Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grand Funk Railroad

There's just no better word for it: I'm in a funk.

I think the principal cause is sleep deprivation. Although I'm grateful for the PokerNews gig, trying to write about events at the World Series of Poker that conclude somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., and have the writing done by my deadline of 8:00 a.m., means writing at literally the worst possible time of day for my alertness and creativity. I have tried everything I can think of to get my sleep-wake cycle adjusted in compensation, with massive failure. The result is not only way too little sleep, but it coming in fits and starts, and at completely inconsistent times. That is hard on the brain--including the emotion-laden temporal lobes--and likely makes all the other troubles feel a lot worse than they otherwise might.

What other troubles, you ask?

Well, there's the fact that I seem to have inadvertantly put in serious jeopardy a friendship that has long been a source of indescribable joy and stability in my life, and I am at an utter loss what to do about it.

There's the fact that what little poker I have been able to squeeze in lately has been unfun and unprofitable.

There's a massive logistical problem about what to do with a lifetime of accumulated stuff--the 90% of what I own that I didn't bring with me to Vegas because I had no idea what my situation here would be or how long it would last. I have postponed and ignored that problem about as long as I can, and now have to deal with it, though no solution seems feasible.

There are mounting financial pressures.

There are concerns about family members ailing.

There is the unpleasant fact that my friend Cardgrrl will be retuning to D.C. in just a few more days, after a delightful but all-too-short month in town, and I keep thinking about what a letdown that will be. (Because, you see, it's not enough to burden myself with today's woes; I also feel it is necessary to throw onto the pile some anticipatory unhappiness.)

The total effect is best described by the term anhedonia--the inability to experience pleasure. I have a block of open, unscheduled time, and start to click through what I might use it for. Ordinarily, it's an exciting prospect, because I can choose between a bunch of things that I enjoy, and any of them will make me happy. But these days, the things that usually bring me pleasure all seem to have lost their interest for me: playing poker, writing this blog, watching my favorite TV shows that I've taped, Netflix movies, the dozens of hours of poker TV programs I have stored on my hard drive, all the unread books on my shelves, calling a friend for a last-minute get-together, etc. My reaction to each of them is just a bland, "Meh, not interested."

This ain't normal.

But I've been through such periods before--I suppose everybody has. Past experience says that it will pass, and things will resume some sort of acceptable contentment and routine again.

So please forgive my recent silence. It will be broken at some point, and I will once again move from the aberrant state of depression to the normal state of grumpiness.

Guess the casino, #186

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Sahara

Friday, June 26, 2009

Guess the casino, #185

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Answer: Monte Carlo

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Long-delayed book review

It's been a year and a half since I read and reviewed Deadman's Poker by James Swain. I was mightily irritated at the author for the deception of not including an entire story; there is no advance warning to the reader that the book is only half a novel.

I finally got around to reading Deadman's Bluff, which contains the second half--finished it Monday. Upon rereading the post I wrote about the first one, I find that I have little to add. My guess about how the scamming of the poker tournament was being pulled off was spot-on. But, to my consternation, it is completely implausible in terms of poker (i.e., what the cheaters were doing would be spotted as anomalous very quickly, even if observers couldn't be sure exactly what the odd actions meant).

But it was also unrealistic in terms of practicality. They used a medical technology refitted for poker, and I can assure you, it would never work. Without giving it away (because it's possible that somebody will want to read this trash), the level of precision that the cheaters' equipment would have to be capable of is just unrealistic. Moreover, the medical side effects of the scam, added apparently to heighten the sense of danger and suspense, were just plain wrong. The author either does not understand the substances around which his plot revolves, or willfully misrepresents them.

So despite being a mildly interesting (but excessively long) story, the book fails on every other level. It is headed for the trash, not even being worth taking up space on my crowded bookshelves any longer. Good riddance.

Guess the casino, #184

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Harrah's

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Guess the casino, #183

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Answer: Fiesta Henderson

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Poker gems, #291

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, June 17, 2009 (vol. 22, #12), p. 70.

We know that there's such a thing as The Law of Conservation of Fun, which states, basically, that if one person... is having all the fun in a poker game, the rest of the players are having none at all.

Guess the casino, #182

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Treasure Island

Monday, June 22, 2009

Guess the casino, #181

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Riviera

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Family photo taken in January when I was up in Salt Lake City for a quick visit. On the sofa, left to right: Me, Mom, Dad, my brother David. Sister Suzi is standing on the right. Standing on the left is my brother's son. Middle three standing are sister's kids, another of which is on the far right, with his wife and baby girl on the floor.

So now you kind of know what I'll look like in about 35 more years.

Many happy returns of the day to all the fathers out there, especially mine.

"Pay attention to me!"

After I had been watching Cardgrrl play for a while Thursday night, this guy got moved to her table:

(That's Kathy Liebert in Seat 10.)

As you can see, he had a big headdress thing in a clear plastic bag on the floor beside him.

During a 20-minute break, he decided to don the whole outfit:

OK, I thought, so he wanders around, lets people take his picture, then takes the big flashy piece off again when he's playing.

Nope. He left it on for the rest of his time at the table:

I overheard pieces of a brief conversation in which somebody asked him what the deal was. He said something about his great-grandfather having been made an honorary member of some tribe. He said this with an accent that I believe to have been British, possibly Australian. (I usually don't have any difficulty telling the two apart, but the room was noisy so I was only hearing snippets.)

Of course, whether that story is true or not has nothing to do with the bigger question of why he is wearing it for a poker tournament. To which the only plausible answer, if you ask me, is that he wants attention. Yeah, I know, I have just given it to him. But I have taken a blood oath to bring to my readers all items of pokery interest that I come across.

Doyle is wrong

Here's an interesting little story that I ran across night before last while preparing my WSOP write-up, taken from here.

Doyle's Complaint

Doyle Brunson was placed at a table with his son, Todd Brunson, the other
day in the $10,000 Limit Hold'em World Championship. Both Doyle and Todd are
still in today's event and it could happen again today. Doyle talked to
communications director Seth Palansky about the issue and in his opinion,
doesn't think it will happen. Palansky said he'd talk about it with others and
try and make some sort of ruling from it.

Brunson continued to talk about the topic with his table mates. He said
that he would never blatantly soft play or anything, but it's just common nature
that he wouldn't want to be sticking his son right in the middle of things if it
happened to come up. The table seemed to agree with him.

As it happened, they did get moved to the same table a little later, though it didn't last long.

First, there's the minor issue of why the communications director is sticking his nose into how the tournament runs. That seems out of his jurisdiction to me.

More fundamentally, though, why is there anything to rule on? The tournament rules specify that seats are to be assigned randomly. Nobody gets to pick and choose who they would like or not like to share a table with. There is a provision for making exceptions for players with special needs, but it seems to me that the clear implication of that is something like a wheelchair that will only fit at an end seat, or a visually impaired player needing to be in Seat 5 or 6 to see the community cards. A family member at the table can't reasonably be defined as a "special need" in that context.

Just imagine the pragmatic problems of allowing such a precedent. What relationships are close enough to merit an exception to randomization? Siblings? Cousins? Second cousins? Uncles/nephews? If spouses, how about engaged couples, or those in a long-term relationship who don't choose to marry--or a couple that would like to marry but can't because of any number of legal obstacles? How about best friends?

Moreover, what sort of system would you put in place for confirming the existence of any of those relationships? Suppose I see that I'm about to get moved to one of the "tables of death" that occasionally crop up in these things, with six or seven of the world's toughest pros looking for my donkey blood? Maybe I whisper to the floor guy that one of the other unknowns is my secret gay lover. How is he going to know if that's true or not? Ask the other player in front of everybody?

Also, it would obviously be easy to game such a provision. If your family member is at an otherwise soft table, you say nothing and take the transfer. If it looks like a killer table, though, you invoke the privilege. Is that not self-evidently a prescription for abuse?

There are obviously potential problems when two people with a preexisting close relationship share a poker table. But that's nothing new. It's been going on forever. We count on both their integrity and their basic drive to act in their own self-interest to blunt or erase any impact on how they play. If they are found to be soft-playing each other, there are already rules in effect for how to deal with that.

It's not a perfect system, but it's far better than opening the Pandora's box of allowing tournament officials to decide on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis whether to grant a player's wish not to be seated at a particular table.

If you're still not convinced, consider this. Doyle Brunson is randomly selected to fill the empty seat on Todd's right. He requests and is granted a waiver due to their filial relationship. So they select again, and now instead it's you that gets tapped on the shoulder to move from your juicy, cushy-soft table, where you're the big stack, to the shark cage filled with monster stacks, with Todd sitting on your immediate left for the rest of the day.

Now how do you like Doyle's proposal? Are you willing to make that sacrifice just so that he doesn't have to deal with whatever discomfort might come from having to compete against his son? I didn't think so.

Chip distributions

For a long time I have wondered what it would look like to graph the chip stacks of a poker tournament at some arbitrary point. (Yes, my brain works in strange ways. Seriously, you don't want to know.) As long as it's not too near the beginning or end, you would clearly get some sort of bell curve, with a big bulge of players in the middle, and smaller numbers of big and short stacks out on the tails.

But after observing and participating in lots of tournaments, I became pretty sure that it would not form a "normal" distribution, with symmetric tails. Instead, it seemed obvious to me that the short-stack tail on the left would be a lot shorter and steeper, the big-stack tail on the right longer and flatter.

If you've played tournaments, you might be able to intuit why this is so. Your stack can only fall so low before you're forced to make a move and pick a hand on which to gamble all your chips, at which point you either double up or you're out. But there is no cap on how big your stack can be (except at the theoretical limit of having all the chips when you win the tournament). In short, there's a lot more potential variability in how far above average a stack can be than in how far below average it can be.

Put another way, the "average" chip stack, defined as the mathematical mean, would be above the median (the median being the size of stack that is smack in the middle if you lined up every player's chip count in order--the guy with the same number of opponents with more chips and with fewer chips), instead of the mean and median being at the same point, as happens with a normal distribution.

The other day, while doing one of my World Series of Poker nightly wrapup reports for PokerNews, it occurred to me that the chip counts reported at the beginning of Day 2 of most events might serve as an adequate database for testing my theory.

I picked three events: a smaller (in terms of number of players) no-limit hold'em event, one of the big-field NLHE tournaments, and a limit event:

A) Event #2, the $40,000 NLHE special anniversary event, attendance at which was obviously restricted by the huge buy-in. 201 people entered, and 87 were left to play the second day. Standings are taken from here.

B) Event #34, a $1500 NLHE "donkament," with 2095 players starting and 240 left at the start of Day 2. Standings reported here.

C) As a sample of a limit event (to see if it might be any different; I suspected that the same phenomenon would be present, though relatively more compressed in range), I went with Event #3, the $1500 Omaha/8, which started with 918 and was down to 197 for Day 2. Standings can be found here.

For each one, I pasted the list of chip stacks into Excel, and sorted them into order. I then used Excel's histogram tool. I defined intervals, or "bins," and had the software tabulate the number of players with chip stacks in that bin, then popped out a graph of the results.

Here's Event #2:

So the chip stack sizes are along the x-axis, and the number of players with stacks near that size in the y-axis. Here, the bins are defined in 20,000-chip increments. For example, the second blip from the right indicates that there was one player with a stack in the "740,000" bin, which includes anything between 720,000 and 740,000.

The number of entrants is small, so the effect is kind of messy and hard to see. Still, I think you can convince yourself that the right-hand "tail" of the curve is more stretched out than that on the left.

Mathematically, the mean--what would be shown on the tournament information screen as "average chip stack"-- was about 272,000 at this point, which I have marked above with a red line. The median, however, was 229,000, which I have marked with a black line. So if you had an "average" chip stack, you would actually be in 36th out of 87, ahead of most of your competition.

The effect is a lot easier to see if we instead look at the big-field event, #34:

I defined bins in 1000-chip increments to get a decent spread. The mean (red) was 39,400, the median (black) 33,500. If you had an "average" chip stack, you would be in 95th out of 240 left.

Finally, here's Event #3:

As I predicted to myself, the effect is still there in a limit event, but somewhat compressed left-to-right, probably because it's significantly harder to accumulate monster stacks. The mean (20,900, red) and median (19,300, black) are relatively closer together. The average chip stack would be in 95th place out of 240.

I'm not prepared to expound fully on the practical implications of this observation, but the main one is this: If you have an "average" chip stack, you're ahead of most of the field.

I think it would be really interesting to have one of the online sites use their continuously-acquired data in a large-field event to generate a movie of how the distribution of chip stacks changes over the course of the tournament. Obviously at the start it would be a single, very tall vertical line, with all equal stacks, and at the end it would be a single point, with one person owning all the chips. But in between, you'd see the kind of curve suggested above develop and morph, with the amplitude of the peak of the curve decreasing as players were knocked out. I can sort of envision how it would have to go, but I'd love to actually see it play out dynamically.


Thanks to Mantis for this post.

I gots to gets me one of them shirts.

LOL donkaments

Shamus reported yesterday on some head-scratcher hands from the World Series of Poker, where it's hard to understand what, if anything, the player was thinking--and the difficulties this poses for reporting what happened, especially with little or no time to sit back and analyze it carefully.

It reminded me of my favorite such moment from the Series so far, which I had forgotten to mention here. This account comes from the PokerNews live blog account here:

Chainsaw Kessler to a Double

Allen Kessler opened under the gun to 600 and found action from both the

The flop fell down 3h-4c-10h with the big blind leading out for 1,000.
Kessler immediately moved all in for 2,775, and once the small blind folded the
big blind was put into the tank before making the call.

Kessler: Qh-Qc

Opponent: Kh-Qs

"Oh my god! What's wrong with you?" screams Kessler when he sees his
opponent's hand.

The dealer then burns and turns the Ks to thrust his opponent in the lead.
"So sick! What is wrong with these people?" comments Kessler.

However with one out still in the deck, the Qd would indeed land on the
turn to give Kessler the double up to 8,200 in chips.

I'm not what you'd really consider a spontaneous-outburst kind of guy. I tend not to say much, and to think fairly carefully about what I want to say before saying it. The advantage is that it's a lot less often I have to apologize for things I wish I hadn't said. The disadvantage is that no matter how many times I may think it, the heavily fortified filters between my brain and mouth will never let me have the experience of screaming at a moron opponent words like, "Oh my god! What's wrong with you?"

Which seems like it might be kinda fun.

Guess the casino, #180

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Answer: MGM Grand