Saturday, September 01, 2012

Hey, I'm on Sharkscope!

Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 - Johnson, Navin R.! I'm somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.

[the Sniper points to Navin's name in the phone book]

Sniper: Johnson, Navin R... sounds like a typical bastard.

The Jerk, 1979

It dawned on me today to look at Sharkscope and see if I'm there. I guess I didn't really have any reason to think that I wouldn't be, but I hadn't ever looked to see if I was, either.

Now I just have to be on the lookout for snipers.

Stud rule

Yesterday I played the weekly Friday noon HORSE tournament at the Orleans. Went out mid-pack, nothing exciting.

During one stud hand, the player to my right turned his up card face down, but then looked like he might be second-guessing himself and wishing he had played it. I ignored this and went on with my action, which was to complete the bring-in bet. The next player's cards were in the muck as soon as my chips were out.

At this point, the dealer held up his hand to stop further action, saying, "The action is still back here," pointing to the player to my right. I thought that was peculiar, but decided to wait until the hand was over to inquire about it. Player to my right folded, and the hand played out.

When it was over with, I asked the dealer, "Wasn't his hand dead as soon as he turned his up card face down?" The dealer said, "No, I don't think so. But I'll ask." He called the floor over, though appropriately continued dealing the next hand so as not to make everyone wait.

He was surprised that the floor confirmed my impression, and apologized for having been wrong.

So today I'm looking in my rule books to be sure that my memory on this point was indeed the standard rule. It is.

Krieger and Bykofsky, Rules of Poker, page 178:
Turning an open card or cards face down, or commingling open and closed cards together is tantamount to holding. The hand is dead.
Cooke and Bond, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, page 25:
A player who turns upcards facedown or mixes upcards and holecards together when facing a bet is deemed to have folded and his hand shall be declared dead.
So if you're ever playing seven-card stud (or razz, or stud-8) and are faced with the same kind of situation I was--the player on your right has turned his up card face down but has not yet returned his cards to the dealer for some reason--you can safely proceed as if it is your turn, because it is. His hand is as dead as if his cards were already in the muck.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A sobering conversation (no poker content)

About ten days ago there was a bizarre incident at the Dairy Queen nearest to me, maybe 1 1/2 miles to the south. Around noon, a man came in swinging what was described as a Samurai sword, demanding money from the cash register. One of the employees of the store--a son of the owner--shot and killed the robber. You can read more of the details here and here.

This caught my attention because an average of once a month or so I stop at this same DQ to get myself a treat (most often a Snickers Blizzard) on the way home from a successful evening poker session. I've been in there dozens of times over the years. It's also right next to the Albertson's where I've done most of my grocery shopping (Sahara and Maryland Parkway).

I don't know a lot about the family that runs the DQ, but it's obvious that they are Middle Eastern in origin. (News reports said that they are Lebanese immigrants.) They have all been unfailing polite and friendly to me, even though I don't go in there often enough that they recognize me as a regular customer. They've just always struck me as good, solid, honest, salt-of-the-earth people, the prototypical small American success story of immigrants working hard to make it in their adopted homeland. I'm a softy for that sort of thing. I love that we live in a country where that happens every day, in every city. (And I deplore the wave of anti-immigrant fervor that has perversely enveloped us over the past ten years or so. I say open the borders to any non-criminals who want to come. They make us better, stronger, and wealthier.)

Anyway, I was shocked that these good people who had been a tiny part of my life had been visited by such bizarre and horrific violence.

Last night on my way home from poker at Caesars Palace was the first time I've been to DQ since the shooting. By coincidence, it was the father of the family working alone last night, and I was the only one in the shop. So after he handed me my Blizzard, I said to him two sentences that I had rehearsed in my head while he was making it, so that I wouldn't mess them up: "I'm sorry about that terrible incident that happened here a couple of weeks ago, but I'm very glad that you and your family didn't get hurt."

Now, I couldn't possibly have been the first one to say something along these lines to him, and he doesn't know me, but it seemed that he very much wanted to talk about this. That surprised me. In fact, it is my assumption that people will not want to talk to strangers about terrible events in their lives that usually causes me to just keep quiet when dealing with somebody that I know has had a recent tragedy.

He was not at all bragging about his son being a hero or anything like that. On the contrary, the whole thing had understandably disturbed him very badly. He kept shaking his head and saying that it was all just "Terrible, terrible." He related some details that had not been in the media, such as that the man was swinging the sword at the heads of people in the store, and could easily have caused grave injuries. I didn't ask for or expect this outpouring of facts and emotions. I had thought he would probably give me a perfunctory and practiced, "Thank you," I would turn and go, and that would be that. I was humbled and honored that he seemed to want to make a connection.

I didn't tell him that I have a keen and longstanding interest in the subject of self-defense, particularly self-defense with handguns. That wasn't important to my message to him. In fact, I felt that sharing that fact would make it seem that I cared more about the weapons involved than the people, which was not the case.

Some gun enthusiasts feel like high-fiving each other when a self-defense shooting makes the news and another felon bites the dust. I don't. Each such story is an awful tragedy for all involved. The state marks the death of one of its citizens. One family mourns. Another is shaken to its core. There is not one good thing about it. But this fact remains: The only thing that would be sadder than the death of the bad guy would have been the death of one of the members of this good family, or of one of their innocent customers.

Not everybody in the world can easily be classified into the "good guy/bad guy" dichotomy. But when you have, on the one hand, hard-working, law-abiding family members collectively trying to support themselves by operating an honest small business, and, on the other hand, somebody brandishing a deadly weapon to threaten their lives for the measly sum that was in the till that day, I have no qualms whatsoever in applying those labels. There were a bunch of good guys, and one bad guy, period. There are times when bad guys decide to put good guys in a kill-or-be-killed situation. When that happens, it is not just OK, but a positively good thing that the good guys have the means of effective self-defense, and the courage, skill, and willingness to deploy it.

A few days after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in July, Sheldon Richman, a writer for my favorite political magazine, Reason, wrote this:
The criminal, unfortunately, chooses the time, place, and manner of his crime. I don’t like that rule either, but that’s the way it is. Criminals aren’t irrational, so they tend not to pick victims standing near cops. When you are attacked, calling 9-1-1 will do little good. For the record, the police are under no legal obligation to defend you. The courts have spoken on this—not that your survivors’ ability to sue the police would bring much comfort.

The upshot is that, high-flown political theory aside, no one can truly delegate his or her right to or responsibility for one’s own self-defense. Ultimately, you are the only one who can look out for your safety, because you are only one who is with you 24/7 and therefore the only one you can count on when the criminal targets you. That’s just a fact.
Another fact is that while guns are used to take innocent life, they are also used to protect innocent life. The numbers are in dispute—ranging from 100,000 to over 2 million times a year—but no reasonable person can doubt that people use guns to prevent violent crime, often, if not usually, without firing them. Gun opponents downplay this by distracting us with dubious statistics on how often criminals disarm and kill their victims or how often guns are used to escalate arguments over card games and fender benders. The fact remains: Guns save lives.
Many people don’t appreciate this because most such incidents are not reported to police or the news media. Moreover, the national media are uninterested in defensive gun-use stories. Local news outlets pay attention when an elderly person or shopkeeper uses a gun to thwart a would-be criminal, but the national media, which give wall-to-wall coverage to mass shootings, apparently have no time to report life-saving uses of firearms. No wonder some people believe handguns are only tools for criminals.
Even if we concede that tighter gun laws would have stopped the Aurora shooting—unlikely, because a determined Holmes could have acquired guns in the inevitable black market—those laws also would have cost innocent lives, because people who would have used guns to defend themselves would have been unable to do so. Why are those lives less important than the others?
People are not interchangeable. Even if gun control could save one life—or a hundred—in one place, that would not justify putting other people at the mercy of criminals somewhere else. People have a right to defend themselves, and handguns are by far the best way for smaller, physically weaker innocent people (women, please note) to protect themselves from larger, stronger bad people. (If all guns were to disappear, who would gain the advantage?)
I take no joy in the death of Mr. Bongkuk Pak. It's terribly sad that his life was wasted that way. But it would be far, far sadder if one of the Lebanese brothers had tried to stop him without an effective weapon in hand and, as a result, had himself been killed. I hate to imagine what he must be going through, to have to live with the social, emotional, and legal consequences of having taken another man's life, even if the circumstances made it perfectly justifiable. But I'm glad he's still around to endure that hardship, because the alternative is even worse.

I hope that this good family can find peace and comfort.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some jokes you just shouldn't tell at the poker table

When writing up last night's craziness, I was too tired to include one story with a moral and/or practical lesson in it.

The guy in Seat 9, on the dealer's right, was playing poker in a casino for the first time. He made all the classic errors of inexperience, not knowing the rules and protocols. His English also was not too strong, which compounded his difficulties.

There was one strange hand in which four or five of us had called a pre-flop raise, but then there was no betting from anybody on the flop or turn. The river was the king of spades. Seat 9 was first to act, and he jokingly said, "All in!" and laughed. The only deadly-serious, never-crack-a-smile player was in Seat 8 (on the button), and I noticed him perking up with great interest upon hearing those words. The dealer was already starting to react when Seat 8 said something to him about whether Seat 9's declaration was binding.

I was next to act and just waited, not wanting to complicate the situation. The dealer wisely didn't try to adjudicate it, but just made clear to everyone not to do or say anything more until it got sorted out, and then called for the floor. As the dealer was explaining what happened and Seat 9 was trying to talk his way out of being committed to what he had said, Seat 8 would quiet but insistently insert comments like "Verbal is binding." It could have been that he was just being a stickler for rules, but my sense was that he was eager to have that action stand. The floor's ruling was that the all-in was indeed a commitment of the player's chips, as it occurred when it was his turn. That made it a bet of something like $275 into a pot of about $70.

I had third pair. Had I been last to act, I would have had to seriously consider calling, because it was patently obvious that Seat 9 had nothing at all. But with three others yet to act behind me, that would have been too dangerous. Even if I had been ahead before the last card, it was too easy for one of them to have had a king and paired it. Besides, that king was the third spade, and a flush could now be lurking. Finally, there was Seat 8's behavior. He had literally not said a word to anyone before this, and now he was pressing his point.

I folded, as did the next two. Seat 8 called, showed the second-nut flush, and won all of Seat 9's chips.

Seat 9 took the blow with considerable equanimity, given the circumstances. He admitted that he didn't know the rules, so it was his own fault--which it was, but I think most people would still have been far more upset than he appeared to be.

Like joking to the airport ticket agent about having a bomb in your suitcase, making a joke about being "all in" at the poker table is a quick way to get yourself a whole mess o' trouble that you didn't want.

What a difference a day makes

Some of the players at last night's table of craziness had said that they would be back tonight, so I returned to Caesars to see if I could be on the receiving end of their spewiness again. I did see one of them--in fact, he was on my immediate right. But he was clearly losing and in a sour mood, and the bad beats and cold decks he was experiencing had taken the fight out of him. Last night he was the most aggressive player (discounting the ones who were just shoving blindly for fun), but today he was a pussycat.

This table was the polar opposite of last night's. Nobody was drunk. They all appeared to be studying the game closely. Nobody spoke. Nobody laughed. There were sunglasses, hoodies, and earphones in play. Players were deep-stacked, most buying in for the $500 max. This was not just poker. This was Serious Poker.

I left after 80 minutes with a $280 profit. Strangely, I actually thrive in this sort of game. I understand pretty thoroughly how the better players at this level think, because their baseline play is very similar to mine. To beat them, I just have to see what they're doing, make an educated guess as to why they're doing it, deduce from that what they're afraid of, then convince them that I have what they're afraid of. I started off by hitting a couple of lucky cards and showing down strong winners to establish a reputation of always having the goods, then used a combination of that image, position, aggression, and scare cards to steal pots for the rest of the session.

I ordinarily wouldn't bother writing anything about a session like this, because it didn't generate any specific stories. But it was such a stark contrast to last night's that I wanted to make note of it. This was a much more typical Caesars Palace kind of table. Last night's was the one that was out of character.


That's the only word that kept going through my mind as I left Caesars Palace.

The plan had been simple: I arrived around 5:00 p.m. with the idea that I would play for one to two hours, take home a quick and easy profit, chat with Cardgrrl, watch this week's WSOP installment on TV, then get to bed early so that I could get up early for another morning bike ride.*

None of that happened.

I quickly found myself in the loudest, wildest, drunkest, craziest game I've seen in months, maybe a year. We had a shifting lineup of two or three solid, conservative players who knew what they were doing. But the rest of them--my God, the rest of them! It was exactly the scenario we grinders scour the city's poker rooms to find (and Caesars is not usually the most fertile grounds for such games). They were horrible players at baseline, made worse by the free flow of alcohol. They were buying each other shots, going all-in without looking at their cards, calling down to the river after hitting any fragment of the flop, busting and rebuying chips as if they were free. The drunkest man was a pure calling station who hit every hand for the first couple of hours, amassing a stack of $700-800, then facing the inevitable reversal of fortune and giving it all back over the next couple. The drunkest woman apparently had a horn-o-plenty of $100 bills in her enormous purse. She burned through at least $1200 and maybe as much as $1500 in about four hours--I lost count.

Such situations are highly profitable, obviously, but also come with extreme variance. It seemed that my fate was to run in place. For the first nearly six hours, I could not get either up or down by more than $100. Normal poker logic didn't apply; many decisions on later streets devolved to pure guesswork, and I was only hitting about 50/50. As a result, I'd get up a little bit, then slip backward. It was enormously frustrating not to be able to make consistent progress. In a perverse way, I'd have preferred to lose all my chips, at which time I could decide it wasn't my day and go do something else instead. Sitting there for hour after hour with nothing to show for it was maddening, when the chips were flying from stack to stack so loosely.

But I persevered, maintaining my composure and talking myself out of tendencies to tilt after the inevitable bad beats and erroneous moves. I endured what seemed like endless deserts of card-deaditude without giving in to the urge to try to force the action, which would be disastrous at a table like this.

About six hours in, I finally hit the breakthrough hand. Oddly, it turned out to be against one of the few sober, generally solid opponents, not one of the drunk spewers. I raised to $10 with As-Ts, got two callers. Flop: Js-5s-5d. I bet $20. He min-raised me, which gave me decent odds to draw to the nut flush, reading him for the trips. Turn: Ks. Ding! I checked, he bet $50, I raised to $150, he pushed, I called. He had suited connectors, 4h-5h. The 2c on the river did not complete my royal flush for the $500 high-hand bonus, but it did manage to avoid making my opponent's full house, and doubled me up.

This was the most loud, raucous, convivial table I've been at in a very, very long time. Nobody was ever angry. Jokes and good-natured trash-talking were continual. We usually had a ring of onlookers, and people at the other tables kept looking over at us to see what all the commotion was about. F-bombs were exploding all over the place, such that two players would ordinarily have been ejected for ignoring repeated warnings. Fortunately, the dealers all recognized that it was all harmless fun, not provocatively angry with potential to erupt into fights, so they diplomatically disregarded most of it rather than intervene heavy-handedly, else we would have lost the games biggest donors.

The downside to such games is that the hand-per-hour count can come to a near standstill. Nobody is paying attention to the action, and drunk people have no sense of how much time they're taking on their decisions. Again, the dealers were mostly great. As each one sat down, I took advantage of my position in Seat One to quietly inform them that the table needed a great deal of assertive prompting to keep things moving, and nearly all of them adopted a firm guiding hand without getting irritated at the inattentive drunks. Tips were flowing as freely as the booze, which helped.

If you have any sense of my personality, you might guess, correctly, that this kind of table is not the kind of social setting I like best. It was loud and chaotic, neither of which will ever be found listed among my favorite adjectives. However, I not only put up with it, I actually managed to enjoy a couple of the other players--smart and funny people who appreciated and played off of my occasional injections of wit and smart-aleckery.

I stayed much longer than I had planned to because it was so obviously a +++++++EV situation. At least in theory I would have been willing to stay as long as it remained so, and the money did not seem to have stopped flowing by the time I left at 1:00 a.m. But I felt my sharpness, decision-making, and tolerance for the social shenanigans faltering, so I finally decided I was better off pocketing my modest winnings and letting somebody else take over one of the juiciest seats in the Vegas poker world. My net profit was $242 in about eight hours. That's certainly above my long-term hourly average, yet still disappointing under the circumstances, where there was potential for such riches. That's the longest session I've registered in several months--quite a bit longer than I prefer and longer than is optimal for my attention span. But unusual situations call for unusual solutions.

This was actual work. It wore me out to handle the monetary swings and the social craziness. Keeping my mind on the poker when others are paying it little attention is mentally fatiguing. Doing so while trying to help foster the carefree interpersonal interactions is, for me, a continual uphill slog. Strange as it may sound, succeeding in this kind of setting did more to make me feel like a professional than when I'm engaged in heavy intellectual combat with comparably experienced foes, although the skill set I had to call on was completely different. I'm best suited for fairly short-duration but intensely focused sessions of a low-variance style, whereas this table demanded a relaxed patience, forbearance, and willingness to take large risks. I don't mind admitting that I am left with a sense of pride that on my better days I have enough flexibility of personal resources to adapt to this kind of opportunity.

I trust that Cardgrrl, who has taken advantage of her share of such unexpectedly profitable games, will understand and forgive my failure to get home for our daily chat as planned. It will probably be a long time before I stumble upon a table like that again.

*Speaking of the bike, I'm astounded by how much ancillary stuff one needs, even for one with no aspirations for anything even remotely looking like racing. So far I have acquired or ordered a helmet, a lock, a bell, front and rear lights, a water bottle and mounting bracket, full-size tire pump for home, tiny portable pump, spare tube, tire repair kit, portable tool kit, two pressure gauges (bike tires have two different types of valves, which require different gauges, and I oddly have one of each), book on maintenance and repairs, pants-leg clips, and an under-seat bag for the tools. Still under consideration are a mirror, speedometer/odometer, and rear baskets for errands around town. I have spent almost as much on the accessories as the machine itself. The world will note with a sigh of relief that Spandex bike shorts are not on this list.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes on my first urban bike ride in 30 years

I note that it is the ungodly hour of not-yet-9:00-a.m., and I am back from my first ride on my new bike.

I note that I rode for approximately 45 minutes, and went about 5 miles.

I note that I am hot, sweaty, and [sniffs to check], yes, stinky.

I note that over the past hour I have gained a keen awareness of which areas around downtown Las Vegas are "uphill" and which are "downhill," facts which had escaped my notice over the previous six years of driving.

I note that I have a strong preference for "downhill."

I note that the public policy most urgently in need of being addressed this election year is a constitutional amendment banning "uphill." As a laudatory side effect, this will create countless jobs for bulldozer and road grader operators.

I note that neither Obama nor Romney is saying a damn thing about this. Gary Johnson is an avid cyclist and triathlete. Maybe he'll do the job.

I note that these "uphill" and "downhill" things are not marked on the city's map of bike routes. Perhaps this could be addressed in the same constitutional amendment.

I note that potholes are much more evil than I had previously thought.

I note that one should not forget to take water along on these trips.

I note that I do not suddenly feel younger, as if having drunk from the fountain of youth. On the contrary, I estimate that I used up ten years of my cardiac lifespan.

I note that if somebody could bring me an IV with some sort of life-force-restoring elixir in it, I would be most appreciative. I'll just be over there on the bed, passed out. Stick the needle in any convenient vein.

I note that bicycles should come with a free, 24-hour on-call masseuse for the post-ride muscle soreness, which I am feeling already.

I note that, appearances notwithstanding, this is not about to morph into Bob's Biking Blog. This is but a temporary diversion.


Once in a while, you'll see somebody at the poker table get so mad at something that occurred (usually a bad beat) that he'll tear up his cards. (Note: Poker rooms tend to frown on this.) But is that torn-up card now sitting on the table really what it appears to be? Or could it be a carefully constructed drawing, intended to fool you?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bicycle--no, not the cards

I'm getting older and fatter. That just has to be admitted right up front. Every year that goes by, I notice that physical things get harder. I go bowling when my sister is in town, or go hiking with Cardgrrl when I visit her, and with the passage of time my capacity for such things drops, the next-day pain gets worse, and the recovery time gets longer. The chief culprit (besides Father Time) is not hard to deduce: I'm too sedentary. My entire day is spent sitting. I've known for years that this is a problem, but it has taken me a long time to get around to addressing it.

I have long had the thought in the back of my mind that bicycling would probably be the most pleasant way to introduce some mild exercise into my life. Renting bikes with Cardgrrl and riding around an island in Florida last year was a major impetus toward solidifying these thoughts. It was the first time I had ridden a bike in nearly 30 years, and it was fun.

In January of this year I started visiting the local bike shops and noticing prices. I also picked up brochures telling me about stuff like the valley's bike routes and trails. But the idea still had to percolate for a while longer.

In May, I happened to catch an interview on NPR's "Morning Edition" with a guy named Grant Peterson, whom I had never heard of before. He was promoting his new book, Just Ride. I really liked his attitude and approach. His basic message is this: Racing has ruined cycling for the rest of us. Cycling has become suffused with the perverse notion that what is good for the world's top pro cyclists is what everybody else should emulate: the clothes, the equipment, the attitudes, the riding position, the training habits, etc. And, Peterson says, that's just bunk. Riding should be fun and practical, not expensive and dreary. So he wrote his book to encourage people to return to the days when you just hopped on your bike and took off, for a short ride or long, going as fast or slow as you felt like, wearing whatever you happened to have on, and not worry about special clothes, tracking your miles or your time, or whether your bike frame was some exotic ultra-light alloy. I read a few short chapters of his book as samples on Amazon, and liked him even more.

I started occasionally poking around online at what features of bikes would suit the kind of riding I might do, and what models I might buy with those features that wouldn't represent an enormous investment. A couple of weeks ago I was getting confused at the different frame sizes and associated questions. So I downloaded Peterson's book into my Kindle, hoping it would have some useful pointers about equipment selection (it did), and burned through it in two days. His words really inspired me to stop dithering about the whole process and get to it.

I settled on a Schwinn Discover, which you can get from Wal-Mart, Sears, and other mass retailers for about $250-$260. It's a hybrid model, which is to say that it's somewhat heavier and more rugged than a pure road bike, but lighter and less rugged than a mountain bike. It's designed for comfortable commuting, urban errand-running, and casual city riding. I ordered mine from, and it arrived Friday. (I'm a cheapskate and selected the free "super saver" shipping, which was estimated to take a week, but the fine folks at Amazon decided to overnight it to me by FedEx at no charge!) I have spent a few hours over the weekend doing the basic assembly from the box.

This process has once again reminded me of the hole I have in my brain where the mechanical aptitude is supposed to go. I get baffled by how screws fit into nuts. I can't put anything together right. My latest evidence is this bicycle. The very first thing I managed to do was blow a hole in the rear tire by overinflating it. I did manage to attach the handlebars, seat, pedals, and fenders, but problems remain. The brakes aren't adjusted right. I can't tighten the nut that holds the front fender in place, so it flaps around. The seat is only marginally tight. I scratched the paint in a few spots. Etc. So tomorrow I'll take it to a nearby bike shop, confess my ignorance, and pay them to finish the job for me, as well as repair the tire that I exploded. Then, and only then, some two years after I started thinking about the whole subject, I'll be ready to take a spin on my new toy.

Which means that by Tuesday I'll be sore and achy, wondered what in the world I was thinking, taking up exercise at my advanced age, and deciding that what my life really needs is more naps.