Friday, October 27, 2006

Executive Week Challenge

Jen and I will be spending the weekend in Southern California and attending Jen's 2nd cousin's wedding in Malibu. When I get back I'm going to take part it a self administered challenge. Starting November 6th I'm going to have what I'll be calling my "Executive Week Challenge" (OOOHHHH AHHHHHHH). Normally I like to work 5 or 6 hours a day 6 days a week. Sometimes it makes me sick to look at my hourly rates and think about how much I could be making if I really busted my ass. So for one week Monday through Friday I'm going to spend 10 hours a day playing. I'm going to pretend that I'm some career driven workaholic maniac executive and work all day long. I'm going to wear a tie as a symbol of my commitment to this theme (I'll post a picture). I'm going to get up in the actual morning and shave every day (it sounds crazy doesn't it?). By day two I'll probably be drinking straight Scotch at the end of the day and neglecting my wife. I'm going to take power lunches! I don't know what they are, but I'm going to take them dammit! I'm going to bitch about my boss (that asshole is making me work 10 hours a day!).

While 10 hours a day might not seem like an insane amount to most of you, think about the amount of actual work that you get done in a normal 10 hour day. How much time do you spend chatting with coworkers? How long do you take for lunch? How much time do you spend just spacing out or getting coffee or in the bathroom? During my work hours I'm making a decision every 10 seconds and every mistake costs me money.

I'm hoping to have one day where I play 100 SNG's in a day. To date my record is 62 and I've always wanted to say that I've played 100 tournaments in one day. I'd like to make $2,000 during the extavoganza and given the amount that I'll be playing that might be a little low. By Friday night I'm sure my brain will be mush. I'll no doubt fall face first out of my chair where a puddle of drool will accumulate and I'll lay there passed out until one of our cats decides to lick my face or attack my wrinkled, toothpaste stained tie (I'll post a picture of that too).

Now that I've posted this blog there's no backing out, and I encourage you all to mock me mercilessly if I fail to follow through on this. I'll do my best to post short updates daily.

(Note: there is also another new post after this one)

Taking a Step back and Jen Kicking Ass

This is a blog post that I wrote on September 10th. I had a few more things I wanted to add, but now I've forgotten what they were. Afterwards I'll have some comments from today.


I've been going through maybe the toughest stretch of my poker career over the past few months. It seems like no matter what I do my wins keep getting washed away by my losses. When you're playing for fun, breaking even is fine and most casual players would be thrilled to do so. When you're playing for a living, breaking even is a disaster. The bills don't stop showing up in the mail box just because you've lost with pocket aces what seems like 47,000 times in the last 2 months.

Not surprisingly, it can be stressful to lose or break even when you're used to winning. It's part of the job and every player no matter how good is going to go through some dry spells. I got the idea that I would write e-mails to any poker authority I could find and ask them how they deal with the losing stretches. Before taking this step, however, I thought I should first answer the question myself as if I were getting the e-mail.

So what's the best thing to do when you've been losing? Nothing will help you win more than winning. Well, what the hell does that mean? It means that you tend to play your best when you're ahead or you've had a string of winning days. When things are going well it's easy to stay patient, confident, have fun, and shrug off short stretches of bad luck. On the other hand when you've been losing it can seem like nothing is ever going to go right for you again and it's easy to start making non optimal plays in an effort to get even quickly. Another way to think about it is, if you're ahead $500 for the day, winning another $20 seems like a nice little bonus, but if you're stuck $500 it's easy to think "who cares about this stupid $20." Most of poker isn't massive bluffs or making full houses; it's taking advantage of small edges many, many times. When you start thinking about any amount of money or chips as insignificant you're in trouble.

So how do you start winning so you can keep winning? After all it's not like you were trying to lose before. One way to accomplish this goal is to take a step back and drop down a limit. You don't need to take it all the way to the floor and start playing the lowest limit you can find, but play for a little less money against weaker players and book a few wins.

Another thing that's important for someone like me is to get back to basics. I play poker in many flavors and varieties and while I'm good enough to win at all of them (I think), I'm certainly much better at some than others. Think about what your absolute best game is and in what form you are best at playing it. Maybe it's limit cash games in person, or 7-card stud tournaments online. For me it's traditionally been single table NL hold'em tournaments.

The most important thing you can do when you've been losing is do everything you can to win. Get plenty of sleep, eat right, drink less alcohol, and get some exercise. Treating your body right will help your mind stay sharp. Take every hand seriously. Set defined hours that you're going to play regardless of your results. Reread any literature that has helped you in the past. Do some critical thinking about your tactics. Do whatever it takes!

Now for my October 27th update. When I wrote the above post, I was feeling really down and my confidence was at an all time low. For the first time in 3+ years the idea that I might have to get a job squeaked into my head. I was still quite a few really bad months away from that possibility, but it just felt like I was never going to win regularly again. Deep down I knew it didn't make sense that I could win 34 of the first 36 months in my career and then just all of a sudden not be a winning player, but that's how it felt.

So what did I do? Well I took a day off and then got back on my horse. I also took my own advice. I started taking better care of myself. I dropped down to the $55 SNG's as opposed to the $100's. I backed off from 6 games at a time to 5 games at a time (it may not seem like a big difference, but it is). Guess what happened? I started winning again. Between September 12th and September 30th I played 17 of the 19 days, had 14 winning days and ended up winning $5,800. Somewhere in there I jumped back up to $100 SNG's and I continued to win through October. I took a week off at the beginning of the month when my friend Brian Ridgeway from Maryland and his girlfriend Andrea came to visit, but I've still managed to net close to $4,000 this month. $4,000 a month is a little below expectation. $5,000-$6,000 a month is par for the course, but considering the week off and the way things had been going I'll gladly take it.

Also thing were going even better until I took a major ass whipping two days ago. I was coming off a $1,400 wining day the day before, when I just got totally smoked. I played 27 $114 SNG's (I usually just refer to these as $100's) and when the dust cleared I had five 9th place finishes and only four money finishes. In the long run I've averaged a 9th place about 1 in every 25 tournaments and have made the money about 42% of the time so this was a real shock. It was like I was playing with a normal deck and my opponents were getting their cards from a deck with 10 aces and 12 kings. I lost with KK vs AA 3 times! That's only supposed to happen once every 5,000+ hands! I ended up losing $1,775 which was my worst losing day online since May. At least I was coming off a solid winning day.

Now back to more good news! As an added bonus to my recent return to respectability my wife has been tearing it up pokerwise lately. She is the only poker player in the entire universe who underrates her abilities. Most people who lose their ass on a daily basis will tell you how great they are at every opportunity. Jen on the other hand will swear until she's blue in the face that 1) she is not a good player 2)she is lucky to have more than $20 in her account 3)she couldn't beat a drunken 10 year old if they were playing their cards face up. This is not the case.

After taking a few months off from playing poker regularly for whatever reason she got back into it effectively because I made her (I'm a fiendish tyrant!). It all started with a pokerstars reload bonus. From time to time the websites will give you incentive to deposit more money into your account. What they do is match some percentage (usually around 20%) of your deposit up to a certain maximum. You can only cash out the bonus money once you've played a certain amount. In this case it was a 20% match up to a max of $120. For the average player it might take them a few weeks or even longer to earn the bonus, but it takes me about 2 and a half hours so I'm always happy to take advantage of these offers. While I knew it would take Jen much longer, I also knew this bonus would add a lot to her bottom line. She'd already started to play a little on the now defunct party poker so I didn't have to push too hard to get her to make a deposit on pokerstars.

She started playing the $55 SNG's which, not surprisingly, is the thing she is best at also (she's had some solid coaching). She was playing 2 at a time while watching TV in the evenings and it seemed like everytime I'd ask how she was doing she'd say "Oh I'm ahead $350" like it was $1.75. She earned the bonus in no time, but was having so much success that she kept on playing. In the beginning of October she picked up some more cash playing something a little different.

Pokerstars also offers what are called "multitable SNG's." There are a few flavors, but the ones Jen started playing were $20 buy in, 20 table tournaments. Basically the way it works is as soon as 180 players register for the tournament it starts. There are always exactly 20 tables of 9 players and they always pay 18 spots with the exact same prizes (18th pays $43, 9th pays $61, 5th pays $234 and 1st pays $1,080 just to give a few examples). Jen played 1 of these every day for 5 days and made the final table THREE TIMES including one 1st place (she also got a 5th and a 4th)! It was pretty sweet for her to pick up $1,500 playing $20 tournaments. It's amazing how much easier it is to beat players who suck instead of players who are just a little worse than you.

In the past few weeks Jen had been working on another deposit bonus on another site. This one is a 100% match up to $550, so it takes MUCH, MUCH longer to clear it. But her success has continued.

How much has she won? She won a fantastic $2,600 in September and an insane $4,200 in October! It's amazing to win that much money in such a short period playing 2 games at a time. Notice that in October, she's made more than me while working 3 days a week and doing the lion's share of the cooking and cleaning. It makes me feel like a real dead beat to read that sentence. I'm lucky to have her.

So why isn't she quitting her job to pursue a career as a poker pro? If you asked her she'd give you three reasons: 1) she is not a good player 2)she is lucky to have more than $20 in her account 3)she couldn't beat a drunken 10 year old if they were playing their cards face up. In addition to those main points I think she doesn't want the pressure of having to play or having to win. If you look back at my post about going pro, you'll notice that one of my main points is if you're going to play for a living you better LOVE to play. It can't be something you sort of want to do some of the time. With that said if she wanted to quit and play more I'd be all for it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Past Three Days

I've spent the past three days in action playing cash games in the local card rooms. On Wednesday I started the day off right by getting a cavity filled. AWESOME! It actually wasn't bad at all. After going to dentists who were clearly sub par (I swear to god one of them was located between a dollar store and a fried chicken place) for the past 5 years, Jen and I decided to upgrade our insurance so we could go to one recommended by our friend Chrissy "The Gas" Cowsert. Great nick name huh? I came up with it (it hasn't really caught on yet)! Chrissy works for PG&E as a "gas engineer" so it makes sense in that context, but it also leads people to think she might have a problem with flatulence! HA! Or I suppose if you wanted to pretend it was still the 1940's it could mean she was hilarious. You could say things like "That Cowsert's a real gas! I remember this one time she took my pocketbook off the ice box and threw it right into the face of the milkman!"

Anyway, Chrissy recommended a great dentist and it was best cavity filling I've ever experienced. Afterwards I came home and jumped into 5 SNG's. After a kick ass performance I found myself ahead $700 and got the urge to go to the Oaks. I was planning on playing $15/$30 (a game where a standard buy in is $500 and you could easily win or lose $1000 in a session), but when I arrived, I discovered that there was a $30/$60 game going (As you might imagine this game has twice the stakes of $15/$30). The Oaks never had $30/$60 in the past (at least since I'd been going there) and it's only been in the last year or so that they've started running one every Tuesday and Friday. Since it was Wednesday I didn't expect one to be running, but apparently the Tuesday game had gone around the clock and was still going. There was a seat open so I sat down, counted out ten $100 bills and bought myself a rack of one hundred, lime green $10 chips.

I hadn't played a limit cash game in person since I was in LA in May, so I was a little nervous that my game might not be sharp. But, once the cards started flying I felt right a home. It's a tremendous comfort after going to the WSOP this summer that I've done OK against the worlds best so I'll be fine against whoever strolls into the Oaks. Another thing that helped was there wasn't much in the way of competition in the game. I expected to run into at least one or two strong players, but I didn't find any. In fact after about an hour it was perfectly clear to me that I was the best player in the game. There is something tremendously ego boosting to be in a room with a few hundred people playing poker and to know that you are the best player in the biggest game (there was actually one player in the building that I know is a better play than me (my friend Bombay Jack), but he was playing Pan).

At some point I realized that I was living the dream that I had for myself about 5 years ago. When I was dealing cards for a living instead of playing, all I wanted to do was play. I had the utmost respect for the players in the $15/$30 game and every time I dealt it I dreamed of sitting in that game and competing against those players. Eventually I did start sitting in that game and competing, but while I was a prop player, I only had to play up to $6/$12. I rarely made the jump to $15/$30 and was always nervous when I did so. To think that I could sit in a $30/$60 game at the Oaks, be calm, and be the best player in the game is something I could barely have imagined even 2 or 3 years ago.

It also put a smile on my face to look at a college kid or two sitting by themselves, reading cardplayer magazine waiting to get called for the $3/$6 game. The days when I was at that level were the funnest part of my poker career. I couldn't play whenever I wanted and as much as I wanted so when I did play I really enjoyed it. I'd get more excited about winning $100 in those days than I would about winning $5,000 today. It was nice to remember those times.

I spent about 6 hours playing $30/$60 and won a little over $800 which is a solid, but somewhat modest amount for a game of that size. The next day I came back with E.B. and played a little $15/$30. I'd done well the day before so why not keep the ball rolling. Unfortunately I had one of the worst runs of cards that I can remember. After 4 hours of play I'd won exactly 4 pots, and two of them were total bluffs. I wasn't getting any cards at all and found myself stuck almost $1,500. Yuck! I was playing well and up against weak opposition, but there was just nothing I could do. I got things turned around and only ended up losing about $650. It still sucked, but I was happy to make a comeback.

The next day E.B., Jen and I made the trip 30 miles south to Bay 101, the largest card room in the bay area. I wanted to sign up for two tournaments that are going off next weekend and I heard they were filling up quickly. Unlike big tournaments in L.A. and Vegas the one's around here always have limited number of seats available because of space constraints.

I considered playing $40/$80 but the amount of cash I had on hand was a little light for a game of that size. I opted instead for a $20/$40 game. When I sat down it was the toughest $20/$40 game I'd ever seen. Players can be grouped into two categories. Winners and losers. At the low limits 95% are losers and at the middle limits at least 80% are losers (the reason for the jump is the amount of money the house takes is proportionally much smaller the more money you play for). In this group by my estimation there were 6 winners (not including myself) and 2 losers. Everyone kept commenting on how bad the game was and luckily after an hour or so the game softened up substantially. I spent the early part of the day behind about $700 and the made it back to the point where I was ahead $300. Sadly I made a few bad decisions, lost a few huge pots that I played well and caught a few bad breaks towards the end of the session. I ended up leaving down about $450.

These past three days spent back in the card rooms, although not profitable, gave me confidence that I could in fact earn a nice living even if online poker goes the way of the do do. It was also fun and I expect that I'll be making weekly appearances at the Tuesday $30/$60 at the Oaks.

Bush Signs the Bill

On Friday the 13th (DUN DUN DUH! AHHHHHHHH!) President Bush signed the Safe Port Act into law and after 8 years of steady growth, online poker took it's first ever step back. So far there have been two fairly major developments that have affected me personally as well as a few secondary concerns.

The first major development is the declaration by firepay that they will no longer make transfers to and from gambling sites. Firepay is a third party company based outside the US that used to serve as an intermediary between your bank and gambling websites. While in most cases you could transfer money to and from your bank directly, this process took a few days if not a week. On the other hand, with firepay once they'd verified your identity and bank account info, you could make deposits that would get credited instantly (they made their money by charging $4 for every deposit). This was handy for me if I wanted to play at a new website for the first time or found a tournament that I wanted to play at a website where I had account with no money in it. Just a few clicks and in 90 seconds or so I could start playing on a new site.

I'm sorry to see them go, but there is another option - neteller. Neteller does exactly the same thing, but seems a little bit worse. For one thing, instead of charging you $4 on an instant deposit they charge you 8%! They do allow free deposits and withdrawals, but it seems like they take about a week in either direction. I imagine they keep this process as slow as they can to encourage the instant deposits. 8% is a prohibitive amount for me so I'll no longer be able to do instant deposits. Instead I'll probably be forced to keep some sizeable chunk of money in there at all times. This really isn't that big of a deal, but it is a minor inconvenience.

The second development, which is much more significant, is the total demise of party poker. As soon as Bush signed the bill party poker voluntarily blocked all US users from playing in their games. This is big news since party poker was the biggest poker website out there. They were just a shade behind pokerstars in terms of multi table tournaments but they had at least twice as many cash games running at any given time as their closest competitor. Furthermore once you got above the low limits (maybe above $5/$10) they had as many games running as ALL of the other websites in existence put together.

When I first started playing online poker, party poker was the place I started. Every time they deal a hand it gets a number. The first hand they ever dealt in 1999 was hand #1. By the time I started in January 2004 they'd made it to hand number 240,000,000 after 5 years of operation. In the two and a half years since they've dealt over FIVE BILLION more hands. The reason I chose them to start with was they advertised up to 25,000+ simultaneous users. This kind of thing would happen about 8 p.m. pacific on a Friday or Saturday night. Coming from a card room with 25 tables that would have 250 players playing at once, this was totally insane. A few years later, before the shutdown you could find 25,000 players playing at 5 a.m. on a Tuesday and at peak hours you'd find 100,000.

The good thing is about 10 months ago I pretty much jumped ship from party poker. While I spent the first year and a half or so of my online career playing 95% on party poker, on January 1st of this year pokerstars introduced a rewards system that is worth $1,000-$2,000 a month to me for doing the same stuff. It makes sense for them because they're making 3 or 4 times that amount from me and they wouldn't have gotten anything at all without it. Actually, even if they totally cancelled the rewards system I'd still stick with pokerstars because I like their software and service much better than any other site I've played on.

The good news is I didn't lose any money and Jen and I actually MADE a few dollars off the deal. How the hell did we manage that? We're f-ing geniuses that's how! In all seriousness it came from the party poker Monster series of tournaments. They had close to $15,000,000 accumulated for the final tournament and were forced to totally dissolve the entire system of weekly and monthly tournaments. As a result for every weekly entry a player had, he or she was credited with $125 dollars. Every monthly entry was now worth $350 and every final entry was worth $1,500. Sadly we didn't have any final entries, but I did have two monthly entries and Jen had three! This means party poker dumped $1,750 into the Huff coffers as a little going away present.

A few of the other publicly traded and maybe one or two privately owned websites have stopped serving US customers. From what I understand US customers make up 80% of the market so I would assume that some of the smallest websites may be forced to close up shop without US dollars coming in. On the other hand the websites that do stay in operation should get a nice boost.

I already posted the e-mail that I got from Full Tilt Poker and here is the core of the message I got from another website:

"I want to confirm to all existing and potential poker players that itÂ’s business as usual here at DoyleÂ’s Room and we continue to accept players from all over the world including the United States of America. We at DoyleÂ’s Room have taken extensive legal advice and believe that it is far too early to fully understand the implications of this bill on our industry. Based on the legal advice we have received, the new bill does not make internet poker expressly illegal nor does it take aim at players who enjoy online poker. However, there are some U.S. States that have existing regulations in place that may prohibit online gaming, so we encourage all of our U.S. players to review the laws of the State in which they reside. Until such time as the law becomes clearer, DoyleÂ’s Room will operate as normal with our full exciting range of games and tournaments at all limits."


Pokerstars has yet to make any kind of formal declaration, but I hear that if you send them an e-mail asking what's going on they'll send you a pretty similar response.

Another interesting result of the bill is a few of websitesstes are offering major bonuses for depositing money into your account. I kept a fair amount of money in pokerstars, but took everything out of all of the otwebsitesstes. I'm sure most players took almost all of their money out and the websites have to do something to encourage people to put that money back in. What they do is offer you a deposit bonus that is only released after you play some insane number of hands. The more you deposit, the bigger bonus you get, but you have to play more hands to get it. For example, Jen just deposited $550 into Doyle's Room. After she earns 165,000 "action points" they are going to match her deposit and give her another $550 which she can leave in her account or take out or whatever. Sounds great right? The rub is that it takes a long time to earn all those action points. I think she gets 750 for every $55 single table tournament and the number of action points she gets for playing cash games depends on how much money she puts into the pot (this is kind of a wacky way of doing it - mwebsitesstes look at how many hands you play or how much money they take in rakecalculatealte how many points you earn). It would be easy for someone like me to earn the points in a timely manner on pokerstars, but the problem is these smaller sites don't run very many SNG's. They just don't have the customer base. So instead of a $55 SNG going off every 2 minutes, they start every 30 minutes or so. I may just bite the bullet and play some cash games. I have to do the math and estimate how long it will take me to earn the points and if my time might be better spent just winning money doing what I do best.

The government has given themselves 270 days to come up with ways to enforce the provisions of the new bill. I figure things will stay the way they are today until at least next summer. At that time there is a chance that nothing will happen and there is a chance that the government will really go after the websites. I don't think any poker players are going to be arrested and I suspect that the movement to fully legalize online poker will grow by leaps and bounds in the coming months. If it does get fully legalized I'll be lighting up cigars with $100 bills on the balcony of my Tuscan Villa, but I only give that about a 10% chance of happening in the next 5 years.

I'll keep you posted on what I hear and what happens.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Splash of Good News

As some of you know, my good friend from high school, Brian (the one who was a groomsman at my wedding) has been in town for the past few days with his girlfriend Andrea. We spent a good part of Friday on the golf course and spent all day Saturday, wine tasting in Napa. As a result I've been a little out of the loop and will probably remain so until Tuesday. But, I did get some good news today in the form of an e-mail from Fulltiltpoker.com. This is what it said:

Dear wes1279,

Full Tilt Poker is here to stay!

As an online poker player, you have probably heard about the new legislation passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this week that attempts to prevent you from being able to transfer money to online gaming sites.

While this new law has prompted some sites to announce plans to abandon the U.S. market in coming days, we assure you that Full Tilt Poker will continue to provide all of its players - both inside and outside of the United States - with a full complement of real money ring games and tournaments for their enjoyment.

After consultation with numerous legal experts in this field, we want to make you aware of the following:

* Legal

The new U.S. legislation does not in any way attempt to criminalize the act of you playing online poker. By playing online at Full Tilt Poker, you are not breaking any U.S. Federal laws.

* Full Access

The passage of the new Internet Gaming law will not have any impact on your day-to-day experience at Full Tilt Poker. We will provide all of our players, everywhere in the world, with full access to all of our games and tournaments.

* Easy Deposits and Withdrawals

We will continue to provide our players with all of the safe, secure and convenient methods for transferring money to and from the site. In fact, in recent discussions with our payment processors, we have been assured that this new law will have no immediate impact on their day-to-day business. And as always, any monies that you have on deposit with Full Tilt Poker remain completely safe and secure.

Furthermore, we firmly believe that online poker is not encompassed by this new legislation. In any event, we will continue to lobby for an express carve-out for online poker and for your right to play a truly American game from the privacy of your own home and computer.

We are excited about the future here at Full Tilt Poker and in the coming weeks and months, we plan to roll out many new features designed to enhance your online poker experience.

We appreciate your loyalty to our site and, in turn, want you to know that we will remain loyal to our valued players in the United States and throughout the world.

We look forward to seeing you at the table.

Sincerely,

Full Tilt Poker


This is good news for me. The biggest danger with the recent law was that the websites would block US users of their own volition. Full Tilt is one of the 5 biggest websites and probably my third favorite. Furthermore, a group of about 10 of the top 100 poker players in the world own a big piece of this website (apparently they own the software and marketing company that the website uses, but effectively they own it). One of the reasons why this website is good is they have all these great players to consult with about the best way to opperate. Along those lines, I'm sure these insanely smart people will figure out a way around the law if it is possible (if that's even necessary). Most importantly, I could easily continue to earn my living online playing soley on Full Tilt.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Legality of Poker Skill vs Luck

There is some hope that poker will be saved while sports betting and other games may vanish because poker is a skill game. If you're interested in a boring, but elaborate article about this topic, check this out.

I've also read some conflicting reports about the legality of playing skill games for money. It seems that there is some precident for making it legal to wager on games where skill predominates. Whether or not poker can legally be defined as a game of skill is a bit up in the air.

The first thing I heard on this topic was several years ago in an article in Cardplayer magazine. The article talked about a tax case where one poker pro argued that poker was a game of skill. As a result, he wanted to pay regular income tax on the money he made instead of the higher tax that he'd be forced to pay if his earnings were considered gambling winnings. He won the case and was allowed to pay the lesser rate.

But I've also read that poker is legally considered a game of chance. One definition says that in order to be a "game of skill" the elements of skill must predominate over those of chance in determining the outcome. The problem with using the definition on poker is in the short run luck dominates, while in the long run skill dominates. If you play one hand, the outcome is 95% luck, while if you play 100,000 hands the outcome is 95% skill. If you play an infinite number of hands the outcome is 100% skill.

One of the most interesting sections from the super boring article I mentioned above is this:

"I suggest that those interested in improving the law on skill v. chance work on expanding that definition to better specify the principal elements that constitute skill and chance. A weighing mechanism that could be considered by a judge or jury should also be set forth. A few states have passed so-called Chuck E. Cheese laws to allow businesses to legally offer low-cost arcade games with prizes of a low value. That law in Georgia includes a definition of "some skill" that is of interest even though it does not cover the real question, which is what does it take for skill to be predominate. Here is the definition from the Georgia statute:

"[S]ome skill" means any presence of the following factors, alone or in combination with one another:
(1) A learned power of doing a thing competently;
(2) A particular craft, art, ability, strategy, or tactic;
(3) A developed or acquired aptitude or ability;
(4) A coordinated set of actions, including, but not limited to, eye-hand coordination;
(5) Dexterity, fluency, or coordination in the execution of learned physical or mental tasks or both;
(6) Technical proficiency or expertise;
(7) Development or implementation of strategy or tactics in order to achieve a goal; or
(8) Knowledge of the means or methods of accomplishing a task.
The term some skill refers to a particular craft, coordinated effort, art, ability, strategy, or tactic employed by the player to affect in some way the outcome of the game played... If a player can take no action to affect the outcome of the game, the bona fide coin operated amusement machine does not meet the 'some skill' requirement of this Code section."


Clearly using the above criterion poker is a game of skill. But, the main thrust of this poorly written piece is that the precident says that poker is a game of chance. In fact the author goes on to say:

"Consider that on any one hand of poker it cannot seriously be contended that skill outweighs chance. Also, the results of any given session of poker (one night, one tournament, etc.) are not likely to be determined based on the preponderant skill of any given player. Perhaps the result of playing many sessions for a whole year is indicative of skill predominating over chance. But, perhaps not. Poker "player of the year" awards have become popular over the past few years. No one has ever repeated as the winner from one year to the next. Indeed few repeat in the top ten of those lists from one year to the next."

While the author says "few" repeat in the top ten from one year to the next, NONE would repeat if it was determined by chance. Also if you look at the top 50 (or the top 100) instead of the top 10 it's mostly populated by the same names year after year. Is it just chance that the same 50 people manage to make a million dollars a year, every year? Are they the luckiest people in the world? Did they all make it to the end of the rainbow and get a shamrock from a leprechaun that allows them to get luckier than their opponents?

What this fellow doesn't mention is that unlike MVPs in major sports where you're dealing with at most a few hundred players, in poker there are at least 10,000 players in the pool for player of the year. Also note that he says "in the past few years" poker player of the year awards have become popular and no one has won twice. How many years is a few? Ten at the most and probably more like 5. Since when does five trials constitute a significant number? Just because no one has proven themselves to be the best in a given year two years out of 5 we're supposed to believe that this is evidence that poker is not a game of skill? In the many decades of the NFL, only one player has repeated as MVP two years in a row. Does that mean that football is all luck? It must be all luck, after all only one team in NFL history has won all of their games. Surely if it were based on skill, the best team would win all their games every year. What about golf? Maybe Tiger Woods is just the luckiest player. After all he's only won 25% of the tournaments he's entered (which all have less than 150 entrants)in his career. Sure, the top 50 players on the PGA tour (and the cardplayer poker rankings) stay MOSTLY the same from year to year, but the order shuffles around and players come and go from that list. It's clearly all luck.

What about bridge? Or all other card games? Are they all just luck?

How about trading in stocks? Some stocks go up and others go down. Is it just the luckiest people who tend to pick the ones that go up? If that's a skill based process then why hasn't one trader proven himself to be the best two out of the last five years?

When you get down to the core of the issue, the key isn't history or "these people have done this, while these other people have done this". The fact of the matter is that poker is a game of decisions and these decision affect the outcome of the game. Any time you have a game that involves a complex decision making process some people are going to make better decisions using the same information than others. It's this abliltiy that seperates the good players from the bad.

If you want to read more about what I have to say regarding luck vs skill in poker in general you can read my post from July 20th titled "What makes a good poker player."

The Latest on the Internet Gaming Ban

It's amazing to me how my feelings about the significance of this bill passing have changed over a three day period. On Monday, it was like being hit on the head with an acorn. On Tuesday I was sure the sky was falling. And, by Thursday, it was like being hit on the head with an apple. The sources I've used to come up with this latest analysis are: An e-mail discussion group that I belong to who's main purpose in the past has been to analyze sports betting (this group is filled with smart guys who are in the know, including WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla), an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, a 3 minute piece on CNN, and various online articles that have come my way.

First to clear up a few vague points that I made in my original post. The bill that contains the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006" is the "Safe Port Act of 2006" in case anyone wanted to look for more info on it. The person who is most directly responsible for this act is Republican senator Bill Frist. The Secretary and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System have 270 days (after the bill is signed by the president) to come up with enforcement policies and procedures. Apparently there are 23 million online poker players in the US and in every place that I've heard about this bill I haven't heard one person interviewed or quoted as saying they were for this bill (with the exception of the people who wrote it). Furthermore according to Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), no one on the Senate-House Conference Committee had even seen the final language of the bill before it passed.

So what's the latest news? Well it looks like the publicly traded websites (party, paradise and pacific which is also know as 888) will probably jump ship on the US market when Bush signs the bill. But Fulltilt, Bodog, and most importantly Pokerstars are all private companies and could very well continue normal operating procedures.

Apparently there are going to be plenty of challenges to this bill in the courts. I could see websites using the angle that they'll keep the status quo while there are active challenges to the bill in the court system. If this is the case I won't have anything to worry about because I'll be long dead by the time the case and all of the appeals get resolved.

I've read conflicting reports about this but Allyn Jaffrey Shulman says in an article published yesterday (you can read the whole article here) "Do not panic. First and foremost, this bill does not criminalize playing poker. In fact, the bill does not speak to the poker player at all." While I wasn't going to stop until people started getting arrested or the websites blocked me from playing, this can't be bad news if this is true.

Another interesting angle I've read is that as a way of pulling out of the US market the websites (even the publicly traded ones) will stop accepting "payments" from US players. While this might dry up the supply of weak players from the US, there are plenty of worldwide players who will be free to keep pumping their money into the system. What about me? I've made one "payment" and that was $500 in January of 2004. Since then it's been all withdrawals. Of course, the amount that I would think of as a safe bankroll would probably go up, but I'd be able to keep playing indefinitely.

There is some hope that poker will be saved while sports betting and other games may vanish because poker is a skill game. I've created another post discussing the merits of this angle.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about the online gaming ban in the coming days as more info comes my way.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More on the internet gaming ban

I'll have plenty more to say tomorrow I'm sure, but for now

here

is a LONG and detailed article written by one of the leading experts regarding gambling and the law.


The more I hear the less dire things seem.

A Comment Response

In response to my most recent post Tim commented "My cynical take is that some of these folks are less worried about Mrs. Jones gambling away all her savings and leaving the family on the street, and more worried about the effect the growth of online gambling is having on the casinos in their own jurisdictions."

First of all let me say thanks for your comment. I LOVE COMMENTS! It lets me know that people are actually reading. I have a few responses. First of all, in an interview I saw with one of the bill's architects he spun it as an attempt to protect America's youth from the dangers of gambling addiction. He even compared gambling addition to drug addiction. I've been around my share of gambling addicts and while it can be a problem ALMOST ALL people who enjoy gambling are NOT addicts. A much larger percentage of drug users are addicts and the addiction as well as the effects of said addiction are MUCH more severe. Comparing gambling addiction to drug addiction is like comparing a cold to Ebola.

As far as casinos being for or against online gambling (especially poker) I would say they are for it. There is nothing more boring than playing regular casino games (blackjack, craps, roulette etc) online and very few people actually engage in this dark side of online wagering so there really isn't much competition there. Casino sports books might be taking a small hit, but the only place they are legal is in Nevada.

When it comes to poker I think the casinos have to be all in favor of online play. From a first person perspective I can tell you that every poker room in every casino I've been in is MUCH busier now that it was before 2003 when online poker started getting big. Furthermore a shitload of new poker rooms have been opening in casinos in Las Vegas that didn't offer poker in the past. I'm certain that the Harrah's corporation, which is the largest casino chain in the world, is really pissed about the ban, because they own the WSOP and that's going to suffer substantially without online qualifiers. Also I'm sure the big casinos would like online gambling to be fully legalized so they could get in on the action.

Thanks again for your comment.

Online Gaming Ban (BOOOOO!)

While there have been whispers of an online gaming ban for the past few months, one passed last week. This ban applies to all online wagering including regular casino games like blackjack and craps (yes they have online craps), sports betting and poker. It was attached to the port security bill. I can't think of too many things that are as unrelated as online poker and port security. It's never made sense to me that our law makers should be allowed to get pet projects squeezed through congress by sneaking them into important legislation. This is clearly a dishonest and virtually fraudulent practice that wouldn't fly in any other business or social setting.

I don't know how the gaming regulations would have done on their own, but I know none of the members of congress want to have the fact that they shot down a port security bill on their record. I'm sure they're all envisioning an opponent's ad during their next campaign. "Steve Johnson opened the door to terrorists! He invited them into your living room and told them to sit on your couch and drink your beer! The terrorists want to blow up everything from your house to your little dog Fluffy. Steve Johnson voted against the port security bill which could have stopped the terrorists from getting near Fluffy. Do you hate Fluffy? If not, vote against Steve Johnson. Steve Johnson - terrorist loving, dog hating, stink factory. Is that who you want representing you?"

So what are the implications of this bill? Basically it makes it illegal for banks and credit card companies to transfer money directly to and from gambling sites. This in and of itself is not a big deal. With most credit cards in the U.S., the issuing banks have blocked these type of transactions for years. And while it's convenient to transfer directly to and from your checking account, there are several intermediaries already in place that make it easy to circumvent this process. In fact, I've used a company called Firepay (which is just like neteller and similar to pay pal) for about half of my online transactions, because in many cases it's quicker and easier than direct transfers.

The bill stipulates that whoever is supposed to take care of this stuff has 270 days (people I've talked to seem to think this is about a third of the time it would actually take) to put in place the means to enforce these new rules. The banks are going apeshit because it means they have to sort through billions of transactions to weed out the ones that aren't kosher. This is going to cost them an insane amount of money. In fact, I've heard that it might not be possible in the sense that it would cost so much to do it, that it would put the banks that tried out of business. While it seems to me that they could come up with some cost effective way to do it using technology, they are not happy about it and may be the biggest ally of the poker community.

The real problem is that the bill takes what was a grey area before and explicitly says that placing any type of wager over the internet is against the law. As a result, many of the websites have said that they're going to pull out of the U.S. market when the bill gets signed into law. CNN says that should happen sometime in the next two weeks.

Needless to say, I'm not happy about these developments, but it's not the end of the world. I'm going to keep playing online as long as I can, and I think the chances of losing any money that I have deposited online is remote. But, just in case I've withdrawn a good chunk of the money I had in my online accounts. I suspect that some of the websites will remain in operation in the U.S. and all of them will remain up and running for worldwide customers. I am also betting that there will be some kind of grace period where I'll be able to remove any remaining dollars. Although I suspect that the few hundred dollars I have in season long football wagers (i.e. will the Colts win more than 11.5 games this year) may be gone forever. Now I hope they all lose! HA!

If it turns out I can't make my living online anymore, it will be back to the brick and mortar casinos for me. Luckily, I live in an area where I can still make my living playing poker. Of course, I won't be able to play 6 games at a time anymore, but I'm almost certain I can make just as much money. The main downside is I won't be able to work from home anymore. But, I'll still be able to work whenever I want.

There is some chance that this could prompt Jen and I to move to the LA area. There's always been some chance that we'd end up down there since Jen grew up in Orange County and her family still lives there. But, more to the point, that area is home to 3 or 4 of the largest card rooms in the world. Even though I've had mixed luck in the few times I've played at The Commerce and The Bike, it's clear that the games are EXTREMELY soft.

The best possible outcome here is for the bill to bring online poker out into the open. Apparently there are fifty million poker players in the US and while only a small fraction of those are online players we are still a force to be reckoned with. Along with the banks, the poker players, anyone affilitated with the WSOP or ESPN, and the poker publishing industry, I'm sure any groups with the goal of protecting our civil liberties would be against this bill. This seems like a clear case of right wing nut jobs trying to regulate our morality, instead of protecting out freedom. I'm hoping enough people get outraged, that online poker makes a resurgence in some new fully legal and regulated form. I've always said that full blown legal online poker would be worth at least $100,000 more a year to me, so if this is what it takes to make it happen down the road, then so be it.

I'm going to make sort of a game time decision about whether or not to keep playing online once the ban goes through and I'll keep the blog posted with whatever developments come my way. But, you should all get ready for some tearful phone calls where I put my wife on the phone and make her ask to borrow money so we can pay our gas bill (it's just so tough now that pokerstars closed down..sob..sob). We'll then use this money to buy expensive bottles of wine and cigars, which we'll then light with more money that we've squeezed out of you saps! HA HA HA!

Monday, October 02, 2006

WCOOP Final Thoughts

While the WCOOP wasn't a financial success it also wasn't a failure. I played in 51 statellites with buy-in's ranging from $16 to $280 and lost a total of $451. I played 10 of the WCOOP events with buy-ins totaling $5,355. I finished in the money in 3 of the 10 and lost a total of $302.

If I'd had one or two hands go differently I could have shown a solid profit instead of a small loss.

In the heads up matches, needing to win 3 matches to make the money I had my opponent out chipped 5,500 to 500 in the second match. I put him all in 5 times and was unable to win any of the five. While there were no guarentees that I'd have won the third match I was close to advancing.

In the NL hold'em with rebuys I finished 363 out of 2,081 and if I could have made it to 270, I would have picked up another $1,184.

In the $530 pot limit event I finished 198 out of 1095 needing to get to 150 to pick up $876.

And of course in the $1,050 limit event if I would have been able to move up 3 more spots from 21 to 18, I would have made another $2,400.

The point is, I was close. I could have made the money in an insane 6 out of the 10 events. I'm really happy with how I played and I'm already looking forward to my next series of big tournaments. For now it's back to the unglamorous, but profitable world of $100 single table tournaments.

I'm sure some of you have heard about the anti internet gambling legislation that got tacked on to the port security bill and cleared the senate a few days ago. I have plenty of comments about what I think it means and my expectations for the future of internet poker. But, you'll have to wait for my next post which will be coming in a day or two.

Thanks again to my backers and everyone reading this blog.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Congrats to Matt!

My good friend Matt Lessinger had a great poker day today and I thought I'd wish him congratulations and tell you a little about it. Today Matt played a $1,200 buy-in poorly run NL hold 'em tournament in Fresno, CA. The main benefit of the event was the final 6 would be on TV. ESPN? No. Fox Sports? No. Bravo? No. I'm not sure how you pronounce it, but I think the official name is "Central California Backwards Ass Hillbilly Network" or CCBAHN. TV is TV, and I've never made it to a televised final table, so maybe I should shut it...no...that's crazy.

Anyway the tournament started with 90 players, 10,000 chips per player and 40 minute limits. Sounds o.k. right? The problem is $200 of the $1200 buy in went to the house! This is an unheard of, insane, ridiculous percentage. Also whoever came up with the way the limits increased was also a total nut job. When I first heard from Matt there were 28 players left (sweet), he had 57,000 chips (sounds good), average was 32,000 (o.k.) and when he got back to the table the blinds were going to be 2,000/5,000 (WHAT!?!?). Never, ever, ever should the big blind be 1/6th of the average stack. This is just bonkers.

When they made it to the top 10, Matt had turbo-ed up to 210,000 and was in first place. The blinds were at 10,000/20,000, but once they got down to the top 6, the blinds would drop back down to 1,000/2,000 to make the TV coverage more interesting.

The next time I heard from Matt, they were down to 3 players and he was in first with 500,000 playing against a 300,000 chip stack and a 100,000 chip stack. It seemed like 10 seconds later he called back and told me he's won!

This was clearly a strong performace and while I'm happy for Matt who won over $31,000 for this effort, I'm also happy that I took 5% of his action. As a result I picked up $1,500 while sitting on my ass watching football today. SWEET! What have your friends done for you lately?

In all seriousness, congratualtions to a good friend on a fantastic victory.