Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"50 pounds of blockquotes and 5 pounds of good ideas in every post."
A buddy mocking my blog in email.

Posting this 10 part story sure has been fun (compared to writing up uber-posts, that is).

We're halfway there, boys and girls. I'll try to get the final parts posted ASAP. I've actually had the story sitting in my notes for months -- I just kept forgetting to post the damn thing.

I loved this comment from TeeDub about the tale:


their complete and utter depravity and lack of any kind of remorse for the horrible things they do to each other makes me feel like a good person.


If you don't know what the hell I'm babbling about, please scroll down and catch up.

Part six tommorrow.

Anyway, I keep fantasizing about writing up a David Ross type post, recapping my daily poker play. But then I re-read a David post or two and decide against it. He's already set the bar too damn high. But this has been one of those vertiginous rollercoaster type weeks that would actually be fun to document.

This playing for a living thingy is beyond explanation, though.
IE: typical evening: I get a message from FastEddie asking if I can throw three or four grand in his Stars account - he found a soft 30.60 game. I reply, "Sure," do so, and head back to the safety of my 15.30 tables on Party, all the while sweating him.

He drops a quick $800 before ending the session up 2k. Damnit, I shoulda asked for a piece of him, eh?

Although if you were me, would you back this kid?

I used Bonus Code Iggy on Party Poker, and I won $50,000!

I think not.
But he's actually an excellent player. A true shark. But he has no other marketable skills outside of poker.

Which brings me around to my typically long-winded thought. I DO have marketable skills. In fact, I've never *not* worked until the past four months, and even this I wouldn't necessarily call "not work". Poker is tough. While I've earned more than I expected in this strange experiment of full-time poker, I find myself wondering if I'm not wasting my time. There's still plenty of time in the day for playing poker, why not consider a return to the Workforce?

I get my arm out of this sling in a week. Consequently, I've found myself doing some half-assed networking per the job scene. Entertaining the pro's and con's. Having a huge day today at Party Poker didn't exactly incentivize my return to corporate America, but hell; some days you're the bug, some days you're the windshield.

Variance rules us all.

It's ironic, my wife is actually telling me to err on the side of caution here. She's telling me to take my time, to decide if I really wanna return to bosses, schedules and schemas, deadlines and details, to hurried lunches and late nights at an office.

Well hell, put it that way and it's an easy no.

But I'm a social creature. And I love tackling difficult projects. As much as I get out to see friends and such, I still miss the socialization and purpose of a challenging job. Playing poker for a living makes me feel like I'm lazy and worthless and wasting my other tangible talents. It's not about money or getting burnt out or any other cliche....it's just that I feel I could be doing more. Prolly doesn't make sense, poorly written out like this, in a drunken brain dump.

A further complication is a month long literary tour of England & Ireland I've booked for late summer. That will convolute a job situation but it's not a deal breaker, by any means. Bah, I prolly won't get a job anytime soon but it's fun to think about the possibilities.

I dunno, I'm just rambling here. I'm not in the mood to post all the massive links and goodies I have stored up for you, so thanks for bearing with my inane internal thoughts tonight.

Hit me tommorrow for Part Six of the continuing saga from Losers, Inc.
Brought to you by Bonus Code IGGY, damnit.
Party Poker rules.

For now, I leave you with this exemplary essay from the esteemed Tom Weideman.


Subject: Question Authority

[Warning! Patience is required to reach the poker content.]

Out of the primordial soup slithers the first amoeba-like creature. As the
first life on earth, it figures it better get down to come serious evolution
if it's gonna make the big Y2K party in a few billion years. So it tries
new things, and sees how they work out. First it tries leaving the patch of
water in which it currently resides. As it does, its membrane starts to dry
out in the volcanically-heated air, and the organelles in that section of
its "body" stop functioning properly. "Whoops, not a good idea," it says to
itself, and files away the "Don't leave the water" message for future
reference. It has responded to its first external stimulus. After it
splits a few times, other cells try to leave the water, and some of them are
not genetically disposed to react to the bad things that result from this
foolhearty action, and they perish quickly. So began the "swift reaction to
stimulus good, slow (or non-) reaction to stimulus bad" genetic imperative.

Skipping ahead many millennia...

Homo sapiens begin seriously employing the practice of learning by trial and
error. They marvel at the wonder that is the sun in the sky, and wonder if
it can grant their wishes and help them with their difficult lives. They
try asking this sun if it will help them to find a mammoth so they can kill
it and eat it, and amazingly a short time later they find one. They try it
again the next time they go hunting, and it works again. They conclude that
the sun is a powerful god that they must respect and revere. Later they
find that this god will occasionally not help them, but rather than doubt
their original conclusion, they figure they must have done something to
anger the sun god, and set out on a trial-and-error quest to determine what
pleases and what angers this deity. They dutifully take note of everything,
and pass the information down to their offspring.

Skipping ahead still further...

Superstition runs rampant in the human condition. One of the most important
things determined by the predecessors of these humans is that their deities
are angered by critical analyses of the
long-forgotten-stimulus/response-induced belief system. These humans manage
to overlook the logical inconsistency inherent in this belief system: If a
critical analysis concludes that the belief system is flawed, then the tenet
in this system which says that critical analysis is wrong must itself be
meaningless. Wars are fought over differences of opinion about whose belief
system is correct. More superstitions are invented every single day by
people who believe there must be reasons for various (perhaps unlikely)
random events.

Moving now into poker...

"Change the deck"... "Get a set-up"... "I'd like the four seat when it opens
up"... "I was playing my rush"... "I can't play these hands when I'm running
bad"... Everyone has their own theories about how to sway random chance to
their favor. Where do these come from? They arise because one of the first
times they tried one of these tricks, it "worked". They quickly forget the
plethora of null data points, where changing decks or changing seats didn't
help at all, or worse yet, they use one of their superstitions as an excuse
for the failure of the other: "The deck change didn't work, so the whole
set-up must be bad - get a new set-up please", or "Okay, so it wasn't the
set-up, so I guess I'm just in an unlucky seat." With enough of these
iterations, one of them is bound to "work", that is, eventually the player
will win a hand, and his superstition will finally be confirmed, "Ah, it was
the seat." With enough attempts, ALL of the superstitions will be
confirmed, since eventually he will HAVE to win a hand. No one who believes
in lucky decks thinks the concept of lucky seats is silly.

Moving now to my main point...

The crux of the matter is that humans are notoriously inept at drawing
conclusions intuitively from the results of events. We have invented a
method of drawing appropriate conclusions (the field of statistics), but
without the painstaking training associated with learning this subject, we
are left with the poor judgement we inherited of basing broad conclusions on
too few data points. For some strange reason, this annoys me. I get
annoyed by all the playing time at the table that I lose because of new
set-up requests. I get angry when I see an irate player throw his cards at
a dealer who I like but who is apparently "unlucky" for this player. Most
of all I get irritated when I see people make snap judgements about the
playing ability (good or bad) of certain players because of those players'
short-term results. This brings me to my main topic: high-profile
tournament players. To demonstrate my point, I'm going to take you far from
the confines of our little planet and the egos contained herein, light years
away to the planet Zog...

Poker was introduced on Zog several years ago, and it was an instant hit.
Unlike earth, Zog's intelligent inhabitants are not so widely-varied in
their talents. In fact, when poker tournaments were first introduced, every
tournament saw the same 300 players show up every time, and every one of
these players played with EXACTLY the same ability!

Much to the surprise of Zoggians everywhere, there was one player who had
actually won more than one tournament of the mere 15 that were played in the
entire history of poker on that planet. Everyone thought, "Wow, the odds
against a single player winning more than 1 tournament out of only 15 when
there are so many participants must be astronomical! This player really
must know more about the game than anyone else!"

[Math note: The probability that some player will win more than once out of
15 tries with a 1/300 shot of winning each tournament is actually better
than 1/3, so it's not such an amazing event after all. Unfortunately, the
Zoggians evolved to be no better at intuitively understanding the
mathematics of seemingly unsual events than humans.]

The Zoggian who achieved this feat of course also believed that he must be a
great player, so he wrote a book that everyone immediately bought. Now
because of the tournament success and the book, this player became a
celebrity among poker players, and immediately commanded respect at poker
tables everywhere. The plays that he made at the table that worked out well
were heralded as more signs of his genius, while his failures were soon
forgotten, or more likely, were deemed to have been "too deep" for mere
mortals to understand. The selective memory syndrome built him into a
legend. In addition to this, the confidence he acquired from his early
success (and his opponents' concomitant collective fear) served to actually
(for the first time) cause him to play slightly better than his opponents,
making him slightly more likely to win events than his counterparts.

As the fame of the Zoggian poker author continued to grow unchecked, another
player won multiple tournaments in a short time, and it was not long before
he was proclaimed the newest Zoggian poker genius. Like his predecessor,
this fellow wrote a book, and he also began collecting financial backers for
future events. His backing allowed him to play more fearlessly than before,
and this, along with his notoriety, helped him to gain a slight edge on his

This same story played over and over, with new "heroes" emerging every so
often by winning multiple tournaments in a short time. Before long, there
was a whole pantheon of "superstar" players, that everyone on Zog agreed
were the elite. These superstars were just as susceptible to selective
memory as the rest of the planet, so they believed that their fellow
superstars really were "the players to beat". Many of them split action
with each other in tournaments, figuring that their group was a shoo-in to
get most of the money at every event they played. Every once in awhile, an
"outsider" won a tournament who, for whatever reason, was quickly praised by
one of the established elite. The effect of this was to effectively extend
the period of time allowed (from 15 tournaments to 30) for that person to
win a second tournament such that he would be admitted into the elite. This
had the effect of greatly improving the probability of these connected
newcomers hitting it big, AND it served to make the uppercrust even an more
tightly-knit group.

All this happened without a single player having any greater understanding
of the game of poker than anyone else. Many of the superstars played
marginally better because they played aggressively thanks to their misplaced
confidence, but this adjustment was by no means a deliberate conscious
decision based on a strategic understanding of the value of aggression.
After their original hot streaks, any occasional win (however rare it might
actually be) by a superstar player only served to reinforce his stardom.
Typically this person credited his win with some adjustment he made that
"put him back on track". When a superstar failed to win a tournament, no
one took the slightest note, possibly because there was almost always some
other big name player to watch at the time. When a player fell on hard
times and lost a backer, he simply shopped around until another came along.

One day, a small group of inhabitants from the nearby planet of Bamf arrived
on Zog in a spaceship, and they were amazed to discover how truly awful the
Zoggians played the game of poker. With their superior analytical skills
and their centuries of experience, the Bamfites possessed a much deeper
understanding of the game than the Zoggians could ever imagine. After
speaking with and reading the books written by the star Zoggian players and
after sitting at the tables with them a few times, the Bamfites concluded
that even the Zoggian "elite" were clueless about the game. For a variety
of reasons, most of the Bamfites decided that tournaments are not the
smartest or fastest way to win money, and only a few even bothered to
participate in these events. Those few that did take part only did so
occasionally, and expected to win maybe one out of every 150 or 200
tournaments. Although this was a much better probability that their Zoggian
counterparts, these Bamfites never got admitted into the group of "elite"
players, because their limited participation made it extremely unlikely that
they would manage to win multiple tournaments in a short time. When a
Bamfite occasionally let it slip in public that the Zoggian star players
were actually not very good, they were dismissed as "jealous", or were told
that they simply did not understand the game well enough to see how deep the
plays of these Zoggian superstars really were.

[All the characters in this story are fictional. Any similarities of these
characters with real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. No
animals were harmed in the writing of this story, nor were any harmed to
produce the snack eaten by the author during the writing of this story.]

Now I'm not so cynical that I think that the above fiction is actually going
on here today. But I wrote it to point out how blown out of proportion
tournament success can get, even in the most extreme case of players who are
all equally matched. I do think that a great many of today's successful
tournament players are stronger players than hundreds of the numbskulls that
participate in these events. But I'm also quite certain that many of these
high profile players get way more credit than they deserve (eg. I think that
players in the 75th percentile that enjoy a flash of tournament success are
now regularly given credit for being in the 99th percentile). I'm trying
here to demonstrate that even a seemingly long run of apparent poker success
in tournaments does not say as much about the poker understanding of a
player as most of us think it does, for two reasons: 1. Selective memory
about the results of renowned players makes their successes seem more
consistent than they really are, and 2. Even mediocre players can enjoy a
great deal more success than most people would expect.

Where this all has become abundantly clear is through the internet.
Previously, a knowledgeable poker player would not discover a tournament
player's mediocrity unless that tournament player wrote a book, discussed
poker in person, or played many hours at the same table. But now many of
these well-known players share their "insights" in the various internet
poker forums, and it doesn't take long before the chinks start to show.
Again, I'm not saying these players aren't winning players, only that their
understanding may be less complete than they believe or that they are given
credit for by the adoring general public.

What is interesting is the effect these players have on the dissemination of
poker knowledge through the internet. Just as humans are capable of quickly
developing superstitions to "answer" questions they have about their bad
fortune (as I described above), they also are predisposed to accept
successful players as authority figures. It's not just that it's convenient
to explain a run of tournament successes by assuming extreme talent,
however. I think it goes even deeper than that. Everyone wants to win, and
if they accept that a huge component of a player's amazing success is
attributable to luck, then they would have to discard the possibility that
following that authority's advice will lead them to similar success. In
other words, the desire to believe in the veracity of a successful player's
advice is very similar to the desire to believe in the existence of lucky
and unlucky seats. By believing in these things (even in the face of
perfectly reasonable logic to the contrary), they feel safe in the knowledge
that they have a yellow brick road to poker success.

While I believe this (genetic?) flaw is also what leads to people buy all
sorts of bogus diet plans and get-rich-quick schemes, it's certainly not
true these "poker authorities" are (as one infamous prolific poster would
characterize them) all "hucksters". The vast majority of them are generous
people who share what they "know" for nothing, and the few that do sell
their knowledge firmly believe that they can help their readers. BTW, I
certainly don't want to discourage this practice, both because I still have
much more to learn, and because in the areas that I feel I already do
understand well, I'm interested in discovering what actually goes through
the minds of these "experts" (the most obvious flaws are the shockingly
prevalent lack of logical deductive reasoning and mathematical
misconceptions, but there are other areas as well).

So now when I try to downplay the hype received by some of the more
well-known tournament players, even amidst a flood of testimonials on their
behalf, you know where I'm coming from.

I hope to one day evolve beyond my irresistable desire to make fun of
superstition and misplaced hero worship when I see it, but that day has not
yet come. Either that, or I'm just jealous.

Tom Weideman

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Information on this site is intended for news and entertainment purposes only.

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