shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Excellently insightful as always, Ed Miller posted an excellent piece on the Neteller situation and the danger that has always been inherent with online poker that many don't see. I recall distinctly when I started playing on Pokerroom in 2001, and then again Pacific a year or so later, that it was extremely important for me to be playing not on my preexisting bankroll, but with a new bankroll won on that site. I still try to follow this rule, whereby I attempt to cashout my initial investment as quickly as possible. In this way, I can view any collapse or inability to pay as merely wasted time, not wasted bankroll.

I've modified that somewhat since buying in became difficult; I'm keeping more in online poker accounts than I used to, due to fear that I can't buy in again if it falls. That is probably a mistake, because the trustworthiness of online balances is actually most in question. Miller's right that an online version of the proverbial 1929 “run on the bank” could cause a serious collapse due to cashflow problems.

The most important thing for all of us to do — particularly those of us that receive a serious portion of our real income from online poker — is, in the words of Douglas Adams: Don't Panic. Keep playing your usual games. Do your usual cashouts. We all know we'll see a steady slowdown in the action, and eventually the games will move towards empty as the USA players disappear. But, online poker isn't changing much outside the USA. I hope my non-USA friends can comment, but I bet the feeling outside the USA is these silly USAmericans, always with their morality-oriented legislation. We'll keep doing what we're doing and forget them and their idiot president. If that's the sentiment, which I hope it is, that's the right one. The USA is an important market, but it's not the center of the universe.

I expect I have lots of online poker in my immediate future, and lots of live poker in my medium-term future, which just can't get the EV pumping the way my current online work can. But, I'm happy to let the online scene wind down gracefully around me, and then make my decisions based on what the post-UIGEA and post-Neteller-arrests world looks like. I hope everyone else will do the same. Keep your heads cool; let's all put our chips in, take a flop, and see how this hand plays out.

Update: I forgot to put this link into the slashdot story on the Neteller arrests. Like all slashdot, there are a very few excellent comments and lots of useless ones. Here's a particularly interesting one from a former Neteller employee.

shipitfish: (cincinnati-kid-betting)

Last year, a well-meaning relative bought me Phil Gordon's page-a-day poker calendar, that had exactly one good bit of non-obvious advice for the whole year, which I posted back in August. I came in to work this morning and turned the last page of the calendar, which was left over the long weekend. I found a wonderful quote for the weekend of December 30/31, 2006. I suppose ripping off the pages all year was worth it to find this wonderful quote at the end. I probably didn't read anything more true about poker for the entirety of 2006:

It's hard work. Gambling. Playing poker. Don't let anyone tell you different. Think about what it's like sitting at the poker table with people whose only goal is to cut your throat, take your money, and leave you out back talking to yourself about what went wrong inside. That probably sounds harsh. But that's the way it is at the poker table. If you don't believe me, then you're the lamb that's going off to the slaughter.
&mdash Stu Ungar

More people than ever now play poker “for fun”. Of course it's an enjoyable activity; I don't think any of us would have gotten into it in the first place if it wasn't. But, it's a predatory game in general, and NL HE in particular is the most predatory of all known poker games. I haven't gone all the way to thinking that you need the full-blown killer instinct to win at poker, but to play well, you have to be somewhat jaded about the predatory reality.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

[ It's been quite a while since I posted a River Street retrospective, so I decided to write one last night before bed, since I got home from work too late to play any poker. ]

That's him, I'm telling you, I said to Nick. We were standing, waiting for a seat, at one of the tiny two-table poker clubs in Boston a few weeks ago. That's not him. It can't be him; he's not acting anything like him, Nick insisted. I retorted: But, his wedding ring; it looks just like the one he had, and I remember it from when he got married while we were still playing at River Street. Remember, that girlfriend of his that he married? Remember how he left her at home with the fire alarm running while we were playing poker. She couldn't even reach the thing with the step ladder to turn it off, and was calling every ten minutes for an hour to beg for him to come home to take care of it. Then, he'd hang up and say ‘just one more hand, then I'm leaving’?

Nick was still sure it wasn't the same guy. I offered to settle it the way all poker players do: Ok, I'll make a $50 even money prop bet with you that it's him. No? $10, then. C'mon, I know it's him. Nick's doubt eventually had me doubting myself. Could I have misremembered him that completely? After all, this guy seemed pretty calm, and hadn't been stacked the whole time we'd been watching the game.

I tried to think of what he looked like in those days, but the memory that came back was how I got his name wrong at first. A number of people at the River Street game knew him from outside the game; apparently he'd come from the same undergraduate program as some of the other MIT regulars. They had always called him by his last name, which my poor hearing had picked up as “Troy”. I remembered vividly referring to him that way one night in his absence, asking Where's Troy tonight?. No one seemed to know who I was talking about.

Someone finally realized what I was saying, and argued: You think a Chinese guy is named Troy?. Well, I answered, why couldn't he be? By his accent, this “Troy” sounded like he was born and raised somewhere on the east coast. He's as much Chinese culturally as I am Polish — at least a generation or so removed.

This was an academic consideration, of course. As it turned out, all along, they'd been calling Michael (which was his first name, I'd suddenly learned) by his last name — a common Chinese surname that rhymed with Troy. (As a footnote, another River Street regular eventually showed up a few months later carrying from Canada the actual name, Troy. But he's a profile for another time.) I decided that from that point on, I was avoiding the confusion and just calling this guy, “Michael”.

Michael was probably the most excitable player ever to visit River Street. There was no question, frankly, that poker was gambling to him. He played lots of pots; he moved in with nearly every draw. I distinctly remember the first time in NL HE that I ever got bottom set (222) all-in against the nut flush draw. It was heads-up against Michael in Greg's kitchen, sitting in one of the comfy kitchen chairs I'd arrived early to reserve. A good tenth of my bankroll at the time was in that pot. I learned the meaning of “action player”, “gamble”, “redraw” and “EV” in the seconds it took Greg to deal the turn (a flush-making heart) and the river (a board-pairing 8).

But the nut flush draw was just a mild gamble for Michael. He'd play bottom pair to the river in limit HE without thinking twice. In the right mood, he'd push in with just about any ace-high if he had less than half the buy-in. Sometimes, he'd even just have king-high; that is, if it was his favorite hand — his beloved “Ko-jack”. For a number of weeks in that winter and spring of 2004, he was the action of River Street.

Then, he'd go broke. Greg would let him deal, and we'd tip him well. After all, as soon as he'd put together $50 or so, he'd buy in short with his tips, and then go broke. He'd go to the ATM, come back, and go broke. He'd win on Tuesday, take a stake of $20 bills home, bring them back on Thursday and go broke.

That spring, Michael joined a big group of River Street players who went off to Foxwoods for a long weekend. The stories that returned that Tuesday were nearly unbelievable. Michael, so that Tuesday crew was told, had discovered craps. He'd went on an amazing run. He'd been tossing dealers green chips as tokes. He was betting blacks on the pass line on ever new shooter.

Not to disappoint, Michael showed up that Thursday with a pair of red dice. In between poker hands, he'd point at someone across the table and say: You be the house; I'm the new shooter. I don't recall that anyone actually took him up on his offer to bankroll his intra-poker-hand floating craps game, but his excitement for the gamble carried over into every aspect of both games. Invariably, as he'd receive his cards, he'd move those dice from the table to his face, wedging them between his glasses and his eyes. His eyes now closed and covered, he'd squint to hold the dice in place. His head now high, he'd look back across the table, and in a robotic voice, slowly chant: What number am I? … What number am I?

In these days, I had just started learning NL HE cash play and I would often forgo the $1/$2, no max buy-in NL game in the kitchen (particularly when the field seemed tough) and continue with the $3/$6 limit game in the living room after the NL HE game “broke out” from the kitchen's $5/$10 game. It was on one of these occasions that the most unforgettable Michael incident occurred.

It was an average River Street night. We were used to shouts from the kitchen during major all-ins or other surprises in large pots. The NL HE game had been going for a while when we heard an unusually loud screech — enough to freeze up the action in the limit game. Michael came storming down the hallway, caught somewhere between shouting and muttering.

As he approached the front door, which was directly adjacent to the living room, he started to stumble. He had stepped into the mass of removed shoes — a kindness to Greg's neighbors to avoid the noise of 20 people stomping around that top floor River Street apartment. Michael looked down at the piles of shoes, and the muttering continued. He was close enough that I could hear it now: King-Jack. It had to be King-Jack. It had to be my hand. Tears were beginning to swell in Michael's eyes. His gaze narrowed on a lone shoe, separated from the others; he picked it up — examining it, ostensibly to see if it was his. Establishing that it wasn't, he simply hurled it at the front door. King-Jack, King-Jack. Another shoe picked up and thrown. Another, and another. Shouting now: King-Jack; Why did he have my hand!?! Sidney, Greg's loyal canine, ran from the kitchen, barking quietly. The $3/$6 players ceased all movement, the current pot conceded to the confusion.

The situation was escalating quickly, and sitting in the three seat, I was the closest to Michael's current position. I approached, a bit fearful, and asked the rather pointless and already-answered question: What happened?, followed by a quick and almost as pointless Are you alright?, and finally with something marginally useful: Would you like me to help you find your shoes?

By then, the noise had roused Greg. Within seconds, mayhem had ensued. The $3/$6 players were moving about; the $1/$2 NL players were crowding in from the back. Greg quickly shuffled through the now disorganized mess of shoes to find Michael's, as the man himself had collapsed against the wall, his tantrum spent. Greg handed him his shoes, and Michael was out the door before they were on his feet. Michael lingered briefly in the hallway, banging slightly on the door; Greg opened the door briefly, shouting that he should go home. Michael eventually complied.

The details of the hand were never clear but hardly mattered: a sharp player named Josh had called Michael's bet on the flop with on a lark with a running straight draw while holding KJ. It got there and Josh stacked Michael on the river.

As I retell the story, I'm not all that surprised that Nick didn't recognize Michael. The man we saw last month was clearly a different poker player. Sure, when we saw him, he seemed like he was playing a little too loose, and I don't know how many times he rebought. But, he did cash out something, which is certainly better than the old days.

I was cleaning out my email drafts folder recently, as I switched MUAs from mutt to Gnus. I saw a message from mid-2004 drafted to Greg, which read: I am really worried about Michael. After what happened last night and from his behavior after the Foxwoods trip, I think that he might have a gambling problem. I was wondering if. It ended there. I never finished the message.

I hope that Michael has turned over a new leaf. He's not the last person — not even at River Street — whom I've watched descend into something truly ugly because of poker. Had I been a better poker player at the time, I probably would have won hundreds, rather than mere dozens, of dollars from Michael. Somehow, though, I am glad that I was still a pretty bad player back then. I wish you the best, Michael, and I hope you fold KJ preflop most of the time these days.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

Paul Phillips (aka [ profile] extempore) doesn't post much in his LiveJournal about poker anymore, because Tournament Scrabble appears to be his preferred game these days. However, he did this week post about something I had queued to post about myself, so now, I'll just reference his article to start and add my own thoughts.

Like Paul, I was late to listen to the Jamie Gold interview on the Rounders Canadian poker radio show. I was, like Paul, appalled by what I heard. I actually only disagree with Paul on one point: I think Jaime is particularly bad as far as champions go and much more arrogant and self-obsessed than most new champions.

Sure, some of the very young (under 23) WPT winners have been that way, but that's what you expect from a kid like that. But, Jaime is in his 30's and should be old enough and mature enough not to act this way. But, he's a Hollywood agent by trade, and obviously has taken that life attitude to heart. Unabashed self-promotion, often accompanied with nasty denigration of rivals, is considered a virtue in that world, and his interview shows he thinks the same in the poker world.

The worst of his self-indulgences were his claims that his amazing play had Allen Cunningham literally shaking with fear. I don't dispute that Alan was shaking, of course, I noticed it during the live broadcast. But, it was probably either nerves at playing the final table of the biggest poker tournament ever held, or some really smart reverse tell. Jamie is unforgivably conceited to think that Allen's fear of Jamie made Allen shake.

There's more such disgusting stuff in the interview, including a heads-up challenge to Hellmuth for a one million cash game. This guy is intolerable.

That said, I don't think this fellow has an obligation to be a “good champion” or “great ambassador for poker”. We as the poker community would prefer that, but it's not part of some contractual obligation for winning the Big One. I think what Mr. Gold is going to do for us is make us realize how good we've had it for a few years running now. Hachem was a kind gentleman who loved talking about poker and sharing himself as poker's representative. I think Raymer was in some ways the quintessential champion that one would want. Moneymaker, while he wasn't as good as he could be, tried hard and did pretty well. Indeed, all three of them carried themselves with just the right mix of pride and humility (it takes luck as well as skill to win tournaments). Jamie is another type all together.

I wonder some if the press people at PokerStars actually are to thank for this. All three of our other recent champions signed deals ahead of time or almost on the spot with that site, and therefore their public image was surely influenced by their contracts. Gold has no contract yet, although there is some indication that he has an affiliation of some sort with Bodog (which is also a point of fact in the pending law suit). I don't think the cause of poker popularity is going to be advanced by our champion this year as it was in previous years. Oh well, we'll just have to survive the year and keep poker's popularity moving with other means, and hope for a better champion next year.

In the meantime, I actually hope that Gold keeps to his other (actually conflicting) statements that he doesn't want the limelight. We'd be better off if he is a strange recluse than a public conceited jerk.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

There is a Poker Players' Alliance call-in to the USA Senate today until 17:30 Eastern. They set up an automated 800 line that auto-forwards you to one of your senators based on your zip code. The line is flooded right now, so calling your senator directly might be better at the moment.

I'm more the faxing type; that's the way I've always chosen to write to my legislative representatives. Below is what I wrote to my New York Senators. Feel free to cut and paste at will if you want to fax them. You can probably dig up fax numbers on the site.

Dear Ms. Clinton [ and Mr. Schumer],

I am a new resident of New York state; I moved here only one year ago, so it is my first time contacting you.

I am writing to urge you to oppose legislation that would make online poker and other poker-related activities illegal. I know that there is at least one bill of this nature that might be before the Senate this term.

The game of poker is an American tradition dating back to the civil war era, and perhaps earlier. Mark Twain considered it so important to America's culture that he proclaimed that a man who didn't know the “meaning of a ‘flush’” was “enough to make one ashamed of one's species”. Many famous presidents, such as Truman and Nixon, were known for their love of the game. Truman even played it on the way home from Potsdam with the journalists and staffers with him to help ease his mind as he made the key American decisions of the end of World War II. To make poker illegal would deny our own game-playing heritage.

Poker is unlike other so-called “gambling” activities that Congress seeks to outlaw. Poker is indeed played with cards for money, but it is a game of skill, not chance. It is much more like chess than it is like lotteries. Meanwhile, I find it incredibly hypocritical that legislation under consideration carves out special permission for state lotteries, which can be defined no other way than “pure gambling”. No credible reason is given for allowing these wagering activities, while a traditional and quintessentially American game of skill that includes wagering is declared illegal online.

I hope that you will vehemently oppose this legislation on the behalf of me and all New York poker players. As a New York City resident, I have witnessed first-hand a recent backlash and crackdown against those who enjoy a friendly game of poker here in this great city. Poker players and those who make venues available for us to play are currently treated as if we were criminals, while those who run seedy off-track betting establishments are given an endorsement in the law.

I hope you see this hypocrisy and pandering for what it is. Please, don't let it extend any further for New Yorkers than it already has. Oppose all legislation that would make poker illegal. Instead, support plans that would regulate and tax poker for the benefit of the general good, much like those lotteries that are already endorsed by our government. Prohibition has never worked to prevent activities that certain parties dislike; let's instead find ways to build a tax revenue base from this activity that some misguided politicians find “immoral”.


Bradley Sif

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

A better headline would probably be Idiots Do Stupid Things to Make Poker Look Bad. We're at that special time in the development of a cultural phenomenon on the cusp of permanent mainstream-dom when things like this can really hurt us. I link to it only because no one who is likely to get the story covered in the mainstream press reads my blog. :)

We need people out there speaking for poker who are reasonable, well-reasoned poker. What we're getting is confusing associations with other forms of gambling (yes, sports betting is a skill too, but we have to do this one fight at a time), and the badness of Jamie Gold's financial dispute.

It's unfortunate that people are getting themselves killed in relation to poker, but it's a lot fewer than died from alcohol-related incidents in the last two weeks. For some people, an innocent thing becomes a bad vice. We can't solve the problems by prohibition on any of it.

Ok, I sound more libertarian than liberal at the moment, so I better stop. :)

BTW, there may be good news, no one I know can actually confirm the closing of the NYC club that I mentioned earlier. Apparently, they have a new phone number and are still going. Phew.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

Perhaps this is a premature report, but there is some circumstantial evidence that one of the two remaining lower limit poker clubs on the island of Manhattan was busted on Friday. I had previously reported the bust of this particular club, as it was shut down temporarily but reopened a few weeks later. Some information indicates that it's really gone this time, but I'll keep reporting as I get confirmation and/or more information.

I have apparently included my luck of visiting clubs just before or after busts. I showed up the afternoon after the New York Player's Club bust to find it gone; I was at All-In the very night of the bust, having left early. This time, I finally decided to visit the highest raked game in the city, find the club bustling with 7 (!) tables, and hear about a probable bust the end of that very week.

I believe the E. Club — a tiny two table club somewhere on Manhattan — keeps rolling on. I know of a few clubs in the boroughs which I haven't visit but may. However, if this bust has happened, it's another major blow to the possibility that New York City poker for the casual player will continue to exist. Heck, maybe AC casinos are bribing the busts in preparation for the high speed train next year?

Of course, there are still super small stakes home games, and there are giant private games (I won't be playing $75/$150 Stud or $10/$20 NL any time soon, for example). But, for the lower limit enthusiast who'd like to play bigger than $.5/$1 NL but below $10/$20 NL, the games are disappearing.

There was an interesting article recently in Bluff Magazine about the NYC poker scene. It's further evidence that if you have really big money to put in play around the city, you can find a game without a problem. But, small-time poker is becoming less and less worth the risk for most club owners. Even the last group associated with the famous Mayfair club, who were still operating in the city as recently as a year ago have given up and aren't running clubs. When I was in Vegas, I ran into the floorperson who, after living through the New York Player's Club bust, ran The Loft then the Studio then the New Studio and finally gave up. Instead, he's a $30/$60 limit HE pro in the games at the Wynn every day now. It's just not worth his while to run his club.

I have the urge to rant and rant about how the city could build a nice tax base making poker legal, that it's no worse than the Off Track Betting store-fronts on every corner, and that we'd find what California has — legal poker doesn't lead to degeneration of society.

I don't know if it's really worth it. Everyone reading the rant likely agrees with me, and we know the legislature is absolutely fine with being two-faced about what gambling they will permit. You see, New York City isn't a dump truck; it's a series of tubes. We can let horses ride through those tubes, but poker chips clog it. Only lottery balls can clear such a clog. (I was fortunate enough to have been in the studio audience of The Daily Show the very day that particular sketch aired. It vaguely makes me feel better. Laughter the best medicine and all that.)

Anyway, I'll go back to being a degenerate New Yorker engaged in activities shunned by my government. People playing poker must be the worst social problem we face in the USA, no? I'll log onto an online poker site and wait for the jack-booted thugs to bang down my apartment door to stop me from engaging in such socially harmful activity.

WPT Lawsuit

Wednesday, 9 August 2006 15:14
shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

I had avoided commenting on the WPT Lawsuit filed by a group of prominent tournament players. F-Train has done a good job analyzing the legal merits of the claim, and I know nothing about anti-trust law to debate him; I take him at his word that the case has little legal merit. My thoughts on this are more about whether there is justice in what the WPT is doing, and — regardless of whether or not the WPT violated law — if the poker players have a reasonable grievance.

I really believe that they do. Poker is a burgeoning industry, and the operating procedures of Lipscomb's WPT have mimicked the manipulative tactics practiced by venture capitalists that I watched during the technology bubble. Idealistic, naive, and business-unsavvy techies were manipulated and wooed by a chance at major wealth. They sold away their dreams to high bidders and, in the process, signed away much of their future. Nearly ever dreamy startup crashed and burned, and lots of good ideas that might have thrived if they were incubated in a slower, more mature way were abandoned. This isn't that far from what WPT has done to poker.

There's been an argument brewing, (that F-Train again commented on,) between Raymer and Negreanu over the law suit. Negreanu indicates publicly that the lawsuit is bad for poker by bringing needless and pointless discontent and argument while online poker is under legal fire. Raymer argues that Negreanu doesn't know what he's talking about and lacks adequate knowledge to criticize the lawsuit publicly. F-Train argues that Raymer is being a jerk, that the lawsuit will help only a tiny few. F-Train further argues that Negreanu misses the point too because WPT policies do hurt those very few.

I disagree with F-Train that the suit, should it reach its aims, helps only the few. Granted, I and players like me are huge underdogs to ever satellite into a WPT event and parlay that into a final table appearance. But if we did, do we really want WPT to have full likeness rights for anything they want? And would we ever have the power to fight them if we wanted to? I honestly had been thinking I'd try to satellite to a WPT event someday, but I don't like the idea of having to sign that contract just to play.

As a tangent, note who really benefits when small-time players like myself go for satellites. We're huge underdogs to win, so you might think that the only people who really benefit are the shareholders of the online sites where I play those satellites. However, WPT and the big-time tournament pros alike benefit from the huge fields generated by constant satellite play. Big buy-in tourneys are a pyramid scheme that mostly rewards the greatest tourney players and those who run tourneys (i.e., the WPT). They all have a huge interest to keep me and players like me playing these satellites, so it behooves both parties to respect each other and settle their differences.

Anyway, even as a player with a $24 satellite entry to blow and a hopeless dream, I don't like the idea of signing away broad likeness rights in a non-negotiable agreement. In the unlikely event I get there, the lawsuit certainly helps me should it get lucky and succeed in making the WPT contracts negotiable.

Of course, there is the structure question as well. If I do someday make it to a WPT final table, perhaps I will benefit because the fast structure forces gambling against my likely more skilled opponents. Although, I don't think so. I am better at big stack, small blind poker than I am at preflop-only games, so I would probably benefit, should I ever get there, from a slower structure sought by the suing parties.

So, I do agree with F-Train to a point — the lion's share of the benefit of the law suit goes to a tiny fraction of the poker world. But, if they don't push this, I and other small-time players who might get lucky would never have an weight to push the issue of the unreasonable contracts. If I make it to the WPT by some huge stroke of poker luck (and a small amount of skill), I'd be quite grateful if the rules were changed regarding likeness rights and structure.

I don't know enough about anti-trust law to know if they have a reasonable case that can reach their goals, but I'm glad they are shelling out the cash to at least give it a try.

I also don't think it's bad for poker. If WPT can be smart and make a deal with the players, it means a number of highly recognizable players are back in WPT events and probably approaching final tables. That's good for WPT, and good for poker; the fans like those players. While the rancor may be echoing on two-plus-two and other fora, the rank and file of casual poker fans (who are the ones we can't afford to lose if we want the poker boom to go on just a little bit longer), aren't going to notice the suit in any case. Besides, Negreanu's arguments read too much like “don't question the President in a time of war” for my taste.

Finally, as for Raymer's comments that F-Train quoted, he's certainly being a lawyer snob. I've experienced that first-hand, as a computer scientist who happens to be well educated about how copyright law works with software. Lacking a formal legal education, I've often been treated as if my thoughts were meaningless by lawyers who happened to have taken a copyright class once when they were in law school. In most cases, I knew more about the specific area of copyright on software than they did, but they refused to consider that as even feasible because I couldn't put Esquire after my name. Raymer is being a jerk to assume that just because someone didn't go to law school means they aren't smart enough to figure something legal out on their own.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

I started working on another post about River Street (I promise, it's coming soon, [ profile] salvelinus), and it got me thinking about poker communities. River Street made my poker life into a community. I honestly have never felt part of a community in poker since then. These days, I am in poker as I am in most things — an outsider looking in.

Poker has become a solitary activity. I do play mostly online at the moment, simply because the EV is better. But, even when I was travelling weekly to Foxwoods or playing a few times a week at the games in NYC, I was generally not part of a specific community.

As an outsider, I often wonder if the poker communities that I see around me are genuine. Are people really friends in poker? How much time do they spend together? How much time do they spend talking about the game? Are their friendships primarily outside of poker or is poker the central commonality that holds the relationships together? I admit that while I can often make great reads of people and their tendencies at the poker table, relationships — even those in poker — have usually remained completely mysterious.

My closest poker-playing friends are simply not as deeply into it as I am (e.g., W.D. and [ profile] nick_marden), and our relationships are primarily defined in commonalities that are wholly outside of poker. So, I naturally wonder what I'm missing that these seemingly tight nit groups of poker players have. Do players in these groups have an edge over the solitary, self-motivated player? Is there more to be learned by having a group than going it alone? Is poker more fun and less lonely that way?

Oddly, I got seriously into poker primarily as a way to meet people outside of the computer science world and expand my horizons. But, ironically, I don't meet many people anymore in poker. Sure, just like on a plane ride, I meet the occasional “single-serving friend” at the tables, but I rarely ever see that person again. I am certainly not finding friends easily in poker anymore; I am mostly just showing up to take their money.

From time to time, I have thought about getting out there and just building a poker community myself. I was reminded of this when Howard Lederer talked on The Circuit recently about the group that came out of the old Mayfair club right here in NYC. They became some of the best in the world because they came together as part of a group that learned from each other. The NYC poker clubs of today are too transient now to make that happen. Nevertheless, the idea of forming a poker study group has crossed my mind more than twice. I wonder, though, if it would be worth the effort. I doubt that anyone in NYC but me is enough of a poker geek to show up regularly to sit around and talk about poker without even playing it. But, I'm still thinking about it, anyway.

As for online “communities”, like the 2+2 fora, such things aren't for me anymore. As a lifelong computer geek, I've already spent far too much of my life substituting online venues for real life interaction, and I resolved long ago not to do that anymore. It's real life or burst, at least in that arena.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

So, here it is, tax day, and I bet you fudged your poker winnings. I bet you said to yourself: well, only online wins are actually traceable. Maybe you picked up a bunch of discarded betting slips at your local Off Track Betting establishment to “establish” some losses. Maybe you just figure that since that $8,000 you cashed out the last time you were in AC wasn't enough to generate a 1099-G, who will ever know as long as the cash is under your mattress.

Most poker players in the USA cheat on their taxes. It's a mostly a cash business, and records don't get generated unless the wins are really big. Since most pros win small amounts (less than the $10,000 or so that forces generation of a 1099-G), they don't report, or substantially under-report, their winnings.

Every year, I dedicate a post to scold you all. You are doing something wrong. I think it's a true societal injustice.

This isn't to say that I like what the taxes fund. I have my misgivings about income taxes; we all surely do. I looked at the graph in the back of my 1040 booklet this year with revulsion. In 2004, much more of my tax money was spent on national defense than on human development, and more than social programs; this disgusts me. Meanwhile, I think that it's scandalous that individual tax payers have to foot 35% of the federal budget while corporations get more welfare than any of us — they pay only 8% of the budget. You might guess, given my propensity for living in so-called “blue states” that I don't support the current administration (I didn't support the last one, either, for that matter). It's sufficient to say that I have never voted for the candidate who won; my government has never represented me.

But, I still believe it's wrong not to pay your taxes. You can use every argument in the book to say taxes are unjust, but it isn't civil disobedience to simply not pay. If you want to make a statement, enclose a letter with your 1040 saying: “I cheated on these taxes because the income tax system is wrong for the following reasons ...”. So I ask, of those of you that failed to report (or under-reported) your poker income, how many of you did that? If you didn't, then you aren't some sort of tax protester; you're just a thief trying to hide on “high moral ground” that isn't really there.

Keep in mind, all of you, how you made that money this year. You played a game. There are working people, who break their backs every day, or sit in soulless cubicles for 60 hours a week, and pay every last dime in their required taxes. Meanwhile, you made some money while you enjoyed your work. You played a game to earn that cash. I believe that gives you an even stronger obligation to pay up. (And, although it's off-topic, I'll note that if you didn't have fun while winning at poker in 2005, you may want to consider giving up the game and finding something else to do.) You have no right to ask those working people to carry more than their fair share while you get lucky because you're in a “cash business” and can evade the auditors indefinitely.

Ok, so there again is my annual rant about how poker players should be honest on taxes. For those of you that were honest, I commend you for doing the right thing. For those who weren't, may your guilt consume you and convince you to do the right thing next year. :)

shipitfish: (Default)

In all this discussion in my journal the last 48 hours about poker harming people, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to link to this article. It's not the article itself that interests me for its own sake. I like it because it shows three generational connections, made through poker.

I got to know Ashley Adams (the father writing the introduction and coda to the article) while I lived in Boston. I went to his home a few times for home games. I met Rebbecca, his daughter, only once, briefly. She came home once as we played in Ashley's club room. She rolled her eyes a bit with this oh, they're playing poker again look. I wondered at the time, not having kids myself, about how a hobby like poker interacts in the family structure.

Reading this article, it became clear that as Rebbecca grows up, she's getting some appreciation for who her father through his love for poker — enough so that she's inspired to write about it. Given Ashley's excited way of writing about his daughter's article (and the fact that he emailed every poker buddy he has to let us know the article was up on the site), he obviously feels tremendous pride and goodwill that his daughter is learning about him through his hobby.

This whole story reminds me that — despite some negative sides to poker that we have been debating here in my journal the past few days — poker is a reasonable part of our culture that has positive impacts on people and their relationships. Sure, it's played for money and some people make bad decisions about money and get in trouble due to addiction. But how can we say it was bad for Ashley to teach his daughter to play poker, to use it to connect with her aging grandfather, and now to connect back with her, as he watches her go out into the world?

Poker is a net positive to the world and there is no harm in sharing it with those we love. Some of those we love will have pain from poker, but those people were probably destine for pain in life one way or the other anyway.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I have been asked a number of times by friends and acquaintances about poker. It is USAmericans' favorite game, and was so even before the boom. Post-boom, it's ok now for even the intellectual elite, who would otherwise frown on “gambling”, to like and enjoy poker.

I am somewhat used to the “Oh, so you're a doctor, I wanted to ask you...” syndrome of being a good poker player. As someone who also knows about computers, I have often been the person whom friends and acquaintances come to and ask their computer questions. Since I have barely ever used Microsoft products, I'm usually no help there — to their surprise. However, in poker, I'm well versed and knowledgeable in the ways that they need me to be, since I started from the very bottom games that interest new players.

When I started teaching my friend Dan how to play, [ profile] roryk told me:

It seems fun and innocent and cool to be teaching someone, until one of the people you get into playing cards completely destroys their life with it. 90% of the people are suckers in the games, and more likely than not if you get someone playing, they are going to be a sucker. [...] So just save yourself some hassle and tell them not to get involved and that it is a brutal, frustrating game.

I gave that advice serious consideration, but in the end, rejected it (Sorry [ profile] roryk). I have never had anyone come to me to ask about poker whom I judged to be susceptible to losing themselves in addiction. I have a good sense for this, but even if I do screw up and get someone involved who can't handle it, I am certainly not going to blame myself. Should everyone who ever served an alcoholic their first drink blame themselves? Of course not, it isn't their fault; it's a mix of bad genetics, bad environment, and a lack of self-control on the part of the alcoholic.

I model poker as an example of the typical USAmerican male hobby. Upper-middle class men spend a lot of money on their hobbies. Think of golf, for example. I know men who must dump a grand or two each and every year into their golf habits. They'll never make a dime of that back, of course. It's our culture; the “pursuit of happiness” appears right there in a one of our founding documents. Golf makes some men happy, so they dump all their so-called “disposable income” into it.

[ profile] roryk is right, of course, many experts estimate that 90% of regular poker players are long-term losers. I've never seen hard data, nor a even rigorously computed estimation of that number, but it's still probably correct. But being one of the 90% is far from having a problem. If the player doesn't have a gambling problem, there isn't any inherent additional harm in giving poker a go and dropping a few grand a year in poker instead of golf. Indeed, poker losses can surely be mitigated by careful study to no more than any other hobby someone might undertake. And, the new player might even end up a winner for the year. I think it's a fun hobby and a great way to study the psychology of others, regardless of financial outcome.

The first thing I always tell people who have interest in poker, is that they will be losers forever unless they plan a rigorous, diligent, involved and constant learning process that will take up a large portion of their free time. As a new player, you must realize that to become a strong player, it takes study and lots and lots of active practice (not the passive practice of playing without an eye to game improvement). It takes discipline, concentration and nerves of steel. But, it's also rewarding, just as it is always rewarding to engage in competitive hard work with direct financial reward.

Having heard the caveats, you may still want to give poker a go. You have some “disposable income” and want to take your shot. Then, I suggest you set a budget for the hobby and be disciplined about it. It can be disheartening to realized you don't have the time to put in to learn how to beat the games, but any hobby one might engage in can turn out that way, despite substantial financial investments. It's important that you make an up-front budgeting decision on how much you're willing to spend on the hobby and stick to it. I am sure that every day, a USAmerican man realizes he's never going to be that good of a golfer but that he'll keep playing anyway because he enjoys it, but he surely does so on a budget.

Anyway, the upshot is that I have no qualms about helping people learn poker, with the caveats set forth. So, then the next question always comes: How do I get started and what type of game should I play? What should I read? Where should I go to start playing?.

I've answered these questions many times over during the past few years. I've decided, after [ profile] tmckearney asked a few questions and I started putting down the usual answers, that I'll instead do a series in this journal, geared to help complete poker newbies get started. Each Sunday night, until I run out of things to say, I'll make a post helping new players navigate their way through the world of poker.


shipitfish: (Default)

November 2016

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