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Views: 1679
Date Posted: Nov. 29, 9:39pm, 0 Comments

It's the nice thing to say, right? A friend experiences some success or good fortune at the poker table and you say "Congrats."  But when does it lose its genuine feeling?

This past week, I saw a tweet from David "Gaucho2121" Paredes that he had won his first online tournament ever, the PokerStars USA COOP event #5.  He has had considerable cash success and even some nice scores in live tournaments, but he had never won an online tournament. I wholeheartedly congratulated him. I think it was more of a psychological breakthrough for him than anything else, as he's a very strong player who has won larger sums playing live.

Less than a week later he tweets again "wow...just won the PLO USA COOP #10 320 1r1a for 2nd win week. never won an online tourney and now I win 2 in 1 week!"

My response was "Congrats again, but don't push your luck, i only have so many poker congrats for MTT winning friends before I get"

The more I thought about my comment, that was meant in complete jest, the more I thought that we all have a different threshold of genuinely offering heartfelt congrats to a friend who is doing well. Pushed too far, it can turn to envy or resentment.  If David were to win several more tournaments on his present heater, would I still be as happy for him? Would there come a time where I felt his luck and skill were no longer deserving of the riches and success he reaped?

Then this morning, I saw a tweet about the latest winner of the massive UB Bad Beat Jackpot - GUIGUI_88.  I met this very nice young Canadian player this summer in Las Vegas during the WSOP. He is very humble and unassuming.  He hasn't sought the limelight even though he is one of the best mid-stakes players online. Check out
this month's PTR grinder awards where he is once again crushing $2/$4 unlike any other player online.  

I emailed him to pass along my sincere "Congrats." along with my comment "That site is so rigged, but at least a good guy won it....LOL"

He thanked me and informed me that his portion of the $205K Bad Beat Jackpot was for $72k. He hails from the same region of Canada as 2010 WSOP champ, Jonathan Duhamel, so the sun seems to be shining on that part of the poker globe.

I am genuinely happy for these two players and their good fortune.  I know for a fact that they work very hard for what they have accomplished and are good and generous people.  That isn't always the case in poker. 
But would my estimation change eventually?

I think it would be an interesting study or experiment to evaluate the factors that affect our genuine "congrats" quotient before it turned in a different more negative direction.

Views: 1572
Date Posted: Nov. 26, 1:33pm, 0 Comments

Without a doubt, the highest concentrated family-oriented playing card time across the US falls during the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a time when disparate families come together for a few days of eating, visiting, watching TV/movies, and some shopping.  Killing some of those hours is very often some kind of card game that brings everyone together. Poker is one of those quintessential American card games that many people play.  While it may get demonized by politicians or amongst the moral minority, poker is a game that develops many skills that each of us could benefit from greater focus.


  • Develops math skills - relative value, statistics, percentages and probabilities
  • Develops analytical thinking - logic, memory, concentration
  • Develops sportsmanship - handling winning and losing
  • Develops confidence - instant gratification when moves are rewarded
  • Develops patience - acting impulsively is often punished, waiting for decent cards, waiting to act
  • Develops money management - managing your chip/money, having a plan, managing risk
  • Develops psychology - managing personal emotions, bluffing, paying attention to others/body language

Poker is a game that teaches many valuable life skills; discipline, risk management, social skills, and competition. Many poker skills directly translate into business; managing money and risk, adjusting to changing situations, playing for the future, depersonalizing conflicts, and doing your best with incomplete information. Poker punishes undesirable behavior; acting rashly, illogically, refusing to manage your resources or analyzing your risk.

Poker also teaches important perception and self-knowledge skills. It is key to understand how another person thinks, what they want and perceive. It is equally important to focus on your own psychology. Be relaxed and in control of your emotions.  Take time to analyze the situation. Admit your flaws so you can work on them. Denying the reality about yourself, the cards, odds, or the opposition will lead to swift loss. Poker is only a card game, but it encompasses so many life skills that we all can benefit from improvement in.

While I spend long hours every day deeply involved in all areas of the poker world, I have to admit that I have been remiss in my family life.  I grew up playing a lot of card games, but because my wife doesn't like card games, we rarely play them with our kids.  I have actively tried not to force my love of poker on my family.  I rarely discuss or share it with them. I try to create a distance and buffer from the world where I spend my days.  In retrospect, I have probably missed out on a good opportunity to teach them some valuable life skills.

Views: 1579
Date Posted: Nov. 24, 2:35pm, 0 Comments

There is an inherent tension between the desire for security and the desire for freedom. We want to be free to do what we like, when we like, and yet we don't want to feel unsafe or violated. Increased security requires more restrictions and intrusions into our lives. Increased freedom introduces more choice but also more uncertainty and potential chaos.

The tension between security and freedom plays out in the news daily. Recently, the uproar has been regarding the TSA stepped up search and detection efforts at the nation's airports. The TSA claims the more rigorous methods are necessary in the face of increased threats detected from abroad. Significant numbers of the nation's air travelers feel violated by the process. Is that discomfort and sense of violation worth the increased security and safety of the general population worth it?

From the poker world, PokerStars has recently ramped up their security measures in the face of organized colluding players they discovered earlier this year. PokerStars discovered a 'ring' of colluding players that were targeting Double or Nothing tables. They happened to be from China. PokerStars reimbursed over $2 million to players affected and naturally wants to implement a more secure system to prevent future repeats. Their new policy limits players from affected countries (e.g. China) from having more than one player at a table, any table. So now players from China can not play with fellow countrymen. Some have objected to the new policy as a form of racism or profiling, in this case affecting the largest country population in the world.

The struggle for any entity charged with ensuring security and safety for an economy, be it online or off, is how to balance the tension. Any time you increase restrictions or tightens security, there will be resistance and a backlash. Different elements of the population will feel aggrieved or violated. How do you decide the right balance? What is the appropriate measure to take for the overall economy when responding to increased threats? There are no easy answers, although many will claim so. Freedom and security are naturally opposing forces which will continue to battle within the complex economies that society creates.

Views: 925
Date Posted: Nov. 22, 9:48pm, 0 Comments

One of my current daily responsibilities is to peruse the worldwide poker news, both from a poker player’s and poker industry perspective.  Scanning across many sites and sources, I come across numerous poker numbers about where poker has been, is presently, and might be going in the future.


The funny thing about numbers, though, is that as certain as they look(i.e.100 is always and only 100) much of any numbers worth is in their interpretation. A number is just a number until it can be put into context and whatever value extracted. Any statistician also recognizes that numbers can be easily manipulated to support any number of views.


Let’s take Tom Dwan’s results from the high stakes games in Macau as an example. There were lots of numbers shared with the poker forum public during the week. (FYI: $1 = 7.8 HK$)


1. First we heard Tom lost 4 million HK$, then he won a 3 million HK$ pot and was up 3.5 million HK$.
2. Games move to Starworld, Tom is listed as a $1.7 million winner
3. Next day Tom up 4 million HK$
4. Tom challenged to uber high stakes match with 20-30 million HK$ from each player at stake.
5. It is reported that Tom is stuck 10 million HK$.
6. Marathon HU sessions occur, few details but Tom loses first HU match.
7. Second marathon HU match occurs and Tom supposedly finishes up 68 million HK$


Matt Savage reports that Tom leaves Macau having finished up on his trip, Raptor (one of Tom’s best friends, David Benefield) indicates that Tom is still down in HU. No one in the public knows where everyone ended up.


Morale of the story, there were lots of numbers shared, but all them were incomplete or out of context.  So the numbers are fairly useless except to convey the high stakes played and the massive swings that occurred.


Let’s look at some poker industry numbers to see if they are any clearer.

1) Global online gaming market has now reached roughly $30 billion.  Europe is said to be the biggest at $12.5 billion, which is more than double the size of the US market estimated at $5.4 billion. The Asian market, though not clearly defined shows the most promise for growth and interest in poker and online gaming. (source - American Gaming Association)


2) Online traffic reports for the major poker rooms show that one year ago, FTP had growth rate of 110%, and Stars was at 50% growth.  The market overall had increased 40% in the preceding year. Currently, Poker Stars is growing at just 3% and Full Tilt and most if all other sites/poker rooms are in decline. (Source - Poker Scout)


3) There has been increasing market segmentation (i.e. France and Italy) where countries are creating ring-fenced networks which now account for some 18% of worldwide traffic.  Numerous EU countries are exploring regulated environments. (Source - Poker Scout)


4) The US market is in limbo.  On the national front, previous progress towards legislation and regulation, in the form of H.R. 2267, has been stalled in the wake of recent electoral results and the lame duck session. On a state level there has been both positive and negative news. Just today, the New Jersey Assembly passed a veto-proof majority on the framework to become the first state to license and regulate online poker. Washington state, on the other hand, has become the first state to make playing online poker a felony and depriving all citizens from playing legally. More states are struggling for income and tending towards a regulated New Jersey solution than the Washington direction. New Jersey estimates their 20% take of selected companies online gambling revenue would be around $50 million annually. (Source - OnlinePoker)


5)  Harrah’s shelves big IPO, in wake of strong IPO’s for MGM and GM.  More likely a reflection on Harrah’s leveraged business than overall economy.


6) In one of the few niche poker room success stories, over the last four years PKR has experienced growth of 356% from 2007 to 2010, with revenues increasing nearly 100-fold in that time-frame (from £347,000 to £33 million) by focusing on innovation and a specific 3-D software platform. (source - Sunday Times)


7) Despite global economic and national legislative obstacles, online gambling sites continue to see increased traffic boosted by online poker tournaments, sports betting and interest due to the very same legislative debates on the subject. For US traffic in October, the online gambling online sites drew nearly 32 million visitors during the month, up 114 percent versus September. FullTiltPoker captured the top spot with 4.7 million visitors, followed by PokerStars with 2.5 million visitors. drew 1.8 million visitors with its month-long ‘Perfect Play’ promotion. Kingolotto came in fourth with 1.7 million visitors followed by Absolute Poker with 1.6 million and Sportingbet PLC with 1.4 million. (source - ComScore)


8) Steven Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, indicated in his third quarter conference call that “we’ve seen the bottom in Las Vegas and I don’t know how fast it’s going to get better, but I don’t think it’s going to get any worse.” He feels Macau and Singapore are doing superior jobs of fostering the right environment for growth and success of the gaming industry. (source - KDW)


Zimba analysis - While I’m not an expert in the realm of economic or legislative issues, a quick glance at the numbers presented demonstrate that despite global, national and state obstacles, online gaming is a popular economic format and growing in popularity, even if at a slower pace than in the past. We’ve hit the bottom as far as the negative economic conditions, although it will be a longer and slower recovery than originally anticipated. Given the right economic and legislative environment, online gaming would accelerate it’s growth considerably. It is peculiar to me that individual states are given leeway to dramatically differ in legislative strategy or criminality when these issues of access should affect everyone in the US equally. The poker industry has proved resilient despite efforts to limit or minimize it.

Views: 1194
Date Posted: Nov. 17, 7:28pm, 3 Comments

The rain was falling as I approached the Nicholas Lebanese restaurant. It was a typical wet and cool late fall day in south-east Portland. I was five minutes late to meet with a Washington state poker playing friend who was in town. He was staying at an ordinary Motel 6 nearby. He drove three hours south from his home in Seattle for the sole purpose of playing the game he loves and makes his living on, poker. Coming to Portland hadn't been his choice. Full Tilt Poker, the last of the major U.S. facing poker sites to offer poker to Washington state residents had pulled out.

Fear over enforcement and penalties had chased out all the poker rooms, preventing my friend from playing online poker. The legislation, which now makes playing online poker a Class C felony with penalties of up to five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine per violation, was heavily lobbied by the Native American card room and gambling entities in the state that feared losing significant business to the online world.

One of the Washington state senators who pushed through the original legislation from 2006, recently broadened to include online gaming, remains unremorseful. "I just think some of these arguments are utter nonsense," Sen. Margarita Prentice told "You mean you're going to move so you can play poker? Gee, lots of luck in your life. … I have nothing against card playing. That's fine. If you want to do that, but I'm sure not going to worry about someone … you know. Let them go pump gas."

The reality is the state legislation, much like the sneaky UIGEA legislation, was hastily enacted. "That bill passed after one quick committee hearing," said state Rep. Bruce Chandler, one of the five who voted against the amendment. "I voted against it because I believed it was wrong to target the player instead of the host or producer of the website. To make it a felony I thought was excessive. It was an effort to try to regulate online gambling from outside of the state without the authority to regulate the host. I'm not a big gambler myself, but I don't believe they should go after players who choose to gamble online. I don't think it should be a criminal offense and I thought it was overreaching."

Numerous high profile players will need to leave the state to continue their passion and vocation.  Some well known Washington based players include Phil Gordon, Brandon Cantu, Lee Markholt, Dan "Sketchy" Martin, Matt Afflect and Lee Watkinson.

As for my friend, he ran into difficulty when he reached Portland.  While he was outside Washington, Full Tilt still recognized his IP as being from Washington and continued to block his play.  What were his choices? Purchase a new laptop/computer with new non-Washington router/modem? Purchase a wireless aircard? Purchase a VPN (virtual private network)?  After advice from a poker forum, he decided on the VPN.  He is currently debating returning home and playing using the VPN, but he is nervous that his funds could be confiscated if he is discovered.  He misses his girlfriend who remains in Seattle.  He brought along his dog, but that is a temporary situation, not suitable to a long term stay in Portland.

He said he has suffered from sleepless nights since access to online poker has been interrupted.  Over the years, he has invested some of his winnings in other non-poker related side businesses but he isn't ready to leave poker behind. The games may be tougher nowadays, but at heart he still feels he's a poker player. The thirst to do well remains. He has established roots and connections in the Seattle area.  He doesn't relish having to move again. He is a cash games player, but found the local card rooms unfriendly when he played there.  He doesn't play many tournaments, so his options are limited.

It is a shame that states and governments feel the need to try to legislate morality, especially when they are so hypocritical in support of some vices, while aiming to prevent others.  To the informed observer, it all comes across as a shallow money or power grab. Governments are rarely moral at heart, rather consumed with using moralistic excuses to further their agenda and protecting those that support them financially.

I hope it works out well for my friend. Governments need to realize that legislating and regulating online poker is the way to go to gain access to even further financial resources of which they are in much need. In the meantime, he's welcome to crash at my place if he needs a safe place to play poker for the night.


(* both political quotes excerpted from Gary Wise's ESPN article on this same topic)

Views: 987
Date Posted: Nov. 15, 6:49pm, 1 Comment

Bill Rini, a noted poker industry blogger, recently put me onto a former poker insider, Kim Lund's blog.  Kim is interesting in that he thinks "out of the box" about poker.  He doesn't accept the poker status quo. Instead he comes at it from different perspectives that are healthy for the industry.

Kim posted an article in October emphasizing that poker rooms ought to forget marketing skill, instead selling drama. The article asserts that it's a mistake for poker rooms to emphasize the skill element of poker when they make more money off those who come for the entertainment. He feels it is an error for the poker industry to differentiate from the other gambling games by emphasizing the skill element when there is more money to be made from the gamblers.  Sure, you can market World Champions, rankings and player awards, but it comes at a cost.  The more that skill is emphasized, the more clear it becomes that some players, many in fact aren't skilled.  That is bad for business if your customers are labeled or feel they are bad at something. 

Someone running a gambling entity doesn't have to convince you there is skill. They sell the entertainment of the game.  People don't get upset when they lose at a lottery.  According to Lund "You're supposed to not win in a lottery. But you're supposed to win in poker, because we've spent so much money convincing you of that. So we end up making incompetent suckers out of shoulder shrugging gamblers. This gap between customer expectancy and actual product performance is evident in the high churn rates that most online poker sites suffer from. But they would have been even higher had it not been for luck."

"Poker is not the greatest gambling game on earth thanks to the element of skill. It is the greatest gambling game on earth thanks to its inherent element of drama. If I and any one of my poker playing friends are ever in the need of a random outcome, we don't draw sticks. We don't roll dice. We don't flip coins. We play a hand of poker. We all get hole cards and then we run the board. Action. Twists. Misfortunes. Miracles. All that in under one minute of no-skill gambling. Certainly beats watching a bunch of balls being tossed around inside a plastic container."

Kim Lund makes some interesting points, but I disagree that the element of skill should be downplayed. It is important for poker to differentiate itself from other gambling games because it is different.  The pursuit of skill is a strong motivating force.  The many thousands who grind toward rakeback or super nova elite status contribute huge amounts of rake. Full Tilt recently changed their rake calculation to a contributed method, which on the surface would seem to benefit the casual action player who likes to gamble by rewarding them more for the action they contribute.  On closer analysis, it might be a shrewd move to award more rake to the casual recreational action players who are less likely to have rakeback or the potential to grind serious rewards from regular play.

I agree that marketing of poker drama can attract increased attention.  The online high stakes poker scene, and all the media and support sites that report the big swings and activity from the highest stakes games attest to that phenomena.  But I challenge the notion that any attention is good attention.  Reporting that Daniel Negreanu said the F word, or that Phil Ivey got divorced don't bring new players to poker. Neither does representing poker as a lottery or winners as being the luckiest gamblers.

Drama for the sake of drama brings random faces, but not likely quality players willing to invest towards a plausible future in poker.  Report the big swings of high stakes games, or the drama associated with winning big live tournaments, but do so in the context that they are skillful competitors, not "lucksacks" who stumbled into the building.  You want your customers to aspire to something.  You want them to be willing to invest their resources in the pursuit of something. You want them to attempt to improve as players.  Otherwise, they see poker as a lost cause simply for the lucky.  Poker, unlike pure gambling, is much more than that.

Views: 698
Date Posted: Nov. 10, 6:55pm, 0 Comments

Isn't it interesting that you often find what you are looking for?  Your outlook and perspective shapes what you will find. Three examples to illustrate:

1) The classic situation where you suddenly have the urge to purchase a new car.  You start doing research and fix your mind on different make and model than you've owned before. Now everywhere you drive you see many of them on the road.  In reality, there are no more or less of them than there were before, but since you are looking for them specifically they now stand out and seem greater in number.

2) I was chatting with a poker friend about a book he was considering purchasing claiming a scientific study based conclusion that you should avoid playing poker tournaments. I asked him why he wanted to read it? Had he been running poorly or lost interest in tournaments lately? Was he looking for a reason to not play tournaments?

My assertion was that if we want, we can find supporting evidence that most people are losing tournament players and tournaments are unbeatable and unprofitable.  We can also go to a community like CardRunners where there are multitudes of hard working successful players who demonstrate that playing tournaments can be quite profitable.

3) I wrote a news piece for another site I work for that was summing up another site's claim that 2010 was the Year of the Canadian poker player. The nation of 36 million produced the Main Event winner, 6 bracelets, many 2nd and 3rd places, and over 22 million in prize money. They ranked only behind United States which naturally would come in first with the vast majority of players. The fact that the original assertion was written by a Canadian wasn't lost on me.

Earlier in the series, after a number of Brits did well, some media were dubbing the WSOP the year of the Brit.  At multiple points of 2010, I had also heard that 2010 was the Year of the Woman poker player, as there were some good results during the year, Vanessa Selbst only the latest. Or was it the year of the Floridian, as three Main Event final table players were from Florida, including Michael Mizrachi who won the $50k event and made a couple other $10k final tables? If I search hard enough, I can find evidence to back up any number of assertions.

The point to these examples is that you are likely to find evidence to support your supposition, no matter what it is. So let's use this tendency to our advantage.  If you are more likely to find evidence to support rather than deny your belief, be an active agent to form positive beliefs.

There is an ongoing discussion we have in my household.  It all harkens back to the glass half full or half empty proposition.  If the glass is at half regardless, isn't it more beneficial for you to focus on the glass half full? If you seek the positive in life, you are more likely to find it.  If you choose to focus on the negative, you are more likely to find evidence supporting that. The reality is still the same reality, but our prism can choose to focus on that which uplifts us, rather than what doesn't.

If you are likely to find what you seek, why not shape your life in a way that the evidence you seek is positive.  Optimism and positivity will help you to achieve something that will reinforce what you were seeking in the first place.  You control your perspective, so take charge and seek that which uplifts.

Views: 1040
Date Posted: Nov. 4, 8:31pm, 1 Comment

If I put three people in front of you, who do you think would be the best bluffer? The first is someone who looks untrustworthy or menacing.  The second is someone who is blank and neutral in all expression.  The third candidate is someone who is attractive, friendly and trustworthy looking.  Surprisingly, having a blank face is not the best option according to a recent study conducted by Erick Schlicht that was funded by a Japan Science and Technology grant. He found that people who look trustworthy are more likely to be believed when they bluff and therefore get more folds from opponents.

According to these results, the best “poker face” for bluffing is not a neutral face, but rather a face that contains emotional correlates of trustworthiness. Moreover, it suggests that rapid impressions of an opponent play an important role in competitive games, especially when people have little or no experience with an opponent.

Surprisingly, having a threatening face has little influence on wagering behavior, but faces relaying positive emotional characteristics impact peoples' decisions. Thus, people took significantly longer and made more mistakes against emotionally positive opponents.

Schlicht comments "the current study suggests that poker players make a rapid assessment of opponents’ facial expression and use that information to make a decision about the opponents’ behaviors and their intentions. Other studies indicate that this assessment occurs within the first tenth of a second and may involve the amygdala, the brain region known to process information about memory and emotions. We size someone up, so to speak, based on our first impression of his face, and assume that he will behave according to how he looks. In this case, we assume that a trustworthy-looking person would not bluff as much as a neutral- or untrustworthy-looking one."

It is important to understand that this research was conducted in a vacuum of sorts.  It was a controlled environment where the choices were limited and there was no prior history. In an actual poker game, poker players observe and mentally record betting and bluffing patterns after each round to factor into their resulting decisions. Those would then be combined with the studies results and factored into your considerations or reads. But if you are playing with opponents who don't understand or follow those strategies, then according to this study appearing trustworthy (rather than appearing threatening or keeping a passive/blank poker face) will induce your opponents to make more mistakes and fold more often.

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