Sunday, November 18, 2012

Poker Lessons from Abortion Discussions

Say what?

I’ve often said that life is like poker, and vise versa, and sometimes, lessons from one can be applied to the other. Today’s lesson comes from a recent discussion I participated in (on Facebook, of course) regarding abortion (still a hot topic nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade).

The discussion (if you can call it that) was shared from a link from a pro-life site, supposedly about a dilemma a young wife faced when she went to the doctor and found herself pregnant – again.  She already had a 1-year-old, and couldn’t afford another child.  You know where this is going – the doctor gave her a “choice” between killing the unborn fetus and killing her infant, and the discussion took off from there.

Now I don’t want to make this a comment on abortion.  I will disclose that I am pro-family-planning, which is the vein in which I made my FB comment.  Rather than make the “either or” choice (and frankly, very few things in life are just two choices), I backed up the truck to point out that IF the woman was serious about not being able to afford a second child, her choice should have been made BEFORE she became pregnant.  That is, she could (a) use birth control, or (b) not have sex…or at least, not have penis-in-vagina sex.  I’m sure there were other choices, but those were the two I mentioned.  I’ll tell you about the response I got later…onto to the poker discussion now…

Like the pregnancy situation, your poker play should be thought-out BEFORE you get into trouble.  Like chess players, you need to think a move ahead…or two, or three moves. You will be a much better player if you reduce the times you say, “What should I do NOW?” and plan by saying, “What should I do IF…”

For example, let’s say you’re on the button with J-10 suited, it’s passed to you, and you raise it up.  The small blind folds, and the big blind just calls.  The flop comes J-9-4 rainbow, the BB checks…and you…well, you plan ahead.

If you think about your choices now on the flop, and on the turn, and, for good measure on the river if you make it that far, you’ll make better decisions overall.  If you bet your pair of jacks now, and he folds, no problem; you win.  But if he calls…what do you do when the turn brings an Ace?  A face card, making a potential straight?  Another 9?

By thinking about all the potentials now, you can decide to bet small, or bet big, or to check your pair with so-so kicker (it depends on your stack size, your opponent’s stack, his playing tendencies, etc. etc. etc.).  But deciding HOW you’ll play the turn NOW, you’ll play the FLOP better, because you won’t have to make the agonizing decision later – you already know what you plan to do NOW.  And you also have to consider what to do if he RAISES now…Hardly an “either or” choice, also.

So make certain you’re planning ahead to avoid those complex decisions.  Both on the felt and in real life.  That way, you’ll be a winner.

So how were my comments about not having sex received?  Apparently, NO ONE is in favor of not having sex – we’re all rabbits or something.  The birth control issue was a bit more moderated, but as always, I am amazed at the number of people who claim that this is just not possible (mostly guys who don’t like wearing condoms). Boo-frickin’ hoo, guys. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clock ‘em, Danno! Tanking and the Clock

There’s been much discussion on the poker blogs as to the curious poker technique known as “tanking” and the related subject of a clock. The general consensus of the discussion is that too many players tank for too long, and some sort of clock (like a shot clock in basketball) is needed to ensure the integrity of the game.

There are some known poker pros who seem to “go into the tank” quite often, usually as a Hollywood thing versus actually studying the situation at length.  Daniel Negreanu sometimes takes a while to make a decision before he acts, but at least he is entertaining, talkative, and not a colossal bore.  If you watched much of the final table of the WSOP, you saw Jesse Silvia act like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster…stone dead for minutes, then…it’s alive…it’s alive…IT’S ALIVE.  Over and over and over…and sometimes, just to make a fold that, in hindsight, was so simple even I would do it.  His opponents were not without their own marathon tanking moments (I’m looking at you, Jake Balsiger), and it must have made for an incredibly difficult editing nightmare for the producers.

If you play online, you know that the decision clock is integral to the game.  It’s there, and you always have just so much time to make a decision.  Live poker…not the same thing.  Should it be?

Let’s consider why online casinos have a clock.  OK, sure, to keep the game moving, so more hands are played, and they make more money on the rake.  But there’s another factor here, and that’s customer satisfaction.  Who really wants to play with some clown who sits there thinking about every hand for what seems like an eternity? And trust me, 30 seconds online IS an eternity.  The clock keeps people playing, and that makes players happy.

So should live tournament poker have a PERMANENT clock?  Yes, there’s one available for those who call “clock” on opponents, but it’s rare that this is done, and some players take umbrage at those who call clock too often (we’re looking at you, Tiffany Michelle).  I’ve heard from some players that a clock would destroy some of the strategies and psychology that “tanking” players use - making opponents uncomfortable and squirming, allowing slower play to help advance the blinds, blah blah blah.  And of course, some players actually NEED all that time to work out all the possible hands their opponents might be betting, figuring pot odds, re-running the hand, cards played, etc. etc. etc.

If you’re old enough to remember the arguments against a shot-clock in basketball (pro or college, take your pick), a lot of this is familiar ground.  Pro and college basketball really suffered from having a clock to force the action, huh?

A clock, forcing players to think “fast” (as opposed to half-fast), would be a great addition to live poker.  Who wants to be the first poker room to do it?  I promise it’ll be a lot better than being the first non-smoking poker room…oh, wait.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poker Lessons from the Election - Mind the Data!

There’s been a lot of chatter on the liberal Blog-o-Sphere about the recent Presidential election.  I don’t mean the crowing, I mean the talk that most polls showed Barack Obama ahead, especially the state-by-state electoral count, and yet many Republicans felt “certain” that Mitt Romney would not just win, but win in a landslide! Yes, there were a couple of polls that showed Romney ahead in the popular vote, but NO ONE showed him winning by anything that could be considered a landslide.  Even when Fox News called it for Obama, there were many doubters.


Well, since this is a poker blog, and since I took a vow of political chastity until 2013 (I pissed off more than a few people on Facebook, I guess), allow me to answer that question and improve your poker playing at the same time.

First, people in general are lousy at calculating what we refer to as “risk.”  Americans are actually worse at it than others.  We underestimate our risk at being hit by lightning and overestimate being caught in a terrorist attack.  We underestimate our risk of losing our home to a fire or flood, and overestimate our chances of winning the lottery.  And so on.

Second, we tend to mis-calculate the odds when we really, really, really WANT something to happen.  We add “bonus points” to the odds to compensate for what we’d like to see occur, and disregard obvious signs that perhaps what we want to happen ain’t gonna happen.  Seriously - I just came across an article that discusses this phenomenon, although I must admit I’ve seen it enough on the poker felt to know it’s true.

So maybe that’s what happened last Tuesday.  Even though most polls showed an Obama victory, the Romney fans found “their own math” and “just knew” that Mitt would pull it out once all the votes were counted.

And when you play poker, are you the same?  Take this example:  Six-handed, it’s folded to you on the button, and you raise with a pair of red jacks.  The small blind folds, and the nitty big blind re-raises.  You call, and the flop comes Ace-King-Seven rainbow.  He checks, you bet about two-thirds the pot, and he raises.  Do you call?

Well, he either has air, or you are waaaayyyy behind.  And if he really is a nit, how often does he have air?  For most players this is an easy fold, but some folks get committed to their pocket face cards no matter what the data says.  If he has an ace or a king, you’re about a 9-1 dog.  In my book, that’s a landslide.

So pay attention to the cards and the data they provide.  Pay attention to the playing habits of your opponents.  If they never bluff and they like to chase flushes and there are three cards of one suit on the board and they go all-in…yeah, they probably have it.  You rarely have a complete situation like this, however.  It’s never quite this clear.  Poker is always a game of incomplete information, but often enough there IS plenty of information to make an educated decision, remembering that even being a 9-1 favorite doesn’t mean you ALWAYS win. 

Last election reference:  One pollster was accused of saying Romney had no chance of winning.  He replied, “I said it’s doubtful, not impossible.”  May the data always be in your favor, and for cryin’ out loud, pay attention to it when it’s not!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election Process…and Poker

I haven’t blogged in a while because (a) I spent a couple of weeks back in my ancestral home of Ann Arbor (MI) with family, and (b) the election.  And even though I was away from the keyboard, I opined plenty about the election.  Some of it was even electronic, and that pissed off my Facebook friends, so…I stopped that.

Still, I have plenty to say about the Election Process. Being a progressive, I can’t complain too much about the results, I guess, but I CAN complain about the process, and what better way to illustrate the failings of our national political system than…poker.
  • In a word - MONEY.
  • In two words - Special Interests.
  • In another two words - States Rights.
Let me explain the first two…

If you followed some of the down-ballot results from election night, you’ll see that it was a pretty good night for poker and gaming. Rhode Island voters allowed expansion at one casino into table games (poker and blackjack) while defeating a similar measure for another casino (local voters held the talking stick here).  In Oregon, two casino expansion measures lost, but in Maryland, a casino expansion measure won allowing for both table games at existing casinos, and a new (6th) casino in that state.

What’s illustrative for our discussion is that in Maryland and in Oregon, opposition came from casino interests.  To be sure, there were OTHER casino interests that were in FAVOR of the measure, but unlike years ago when it was the casino business versus the religious right, now it’s casino vs. casino; money vs. money; those who are already in vs. those who want a piece of the action. 

In Oregon it was the Native American casinos against the new non-Indian casino hopefuls; in Maryland it was MGM battling Penn National.  And in both cases, the winners spent more money.  Plain and simple as that.

Another ballot issue I was passionate about suffered similarly.  Polls have shown repeatedly that as many as 2/3rds of Americans want food containing GMO ingredients to be labeled, and California’s Prop 37 was designed to do just that; the first in this country to do so (GMO labeling is common in Europe, Asia…heck, most everywhere else).  Early polls showed this measure winning handily, but then gobs of money from Monsanto and Hershey for TV ads spelled its doom.  Bummer.

So money rules.  We knew that.  More than SIX BILLION spent on this election cycle, and truthfully, just to re-elect most of the incumbents.  As if we didn’t already know what most of them stood for.  Six billion to convince the undecideds?  You can’t tell me that $6 billion couldn’t be used for something else, like….I dunno, flood relief, or school improvements, or job creation, or…SOMETHING WORTHWHILE?

Enough of that screed…on to point three. 

I’ve lived in four states, and I currently enjoy living in Oregon where EVERYONE votes by mail.  No lines.  No problems.  No hanging chads.  I have voted previously by punch cards and machines (old and new).  I have waited in line (nothing like some of the folks I saw in Ohio).  I have been the only one in the building voting (like in the white neighborhood in Ohio I saw on TV).  The fact that every state has its own system and its own methods and its own process seems to work OK until it doesn’t.  Again, some districts were late in counting ballots.  Some had machine screw-ups.  If you look at voting in other countries, they don’t seem to have the issues we do.  And that’s because they have a national voting system.  We do it state by state.

And now we’re talking, finally, about legalizing poker, but again, it’s not a national system, but state by state. Nevada for Nevadans.  Maryland for Marylanders (or whatever they call themselves).  And so on.  Yes, horse racing and lotteries overcame the intrastate issue (pooled pari-mutuel betting and PowerBall).  But will/can poker do likewise?  Players won’t be thrilled with small populations and limited choices (see: PokerStars and Full Tilt).  Poker won’t experience the growth it had back in 2003-6 unless there’s a BIG (read: National/International) pool of participants.  That means legalizing poker on a national scale.

Is that possible with the current/new congress and Obama?  Time will tell, but someone should call for the clock.