Saturday, May 12, 2012

Unclear on the physics

So I'm reading along in the May 21 issue of Poker Player newspaper. There's a column on page 14 by somebody named A.C. Clark. His author's blurb says that he is in charge of the publication's Northwest advertising sales, and he's a high school teacher. Why that qualifies him to write a column about poker escapes me. He's also not qualified to write a column about physics, but he sorta tries to do that.

He says that he has recently felt very inspired by reading a book with an unusual title:
212: The Extra Degree, by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson, intrigues the mind while making perfect sense. At the core is the notion that water is hot at 211 degrees. Then, at 212 degrees, it boils. With boiling water comes steam, and steam can power a locomotive. Think of that...what a statement. Just simply raising the temperature of water one extra degree means the difference between something that is very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine. Point made: Small things can make major differences.
(Alterations in original.)

The former college physics major in me threw down the yellow penalty flag on this argument. It may make "perfect sense" to Mr. Clark, but it doesn't to anybody who understands classical physics.

It takes about 4.2 joules of energy to heat 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. So if you add 4.2 J of energy to 1 gram of water that is already at 99 C (I don't feel like doing the Fahrenheit conversion), you get 1 gram of water that is at 100 C, or 212 Fahrenheit. But you do not get steam.

To convert water in its liquid form to steam takes an enormous amount of energy, relative to the energy it takes to elevate its temperature. In order to convert 1 gram of water at its boiling point into steam, you have to add another 2260 J, or more than 500 times the amount of energy that it took to elevate the water's temperature from 99 C to 100 C. This is called the "heat of vaporization." That energy does not further elevate the temperature of the water; it goes into overcoming the molecular bonds that attract the water molecules to each other.

This is not to say that small changes never make big differences. They can. A sniper making a minute adjustment in his scope can mean the difference between hitting and missing a target 800 yards away. A boulder precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff requires only a small push to send it tumbling down toward the road below. And so on. But you have to pick such examples carefully, because for the most part small changes make only small differences; effecting large differences requires large changes. In the water example, you not only have to elevate the temperature that last one degree to get it to its boiling point, but you then have to apply more than 500 times that much energy again to create steam. That is no trivial matter.

To bring the point back to poker, as Mr. Clark attempts to do, you can't triple your hourly earning rate by, say, learning how to pick up one additional kind of tell in opponents. You can only expect a change in earning that is probably too small to detect against the background noise of variance. Still, small changes are important, because most us get better, if at all, only one baby step at a time, and they add up. But it's unrealistic to expect vast differences in poker outcomes to arise from small differences in input.

I suppose, though, that I should thank Mr. Clark for saving me the trouble of reading the book. If the authors so fundamentally misunderstand the workings of the system that they used as both their title and central teaching point, I can feel quite confident that the book is not worth reading.

Poker gems, #452

Lou Krieger, in Poker Player newspaper column, May 7, 2012 (vol. 15, #23), page 6.

For some, tilt has ended otherwise promising careers--even some WSOP main event champs, who were not able to control their emotions at the table--and many big-money winners who have gone completely broke, due to an inability and an unwillingness to deal with being on tilt. In other words, the willingness and commitment to get up from the table when stressed, and to take a short walk every hour or so, has cost some players millions--everything they earned and every dollar they had--while a simplistic little remedy might have prevented it all.

...When it comes to managing tilt, you are the one in charge. If you are unable to deal with it, the fault is entirely yours.

Taking on the luckbox

I was at the Riviera tonight. There's a big pool tournament going on there, and it's the busiest I've ever seen the place. For the first time ever, I could not find a spot in the parking garage and had to resort to the surface lot east of the garage.

The poker room had three $1-3 NLHE games going when I arrived at about 8:00 p.m. On a typical Friday night they would have one that's having trouble being sustained. I have seen two no-limit games going at the Riviera before, but I don't think I've ever seen three. And a fourth one started up while I was there.

The first seat that opened up was to the immediate left of the table drunk. He was incredibly annoying, paying no attention to the action, playing out of turn, slowing everything down whenever it was his turn, talking about the hand, flashing his cards both deliberately and inadvertently, etc. But he was so awful that nobody complained much, for fear that he'd be kicked out, and that would be tragic.

He was the prototypical drunk luckbox. Shortly before my tussle with him, he had twice in ten minutes come out on the good side of set-over-set situations, stacking two good players who had patiently waited for their chance to trap him. The second of these profited him about $600, and he was sitting on about $1400 when the key hand occurred. (I had a mere $320 or so, just barely above my buy-in.)

He would frequently raise without looking at his cards. He would just grab a handful of chips and toss them forward helter-skelter, with no idea how much it was. This appeared to happen randomly, without respect to position. I kept an eye on him so that I would always know whether or not he had looked at his cards before doing this, because if he looked, he actually had a respectably tight raising range.

To the matter. He and I were the blinds. The player to my left straddled, and picked up a bunch of callers. Drunk Luckbox--who had not picked his cards up off the felt--yielded to one of his urges to raise in the dark, and tossed a bunch of chips forward. The dealer counted it as $31.

I had J-J. This is, of course, comfortably ahead of two random cards, so I slid two stacks of $50 across the line, which was followed by rapid-fire folding around the table. DL finally figured out that it was his turn again, and the dealer informed him of my reraise. He looked annoyed and said, "Now I'm gonna have to LOOK!" He did, quickly followed by, "I'm all in."

There is just no way to know what range of hands he will do this with, as such a situation had not occurred before. There's also no way to get inside his head and deduce what he must be thinking about me and my range, etc., because he's just too wild and erratic for logic or third-level thinking to be of any use. I felt that all I could do was go with the math: If I have J-J, the probability that anybody at a full table was dealt a higher pocket pair is only about 13%, and if he has anything less than that, I'm OK getting all the chips in with my edge. In my first few minutes at the table I had seen this guy call all-in for about $300 pre-flop with A-Q offsuit, hit top two pair and win. The way I see it, he might well shove with a baby pair or an ace-rag hand. In fact, I had seen him reraise all in with 10-10 once, probably because he didn't want to play it post-flop. Given his past history, I thought it would be crazy to put in a third of my stack, then fold.

I insta-called, as I had actually made up my mind in advance that that's what I would do if he pushed, knowing that he might do so relatively light.

We turned up our cards. My J-J was up against his...


Mother-effin' snakes on a mother-effin' plane!

There are three hands he could have that were a favorite to my jacks: aces, kings, and queens. There are six ways to make each of those hands. That means that out of the 1225 possible two-card combinations he could have been dealt, only 18 of them would have me in trouble. And he had to have one of them right now?


Flop: 4-5-7.

Turn: 5.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled with a crack,
For from the cards left in his hands, the dealer found a jack.*
That's the second time in a week that I have misread an opponent for being weaker than he actually was, got all my money in at a severe disadvantage, and got my butt rescued by the fall of a lucky card. It's not really the way I prefer to make my money, but I'll take it and be grateful.

Sometimes, in order to win, you just gotta outluckbox the luckbox.


Incidentally, this is going on a few steps outside of the new location of the poker room at the Riviera. It seems that some of the players at the tables find this distracting. I can't imagine why.

* From "Casey at the Bat," by Ernest Thayer, very slightly modified.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Blegging for tech help

I've got an annoying tech problem that I can't work out. At some point today, I suddenly lost the ability to hear the audio tracks on YouTube videos. Video is fine, but no sound. This affects all browsers, and is the same whether viewed on the YouTube site or embedded on other pages. I updated the Flash player add-on for Internet Explorer (which I rarely use), and that changed nothing. My main browser, Google Chrome, apparently has Flash integrated--at least the Adobe web site says that I can't and don't need to upgrade anything.

I can see and hear what are ostensibly Flash videos (.swf files) on other sites, such as Metacafe and Hulu. I can also watch downloaded Flash files (.flv) with any of several standalone media players, and the audio is intact. Audio is fine from every other source I've tested (mp3 files and a DVD, for example), which demonstrates that there is nothing wrong with the sound card, the default speaker settings, etc.

As far as I can tell, it is just YouTube and just the audio portion that are affected. And no, I didn't change anything before this started happening (not knowingly, anyway). Computer is an Acer Aspire 7500 series laptop with an AMD Athlon II X2 processor, running Windows 7 Ultimate (x64) Service Pack 1 (build 7601). I've run Belarc Advisor, and don't see anything amiss in its reporting on multimedia systems.

Antiviral suite (Trend Micro Titanium, fully updated) is and has been up and running. I ran a routine weekly virus scan yesterday (using SuperAntiSpyware), all clean.

I'm well and truly stumped by this. Suggestions from my techy readers?

Poker gems, #451

Andrew Brokos, in Card Player magazine column, May 2, 2012 (vol. 25 #9), page 40.

The first habit you should break is comparing your stack to those of your friends or opponents. When you're online, that means no checking the average stack size or where you are in the rankings. Until the end of the tournament, that information is meaningless and can only influence you for the worse.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Maurice Sendak

No poker content here. If that troubles you, move on now.

I've had kind of an emotional afternoon reading and hearing more about Maurice Sendak than I've ever known before. NPR's "Fresh Air" devoted the whole program to replaying excerpts of interviews that Terry Gross has done with him over the years:

The last interview was especially wonderful. I listened to it three times. When it was recorded late last year, the author was frail and vividly aware of his own mortality, yet more saddened by the deaths of those close to him than by the prospect of his own. Much of the interview, done by telephone from his home, was conducted through his tears and quavering voice, and I found it incredibly moving.

A sample:
TG: You don't believe in God.

MS: No, I don't.

TG: I think having friends who die, getting older, getting closer toward the end of life, tests people's faith, and it also tests people's atheism. It sounds like your atheism is staying strong.

MS: Yes. I'm not unhappy about becoming old. I'm not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me, and life gets emptied. I don't believe in an afterlife, but I still fully expect to see my brother again. And it's like a dream life. I'm reading a biography of Samuel Palmer.... He believed in God, you see, and he believed in heaven, and he believed in hell. Goodness gracious, that must have made life much easier. It's harder for us nonbelievers.

But you know, there's something I'm finding out as I'm aging: that I am in love with the world. And I look right now, as we speak together, out my window in my studio, and I see my trees, my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old. They're beautiful, and I can see how beautiful they are, and I can take time to see how beautiful they are. It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music.

...I have nothing but praise now, really, for my life. I mean, I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. I cry a lot because they die, and I can't stop them. They leave me, and I love them more....

Oh, God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die! But I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready.

...I wish you all good things. Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.

Bill-paying, or not? Conclusion

If you haven't read yesterday's post describing the decision I had to make, you might want to go back and do so before reading the end of the story here.

After thinking for a while, I decided to push. This wasn't tilty desperation. It was an educated guess that my top-top was ahead of more of Bill's range than it was behind. The specific table dynamics made that more true than it ordinarily would be with me taking just top pair against the range with which Bill would be expected to play this aggressively back at me.

The shove was somewhat problematic, in that he would mostly call only with the hands that beat me, and fold the ones that I beat. (The exception was if I somehow persuaded him that I had A-A or K-K, he might fold J-J or Q-Q.) But as I said yesterday, I thought calling was the worst of my choices, because it would make subsequent decisions even murkier, and from out of position to boot.

He took less than two seconds to call, which triggered all of my "uh-oh" reflexes. I showed my A-10, and he showed his...

...pocket jacks.


I had misread him. Maybe I had overthought it. Maybe I had given too much weight to the situational dynamics being likely to broaden Bill's range, and too little weight to the simple fact that in years of playing with him, he had almost never been this pushy against me unless he had me beat.

But just as I was filling my brain with regrets and second-guessing, the dealer slapped down an ace on the turn, giving me top two pair, and leaving poor Bill with just two cards in the deck he could catch to win (the remaining two jacks). The river blanked, and I got a very lucky double-up. I wasn't proud of the win, but I wasn't going to give the chips back.

Sometimes in poker you do the right thing and lose, sometimes you do the wrong thing and win.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Poker gems, #450

Ed Miller, in Card Player magazine column, May 2, 2012 (vol 25, #9), page 34.

The regular's strategy of folding a lot and playing big pots only with nut hands has a major strength. Any time the pot gets big, the regular will be a favorite to win it.

Does it, therefore, make sense to play a strategy against this player that relies on winning big pots to be successful? Does it make sense to try to hit big hands and get paid off against this player?

Of course the answer is a resounding NO! If your opponent's strength is having good hands in big pots, why on earth would you play a strategy designed to try to win a big pot? It's not going to work! Why bang your head repeatedly against the deadbolted and barred front door when the back door might be left wide open?

Bill-paying, or not?

A hand I played last week is one of those that keeps sticking in my mind, unsure whether my decision-making was sound.

Bill is a 60-ish local. I've spent many, many hours at the tables with him, though mostly in my first couple of years in town, when we both played a ton at the Hilton poker room. Since it closed, I've only encountered him a handful of times. For the most part, he is the stereotypical local TAG nut-peddler. But he's entirely capable of pulling a switcheroo now and then, and he's absolutely not afraid to turn up the heat when his BS alarm goes off.

A few people had left the game in rapid succession, leaving us temporarily five-handed. The table was almost entirely passive, with a disgusting amount of limp-calling and limp-folding going on. I had been taking advantage of both of these facts to go on a mini-streak of raising and stealing. But the only time anybody had tried to keep me honest lately was when I was good, with A-J on an ace-high board, beating her ace-rag for good value. In spite of that hand, I had the feeling that I was getting under these people's skin with raising so much more than my fair share, and somebody was likely to be feeling the need to draw a line in the sand very soon.

Just as I was thinking that it might be time to back off for a while, I found Ac-10c in the big blind, and everybody ahead of me limped in. I hate playing multi-way limped pots, especially out of position. A suited ace-ten had a very good chance of being the current best hand, so I decided to extend my raising streak by one more pot before dropping down a gear. I made it $15, which was my biggest pre-flop raise yet. If these people were going to make me play a vulnerable hand like this from out of position, by God they were going to have to pay to do it, thinks me.

Everybody folded except for Bill, who was UTG+1 (which was also one off the button).

The flop was 10-7-3 rainbow (one club), giving me top pair/top kicker, plus an overcard and backdoor flush draw as emergency reserve chutes. So I got that goin' for me, which is nice. I bet $20 into the roughly $30 pot. Bill didn't hesitate a bit, grabbed a handful of chips, dropped three stacks of four across the line, plus one more, thereby raising to $65. He sat back and stared at me, looking quite smug and comfortable. I had started the hand with about $210, and Bill had me covered.

Calling was not a reasonable option. That move would give me no chance to win the pot right then, would give me no additional information, and would put me on the defensive out of position. I also couldn't put in any raise that didn't pot-commit me, so it was shove or fold.

What could Bill have? Well, I felt I could be reasonably confident that he didn't have an overpair to this board. With pocket jacks or better, he surely would have raised pre-flop. He can't be on a draw with this flop. I don't think he would have paid $15 to play any hand that could have flopped two pair here. Set-mining? Yes, that's always a consideration, given his limp-call. But on a board this dry, and him having position on me, I think it's more likely that he'd smooth-call and let me fire again on the turn.

I decided that the two most likely types of hands he could have were top pair (A-10 matching mine, or, even more likely, K-10 or Q-10) or a pocket pair, specifically 8s or 9s. I was comfortably ahead of both of those categories. Because of the table dynamics I described earlier, in this particular situation I thought I could extend his range further than I usually would. He could plausibly have a small pocket pair, or even have no pair (A-Q, say), and be trying to send me a message: "I know you can't be strong every time you're pretending to be. It's time for you to knock it off." This possibility, too, would be good for me, as I happened to have hit the flop about as well as one can reasonably hope to, and better than he might expect.

On the other hand, because he has a tricky streak in him, I couldn't entirely rule out an overpair. And the set thing always strikes dread into my heart, because I would be drawing nearly dead if that were the case. As mentioned, his pre-flop limp-call was perfectly consistent with set-mining. Why would he drop the hammer now instead of waiting until fourth street? Maybe he just wanted to end the drama now, and not risk giving me some sort of monster combo draw if the turn was a Broadway card that matched the suit of one on the flop.

So that was my dilemma. I felt that I was ahead of more than half of Bill's range here, but I was in terrible shape against a smaller but still substantial portion of it (the sets and overpairs). I loathe putting in my entire stack on one pair--even if it is top pair with top kicker--especially against a player who historically has usually had me beat when he comes out with this kind of aggression. But perhaps this was one of the uncommon situations where it was justified, because he was misreading me as (1) stealing from the limpers yet again, and/or (2) putting in a continuation bet with little or nothing to back it up.

It was even possible that, in the unlikely event that he had J-J or Q-Q, I could convince him that I had A-A or K-K and induce a bad fold. Conversely, I was unlikely to induce a bad call with a shove, because Bill is too smart to stack off with less than what I had. If he had top pair with a lower kicker, or a smaller pocket pair, he'd snort and glower a bit, but most likely fold to a reraise.

So, dear readers, what would you do? All in or fold? Or is there some justification for just smooth-calling that I'm not adequately taking into consideration?

I'll go write up what I did and set it to post in about 24 hours.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Running it twice

I remember vividly the first time I heard about "running it twice" in poker. It was during one of the first episodes of "High Stakes Poker" on the Game Show Network, and I had no idea what they were doing until Gabe Kaplan explained it. After learning a bit more about how it worked, I decided that if I were ever faced with that decision, I would just run it once. Among other reasons, that's how Barry Greenstein did it, and he was the consummate professional, my favorite of the regulars on HSP.

It was years before the option first presented itself. I was in a cash game at the Palms soon after their new manager, Joe Viator, had taken over. He had put in place some new rules, including what is still, I believe, the only low-stakes game in town where players can agree to run it twice. [Correction: on second thought, there's at least one other: the Tropicana, as I mentioned here.] At one point I went all in and was called, and my opponent asked if we could run it twice. I said no purely on the basis of having pre-made that decision years earlier, rather than based on any particular strategic consideration. It worked out for me that time.

Since then, the only times the issue has come up have been during the Pokerati games at the Palms, which I have done about five times now. It's half NLHE, half pot-limit Omaha, changing every orbit, with $1 and $2 blinds. My approach to the question in that setting has been to let my opponent decide, so that I don't cause any resentment from players who strongly prefer one way or the other, since I didn't feel I cared very much.

That's a noble enough goal. But lately I've read two things that are changing my mind on this point.

First, Phil Laak wrote in one of his recent columns for Bluff magazine (not available online yet) that he has switched his practice. He used to embrace running it as many times as he could get an opponent to agree to, in order to reduce his variance. But he has now decided to embrace the variance. (I think that was his exact terminology.) He feels that he is more even-keeled than most of his opponents, better able to absorb a big loss and still keep playing well. If he wins, though, he is likely to face an opponent who is stuck a lot of money, angry at the loss, and desperate to get back to even. That makes for a great opportunity for winning even more money.

A similar point is made in the newest issue of Card Player magazine by one of the publication's newest columnists, Bart Hanson. But he adds another argument that I had not thought about before:
Players commonly ask when deciding whether or not to make big calls all-in if the other player in the hand will run it more than once. This is an issue especially when you are trying to maximize your fold equity with a draw. Why would you want your opponent to know that you will run it more than once and not instill the fear that he could lose all of his chips? It also works the other way around when players try to push you around with their draws. If they know that you will run it more than once, they are more likely to make an aggressive action because if they get called there is less of a chance that they will lose all of their chips.
That seems like sound reasoning to me. So on the basis of these two considerations, I have decided to revert to my original plan from years ago: I am now a run-it-once player. I embrace the variance.

Two quickie restaurant reviews

I played at Binion's tonight. About an hour in, I made a bad read, got all my money in bad, but got rescued by a five-outer to more than double up.

Poker has been brutal lately. I've had seven losing sessions in a row. I don't think that beats my record, but it's coming close. It has been starting to get to me--as in, I start to think not just that I've forgotten how to play, but that maybe I never knew how to play in the first place.

I was confident there was more money to be made at the table, and I didn't have any particular reason that I needed to cut the session short. However, psychologically I really needed to be able to enter a W in the ledger for the day, after seven L's in a row. I think Ed Miller gave great advice on this point once:
Go ahead and book a win. I know a lot of people think booking wins and setting stop losses is hogwash. But playing top poker (particularly no-limit) requires confidence in yourself and your decision-making. And if you lose seven days straight, your confidence is likely going to be in the can no matter who you are. So if you start a session and you’re up a few buyins after bit, wrap it up. Book the win. And pat yourself on the back. You’ll be more confident during your next session.*
So that's just what I did. I ended my losing streak, and hopefully tomorrow I can go back to attacking the game with my usual state of mind, instead of with the cowering and confusion and second-guessing that comes from an ugly string of losses.

Anyway, I was in no hurry to get home, and decided to get something to eat. I mentioned late last year that a place called the Heart Attack Grill opened between my apartment building and the downtown casinos. It has been in the news lately because two customers have had to be taken away by ambulance mid-meal. They're not kidding about the name.

It's not really the kind of place I frequent. In fact, I've been eating fried food generally and hamburgers specifically a lot less than I used to. I have been making some modest efforts to make my diet healthier, as I feel the ol' arteries hardening with age. (Having a vegetarian girlfriend also tends to push one in this direction.) So it has probably been two months since I last had a burger. I decided I could stand one indulgence.

But they wouldn't serve me. I declined to wear the silly hospital gowns that they hand out at the door. I assumed that this was a "fun" gimmick that most customers decided to participate in as part of the ambiance. I had not anticipated that they would consider this a requirement, like the way some fancy places make you wear a jacket and tie. I was floored when the waitress told me it was mandatory. I told her I'd like to eat there, but I wasn't going to wear a gown to do so. She had me talk to the manager. I assumed that the manager would waive the requirement if I asked. After all, they surely want to sell me food more than they want to enforce their stupid rule, right? Nope. "You have to have on a gown to be in here," the manager told me. I said, "That's the stupidest rule I have even encountered in a restaurant. But if you don't want my money, OK, I'm sure somebody else does." I'm still stunned that a restaurant of mostly empty tables would turn away a customer eager to do business with them in the middle of a recession. But hey, there are probably 30 eateries within 100 yards of that spot, and I figured that I could pick one of them and not have to argue with a manager and beg them to take my money.

I stopped into a place that I have walked by dozens and dozens of times, always thinking that I should try it, but never had. It's a Cuban/Mexican place called Mamita's, just a block from my house. I had noticed previously that its customers were about 90% Hispanic, which I thought was a good indicator. In fact, it had nearly all the markings of a place where one could find good food at a good price, as argued recently by economist and foodie Tyler Cowen. Besides, it was Cinco de Mayo--how could I not have Mexican food?

Before I even sat down, I noticed that this place had the ultimate marker of an authentic Cuban restaurant: Fidel Castro sitting at one of the tables. Seriously!

The picture doesn't do him justice. He really is a spitting image, uniform and all. In fact, I think he is there just to provide a touch of Cuba. He was there when I arrived, still there when I left, and he wasn't ever doing anything. He didn't eat, didn't read a book, didn't talk to anyone. Maybe he makes a little extra scratch letting people take his picture for tips. It's not every day that you get to have your picture taken with the world's longest-reigning dictator. (I suppose that Joe Biden would insist that Castro, like Hosni Mubarak, is not a dictator, but I think anybody who doesn't swallow the current administration's delusions on foreign policy would judge otherwise.)

The music they had blaring was deafening. As soon as I sat down, a waitress rushed over with a menu, smiled, and asked how I was. I told her I would be better if my ears weren't being assaulted. She immediately said, "I'll see if I can get them to turn it down." She stepped away, spoke to somebody, and it worked! It was still louder than I would have liked, but it was tolerable.

Wow--catering to a paying customer's special request. What a concept! Maybe the Heart Attack Grill manager should walk down the block and take a lesson.

Anyway, I've dragged this out long enough. I had a carnitas burrito, and it was just right. Whole meal, including side dishes and tip, was less than $14. I should have been coming here long ago.

Summary: Heart Attack Grill sucks. Mamita's rules.

*As quoted here. I could not find the original source to link to.