Saturday, March 15, 2008

They also serve who only sit and wait?

Most of the time that I'm in a poker room, there is within my field of vision at least one person who is just sitting close by a poker player, waiting, doing nothing, often for hours at a time.

This puzzles me. Don't these people have anything better to be doing? It's not like they're getting any quality time with their partner; the partner is paying attention to the game, and very little to the person waiting. Nor is the person waiting actively engaged in observing the game. Three or four times I've had friends or family members curious about this odd job of mine come to watch me play for 30 to 60 minutes, just to see what the life is like. They look at my hole cards with me and try to follow the action. That I understand--but that's clearly not what's going on with the couples that I'm talking about. No, with them it's just passing time in apparent boredom. And in the rooms that I frequent, it's often the same players and partners enduring these death watches, over and over and over again.

It's a mystery to me.

Why not go do something else? Why not bring a book to read, if you know you're going to be waiting that long? Why not go home or go to a movie, and meet back in the poker room at a pre-arranged time?

I will add two demographic observations here, and leave the cultural significance of them as a private exercise for the reader. First, as far as I can recall, I have never seen a male waiting for a female in this manner; it is always the reverse. Second, the great majority of these long-term sitters, and those for whom they are waiting, are Asian--I mean in the neighborhood of perhaps 90% of such couples, grossly disproportionate to their numbers as players.

What does that mean? I don't know.

(For those who don't catch the reference in the title of this post, see

Friday, March 14, 2008

Card Player column now up

The Card Player magazine column that centers on one of my previous blog posts (see is now available online. See:

Lies and confusion about the iMEGA case

Who or what is iMEGA? According to its web site (,

The Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA) is a
not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Washington DC.

iMEGA was founded in 2007 as a professional association dedicated to
the continued growth and innovation of the Internet. We seek constructive
engagement with government at the Federal and State levels to ensure that the
challenges of this still nascent medium are addressed with the full
participation of the people and companies that have built the Internet into the
powerful influence on society it has become.

I first became aware of this group when they filed suit last year to prevent enforcement of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). I didn't pay a lot of attention to the case, because from news reports I was quite certain that it was a dog, with virtually no chance of winning. Now that I've read more about it, I'm convinced that my first impression was correct.

The first--and quite possibly last--major decision about the case was issued on March 4. You can read it here: Here's the Reader's Digest condensed version: The government attempted to have the case dismissed first because, it said, iMEGA had no legal "standing" to bring the suit. To oversimplify, in order to bring a lawsuit attempting to prevent enforcement of a criminal statute, you have to show that you are actually in potential danger of being prosecuted under it. iMEGA defeated the government's argument on this point; the judge found that the association did, in fact, have sufficient standing to challenge the law, because "a plain reading of the UIGEA reveals that its prohibitions could easily apply to the to the actions of the plaintiff's member businesses."

But that was the end of their victories. The government next argued that even if iMEGA had standing, every one of their claims was legally invalid, to the point that they didn't even need to have a trial to determine any disputed facts. The judge agreed with them down the line, on every item; every claim that iMEGA made about the alleged unconstitutionality or unenforceability of the statute was shot down decisively.

It's important, I think, to note the legal standard in play: For a motion to dismiss at this early point, the judge is required to assume that all of the facts claimed in the plaintiff's suit are actually true. The legal question is, essentially, "Even if everything the plaintiff says is true, can they possibly win on the legal arguments?" Her answer was no. The case has been dismissed. iMEGA's press release says that they plan an appeal, but I'd lay 10:1 against an appeal being successful, after reading the district court's decision. The claims iMEGA makes are just horribly weak and implausible.

(I suppose I have to add the disclaimer that I think the UIGEA is stupid and bad public policy. But that doesn't mean that it's unconstitutional, or that any lawsuit brought against it should, by rights, prevail, if the suit is based on bad legal arguments, as this one was.)

Now let's look at the incredible PR spin job that iMEGA does with this whopping defeat: First, they say that they "applaud" the decision. Well, that's interesting, since they LOST. Their attorney spouts the nonsense that the standing portion of the decision is a "major victory." Hogwash. Standing is not that difficult to establish. And it's a purely pyrrhic victory if, after having standing acknowledged, you lose on every one of the merits of your case before you even get to trial.

iMEGA's press release next quotes their lead attorney, Eric Bernstein, as saying, "Judge Cooper’s ruling holds that, even with the passage of UIGEA, online gambling is only illegal in states where a statute specifically says it is."

No, it doesn't. First, we need to make clear what it means when a judge "holds" something or other. That word means not that the judge made some offhand comment in the text of the decision, but that a question was squarely put to and decided by the court. Court decisions can be reduced to three parts: "findings" (where there are disputed facts, the judge decides which ones to accept and reject), "holdings" (substantive decision on the disputes as to the meaning or application of law), and "dicta" (everything else). There is simply no holding in this case anything like what Mr. Bernstein claims.

As far as I can find, the closest the court came to any such statement is as a presumption (based on a plain reading of the statute) while making another point entirely, about whether the plaintiff's First Amendment rights of free expression are hindered by the UIGEA: "The plaintiff has not identified, and the Court does not discern, any 'communicative element' inherent in the only conduct criminalized by UIGEA--the taking of another's money.... Also, as UIGEA only has potential application if a bet or wager is otherwise unlawful where initiated or received, the plaintiff cannot claim any First Amendment protections for conduct--in accepting the funds for that bet or wager--that essentially facilitates another's criminal act." (Emphasis added.)

If a non-attorney read this and said that it was a "holding" of the court that the UIGEA only prohibited conduct that was already illegal under relevant state law, I could easily dismiss it as a misunderstanding. But Mr. Bernstein knows full well how to distinguish a court's holdings from its incidental statements. What he claims as the former is unarguably the latter. In short, he is lying through his teeth.

Continuing with the press release: "'iMEGA is very pleased that the Court recognized our standing and the weaknesses in UIGEA' said Joe Brennan Jr., the chairman of iMEGA." Note that he does not name any specific "weaknesses in UIGEA" that he claims the court "recognized." That's too bad. It might be enlightening, since I can't find anything in the decision that could plausibly be seen as such a finding, a holding, or even dicta.

The closest I can find is in the concluding paragraph: "The plaintiff's claims ... pose questions as to whether UIGEA, given its exceptions and conjectural enforcement problems, will be successful in accomplishing its desired ends." But this is plainly not the judge expressing an opinion she formed on this; instead, she's just restating what it is the plaintiff is alleging. In fact, she explicitly declines to opine in the way that Mr. Brennan claims that she does: "But it is not the Court's role to pass on the wisdom of a Congressional act or speculate as to its effectiveness." So Mr. Brennan is lying just as much as his attorney is.

Mr. Brennan is next quoted in the press release as follows: "Judge Cooper found that banks, credit card companies and other payment system instruments are exempt from criminal sanctions under UIGEA, significantly undercutting UIGEA’s enforcement mechanism."

That's just complete rot. What he is apparently referring to is merely a footnote dealing with a hypothetical, not a substantive ruling at all. The plaintiff claimed that UIGEA violates the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws; i.e., Congress can't make an action a crime after it has been committed. This was one of the sillier claims in the suit, since nothing in UIGEA even remotely hints of such an attempt. By both text and clear implication, it prohibits only conduct occurring after its passage. The judge recognized that, and had no difficulty dismissing this part of the complaint.

iMEGA had based this particular claim on a previous case from the Fifth Circuit appellate court, which held, in part, that the federal Wire Act did not prohibit interstate electronic money transfers for gambling other than sports bets. In response, the judge in this case added in a "by the way" footnote that the financial institutions in that Fifth Circuit case would not be criminally liable under UIGEA anyway, since by its own terms the statute in question "does not include the activities of a financial transaction provider." In other words, the judge was making a hypothetical, footnoted comment about how parties in another, previous case might fare under the UIGEA.

This is about as purely dicta and as far from an actual holding or ruling as one can get. Furthermore, she is doing no more than quoting the plain terms of the statute, not making any sort of interpretive call as to what that language means as applied to an actual controversy in front of her. Banks and other financial institutions were not parties to this lawsuit, so the judge could not make any legal determination about their status and/or rights, even if she had been inclined to do so.

Lou Krieger weighs in, and gets it wrong

Lou Krieger blogged about this case on Tuesday, March 11, at His first sentence says, "Criminal liability for banks that are unable to stop online gambling transactions was removed by a US Supreme Court Judge in a decision that is unlikely to be appealed." Let's see how many errors we can count in that one sentence.

First, the decision did not come from a "US Supreme Court Judge." It was from Mary L. Cooper, a federal judge in the District of New Jersey. (If she has recently been elevated to the Supreme Court, thus giving us 10 justices there instead of the traditional 9, I apparently missed the announcement, as well as the Senate hearings on her confirmation, etc.)

Second, there was nothing in the decision that even remotely "removed" criminal liability. As I just explained, she merely stated a completely incidental, off-the-cuff, footnoted recognition that the plain language of the UIGEA exempts financial institutions from criminal liability. (They are subject to civil sanctions, though.) Since banks were not parties in the case, nothing that the judge should incidentally happen to say about them is of any legal significance.

Third is this business about "unlikely to be appealed." I have no idea where that comes from. The various governmental defendants cannot appeal--BECAUSE THEY WON! You can't appeal a decision that went in your favor. If the plaintiff appeals, then the government can seek the appellate court's simultaneous review of Judge Cooper's decision on standing--the one part of the case on which they got an adverse decision--but they cannot initiate the appeal. If he is referring to the plaintiff, I don't see how he gets to a conclusion that the case is "unlikely to be appealed," as Mr. Bernstein explicitly says in the press release, "we plan to appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals." Whichever side of the question of an appeal Mr. Krieger is addressing, he's wrong.

Mr. Krieger continues: "Most experts are of the opinion that the US Government will not appeal the decision that banks should be held criminally liable for something the industry insists they have no control over."

I have no idea which "experts" he polled to come to this conclusion, and he doesn't identify them, nor tell us how many there were, nor how big the majority was that constituted "most" of them. But this sentence again shows that Mr. Krieger is completely lost as to what this decision said and did.

As I explained, the government cannot appeal the case, even if it wanted to, because it WON. So apparently Mr. Krieger's panel of alleged "experts" are a little confused about the single most fundamental point of appellate law: that only the loser can file an appeal. (Kind of makes you wonder just how they came to be regarded as "experts," doesn't it?)

Second, the sentence quoted is in direct contradiction to the first sentence of his blog post. There he said, erroneously, that the court ruled that banks could not be found criminally liable under the UIGEA. Now, however, he is saying that the government "will not appeal the decision that banks should be held criminally liable." Uh, well, which is it, Mr. Krieger?

I'm not the first to point out Mr. Krieger's obvious factual error about which court issued the ruling, and the highly questionable claim about the decision allegedly absolving banks of criminal liability; see, e.g.,, which I found via I mention this because the first of these, cheer_dad's blog, says that he posted a comment on Mr. Krieger's blog about his concerns. But as of this afternoon, no comments show up there. Since he did put up another new post yesterday (Thursday, March 13), it makes me wonder whether he is deliberately not posting comments critical of his statements.

Cheer_dad is also careful to add, "Do NOT construe my comments as criticism of Lou Krieger who I greatly admire and respect. I believe he has reported consistently and kept the poker blogging community very well informed on the subject of the fight against the UIGEA. I for one am grateful." Well, readers may feel free to construe my comments as criticism of Lou Krieger for sloppy reporting, at least in this instance. The more prominent one's place in the poker community, the more careful one should be in getting the basic facts right, and on that count he failed miserably here.

Poker News also errs

Haley Hintze, reporting for Poker News, also got at least one thing about the relevant law wrong, I believe. (See She writes, "However, iMEGA was granted legal standing as an association acting on behalf of members potentially affected by UIGEA implementation, allowing the group to continue to appeal or possibly file a new action against the law on different grounds."

iMEGA can certainly file an appeal, but they could do so even if the decision had been that they do not have standing, so the implication that their right to appeal is only preserved because of how the judge ruled on the question of standing is just plain wrong.

I don't know where she gets the last part of her assertion (about possibly filing a new action on different grounds), but I believe it is in error. I don't claim expertise in federal procedure, but my understanding is that iMEGA would be unlikely to be able to bring a new claim. The general rule is that you have to bundle all of your complaints into one lawsuit. If you fail to recognize and state a possible cause of action in your original suit, and the case gets dismissed, you're out of luck; you can't come back later against the same defendants with different legal theories asking for the same remedy. This makes perfect sense, as a protective measure for defendants. It's very expensive to defend onesself against civil suits, and it would also be a waste of court resources if a plaintiff were able to bring a series of suits, each making one legal claim. Rather, a plaintiff gets one shot at the defendants, and if he neglects to name a cause of action, tough, it's his own fault, and he doesn't get a second bite at the apple. If Ms. Hintze has specific grounds for thinking that this general rule will not apply to this case, I'd be interested in hearing about it, though I think it's more likely that she just doesn't understand general principles of court procedure.

Ms. Hintze also makes a small error in this sentence: "In a footnote to the dismissal of one of iMEGA's motions, a states-rights challenge based on the Tenth Amendment, Judge Cooper noted that 'UIGEA exempts purely financial entities from criminal liability.'" Actually, this was in a footnote to the ruling on the plaintiff's claim under the ex post facto clause of the Constutition, not the Tenth Amendment claim.

Those small points aside, the Poker News story gets the general gist and most of the details of the case right, and, to its credit, expresses some skepticism about the iMEGA press release.


The iMEGA suit was, in my opinion, ill-founded. The claims it made were weak and never had much chance of prevailing. The court's decision seems to be very solid and well-grounded in precedential case law. For iMEGA to claim this decision as a victory is pure face-saving spin. It was, in fact, a thorough and well-deserved legal ass-kicking. Shame on Lou Krieger for buying their BS hook, line, and sinker, and for additionally screwing up the facts in the process.

I have emailed iMEGA, Mr. Krieger, and Ms. Hintze with links to this post, inviting their responses. If I get any, I will post them here as an addendum.

Addendum, March 15, 2008

I decided to do a Google blog search to see what others have been writing about this decision. Goodness gracious, the bloggers and secondary poker "news" sources of the world just have no clue about basic legal precepts.

Probably the error repeated most often (e.g., here: is that the judge's ruling "did give the group legal standing to challenge the law in an appellate court." No, no, no. iMEGA could file an appeal even if the court had ruled that they did not have legal standing to bring the suit originally. Appeal of an unfavorable trial-court decision is a matter of statutory right in virtually every civil case. It doesn't matter whether the adverse decision is that you didn't have standing, that the facts didn't support your case, or that the law was against you--no matter what the grounds for the decision going against you, you can appeal.

An anonymous poster at wrote that the judge said "she could not rule on the constitutional issues." Huh??? She did rule on the constitutional issues, as would have been apparent if this writer had bothered to read the decision. How can so many people post facts and opinions without even taking the time to read the core material?

The same author claims that the court ruled that "neither does it [the UIGEA] violate World Trade Organisation rules." Not quite. The judge simply noted that federal law prohibits private individuals and organizations from bringing suits alleging violations of WTO agreements. As an aside, she noted that it doesn't matter whether the UIGEA is inconsistent with WTO agreements, because in the case of a conflict, the statute's provisions would have to be held to trump the WTO agreements. (I don't claim to know whether that is actually an accurate statement of the law, but that's what the court said.)

Here's a poker blogger who simply stole Lou Krieger's post, without any attribution, and presented it as his own: He's a thief and a plagiarist. Probably cheats at poker, too, given those personal ethics.

Christopher Costigan, over at, is just friggin' crazy about the court decision. See his breathless enthusiasm at He calls the decision a "major victory" and "great news." He is either completely clueless or a protege of Jon Lovitz's "Pathological Liar" character.

Here's a new flash, folks: Just because you read something in the internet doesn't mean it's true. Shocking, I know, but you need to be told this sooner or later. Better it come from a friend like me, no?

Addendum, March 17, 2008

Mr. Krieger sent me this email today:

Thanks for your email and link to your site. If you go back to my blog you'll see that's I've published a correction to my factual errors, a link to your post, along with a significant portion of your analysis of the iMEGA spin on Judge Cooper's decision.

I would have gotten back to you earlier, but I wanted to see if I received any other note's on this post (I did), plus I was involved in a bicycling event over the weekend and had to finish up the editing for Poker Player Newspaper. As long as you keep the discourse civil--which you did--critique and criticism are always welcome.

Thanks for reading my blog. Now that I know of it, I'll read yours in the future too.

Lou Krieger


The new post at his blog referenced above is at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street!

(CAUTION: Zero poker content ahead. Nothing to see here, really. Move along, move along.)

OK, I don't actually live on Mulberry Street (just off Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard, if anybody cares), and what just happened doesn't really compare with what Dr. Seuss's little storyteller experienced, but it's the most exciting thing around here in a while anyway.

Mere minutes ago I heard a tremendous CRASH outside my second-floor apartment, went to the window, and saw what you see in the video here. A truck that always parks in that spot apparently did one of those mistaking-the-accelerator-for-the-brake things and zoomed into the maintenance shed, breaking a water main and the boiler. (So no hot water for a while, I'm guessing.) Now the fire department is here (don't really know why), and it's all a big mess. The video is shot out of my window--didn't even have to step outside, that's how close it is to me. When there's not vehicles crashing into buildings, I have what is certifiably the worst view in the whole apartment complex. When there is crashing, though, I've got the front-row seat.

This was also a minor technical triumph for me. I took two separate video clips (because my ancient camera can't zoom while filming), converted them to a format that Windows Movie Maker could recognize, then used WMM to merge them into one clip, then posted it here without first putting it on YouTube with an embed link (which is how I've done all previous videos). The last two things are both new for me. Slowly, one step at a time, I'm emerging into the 21st century, only a few years behind the rest of the world.

On my non-iPod

I suppose that my touch of eclecticism will be revealed here, because it's hard to think of three musicians with syles more diverse than these most recent additions to my MP3 player.

In the Hollywood weeks of "American Idol" this season, a couple of performers did songs from Queen, and it triggered nostalgia for the group. After all, their heyday was when I was in high school, and I think most people share the common experience that the music that's new and fresh in those years stays with you permanently. (I deeply resent radio stations that brand this stuff as "oldies." Harumph!)

This is among the most engaging music I've ever heard. If you can't feel moved by "Somebody to Love" or "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy," then you have no heart. If you don't puzzle over the phantasmagorical lyrics of "Bohemian Rhapsody," ("Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango"), then you're just not paying attention. If you don't involuntarily smile at the lyrics to "Fat-Bottomed Girls" or "Don't Stop Me Now" ("I'm burning through the skies, two hundred degrees, that's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit"), then you have no sense of humor. If you can't feel awake and alive while rocking out to "Another One Bites the Dust" or "We Will Rock You," then you're, well, dead.

Next up is the polar opposite, in terms of mood. I bought a Michael Hoppe album a couple of years ago and loved it. Listened to it a zillion times. But, oddly, it never dawned on me that he might have other similar stuff that I would like. A few weeks back, that notion did finally occur to me, and he did, in fact, have other CDs that I thought would be worth trying--and they're nearly as good as the first one (which was cello music). Some would call his genre "easy listening" or maybe "new age," but I think it's closer to genuinely classical. Although more modern in sensibility, it reminds me most of the kind of things that I believe Robert Schumann or Franz Schubert or Felix Mendelssohn would write, were they living today. That may be giving a bit too much credit to Hoppe, since his music doesn't have quite that level of rich complexity, but it at least points you in the right direction. Extremely mellow, relaxing stuff, it is, and very, very beautiful.

Finally, we veer into the genre of world music. Maybe a month ago the Australian parliament gave a formal apology to the "Stolen Generations," a shameful, tragic period in imperialistic history. (See Also try to rent "Rabbit-Proof Fence" from Netflix or your local video store, for a moving, true story from that era.) I was listening to the BBC that night, and as part of their coverage of the apology, they interviewed Archie Roach, a musician that I had never heard of before. He was part of the stolen ones, and it caused horrendous havoc in his life, which you can read about here: He snapped out of his personal hell eventually, though, and became a talented singer/songwriter. The BBC report included part of his most famous song, "Took the Children Away," and I found it so hauntingly lovely that I ordered the above two CDs ("Charcoal Lane" and "Jamu Dreaming") from as soon as I got home, and have not regretted it.

I'm cheating a bit by including them here, because I've found that they're not really great poker music--and when I started this occasional series of music-related posts, I promised that's what I would stick to. But he is so little known here, and so deserves to be heard more widely, that I'm giving this little plug. Give him a try, why dontcha? The sampling feature on Amazon makes it really easy.

Poker gems, #95

Todd Brunson, in Card Player magazine column, March 12, 2008 (vol. 21, #5), p. 60, on his annual trip to Tunica, Mississippi, for the big tournament series there:

I've played the main event four or five times. It seems that every tournament, people have spent the whole year thinking of the stupidest plays they can make, and then they wait for me.

"You don't have to explain"

Harrah's last night. I have the dealer button. The guy on my left is new to the table. After the flop, we're all waiting for him. It's not easy to tell from his body language whether he's thinking about what to do or drifting in space, unaware that it's his turn.

Finally he seems to sense that everybody is watching him, so he turns to the dealer and asks, "Is it my turn?"

The dealer doesn't just say "yes," but takes the time to point to the button, and explain, "After the flop, the person to the left of that button will always go first."

The player takes offense at this, gets into a bit of a huff, and says, "You don't have to explain everything to me. This isn't my first time."

Well, dude, if you can't figure out that it's your turn from the fact that the button is one space to your right, then, yeah, the dealer does need to explain that to you.

There's no shame in not knowing something. There is shame, however, in pretending that you understand something when you really don't.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Of leaky roofs and muscle aches

There's an old joke about a guy whose wife nags him to fix the leak in the roof. If she mentions it while the water is pouring in, he says, "Well, I can't very well fix it now, with the rain coming down!" If she bugs him about it between storms, he says, "It's not leaking now, is it?"

(Hence the photo above.)

I have a sore muscle in my shoulder, or, more specifically, over the right shoulder blade. It's the muscle called the "infraspinatus," because it sits just below the ridge of bone, or "spine," of the scapula (the shoulder blade). You can see where it is in this photo (so that if you ever run into me, you'll know just where to offer to massage):

I don't know exactly what's wrong with my infraspinatus, but it hurts much of the time. It's been that way for several years now. It gets worse when I type a lot--just a nasty, dull, nagging, deep ache that distracts me from whatever else I'm trying to focus on.

The thing is, I don't have to live with this. A few years ago my doctor referred me to a very sharp physical therapist, who gave me a series of exercises to do. They're incredibly boring, but if I dedicate ten minutes twice a day to doing them, the pain goes away and stays away completely. It's like a miracle cure.

The problem is that the reward/punishment isn't immediate. When I'm hurting, it takes a couple of weeks of exercises before the pain stops, and when I'm feeling good and stop doing the exercises, it takes a couple of weeks before the pain comes back.

This makes it hard for me to maintain the motivation to do these stupid exercises. 20 minutes a day doesn't seem like much when it brings the promise of the rest of my 24 hours being pain-free. But the fact is that I can get away without doing them for quite a while without any obvious detriment. Sadly, though, as I start making excuses for skipping the exercises, the excuses get flimsier and flimsier, until I'm just not doing any exercising at all. And after a while, the pain comes back. Then I curse myself for not having kept it up, and I have to live with the pain for a couple of weeks while I reinstitute my daily discipline.

Poker is like that. I'm running good, outplaying opponents, winning most days, with only an occasional small loss as punctuation. I feel invincible, like this is the easiest way anybody has ever invented to make a living.

The cockiness makes me sloppy. I got lucky and hit a straight draw or flush draw for a big pot, and start to believe, against all evidence, that that will happen every time. So I start chasing when the pot odds aren't right, or when I suspect that even if I hit the draw I may be behind. I can also start succumbing to what Daniel Negreanu calls "fancy play syndrome," trying to play lots of tricky, disguised hands, rather than just make them an occasional variation on my usual tight-aggressive approach to the game. Or instead of playing a big hand in a straightforward way, I try to slow-play, and end up trapping myself. I get to thinking that I'm not playing cards, I'm playing people, and I'm smart enough to outplay them--until they turn over the best hand, at which point it is all about the cards.

I start to book losing sessions. I get depressed. I think that this is the stupidest, hardest way one could possible try to earn a living. I don't like going out the door to the poker rooms, because I sense I'm going to lose before I even start.

But after there has been enough pain, after I've been punished sufficiently for my bad calls, for my ill-advised bluffs, for my tricky plays that went unappreciated and unrewarded by the troglodytes I'm playing with, I realize what I have to do. I have to be disciplined again. I have to sit patiently, like the snake in its hole just waiting for the mouse to wander by unaware. I have to fold almost everything out of position, and the junk hands even with position. I have to be willing to abandon ship when I think I'm beat in a hand. I have to pick my spots carefully. I have to avoid coin flips for large pots, because with a little patience I can get the same chips in with a much greater statistical lead.

Just as importantly, I have to dedicate time to studying. I have literally dozens of poker books yet unread on my shelf--more unread than read, in fact, though I'm embarrassed to admit it. I include watching televised poker as part of my studying, because if I really pay attention to analyzing why the players are making particular decisions, I genuinely can learn a lot. These things I tend to set aside when I'm winning, because who needs them? I know how to play already, for heaven's sake--why waste time reading when I could be making money at the tables?

But when the rain comes, when the pain comes, when the losses come, I get reminded of what I haven't been doing. Of course, it's a lot easier to avoid going out to play when I've been hammered for five sessions in a row, so there is an element of avoidance to my study. Still, reading always manages to enlighten me on a point or two, and it slowly starts to re-energize my desire to go try to implement something new I've learned. The good books also pound back into my head the need to be focused and disciplined and thoughtful about how I play, rather than just counting on luck and/or being a little better than my average opponent.

When I boil it down, I have two principal advantages over most of the tourists I play against: (1) I'm more patient, because I'm here all the time, rather than for just a few days; I don't need to cram in as much fun playing and as many hands as I can before the trip is over, or put in insanely long sessions before the plane leaves. (2) Analytical ability. Whether by genetics or upbringing/training or both, I'm just habitually analytical about everything, always thinking and questioning and trying to understand, to unroot inconsistencies and fill voids in my knowledge of how the world works. This is an indispensible tool at the poker table. When I'm on my game, I'm constantly asking myself an endless series of questions. Why did he bet there? Why so much? What does his little speech there mean? Why does he look nervous? Why did he act so fast? Etc.

Reading good poker books strengthens this mental muscle. Even if I don't implement any particular bit of insight in the immediate aftermath of reading a good chapter or two, the exercise of dissecting the author's points and arguments and filing them away makes my general analytical ability at the table better and stronger.

When I'm off my game, it's invariably because I've decided, consciously or unconsciouly, to try to tackle poker without one or both of my main two advantages. It's not hard to predict the results.

I suppose that I've gone through at least as many cycles of up/down with poker as I have with pain/relief in my shoulder. Each time I vow to myself that it will be the last, that this time I'll stick with doing what I know keeps me winning, keeps me pain-free. I'll do my damn exercises, even when they bore me and I feel I have better things to do with that 20 minutes. I'll keep up with reading and studying, seeing it not as costing me time away from the table, but as an investment in keeping the hourly rate high when I do play. I'll play the way that a couple of years of evidence has shown keeps me winning when I stick to it.

But then the pain stops. It won't matter if I skip my exercises just today. The sun comes out, and who wants to work on the roof when it's a beautiful day and there's playing to be done? I'm on a hot poker streak, and that rather boring book will still be there to be read tomorrow, after I've pocketed another nice win or two. I'll get to it then--really I will. I promise.

Hey, is that a rain cloud I see in the sky?

Poker Grump, celebrity impersonator

I had thought my days as a celebrity impersonator were over after my bad rendition of Macaulay Culkin (see Apparently not.

When I was at the Tuscany last week (see, one player said that I reminded him of Joe Pantoliano ("Joey Pants"). He was so sure of it that he said, "You must get that all the time." Uh, no, actually never before. But who knows? Maybe he's on to something. You be the judge:

Actually, come to think of it, that picture makes me look a little like uber-blogger, Dr. Pauly, no?

Anyway, I brushed off the Joey Pants thing as a fluke. But then tonight at the Rio another stranger told me that I look like David Cross. This one, I think, has a little more merit to it:

What do you think, readers? Any other nominations, while we're on the subject?

Blast from the past

I was playing at the Rio tonight. A new player sits down at the far end of the table from me. I think he looks sort of familiar, but I think that a lot, and usually it's just a faulty memory. After all, when you play poker with maybe 100 new people every week, after a while the faces start melding together in one's brain. Some look familiar even though they're actually not (like deja vu), others I've seen several times before but they haven't registered. So I didn't put any mental energy into figuring out whether this flash of memory was real or not.

But after a while, the new guy asks whether my name is Paul. It's not, but he kept looking at me as if he knew me better than I knew him. Then followed up the question by asking whether I live or lived in Minnesota. This catches me off-guard. Yes, I moved from there almost two years ago now. Then he not only asks whether I lived in St. Paul, but names a specific shopping complex that he thinks I was near. That's seriously freaky, when you're not expecting it.

Fortunately, though, my brain has just enough functioning cells left to put a few facts and wisps of memory together and come up with the conclusion that this is a guy I met in a home poker game in Minnesota maybe three years ago, when I was just starting out. He confirmed that conclusion. In fact, it was his house, and he had been the one that invited me, after we had met while at the same table in a Party Poker tournament. (Party Poker used to display one's city and state, so it was easy to make some connections.)

Here's the strange part (or at least I think so): I've only been to one home poker game. Ever. And here I am some 1800 miles away from there, and the guy that invited me is at the table with me. If I remember his play correctly, he has definitely gotten better at the game (as have I, fortunately). I left my one home game experience up maybe $100 for the night, and was looking forward to doing it again. I didn't get invited back, and have always kind of wondered whether it was because I won, or maybe I offended somebody inadvertantly, or who knows what? Tonight I learned that the game kind of broke up soon after my one time there.

Anyway, Rob, nice to run into you again. I thank you again for the kindness of being the only person ever to invite me over for poker. If I see you at the Vegas tables again, I'll try to be better at remembering the face!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Full Tilt on double secret probation?

Michael Craig reports a brilliant idea for an advertisement (

Last fall, I talked with some people at Full Tilt about developing an
educational product. My main idea was for a video advertisement for the product.
The ad would be set at some kind of academic gathering – caps and gowns,
old-time professorial types. And there in the center would be Howard Lederer, as
the “dean” of this institution. One of the others would say, “You certainly have
your hands full with some of these students.” Cut to scenes lifted from Animal
House, but with Full Tilt pros: Lindgren and Ivey hitting golf balls through
windows, Gavin Smith riding his motorcycle up a flight of stairs, Gus Hansen
hauling a ladder to the sorority house window, Matusow leading a horse through a
deserted courtyard at night, etc.

The payoff would be Howard
saying, “Students? That’s the faculty.”

Given recent revelations, he might also need to include a shot of one or two of the FTP "faculty" peeking at others' papers during exams (see, e.g.,;;

But other than that, it's a great concept. Too bad the powers that be at Full Tilt apparently didn't see the value in it.

Anti-poker hypocrite

My first thought upon hearing today that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was allegedly involved with a prostitution ring was, "Wasn't he involved in prosecuting online gambling sites?"

A little online investigation confirmed my hazy memory. He was instrumental, e.g., in getting PayPal to stop accepting money transfers to fund online gambling accounts, via threats of prosecution. (See

When caught paying big money for prostitutes, however, he refers to it as "a private matter." (See

Strangely, I agree with him. I don't think prostitution should be illegal. The goverment, in my view, has no legitimate role in policing who one chooses to have sexual relations with.

But why doesn't he similarly view playing poker from one's bedroom as "a private matter"? Because he's a fucking hypocrite, that's why--and I mean that quite literally. He will presumably think that he should not be prosecuted for renting a hotel room and a hooker, because it's "a private matter," not suitable for prosecutorial interference. At the same time, he wants to reserve the right to bash down your door and throw you in the can for daring to defy the community standards of decency by playing a $5 sit-and-go tournament on Poker Stars to relax before you go to bed. Because that's no "private matter," in his moralizing, self-righteous, politically ambitious, roving eyes. No, you're a threat to the decency of society and must be stopped.

I was going to rant further along these lines, but I see that the entites at Wicked Chops Poker already said about what I had in mind to write, so I'll just quote them (

Playing online poker, evil.

Scoring yourself an expensive ho when you're a self-righteous, moral
crusading married father of three, good.

At least that's what New York Governor and thorn-in-the-ass of the
online gambling industry Eliot Spitzer, aka Client 9, was thinking on
February 13 when he contacted Emperors Club VIP to arrange a meeting in a
Washington hotel with a high-priced prostitute named Kristin (or Kristen), who
we hear was "an American, petite, pretty brunette, about 5'5" and 105

That about says it all.

It's been said that there's nothing scarier than a law-and-order liberal. Eliot Spitzer proved that in spades (bad pun intended) when he was attorney general of New York, muscling all sorts of legitimate businesses and business practices for his own political aggrandizement. Now that he's governor, he makes the point even more forcefully--though in a way he didn't exactly intend.