Where Did I Go?

Saturday, 14 March 2009 14:17
shipitfish: (Default)

I wrote a lot in 2007, my last year playing poker professionally, about why I was making that my last year of playing professionally. Once I stopped playing poker for the money, I became much of a consumer rather than an active player in the regular poker world.

Over the last year and a half, I've followed the poker podcasts carefully. BTW, I prefer the 2+2 Pokercast, hosted by the Canadian Rounders guys, but I also find most of Joe Sebok's Poker Road Radio shows pretty good.

I always watch the High Stakes Poker episodes eventually, and try to track down every cash-game televised poker, such as the weeks Poker After Dark does cash games. I don't watch tournament coverage much anymore; I never liked tourneys that much and the coverage has remained poor — never actually showing the interesting bits, and instead favoring the obvious moments of the tourney.

As for playing, I have no interest in online play. The HE games are tougher than ever for stakes that one can actually earn at, and the competition from the hundreds of amazingly talented young guys is daunting. Meanwhile, sitting there playing at stakes below $1/$2 NL doesn't seem worth worth it when I have other useful things to do (see below). I continue to have an annual trip to Las Vegas (which I enjoyed last month, perhaps I'll make some later posts about that), and I usually organize my business travel so I can tack-on a day or two of personal travel for live poker, when there's nearby legalized poker.

Thing is, when I stopped playing poker professionally, the only thing I really missed was the additional income I'd come to rely on a bit, given my meager non-profit 501(c)(3) salary. Almost serendipitously, though, in early 2008, my dear friend and fellow Free Software developer, Loïc Dachary, told me he needed some software development help on the Free Software poker system, PokerSource, that he'd begun working on around 2002. He and I negotiated a rate that was actually higher than even my best rate that I ever earned hourly playing poker, and I went to work on the weekends to hack some Python Free Software poker software.

I didn't really mention that work here over the last year, partly because the first question I expected was where is your Free Software poker system deployed?, and I didn't have an adequate answer. However, a few months ago, the answer became easy: We have a play money site now deployed and operating daily at SkyRock Poker. (SkyRock is a French social network and blogging site that also offers games and entertainment to its subscribers.)

One of the cool things about our software is that it's one of the only systems that offers a fully functional pure Javascript client that runs completely in the browser with no plugins needed. It's very easy to skin and configure with branding, as can be seen when you look at Pokersource.eu, our demo site which runs the same software as SkyRock, but has no branding and skinning done to it.

Writing poker software has, honestly, been substantially more rewarding than actually playing. First of all, it was amazing to discover that I had been so influenced by professional poker play that I perceived having a “real consulting job” as a “freeroll”. When I started working on pokersource paid work, I would think: if I work for an hour, I'm up my hourly rate immediately! I can't lose!. How poker-warped are you when you think doing a regular job is a freeroll? I suppose it helps that I've always enjoyed programming just as much as I ever enjoyed playing poker.

Meanwhile, the truth of the matter about playing is that I never got good enough to beat games from $5/$10 NL/PL and up and $20/$40 limit and up. I don't think I'm incapable of that, but I know it would require months of work, study, and practice that seems somewhat pointless to me now. As basically a recreational player now, I love the feeling of sitting down in a $1/$2 or $2/$5 NL/PL game (or a $5/$10 limit game) and simply knowing within minutes of playing that I'm the best player at the table and don't have to work too hard to make a little spare cash while having an enjoyable distraction from real life for a few hours. It's never enough money to make a substantial difference in income, but I also never lose without seriously running bad against luck. And, even the variance isn't that painful since the stakes are low; I can survive with the loss for six months until my next session.

I guess I've settled into the routine of being a part-time professional poker software author, and a few-times-a-year recreational poker player. Meanwhile, I'll also never forget on of the most valuable life lessons that I learned from poker. Poker turned me into a patient person, and the value of that will always make the past hours at the felt worthwhile. I'm also quite glad that I've come to the PokerSource team as the poker expert who knows the poker world and how it works. My colleagues in the PokerSource project are some of my best friends (well, Loïc was already one of my best friends since long before he started writing poker software, but I am in touch with him much more now that I'm working weekly with him on projects). My PokerSource work has become the perfect combination of my Free Software world connections and my forays into poker. Indeed, I certainly like being the primary person who crosses over between the Free Software world and the poker world. That wouldn't have been possible without those uncounted hours throwing chips and cards and getting felt under my fingernails.

shipitfish: (Default)

An old poker friend from Boston noted in my journal how he and a few others got online during the PPV main event WSoP 2006 and watched it — commenting on hands and plays — until the sun came up while I tried to “live blog” it. It seems sometimes like the whole poker world has changed around me in the last year, and then I realize that it probably hasn't — mostly, I've changed and it makes the minor changes in the poker world seem more pronounced.

The slow decline of online poker (UIGEA impacting some and not others) still seems to cause some attrition, but I hear that NYC clubs keep reopening after busts and (even worse) robberies, and there is some good action around. I've lost the stomach for it after hearing a local from my home game recount his tale of hiding under the table with his hands up, emptying his pockets for a guy with a gun. I can live without that being a risk in my life.

I still want to run the home game, but I've been so engaged in my job that I can't easily commit the entire weekend day (the morning to set up and clean a bit, the rest of the day to play) at the moment. I'm hoping for September but October seems the more likely now.

At times, I miss poker. I miss the completely engrossing distraction, especially when I have challenges at work that require careful thought and concentration that I sometimes want a break from. I don't miss the beats, the struggling, the constant push of every edge and never being able to give up.

I made two brief casino trips this summer; my hope is I'll put time aside soon to do reviews of the places and post them here an on twoplustwo.

Televised poker is somewhat horrible now. I look forward to the return of High Stakes Poker, as the tournament clip shows are just too boring for anything but background noise while I work.

Oh, and back to where I started this post: I really enjoyed the final table this year. Watching Yang do his thing (and the downright goofy out-loud prayers at all-in moments) was a lot of fun. He's obviously inexperienced, but he has pretty reasonable poker instincts and he's clearly a kind and caring person (unlike the (frankly) downright slimy Mr. Gold). W.D. came over for about half the PPV airing and we had a good time.

Poker, in the end, if a fun hobby when I'm giving it only passing attention, but I don't want to “live” it. I'm pretty sure I can find better things to do.

[BTW, an odd thread sparked by an out-of-the-blue anonymous commentor on a year old post has started. Amazing how google-reachable old journal entries can bring out the crazies from time to time.]

shipitfish: (Default)

Erick Lindgren (to Daniel Negreanu):

I had twice as many outs as Gus.

John Juanda interjects:

Nice needle, there.

The context is a spoiler. )

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

So, I would have expected to see the usual suspects of NYC small-time players on the Boston vs. New York show, which continues to be so bad I can't stand watching it. I wouldn't really expect it on any other show.

However, right there on the first main event episode, the feature table includes someone I know. Heck, it's even someone that I know well enough to have a pretty strong read on! I was really surprised to see her — still staring at the board when she misses and calling raises with AJo. It's Steph, someone I shared the tables with for many hours at the old O and U Clubs. Until tonight, I knew her only by her first name, as first names only is pretty typical at our semi-legal clubs around the city. Turns out she's Stephanie “windough” Klempner and seems to be PokerStars most ESPN-covered player of the 2006 main event, as she landed on the first day's television table with Phil Hellmuth.

Now, I can't speak to Steph's tournament game, but I suppose now that she's famous, I can take some liberty to make a public comment about what I know of her cash game. Truth is that (at least about six months ago) she was still one of the more beatable regulars that I encountered around the NYC clubs.

However, the big plus side is that she was always a great person to have at the table. Unlike most of the totality of NYC players, she's a kind, friendly person who is polite to everyone. That's a big exception to most of what you see around here. The saying about all NYCers being rude isn't really true in general, but it is almost completely true at the poker table. Steph was always an exception.

So, while I don't think Steph's skill is representative of what can be found in the small games of NYC poker, I'm sure that she, probably by a long shot, made a better impression of proper etiquette at a poker table than most NYC players would have. I'm glad that Steph won her satellite, and sorry she didn't cash. I don't think anyone could pick a kinder player as the token NYC small-time player for the main event.

(Because of his appearance on the first Boston vs. New York, Alfonse has previously been held up as “the quintessential NYC small-time poker player” in the media, and that's just embarrassing to us all. Too bad Steph didn't get enough air time to kill that image.)

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: (foxwoods-stack-2006-01)

I am excited to remind everyone that, tonight, the second season of High Stakes Poker begins. I've talked about the show in my journal before, and I firmly believe it is the best poker on television. (I've also heard good things about Live at the Bike, but there is no question that High Stakes Poker is the best show on regular old basic cable.)

I looked around and saw that the second season has been well reviewed, at least in one spot. After spending a few months watching people deciding when it's the right moment to flip a coin for a couple hundred thousand dollars (aka the World Poker Tour), I will be glad to see some world class players play a game that is actually recognizable as the game that I play myself each week.

The other great thing about High Stakes Poker is that I can tell people who don't know much my hobby to watch it. I simply have to tell them, “Ok, knock two zeros off the end of the dollar amounts in question, and that's the basically the game that I reguarly play, albiet my games have a few notches down in skill level all around”. It's nice to have a maintstream place to point people from outside the poker world to show them what a “regular ring game” is really like.

Finally, I should note to Tivo users: I discovered that tonight's episode is not coded properly with the correct original air date. Therefore, your Season Pass for the show won't find it as a new episode. It seems all the new episodes are coded with a general description and a first air date from the preimere of the Season 1 preimere in January.

shipitfish: (Default)

Sometimes I don't get commercials. I'm a fan of Pokerroom, but like most poker commercials, theirs makes little sense. For those who haven't seen it, two knights do battle for a while, and one is beating the other one. The loser finally picks up a chainsaw and comes after the other, who mutters I fold!, and collapses. The text says: It only takes one killer hand....

I agree with the text; it's a reasonable short summary of NL HE. However, for that sentiment to work, the dude has to call you when you have the killer hand, not fold! I think I like the dog theme in the poker commercials better. More on that later.

shipitfish: (Default)

I watched Episode 3 of High Stakes Poker on GSN last night (I note that I am behind on these, so perhaps you all saw it already; it repeats enough that I can pick my night for viewing). As I wrote about before, this show continues to live up to its promise: "real poker", in a cash game format, on television. It's funny, actually, how the announcers have to explain how cash games work (e.g., players being able to leave any time they like). They must assume an audience familiar only with tournament poker!

On the topic of announcers, I want to take a moment to note about Gabe Kaplan. I firmly believe that he is the best poker announcer that I've ever seen on television. It's clear that before (or after?) he played Mr. Kotter, he gained some broadcasting experience. I've seen him do some older WSoP broadcasts (late 1990s), and the National Heads-Up Championship on NBC, and his skill as an announcer is far above the rest. The main reason is that he doesn't usually over-dramatize the situations (ala Mike Sexton), and he explains in reasonable details why players might make decisions that they do. It's actually considered and well-thought-out commentary on what is happening, rather than empty verbiage designed primarily to induce a false sense of excitement.

I should note, however, that even he was unable to explain on of the strangest hands I've seen yet on the show. Perhaps one of you can help me understand the thinking behind it. Since it is, without a doubt, a full spoiler for one of the hands aired in the third episode, you'll have to click through if you want to see the discussion about it. )

shipitfish: (foxwoods-stack-2006-01)

I've never mentioned in this blog too directly the excessive influx of televised poker, other than to say it is a major contributing factor to the "boom". I of course watch most televised poker shows (save Celebrity Poker, which is basically unwatchable), and find myself looking to playing online while watching to avoid the boredom. Televised 55/45 "crooked coin flips" for rungs in a tournament prize pool ladder isn't exciting after the first few times.

Indeed, late tournament play (should you have nothing on the line yourself) is exciting only if randomness excites you. Sweating draw and redraw with all the chips in middle and cards face-up doesn't entertain anymore once one gets serious about poker. And, frankly, the playing part -- wondering how John Juanda can read people so well preflop and put them on AK so he can call with 77 -- doesn't stay interesting after the twentieth time.

Poker has a lot more to it than figuring out whether the opponent on the first betting round has "the pair" or "the overcards". World Poker Tour forgot that as its seasons progressed. ESPN does better with its WSoP airings, but even they seem to focus more and more on final tables and high-blind play.

This is why I was elated when Card Player ran a piece about High Stakes Poker on GSN. This was touted to be real cash game poker for television. This would show, (albeit at the highest of stakes) the games that run every day in every casino and online card room. It would be NL HE, where the blinds don't go up and people play for as long as they'd like, buy-in when and for how much they like, and battle all night long.

I was so excited, in fact, that I was worried I'd over-hyped in my own mind, and had set myself up for disappointment. I am elated, having just tonight watched the second episode, to see that this show is all I hoped it would be.

As I watched my recorded copy, my wife looked up at the screen briefly to see the left-hand side of the screen full of information, showing many players hands. "Wow,", she said, "so many hands?!" She's used to seeing the (usually) heads-up-to-the-flop tournament poker I usually watch. I excitedly replied, "yes, these are the games I play in all the time. Seven people to the flop with that variety of hands. This is 'real poker'".

Now, that's not to say tournament poker isn't "real poker". But, around the world each day, there is much more cash game action than there is tournament action. Plus, the true "interesting play" comes up in the cash games. This is when there is no "pressure to play", unless the psychological situation dictates it. You don't have to play to stay alive; you don't fear being "blinded out". You can sit, play and think through the situation and decide when your time is right. Tournament poker, please recall, is an artificial imposition invented specifically to make a poker game where a single winner could be declared. Generally, poker, like life, is more complex and colorful than that. Many people win, and many people lose, and some "lose" and still "win".

I really think all this comes through in High Stakes Poker. I go on to say why, but minor spoilers are included for the first two episodes, so you have to click through to see the full details. )

These priceless moments of cash game NL poker are what is interesting to watch; it's what entertains me in my daily games when I'm not in a hand, and it's even better to watch the pros do it. We can see a wealth of plays and complex situations that come up when there are deep stacks behind the players and lots of time to play. This is the real experience of poker. I am so glad that there is now a poker TV show where I can see situations that I've truly been in (well, that is, if I move the decimal point two places to the left :).

I wonder if the subtle points of this will be lost on the "average TV poker fan", who probably doesn't know all that much about the game. I'd love to hear comments from both serious players and the casually interested to see how this show is hitting people. I absolutely love it and will likely truly enjoy seeing each episodes multiple times. I would love to see this thing last at least a few seasons; I'd hand in four tourney shows to keep this one cash game show on the air, that's for sure!


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