Thursday, December 20, 2012

The man across the hall

There's another apartment directly across the hall from mine--literally five feet away from my threshold. Behind it lived a highly reclusive elderly man. I use the past tense there because he died last week, in his apartment. There was some fuss as the police and paramedics came, then left with a body, leaving a legal notice on the door forbidding entrance while the coroner investigated the circumstances.

A few minutes ago, there was a knock on my door. It was his daughter. She is there to pick up his remaining possessions. She wanted to know if any of his neighbors knew him and could tell her about his life.

This seemed to me kind of an odd request, until she filled in more of the story. He disappeared in 1988, and had not been in contact with his family since then. They had periodically tried to find him, without success. So this poor woman had not seen or heard from her father in almost 25 years, with her first contact being the police calling to tell her of his death. She had had no explanation for why he vanished, no idea where he was. No wonder she was thirsty for any scraps of information about how he had been living.

I told her that when it was warm (most of the year) he kept his door propped open a few inches to let in air, but not enough that anybody could look in, and based on how much of the time the door was cracked that way, he almost never left his apartment.

I only saw him a couple of times in the six years I've been here, when we were both coincidentally leaving or returning at the same time and exchanged a nod and a hello. I assume he was probably just living on Social Security, or maybe he had some sort of pension.

About a year ago I noticed water puddling around his door and seeping out from there down the hall. I immediately contacted building maintenance so they could get the flooding stopped. To my surprise, he was in there! The flooding was coming from the apartment above into his, but rather than call for emergency help to get the leaking stopped, he was just mopping up his floor. Peculiar behavior. It seems that he really did not want to be bother anybody, or to be bothered.

Today was the first time I've seen inside his apartment. It's a studio. It has only one window, and the only thing visible through it is a cinder block wall six inches away. I had never noticed that the next building was so close to the back of ours that the apartments on that side had no view whatsoever. It's the kind of view that makes for a visual punchline in TV sitcoms when somebody first goes into a hotel room or apartment, opens the curtains, and sees a brick wall. I didn't know that there are people who actually live in places where that is the reality. Apparently that has been his entire view of the outside world for many, many years.

I hope that in his effects his daughter finds some sort of explanation for his disappearance and reclusiveness, as I couldn't help her learn anything substantive about him. She seemed like a warm, kind woman, and her pain at having been inexplicably shut out of her father's life for so long was palpable.

I find the whole thing terribly sad. I hope I don't end up like that.

His name was Bob.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Response to Newtown

Every time in the past few days that I've seen somebody propose something that should be done to prevent another public mass shooting, I've mentally added my response to it to a long post I've been composing in my head about all the things that either wouldn't work or couldn't possibly be implemented.* Every proposal I've heard falls into one of those two categories.

Well, rest easy, because now I don't have to write that post; somebody has done it for me. Megan McArdle's essay for The Daily Beast yesterday is far and away the most level-headed reaction to the tragedy I've seen. Her conclusion, encapsulated by her sub-head, is the same as mine: "The things that would work are impractical and unconstitutional. The things we can do won't work."

She isn't coming from heartlessness; she felt as saddened and horrified as everybody else did. Nor is she just letting ideological purity trump caring about results. Her points are entirely pragmatic, grounded in hard-core realism. And she happens to be right. (She gets wrong a few small points about firearms--such as that revolvers have stronger recoil than semi-automatic handguns--and their associated laws and terminology, but nothing important enough to lead her basic thesis astray.)

By odd coincidence, I had been talking to my girlfriend about this subject just two days before Friday's news. She had just come from a local discussion group where the conversation had been about the second amendment, and asked me what I thought could be done to reduce gun violence in the United States. My answer was not very eloquent, but was much in line with McArdle's: The things that might do anything more than nibble around the edges of the problem are simply not feasible, for a variety of reasons.

For me the core obstacle to success is this: The tiny minority of people who cause all the mayhem (both mass public shootings and the enormously more common single homicides) are exceptionally resistant to the forces that cause the great majority of us to conform our behavior to societal norms--a conscience, the desire to be law-abiding citizens, a wish to not be in prison, and a preference for being alive rather than dead. A psychopath or career criminal for whom those tenets are not fundamentally controlling principles is basically beyond our power to deter until he has actually committed his felonies.

Anyway, I'm now on the verge of actually writing the threatened post rather than just writing an intro to McArdle's piece, which was my goal. So I'll shut up and suggest that you go read it.


McArdle encountered a large number of readers who erroneously read her to have said that 6-year-olds should have gang-tackled Adam Lanza. (She didn't.) To clarify, she has this short follow-up piece.

*I suppose I should add the confession that this has not always been just a mental exercise. I have irritated a few of my friends because, when they mention that something should be done, I press them for specifics, then explain why any specific proposal they suggest is doomed to failure. I'm not naturally pessimistic or fatalistic. It's just that I've spent many, many hours reading and thinking about this subject, and long ago came to the conclusion that gun violence in the U.S. is a deeply intractable problem, that there isn't anything effective that would be achievable, politically feasible, constitutional, and affordable.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The old razzle-dazzle

My table Saturday night at South Point had at least three players who were smart, experienced, and paying attention. When I have that kind of situation, one of my most reliable strategies is play completely straightforwardly for long enough that the attentive players think they have me pegged, then surprise them.

In particular, whether an opponent puts in a continuation bet after making a pre-flop raise is one of the most recognizable characteristics that attentive players will notice. I think the three most common patterns seen among $1-2 NLHE players are: (1) c-betting every time or nearly so; (2) c-betting every time one's hand is helped by the flop plus all the times that the flop looks like it should have helped a typical pre-flop raising range; and (3) c-betting when the flop is favorable to one's hand, checking when it is not.

I love to be facing opponents in category (3), because they are nearly playing with their cards face up. Reading them is easy. So when I want to lull opponents into thinking that they know where I am in a hand, I first set them up by actually playing style (3). How long I keep it up depends on how the cards fall. It needs to be long enough for my opponents have seen me raise, then either c-bet or not, with predictable results. That can take more or less time, depending on how many raising hands I get dealt early in the session. But I suppose that on average an hour or so is enough to establish me in their eyes as an easy read.

Then it's time to give 'em the razzle-dazzle--slow-play big hands to induce complacency and even larceny, win pots by betting aggressively even when I have whiffed the board.

That's what I did Saturday night. I played completely transparent, ABC poker for the first hour or so. My thinking opponents had plenty of opportunity to learn that if I checked the flop, I was basically giving up on the hand, and if I bet it, I had it. The stage was set.

The trickiest, most dangerous player at the table was, fortunately, on my immediate right. He also had a big stack of over $500. In the hand in question, he limped, then called the raise I put in with J-J. The flop was A-J-x. He checked. I checked behind, knowing that this would convince him that I did not have an ace and did not like seeing the ace on the flop. If he had an ace-rag kind of hand or a medium pair, he would be given reason to think he was probably ahead, and if he had missed completely, he would be emboldened to try to steal.

Sure enough, when some unhelpful rag fell on the turn, he bet $25. I called. He should now put me on either a jack with a good kicker (K or Q) or an unimproved pocket pair below aces. He would know by now that I did not put much money into pots with one-pair hands, especially when not top pair, giving him license to steal. One of his prime characteristics as a player was making serious stabs at pots to which opponents appeared less than fully committed. That is usually an admirable and winning strategy, but it can also be turned against you.

The river was a king. This completed no flush draws, and the only straight possible was Broadway with Q-10 in the hole. While this wasn't impossible for him to have, the odds were against it. The only other way he could theoretically have me beat would be to have A-A or K-K, and his pre-flop play made that almost impossible. I had 90%+ confidence that I had the best hand.

True to form, he took another swipe at the pot with $45 on the river. I had about $150 left. I moved all-in, hoping that he had hit some sort of two-pair hand that he would feel compelled to call with. No such luck this time. He chuckled, turned up his thoroughly unimproved Spanish Inquisition (6-3 offsuit), said, "I have a feeling you can beat this," and mucked. My jacks stayed securely face-down on their return trip to the dealer.

In retrospect, I'm virtually certain that if I had c-bet that flop, he would have folded in a heartbeat. By confounding his expectations--expectations that I had carefully cultivated for just such a moment as this--I got him to put in $70 that I could have won in no other way, with him thinking that it was a prime bluffing situation, when in reality it was anything but.

The icing on the cake was that after the hand was over, he made clear his conclusion that I had had K-K, and his bluff only failed because I had caught a lucky third king on the river. He convinced himself he had been foiled by a 2-outer, when actually he had no shot at succeeding from the get-go. This meant that even after conning him, he still had me pegged as Mr. Straightforward, and I'd be able to con him again! (Note that this would not be possible if I had succumbed to the temptation to boost my ego by showing off my tricky play. Keep your cards to yourselves, kids.) Sadly, another such opportunity did not arise before it was time to go, but I was licking my chops at the thought of it.

Razzle-dazzle 'em,
Show 'em the first-rate sorcerer you are.
Long as you keep 'em way off balance,
How can they spot you got no talents?
Razzle-dazzle 'em,
And they'll make you a star!

A quick comparison

Number of children killed by rifle fire in Connecticut that makes Barack Obama cry: 20.

Number of children killed by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan that does not make Barack Obama cry: 176 and counting.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Remedy for a dealer error

Last night I was playing at South Point. In one hand I had a single opponent. I bet the turn, he called. I was waiting for the next card to appear when the dealer said to me, "He called you." This was not news to me. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that the dealer was gently prodding me to show my hand, and another couple of seconds to realize that the dealer had made a major mistake. Somehow thinking that the hand was over, he had dropped the stub of the deck onto the discard pile. To make matters worse, he had somehow mixed the burn cards in with all the rest. (I had been watching my opponent, not the dealer, so I can't explain exactly what the dealer did, but that was the result.)

Floor was called. The stub was not clearly separable from the muck, and I don't know where the burn cards were. The floor guy's solution was to pick up most of the cards from the table, picking what appeared to me to be a completely arbitrary point most of the way down the pile. Then he had the dealer reshuffle those cards, cut, burn one, and finally deal a river card.

In theory, if the dealer had been able to tell him where the burn cards were (i.e., did he drop the stub onto the muck, then the burn cards on top?), they could have separated those out, then counted from the bottom the known number of discards that should be present, thus recreating the stub. I'm not sure why they didn't do that.

Another player who was not involved put up quite a fuss about the procedure, saying that all of the cards, including the discards, had to be included in the reshuffle. The floor guy repeatedly but politely rebuffed him by saying, "Thank you for your opinion," then going on with his instructions to the dealer.

I didn't care much. A random card is a random card, and it makes no difference to me whether they come up with the same random card that, absent the dealer error, would have been put out as fifth street, or a different random card. One is no more likely to be either beneficial or detrimental to my situation than another.

But my guess is that there is, in fact, some standard protocol to be followed in the case of this type of mistake, and that what I saw done was not it. Comments from those more knowledgeable in such arcane matters will be welcome.