. I hope that at least a few readers find it useful enough to use either directly as a template or as a jumping-off point for creating their own records systems.

Poker gems, #170

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, September 24, 2008 (vol. 21, #19), p. 94.


[T]hat's a fact of poker (and possibly of life): No matter what you do, you're going to look stupid to someone, sometime.

Mike Caro once wrote that in poker, everyone takes turns making mistakes, and the key to success is simply to skip your turn.

Encounter with the movie monster




Warning: Long post here--almost 4000 words. Budget your time accordingly.


I just got home from another Saturday evening at Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon. I had repeated tangles with one opponent--not at all the typical Bill's player--that are probably worth chronicling here.

After I had been playing for maybe three hours, I was a little tired and hungry, so I took a break. I walked up the street to O'Shea's, where I knew there was a small ice cream shop, and got a chocolate shake. When I got back to my seat, maybe 20 minutes after leaving, there was a new player in. As usual, I was in my favorite seat, #9, next to the dealer, and this guy was in #7, two to my right.

Almost at a glance I knew he was going to present a challenge. He was absolutely comfortable and at ease in his surroundings and shuffling his chips like a pro. He exuded confidence. He had bought in for the maximum amount allowed, which is distinctly unusual at Bill's; it signals that this is a guy who wants to be sure he doesn't miss a chance to stack an opponent because he has bought in for too few chips. He's wearing a "Bally's Race and Sportsbook" shirt, and I think he may work there.

Sure enough, he was a player. He raised essentially every time he was in last three positions, and quite often other times, too. He always raised the same amount, so no information given off there. He virtually always made continuation bets.

However, he had made a serious miscalculation. The first two biggish pots I watched him play he was trying to bully and bluff his way to a win, and he was trying it against two different calling stations--who did what calling stations do! He had no better than ace-high each time and lost both pots.

This kind of player seriously complicates my Bill's strategy. If he were tight-aggressive, OK, no problem, I can just stay out of his way when he suddenly comes to life in a hand. But loose-aggressive players, contesting so many pots, really gum up my strategy of picking on the weak players when I'm unusually strong. I have to figure out whether he has it this time or not, and his contending for the pot often causes the fishies to fold where they might otherwise have been inclined to call me.

Nevertheless, I'm confident that I can make money from him. It's going to be riskier than tangling with others, but he's not as good as he thinks he is. The fact that he could make such a monumental misjudgment as to try to bluff calling stations--twice in a row, no less!--is evidence aplenty of this. He has only one gear: foot mashed down on the accelerator. Sooner or later, he's going to overplay a hand when I've got the goods. My usual strategy against players like this is to open up my game quite a bit. Since his raising range is so broad, I can open up my calling range, especially since I have position on him nearly every hand. The dilemma is that this is directly contrary to my strategy for taking chips from most of the other players at the table, which is wait, fold, wait, fold, wait, fold, BIG HAND--take their money!

He had another weakness: He played without much respect to position. The first time I saw his hand at showdown after he had put in a preflop raise, in fact, was 3-5 offsuit, with which he had raised from second position! This makes him really difficult to put on a hand, but also is an Achilles heel of vulnerability that I might be able to exploit.

This guy annoyed me, not only because of his style, but because he's one of those jerks who never want to show their cards if they can possibly avoid it. He would take advantage of the fact that most of the other players were less experienced, and even when they called his bet on the river, he would just sit there, not exposing his hole cards, until enough uncomfortable time had passed that the inexperienced player would show first. This kind of guy really irritates me. He's violating both rules and etiquette, as well as wasting everybody's time. It's a mild form of angle-shooting, but it's still angle-shooting, and I dislike it immensely. The first time it happened I was willing to cut him some slack--he was embarrassed to be caught bluffing. But it quickly became apparent that this was a longstanding habit of his. I called him out on it: "Dude, he called you--show your hand already." It's not like he didn't know the protocol, but I wanted him to know that I knew what he was doing.

That wasn't the end of his obnoxious habits, though. He criticized weaker players for making bad calls, whether against him or against somebody else. This is horribly inappropriate. I go to Bill's precisely because I know it's the Bad Call Center of the Universe. I crave bad calls at Bill's. That's the key to making money there. The last thing I need is some jackass know-it-all taunting and embarrassing these fishy players and making them rethink their play, and start folding where they should.

And then he pushed my last button when he tried to give me a poker lesson. The situation was that I had A-K on a flop of K-Q-x. A fairly weak player, a middle-aged woman from Texas, was at the other end of the table. She bet $10, I raised to $30, and she called. The turn was a blank. She was not radiating great strength. I thought she probably had a king with a worse kicker. But she only had $42 left, so when she checked the turn, that's what I bet. I wanted a call, because I thought I was probably ahead. She did call, though reluctantly. As it turned out, she had K-Q for top two pair. OK--I misread her. It happens in a game of incomplete information. No big deal. I tell her "Nice hand," and move on with life. I was surprised, because she had the appearance of one who thought she was probably beat. In short, this was a player sufficiently inexperienced that she didn't grasp how strong top two pairs was likely to be. She didn't give off an aura of strength, because she erroneously undervalued her holding.

But Mr. Bally's launches into a taunting lecture. He informs me that "old ladies" (she was about 50!) always have it. He apparently thinks that I was trying to push her out of the pot, which wasn't the case at all. Given the stack sizes, I think the way I played it was a no-brainer. I might have been able to get away from it if she had roared over the top of me on the flop (but maybe not, because she could only charge me $42 more for what would then have been a roughly $110 pot, giving me better than 2:1), which would have been a better play on her part, but her timidity worked out for her, because it misled me. He asked me, "You didn't think she had at least top pair?" The guy must be out of his mind, or maybe didn't notice what I had. Yeah, I thought she had top pair but was still behind me. But I don't say that. I want him to stop with the lectures, not only because it's annoying, but because none of us needs the weak players at the table to smarten up. So I give him my standard smart-ass "shut up" line: "Are the lessons free, or do we have to pay extra for them?" It worked.

So by now there is definite tension between us. I have been taking stabs at pots that he raises, and doing so with speculative holdings. The first time a possible chance comes up I have 4-5 offsuit, and the flop is something like 9-4-2. I only have middle pair with a bad kicker, but I could easily be in front here. He bets $20. I call. One could argue for a raise here, but I really have no idea where I am, and I want the big pots between us to be when I'm on firmer footing than this. The turn is an ace. Ick. He has put in several raises with ace-rag. He bets again. He could well be bluffing, but I don't want to be reduced to guessing in a big pot, so I let it go.

He laughs tauntingly, points to me, and says, "This guy wants to bust me so bad he can taste it!" Well, yeah, I do, but only in small part for the reasons he thinks. My impulse is to say, "Emotionally, I don't really care where my chips come from. It's just that I recognize that some chips are easier to get than others, and yours looks like the easiest pickings." But I think better of it. I think I'm a much cooler head than he is, and I don't want to lose that edge and escalate the tension for the sake of a clever jab at him. Instead, I think of the advantages: (1) I have just convinced him that he can defeat me by continuing to bet at pots, and (2) he thinks I'm gunning specially for him, which means that he'll tend to mistakenly assume that I'm bluffing or coming at him weak, when I'm not. File that observation away and use it, I tell myself. It will feel plenty good when you take his chips--you don't need to feel good now by delivering a verbal put-down.

Our next encounter comes when he has raised from early position (which, again, means nothing for him), and I have called with 9-10 offsuit. The flop is a beaut: 9-9-6, rainbow. He bets $20. I call. Turn is a king. He checks, unexpectedly. The problem with my overall approach to him has been that if I don't bluff back at him sometimes, but only wait for strong hands, if he's smart he can just run away when that happens. That would leave him collecting the majority of the pots we contest, but without me getting the occasional big one to make up for having abandoned a lot of smaller ones. Fortunately, I think the observation above--about how he is now persuaded that I'm targeting him more specifically than I should--should counter this.

I'm torn between checking behind him here and letting him bluff again on the river, versus betting, in the hope that he'll think I'm trying to buy it. I settle on the latter approach. To my delight, he apparently thinks just that, and calls my $30. I don't think he has a king, or he surely would have bet the turn, but maybe he has a 6, or some medium pair. The river is a deuce, as I recall, and he checks again. He has convinced me that he has something, and that he thinks I'm bluffing and he will want to pick off that bluff. I push out a stack of $50, and try to look just a little nervous, without being all Hollywoody about it. He thinks for about 30 seconds, then finally calls. I must have come close to that magic number--the most that he would have been willing to put in without folding. Score one for me!

He looks pretty disgusted at my 9-10. Predictably, the comments start up again. This time he directs them, well, at nobody in particular, but sort of at the table as a whole. "This guy folds folds folds for round after round, and when he finally goes for it, it's with 9-10 offsuit!" He laughs, as if I'm the biggest idiot he's ever played against. I just smile. If he can't see that I'm deploying a reasonably smart strategy against his style of play, so much the better for me. And if he helps convince less perceptive players at the table that I don't know a good hand from a bad one, hey, maybe that will enhance their temptation to call me down light, too, further fattening my stack. So jabber away, Bally's Boy--I've got more of your chips than you have of mine now, and I sense more coming my way.

And then the inevitable final confrontation occurred. It was only a matter of time.

As usual, he raised from middle position to his standard $12. I had A-K suited (hearts), which is huge against his raising range. But I don't want to tip him off. I haven't reraised him even once preflop, so if I do so now, it will set off alarms in his head. I don't want to flip a coin for our stacks. I want to see a flop, and either get away from the hand cheaply if I whiff, or let his overaggressive tendency hang him if I hit.

But, OOPS, a wrinkle develops in the plan. A short-stacked player in the big blind has moved all in for $25. This re-opens the betting to Mr. Bally's. He surprises me by pushing out most of his chips in one big stack, about $200. I'm sitting on about $310 at the time.

I have to tell you about my mental state at this moment. I had been playing for about five hours, which is pushing the limit of how long I can stay attentive and sharp. I'm up by a little over $200, which is a decent day's wages for me. I had been planning to have this orbit be my last, and go home, having resigned myself to not getting the perfect opportunity to felt Mr. Bally's. I was in my "I will not get myself into a big pot" mode. At this point, ready to head for home, I did not want to be put to a decision for my whole day's earnings. If I lost, I would have to either eat the loss and record an "L" in my books for the day, or hunker down and start over again, when I wasn't fresh. Those were both unpleasant prospects.

But, geez--this may be too juicy to pass up. I do not habitually overplay A-K in deep-stacked cash games. I'm smarter than that. But given the huge range that Mr. Bally's raises with, I'm way ahead of about 90% of what he could have. The fact that he put in this enormous reraise is actually kind of encouraging. If he had the only two hands that I'm really scared of--A-A and K-K--he's smart enough that he would try to suck me in, not push me out. This bet is absolutely screaming, "Go away and leave me alone with the short stack." I had just called his initial raise, rather than reraising, largely so that my strength was disguised, in order that he would assume I was calling with junk and hoping to get lucky, just as he had previously seen me do with the 9-10. I had thought to spring my surprise on him later in the hand, but it looked like I would have to do it now instead.

My job is to figure out what opponents want me to do, then do the opposite. He obviously wants me to fold, which means that I have to not fold. I hesitate for longer than usual, because of (1) my general aversion to putting a ton of money on A-K before the flop, and (2) my dread of losing in one fell swoop what I've carefully built up over the last several hours. But I know that the mathematically right thing to do here is to be willing to risk it all. He can't fold, no matter what cards he has; he has 2/3 or 3/4 of his chips in already. Our stacks are so close in size that I can't tell who has whom covered, so this is basically for stacks here.

I hate it, but I push. He calls, of course.

He has the two red jacks (for once, he showed as soon as the bets were all in), near the very tippy-top of the range with which he would play as he just has. Ouch. Mr. Short Stack has the two black queens. Yowza! I am in deep doo-doo here! But the good news is that all of the aces and kings should be live, because I am in desperate need of finding one of them. Also, I'm guaranteed to see all five community cards, so I have maximized my chance for catching what I need. I don't care much about losing the main pot, which is only about $75. It's the side pot between Mr. Bally's and me that matters, since it is worth $600 or $650.

The flop is a bad one: 10-5-2, one heart. Ugh. My chances for the side pot just dropped from about 45% to about 30%.

The turn was the queen of diamonds. Mr. Short Stack jumped up, clapped his hands, and shouted "Yes!" My heart sunk a little lower. No flush will be heading my way on this hand, and there is only one card left to come with which to catch my ace or king.

The river was a jack. Mr. Bally's lets out a triumphant whoop. Damn. No ace or king for me, and both of my opponents hit sets on me! I guess it's home with nothing to show for my day's work, and actually down by my initial $100 buy-in. I turn my attention to the stack sizes to see if I have anything left. But just then I hear the dealer say, "Straight. Ace-king is gonna take it all."

I swear I had not even noticed this possible way of winning the hand when the queen came on the turn. To my slightly-overwrought brain, the queen had written off the side pot to the short stack's set, as well as killing my backdoor flush draw, and I was looking for only an ace or king to save the main pot for me. A straight never even entered my mind, in the couple of seconds I had for processing the situation. But there it was: My A and K, a 10 on the flop, and Q-J on the turn and river. With no three of any suit out there, I not only had the winner, I had the stone-cold nuts!

As it turned out, I had Mr. Bally's covered by a small amount. He lost the hand in arguably the most painful way possible: His incessant raising and pressuring with mediocre hands had gotten me to put it all in against what had to be one of his strongest hands of the day. He was ahead at every point, and, to apparently put the lock on it, had hit his three-of-a-kind on the river. Both he and I overlooked the straight at first. (I'm completely confident that I would have spotted it a few seconds after the dealer's announcement, by the way. I wouldn't relinquish my entire stack without giving the whole situation one last looking over.)

Mr. Bally's must have felt sick when the runner-runner miracle was pointed out to him.
It's quite a pleasant sensation to go, in an instant, from thinking that you just lost $300 to realizing that you just made $300. But riding that little emotional rollercoaster in reverse would surely induce motion sickness.

For A-K to beat two different big pairs, both of which have hit sets, without itself making a pair or a flush is really quite rare and remarkable. Not only did I have to make the straight with exactly a queen, jack, and ten coming--with two queens and two jacks already out--but I had to do so without any pairs to those three cards hitting the board, because if two of any of those cards came, it would make full houses and/or quads for my opponents.

Mr. Bally's slinked away without another word to anybody. Good riddance. I kind of wish I had gotten a chance to rub it in a little because, frankly, he's the rare asshole that I would say deserves such treatment. But on the other hand, if I had done so, I would now be feeling worse about myself, because it would be a violation of the standards of decorum that I both want and try to hold myself to. Kicking a guy when he's down might feel perversely satisfying at the moment, but I'd be ashamed of it after the fact.

I played for another hour or so, because there were still several soft spots at the table, and nobody with anywhere near enough chips to cause me to leave loser for the day, no matter what happened. After the big hand, I changed my mind about leaving because it had infused me with new mental energy, and because I thought I might be able to use my new-found aura of invincibility (combined with a comparatively enormous chip stack) to intimidate some pots away from opponents. But it was up and down, without much net forward progress. So I packed it in and left with my biggest Bill's win yet: up $520 in 5.8 hours, for about $90/hour. Excellent day's results. (My previous Bill's record was $416 profit on the poker room's opening day, May 13, 2008. My record there is now 9 wins and 2 losses, with a net $2326 profit, or about $211 per session.)

Saturday night at Bill's might become a habit for me. Both of the last two of them have been profitable (uptick $323 last Saturday) and generally enjoyable. Most of the table was delightful tonight. That fact kind of got obscured in telling the story of the one jerk.


So what's with the Godzilla picture and the "movie monster" reference in the title to this post? Well, in Hollywood monster pictures, there are classically three encounters with the monster. There's the first skirmish, in which the villagers (or Earthlings, if it's an sci-fi flick) become aware of the monster and take a licking, because they're not prepared. Then they assemble their weapons so that they're better prepared, and we get the second battle. But the monster is stronger than thought, and the weapons are useless. The villagers then have one last, desperate attempt to kill the monster, with all the odds against them. Just when it looks like all hope is lost, something finally works, and the tide turns their way. The monster is killed or run off, and all is well with the world again. Any number of movies follow this basic blueprint: "Godzilla" and "Independence Day," for two prominent examples.

Anyway, tonight's script deviated a bit from the norm, in that I won the second skirmish. Besides, there was the verbal jousting along the way, and a bunch of small pots that I abandoned early when I missed the flop, none of which are recounted in detail here.

Still, in its general outline, it felt a lot like I had taken on a movie monster. I had lost the first battle, plus some small ones along the way, and had basically given up on defeating the beast. Then out of the blue, we were suddenly deeply engaged in an all-out life-and-death struggle. And just when it looked like the monster was going to win this one, the screenplay dictated a runner-runner miracle straight to save the day for your hero at the last second, and the monster limped away, fatally wounded. It was as if I had used my lowly Macintosh to deliver a computer virus to the mother ship, or found a way to implant the command "sleep" in all of the members of the Borg.

Yeah, it was pretty damn lucky, but it was definitely not dumb luck. I had played him intelligently, and hadn't let my dislike for his style of play and his appalling lack of etiquette throw me off of my game. I was willing to put all my chips on the line when it mattered and when the sum total of the circumstances strongly suggested that it was the right move to make. In short, I did what is always said of poker tournament winners: I put myself in a position to get lucky, then did.

In the poker world, the monsters do sometimes win--unlike in Hollywood. But not here, not today.