Saturday, March 28, 2015

Date with Cardgrrl

Once a month, Nina and I schedule a whole-day date. For March, it was yesterday.

We started with some flowers for my girlfriend--Gerbera daisies. (Right-click/open in new tab for maximum embiggification.)

Then we were off to breakfast at Biscuit Head, which is not only the best place for breakfast in Asheville, NC, but in the whole wide world.

Our next big plan was to head to a place called Max Patch for a hike. But there were lots of things to stop and see on the way there. First we spotted a burned-down house, which required exploration.

Much of the winding road to Max Patch follows the course of a lovely stream, which has many little rapids like this one:

This was the sight at one scenic overlook, on our heavily overcast day:

On the last few miles of the climb up to Max Patch, it began to snow. There was a brief window of time when the snow coated the tree branches, but was melting when it hit the ground, creating an effect lovelier than I could capture in photos, though I tried.

When we finally arrived at Max Patch, it was too cold, snowy, and windy to make for a nice hike, so we basically just turned around and drove back down the mountain. But the trip was a worthwhile adventure anyway.

Out next stop was an appointment for an hour in a hot tub. The Hot Springs Resort and Spa has a bunch of hot tubs fed by a natural geothermal spring, so that the water is a constant 102 degrees year round. The tubs are in private enclosures, some lined up along the French Broad River, some along a stream that feeds into the river. (We were told that tubs 5 and 8 are the best positioned, but we didn't know that in time to request them.) It was a lovely, relaxing way to spend an hour.

This is me, getting in the way of you seeing the nice view that we had from the tub (photo by Nina):

Then we headed back to Asheville, to the opening of the annual orchid show at the North Carolina Arboretum. There were so many spectacular orchids on display that it was hard to pick just one--or even just a few--to show you.

Our last stop was dinner at an excellent Nepali restaurant in downtown Asheville, Cafe Kathmandu.

Finally, we went back to Nina's house for a couple of cutthroat games of Quiddler.

And that is what it's like to spend a whole day with my girlfriend. I kinda like it--and her.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) pointed me to this YouTube video about the mathematics of shuffling a deck of cards into true randomness:

You might watch that and think, "OMG! The way poker dealers shuffle doesn't come anywhere close to meeting that standard!" And you'd be right. But you wouldn't be right to worry about that fact.

When the professor is talking about a deck that is not fully randomized, so that one could guess the next card more often than chance alone would dictate, he's talking about having started from a deck that is as it comes from the factory--or, to use the casino term, a deck that has been "spaded"--with the cards in rank order within each suit.

But if you don't know what order the cards are in before the shuffling begins, it makes no difference how much shuffling you do. Your ability to guess the position of any specified card is 1 out of 52 before the shuffling procedure begins (by definition of what it means not to know what order the cards are in), and it is the same after one riffle shuffle, or two, or ten.

For purposes of a poker game, it makes no difference whether the order of the cards in the deck after the shuffling process can pass a statistical test for random distribution compared to the order they were in before the shuffling process. All that matters is whether any player can know or guess the identity of any card. For example, suppose that I see that the first card I'm dealt is the queen of clubs. Can I guess the identity of the next card--which will be dealt to the player on my left--with any accuracy better than a 1 in 51 guess based on that one piece of information? No. And that's all that matters.

Of course, if one is paying attention, one can know at least roughly the position of some of the cards before the shuffle, because you can watch the dealer turn face-down the board cards and any players' hands that were exposed, and watch where those cards end up in the deck. Suppose you notice that the river card on the previous hand was the ace of diamonds, and the way the dealer gathers up the cards causes that ace to now be on the bottom of the deck before the shuffle.

You could, if you really wanted to, watch what the dealer does, and get a general sense of where that ace ends up. The dealer will typically do two riffle shuffles, which will leave the ace within the bottom few cards. Next he will do a "boxing" shuffle, which is an on-the-table equivalent to the second type of shuffling shown in the video. It moves a few cards at a time as a packet from the top of the deck to the bottom. So now you know that the ace is somewhere near the top of the deck--probably within the top ten cards. Now the dealer does another riffle, which will leave the ace near the top. Finally, the deck is cut, which will put that ace somewhere in the middle.

If you're playing ten-handed hold'em, 20 cards will be dealt to the players. Is that enough that one of the last ones dealt will be that ace of diamonds? Maybe, maybe not--it depends on how large the packets of cards were during the boxing shuffle, and on where the cut was made. If the ace doesn't get to one of the players, will it end up on the board? Maybe, maybe not. The dealer will go through 8 more cards (5 on the board and 3 burn cards), so the river will be what had been the 28th card in the deck at the start of the hand. But the ace might be above or below that point. You can't be sure.

This shuffled deck would not pass every test for randomness, because you could, for example, profitably bet that the ace of diamonds will be found in the middle one-third of the deck, which will prove to be true more than it being in the top or bottom thirds--a condition that would not obtain for a truly randomized deck of cards. But in real-world practice, your ability to track the position of a card is so diluted, and the poker edge you could gain by a general sense of where in the deck that one card will be found is so weak that they might as well be zero.

And all of that is for just one card, and only for a person who is really watching closely. If the dealer does a wash of the cards before the shuffling (some casinos' procedures require that, some leave it up to the dealer, or it may be done at a player's request), it's pretty unlikely that you'll be able to follow the position of even that one card you were trying to track.

Furthermore, if the casino uses a Shufflemaster machine with alternating decks, you have no chance at all, because the machine truly randomizes the deck. It has a random number generator, and moves each card to a randomly selected spot (1 through 52) in the newly ordered deck.

All of which is a very long way of saying this: The standard poker room shuffling procedure, if done correctly, is plenty good enough. It may not pass rigorous statistical tests of randomness, but it effectively leaves every player thoroughly ignorant of where any card is going to show up, which is all that matters.

Monday, March 23, 2015

PokerNews article #57

In which I bring Alan Turing, Monty Python, Lewis Carroll's White Queen, and Cinderella to testify on the importance of believing impossible things in poker.