Ship It, Fish!

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It's still abbreviated HE, though. Saturday 1 November 2014 @ 14:22
Jon Stewart said a few nights ago (just catching up) in a bit about how Texas puts its name on everything: "Texas Hold'em? There are no other Hold'ems".
Of course, poker players cringe to hear that because Omaha is actually Omaha Hold'em.
OTOH, most poker players call Texas Hold'em by just the name "Hold'em" and Omaha Hold'em by the name "Omaha".
So I guess he has a point: the texas variety owns the name a bit.
What really bugs me is people who say they play "no limit", as if NL HE and Limit HE are the only two games that exist. ;)
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Star Trek Poker References Saturday 23 May 2009 @ 19:21

I am glad that someone has bothered to catalog all the ST:TNG episodes that have poker in them. When I hosted poker games in high school and college, we used to watch the poker scenes from ST:TNG if there had been any that week, and frequently use quotes from them.

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I'm a Year Behind on News of Mohegan Sun's Poker Room Saturday 25 April 2009 @ 13:04

It shows how completely out of the loop I am in the poker world that I just read, paging through a September 2008 issue of Card Player I still had sitting around my apartment, that Mohegan Sun reopened its poker room back in August 2008. Teh Internets tell me that it was announced a year ago, and I completely missed it.

I don't live in New England anymore, but I would have stopped to see what it was like on a recent trip there. But, when you are out of the loop, and you only listen podcasts to keep up with poker, and all those podcasts are USA west coast based, it's not surprising that you'd miss the news.

The Mohegan Sun poker room has a strange oral history. I started playing regularly at Foxwoods just a few weeks after the Mohegan Sun poker room closed in the early 2000's. In fact, I quickly learned to hustle a very profitable prop bet at the $2/$4 Limit HE tables that I frequented in those days. When I sat down at a table, I'd pick someone who was clearly not a regular and say privately to him: I bet you $20 that within thirty minutes, someone at this table will mention Mohegan Sun's poker room.. The newbie would usually say, they don't have poker! Ok, I'll take the bet. I think I made a couple $100 on this one. For at least a year, the closing was the constant topic of conversation at most Foxwoods tables.

Silly rumors always abounded at the Foxwoods tables about why Mohegan Sun poker closed. The most common two were that the poker room manger was dealing drugs or running a prostitution ring from the room. No one ever had any evidence of this. The publicly stated reason, actually, was probably the most true one: slot machines are more dollar per square foot profit for a casino.

Of course, this was pre-poker boom. Thus, casino managers saw poker as a whimsy and not particularly valuable as a draw. I've always believed the hidden numbers in the fact that most people don't go to casinos alone, and therefore some in the group will play poker and others will play slots and table games. But, you can't really measure this, so poker was out and slots were in. Mohegan Sun insisted to stick to its silly plan as the Foxwoods poker room grew and grew.

However, the worst impact this had was on Foxwoods poker itself. I saw the Foxwoods poker room that I first visited turn from the really great poker room to the mediocrity that comes from monopoly. With complete control of the (legal) New England poker market, Foxwoods was able to instantiate player-unfriendly policies and rules and know that they still wouldn't lose the players.

When NL HE started, these rules reached their annoying peak. Here's a run-down of various early Foxwoods NL HE small-stakes policies: $5/half time charges at $1/$2 NL HE with a $40 minimum and $100 maximum. You could buy in for $40, tip the dealer, and immediately rebuy for the $100 max, so, if you knew the trick, the max buy was actually $139 with a $1 surcharge. (I usually paid the BB with $40, folded if moving in for the $38 wasn't profitable, and took the SB with a $138 stack.) Even with the annoying buying limits, it was against the rules to pay the $5/half time charge from your pocket; it had to come from your stack. People who doubled up a few times would call floor on people who tried to pay time from the pockets, and floor would back them up.

Eventually, the one great thing about Foxwoods NL HE disappeared before I was playing big enough to take advantage: the $5/$5 $500-min no-cap-buy-in $6/half time charge game, which had typical stack sizes of around $2,000 (i.e., very deep $5/$5). A regular in the game, who often sat with $10k and busted people for a living, told me in 2002 it was the juiciest NL HE game in the world. Foxwoods always remained the place for lots of Stud games, since the closing of Mohegan Sun took away all other serious Stud action at the middle limits on the east coast, but that was about all it had left in the “worthwhile” column after a while.

Mohegan Sun, for its part, stupidly missed the entire poker boom, and opened their room only after the boom's decline was well underway. Poker is now more popular (and likely profitable for casinos) than it was in the 1990s, but the heyday has long past. Nevertheless, I'm glad to hear that New England is finally free of the poker monopoly, and I look forward to stopping at Mohegan Sun on my next trip through Connecticut.

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Where Did I Go? Saturday 14 March 2009 @ 14:17

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, 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.

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Random LJ-ing Poker Pro at Lucky Chances Saturday 9 August 2008 @ 22:20

I rarely post nor play anymore, as you all know, but I do go on a poker excursion once every few months. While I haven't been bothering to post reports or anything from them, I can't let this one pass since at a 2-3-5 $1k max NL HE table at Lucky Chances, who joins our table but a software-related professional (this is the Bay area after all) and sometimes poker pro. Not only that, but he is also an LJ-er named dmorr and he posted about a hand that we played. I have commented.

I should also note he LJ-outed me with my real name and employment affiliation, but I guess I should stop worrying about this now that I've talked about my part-time professional poker period on Free Software related podcasts and because my Wikipedia entry at one time linked to this journal. Only a moron couldn't figure out my real name if they gave it ten minutes of

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If You Want Danger, You KNow Where to Find It Tuesday 6 May 2008 @ 18:23
An email I received on Monday afternoon:
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: Poker Player Paradise
From: "Name Redacted" <>
Date: Mon, 5 May 2008 13:04:52 -0400

This is Name Redacted from the old Q. Club in New York City. I have a nice game twice a week in [A NYC Borough]. The stakes rang from 1-2 no limit to 5-5 no limit & we also have pot limit Omaha. I keep this game sort of private and only twice a week to minimize any problems with authority. Our next game will be this Tuesday and our security is top notch. If this game interests you please reply back with a cell phone # and I will personally text you all the info. Not to mention there are a lot of fishes in this sea of players and there's plenty of money to be made.

Now, the Q. Club was the place that was robbed multiple times and where a poker player was shot to death in early November 2007. Name Redacted, was, I think, present at the shooting. Someone must be either stupid or pretty pathetic (or both) to continue in the club business after that sort of experience.

I'm amazed that I ever played in these places. It was a matter of time before danger found them, because too much money changes hands — even in a 1/2 game, let alone 5/5 — for criminals to ignore them. I'm sure that the only possibly “safe” illegal cash games to play in here in NYC are at least a $10,000 buy-in, where real security costs can be raked away without players noticing.

I'm glad I realized that I was making a mistake playing in these places. It's tough to imagine any of these games where the hourly rate is worth the personal danger.

This is just one of many such emails. W.D. or I get an email once every few weeks about new clubs opening, declaring them a “safe environment”. If they are so safe, why do the same people keep closing old clubs and opening new ones?

I have frequent flier miles. If I'm in the mood to play poker, I'll fly to Las Vegas. For now, I'm pretty sure I've wasted enough of my life check-raising tourists and taking huge pots off them.

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epassporte Gone, Experiment Done Saturday 3 May 2008 @ 13:43

I never got around to posting, but I did my “something from nothing” experiment for the first part of this year. I got $1,200 on Cake by using Cake Points (Gold Chips), Gold Card bonuses, and the pennies left in my account. I had moved up to $0.25/$0.50 NL HE and was seeing how far I could get. Then epassporte closed up shop. Cake is now using some sketchy cashout mechanism (they ask participants not to identify which payment processor they are using publicly for fear they will get shut down. Funny!). So, I decided today to try to take the $1,200 and give up. I have 20 GC's left; maybe I'll see if I can turn that into something.

I also have a ton of UB points too. I did use those to win my wife an Ipod and also entered a few tourneys. I worked it up to about $30 but proceeded to go broke by playing to high. I think I have $6.50 left there, plus about 25,000 UB points..

I didn't do my annual tax post for my 2007 results on April 15th. I'll have to post it later. I did have a huge tax bill because of all the Cake money I made early on in 2007.

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Something For Nothing? Tuesday 1 January 2008 @ 14:26

The UIGEA turned out to be challenged from a number of directions. The story has been well covered elsewhere, and I don't know enough to do it justice, but my understanding is that banks are simply saying that they can't implement the complicated rules and are appealing to regulatory agencies. Like most court/legislative maneuvers, this will take some time to sort out.

Meanwhile, online poker remains as grey as ever. Money goes in and out to the sites still operating, and some payout systems still work (although fees have reached new heights).

I've been just too busy doing actually useful work to spend time playing much poker, but as a change of pace I often play on weekend mornings until it becomes boring. I decided, though, that I wouldn't deposit. Instead, I'd take from Chris Ferguson's challenge and try to literally get something for nothing.

Having played so much online, I have a number of player points on various sites. So, during the latter half of last year, I decided to see if I could build an online poker bankroll and/or win some prizes without ever redepositing even $1.

I started on a UltimateBet, because their player points are most valuable. Well, they are most valuable because you can actually play “cash games” for points, with a 2500 point buy-in and 10/25 point blinds. Since deep-stacked NL HE cash games against weak opponents are the best spots I've ever found for myself in poker, these games were ready-made to get me lots of points.

My first big win was to win my wife's holiday gift: an Ipod bought with points on UltimateBet. This had the added bonus of fighting off the don't spend money on a music player for me; the one I have basically works attitude my wife was taking. This way, I could invest only my time and get her a gift that she actually really wanted but couldn't justify the overpriced cost of Apple's (IMO, crappy) hardware.

Now, in the end, I roughly calculated that I got paid somewhere around $3/hour for the time it took me to play to win the Ipod. However, most of that time I could be doing something else like watching TV or talking with my wife. Those point games are extremely low pressure and easy to pick up chips without any hard decisions or good reads. (“Standard bad player” reading ability is all it takes to get the points.)

In next week's post, I'll talk about my next moves for building a fresh online bankroll using only the almost-cash-valued remnants of my former online pro status.

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A Tourney Hand - I think I shouldn't have busted Tuesday 27 November 2007 @ 10:04

During the weeks leading up to the WSoP this year, I played lots of satellites with points and various other small amounts. This is a tourney hand from an online WSoP main event $600+35 satellite (which I'd super'ed into). Starting chips were 2,500 and starting blinds were 10/20. We were on the first blind level, at a 9-handed table. I had 2,800 in chips and was two from the button.

Action is folded to the person on my right, who made it 60. I called with 5d 5h. The big blind (with 2,959 chips) defended and we saw the flop of 5c 2h 6s three-handed with 190 in the pot.

It was checked to me, and I led for 100 chips. The big blind called and the preflop raiser folded. The pot stood at 390 chips. I knew nothing about the players, but I put the big blind on an overpair (probably around 77 or 88 that he was misplaying), 34, 66, 22, 78, 45, 47, or maybe overcards. The turn was the Qs and he led for 200 chips. I somewhat felt perhaps he did have something like AQ that he check-called with and added this to his range. I also though maybe at this point he had a gutshot or overcards on the flop and picked up a flush draw. The annoying part about his lead is that it actually increased my range for him (even if it did make it unlikely he held an overpair on the flop).

I made it 600 chips to go and he called quickly. We saw the river of Jc with 1,590 chips in the pot. He had only 1,699 chips remaining. I really felt he had a set of 2's at this point, but obviously 34 and a set of sixes were real possibilities. I consider that maybe some sort of Q was a possibility, as he may have been making some sort of delayed steal on the flop. I decided there were a number of hands he could pay off legitimately. I figured he'd call with everything in his range except busted-straights/turned-flush-draws. I led 800.

He check-raised all in. At that point, I narrowed his range to 34, 66, 22, and very rarely QJ. I called his last 899 with 1-to-3.54 odds, hoping for 22, and saw 3s 4s.

After calling the river, I felt strongly I shouldn't have tried that river value bet. I think I would have been more likely to check in a cash game, but in a tourney (at the time) I felt I had to collect the chips. Once I've value-bet, I clearly can't fold to the check-raise because I can't completely eliminate 22. Plus, if he had QJ even a little bit of the time I think the odds are clearly right.


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Longer Piece on Shooting in the New York Times Monday 12 November 2007 @ 14:11

Those of you in NYC probably already saw this, but for the sake of those of you elsewhere, I thought I'd link to this article in the New York Times regarding the shooting at a poker club here that I recently wrote about.

I find a few quotes amusing:

“A week ago, there were two or three rooms operating in Manhattan, but now there are zero,” said Steven McLoughlin, a poker aficionado who moderates a poker discussion at and closely follows the Manhattan club scene. ”You don't know what can happen.“

I have no interest in finding the clubs anymore, but this blatantly can't be true. I've gotten SMS and emails from a number of clubs announcing their “new security measures” and offering freerolls. I am sure attendance is way down, but they are still making a go.

And then there's this one:

“But the overwhelming majority are not compulsive gamblers,” he [the broadcast producer who has frequented clubs for five years] said. “They do this as a way of blowing off steam, and that is healthier than sitting in front of the TV.”

First, sitting on your ass at a poker table is probably slightly less healthy than sitting on the couch watching TV. After all, at home, most of us don't have a waitress bringing us junk food and sodas; we actually have to make the walk to the kitchen for that. Second, most people I've met in the NYC poker scene do have some sort of gambling problem, even if it is a minor one.


The people interviewed for this article would not say who sponsors and operates the Manhattan clubs, but insisted that there was no hint of involvement by organized crime.

Obviously, people did not pay much attention. What about the partially confirmed rumors of how the former part-owner of the O. Club had gambling debts with the mob and was funneling money to pay them back? How about the older folks at the E. Club who would just sit and watch? And the stories of how the T. Club had paid for protection to keep them safe?

I agree the connections were tangential and the bigger $10k buy-in games were probably much more connected, but there is somewhat no denying it.

BTW, I've been playing online some, which if probably a story worth posting and might do so soon.

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NYC Poker is Dead, and So Is One of Our Players. Saturday 3 November 2007 @ 11:59

I have been talking about safety issues, busts and robberies for quite a while. I decided to quit playing at NYC clubs over a year ago due primarily to safety issues. It seems my read was right.

I've always felt that robberies were more dangerous than busts. I've also mentioned to many that fear of a young guy making a mistake or getting nervous with a gun would be the biggest threat.

Seems I was right about that too, after last night. There have been a number of stories, of which this seems the most accurate and detailed, and this one is not bad. (Update: This story is much better than the others.) There is also a long 2+2 thread now, that started just an hour and half after the incident.

For those who don't want to chase links: another robbery at a club on 28th street and 5th Avenue has occurred and resulted in our first NYC poker death, due to an apparently accidentally fired gun of a robber.

There is no game juicy enough to risk your life, even if it's a thousand to one shot that you'll get killed. I've played enough poker to find that thousand to ones come in every once in a while and you just have to avoid the situation when you are gambling with your life.

I hope this will help the effort to get legal poker at the Aqueduct race track. For the meantime, I'm glad I left the NYC poker scene when I did.

Update: Newer stories are saying this club was run by the Straddle Club team. Like almost everyone who has run a club in this city, they've always were pretty bad at their business; it's in some ways no surprise it was their club — again. But, frankly, any place that runs a game with less than a $10k buy-in probably simply isn't safe, no matter what.

Another Update: There is a New York Times story now.

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Absolute Poker's Mistake Is Primarily Poor Protocol Design Tuesday 23 October 2007 @ 20:52

I thought I'd mention briefly the story that has had the online poker world going since the first 2+2 posts last month showed one player's 100% river aggression factor. The story ends with Absolute Poker's executives using “root” accounts to swindle online players by knowing their exact card holdings in high stakes cash games and high buy-in tournaments.

I won't go through the details of the story; I've been following it from a distance (since my poker time is limited these days), so I would probably get a few details wrong. Since I have more time to listen things while commuting than reading stuff online, I got the best summary of this situation from this week's episode of the Rounders podcast. Also, two posts that extempore (aka Paul Phillips) made give some good details. (I am not a true NYC'er, BTW, because I can't read easily on the subway and listen to podcasts instead.)

I had suggested before that perception of badly written software and not true “rigging” would ultimately be a serious problem for online poker. I think I'm going to declare myself as somewhere between 30%-50% right about that.

Some might say this situation shows that Absolute was “rigged”, since it was an inside job. Executives at the company held the root account, and used it to view everyone's cards and gain huge edges against their customers. But, putting on my hat as information technology expert for a moment, I argue that this is a software problem as much as anything else.

The software should never had this feature. There is no good reason that standard client software, used from an off-site location, should have had the ability to receive hidden card information before the cards were exposed in the hand. Indeed, the network protocol itself should never even send hidden card information until the completion of the hand (if at all).

The idea that the network protocol sent opponents' hole card information over the wire before shows simply bad system design and programming. There is no reason to do this, and a hundred reasons not to. Had the software not been designed this way, the only cheating temptation our friendly Absolute executive would have involved modifying the server software himself to send him card information in real time somehow. Maybe the guy was a smart software developer or system administrator and could have pulled off the job himself, but I doubt it.

Finally, to bring my personal politics into this, this is why I firmly believe that all poker server software should be Open Source and Free Software (FOSS). There is no competitive advantage for these poker sites to gain from having server software that differs; their branding, interface, and other edges happen on the client side. (I happen to think client software should be FOSS too, but that's a harder argument.) The argument for FOSS server technology for all online poker is clear and simple. Players should be allowed to examine the code to be sure only their authenticated accounts can receive their hidden cards.

Of course, only the site administrators should be allow to change the versions of this FOSS running on their own servers, but they should publish that source for public inspection. That's the only way online poker can actually be safe from these sorts of challenges.

BTW, full disclosure: A good friend of mine is the premiere developer in the world of FOSS poker technology. His site has some useful and interesting stuff. I must admit, I am jealous sometimes that his day job is writing FOSS poker software, but I still hope his software gains more adoption in reaction to these events.

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A Few Random Thoughts on My Poker Status Friday 24 August 2007 @ 11:09

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.]

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It Has Happened! Thursday 26 July 2007 @ 19:03

I've been busy with my other life, and while I did the WSoP PPV final table, I haven't done much other poker stuff lately.

However, I now know the UIGEA is now in full effect; I got this email from my banker today:

A check you gave on 06/01/07 for $ 80 by safe pay int on germany has been returned unpaid with reason “breach of regulation”.

I am mailing you the returned check today.

Online poker, in the USA, is now dead. Fortunately I got out all but this $80 (well, and another $80 that's supposedly on its way). Only $160 lost to Frist.

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No Pro Reason 3: Contribution Obligation Thursday 21 June 2007 @ 12:21

This is my fourth and final post in my series about why I've reduced my poker time to only two or three hours a week, and why I likely won't be pursuing it even as a part-time pro in 2008.

Some people have a view that the point of life is simply to “have fun” or the “pursuit of happiness”. I have a number of friends — most notably W.D. — who hold this theory of life quite strongly.

Despite many debates with them, I simply don't believe this. I believe that human beings have an inherent obligation to make a life-long contribution to society. Perhaps I read too much Kant in college, but the fact remains that my fundamental philosophical life focus goes back almost completely to a single line in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals I read on the bed of my dorm room my sophomore year: take every action, as if, by acting, that action were willed into universal law.

I realize that many modern philosophers reject Kant as overly simplistic and meaninglessly formalized. I know that some of Kant's work is sophistry to justify Catholic dogma that I've personally rejected. However, I ultimately remain compelled by this concept.

Frankly, I can only justify time spent doing something as frivolous as poker to the extent to which it clears my head from my day job which is focused on improving the world. When I talked about poker not being about the money, I discussed how I got deep into poker as an escape during a burn-out period in my life's mission. That burn-out is over, so I must again focus on it.

I do second-guess this philosophy at times. Once, a player that I met in Boston — a predatory businessman type — told me that he needed to play poker because it fed his preternatural instincts to be the alpha male and destroy his competition. I rejected his concept at the time, because he was generally opposed to causes to help others. Such motivations were deeply focused on his own success in a disgustingly Randian sort-of way.

However, years later, a dear friend of mine, who lives and works every day in the same world-saving movement where I do (and has been in it for even longer), told me something similar, saying: you and I need to play poker to feed our baser instincts since we spend our days focused on helping other people. I took this seriously, because this fellow is one of the people I respect most in the world, and, unlike that other fellow, this guy has the credentials of being someone who spends his days trying to make the world a better place.

So, maybe this “feed your demon” theory of poker is true. Maybe it is the case that poker serves to compartmentalize this kind of competitive focus for everyone. I've always been someone obsessed with competing with himself — comparing my own new results to my old ones and deciding whether or not I've done better. I always try to avoid lining my own accomplishments up against others'. Regardless, even if this theory is true, I still think I want poker to be a passing occasional activity in my life rather than a deep focus. If I have this competitive need, which I somewhat doubt is that strong (even if it exists at all), I am sure it can be served with an occasional game of poker rather than the near constant one I was in from 2002 until early 2007.

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A Quick Reminder Why I Don't Play Clubs Anymore Saturday 16 June 2007 @ 19:05

Yet another robbery of a NYC club reminds me why I don't play the local clubs anymore. The chance of being held up at gun point makes it not worth it.

Of course, since there's basically only a robbery once every six months or so, it means you're at least 1-to-182 against to get hit. Probably less, if you avoid the peak 23:00-01:00 hours. Still, I don't gamble with these sorts of things, only poker itself. Especially when there are better ways to spend one's time.

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UIGEA Looms Friday 15 June 2007 @ 08:17

With just 24 days to go before banks are required to comply with the UIGEA, I was greeted with this unfortunate message when I went to cash out my daily $300 from ePassporte today:

US Bank Account

This functionality is temporarily disabled. Our backend ACH processor is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please check back later.

I wonder if technical difficulties mean, our USA processor just bumped us to comply with UIGEA and we're scrambling to find another. I have about $2,000 left of the large sum I've been pulling out at $300/day for quite a while, I hope I can get the rest out. I also have a dozen $300 withdraws in the “pipeline” that have left my ePassporte account but haven't shown up in my bank account.

Ok, so now would be the panic time. Online poker is about to collapse in the USA. Get your money out now. :)

Update: ePassporte is working again, for now. Still, less than a month left before full-on UIGEA.

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No Pro Reason 2: The Asshole Factor Tuesday 12 June 2007 @ 13:25

I had built a list of reasons that I'm winding down playing of poker. I mostly wrote them out for myself, and had planned to make proper entries and post them here. As you might guess, because my decision was that I'd wind down my poker efforts, I have been slow to roll out the posts that explore the reasons that I made said decision.

My first reason dealt with the changing nature of game selection, and the second dealt with the concept that I didn't actually start playing (nor is it worth continuing to play) poker for the money. In this installment, I talk about a somewhat controversial issue, which I have long called the “asshole factor”.

In my many years of playing poker, I've discovered that once you reach “real stakes” — somewhere around $10/$20 in limit and $2/$5 in NL/PL — the makeup of people who play settles to a well-defined group. At the lower limits, you find all sorts of vacationing people, friendly folks, and various people who are just recreational players who don't spend a lot of time in the poker world. It's even fun to meet these new people; I know that I met some interesting characters at River Street, for example.

But, rarely do these recreational-focused players venture up to the middle and high limits. Once you get there, there are basically two types of people: (a) semi-pro or pro players who are moving up in stakes, and (b) assholes. The semi-pros/pros might be great people, but if your goal is to be a pro yourself, you don't want your game filled with these people. So, you're left with everyone else — the assholes. It's a simple fact: in my experience, in these games, with rare exceptions, everyone besides the pros are just plain jerks. I have some theories about this.

First, it's a certain class of people who are drawn to higher stakes gambling (BTW, if you aren't over the idea that poker isn't gambling, you should get over it — you are a gambler even if you only gamble (as I do) when you have the best of it). Usually, these non-pros are going have some set of psychological problems. They might be problem gamblers, or at least have an unhealthy relationship with gambling. And, even if this isn't their primary defining psychological illness, but it's likely that the series of illnesses they have are going to make them not nice people to be around.

Such people are often rude, nasty or otherwise generally unbearable. I've found it worse in east coast games than on the west coast, but it's often generally true everywhere. (This might, BTW, be due to the fact that the recreational player on the west coast gambles a bit higher, and therefore you have to go to higher stakes for the game-makeup to settle.)

Even if I believed (although I don't) that the point of life is to do whatever you want, I'm not sure that what I'd want to do is spend my time around these gamblers. Even the ones who aren't unbearable and are instead actually somewhat funny, aren't worth being around either. They are funny in that sad, pathetic way that makes one sick to one's stomach to laugh with (at?) them.

So, when you see me vacationing for a weekend here or there at a casino, you're definitely going to find me at the low-limit tables. If I'm going to spend my time playing poker, I want to meet some friendly people who aren't complete degenerates or pros gunning for cash.

And, if I don't want to play higher, making myself a full-time pro would be silly, because I can't earn enough at those jovial, friendly games to make a real living.

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No Pro Reason 1: Poker Is Not About the Money Thursday 17 May 2007 @ 11:32

I had built a list of reasons that I'm winding down playing of poker. I mostly wrote them out for myself, and had planed to make proper entries and post them here. As you might guess, because my decision was more or less made that I'd wind down my poker efforts, I have been slow to roll out the posts that explore the reasons.

I've been listing the reasons in no particular order; the first I posted was regarding game selection concerns. The second is a bit more nuanced, and I'll begin explaining it by telling a brief story.

A long time ago, I was introduced to someone whom I'd been told was an avid poker player. I asked her what she liked about poker and her quick answer was: I love poker because I love money. I was taken aback. I then made my usual mistake when I'm well informed on a subject: rather than keeping my judgements appropriately to myself, I blurted out an analysis: You'll never be a good poker player if you love money that much.

Of course, this is a counter-intuitive assessment, but nonetheless correct. I first encountered this idea when reading Doyle Brunson, who has said in many fora: to be a successful poker player, you must have a complete disregard for money (or sometimes saying the value of money). Eventually I came to the realization that this was a big factor in my (albeit small-time) poker success as well.

The fact is, I never much cared about money. I have been extremely poor at times (well, “extremely” when consider in relation to my social class, upbringing, and education level — I make no assertions that at my poorest I'm always have it better than most people in the world; we don't actually live in a classless society). At times when I was “poor”, I (like anyone else would) noticed the lack of money to do basic things like rent an apartment without cockroaches, or to have enough money to afford real pasta sauce rather than buying tomato paste and adding water.

But once I had enough money that I could rent a relatively nice apartment, eat out when I wanted to, and own a nice computer (or, have my employers provide them, actually), there wasn't much left that I ever needed. I just never wanted things. I really always hated possessions. I'm known for hording junk because I hate throwing things away, but I found I was just as happy avoiding acquiring things.

When I started playing poker, it was mainly as a competitive effort with the side-effect of getting free pizza money while in college. When I started playing seriously in the early 2000's, it was as an escape of my “regular community” that I had temporarily become fed up with. But, it was never really about the money.

Money to me always seemed like a meaningless thing. In the late 1990s, while my friends ran off to cash in on the Dot.Com boom, I went back to graduate school to hide from what I saw as over-commercialization of the Internet that I loved. Now, I'm staunchly middle class, I've been lucky to get jobs that don't compromise my principles, and it probably will stay this way for the rest of my life. There's nothing I want in my life that a little more money can buy. I can imagine it would be nice to win so-called “life-changing money”, so that I wouldn't have to ask people to pay me to work on the social causes that I care about. (I'm one of these rare people who would do roughly the same job I do now even if I didn't need the money.) However, making money that doesn't instantly make me independently wealthy simply won't improve my life. I just don't have much interest in being a Ferengi.

I feel that I got into trouble when I started to think about poker as something I needed to do to make expenses. I did increase my expense footprint, and it will require some careful financial management to live without the $1,000/month I was pulling from poker. But I can surely figure out how to reduce my expenses enough to make things work.

But, that's somewhat beside the point. The point is that I didn't get into poker for the money. I did, however, get caught up in the poker boom (ironically, after I'd already explicitly avoided the Dot.Com boom). I'd started to like the fact that easy money was coming my way; I was becoming a little bit a Ferengi. But, that's not something I really wanted; I pretended I wanted it, in a way, to justify not giving up, and after a while I even believed that I wanted it. In other words, I convinced myself I wanted “easy money” to keep from throwing myself into something I valued more. I bought into the myth of EV, which assumes a person's time is only valuable to the extent to which that person produces wealth. I do believe in EV in the mathematical abstract. Yet, the quality of life EV, and the EV of world betterment, are both much more important in the equation than the pure financial EV. This belief is why I refused to take Economics in college; it's why I avoided going to work for a start-up. It's just not worth changing my core principles just to keep playing poker.

In the final analysis, I was using poker as a mechanism to avoid spending as much time in the world I really loved (the one to which my career is devoted), because I was a bit burned out, as many who devote their lives to social causes do. I'm not burned out anymore, and in such a situation, poker serves only as a financial EV calculation. Yet, as I told that avid poker player I once met: one can't possibly be good at poker anyway if it's only about the money. The people who do best at poker love the game — they want to be doing nothing else when they are playing poker. I stopped feeling that months and months ago. It just became about the money. But, no matter what my financial EV is, I can't really justify playing for only that, particularly when I know I'm not going to get financially independent from it.

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Epassporte's Dirty Little Secret Monday 7 May 2007 @ 20:16

On Epassporte, you can only cash out $300 each 24 hours via ACH, and they charge $2 each time. You can up this to $500 a time only if you give them both a credit card and a bank account number.

I will cut it close getting all the darn money out in the 63 days remaining before the UIGEA goes into effect.

As my wife pointed out, it's better than getting none of it, which is about where I was give that Cake apparently has no check processor now.

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Frankly, I've always liked Frank Thursday 26 April 2007 @ 22:24

Barney Frank has always been my favorite Congressional Representative; I had the pleasure of being his constituent for a while in my life, and I miss that time.

If his bill passes (and, of course, it's a huge underdog), I will seriously consider playing online regularly again. Not because I won't play online if the game is illegal, but rather because fully legalized and regulated online poker will be so lucrative that it will be too difficult to pass up.

Similarly, if I didn't dislike California so much (in large part because of the poor public transit in most Californian cities) and happened to live there, I'd play in the legal local card rooms.

There are some people who are going to play poker only when it's fully legal, and those are the fishiest. I just need a huge overlay to persuade me. If the game isn't a full-on donk-fest, I can't make enough to justify the time. Legalized online games could yield hourly rates like those on Cake and Pacific in the hey days. That'd be tough to ignore, even if taking money from the clueless is starting to make me sick to my stomach.

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The game is dominated by all-in processes; x(t) >> b(t) Wednesday 18 April 2007 @ 18:06

I only had time to skim this academic letter by Clément Sire entitled Universal Statistical Properties of Poker Tournaments. He primarily argues various types of observed natural phenomena in Physics and Biology evolve the same was as poker tournaments, particularly those where chips are not evenly distributed.

He does seem to make some indication that various “Kill Phil” strategies (i.e., tending to go all-in on the first betting round) have certain advantages in tournaments. However, I feel that he tends to ignore the evolution of hand play and the importance of opponents folding in certain situations. He does argue that individual hand outcomes are not particularly important in tournament play, but I am not particularly swayed by his arguments. I didn't follow every last piece of his math.

BTW, it's worlds colliding for me again: one of my undergraduate professors sent me a link to this academic article formatted in LaTeX (a free software document formatting system) about poker. I wonder how many people in the poker world have enough background knowledge to comment usefully on this article. I am sort of useless in disputing his arguments, since my math modeling and analysis skills have faded so much since my undergraduate days (and I didn't do any in graduate school, really, focusing more on Theory of Computation and other symbolic math).

Oh, and I do like how they call poker tournaments a “futile activity”. I rather like the sound of that. It reminds me that things you do only to make money are ultimately futile, and I think that's how anyone who does not love poker more than most other of life's endeavors will eventually feel about poker.

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Not Playing, Home Game, and Taxes Monday 16 April 2007 @ 09:26

I haven't played poker at all this month. Basically, I've quit. I have more to write about regarding my reasons, and I will. I've won about $20,000 already this year, and assuming that Cake Poker actually pays me (they are having huge delays in processing cashout checks; I've been waiting since mid-February), that will be a win comparable to my best years in the past. Why play anymore when I have better things to do?

That said, I'm still going to have my monthly home game, because the usual group are enjoyable people (not the annoying fish you have to put up with at casino and online tables). I've just sent an announcement for this Saturday.

I did my taxes. I read Ann-Margaret Johnston's book, How to Turn Your Poker Playing into a Business. I recommend this book if the whole Schedule A vs. Schedule C issue still confuses you or if you've never filed one or the other. For those who have studied this issue, it doesn't give any new information.

The only piece that it made clearer to me is why everyone is so touchy about this full-time vs. part-time idea. There is one single court case, once, about a professional gambler, that jhazen has previously quoted in my journal: if one's gambling activity is pursued full time, in good faith, and with regularity, to the production of income for a livelihood, and is not a mere hobby, it is a trade or business within the meaning of the statutes with which we are here concerned.

Added with Johnston's arguments that the IRS gets very suspicious of a Schedule C for any activity that seems fun, this probably accounts for the constant “not full-time” paranoia around the poker world. I believe that this is one court case, and therefore just one criteria among so many. Johnston herself argues that there are lots of criteria considered by the IRS. Frankly, when I'm playing more than, say, 3 hours of poker a week, I enjoy my day job more than I enjoy the poker, so if the IRS wants to see “toil” to believe it's not a hobby, I'll tell them under oath how boring the whole thing is.

Finally, I should note that I nearly had a losing year in poker in 2006. My net profit was a paltry $94.73, as my expenses were somewhat high ($2,105.73). Still, this is much less than I won in 2005. I had forgotten than in January 2006, I was still playing limit regularly at the $15/$30 level and had a bad 200 big-bet loss weekend. So, given that I had to dig out of that hole all year, I am fortunate that I had a win. It certainly didn't help that I spent most of the late summer and fall playing extremely low stakes, wasting time in tiny home games and very small stakes online, too. There's hours of my life I'll never get back.

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No Pro Reason 0: Game Selection Concerns Tuesday 13 March 2007 @ 11:08

For about a year, I considered whether or not I wanted to become a pro. Last month, I posted that I have decided not to do it, and I have basically quit poker, compared to my previous time investment. I was usually playing about 20 hours a week from around mid-2003 until late last year. I am now playing about 20 hours a month.

I have a number of reasons that I have abandoned this plan (and similar reasons have reduced my part-time play, too). It will probably now take me a few months to give all my reasons for this. I'll try to post a reason a week, at least, in no particular order.

A while ago, I linked to Ed Miller's speculations about whether the poker world keeps getting harder. I link to it here again as I think it's probably required background reading for what I'm about to say next.

Game Selection is central to any profitable poker strategy. As the proverb goes, if the seventh best player in the world insists on only sitting in a seven-handed game with the those six better players, that amazing player will be a lifetime loser despite tremendous skill.

I believe that game selection generally tends to ebb and flow. Take a look back over the fifty year history of professional casino-based poker play. (Ignore the roving gambler era since that lifestyle worked for very few.) There are periods throughout where the games were very good and not so good. Now, I'm not talking about the really big games, because I'm relatively sure there are enough stupid rich people in the world to make those games highly profitable forever. And, as the Dilbert Principle states, products that are the playthings of the stupid rich are the most profitable in capitalism.

But, few people will build the bankroll, temperament and the high skill required to play at the high limits. I've met about three people in my life that I thought could actually make it at $100/$200 limit (or $25/$50 blind NL/PL) for the long term. You need a tremendous amount of skill and ability to handle variance to survive. Few people have that.

So, let's assume that as a run-of-the-mill pro, I'd have to figure I'm not in that class of people that can play that high. So, I'm going to settle in at the middle limit grinding — right at that spot where all the grinding pros land. Right where the games are toughest, because it's right at the cusp of where someone can actually make a living. Thus, game selection becomes the chief determinant of success.

During the 1990s grinding it out at limit $15/$30 and $20/$40 was particularly difficult to beat. There wasn't a lot of gambling interest in the game, and there were a lot of strong players fighting over a small amount of dead money. We could easily reach that moment again.

Indeed, in online games, because of the rapid nature of game development and quick movement of dead money in NL HE games, we've found that many sites are almost unplayable at the online “middle limits” of $1/$2-$3/$6 NL. Part of this came from the UIGEA forcing out casual US players, but it was already starting to happen on some sites before that.

Casino games, by contrast, will stay pretty profitable long term, since the popularity of poker has caused one likely irreversible fact: many people who previously enjoyed general casino table games now prefer poker when they visit the casino once or twice a year. There is probably enough dead money at the lowest limits to make them profitable.

Note the emphasis on lowest limits: there will be great games at $1/$2 NL and up to $5/$10 and maybe $10/$20 limit. But, those aren't make-a-living stakes. They are make-some-profitable-extra-income stakes; the same stakes I've been beating all these years and netting amounts always less than $25,000/year for 20 hours/week.

Of course, if you are highly skilled and committed to improving your game, I am absolutely sure you could seek out good games and find them at the middle limits. But, I wholeheartedly believe it would require daily trips to multiple casinos; online poker is not really going to sustain many pros at the middle limits.

Thus, I firmly believe that, moving into the post-poker-boom world, a pro needs to live near a casino Mecca (e.g., Bay Area of CA, Los Angeles area, Las Vegas, or Atlantic City), where that pro can make daily visits to the casino with minimal travel overhead. It's a matter of fact, frankly, that without a wide variety of live middle limit games to choose from, the full-time pro simply won't be able to earn enough to make poker more lucrative than other careers. Certainly, to even match my current Real Life salary (which is a relatively low NGO wage), I'd absolutely need that level of game selection. Relying on what's available online for my daily income wouldn't cut it.

So, since I'm not relocating to those places (I would really dislike living in any of them), I think this is an important reason not to go full-time pro. That leaves the question of how this issue impacts my part time play. I have decided, first and foremost, that for any larger stakes, occasional trips to the casino are likely better than frequent online play for small stakes. The game selection at casinos is basically always good, and I can have a better time and hourly rate as a recreational player and part-time pro if I visit casinos occasionally for trips where I can play 12-14 hour days for a short period of time. It's clear that for the part-time player, online cash game selection is abysmal enough that it is probably not worth the trouble for many hours per week.

That sums up my first reason for not going pro. I hope to write the next installment soon.

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… And So One Chapter Ends. Tuesday 20 February 2007 @ 13:51

One year ago last week, I posted that I hope to be a [full-time] professional poker player ten years from now. I was beginning a ten year plan to become a pro. Theoretically, I have nine years left. But, while I didn't journal much about my thought processes this past year about becoming a full-time pro, I have been thinking a great deal about it.

I spent a good piece of my poker time last year preparing for what became the experiment I conducted for the last month and a half to consider what it's like being a full-time pro. I decided last week to end the experiment. External (i.e., financial) factors indicate that it went well, and it's actually pretty clear to me that if I wanted to, in ten years, I could be a full-time professional poker player. I noted earlier this month that if I were to do it now, I think I'd have to take a substantially reduced salary, but it's likely with constant work on my game over the next nine years, I could get to the point where I'd have a full-time job.

I'm usually the type of person that if I can do something that I had a mind to do at one point, I just do it. In other words, I don't reconsider a plan very often; I'm better at executing those I already have it. But, this is a good case for reconsidering.

I do know that I will probably keep full-time poker in my back pocket as a backup in case for any reason I can't continue the work that I currently do. However, I have now let go of the plans to make it full-time.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be making a series of posts detailing all the reasons that led me to this decision. roryk is well known for urging me and others to never ever consider becoming a pro; perhaps my posts will help those considering it. Surely, this series of posts will make Rory happy.

I still haven't decided yet what I'll do regarding continuing the part-time professional play that I've been engaged in for the last few years. I admit that I've gotten used to being able to pay some expenses with ease from my poker business. I'm fortunate that I don't have to decide that quickly. I've more than doubled my bankroll in the last month and a half, and I could easily spend the next eight months not playing at all, pulling some expenses from it, and still not have to drop down in stakes if I do start playing part-time again at any point.

What I do know is that I'm done with the plan to become a full-time pro, and that I may be winding down my work as part-time pro as well. I look forward to exploring my reasons here in the next few weeks.

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