Thursday, March 06, 2014

Next PokerNews article

These usually come out on Tuesdays, either weekly or every other week (depending on the site's needs and my ambition), but today is an oddball posting day.

This is the first of what will be four--count 'em, FOUR--articles about all the buttons deployed in casino poker games.

Index to all of my articles is here:

Superfocus busto

I liked my Superfocus glasses. I really did. It was great being able to turn a little dial and have anything at any distance be in perfect focus with the entirety of both lenses--something no single-vision, bifocal, trifocal, or progressive glasses can do.

But surely you noticed that the verbs in that paragraph are in the past tense. "Loved," not "love." "It was great," not "it is great."

About three weeks ago, I started noticing that the rear surface of the left flexible lens had a stubborn oily smear on it when I tried to clean the glasses every morning. It took me several days of dealing with this before it dawned on me what it was: it was the fluid leaking out. The reasons this wasn't immediately obvious were (1) it wasn't noticeably changing the optical characteristics, and (2) all the photos I had seen online of people with leaky lenses showed an obvious bubble in the fluid, which I did not have.

But after a week or so, enough fluid had been lost that the left lens was no longer focusing correctly. That got worse day by day. Now, after about two weeks of daily degradation, it's completely intolerable. My left and right lenses are focusing at completely different distances. If my right lens is set for computer distance, the left is focusing about 12 feet away. If they are relaxed all the way out for distance vision, the right is perfect, but the left actually adds a negative lens (i.e., concave) to my regular prescription, which is the last thing I need. It's driving me bug-nutty.

Well, I thinks, this is just a bump in the road. They have a one-year warranty against defects. So I'll send them back, have them repaired or replaced, and all will be well again. I tried calling the manufacturer to make arrangements for the work to be done.

But I kept getting their after-hours recorded message--even in the middle of the day--and nobody returned the calls. I tried their email customer service--no response.

I called my local authorized vendor. They had not heard of any trouble at Superfocus headquarters. (This brand is just a tiny part of their business. One of their employees once told me that they sell just three or four pairs a year there.) But they were happy to try to get me help. They have been calling and emailing for a week now. Nothing. When a company's factory-authorized retailers can't get messages returned, you know there's trouble in River City, trouble with a capital T.

The author of one of the reviews of the glasses I had relied on had been having some issues with Superfocus customer service, so I looked back at his blog to check for any updates. What I found was not comforting:
Update 2/27/2014. Those seeking information on SuperFocus glasses should take note of the following. At the present time it appears that Superfocus has ceased operation, or at least has paused operation while it "takes stock" in itself. I have absolutely no information about what is happening, however as of 2/24 Superfocus has declined to answer any phone calls or emails, and while their web site is still up, the "Shop" portion is inoperative. Multiple customers have stated that they had shipped their glasses to Superfocus for service and now are unable to get them back. It is my sincere hope that Superfocus will emerge from their current crisis in better, stronger condition, because their product is too good and game changing to be allowed to fail without a fight.
A commenter to this post added this:
I sent back, at SF request, two pair of Bauhaus frames and leaking lenses both tinted and clear about 3 weeks ago. As of last Thursday, when I called for a status update, I had to leave a message…no response. I called again today twice to hear a recording that I had reached them “after hours” when it was clearly during business hours. I again left a detailed message. It is my opinion that SF has gone out of business and left their customers “high and dry”. So, I am out about $2,000. I also have two pair or Leonardo frames. If anyone has any intel on what has become of SF, please post so we can all understand the situation/status of SF. 
And this:
Yes, something is definitely going on at SF, and it can’t be good. I had shipped my Leonardo focusing module to them two weeks ago to look at a coating issue. When I called yesterday to check on status, the recording said they would be “closed for inventory” from 02-24 to 03-03, and for “reconsidering our structure” or something like that. The message today is different – just saying it’s after normal working hours, which of course it is not. My first order of business is to get my focusing module back, not only because it is valuable, but because there is no other source for it. My second order of business is to hope they get their act together because I really don’t want to go back to progressives. I have left a message, sent a web site comment, and sent an email, so far without results. I also sent an email directly to the customer service rep I had been working with, and also no response. Most likely he is out of a job and has more to worry about than my focusing module. 
And this:
My situation is nearly identical. I sent back my Leonardo’s – which kept popping out of the frame – and spoke with someone two days after I sent them via Priority Mail. Now, it is simply a recording – and no “live chat” or anything else available. I am bummed. The investment is one thing — but then to NOT HAVE MY GLASSES RETURNED after I was coached to return them? That is a double-whammy. Our best bet may be to use Twitter, Facebook etc to call them out. 
I have left a message on the Superfocus Facebook page (at which time I noticed that they had linked to my November blog post describing my first month of use), asking point-blank whether they were still in business. No reply from the company, though somebody I don't know posted this response:
They seem to be RIP. They were open on 2/20 when I placed my order and by 2/24 gone. Meanwhile they went ahead and billed my flex spending.
I asked on Twitter. Nothing. I even tweeted Penn Jillette to ask if he had heard anything about the company's status. No reply. I have done a daily Google News search, hoping that I could learn of a bankruptcy filing, or a corporate takeover, or some sort of formal announcement that the company regretted that they were unable to continue in business and had laid off staff. Something. Anything. But no.

My problem is the not knowing. If I knew for sure that they were belly-up and there was no chance of getting my glasses repaired or replaced, I'd start the process of getting myself different ones. But I don't want to do that if Superfocus is just having some sort of temporary difficulty and will be back on its feet soon. Of course, if that were the case, you'd think that they'd be responding to their customers--or at least to their vendors--with some sort of hopeful message and a target date. The stone-cold silence can really only mean one thing, I'm afraid.

Still, I have two last slivers of hope. First, I'm having the local retail shop contact several others to ask whether their experience is the same and if they know anything about the situation. Second, I'm hoping that one of my readers in Southern California will do me the great favor of going to the company's street address and just seeing if there's anybody there in the middle of the day. Are the lights on? Door open? Mail piling up outside? If there is somebody there, what do they have to say about the deafening silence?

The address is 7065-2 Hayvenhurst Avenue, Van Nuys, CA, 91406. I've looked on Google Street View, and it's an ordinary office-type building, obviously not a factory. If anybody is willing to do that for me, I'd be most grateful. The not knowing is driving me crazy.

But I'm about 95% sure that the answer is going to be that they have just shut everything down with no notice--which is a pretty scummy way to exit, leaving everybody in a lurch. Even if a small miracle occurs and they come back from the dead and repair or replace my glasses, I'll never be able to recommend that anybody else take the risk of buying a pair because of the distaste, distrust, and uncertainty this will have left me with.

It's so sad. It was such a great idea, the first real game-changer in glasses since progressive lenses came along. I'm sorry that they apparently had pervasive engineering/design/manufacturing troubles and sales insufficient to sustain ongoing growth and improvement. I had really thought and hoped that I'd be wearing and promoting these things for years to come.

ADDENDUM, 3/8/2014 

My friend Rob was kind enough to take time to explore the street address when he was in the area on other business Friday. Here's his report:
Went by there this afternoon. The address is a 2 story suite of offices, maybe 10-12.  
Every single office appeared to be vacant. The specific address had no sign, no name on the door, no evidence that there had been a business there recently.  
But then, that was the case with EVERY office in the building. I am wondering if they had the whole property and just use "2" as the main office for mail & such.  
There was only one car in the lot--ONE. It was 4PM on a Friday afternoon. In Southern California finding any parking lot that time of day with so many empty spaces if virtually impossible.  
I did try the door and of course it was locked. Nothing (mail or whatever) piled up outside the door.    
Really no evidence that there had been any kind of active business there in quite some time. 
So that about tears it.

I went shopping for more conventional glasses Friday, and the optometrist at another local shop said she had heard through the professional grapevine that SF had gone out of business. I don't know why it's so hard to find information on the subject if it's common knowledge in the field.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Stupid is not malicious

Last week, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, which had hosted a WSOP circuit event, announced the results of their investigation into the unauthorized removal of a tournament chip from play when it was down to the last two players. You can read their announcement here, and the PokerNews article about the situation here.

Basically, the casino concluded that the player who won the tournament, Chan Pelton--whom I do not know and had never heard of before last week--removed a T25,000 chip to keep as a souvenir. It seems important to emphasize that the investigation determined that "the integrity of the event was in no way compromised, and the impact of the incident only caused harm to the perpetrator himself."

In spite of that conclusion, the club lowered the boom on Pelton. He was stripped of the title and the prize money, and banned from the property. Caesars, which owns the WSOP, compounded the punishment by imposing an indefinite exclusion from all their properties worldwide. Short of additionally turning him over to law enforcement on charges of theft and/or fraud, there is nothing more that they could have done to him.

And therein lies the problem, as I see it.

When I first saw the announcement on Twitter, I dashed off something about it seeming harsh, but then didn't think much more about it until Monday, when my friend Jennifer Newell addressed the subject in her column for, here. She wholeheartedly approves of the maximum punishment handed out. Upon reading that piece, I knew that I disagreed, but it took some mulling before I figured out how to articulate what I think the problem is.

Let me do it point by point.

1. There should be no tolerance for cheating. 

To quote Mike Caro, "I have long-ago stated that poker cheaters should be boiled and eaten. If you think I’m not serious, you boil; I’ll eat."

Even long-time readers of mine will probably have forgotten that early in my Vegas years I was very nearly the victim of a poker tournament cheater. I still think it's a pretty interesting story, and my only personal experience with this sort of thing, so go read about it here. I cite this incident in order to quote my 2007 self, to prove that I've long been on record as advocating the severest possible penalties for actual cheating in poker:

He was, of course, disqualified from the event. I’m guessing that he is also banned from the premises permanently. I hope that he also goes into the infamous big black book of barred persons that the casinos share. In fact, I hope that they turned him over to the police and that he gets charged with criminal fraud—which this surely was. I wouldn’t even shed a tear if I learned that he received a bit of the old-school-Vegas back-room security “treatment” to help the lesson sink in a little deeper.
If there were substantial reason to believe that Pelton had broken the rules in an attempt to dishonestly boost his chances of winning, I'd be right there with the villagers, pitchfork and torch in hand, ready to burn the monster alive. But as far as I can tell from news accounts, that is not the case.

2. Pocketing the chip was monumentally stupid. 

This guy is no newbie. He has apparently won at least one WCOP circuit event plus other tournaments before. He knows the rules. He also must know that security cameras capture everything that happens on the tables. Furthermore, he's experienced enough that he surely understands the reasons behind the rule. For one with his level of knowledge and experience, stealing that chip can only be chalked up to world-class stupidity and hubris.


3. Stupidity is not cheating. 

There is a fundamental difference between the act of a major-league dunderhead and the act of a cheater. To fail to recognize this is to make a category error, and a serious one at that.

Because the club and Caesars have imposed every penalty they have at their disposal, the result is that they have no harsher punishment to hand out to a player who is caught actually cheating. And the consequence of that is that it puts these institutions in the indefensible position of saying that (or at least acting as if) there is no meaningful difference between breaking a rule in order to gain an unfair advantage--an act of cheating--and breaking it in order to take home a souvenir--an act of stupidity.

Granted, one cannot always tell the difference with perfect clarity. But here his story of seeking a souvenir checks out. Yes, it is at least theoretically possible that he intended to introduce the chip into play to his advantage in some later tournament, or that he is part of a conspiracy ring to create a bunch of counterfeits. But those seem unlikely, given the circumstances. Though one cannot achieve 100% certainty, I think we can reach a reasonable level of confidence that his actions are much more consistent with his claimed intention than one more nefarious.

4. Stupidity should not be treated like cheating. 

The most troubling part of the club's announcement is this:
The player’s intent in taking the chip is not considered by the WSOP Tournament Rules.
True enough. But they seem to be implying that, therefore, they are not allowed to take "intent" into account in setting a punishment. That is not the case. Tournament rules do not prescribe a fixed penalty for any violation. In fact, they take great pains to ensure that the tournament staff have maximal flexibility to assign variable penalties for infractions of the rules depending on circumstances. For all sorts of rules violations, it is commonplace for the tournament director to modulate the penalty imposed based on whether the offense was deliberate versus inadvertent, whether it was a first violation versus a second or third, whether the player is a newcomer who didn't know a rule versus an old pro who damn well did, whether any other player was disadvantaged by the action, whether the violator is being apologetic or defiant, and so on. This is all as it should be.

To treat an act of stupidity as being indistinguishable from an act of outright cheating--which is what the casino and Caesars are doing here--is akin to the moronic zero-tolerance policies of schools that fail to make a distinction between the kid who yells "bang" while making a finger-gun, and the kid who actually brings a gun to school intending to kill a teacher. It is akin to being unable or unwilling to distinguish premeditated murder from involuntary manslaughter (i.e., an act of reckless endangerment resulting in a death).

Were I in charge, I would have favored lesser punishments: perhaps knocking him down to second place instead of first (since he had apparently already earned at least second-place money when the incident occurred), maybe combined with a one-year exclusion from any Caesars-sponsored poker tournaments. But I don't think I'd go so far as to make him forfeit all the prize money, nor bar him from setting foot in Caesars properties, nor make his exclusion from participation permanent.

Those are the kinds of maximum penalties that should be reserved for the worst offenses, which this was not, and the worst offenders, which Pelton is not.

Sunday, March 02, 2014


I played in a home game last night in a top-secret location. Not even the NSA knows about it.

I put in a lackluster performance, to put it the kindest possible terms. I ended up a small winner for the night (+ $140), but only because I lucked out in the biggest pot of the night--around $800. It was all in pre-flop, with my AK versus KK (making me about a 2:1 underdog), and I binked not just one but TWO aces on the board. I was not proud of myself.

That may not have even been the worst of it. I lost my whole first buy-in on a shove over another guy's raise in a situation in which--as I realized about a microsecond after announcing my all-in--he would only call with a better hand than mine. Which he had. Specifically, quads to my full house. I could have saved a decent chunk of money by just calling.

My physical actions were not nearly as consistent and unreadable as I like them to be; I felt like I was a tell-box, announcing what I was doing loudly and clearly to anybody who was paying attention.

I failed to pull the trigger in a couple of spots where I had a strong sense that it was the right thing to do, and was proven correct after folding.

I was disregarding position to a dangerous degree.

Now, any one of these things I might have done just as badly on any given night back in Vegas. But to cluster them all together in one session is pretty painful to watch in myself.

The trouble is compounded by the difficulty of leaving. It's quite a drive to get to the game, and it's only held occasionally. It's not like in Vegas, where I could realize I wasn't playing my best, be home in 15 minutes, and return fresh at my leisure the next day.

This is all quite disconcerting, and I'm not sure what to do about it, other than stew for a while.