Saturday, January 26, 2013

Big birthday

I'm a day late in thinking of doing this (have had a few other things on my mind...), but won't you join me in wishing my father, Joe, a happy 90th birthday? He was born January 25, 1923.

Yesterday I asked him if 90 felt any different than 89. He said no, then added this observation: "I used to think that when I turned 70, that would be the end of having to do things I didn't want to do. That didn't happen. So then I thought when I turned 80, that would be the end of having to do things I didn't want to do. That didn't happen either. I'm guessing that 90 won't be any different."

There you have it, folks--wisdom from my favorite nonagenarian.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Send-off, part 2

I got positive responses from seven people on a poker tournament and/or Herbs and Rye, plus two more up for the latter only. I don't think eight of us is enough to try to do a private poker tournament, but I feel like accepting Poker Vixen's suggestion to just join in the Treasure Island nightly 7 p.m. tourney, details of which are here. This will be Friday, February 1. At some point after poker, we'll head over to Herbs and Rye--when we're all knocked out, or when most of us are, or at some other point to be determined. I will plan to have one of their Moscow Mules, which will make approximately the 4th alcoholic beverage I've consumed in 6 1/2 years in Las Vegas. That's just how wild and crazy I am.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


One of my friends in town suggested last week that I arrange a private poker tournament as a sort of farewell event. I liked the idea, but when I asked on Twitter who might attend such a thing, I got only eight affirmative responses, which I thought was not enough to go on.

So let me ask here: I'm specifically thinking of Friday, February 1, in the evening. If you live in town or will be visiting here then, would you be interested in participating in:

(A) A low buy-in private poker tournament (probably in the range of $50) somewhere on the Strip yet to be determined, likely using the casino's usual daily tournament structure (read: fast),


(B) A get-together for food and/or drinks and/or other random shenanigans, most likely at Herbs and Rye on West Sahara?

Please reply via comments here, or Twitter to @PokerGrump, or email to Rakewell1 at the yahoo place (but, please, just one of those means so that I don't double-count) if the probability that you would make it is greater than 50%. (Never mind whether you responded to the earlier tweet. I'm starting the count over again with hopefully a wider audience here.) Let me know, please, if you would do one but not the other, or if you would join in either type of event.


Neither up nor down

When I was a wee lad in Sunday School, the teachers often had us sing an action song "to get the wiggles out" before moving on to the substance of the lessons. One of the favorites was "The Noble Duke of York." This has many variants on both the words and tune, but this is the way I learned it:

Oh, the Noble Duke of York
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up a hill
And he marched them down again.

Now when you're up you're up,
And when you're down you're down.
But when you're only halfway up,
You're neither up nor down.

We would be instructed to stand up on the "up" lines, sit back down on the "down" lines," and sort of half stand up on the "halfway" line.

I don't know whether it was due to subliminal indoctrination from that song or just a natural predisposition, but I've never liked being in between places, on the way from one location to another. I want to either be where I was or where I'm going. Of course I've heard a lifetime of advice from people telling me to enjoy the trip, stop and smell the roses, etc. And I do try. Once in a while I even succeed. But most of the time I revert back to my habitual squirreliness about being neither here nor there, and want to get the journey over with. Even though I'm shorter than average, most people have a hard time keeping up with my walking pace if I go as fast as I'm inclined to go, because I want to be there already.

This is on my mind at the moment because Josie emailed me this morning to ask how the move to North Carolina was going. I dashed off a grumpy reply saying that it sucked. I then started to enumerate the ways in which it sucked, which is what has me on this little tantrum.

I have to sell a bunch of stuff, give away other stuff, and just throw away yet more items. My apartment is in more disarray than it ever has been because of the process of figuring out what to do with everything. I still haven't completely settled on what means of moving the things I'm keeping will be. I can't tell how much will fit in my car and how much I have to ship separately. My bike is all taken apart for shipment so I can't go riding. I don't sleep well because I'm fretting about the thousand and one decisions I have to make and worrying about getting them wrong. I sweat that I'm not going to get everything coordinated and done in the time frame I've set out. (I'm shooting to head out of town February 7th or 8th and arrive in Asheville four or five days after that.) I'm constantly thinking about all the things that might go wrong at the last minute, even with the best-laid plans. There are large expenses to be incurred in shipping, gasoline for a cross-country drive, in paying temporary double rent and utilities, down payments, deposits, fees, etc.--and at the same time my income will drop to zero for a couple of weeks while I get a work space outfitted out east. I have one of my largest-ever consulting jobs waiting to be done, having promised to try to finish it before I move. I don't know if I'll have time or opportunity to get together with friends for any sort of proper good-bye before I'm gone. All in all, I'm just feeling pretty damn sorry for myself, in the most whiny, juvenile, embarrassing, and pathetic way possible.

To anticipate a likely thought going through readers' minds: no, this angst is not reflective of doubt about or resentment for the move itself. I am fully at peace with that. Sure, I'd be happy to be staying put. But I'd also be entirely happy to be in Asheville, in my new apartment, with everything already settled, maybe even with an adopted kitty as a companion (which I can't have where I am), with a lot more space than my current apartment gives me (and ten times nicer to boot), free to get together with Cardgrrl whenever we feel like it. It really is just the disruptive, unsettling, in-between-ness of it all that is gnawing at me all day every day. It's existing in a state of limbo that I hate, being not quite hither and not quite yon.

I think it must be a universal experience that parents teach their kids far more life lessons thoughtlessly, by accident, just in the course of daily life, than they do through the occasional carefully planned chat or activity. (Don't worry. This is going somewhere, and it will all connect back.) My dad's 90th birthday is Friday, and I'll be driving up to Salt Lake City for the weekend for a family get-together. The impending occasion has caused me to reflect on some of the things he taught me in moments that he was probably not intending to be life lessons, and which he likely does not remember as vividly as I do.

He is an inveterate tinkerer. Over my growing-up years, he made a lot of improvements to our modest home. One of the biggest additions was turning the long wall of our family room into bookshelves, storage cabinets, and a window seat. While he was in the middle of that project, which seemed to be taking forever (everything seems to take forever when you're 7), I commented about how much work he was putting into it. He replied, "Yes, but you just get it done, and then you get to enjoy it for a lot longer than it took to do it."

I'm trying to keep that in mind over the next several weeks of chaos and uprooting. (Uprooting--that's an interesting word that popped into my brain there. Like moving a plant to a larger pot so that it has more room to grow.) I just want it to be done so that I can get on with enjoying what awaits me on the other side.

Just for fun

A friend from Minnesota tweeted a link to this YouTube video this morning, with the intriguing caption of "What Lutherans do for fun, as recorded at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, Illinois, May 6, 2007." It's so thoroughly delightful that I felt compelled to share it. Please enjoy.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest"

A blog post I read today reminded me that I have never read Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." That fact embarrassed me, and I decided that there could be no more fitting day than today to rectify that lapse. I'm glad I did. It is a beautiful, stirring piece. I do not idolize King; I'm well aware of his faults and shortcomings. But I stand in awe of his courage, the clarity of his moral vision, and his rare ability to rouse both emotion and action in his readers and listeners by of the sheer power of his words and ideas.* History has produced few that could equal him in those admirable virtues.

My favorite excerpts:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. 
My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. 
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." 
Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." 
Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong. 
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. 
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." 
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. 
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. 
More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. 
We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. 
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.... If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. 
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? 
Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. 
One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." 
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

*David Foster Wallace liked to say that King deployed "totally ass-kicking Standard White English." See Consider the Lobster, page 109.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The dreaded pocket kings

Actually, I don't dread pocket kings. I win with them at least as often as would be predicted statistically, so I'm happy when I see them. The post title is an homage to my friend Rob, who hates pocket kings ("dreaded" is his label for them) almost as much as he loves breastscleavage, vaginas, hookers, and inappropriate touching.

Story the first

This happened at Harrah's Cherokee when I was there with Cardgrrl on my recent North Carolina scouting trip. I had bought in for just $100, because I didn't know what to expect from the locals and wanted to be cautious and conservative, at least at first. Over the course of about three hours, I had worked that up to a bit over $300. Our table had only one aggressive player--a middle-aged Asian guy who had amassed the biggest stack (over $800) by stealing all the orphan pots and putting his far more conservative opponents to difficult decisions. He was not crazy, but he was the only unpredictable player I had to tangle with, while the others had well-defined styles and were generally not too difficult to decipher.

I raised to $10 from early position with the two black kings. Asian guy reraised to $25 from one of the blinds. Reraising was pretty common for him, but doing it from the blinds instead of from position was a deviation from his standard practice, and doing it against me--my raises had been getting lots of respect from the table, including from him--was similarly outside of his usual bag of tricks. So I was certainly on notice that his hand range was stronger here than it typically was for his reraises. However, it could still easily include A-K and any pocket pair probably down as low as 8s or 9s.

I just called. I had not put in a single four-bet the entire session, and I thought that doing so now would make it too easy for him to get away from hands that I had beat; it would effectively turn my cards face up. I thought there was also a ton of deceptive value in playing it this way. After a three-bet, he was virtually certain to make a continuation bet, so with my positional advantage I hoped to be able to make more money from him by letting him continue to fire.

The flop was J-J-4. I didn't think he would three-bet me pre-flop from out of position with pocket 4s or with any hand containing a jack except for pocket jacks, and flopping quads was too remote a possibility to worry about. So this was basically about the best flop I could hope for, short of making a set. I was behind pocket aces, but everything else in his range I had beat.

He led out for $75, an overbet of the pot. I didn't expend any effort trying to interpret his bet size or body language, because they simply didn't matter to my decision. I wanted to play for stacks, period. I had deliberately underrepresented my hand pre-flop for precisely this reason: to get him to think that some smaller pocket pair was likely to be good, and/or that he could push me off of a pocket pair by aggressively playing A-K. After having done that, it would make no sense to reverse course. So I pretended to be thinking for a decent amount of time, in order to further the impression that I was unsure about what to do, then hit the "all in" and "confirm" buttons.

His head dropped and he looked dejected. I thought that presaged a fold, but nope--after about five seconds he entered his command for a call. After the computer played out the turn and river, it displayed my kings, then showed my opponent's cards, the only hand I did not want to see: aces.

I was busto. The outcome sucked but it was a situation where I was effectively predestined to lose as soon as the PokerPro table's random number generator set the order of the virtual deck. There were other opponents who were so tight and solid that I might well have been able to fold the kings at some point when facing their sudden eagerness to put all their chips in. But not this guy. He was the only player in the game against whom folding kings could not make sense, because aces were a minority of his range, even given the atypical pre-flop circumstances.

Story the second

Today I went to the Palms to play poker while other people were preoccupied with the big sportsball thingy that was on the ginormous-screen TVs. (One of the dealers asked me if I had any bets on the game. I had to admit that I didn't even know who was playing.) I still have several buy-ins worth of Palms chips in my collection. I was unable to sell them to collectors at a profit, so I'll just use them to play poker with.

This was a wild and crazy table. We had three players driving the action. Sadly, I spent most of my 3 1/2-hour session in the graveyard of card-deaditude, unable to take advantage of the juiciness. I only stayed afloat by the occasional audacious bluff, which got respect because my lack of cards was interpreted by the other players as uber-tightness.

In the hand in question, UTG was the table big stack, with about $1200. He raised to $11. The next player called. I smooth-called with K-K.

I realize that telling two stories about pocket kings without reraising makes it seem that this is my normal course. It isn't. But in both cases there were perfectly valid reasons. Here I still had two players behind me who were ramblin'-gamblin' dudes who loved to try to steal pre-flop with large reraises, and who, even when facing resistance, were willing to get all their money in pre-flop with marginal holdings and just hope for the best. I wanted to let them do their thing.

Sure enough, one of them three-bet behind me to $80. With a raise this ridiculously large, he either had a pocket pair in the 10s-jacks-queens range and didn't want to have to make difficult decisions later in the hand, or he had complete garbage and was just on a steal. With aces or the other two kings he would reraise a smaller amount, trying to induce action. He was absolutely not the kind of player who tried to shut down the action with his premium hands in an attempt to win a small, low-risk, uncontested pot.

It folded around back to me. I had about $200 left--truly a no-brainer decision here, since my opponent (a smart, experienced player) would recognize that he was being offered better than 2:1 to call my shove, and would therefore have a hard time folding just about anything. I pushed, and he called as soon as the dealer announced the amount. I showed the kings. He kept his cards face down, which I took as a favorable sign.

I don't remember how the board ran out, but he passed his cards back to the dealer without showing and began to count out what he owed me. Another player asked to see the hand, and the dealer showed it: 6-7 offsuit!

It's nice to know that the dreaded pocket kings can still manage to beat 6-7 offsuit for a $432 pot--even if Rob would have you believe otherwise.