Thursday, December 29, 2011

Apes as poker players

Everybody has heard of dogs playing poker, but apes? Apparently they have some characteristics that would be useful to the game, according to two news stories of recent research that I saw today.

In the first, scientists found that all four species of the great apes are capable of making sophisticated risk/reward decisions. When presented with a choice between a small piece of banana with a known location or taking a chance on lifting one of several cups in the hope of finding a larger piece, the apes make their decisions based on the probability of success and the discrepancy between the size of the small and large piece. The larger the hidden piece, the more risk they are willing to take to find it. Sounds like calculating pot odds to me.

In the second, researchers found that chimps in the wild take into account whether the other chimps already know about a danger before deciding whether to sound a vocal alarm. Awareness of other players' states of knowledge is a critical poker skill. Was that guy here when I bluffed in this situation 30 minutes ago? If so, was he paying attention, and will he recognize that this hand is very much like that one? It seems that chimps have at least the rudimentary ability to process this kind of information.

In both of these traits, I'd have to say that they exceed the capacity of at least some human poker player, who display zero ability to perform such complex tasks.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Abraham Lincoln on gamblers

A political blog post I was reading today (here, in case anyone is interested) quoted something by Honest Abe about gamblers. It interested me enough to track down the original, which, thanks to Google, is almost ridiculously easy these days.

It comes from his speech to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838, which can be found here. Lincoln is warning of the dangers of the increasing arbitrariness of mob violence in retribution for alleged crimes.
In the Mississippi case they first commenced by hanging the regular gamblers — a set of men certainly not following for a livelihood a very useful or very honest occupation, but one which, so far from being forbidden by the laws, was actually licensed by an act of the Legislature passed but a single year before.... Abstractly considered, the hanging of the gamblers at Vicksburg was of but little consequence. They constitute a portion of population that is worse than useless in any community; and their never matter of reasonable regret with any one. If they were annually swept from the stage of existence by the plague or smallpox, honest men would perhaps be much profited by the operation.
Gee, thanks, Abe! Appreciate the compliment! Care to know what I think of members of your professions, i.e., lawyers and politicians?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Josie plays the 2-4

More evidence that the 2-4 is the most powerful hand in poker, this time from Very Josie:

Attention, poker dealers

I just stumbled upon a new (at least I think it's new) show on the Discovery channel. It's called "Best in the Business." They design competitions specific to the skills of any given profession or occupation. So far I've seen their segments on excavator operators, grocery baggers, oyster shuckers, and blacksmiths. The program is hosted by Ben Bailey, best known as the driver-questioner on "Cash Cab."

It seems obvious to me that they could put together a competition for poker dealers. Some sort of crazy card-pitching contest. Fastest to accurately count a table full of poker chips. That kind of thing.

You can find instructions for submitting a demo video here:

I'm sure if they get enough submissions from poker dealers with interesting personalities and flashy skills, they'll consider putting together a segment showcasing the best.

The Force is strong with this one

Imperial Palace tonight.

As the guy across the table reluctantly called the four-bet all-in from the rock who he knew probably had aces or kings, he muttered, "This is the most overrated hand in poker." I was in Seat 1 next to the dealer, and said, "Sounds like ace-king to me." Dealer said, "Yep." And it was as we all thought: His A-K to her K-K, neither improving.

My very next hand I had 7-2 offsuit, and was about to flash it to the dealer and say, "No, THIS is the most overrated hand in poker." But right then he was busy telling somebody something, so the moment passed. I still wanted to do it, however, so I began summoning up my willpower to make myself get another 7-2 offsuit on the next hand. I concentrated. I focused my third eye. I channeled my chi through my shakras. I beamed my Kirlian aura at the electrical energy surging through the auto-shuffler to direct its activities. I remembered "The Secret" and let only positive 7-2 thoughts flow through me. I prayed to fourteen different major religions' dieties. I sent my spirit animal (it's a porcupine) on a vision quest to fetch me a 7-2. I called on the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. I scribbled 7-2 on a piece of paper, quickly burned it, and scattered its ashes to the four winds. I gotta tell you, all this woo-woo stuff is hard work!

Drumroll, please. The hand ended, the dealer pulled the next deck out of the shuffler, I got my two cards, checked them, and there it was. I had done it. I had successfully willed myself a second consecutive 7-2 offsuit. And there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host praising the poker gods.

As the cards I had called into my possession headed to the muck, I flashed them to the dealer and delivered my line. It was a dud. Seat 10 had already called, so I had to be sure he didn't see, which means that I'm not sure the dealer saw or was even paying attention to either the cards or what I was saying.

But it doesn't matter. It was a lame joke to begin with. What matters is that I have proven that I have learned how to harness the unseen forces of the universe to bring me whatever cards I want on demand.

Now I must remember to use my powers only for good, never for evil.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Other sights in Albuquerque

Today I finally had some time to sort through the rest of the hundreds of pictures I took during my recent week there with Cardgrrl. Though I had a wonderful time, the photographic record of it is pretty paltry, once you narrow it down to the shots that look halfway competent.

One afternoon we spent at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Like the zoo, this surprised me for being a well-done place, given the small population it serves. What I especially liked about it was that they tried wherever possible to illustrate the principle or time period under consideration by using New Mexico specimens, whether geologic strata or fossils or whatever. There's lots of stuff there besides dinosaurs, but nothing cooler. I mean, how could anything be cooler than dinosaurs, right? So the only interesting pictures are of....

I've already mentioned our day at the zoo. After taking a lot of time with the gorilla photos Saturday, today I sorted through the remaining shots and found only a handful that even show decently what was being photographed, and trashed the rest. None of them will have the editors of National Geographic frantically searching for my phone number to offer me a job.

That same evening, we strolled through the adjacent Botanic Garden for its annual "River of Lights" exhibit. They have hundreds of arrangements of Christmas lights like the ones that follow. All very pretty, but extremely hard to photograph well.