Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The least excited I've been while waiting to go to Vegas.

Current location: Denver International Airport, waiting for connector.

It's funny, I'm a couple hours from Vegas, and I should be over the moon. But I'm not.

It's not just because the primary purpose of this trip is business. I have a hunch that even though I'm going to be busy for most of the time doing work, meeting with clients and what not, the actual convention itself is going to be a wonderful good time. Imagine a giant science fair with every exhibit replaced by a new casino game. All those people who have dreams, have need of a mathematician, and have money. Good times.

The recreation part, however, just doesn't seem as awesome as it used to. Dealers in Vegas tip hustle like there's no tomorrow. Cabbies long-haul as a matter of tradition.

Of course, the weather will be nice, and the cheap alcohol is a nice plus. I can't argue with the notion of a casino willing to give wheelchair service to people who pass out at the dice tables!

It's funny though.. as far as just the actual 'getting some time to gamble', that's about the last reason I'd go to Vegas.

Now, getting to Washington to watch the Super Bowl in the Moose and play some cards.. now *that's* something I'm looking forward to!

For now, it's off to gate 20 and pray there's empty seats so I don't have to look in the dejected eyes of the person sitting next to me when they look at me and realize that, sadly, they've lost the "no fatties in my row, damnit!" lottery.

What makes poker games tough?

Recently, on the Two Plus Two poker forums, I came across a post (with an opinion poll) wondering if "poker training sites" are ultimately good or bad for the game.

For those who don't know, these "training sites" are websites where, for a subscription fee, you can watch videos made by highly skilled poker players while they play poker online, and they'll talk about their decision processes in any key hands while they play. In addition, you may converse with the authors of the videos and other like-minded individuals in an effort to improve your skill in the game.

Now, this has been a contentious issue, because poker is a fixed-sum game. Collectively, all poker players either break even, or lose money to the house that runs the games in return for collecting a nominal 'rake' from every pot. Some players believe that making it easier for smart players to "talk smart" about poker is bad for the game.

My opinion is basically that, in the grand scheme of things, poker training sites are a "1" and the ignorant attitudes of the 'new generation' of poker players are a "10" on the scale of "ruining the game", and my response on Two Plus Two went something like so:

I don't know whether poker training sites should stay open, or be closed.

I don't even know if they're good for the game.

But I do know the answer to this question: "are they bad for the game, per se?"

That is, does the proliferation of information automatically guarantee the games get tougher?

All I know is that blackjack, as a casino game, is about 100 years old. In 1954, the first 'correct' basic strategy on the game was released. Fast forward 54 years, through another hundred books on blackjack, the complete dissemination of 'card counting' as a legitimate strategy, several TV news exposes on the subject, a couple movies, and oh yeah, that 'information revolution' brought on by the internet for a mere 10 years.

Stop the fast forward at earlier yesterday evening, when I doubled A7 vs 6 and got told I was "an idiot" who "didn't know basic strategy" and "ruined the shoe".

No, the congregation of people who want to treat poker like a game of strategy has not ruined the game. Anyone who wants to learn has found the will and the means to learn. Anyone who doesn't want to learn can laugh in the face of all this information and play the way they want to play, negative ROI be damned.

You know what's led to tougher games?

Punk-ass trash-talking piece-o'-shiat barely-post-teenage filth who spit in the face of any notion of poker being a 'social game'. Desperate wanna-be-pro douchebags who insist on wearing an iPod, noise reducing earphones, a hoodie, wraparound sunglasses and a mother-flippin' Darth Vader helmet to low-stakes, introductory tournaments.

Maybe I'm a grouchy anachronistic man, at the venerated old age of 34. Fine by me. I'm certainly old enough to remember that the sign on the frickin' outside of the building says "CASINO", and to some people (even if not to us), CASINO means "a place to gamble".

Now, if I ran said casino, and someone bet thousands of dollars at a shot on the "snake-eyes" bet at craps, having a 1 in 36 chance of profiting 29x their bet, and they hit it on me thrice in a row, I'd treat this person like the frickin' Maharaji. I'd act with only the most patently insincere distress before bowing in admiration to that person's "gambling skill", wonder aloud how they knew they'd be on such a hot streak, then offer them a steak dinner solely for being the luckiest guy in the joint, take their order at the table and run it to the kitchen myself while they reveled in their hot streak and kept shooting.

Now, imagine the stereotypical poker player I decried above - one that you and I have encountered a thousand times - and put them that situation.. and what would they do?

They'd bitch at said craps player for making a bad bet and hitting it, then doing it twice more!

"OMFG you f****n donk, ur -16.7% EV u retard, wtf u bet that for? fu i hope you get syphillis and die you f*****n moron!!!!1"

Every single person who treats poker as a game of skill, and hopes to profit off the game by being more skilled than the average player, has a genuine duty to make sure that said 'average player' is comfortable playing their "standard sub-standard strategy". If you make them uncomfortable, they'll either refine their strategy, or quit playing altogether -- a devil's bargain if there ever was one.

You don't need to be patronizing. But if they make a bad call and say "I'm sorry, I had to call", for chrissakes, any response you give them had better not have a probability, percentage, pot-odds formula or profanity in it.

And until people figure that out, the sum value of "are poker training sites bad for the game" threads over the sum of all the forums will be about as meaningful as farting into a hurricane.