Saturday, December 15, 2012


Some months ago I turned on the word-verification feature for comments. I.e., you had to prove you were a real person in order to post, though anonymous comments were still allowed. It immediately cut way down on the amount of spam I had to deal with.

A few days ago I quietly turned that requirement off to see if perhaps the problem had stopped or slowed down. Nope. Within 24 hours, it was back to about ten times a day getting an email notification of an obviously spamming comment submitted, which I would then have to flag as such. It's a serious irritant. So with regrets and apologies to my readers, word verification is being turned back on. Blame the horrible, selfish, anti-social people who think that the whole internet should be theirs for splattering their ads. If you are one of them, please go die in a fire.

Also, for reasons that are completely obscure, sometimes I don't get an email telling me that a comment is awaiting my approval. I try to remember once a week or so to go to the Blogger dashboard and check for pending comments that didn't generate an email notice to me, but sometimes I forget and comments languish in limbo without my knowledge. It's not a conspiracy, just a techo-glitch. Please forgive and don't take it personally.

Slightly off-topic

Why is there an editorial on the use of pesticides on farms in the new issue of Poker Player newspaper?

Growing problem?

(No poker content.)

In the wake of yesterday's school shooting in Connecticut, I tried discussing possible solutions with various friends and strangers on Twitter--which admittedly is a pretty awful medium for such things. One of them first said that school shootings were an "epidemic." When I questioned the validity of that label, he said he was willing to settle for calling it a "growing and disturbing trend." I asked him for his statistical evidence that it was a "growing" problem. He admitted that he had none other than "being alive for the last 20 years."

I had no specific evidence in mind. I didn't know offhand whether it was a growing, shrinking, or stable problem. I am, however, aware of the very human tendency to feel that things are getting worse even if they are not. Our minds tend to emphasize recent things more than past things, making us not very reliable at judging trends in the absence of actual hard data.

This morning I was reading a piece by Nick Gillespie in Reason magazine's "Hit and Run" blog: "4 Awful Reactions to Sandy Hook School Shootings--And Thoughts on a Better Response." He points to this helpful table of data from the National Center for Education Statistics, citing it for the proposition that our schools are actually getting safer over time, not more dangerous. It's downloadable as an Excel spreadsheet. I had Excel spit out this graph from the table:

The only massaging of the data I have done is to add a five-year moving average, in an attempt to damp down some of the wide year-to-year swings. Each pink dot is the arithmetic mean of the previous five years.

If there is any directionality to the trend line, it is downward. You might say that there is no clear trend in either direction, that the variation from year to year is so great that you can't discern any definite overall movement either up or down. I wouldn't quibble with that reading.

But I don't think any fair-minded person can look at these numbers (I'm taking for granted that they are complete and accurate) and say that homicides of school children are a "growing" phenomenon, or any more of an "epidemic" than was the case 20 years ago. Moreover, this table from the same organization shows that total school enrollment (pre-kindergarten to grade 12) has increased from 46,864,000 in 1990 to 54,704,000 in 2010, a growth of about 17%. This means that even if the absolute number of school homicide deaths were steady over time, the risk per student is declining.

Of course, this conclusion does not mean that each death is not tragic, or that we should just shrug our shoulders and live with things as they are. But I firmly believe that public policy debates have to be grounded in objective facts, or they are bound to go off in the wrong direction.

I am proposing no particular solutions here. I just wanted to present the data as a starting point for figuring out what more, if anything, can and should be done about the problem.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Owning your mistakes--or not

Last night I was at MGM Grand in search of men in cowboy hats. They were there by the millions,  it seemed, streaming by the poker room for hours, but none of them ever stopped in to play. Go figure.

Anyway, at one point I was in second position with K-K and intended to raise to $8. I dropped the red chip on the table and was going to drop my three blue chips next to it. But--oops!--I saw that I had just two blue chips in my hand instead of three. Without thinking, I reached back to my stack to fetch another blue chip. But as I moved my hand forward again to drop the three blues, I realized that I had screwed up, and could no longer legally add more chips to my bet. The red chip, sitting lonely out there on the felt, constituted just a call of the big blind, as I had not announced a raise. I would have to play a limped pot from out of position with pocket kings--not my favorite situation to be in. Worse, everybody had seen what had happened and knew that I had wanted to raise, so they were alerted that I probably had a big starting hand, and there was little chance of going for a limp-reraise.

Oh well. This was, as far as I can remember, the first time I've make that particular error, and I'm not going to beat myself up over making one dumb string-raise mistake in seven years of playing.

The flop came A-K-x. I bet, hoping that somebody with an ace would call me down, but the bevy of limpers all folded. Small pot won. Disaster averted.

Another orbit or two later, I was again in early position, this time with A-Q offsuit. I raised to $8--legally this time. The guy across the table from me was on the button, and had his attention divided because he was chatting with a friend standing behind him. It appeared that he intended to call my raise, but instead of picking up one red chip and three blues, he accidentally picked up two of each and tossed them forward, then resumed his conversation. It took the dealer a few attempts to get his attention and tell him that he had to raise to $16. He didn't understand at first, because he was not aware that he had put in more chips than my $8 worth.

When he couldn't convince the dealer that his intention of just calling should be the determining factor, he appealed to me: "You know I meant to just call, right?" I wanted to stay neutral, so that nothing about the strength of my hand would be given away by advocating for some particular outcome. I also didn't want to antagonize him. So I said, "I don't know what the house rule is, but I'm fine just abiding by whatever it is."

I pause here to note that the dealer was wrong. The player's min-raise would have been to $14, not $16. But I didn't care, and I didn't want to add another issue to that of whether his bet should be construed to be a raise. I wanted to stay out of it, and let the dealer handle it. Let her be the object of this player's irrationally growing wrath.

He finally accepted her direction to increase his bet to $16. I just called. Of course, I could have reraised. After all, unless he's shooting for an Academy Award, he was not one bit happy about having to put more money in, so he was not sitting on any hand that he really loved. I didn't want to blow him out of the pot when there was a high chance that I had a hand that dominated his. I.e., if he had a weak ace or a queen with a worse kicker and we both hit the flop, I could win a big pot. If I were to reraise and he were to call, I'd be stuck playing for a bloated pot with A-Q from out of position, which is not an enviable task.

I won't bore you with the details of how the hand played out, because they're not relevant to my point, but I ended up winning the pot when I hero-called his river bluff on a somewhat scary board.  He showed 3c-4c, which had flopped bottom pair to my top pair.

The fact that he lost $50 or so on the hand stoked his irritation even further. For another five minutes after the hand was over, he continued arguing with the dealer about her forcing him to increase his bet to a full legal raise. His intention to merely call should have governed what happened, he kept insisting. I don't know why she kept explaining it to him over and over, or why she kept apologizing for enforcing the rule, as if it were somehow her fault. I think she should have either ignored him, told him to drop it, or called the floor to handle it.

The point, though, is that we all at least occasionally make technical mistakes when playing poker in addition to the tactical ones. All you can do is accept that you erred, figure out the implications for how the hand will now play out differently, and move forward. It is pointless, dishonest, and self-defeating to try to get a do-over, or to blame somebody else for what you did, or to get hot under the collar about it, thus clouding your judgment for how to play the hand optimally. This guy last night did all three.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Poker gems, #467

Pauly McGuire, in Bluff magazine, December, 2012, page 93.

There's often no logic in what happens once the dealer fans out the flop, then drops a turn card, and a river card. Because the universe has spoken and that's that. Either you make the best hand, or you don't. And if you don't have a strong hand, then you better have balls the size of a Volkswagen because that's the only way you're going to win the bully your opponent and let them know who's tougher...who's a bigger bad ass. You can't do that playing limit hold'em or playing low-limit stud with the myopic fogies reeking of mothballs and Ben-Gay. But at a no-limit table, you look a man in the eye and scare the heck out of him with a fierce movement of chips to the center of the felt.

Poker gems, #466

Jennifer Tilly, in Bluff magazine column, December, 2012, page 90. She describes a wild night of poker in Ivey's Room at the Aria, which saw her down by $400,000 at one point, gradually clawing her way back to a $6000 profit by around 6:00 a.m.

I take a taxi back to the Bellagio. The bill is seven dollars, and I give the guy 20 and tell him to keep the change. He lights up like a Christmas tree, and I realize I am back in the real world where money means something.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dealers and players

I very much liked Andrew Brokos's blog post today at, musing about player conduct and dealer conduct. It sounds to me as if he behaves at the table much like I do. I've never met him, but I'm pretty sure we would get along famously.

Read the whole thing here.

Unusual day

Sunday was a highly atypical day for me.


First I had a late lunch with my sister, her husband, one of their daughters, and her husband, all in town for the annual rodeo. Then we went bowling at Sam's Town. I won both games, scoring 139 and 150, which is pretty good for me--especially since I haven't bowled in about 18 months.

Unfortunately, in the process I somehow managed to wrench my back, so now I'm in pain and walking funny, dreading when I have to change positions. Getting old sucks.


Came home, did some work. In the evening I sort of invited myself to a home game some friends were having--@spencer_chen, @gamble24x7, @veggiepoof, and one other whose Twitter I don't know. It was my first chance to play open-faced Chinese poker, which seems to be all the rage these days. I had never even played regular Chinese before, though I had watched it a few times and understood the basic idea.

My entire knowledge of OFCP comes from an article in Card Player magazine by Jennifer Shahade , a blog post a few days ago by Shamus, and an article by Dave Behr in the December issue of Bluff magazine, which by coincidence I had just read yesterday. So I was green as green could be, and knew I was likely to lose money. Which I did--$89, to be exact, at $1/point. But that's OK. Learning new forms of poker always costs money as one makes mistakes and, hopefully, learns from them to play better.

But ya know what? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that OFCP is not, in fact, a form of poker. For that matter, neither is traditional Chinese poker.

This is a point that I haven't seen raised in any of the three sources I mentioned, but which occurred to me as I watched the others play during the one hand out of five I had to sit out. (A maximum of four people can play at once, since each player needs 13 cards.) There are several ways to express the basic element that is missing, but they all amount to the same thing:

  • There are no hole cards, no secrets that you hold which are unknown to the other players. 
  • There is no betting on the strength of your hand. 
  • It is a game of perfect rather than imperfect information. 
  • You cannot bluff. 
Mike Matusow is generally not a font of wisdom that I turn to, but Michael Craig quotes him as saying, "If you can't steal, it ain't poker." He's absolutely right. 

Mike Caro has argued that the ability to bluff is more a defining element of poker than are cards. He describes an imaginary game of "cow chip poker," in which the players scout a nearby field for cow chips, conceal what they find in paper bags, then reassemble to bet on who has the biggest one. You can win with an empty bag by betting in such a way as to convince your opponents that you found the biggest cow chip. That's poker, even with no cards. In another hypothetical situation, he describes how two people can play poker with a deck of just three cards, because you still have the crucial elements of being able to have a secret card and bluff with the worst hand. 

Video poker is not poker, in part because it's played against the house rather than against other players, but also because it lacks secret information and bluffing. OFCP fails by that same criterion. They are both games that superficially resemble poker because they use the standard 52-card deck and poker's traditional five-card hand rankings. But resembling is not being. They are not poker. 

It was, nevertheless, highly enjoyable. I didn't find it nearly as addictive as others breathlessly describe it after first exposure, but it's definitely an intriguing game. 

Oh, and the other important thing I learned about OFCP is that people say "fuck" a lot. Really a lot. 


After I got home, I watched the premier of "Sin City Rules" on TLC, which I had taped earlier. The only reason I was interested in it is because one of the stars is Jennifer Harman, whom I like. But I thought the whole thing was awful, painful, unwatchable. Jennifer is fine, but the other women are completely unbearable. They're self-absorbed attention whores. Judging by the first episode and the teaser on TLC's web site, the show exists mainly to capture and televise the catfights among them. Ick. I can't understand why anybody would watch such trash. The preview for next week's show seemed to focus more on Harman's life as a mother and poker player, so I'll probably give it one more try, but I can't see myself tuning in much beyond that. I'm kind of perplexed how she got associated with the show; she seems not at all like the others. 

And that was my completely out-of-the-ordinary day. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Poker gems, #465

Nick Wealthall, in Bluff magazine, December, 2012, page 71.

The worst offense--one that you see time and again--is to fold a legitimate hand to a bet and then show it. There is simply no way to state how utterly stupid this is.... Over and over, you'll see players open-raise a hand, get three-bet or shoved on, think and then fold, before showing one card--an ace. Let me tell you right now you might as well have taken every good player at the table to one side before play and said, "Hey fellas, I'm the soft spot at the table. Feel free to reach into my arse and pull out as many chips as you like. Seriously, beat me up. Batter me over and over again. I fricking love it. I am here to help you!"

When a player shows a semi-strong hand he's folded, his opponents don't think, "Ooh, he's so clever to make that big laydown," they think,"Wow, what a pussy! I wonder what else I can make him fold."