Thursday, February 26, 2009

Poker Player Politics

[Content Disclosure: 35% Poker; 83% Politics, 19% Second-hand Worldly Observations]

I was playing a few evenings ago when the far end of the table began a political discussion. Down at our end there was general cynicism regarding all things political, so we were not going to lower ourselves to engage in the national political debate that was going on down there. Besides those turkeys had been winning all the big pots with straight flushes and full houses no less (it was an Omaha8 game).

So I basically got to eavesdrop on this discussion without having to offer my own six cents worth. The topic, of course, was the economic crisis, those banking bastards and those lazy politicians and absent regulators who didn't do their jobs. Right away I was ready to tune it out, I mean can't you recreate this same conversational rant from CNN, FOX, the watercooler, the unemployment line, the corner bar and your own dinner table. Yep, me too; but this one surprised me.

These guys were all 65+ and clearly retired locals, yet check out what I heard:

"No sense in being a Republican or a Democrat anymore, you gotta vote for the guy who is going to make the hard choices."

"I can't believe those news commentators going after Obama, what he has been in office for six weeks and all of this is his fault? I didn't vote for him but if I had known what he was going to do about the economy, I would have."

"...and how come the Republicans can vote like 80% for Bush givimg the banks $750 billion but 0% of them could vote for the Obama package?"

"What annoys me the most is that no one is going to go to jail for this, but a couple of hundred thousand people will lose their houses. Yeah, I know they overbought but the prices went way up when the financing got cheap... Hell, it wasn't cheap it was free!"

What finally wrapped the whole conversation was the admission by all four of the players that they had voted for McCain but three of them would go for Obama, if the election were held today. Interesting what you pick up at a poker table, if you just listen.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Story #2


[Content Disclosure: continued from yesterday]

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. ---- ----- ---- 1 Corinthians 12

We do not see the world the same way a person standing right next to us does. We perceive reality through the lens of our upbringing, our culture, our beliefs. We see the world through the pains and panes of our experience. What may be moral and good for our twenty year old self, might well be hubris or sin for us at fifty. Morals and judgments are relative because we do not live in a world of absolutes nor perfect penance.

As promised yesterday. Story #2:

Some years ago, I had a clinical client who was perhaps twenty-five years older than I. He was a chemistry professor with over thirty years of university teaching experience. The loss of a spouse and his own health problems brought him to question his current situation and led him to therapy with me. A month or so into our clinical relationship, his health forced him to give up his job and the triple threat of being widowed, being in failing health and now out of work led him to question just about everything. One day a session turned to questions about suicide. My quick assessment was that Edward has enough of the factors in the clinical checklist to be taken seriously. At some point in a conversational lull, I initiated this exchange:

"Edward, am I a good therapist?"

"I believe you are an excellent therapist."

"Can you tell me why?"

"Well, you have clearly studied the various clinical theories on therapeutic psychology and you are able to apply them with your patients. You are a very good listener and your interventions are appropriate and to the point and you are never diverting, which makes me wonder why our conversation about my potential suicide has suddenly become a discussion about your psychological skills."

"One of those clinical skills you mentioned would suggest that I should be telling you that these feelings you are having will pass, that suicidal ideation in most individuals is transitory and 90% or more of patients move beyond this state of mind in a matter of days. But I think you know that and I also believe that you might actually be in the other 10% of that statistic."

"Interesting, are you suggesting that I might just as well go ahead and be gone?"

"No Edward, what I am suggesting is that you missed one of the key reasons I am the therapist I am today, which is that I learn from my clients. Each and every day someone teaches me something about the human condition that I did not know. I get some insight into a problem from a perspective I had not considered, most often because I could not have that experience from inside of my body and my mind with the life experience I have had. Clients have experiences from within their own worldview and they illuminate the world for me by the simply act of telling me about their unique view of life. In a few months, maybe a year; you will be able to look back at this dark time in your life and reflect on the experience with a new vision, a new perspective. That new insight you will have might then be transmitted to someone who can use it to help others, someone like me. So for just that selfish reason, I think we should work on why you are feeling so desperate and put aside the actual potential for your demise."

Edward laughed. I am guessing for the first time in many weeks, he just laughed. And the he said:

"Well OK, if we can help you then I guess I can stay alive for that. Do I still have to pay for these sessions?"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Right for You, Wrong for Me

[Content Disclosure: Morals, Ponderings, Life and 1/2% Poker]

‘Reinhold Neibuhr said, “You make a moral choice, you act, and then you ask for forgiveness.” You make the choice, because you can’t sit around hemming and hawing forever. You ask forgiveness, because, to quote Paul, “We look through a glass darkly.” What appears moral and good in our eyes may not appear good and moral in the eyes of others, even our friends. No act is absolutely moral or good, because we don’t live in a utopia where we have those absolutes.’ -- Chris Hedges

Some of my very dearest friends are passing through some tremulous periods in their lives right now. Seems like these things come in threes or sixes, depending I guess on how many really close friends you share your life deeply with. What strikes me is how many big decisions are made based on unreflected assumptions about life and for lack of any better word -- reality. Assessing reality in order to make choices about our path is made infinitely more difficult if we hold shifting beliefs about what actually constitutes ordinary reality. Therefore giving advice and counsel to others is more and less difficult based on just how much of consensual reality you share with the other person.

Obviously my friends personal struggles are not blog fodder but during my conversations over the past week, I told two personal stories as examples. In both cases I was told that I should share those stories more widely, so under the category of 'life in stories', take what you will from these.

Last year, I was leaving a Las Vegas casino either very late at night or very early in the morning, I was with my old friend Jon, we have been friends from times well before the 'poker phase' of my life. We were on a seemingly deserted floor of a big parking structure when we came around a massive concrete abutment to first hear and then see a scuffle. A women was down on the floor by a car with a man straddling her and pulling at her purse. My first thought was not "what do I do?" No, my thought was "who am I with." Jon was on my left and already moving away, widening the distance between us. "Hey!" I shouted at the guy and he turned with a knife in his hand and swung wildly. He was too far away and too drunk or drugged to be an actual threat but I still stepped back, so his knife was missed me by eight feet or more and his lunge awkwardly landed him on all fours. I stepped to the right as he tried to regain his balance and once he looked up I moved just one big step towards him. He was completely focused on the very large man moving in on him, just as I knew he would be. Never for a moment did he consider Jon nor see him and the hard sided briefcase that smacked with a loud thump on the side of his head.

I checked that our knife-wielding menace was out cold, while Jon made sure that the lady was not on the far side of a domestic dispute and about to show her love to the unconscious jackass by attacking us. But no, this was a straight robbery attempt. The lady was not interested in a police report, as she felt the authorities would be all too willing to book her too, based on some past 'evening encounters' she may have had. So we got her into her car and Jon pulled my vehicle around the front of the casino while I walked back inside to tell a security guard that someone might want to check section 4B of the parking garage for a cold cocked mugger and no, I did not wish to make a formal statement.

The moral? Well, I am happy to let you draw your own existential conclusions. I would only add that dealing with the 'reality' of this moment was clearly a function of knowing Jon and having shared certain physical insights about the nature of reality and the darkside of the same. I often leave casinos alone late at night and at those times reality can be very different.

Story #2 -- will wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tis Good to be Back

[Content Disclosure: 13%-19% Poker, 87% Northern California]

Let me get it out of the way right up front, I have not been to the 101 Casino (formerly Sonoma Joe's) for any poker yet, but soon I promise. I have been to several Indian and one Burmese restaurant, one herbal apothecary and an acupuncturist in Forestville. I have hung out with at least a dozen cats (pictures soon) and am slowly dealing with the deteris of life and in particular the leftover flotsom and jetsom of this last year of the voyage.

Personal economy-wise there is work being done both on spec and on the clock/cash register. Otherwise, I have several long time friends here in Sonoma and many more down in the City. I am meanderingly getting to see all of them in a slow flourish of reconnection. Planning for this summer and beyond is beginning, although like so many others, a bit of the future is in the hands of the Washington politicians and in my case, in particular, Barney Frank.

The question is: If online poker comes back completely in the US, will it matter now that the dollars are not flowing so freely in this wretched economy. Like my friend
Dr. Pauly, I am working on my non-poker book, while awaiting the decision on poker as a writing source going forward. And like my co-author Amy Calistri, I am taking some time to be blog reflective.

Here in the green, damp Northern California environs, it is very easy to look at all the balls you have in the air and just decide to let a couple of them drop and slowly roll away. Things look and feel different. Perhaps just a matter of perspective but more likely a product of long gestation and an ill fit with certain aspects of life.

But then again, it is Northern California:



Sunday, February 15, 2009

Luck or Freedom?

[Content Disclosure: 100% Poker, 43% Freedom]

I played a home game the other night, a real home game; no poker media, no one who had ever even played in a card room. Some 'Follow the Queen', a few wild card games, lots of beer. My buddy, who got me the invite, just had to mention my credentials and that meant I had to supply stories for at least part of the evening. Eventually, someone had to ask:
"How much is skill and how much is just luck?"

But this post is not about luck, besides I have given my opinion on this issue often. In case you missed it: There is no luck in poker, there is, however, variance.

What bothers me about the luck question is when it is posed as: "Is poker a game or skill or luck?" and then courts make decisions about whether or not we can play poker based on some answer a judge drags out of his Sunday school upbringing. I really hate lawyers and judges messin' about with the skill or luck question because that is not the right question. Never was, never will be.

The question about legal or illegal poker is much more basic. The question is correctly phrased this way: "What the hell is the government doing telling me or anyone else how to spend our time, energy or money?!"

Forget the Skill vs. Luck question that just distracts the focus from essential issue that poker players are simply exercising their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of some basic enjoyment. Moralists, book thumpers and all those who do not enjoy a game of cards should enjoy their life as they wish and stop trying to control mine. If playing poker for money will in your system of beliefs lead you to hell then you probably should not be hanging out at a poker table; but the imposition of your myths on my life is the very thing that starts wars. Please just go away and let everyone else live their life as they deem appropriate.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Poker Journalism?

[Content Disclosure: 100% Poker, 32% Journalism, 12% Style, 4% Stupidity, 2% Does it really matter?]

"Trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach's 'St. Matthew's Passion' on a ukulele." ----- ----- Ben Bagdikian

Journalistic Integrity. Some of us still expect that from the media reporting from the White House or Parliament, a court room, war zone or even standing in front of a weather map; but from a poker room?

Most of the information labeled "poker news" comes from writers who have little or no training in journalism. And why should they? You don't need any fancy degree just to write, certainly not to write about poker and definitely not to write a post on a random blog. I mean the essence of blogging is regular and irregular folks saying what they think, feel, hate or love. No credentials required.

On the other hand, poker players making a living, doing a job that has become entertainment and even news. They have some right to expect a level of professionalism from those who would call themselves "poker media". The casinos and corporations, who do business in poker, should expect some level of ethical reporting from those who seek to cover their business and certainly from those who might be critical of how they are doing their jobs. The turnover has always been high in the ill defined position of poker journalist. The qualifications have not and are still not particularly high and the paid positions are disappearing just like everywhere else.

But when will each new on screen video personality be measured by the level of their poker knowledge and not by the exposure of their cleavage? When will the WPT and WSOP television coverage come up to the level of the viewership? "A Queen and a Queen only" should never be uttered by anyone ever again. The goal everyone in poker journalism should strive for is, of course,
Andy Glazer. Know the game, know the players, respect the game, earn the respect of the players and of your readers.

Every poker writer should have done some tournament reporting. You have to have stayed up most of the night waiting for the winner of a $1500 Razz bracelet or suffered through a never-ending Stud hi/lo final table to understand the game and the participants. You need to have been there for the really tricky floor calls and truly understand how critical or devastating good and bad floor staff can be. You must have written something actually interesting for your audience about the first day of a seven day tournament, where everyone knows that nothing happens on day one.

Sure poker players are not athletes. There are no rules on steroids or any other drugs. No big contracts, few if any late night firearm incidents but yes, poker players have a high level of degeneracy compared to the general public. It is gambling after all, no matter now much the corporate suits try to clean up the game. But what is and what is not fair game for reporting? A married player with a hooker at 3 AM, is that newsworthy? What about a WSOP final table player at the craps tables until dawn the day of his big shot?

To be a poker journalist, you must have at least thought about the audience consuming your words and about the players you are covering. What do you owe your readers? What do the players deserve? Those discussions usually take place at a bar, very late with other members of the media. You learn there are not always perfect right answers but clearly there some that are wrong. Either that or you are a blogger, there is a difference.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Sixty-One

[Content Disclosure: Life 61%; The World 61%; Nomenclature 61%; Klondikes 61%; Wheelbarrows 61%; Wombats 61%]

Today's post is brought to you by the number
61, the Community for Public Broadcasting and viewers like you.

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other forty-one American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history. Martin Sheehan came in second with 56%.

A new
USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Jan. 9-11, 2009 finds 34% of Americans approving of the overall job George W. Bush was doing as president and 61% disapproving. Those same 34% were seen to be consuming peanut butter and cheese crackers.

Sixty-one is the sum of two squares, 52 + 62, and it is also a centered square number, a centered hexagonal number and a centered decagonal number. It is also a Keith number, because it recurs in a Fibonacci-like sequence started from its base 10 digits: 6, 1, 7, 8, 15, 23, 38, 61... A Keith number has absolutely no application in the real world.


The chemical element with the atomic number 61 is promethium, is the element with the secondary lowest ordinal number, which does not possess any stable isotopes. Prometheus is a known for his wily intelligence, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals for their use. Zeus then punished him for his crime by having him bound to a rock while a gryphon ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. The Gryphon was said to also be fond of fava beans.


The code for international direct dial phone calls to Australia is 61. But Skype is free to Brenda and Uma in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney.

61 years of age: Alice Cooper, James Taylor, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Steve Winwood, Elton John, David Letterman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Arlo Guthrie

The Highway
61 Blues Festival occurs in June in Leland, Massachusetts. Highway 61 Revisited is a Bob Dylan album

At age
61, President Richard Nixon, resigned the presidency in 1974. He was succeed by Gerald Ford, also age 61. I used to celebrate this event annually until I realized there actually were worst things than Nixon as President. I know, for those of you old enough to remember The Dick, that is hard to believe, but true.

Oh and the picture at the top is a 61 zone zonohedro. No really!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Work, Labor, Job, Calling


[Content Disclosure: 89% Musings, 0% Poker, 56% Work]

"The overfull litter baskets suggest abundance rather than squalor." -- Ian McEwan

We humans see things differently. We also tend to debate, argue and exhort one another over these differences. Lately I have noticed that often the verbal combatants are unaware of the true nature of the "other's" position. Most commonly we fail to recognize when the other person is expressing not an opinion or a position but a belief.

You don't change beliefs by piling up a mound of oppositional facts. Beliefs do not live in the empirical world of rhetoric or science. Beliefs are rooted in a place entirely different. I was brought to this pondering today by some thoughts on work and jobs in this time of economic uncertainty. The question, of course, is do we live to work or do we work to live; and further, do some of us truly understand the gift it is that we have such a choice to make.

"I signed up with a temp agency, and much to my dismay they actually found me a job. It had been a couple of years since I'd worked in an office, so I thought I should prepare for it. I went to the YMCA with a friend and had him tie me up in a burlap sack and sink me to the bottom of the pool. Just as I was about to suffocate, he yanked me up and gave me a lunch break." -- Martha Kelly

Yes, there is a dark side to work. A drudgery, a burden, the incessant wheel of oppression. Hence, communism and Ziggy.

"When we truly discover love, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary." --Will O'Brien

Ah, the joys of the rewrite: "When we truly discover compassion, capitalism will be revealed as putrid and vile; while socialism will just seem silly." -- me

"I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money." -- Pablo Picasso

This one needs no rewrite, it has already been said: "Live simply, so that others may simply live."

"The deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price." -- Khalil Gibran

Ah they joys of being an artist, but Gibran was not wealthy nor given to a harsh critique of conventional reality. He just wasn't willing to sell his soul.

"There is no easy formula for determining right and wrong livelihood, but it is essential to keep the question alive... We have to stop pretending that we can make a living at someting that is trivial or destructive and still have a sense of legtimate self-worth. A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls." -- Sam Keen

To my friends and readers, who find truth in these last words; I can only say -- prepare for hard times but keep the faith. To my other friends, who find this sheer nonsense, I love you anyways.

(I humbly bow to The Sun magazine for these quotes on work and labor.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Poker Shrink Returns

[Content Disclosure: 100% Poker, 44% Writing]

My weekly column Poker Shrink returns to PokerNews.com today!

Back in '06 & '07, I wrote forty-four Poker Shrink articles for Poker News and today I pick up with number forty-five. All the back articles are archived there so if anyone wants to immerse themselves in all things shrinkage, be my guest.

The idea in these columns is to explore an aspect of psychological theory as it applies to our favorite pasttime. Hopefully the read is enjoyable and you pick up a tip or two about your game and the possibilities for your opponent's moves too.

For now, expect a new Poker Shrink article every Monday at PokerNews.com