Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guess the casino, #990

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

Answer: Palms

Quads on Bodog is easy--if you don't fold

This was an all-in pre-flop situation, on which I chose to pass.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

--John Greenleaf Whittier

Friday, September 23, 2011

How can you not like Gary Johnson?

[Note: On November 21, 2011, I accidentally deleted this post while doing some blog clean-up. What follows is reposted from a Google cache of the original that I found. I'm not sure links and formatting will be right, but at least the main content is there. The three comments are, I'm afraid, lost to the ether. Google's cache didn't save them.]

The more I learn about Gary Johnson, the more I like him. In fact, the more I learn about him, the more I find myself thinking, "How could anybody possibly prefer any other presidential candidate to him?"

If you're a regular reader, you already know that no candidate for any office has been more attentive to poker players than Johnson. As mentioned in a previous post, here, he has gone out of his way to embrace the freedom to play online poker as an issue. (Did you see any other presidential candidates at the WSOP to meet players? Didn't think so.) But there is much more to the man and the candidacy than that.

The issue I consider to be most critical to the nation these days is federal spending. We are heading over a precipice with the foot firmly on the gas pedal, like Thelma and Louise. Obama clearly cares not one whit about this. Oh, he'll occasionally say things about how the current course is "unsustainable," but his policies and proposals just continue to make things worse. Why, just this week he released a budget document with recommendations for the Congressional committee tasked with finding spending cuts. The proposal in it would increase the federal debt by another 7.5 trillion dollars, and he had the gall to title it, "Living Within Our Means." This is not a man who can be taken seriously. He's a joke, an embarrassment. Worse than that, he's a serious menace to the long-term economic vitality of the United States.

Even the Republicans are, for the most part, not telling the populace the truth about how dire the fiscal situation is--about how close we are to having the cost of borrowing skyrocket over a very short period of time, and how devastating that will be to the economy. Even Paul Ryan's plan merely slows down the rate of increase, rather than actually cutting spending. It is the bare minimum in terms of what can be considered a serious proposal, but it was immediately attacked by Obama, most other Democrats, and even many Republicans as being too radical. The only ones who really take the matter seriously are Johnson and Ron Paul. Paul has a bigger following, but Johnson is far more electable. He is also younger, healthier, more pragmatic, less doctrinaire, less shrill, and has a ton more executive experience.

I consider the fiscal situation to be so grim that I am, for the foreseeable future, going to be effectively a single-subject voter. Johnson's willingness to take a meat cleaver to the federal government and budget should be enough to win over Tea Party types, if they would notice him. Conservatives should be dazzled by his commitment to the Constitution, limited government, federalism, low taxes, and free markets. His bona fides on these subjects at least match, if not surpass, those of the clowns of the Palin/Bachmann/Perry lineage.

But even you liberals out there should find much to like about Johnson. He is far more committed to ending the current batch of wars than Obama is. He is better than Obama on civil rights, gay rights, ending the war on marijuana, and immigration. He's pro-choice and against the death penalty. Unlike most Republican candidates, he accepts the scientific consensus on evolution and global warming.

If we go past the issues to the question of personality, he's a breath of fresh air. I am sick to death of politicians who give slick, prepared, careful answers, desperate not to offend any possible constituency, without ever telling the real truth. It's insulting and demeaning. It infantilizes citizens, essentially telling them, a la Jack Nicholson, "You can't handle the truth!"

Three pieces I've read about Johnson just in the past 24 hours (which were the immediate impetus for writing this post) add to my belief that he will be different. First, a blogger for The Economist talks about Johnson's "apparent inability to bullshit," his "indifference to optics," and says that he is both "guileless" and "dispositionally allergic to pandering."

That post pointed me to a much longer profile in GQ magazine. After spending several full days on the road with Johnson, reporter Lisa DePaulo concludes, "There is nothing he will not answer, nothing he will not share.... Johnson is fundamentally incapable of bullshitting, which is one of the many, many things that make him so unusual for a presidential candidate."

The third profile I read today is in Outdoor Online. As suits its readership, this one emphasizes Johnson's enthusiasm for extreme sports. But along the way, their reporter, too, couldn't help but notice the candidate's genuineness:
Indeed, Johnson maintains an almost strident disregard for the mix of showmanship and rehearsed modesty mandated by modern politics. It’s the substance of his ideas that matters, he insists, not the style. I asked him if he’d ever considered getting a media coach. “No,” he said. “Then people wouldn’t be seeing me. They’d be seeing someone else’s idea of me.”

...Johnson’s eight years [as governor of New Mexico] were scandal-free. He lowered taxes 14 times, built a $1 billion budget surplus, and departed the governor’s mansion with a favorability rating near 60 percent. “I wanted to know if you could run an honest campaign, get elected as an honest person, and stay honest in office,” Johnson told me. “And I felt that I did that.”
Oh, and did I mention that he strongly supports your right to play poker from home in your underwear?

What's not to like?

Cheater unreliable on who's cheating

I despise the utter lack of personal integrity of Richard Marcus (as detailed here and other posts), but I still subscribe to his blog's RSS feed because he sometimes points to news items about casino and/or poker cheating stories that I would otherwise miss.

Today he finally got around to doing a post about the Full Tilt Poker mess (a very nice summary of which you can read here from Shamus). It triggered a memory for me--hadn't Marcus previously endorsed FTP as one of the safest poker sites in the industry?

Yep, he had. A little searching led me to this post from January 8, 2010. Responding to the Brian Townsend/Brian Hasting allegations about improper sharing of mined hand data, Marcus says:
But in some cases, such as Full Tilt's, the online poker site in question becomes safer immediately after a cheating scam breaks. That's because the operators and administrators start cleaning up their act right away. See what I mean? What I'm saying is that it takes an online poker black eye to improve the overall poker complexion. So yes, as of now Full Tilt merits being rated number 9 on my oonline [sic] poker safety ratings list.
The search also incidentally led me to this forgotten piece of wisdom from Marcus (April 15, 2009):
Yep, believe it or not and despite all the scandals, UltimateBet has shown enough recent cheat-free statistics to make Richard Marcus's top-10 anti-online poker cheat ratings list.
So when Richard Marcus endorses an online gaming site as safe and secure, you might want to take the occasion to make a hasty withdrawal.

Guess the casino, #989

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

Answer: Sahara

That quads thing on Bodog works in stud, too

Tony has been bugging me to play with him on Bodog, but it's not easy, because our schedules our different, there is no "find player" feature, and he prefers to play PLO8. But tonight I saw the rare sight of one of the Bodog stud/8 SNG tables with a couple of people waiting in it, so I joined and put a note on Twitter hoping Tony was watching. He was, so we played.

In one of the early hands, I started with split kings, improved to two pair on 4th, full house on 5th, and quads on 7th, at which point I still had several players raising into me. Of course, I had to split this nice pot with some nimrod (the guy with the cat picture) who made a low, which seems like a complete miscarriage of justice.

When that game ended, I went to my usual pair of no-limit hold'em SNGs. In the first, just a few hands in, this happened:

And a few minutes later, this happened:

It's not quads, but it's the first time I can remember playing two tables and being dealt aces and kings simultaneously. (I won both hands.)

It's all skill, I tell you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Really, Borgata?

I just read this post from my friend Josie. She had been planning to play in her first-ever World Poker Tour tournament at Borgata. She arranged for time off work and somebody to care for her son, then flew from Boston just for the event. Got to Borgata, found that she couldn't register for the tournament without getting a Borgata player's card, and couldn't get a player's card because their own internal policy wouldn't accept her official Massachusetts-issued ID card (she doesn't have a driver's license). Nobody she talked to would even consider making an exception.

The Borgata's web page for the tournament series is here. It does warn people that a valid ID is required, but then specifies, "Drivers License, Non-drivers License, Domestic or Foreign Passports are acceptable forms of valid ID." The phrase "Non-drivers License" is pretty silly, because you don't get a license to be a non-driver, but surely what they meant was a state-issued ID card issued for those who choose not to get a driver's license. Which is exactly what Josie had.

(If I'm reading between the lines correctly on Josie's post, the state formerly issued ID cards without expiration dates, but have more recently changed to issuing ones with expiration dates. She still had the old style, unaware of any need to update.)

So the Borgata has a customer standing there wanting to hand them $3500. Instead of taking the money with a smile and a "thank you," they say, "Nope. Sorry. Our policy book says that we don't recognize that kind of Massachusetts-issued ID card. We only take the other kind of Massachusetts-issued ID card. Of course this policy isn't important enough that we would bother to inform you in advance about it. Now please leave before we have security throw you and your obviously inferior and unacceptably pathetic identification out the side door."

Worse, their corporate attitude toward customer service is so shitty that nobody in the chain of command would step back, look at the policy, realize that as applied to this particular situation it was absurd, pointless, and likely to result in hurt feelings and terrible PR, and then on that basis authorize a temporary exception so that they didn't unnecessarily piss off a customer, who would then tell all her friends in Boston and on the internet what a shitty place Borgata is if you want to play poker.

I've heard of idiotic things that casinos manage to do, but this ranks right up there with the best (or worst) of them.

I'm going to see if any friends of friends know somebody in charge at the Borgata poker room, in the hopes of getting some sort of on-the-record explanation for why they would treat a potential customer/player so shabbily.

Guess the casino, #988

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

Answer: Luxor

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Exclusive: Interview with Howard Lederer

I'm sure you've all heard the news about the U.S. Attorney in New York amending the Black Friday civil complaint to include Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Rafe Furst, alleging that they basically defrauded Full Tilt Poker players out of millions of dollars. (If not, see here for a nice digest of links and opinions.)

By a coincidence almost too freakish to believe, earlier this afternoon I ran into Lederer. I had just parked my car at the bank and was heading inside, when he was coming out. He had a garbage bag stuffed full of something hoisted over his shoulder. I only realized what was inside when a couple of $100 bills fluttered out of the top.

He appeared not to notice. I picked them up before the wind could catch them, and turned to follow him so I could return them. (Returning money to its rightful owner--what a concept!) I caught up to him just as he was opening the tailgate on his Escalade--which allowed me to see that the heavy bag on his shoulder was joining three others just like it. I can't swear that they were all stuffed full of cash, but one of them had tipped over and two wrapped bundles of Benjamins had spilled out.

"Here--you dropped these," I said as I handed him the currency.

He looked around both directions, as if wondering if he were on camera, before accepting them and muttering thanks.

"You're Howard Lederer, aren't you?"

His face clouded with suspicion. "You with the government? You got some papers to serve on me or something?"

"No, no. Just a poker player going into the bank to make a deposit. I've seen you on TV."

"Oh, OK. Sorry. I'm a little jumpy these days."

"Yeah," I replied sympathetically. "I can understand that. I follow the news."

There was an awkward silence. But I realized that I was in a unique position to get a reaction from him, when every news source reporting the story yesterday had said that calls were not returned or he was unavailable for comment. "So is it true what they were saying about you in the press yesterday?"

I assumed he'd just give me a "no comment." But he looked more tired and resigned than defiant. After thinking for a few seconds, he responded, "Mistakes were made."

"I understand that you're probably under advice from your lawyers not to say anything to anyone. But I'm just a guy here. I'm just wondering on a personal level what you're going to do."

He seemed to let down his guard a little. "Well, we had a conference call yesterday. To tell you the truth, we decided that at this point our best bet is hoping that that satellite crashes down on Preet Bharara."

He cracked a smile, but I couldn't tell if it was humorous or hopeful.

I told him, "I just heard on the news a few minutes ago that scientists were pretty sure it wouldn't hit the East Coast."

"Damn," he said, under his breath.

I asked, "Is there a Plan B?"

He straightened up, seeming to revert to his prepared defensive position: "We expect to be able to issue an official statement soon."

I was really tempted to say, "I've heard that before," but decided to pass.

"So I also heard that the Epic Poker League Standards Committee met and has suspended you. That's gotta hurt."

He snorted. "Yeah, like that's what I'm most worried about today."

I asked him, "Have you been following how the poker media has responded to all of this?"

"Of course. I have Twitter and Facebook like everybody else. I haven't said anything, but I see the cruel things people are saying. I mean, did you see all those smartasses trying to be funny with 'What FTP stands for' and 'Rejected FTP slogans'? That was just disgusting."

"Yeah, people can be real dicks sometimes," I answered, hoping that I wasn't blushing. He couldn't have known--and I didn't tell him--that I may have been responsible for more of those than anybody else.

I obviously had had no chance to prepare for such an encounter, and I was running out of things to say. "What's your next move?"

He paused. "Look, I don't know you. I really can't be talking about this stuff. Besides, I've got a plane--I mean, I have places I have to be."

It was only with that slip of the tongue that I noticed sticking out of his shirt pocket a passport and what looked like an airline ticket. He noticed my eyes shifting, and reached to stuff these items further down, but I'm pretty sure I caught a glimpse of the words "de Janeiro" just before the ticket disappeared from view.

"OK, I understand. Have a nice fligh--er, a nice day, if that's possible at this point."

"Thanks," he replied, and turned to go. He still had the two $100s in his hand. He took just one step before apparently having a thought.

"Did you play on Full Tilt?"

"Yeah," I said. "Just small-stakes stuff."

"How much did you have stuck on there when things went, y'know, downhill?"

"Not a lot. Less than you've got in your hand there."

He reached his hand out to me with the bills. "Here. Take this. I'm really sorry about how it all went down."

"Yeah, me too, " I said. "I liked playing there. And thanks."

"No problem. Take it easy. And please--don't tell anyone you saw me."

"No, sir--I promise."

He climbed into the driver's seat and sped off.

Yeah, so I lied and broke my promise to him. It seemed fitting, somehow.

Guess the casino, #987

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

Answer: Aria

What was I just saying about quads?

Shoulda waited a few hours before doing that post. This was all in on the flop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What's in a screen name? #35

I like the attitude, even if I'm unconvinced of the factual accuracy.

Who said this game is hard?

For the last three weeks or so, I have been in a pattern of playing four single-table SNGs a day on Bodog--two at a time right after lunch (I'm waiting for the tables to fill as I write, in fact), and another two just before I go to bed. It has been fun, profitable, and mostly easy.

Yesterday was especially easy. In each of my two pairs of games, I scored a first and a second. This was in part due to having been dealt quads three times yesterday. The first was three 3s on the board, and another in my hand. I didn't know it was going to become a pattern, so I didn't screen-shot that one. But then these came up:

(The money was all in on the flop in that last one.)

I was also getting dealt the Deuce-Four ridiculously often over the last couple of days, which can only help. (Apparently I have been forgiven my indiscretion of several days ago.)

In that last hand, Bodog had swept my hole cards away a split second before I took the screen shot, but of course I had the 2-4 there. Why else would I have wanted to capture the moment? You see, even on those rare occasions when 2-4 fails to make the actual nuts, it still exerts a Jedi mind trick effect on opponents: "These are not the cards you're looking for." Fire one, two, or three barrels, and they'll fold.

Guess the casino, #986

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

Answer: Riviera

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guess the casino, #985

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

Answer: Flamingo

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Great photo quiz

Think you know Las Vegas? Check out this nice photo quiz:

I got 7 out of 22 right.

Guess the casino, #984

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

Answer: Caesars Palace

Thinking about probability

A reader questioned my approach to calculating the probability of getting quads on the board with the first four cards, in a comment on this post. His objection, in short, is that the cards held by the other players eliminate a bunch of ranks from being possible quads on the board. Since all four of some rank must still be left in the dealer's hand after the pitch, whatever cards are held by other players exclude those ranks from being eligible.

I started to write a reply comment, but it was getting too long. Besides, it's an objection that comes up once in a while when I do a probability calculation, so I thought it would be worth making a separate post about it. It's something that gave me headaches the first several times I pondered poker probability questions. It took me a while to see straight about it, so I'm not surprised that others find themselves confused.

Here's my answer:

Of course our calculation would change if we knew what other cards were. But if you're going to go down that road, then you're going to drive yourself crazy.

From the point of view of an omniscient being, there is no "probability" about this situation at all. The cards have been shuffled, the order of the deck is set, and we will either get quads on the board on the turn or we won't. It is predestined to either happen or not happen, so to speak of probability makes no sense. In fact, that is true from our non-omniscient perspective, too. It will either happen or it won't, and that determination was made when the deck was shuffled and cut. Asking how likely it is that quads will hit the board is sort of a confusing question, because it has already been settled whether it will happen. We just don't know the answer yet.

Think of it this way: Instead of asking, "What is the probability of getting quads on the board after ten hold'em hands have been dealt out?", instead ask it this way: "Of all the times that in a ten-handed game I know only my own two down cards (and they are not a pocket pair) how often, on average, will I see quads hit the board with the first four cards?" That is actually the question that I answered.

If you start adding assumptions or information about what other cards we know, then you're changing the question, so of course you'll get a different answer, all the way up to the ultimate case where you know the location of every one of the 52 cards, at which point you can ask whether quads will come, and the answer is either a definite yes or no.

Here's another way to think about it. Suppose that I'm alone in my apartment. I shuffle the deck, deal myself two cards, but leave the other 50 in the deck. I look down and see that I've dealt myself a 5 and a king. I take the next 18 cards and move them from the top of the deck to the bottom, without looking at any. Now, if I deal out the next four cards face up, what is the probability that they will be all of the same rank?

Of course, it doesn't really matter if I move 18 cards from the top of the deck to the bottom of the deck. Nor would it matter if, instead of doing that, I dealt those 18 cards two to each of nine imaginary players around my table. I could even burn them in my fireplace, and it wouldn't change the math. I could actually have nine friends (well, if I had nine friends, which is hard for a misanthrope) each pick up their two cards and look at them, not telling me what they are. None of it matters. The answer to the question remains the same, if the question is asked the way I suggested in the fifth paragraph above. In fact, I could deal myself two cards, throw away all but the last four cards in the deck, and ask about the probability that they will constitute quads. Or I could deal myself two cards, then pick four cards at random from the 50 remaining and ask the same question. It's all exactly the same, in terms of the math. It doesn't matter which four cards we pick, or in what order, and it doesn't matter what happens to any of the other 46 cards, as long as we don't know what they are. As soon as we know what they are, then we have changed the question we're asking, and the math must change accordingly.

(I'm feeling very tempted to go off on a tangent about Herr Schrodinger and his poor cat, but I think I'll refrain.)

This issue comes up with every probability calculation in poker, though we usually don't think about it. If you have four to a flush on the turn and ask the probability of making your flush on the river, you don't really stop to think that that is, in one way of looking at it, a nonsensical question--because the card that is destined to hit the board last is not going to change its spots; it's either one of your suit or it isn't. The more logical way of framing the question is, "Of all the times that I am in this situation, what percentage of them will, over the long haul, result in making my flush?" That way you're not assigning a "probability" to an outcome that has already been determined concretely (though we don't know which it is yet).

It's also akin to asking, in pre-ultrasound days, whether a baby about to be born is a boy or a girl. It's not 50% boy and 50% girl. It's one or the other. Yet we say, loosely, that the probability of it being a boy is 50%, and the probability of it being a girl is 50%. In reality, it's a very different question than asking, before I flip a fair coin, the probability that it will land tails, because it still could go either way. But the baby is either male or female already. We just don't know which. Our use of the word "probability" for both questions really disguises the fact that the situations are actually different. They sort of look the same superficially, but in one case the outcome has been set already and we just don't know what it is, while in the other the outcome still could be either one.

In spite of those two different realities, the math is identical. If it helps, you can phrase the question analogous to how you might ask about the outcome of the coin flip that has not yet occurred. To set the stage, we specify that after the deck is shuffled and cut, we will deal out ten standard two-card hold'em hands, then discard the top card, put out a flop, discard the next card, and put out fourth street. So the first four cards on the board will be the ones that were at positions 22, 23, 24, and 26 in the cut deck. Now here's our pre-shuffle question: "If I thoroughly shuffle this deck of cards, then do a cut at a random point, what is the probability that the resulting order will have four cards of the same rank at positions 22, 23, 24, and 26?" That's not quite the same question for which I did the math previously, because of the extra condition in the prior example that I knew two ranks that would not work--but it's close. And it gets around the mental stumbling block of asking about the "probability" of an event that has already either occurred or not occurred.

If you want to make the pre-shuffle question truly identical to the one I worked through with the first post, then do this: Remove a 10 and a 4 from a standard deck (representing the two hole cards I had when the situation actually came up). Now ask the question I posed in the previous paragraph. Bingo--the math I worked out gives you the answer.

Whew! That was long-winded. But I hope it clarifies why the answer I gave was correct mathematically, even though it quietly skipped over the problem of speaking of the probability that something will occur, when the real answer is simply either "yes" or "no."