Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched"

I just read a short story by that title, by Steve Almond. It's in Best American Short Stories of 2010, which you should be able to find at any library.

It's an interesting tale about a difficult relationship between a poker-playing psychiatrist and his patient, a professional poker player. The patient might be based on somebody real; he's egotistical, trash-talking, lives in the San Francisco area, a past WSOP winner, who has his own line of poker-themed clothes, and who is married to a psychiatrist. Sound like anybody you can think of?

The tension in the therapeutic relationship spills over onto the green felt, predictably. I'll leave it at that.

Unlike many poker-themed short stories, this one does not betray an author's underlying ignorance of the game by misuse of terminology or unrealistic situations or reactions. I do have to ding it, though, for messing up the cards in the dramatic showdown hand: a king of diamonds on the flop suddenly has become the king of hearts by the turn (though that doesn't affect how the hand plays out). The title, by the way, is the pro player's motto, his reminder to himself not to try to play too fancy.

The story is less than 20 pages long, a fast read, and worth the effort next time you're in a library.

Guess the casino, #753

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

Answer: Hooters

Friday, January 14, 2011

Coupla hands

I just finished a HORSE tourney a just out of the money (sigh--another 2 1/2 hours down the drain). But I did have these two moderately amusing hands along the way.

Here the money was all in on 4th street:

Yessirree, that's a gen-u-wine 2-outer there.

This one is pretty self-explanatory:

Where's my high-hand jackpot?

Guess the casino, #752

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

Answer: M Resort

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Multi-entry tournaments

You have likely read this week about the debut of Full Tilt Poker's newest feature, multi-entry tournaments. The basic idea is that you can enter a tournament with multiple seats, either all at once when you sign up, or add other seats whenever you like during the late-registration period, up to whatever the maximum number allowed is. You will never play at a table against yourself; your stacks are shuffled between tables as needed to prevent this. When the number of entries you still have alive exceeds the number of tables available, your two shortest stacks are merged into one, and if that happens in the money, the shortest stack is declared to have been knocked out, and you collect the prize money for that spot.

As with most online poker innovations, I wanted to give it a try. This afternoon I found one that was only $2.20 per entry, with a maximum of four entries allowed. I decided that fit within my budget.

Here's how the tournament lobby looks just before starting:

My first problem was fitting four tables on my laptop screen. Once that was done, my biggest challenge was just keeping up with four tables. I've never done more than three before, and even that was only for a very brief time. It kept me busy enough that I'm sure my play was suboptimal, since I had almost no attention left over to watch players' tendencies (it suddenly becomes clear why people invest in Poker Tracker or similar software), and when I was busy with one or two tables, I would tend to fold on a third one rather than trying an aggressive move that I otherwise might have. As a time-saver, I also pre-folded many times in late position based on having lousy cards, rather than stick around and watch to see if the action folded or limped to me, meaning that I undoubtedly passed up some chances to steal the blinds. I'm sure one can get used to this level of activity and do it more smoothly and competently than I did, but I'm not there yet.

Other than the mechanical/attentional challenge of keeping up with everything, it played just as it would if you happened to be playing four separate tournaments at a time, except that it was a little easier because the blinds were the same in all four places, which meant that I didn't have to keep recalculating the size of a standard opening raise, nor continually be refiguring how many big blinds I had left.

There were 2134 entrants. It looked to me as though the great majority of players took all four spots at sign-up, though I saw a smattering of names listed just once or twice. I wish the tournament lobby listed how many unique players were in, as well as the total number of seats occupied. My entries finished in 1699, 1303, 1021, and 365 place, with the top 234 (I think) paying, so I never got to see a merge take place. There were no remarkable hands worth reporting.

I did manage to capture this unusual moment, however--two tables with the same three cards on the flop at the same time:

Rigged, obviously.

The multi-entry format was mildly fun and interesting to try, but I'm not going to make a regular habit of it. First, my success rate is much higher on Bodog and the Cake network than on FTP, so my NLHE tournament play will stay concentrated on those sites. Second, I still prefer to keep no more than two tables going at once. Third, I just don't see that there is any meaningful advantage in doing one of these as opposed to playing in separate tournaments. (There may be a theoretical disadvantage. As has been noted in various forum posts, if you play four different tournaments, you can win all four; with four seats in a multi-entry, you can only win one.)

But it was worth trying once to see how it works, and so that I can say that I did it.

Guess the casino, #751

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

Answer: Boulder Station

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just a little ranting about gun control in the news

Warning: No poker content.

Since about 1998, I have spent an inordinate amount of time on the subject of gun control--reading about it, writing about it, discussing it, lobbying for or against legislative proposals, etc. I'm particularly interested in empirical evidence about what can actually be shown to be effective or ineffective at reducing crime, and the results often--usually, in fact--turn out to be other than what one might expect.

The subject comes up now, obviously, because of the most recent mass shooting, this time in Tucson, Arizona. As predictably as the sun rising, politicians who hate having guns in our society (well, except in the hands of government officials, of course--such people always want to disarm only ordinary citizens) have responded with a flurry of gun-control proposals, some of them new, most of them taken down off of the dusty shelf, where they have been sitting, waiting for just such an opportunity.

Here's the basic problem: It's hard to make it more illegal than it already is to shoot a member of Congress through the head, to execute a federal judge, to murder a 9-year-old girl and several others, and to wound another dozen or so people by shooting indiscriminately into a mass of people. I mean, I suppose you could add a provision that the assailant be boiled in oil or drawn and quartered instead of just executing him in the usual ways, or maybe put his severed head on a pike as a warning to would-be copycats. Other than that, there just isn't any room for raising any higher the criminal penalties for this kind of behavior.

The despicable Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik clearly implied, soon after the events of Saturday, that part of the blame lies with Arizona's liberal concealed-carry laws. "I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want, and that's almost where we are." (Quoted here. See video clips of his statements here.) In order to accept such a causal connection, you'd have to accept this premise: That if it had been against the law for Jared Lee Loughner to have been carrying a concealed pistol, the whole calamity would have been averted. Apparently this moronic sheriff thinks that Loughner would have thought along these lines: "Oh, I am SO ready to go kill that Gabrielle Giffords and whoever else might be hanging around near her! And I'd do it, too, if not for that pesky law that makes it a misdemeanor for me to carry a gun in public! Curses--foiled again!"

(It's hard not to lapse into sarcasm when the position you're responding to is so patently ridiculous on its face. It's kind of like what I remember reading about Stanley Kubrick: He originally intended to make a serious film about "mutually-assured destruction" as our national nuclear arms policy, but found it so absurd that there was no way to take on the subject seriously, so instead he ended up making "Dr. Strangelove.")

Just as idiotic is Rep. Peter King's call for a federal law that would make it illegal to knowingly carry a gun within 1000 feet of a member of Congress or other highly-placed governmental officials. Once again, it's hard to figure out how he can be so stupid as to think that such a law would have prevented anything last week. If one is willing--eager, even--to commit mass murder, one more statute making illegal a preparatory step to that ultimate act is simply not going to work as a deterrent.

I understand the reflexive reaction that we collectively ought to do something to prevent this kind of horrible tragedy. But when you start sifting through and critically analyzing proposals, nothing really seems both possible and plausible.

I mean, you could propose repealing the Second Amendment, but why bother? There has never been a time since the Bill of Rights was enacted when you could get 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the states to agree to such a thing, and I can't imagine getting anywhere close to that now. It's a non-starter, dead on arrival. Tilt at that particular windmill if you want, but you'll just break off your lance.

How about a ban on handguns? Well, first, you again run headlong into that niggling little Second Amendment problem. In 2008 the Supreme Court squarely ruled that a ban on handguns is unconstitutional. You may disagree with that decision, you may hate it, but there it is, and, unless the Court chooses to reverse itself later, there's nothing that can be done about it short of a constitutional amendment overriding it--which just isn't going to happen, politically.

Even if it did, you have the problem of millions upon millions of handguns already being in circulation. You can deal with that by excluding from your ban those already lawfully owned, in which case you won't see any meaningful drop in the number of handguns in circulation for many decades, since well-maintained firearms last longer than people do. Alternatively, you could take the harder route and make it illegal to own the ones already in possession. But do you seriously think that people will just hand them over if told to? Some will, sure, but if you think you'd round up even half of them that way, you don't understand Americans very well.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy sees this as yet another opportunity to try to institute a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. (Actually, in interviews with her that I've seen, she usually says she wants to ban "clips" that hold more than ten rounds. But a "clip" and a "magazine" are two different things. Glocks do not use clips, nor do any other semi-automatic handguns that I've ever seen. Somebody who doesn't understand the difference between a clip and a magazine is too ignorant of the subject to be proposing federal laws about it.) This is based on the fact that Loughner is reported to have used one of Glock's 33-round magazines in his model 19. Let me list the problems with this dumb idea.

1. Above is a photo (taken from here without permission) of this magazine. The pistol shown is a Glock 26, which is slightly smaller than the Glock 19, but you get the general idea. It's terribly unwieldy. I happen to own one of those magazines. It works in either of my two 9mm Glocks, but I use it only rarely because it's clumsy and heavy, and is more prone to jamming than regular magazines. (Indeed, though news reports are murky on the exact details, it seems that his magazine misfeeding a round was what stopped the shooting long enough for people to jump on Loughner.) My bedside pistol is a 9mm Glock model 34 with a 19-round magazine--much more manageable. I wonder how Loughner carried that thing, because it would be really difficult to carry concealed in any of the usual kinds of holsters. My point is that magazines like this are virtually never carried by either law-abiding citizens or by criminals. I've been paying attention to gun crime matters for more than ten years, and I can't remember another case of somebody using a pistol with this kind of magazine on it in a crime spree.

2. McCarthy's idea is that when a mass shooter has to stop to reload, that's an opportunity for him to be stopped. It's certainly true that points of reload have, in a couple of high-profile cases, been when a bystander has taken the initiative to intervene in a public shooting. But that's only because the shooters have been inexperienced. Want to see how long it takes to reload a handgun with practice? Watch this YouTube video: That's Travis Tomasie, whom most of you won't have heard of, but he's one of the best competitive handgun shooters in the world. I've seen him shoot in competition; in fact, I've been the range officer (safety official) for him at least once that I can remember, and so was watching him from about two feet away. He really is that fast. Yes, his superb proficiency comes from many, many hours of practice. But reloading quickly is not a complex skill, and it doesn't take very long to get it to less than about two seconds between the last shot of one magazine and the first shot of the next. Laws that depend for their effective operation on criminals being incompetent with their chosen equipment can't be more than marginally effective under the best of circumstances.

3. The United States had a ban on the manufacture and import of magazines of more than 10 rounds between 1994 and 2004. Did crime soar after the ban ended? No. It continued to decline, despite moronic "the sky is falling" predictions by Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry, Sarah Brady, and others of their gun-hating ilk. This is really not at all surprising. The vast majority of uses of guns by both criminals and by law-abiding citizens in defensive situations involve only brandishing the gun, not actually firing it. The minority that do progress to shooting, either offensively or defensively, usually extend to no more than a few shots fired over the course of a few seconds. There is only rarely either time or need for a reload. The proposed ban is sort of like legislating a 100-mph governor on all vehicles under the theory that this will limit the speed of bank robbers' getaway cars and make them easier to catch. It's just ludicrous, and out of touch with the reality of how guns are actually used in real-world situations.

4. The ten-year ban had originally caught manufacturers off guard. Literally the day it ended, manufacturers set their factories to working around the clock to produce an enormous stock of full-capacity magazines, so that if such a ban were ever enacted again, they could ride it out for a long time without losing business to competitors who still had such magazines available for sale. (Pre-existing normal-capacity magazines could still be freely sold.) Similarly, gun enthusiasts learned their lesson and have now bought many more than they thought they would need, just in case such a ban comes around again. Smart speculators had bought large supplies of the magazines before the 1994 law went into effect, and profited handsomely as relative scarcity set in and prices went up. Whatever the effect on crime may have been when the ban went into effect (I don't know of any empirical evidence that it did any good, and doubt that there is any), there would be even less if it were ever repeated, because now the supply of full-capacity magazines is much greater than it was before. Theoretically, you could make it a crime to continue to own such items (and some gun control proponents are pushing for exactly that), but politically it is extremely difficult to criminalize possession of something that is currently legal to own, especially when there are tens of millions of the objects in question, owned by millions of people. Americans don't take kindly to being made criminals by inaction.

Finally, there are vague assertions made by any number of politicians and pundits with access to a microphone about making it harder for mentally unstable people like Loughner to buy a gun.

Well, that's fine in theory, but how are you going to actually write and enforce such a law? We do not deprive people of their constitutional rights lightly in this country--and I hope we'd all agree that that is a very, very good thing. The standard now is that one must have been adjudicated as mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution. That's a high standard, to be sure, but it needs to be. What objective standard less than that would you propose? Do you want to have entered into a governmental database and permanently banned from exercise of constitutional rights everybody who has, e.g., filled a prescription for Prozac or Xanax? Everybody who a neighbor has thought might be a little loony? Everybody who has been to a psychiatrist's office? So far I have not seen any legislative proposals that would specify what lower standard would be used for this purpose, but surely you can see that anything lower than the current threshold is going to sweep up many more unthreatening, law-abiding citizens than dangerously unstable ones.

I am opposed on general principle to legislative proposals that can reliably be predicted to achieve nothing useful, that have no empirical data supporting their claims for what they will accomplish, that are enacted only because they satisfy an irrational emotional need to "do something," that will infringe on law-abiding citizens' rights with no compensatory social benefits, and/or that are unconstitutional or politically unworkable. Every gun-control proposal I have seen or heard about in the past five days has fallen afoul of one or more of these problems.

The President of the United States may be the best-guarded person on the planet, but we still have occasional nutters like Lee Harvey Oswald, Lynette Fromme, Sara Jane Moore, and John Hinckley who either succeed or come very close to succeeding in their efforts at assassination. In an open society awash in firearms, these things are going to happen from time to time. We collectively decided a long, long time ago that we're not going to have a gun-free society, nor are we going to lock people up for being crazy, short of demonstrable threat to themselves or others. Once those two decisions are locked into place, there's not a heck of a lot that can be done to prevent the intersection of mental illness and guns from causing occasional horrific events such as Saturday's.

It's terribly sad when some nutjob's craziness is manifested in such a gruesome, public way. But that doesn't mean that we should rush to enact new, ill-considered, ineffective laws in the vain hope that we can prevent such tragedies in the future.


I have one other gun-related response to this news story. I read this story in Slate about a guy named Joe Zamudio, who was legally carrying a concealed handgun near the site of the shooting. He rushed from the store to the scene when he heard the commotion. In the process, he came close to shooting the guy who had taken the gun away from Loughner:

""I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready," he explained on Fox and Friends. "I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this." Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire."

He says later in the interview that he has had no professional training in firearms. I could have guessed that. First, it's terribly dangerous to take off the safety while the gun is still in your pocket. Just like the rule about not putting your finger on the trigger until the gun is on target, so it is with the safety: It is not to be disengaged until you are on target and ready to shoot.

More importantly, though, his story perfectly illustrates why it's usually a big mistake to play the hero, rushing into a situation where you don't need to be, and which you don't understand. You run the terrible risk of mistaking the good guys for the bad guys, and being mistaken by others for the bad guy.

Had Zamudio gotten professional training, he would have known these two basic facts and avoided his mistakes. Some are calling him a hero. I consider him a fool. Well-intentioned, no doubt, but foolish just the same.


Online Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker! The WBCOOP is a free online Poker tournament open to all Bloggers, so register on WBCOOP to play.

Registration code: XXXXXX 482279

Guess the casino, #750

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

Answer: Aria

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MGM finally sees the light

It seems that MGM is finally going to try to make their player rewards program competitive with that of Harrah's/Caesars:

'Bout time, dudes. Just don't leave the poker players out of the goodies, please.

New blog

Noah Stephens-Davidowitz has started a poker blog. His first post--about things that do and do not hurt the online "poker economy"--is so cogent and thoughtful that it makes me look forward to reading more of what he has to say:

Guess the casino, #749

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

Answer: Tuscany

Monday, January 10, 2011

Home again

I'm home from my belated holiday visit to the Utah family. Had a very nice time, including 11 of us for a big dinner last night, followed by a mass visit to my mom at her nursing home. The only photos I took were of people that none of you know. They mean a lot to me, but I won't bore you with them.

My rental car was a Hyundai Elantra, pictured above. It was completely average in just about every possible way: color, looks, size, comfort, performance, etc. But it performed the required task (getting me to SLC and back without problems and without inflicting suffering on me) just fine. The only glitch was that the windshield washer lines froze up and wouldn't function when I needed them to, returning to life only after I got back to warmer Nevada. The Elantra managed a respectable 33.4 mpg for the trip, not at all bad for a car of its size (i.e., not a micro-speck). Above all, it was not, repeat NOT, a Smart Car. The Fox rental car company did its usual fine job of providing me with no nasty surprises, extra charges, long waits, or lousy service. (My experiences with rental car companies has been so uniformly awful that an absence of bad things happening is my highest prasie.)

The car's best feature was XM/Sirius radio, which I didn't even know I had until I was on my way. For much of the route between Vegas and Salt Lake, it's sparsely populated territory, with the only radio choices being country music, preachers, and Rush Limbaugh. Even with those, you have to search for new stations frequently because the mountains keep changing what reception you get. Satellite radio fixes all of that: 200+ channels to pick from, all crystal-clear all the time. I had brought along a bunch of CDs in anticipation of the usual dearth of externally supplied entertainment, but ended up not playing them. Instead, I bounced among opera, other classical music, a Broadway music channel, NPR, oldies, and Howard Stern. If I spent more time in the car than I do, I would definitely invest in this system. Now I'm going to feel deprived whenever I rent a car that doesn't have it.

On my way home, I stopped in Beaver at the Cache Valley Cheese factory outlet. My mother grew up in Cache Valley (northern Utah), and one of her brothers spent his career working for the cheese factory--so in addition to the general reputation for excellence that Cache Valley Cheese has in Utah, there has always been a sense in the family that nothing else could ever be quite as good. When I was little, summers almost always meant a cross-country drive to see family in the West, with a large supply of Cache Valley cheese brought back home. Today I continued that tradition, sort of: I bought 9 1/2 pounds of cheese, divided among six different varieties. That included--to my great delight--the "Smoki" version, which I remember absolutely loving when I was a kid, but which I haven't tasted in at least 35 years. I'm curious to see if I'll like it as much as I remember I used to.

I have a couple of days of catching up to do in terms of reading, correspondence, errands, cleaning up, etc., after which things should revert to regular rhythms around here.

Guess the casino, #748

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

Answer: Mirage

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Guess the casino, #747

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

Answer: Harrah's