Friday, March 19, 2010

Run horsie, run

It's been a few months now of watching Mr. Hustle take Pigeon for dozens and dozens of points at the 60 Wall Backgammon games. As I wrote in the past, Pigeon has a habit of trying to catch up to his losses by doubling down his bet and jumping from $10 to $25 a point. Mr. Hustle, though, in the spirit of excellent bankroll management, refuses to play for more than $10. So when Pigeon wanted to jump to $25 two weeks ago, another player, an old Yugoslavian guy, posted the other $15. That session ended in 7 points against Pigeon.

Staking arrangements are common in poker but I've never seen it done in Backgammon. I suspect there's plenty of it going on but I don't see it too often because Backgammon has a 'team play' concept called Chouettes. A Chouette is basically a way for multiple people to play one person. The person playing the others rotates until everyone ends up playing everyone else. Each person gets their own cube and is allowed to challenge the player 'in the box' (the one playing the others) anytime they want. Conversely, the person in the box can cube each person individually; either 'the captain' (the one playing for the team) or any of the other participants. This allows for interesting bankroll management situations in which the player in the box will drop some cubes and take others in the same position just to hedge themselves.

Because of the existence of Chouettes, the poker concept of stakehorsing doesn't happen as often. But here was a situation where the old Yugoslavian guy was essentially a silent partner in the one on one game. He was playing and wasn't giving advice, he was simply take $15 of action on each $25 point. Given how badly Pigeon has been losing, it was a pretty good bet and it worked out for him to the tune of $105. Well, two days ago, Pigeon lost 43 points to Mr. Hustle in a single session and I figured he'd be looking to get even again. The whole thing is funny because he's NEVER gotten even, but that didn't concern me. I know a good business opportunity when I see it. All I needed was the courage to pull the trigger.

I pulled Big Poppa (the guy who runs the games) aside and told him that if Pigeon was looking for someone to cover the $15 overlay, I was the guy. I trust Big Poppa implicitly and knew that he'd be able to handle the arrangement even if I wasn't there at the time the game started. Sure enough, I got a text message from Big Poppa at 11:20a that read, "you're on".

It was happening and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The feeling in the pit of my stomach was EXACTLY like how I feel when I put a position down in the stock market. I didn't have any control but my money was at risk nevertheless. 45 minutes later I got an update text from Big Poppa, "You're at minus 4".

No big deal. Minus 4 just meant that they were pushing and pulling and they were near even. But an hour later, I got another text that said, "you're at minus 12". 12 points is beyond the realm of standard deviation. It meant that Mr. Hustle was being beaten and my money was being lost! I went down to the 60 Wall atrium for lunch and observed the game. By the time I got down there, Mr. Hustle was at minus 17! I couldn't believe my crap luck. The one time I put my money down on a sure thing, I lose big. That sounded about right for me. When I left to go back to work, the session was minus 21 for me and I was getting pretty nervous. What if Mr. Hustle lost his cool and went on a bender. It happens in poker all the time and we've all seen it. You get steamed from taking bad beats and you end up losing your judgement along with more of your bankroll than you'd wanted.

So I pulled Big Poppa aside and told him to monitor the game and text me if the count went to minus 30. At that point I would come down again and make a game time decision to pull out if I thought my horse was losing it. 45 minutes back at work I got a text, "you're at minus 4". It was the beginning of a turnaround. Another 30 minutes later, "you're at plus 6".

At this time, it was near the end of the day so I knocked off work and watched the game until it ended at 7pm. Mr. Hustle was solidly in the black and Pigeon was getting rattled, taking really bad cubes and getting gammoned twice in a row. By the time the game was over, the Pigeon had lost 20 points and I had a nice $300 win booked to start my weekend trip to Atlantic City.

Backing bets, like the stock market, take courage in the face of losses. But if you've made a good deal and you believe in your bet, you need to ride out the roller coaster. It's hard to do, but it's where the good investors make their money. Lesson Learned.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More on how Backgammon is like Poker

Tim Holland, a former Backgammon champion, died yesterday at the age of 79. Read his obituary in the Times. It's eerie how much he sounds like a poker champion, talking about how he lost money learning the game but got it back from the "sharks" when he finally could play.

For such a simple game, it's endlessly fascinating to my mind. I've been fortunate enough in the past few months to get into the Backgammon scene which is played every weekday at 60 Wall Street (Liberty Park during the warmer months). The guys there have taught me so much about the game that my skill level is now leaps and bounds above where it was when I started playing them for money a few months ago. Granted, I'm still a net loser by far but since I'm only playing them for $2 or $3 a point, the losses are easily handled. More than the right price to pay for such an education. Every so often I can make a good score too, like today when I won 12 points of $3 each in a quick session with another amateur player. I'm slowly improving.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game that I'm observing is the art of the hustle. I'm definitely a target for these guys but I know I'm not being hustled because I adamantly won't play for high stakes. The perfect "pigeon" is one who has a much greater idea of their skill than the reality and won't mind putting up real money. Even more than poker, Backgammon encourages bad players to think they're good because one lucky roll in a game can turn it around very quickly. And since there are only 36 dice rolls in Backgammon, vs. 52 cards in Poker, the lucky dice rolls happen more often.

There's a player who's new to the mix at 60 Wall Street, we'll call him Pigeon, who perfectly epitomizes this role. He showed up a few months ago playing for $5/point, which is relatively low stakes (roughly equivalent to playing $4/$8 limit poker). Not high enough to do real damage, but high enough that a really bad session could mean a loss of a hundo. Immediately, he latched onto my regular playing partner, we'll call him Mr. Hustle and began losing to the tune of 10-20 points a session. The sessions would last for hours and would occasionally end with Pigeon winning 5 or 6 points, but that was a rare event. In most cases, Mr. Hustle was on the winning end of things. Then, one day, I walked in to watch the match (which occurs most days starting around noontime) and looked at the score sheet. On top of the sheet, where the scorekeeper writes the stakes, there was written "$10".

I was floored.

Who in their right mind, knowing that they are a consistently losing player, would double the stakes? If you were getting your killed at $4/$8 over the course of a few weeks, would you suddenly move to $10/$20? I guess it's one thing to occasionally take a shot at higher limits, but only if you're a winning player, right? I asked Mr. Hustle about it and he just shrugged.

"I guess he thinks he can win. I warned him he's gonna get hurt sooner or later".

And there's my first lesson in the art of the hustle: always make sure your mark doesn't feel he's being forced into anything. By telling him he's probably going to lose, you play into his ego. Once his ego is bruised, his emotions take over and he starts chasing his losses.

Mr. Hustle won the first 6 sessions for a total of approximately 50 points net. That's when Pigeon lost his mind. The next time I walked in, the stakes were $25! This is like a $4/$8 player (a losing one), jumping up to $20/$40! This is where the real damage can occur! Mr. Hustle, though, was cool as a cucumber. Rather than risk his bankroll with an unlucky session, he stayed at the $10 level and let another player bank him for the remaining $15/point. Pigeon lost 7 points in that 4 hour session when the banking player had to leave. They dropped back down to 10 and Pigeon lost an additional 3 points before calling it a night. He was down 30 points at one point (!), but managed to make the miraculous comeback that convinces losing players they could be winners, if only they could keep rolling like that! Winning players know differently. Just as in poker, each player will get the same distribution of luck over the long haul. It's making the right plays the rest of the time that provides the difference. A few days later, with no backers in sight, Pigeon lost a whopping 43 points in one session at $10/point! Imagine losing 4 buyins in limit poker in one session and you'll get the idea of how bad that is.

In true Pigeon fashion, they're playing today and Pigeon has won 7 points back. He'll be back again and again and again until he's lost enough where it hurts him to come back. Astonishing.

In all of this Mr. Hustle has smiled, offered advice (not always correctly) and been very friendly. Everytime Pigeon loses, Mr. Hustle tells him how if only this roll had been different or that roll had been different, Pigeon would have won. He bolsters Pigeon's spirits, all the way happily collecting his winnings.

Hustling for money isn't something I ever plan on doing, but boy is it fascinating to watch human nature at it's most basic. And just like poker, the best advice is always to be dispassionate and analyze your position as coldly and in the most calculated fashion possible. Check your ego at the door.

Skeptical about James Lipton

There's a meme going around that James Lipton, the host of The Actor's Studio, wrote the theme song to The Thundercats. It has the air of plausibility to it as Lipton has had a long and very varied career. In addition to his enormously popular TV interview show, Lipton has:

A. Written a Broadway Musical
B. Produced Carter's presidential inauguration for TV
C. Voiced a central character on radio's "Lone Ranger"
D. Wrote for and acted on Soap Operas
E. Is a published novelist

So is it hard to think that somewhere in his career he might have written the theme song for one of the most popular and beloved cartoons of the '80's?

I did some research on the internet on (the all knowing internet) and Lipton is indeed listed as a theme composer. I went to his Wikipedia page and he's also credited there. But looking closer I noticed something odd; namely that the Wikipedia page merely links to the IMDB page as proof. I did a general search on Google for "James Lipton + Thundercats" and other than lots of of links to the original meme (and other pages repeating it), I could find no other proof of James Lipton having written the Thundercats theme.

I don't know why I was suspicious to begin with, but it didn't seem...right somehow. My brain is just wired to be suspicious like this. Things that sound too good to be true, or too neat, just don't usually work out like that.

So along with James Lipton as the theme composer on Wikipedia, another name, Bernard Hoffer, was listed. My theory was starting to form that someone modified the page for James Lipton to give him composer credit, for the hell of it I assume, and it took on a life of it's own. I did more research on Hoffer and discovered that not only is he credited as the theme composer on multiple websites and fan pages, he's also the theme composer for Silverhawks, which was practically the same cartoon made by the same production company that came out the year after Thundercats.

So what's more likely, Bernard Hoffer who composed multiple times for Rankin and Bass (the production company) or James Lipton (who you'd think we would have heard of this years ago)?

Occam's Razor, dude. I'm going with Hoffer. All this underscores to me is that information can be fluid and getting the whole picture requires common sense. I take a lot of what I hear with a grain of salt to begin with, so this doesn't change my life all that much. Hopefully, though, this post may put a stop to this stupid ass rumor.

Unless, that is, I'm totally wrong and James Lipton actually DID write the theme to The Thundercats. Which would be AWESOME!

P.S. I'm too lazy to link to everything right now but I might later.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Min cash - Mini-FTops Event #1

After winning a $0.75 sattelite to get into the first Mini-FTops Event of the season, I min-cashed in 1378th place out of 18,875 runners! Wow, that's a lot of runners. I made $41.53 cents, which isn't bad considering it was practically a free roll.

After being card dead most of the tourney, and never being above the chip average even once, I was looking good to bubble when I got JJ 2x in a row and doubled up on each one of them. First it was JJ > TT and then it was JJ > AK suited. That let me accumulate enough chips to coast into the money, although there was a scare when I had AA with 100 people to go to the bubble. There was a raise PF and I opted to shove my stack vs. playing cute. He folded and I cruised into the money. I tread water for a while, watching people bust out at a furious pace and then managed to triple up when, with 8 BB's left, I called a 4 BB all in with 9T. When the BB went all in over the top, I was priced in. To my horror, the SB had 44 and the BB had AK! My flush draw was dead. With great luck, I managed to flop a Ten on a board of T86, hit a T on the turn and rivered the 8 for the win!

I was now at the average chip stack and was hoping to ride a wave to make something happen. People at the table were shoving like crazy and I was waiting for my chance. It took longer than I wanted, but I finally got QQ and got a big stack to move all in on me when I only raised 4x the BB with it. He shoved, I called and he showed 88. The flop was 467, the turn was a J and the river was the dreaded 8 (though a 5 would have been just as bad). Cest La Vie.

I'm happy with my performance and cashing is better than losing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Minimalist Heaven

My friend Jay has created a slice of Nirvana. A perfect blend of minimalism and post-modern angst.

I present: Pigeon eating a bagel

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why you should only play poker in a casino

If only for big money tournaments....

SECURITY! One of the most under-appreciated features of casinos is their elaborate and highly effective security systems. You don't see those armies of security guards but they see you, and they're well paid to take care of any funny business. Evidently, the European Poker Tour ignored this fact when hosting a recent 1 million Euro first prize tournament and the tourney was ROBBED, mid-game. The tournament was being held at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Berlin.

Yikes. I'd love to know what the fallout is going to be. I assume the tournament is canceled and all participants (even those knocked out) will get their buy-in back?

UPDATE: Video of the actual robbery has been released! Holy moly.

FTops Warrior

On a lark, just to spend a few minutes playing this morning, I entered a cheapie Mini-FTOPS satellite to the Mini-FTOPS event #1....and took it down.

See you guys on the felt on Wed., Mar. 10th!