Wednesday, February 20, 2013

$400k winner at Chicago Poker Classic Boycotts Event Forever

$400K winner at Chicago Poker Classic Boycotts Event Forever

Horseshoe Hammond and Indiana Gaming Commission Ethics Questioned

Paul Gibbons

In 2011 and 2012, I accrued more the $400,000 in tournament winnings from Horseshoe Hammond in Indiana in just two visits to the Chicago Poker Classic (CPC).  That includes two firsts, one chopped first-second, and a slew of min-cashes.

I will not, however, ever go there again and fellow Poker Players may want to know why.

We are spoiled for choice as tournament players.  As the CPC opens this week, I count no fewer than six alternatives.  Before the events of 2012 unfolded, I was a loyal Horseshoe Hammond customer – sometimes making the drive from Madison, Wisconsin to play cash games and entering all their tournament series.  The Casino is owned by Caesars Entertainment, and I estimate that over the last two years, I’ve entered $150k worth of events providing them with approximately $30k in rake.  I’ve also spent a further $20k in Caesars properties on food and lodging.

Does $50k in gross income make me a good customer?  Apparently not!

Unprofessionalism, lack of ethics and customer service
In the 2012 CPC, I won the first event, won the last turbo and won three matches in the $1k heads-up.  Looking at the rules published on the website and on display throughout the tournament area, a certain number of points are awarded for each of those.  Add those up, and I score 42 points.  No other points system or official record appears anywhere.  Those 42 points are worth $50,000 and ‘Player of the Series’.
Alas, unknown to anyone, and unannounced (especially to the points-leader), they decided you needed to win four heads-up matches to get points.  Fair enough.  I lose five points and $50,000.  At the last moment, they were a few entries short of target of 256 players, so adjusted the payouts.   Normal, but they failed to change the formal point’s payout at any time.  I was aware I did not min-cash the Heads-up, but (foolishly) assumed the written rules applied.  I’ve competed in ‘points system’ type competitions in Bridge, Backgammon and Poker and this is the first I’ve heard of this ‘rule’.  It is common (I now understand) in Poker, but I’m not sure how when the written rules disagree with informal rules, how a player is to know which to trust.

Now the Casino has the right to award points as they see fit in their promotional events.  They have the right to change the point’s structure as they see fit.  They probably also have the right to change the structure mid-series, and probably have the right to disregard their published information and award prizes to their brother-in-law if they like. 

You would think that when a player (a very well-known player to them) drew this discrepancy to their attention, they would fix it pronto.  You would think when customer who spent $50k on your properties complained, you would pay attention.

 At the very least, you would think politeness, customer service, apology for miscommunication and a thorough investigation of the matter would ensue.

You would think, since the facts are completely indisputable and irrefutable, that they would take the complaint seriously.  The facts are simple: one written points structure existed, it was never changed; my total points using that structure was clear of second place by three points.

No.  Poker players, by and large, are not treated like customers by Casinos.  We seem to be, at least in their eyes, an inconvenience to deal with as they earn their rake.  This example is typical of this.

Here is what they did when I drew the matter to their attention:
-          The first Director yelled from the stage in front of a room full of several hundred players that I was shooting angles, and (with plenty of added profanity) ‘I don’t know how you can look yourself in the mirror daily’.
-          The second, said ‘I have been instructed by Casino management not to discuss this with you’.
-          The third, professionally this time, said he understood, but that ‘it was too late’.  (There was still one tournament in progress where I might have been overtaken!!  Too late how?)
-          A fourth official makes the unofficial pronouncement that the tip I left after event 1 was derisory so I ‘deserve what I get’.

Leaving $50k poorer, I petition, in a formal letter, the Casino management.  They write back:
-          A one-paragraph letter that failed to respond to a single point.
-          Introducing the fabrication that, ‘announcements were made’ at the time. (Since I spent 14 hours a day in the Poker tournament area, I might have heard the sound of $50k leaving my wallet.  They might also have contacted the point’s leaders personally and told him they were withdrawing five points.)
-          Not addressing any of the customer service ‘irregularities’ i.e. the libelous attacks by staff

Collusion with the regulator?
We then tackle the Indiana Gaming Commission.  They:
-          Take six months during which they are unreachable.
-          Reply that they have fined the Casino for failure to publish their rules correctly
-          But despite finding fault with the Casino, cannot pursue our complaint
-          Because… the published rules were acceptable.

But WAIT we reply, the published rules award us $50k.  No reply.

Wait.  The published rules award us $50k. Silence.

Now Chicago politics are known for their backroom, shady, lack-of-transparency.  Perhaps this trickles across the border to Indiana State Government?  Perhaps in order to work together a certain ‘closeness’ is required.

In essence, contacting the two bodies known for maintaining ethics – the Casino Management and the Gaming Commission, we received what amounts to a shrug of the shoulders.  Neither provided me with a refutation of the facts, neither mentioned the facts, and (effectively) both either lied, or obfuscated.

The facts are this:
-          There was one published points system
-          Indisputably (arithmetic), I was at the top of that (substantially clear of second place to whom the $50k was awarded)
-          Inexcusably, accused me of cheating
-          Confusingly, failed to mention the facts presented and to refute any of them (or to explain their lack of relevance)
-          Indefensibly, failed to provide me with a professional response
-          Questionably, persuaded the Gaming Commission not to take this matter seriously, indeed communications from the Gaming Commission suggest they failed to read the complaint at all.

While States are pressing for more gambling to attract more revenues, there is no question that strong oversight will be required to prevent customer abuses.  Clearly the cozy relationship between the Casino and Gaming Commission is not a template which other States should emulate. 

Goodbye Hammond
The tournaments in Hammond have been great to me, but I don’t believe in luck, or that the Chicago players are much worse than the rest of the country.   Still I feel some nostalgia for the place I arrived with a $3k bankroll and left with $165k in cash two years ago.

On the minus side, the waits for cash games often exceed several hours during the ‘Classic’, the nearby accommodation is ‘roach coach’ and generally the Hammond ‘experience’ is not a pleasant one: driving through refineries and Indiana’s answer to the ugliest parts of Detroit on the way to the Casino.

Given that on most weekends, the tournament player has a choice of four to six locations, and every poker location is nicer and more pleasant than Hammond, I would spend the extra dime and go somewhere nice.
Furthermore, Vegas has decades of experience running tournaments, and the regulators there know that a whiff of scandal could destroy a multi-billion dollar industry.  They take customer complaints seriously.  They take their ethics seriously. Not so with Horseshoe, not so with Indiana.

The entire attitude, of the Casino and the Gaming Commission, throughout this complaint, has been: ‘we don’t give a damn’ (either about the facts, or how you were treated).

Poker players can do better elsewhere.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The argument for banning handguns and assault weapons

The argument for banning handguns and assault weapons

Paul Gibbons

The gun debate revolves around two issues, a technical issue (one which can be settled by facts and analysis) and a philosophical one.  We need to clarify which one we are debating. I hear them confused.

The technical issue is this: do hand guns and assault weapons in the hands of the general public make for a safer country?   Safer schools, malls, colleges, post-offices, and temples?

Topping the list of firearm related deaths per capita are: El Salvador, Honduras, Columbia and sister countries.  Then comes number 12, the US, with 9 deaths per 100,000 people.  The US can do better than compare itself with the unstable, poor countries of the South. 

The worst of the older, stable, wealthy democracies are Switzerland and Finland, where they like their guns too but where laws are much more restrictive.  They have just over 1/3 as many.  When you get to the old, Northern European democracies (UK, Germany, Ireland, and Italy) the average is just over 1 death per 100,000.  One-tenth, if you please, of the US numbers.

This is a correlation.  For the ‘fewer guns make safer streets’ argument to hold, it has to be a causal relationship.  Non-violent crime rates are similar, so it is not that the US just has more crime.  In fact it has less non-violent crime, such as robbery or car-theft.  They have mental illness, poverty, broken homes, bullying in school also. 

The onus of proof surely lies with the gun lobby.  Why does the UK have 58 firearm murders per year and the US 8,775?  Adjusting for population grosses the UK number up to 290: that is a 30-fold difference.
The UK has a multi-racial society, problems controlling immigration, a large wealth gap between rich and poor (although nothing compares to the US in this regard).  Cops do not carry guns (with the exception of anti-terrorism and other security sensitive work).  Why?  They don’t need them.  (And you can be sure that if cops were dying, or crime rates soaring the public outcry would be for gun-carrying cops.)

This will not settle the argument for the gun-nuts, but for thoughtful people in the middle, this should give them pause for thought.

The other argument goes:  well it is our right!

This invokes a silly dualism: individual rights versus collective good.  Trade-offs between these are made all the time.

The left need to acknowledge that preservation of individual rights is something that was fought for over centuries: freedom of conscience, freedom to associate freely, freedom of religion.  Those rights were enshrined not just in the US founding framework, but in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the UN in 1948. 

Nobody wants to withdraw those.  Gun ownership is a plausible right: ‘a man [sic] ought to be free to defend his home.’ 


However, as individuals we routinely and freely give up certain rights because even though those rights benefit the ‘rights holder’ they cause aggregate harm to society.  We give up our right to drive as we like, as fast as we like, or on whichever side of the street pleases us.  We give up our rights to dispose of refuse anywhere we like, or to allow our pets to do so.  We give up our right to listen to music at any volume we like at any time we like because to do otherwise would create an intolerable unruliness.

The country would be a horrible place with people dumping, driving and blasting as they please.

With each right comes consequences.  When ‘honest Joe citizen’ defends his right, he is (in a narrow sense) correct.  Yes Joe, taking away your right is a bad thing.  But there are worse things: honest Joe’s right comes with a price.

Here is the price:
-          There is a mass shooting, on average, every two months.  There have been five since the summer.  (Compared with three in the UK in the last three decades.)
-          We cannot easily restrict the rights of ‘dishonest, insane, or criminal Joe’ without also restricting Joe’s right.  ‘Background checks’ do not catch people with no backgrounds.  The Sandyhook shooter did not have a background, neither did the Columbine shooters.  They got their guns through leaks in the system.
-          Guns in the hands of ‘honest Joe’s’ mean that at least some guns will fall into the hands of crazies.  It only takes one crazy to shoot up a school, mall or temple.  We have 300m citizens, which means a lot of crazies.
-          Joe’s (and hundreds of thousands like him) purchase supports the gun economy, and this gun economy means gun stores.  Gun stores leak.  Gun store owners are human: they make mistakes, they have economic needs.  You are supposed to be 21 to drink, and 19 to buy cigarettes – but leaks happen.  Kids get drunk and smoke.  Same with guns.
-          The presence of 300m plus guns creates a gun culture, a culture of fear.  My kid lives daily with the knowledge (after Sandyhook), that a madman might walk into his school and kill him.  Dad has explained the probabilities, but those sorts of facts do not allay fears in adults, nevermind kids.  He will grow up with a fear that kids in other countries never ever experience.

The question becomes, with all these consequences, whether this trade-off is one we want to make.  Can we let go of this right, because in doing so, we make the country a much safer place?

The gun lobby assert – if you take away the guns of the good guys, only the bad guys will be left with guns.  
Nonsense!  We could not and should not expect an overnight and complete elimination.  That is fantasy. But.

Anti-hand-gun and assault rifle laws, if passed on January the 1st won’t mean the Crips hand over their guns on the 2nd.  But in shutting down the gun economy, we shut down the leaks.  By stiffening penalties for possession and use over time, the bad guys won’t have theirs either. Let’s go Draconian shall we:  when ‘Fred the Crip’ gets pulled over and has a Glock-9 in his glove compartment, he gets an instant five years. Assault rifle, ten.  Will we get them all, ever? No.  

Would an 80% reduction serve us and is it possible? Yes!  Will it take a decade? Perhaps. Is it worth the effort and the wait? You decide.

There are also hundreds of murders yearly caused by good people, who get enraged (as we all do), and who happen to have a gun nearby.  Our Kansas City linebacker was, until the recent tragedy, probably such a ‘good person’ overtaken by a temporary insanity.  The difference between here and Europe is his madness had a convenient means of instant expression.  Kids who find guns in homes (again a leak) will not accidentally shoot a sibling or friend (as also happened recently).

Let us ask ‘honest Joe’.  Joe, if we could, in a decade, reduce the number of gun deaths in the US to European levels; if we could reduce mass murders to once a decade (once a year would be a huge improvement); if we could stop kids accodentally harming themselves; if we could stop a crime of passion (madness) becoming a murder; if we could reduce gang murders (and the culture of fear where each side must arm themselves to the teeth) to a fraction of today’s; if we could walk into a mall, temple, school, college or post-office with a no fear (no rational fear) of someone firing off several hundred rounds?

Joe – would you pay that price?  Would you give up a little bit of individual liberty, for a whole lot of social good?  For your kids?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Turning Poker Pro: A 51 year-old's perspective

Today is the day.  As I type this, I can feel the resistance to becoming a Professional Poker player in my chest, and I feel greater reluctance to making it public. 

For a few years, I’ve been part time Professor, part-time writer, part-time entrepreneur and part-time Poker player.  Although I’ve 500k in cashes (300k live, 200k online) in two years, the ‘pro’ bit was always hedged.  

Partly this is because of family and societal pressures and partly my ADD likes to do lots of things.  However, it has become increasingly clear to me that I cannot do everything well.  I’m 51, have two kids, live a long way from Las Vegas. My Poker performance has been exceptional, but I don’t yet think I’m that good.

There is a great scene in the old Karate Kid movie.  Miyagi says:  ‘Walk one side of street, fine; walk other side of street, fine; walk middle of road, squash rike glape.  Same karate. Karate do, fine; karate not do, fine; karate half do, squash rike glape’.

This means a shift in my identity: how I see myself, or, the story (narrative) that guides my life.  Now that I’m fully pro:
-        Super late sessions when I play horribly will end.  Not what a pro does.
-        A renewed attention to study – at least ten hours a week.  That is what a pro does.
-        My body and mind have to be treated like money making machines. (They are in every discipline, but in other areas it is easy to get away with being tired, out of shape, or in a sugar-coma.)
-        A much more disciplined approach to the game.  No more ‘f^%# it, I call’, less randomly shoveling chips in, randomly jumping up three stake levels  in cash games because I’m bored.
-        Approaching each hand with all the care, attention, mindfulness and concentration I can.  No more missing the previous action (at least once a live tournament), no more forgetting the blinds are up and being forced to min-raise, no more ‘insta’ calling and then saying ‘why the f*#k did I do that’ – patience grasshoppah….

One old coach used to say I could treat each day as a Samurai, disciplined, peaceful and focused in every interaction, lethal with a sword.  I never ever made it, but was a lot closer than now.

I’m old to be doing this.  I have to think what my competitive advantages are over young pros that eat, breathe, and shit poker 24/7.  Few to be sure, but perhaps this old head can bring some wisdom in its approach to the game to make up for less stamina and lower testosterone levels.  (Yes, I am still talking about Poker.)

I have been wildly successful in everything I've tackled in life.  My old father said to me yesterday, 'you have a habit of stopping just before you make it huge'.  I graduated college at 19, made a million a year by 24, quit consulting before becoming a partner, exited the firm I founded after six years when it would have been really valuable after a few more, abandoned a subject on which I literally 'wrote the book' before real fame took hold, and moved to the US when more or less at the apex of my career in the UK.

I can no longer afford to half do anything.  I have two kids who depend on me (and they are 15 years from college), and am under-invested for my autumn years and constantly stretched for cash today.

Time to get serious.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

HUDs and Data Mining: Moral? Mandatory, or Unfair?

To my amazement, I read fairly often in forums of people objecting to HUDs and to Data mining.

If you have been living under a poker rock, a HUD is a heads-up display - when you play online, it shows you for the hands you've played against everybody how loose/ aggressive (and much much more) they are.  Data mining is using the billions of hands played on sites, and extracting information about a player (profitability, and looseness/ aggression) and selling it to people who use it to play better.

Both are fine with me. (And would be if I were an amateur or pro.)

Here is why.  Online poker is a lot like securities trading.  There is some math, there is some psychology, and there is balancing risk and security.  When I traded stocks and bonds online, I had data on all my companies/ securities, as well as information about who was buying and selling a given stock, as well as market analyses, graphs, trends, and 'forecasts'.

Some people don't.  Some buy 'tips'.  Some do what their broker says. Some play hunches.  All are valid strategies.  But to INSIST that I, who take things seriously, have to play hunches, or seat of pants, and use only my memory to remember thousands (tens of thousands) of stocks, profit and losses, charts, news events, and 'math' is daft.

I maintain that online poker is morally exactly the same pursuit as day trading.  Duh, it is not the same thing - but they differ in ways that are not relevant morally.

A poker day-trader can sit with a few beers, gambol-gambol, and vaguely remember that IamaHUGEfish likes to get it in light, whereas Immasuckyoudry is a solid reg.  It is his money, and I hope he can afford to lose.  He would get better odds in roulette, but he likes poker more.  He plays for fun.

Our other day trader (poker pro) dropped out of MIT where he was a Math and Finance major.  He treats poker as if he were trading stocks.  He could no more buy a stock on a 'hunch' than he would put 10k on a roulette table.  He could work at Goldman analyzing stocks easily enough, but he prefers poker.  He has three monitors, and securities (player) data, market data (table and game selection), and analytical tools (Stove, SnG Wiz, Flopzilla, etc).  He records and studies his hands and opponent hands.   He loves the game, but he plays to make money.

Both are valid. To insist that both people play like the first (beer drinking, hunch following, barely remembering) is completely absurd.

Just like poker, there is a trading equivalent of live poker. (Most stock trading is in offices now.)  You remember the scene from Trading Places (Murphy and Nolte) - where they traded on the 'floor'.  No computers, no databases, no math - just hunch, psychology, fear and greed.  They probably knew that when the guy from Lake Forest came to the front of the crowed he was going to sell a ton (and move the market downward), but they kept no 'player notes'.

In trading,both forms (live and 'online') co-exist.  In trading there are math guys, and there are intuitives; there are 'regs' (pros) and fish.

I'm no libertarian (more socialist), but in this instance interfering with the market would be absurd.  The market will rearrange itself so fish can play anonymously (Bovada), and some fish will learn to use the tools (it isn't very hard!) and get better.

Data mining will wait for another day - but the same sorts of principals apply.

For those who care, I'm a poker pro, former investment banker, former entrepreneur, with a Masters degree in Moral Philosophy (among others).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

110k in wins... Fear of success: How big an effect nearing final tables?

It is mystifying to me how someone can play (presumably good) Poker for three days, and get within striking distance of $100k, and then completely lose their mind.  I was the lucky beneficiary of four such instances, and am $100k better off mostly as a result.

With 30 left, someone with a substantial chip position decided that A3o on a board of A875 with three spades was worth a shove (no spade).  With 15 left, someone in about 7th place (maybe 15bb), decided that 53s was worth a shove from the hijack.  With 12 left, someone in 2nd place decided that 55 with 30bb was an open shove from the button with the chip leader (me) on his immediate left.  As chip leader, I guess I would shrug fold AK to a 30bb open-shove (I had only 40bb) as ICM probably means I need 2-1 to call (maybe more) and this is always a pair (I mean there is no sensible value-range here, but it is 99% pairs).  However, I woke up with AA and held.

I’ve won plenty of tournaments, but never have I had such extraordinary spews (for entire stacks) thrust my way.  In addition to these amazing gifts, I picked up blinds and antes from late position steals relentlessly.  (Another aspect of run-good is people not having reshove hands!)

The mechanism that has people tilt may not just be fear of failure.  Nearing the end, emotions excitement and anxiety, run high.  From my recollection all of these horrible plays were ‘insta’ – no real thought given to stacks, ICM, ranges and the like. It is almost as if people become giddy at the end.

I am prone to the same thing – in fact, when I spew, it is almost always an insta-spew.  I’m laboriously slow at the best of times, but at the final table, I slow down even more – if that irritates some players, excellent!  The ability to do this comes from years of high-level bridge.  In that sphere I was famously spewy on some occasions – but produced outstanding results because when the stakes went up, I got better.

A few good hands
The most interesting is a hand from four-way action.  I had 12m in chips, 2nd place had 9m, and there were two stacks of around 2m.  The blinds were 150/300k.  (As you can see, I’m not in bad shape.) 

Take my opponent’s hand.  In second place you open for 700k with 99 UTG four-handed.  The small blind, an older, very sound, and very aggressive player (that would be me) 3-bets to 2m. (You have about three hours of history, but haven’t played many pots.)  (Pay jumps are as usual, 25k for 4th, 100k for 1st.) (He has not 3-bet you once, but he has 3 bet others aggressively.)

I think this is a fascinating ICM problem.  Clearly folding is absurdly exploitable as we are top of our range, calling is possible, but we are left with and SPR of 2.  (Can we fold an overpair?  Can we fold on Qxx dry board?)  What is our plan if we call and get the 100% c-bet?  On which flops will we stack off?  Jamming is clearly the 100% play with even stacks, and perhaps here?  How often will villain want to stack off?  I think calling is by far the worst option.  We are just going to have to make a disgusting decision on the flop.  

Villain is hammering the short stacks (open jamming a lot), and there is 50k between 2nd and 4th.    I would have shoved 99 without a moment’s thought (I am an online player after all).

We call (puke), the flop comes K 8 3 rainbow and villain bets 2m into 4.4m.  To cut a long story short, we call, villain bet 3m into 8.4 on a 2 turn, and jammed a blank river. We called, he showed AA and we lost about 30k relative to tournament EV.  Villain (the author) then had 20m out of 25m in play 3 handed and the rest is history. 

Views vary on what to pre (nobody sees a flop)
  1.       Let him run over us until they bust – there is no evidence that he is overdoing that – and he is playing hard against the shorties.
  2.      Shove.  I think this puts the pressure on him.  How does he feel (ICM) with AQ?  TT?   A loss f Both AQ and TT are plus chip EV, but both folds from and ICM point of view I’d wager. If he calls and loses, is he who has given up 30k (maybe more) in tournament EV.
  3. 3    One (rejected out of hand by pros with who this was discussed) play is a min 4 bet.  Of course we fold to a shove, and have done half our stack (to 5m), but look at how strong this looks.  From his point of view we are never folding to the 5b, so we look (I think) like QQ+.  I think wagering and additional 3.3m to win 3.3m he’d have to fold half the time.  I’d say more like 75% is more likely.  If we win, we have 12m and we are even with him.  Of course there is something gross about turning 99 into a bluff here, and 4b folding from this stack looks horrible – but he knows this too.

I played one or two hands very well.  One of my leaks is being a calling station – I can talk myself into thinking villain is bluffing a lot more than he is.  One very aggressive big stack limped in the SB, I had Q6 suited.  Resisting the temptation to raise, we saw an AK3 rainbow flop and he bet half-pot.  This guy never ever has an ace or king here, so I called partly for value, and partly because I’m going to win here like always when he checks the turn.  The turn brought a 6 making my next play even easier, he bet less than half pot and we called.  The river brought a 5, and villain now bet pot.  I snap-called and he sheepishly turned over t9o.  The table ooh-and ahhed when I showed.  Easy game.

Perhaps a better played hand, and the last one, is KQo 5 handed at the final table.  I’m the chip lead again against the 2nd place stack.  We are very close in chips with 7m each.  The blinds are 100/200k.  I open for 425k and he calls out of the BB.  The flop is A 8 3 rainbow and we check back. The turn is an 8, and he bets 450k, less than half pot.  We call, the river is a very friendly K and he bets 700k and shows JT when we call.

Being a calling station helps.  So does picking up AA twice with fewer than 18 left and having it hold.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Poker as a Career Choice: Should I play Poker professionally? (Part 1)

What started as pure recreation in 2004, and became a substantial focus in 2009, is now my chief source of income and where most of my productive time is spent.  To some extent, I chose this, and to some extent circumstances pushed me into it.  As the Buddhists say 'and now this'.  Here I am, what should I do.

Despite the fact that I am 51 and have achieved a great deal in other spheres, have several college degrees, have had several different white (starched white) collar careers, there is an old nagging question: is this what I ought to be doing with my life?

My credentials for writing this?  One of the things I’ve done with my life is to earn a degree in Organizational Psychology, and one aspect of that field is ‘career choice’.  Another thing is to qualify and earn my living as a career/ life coach for some of the highest paid people in the world.  And I play Poker professionally now – so my comments come from ‘inside’ the profession (so to speak).

The reasons I ask this question of myself, and you should ask it of yourself are two-fold.

If you don’t think you ‘ought’ to be doing this, then there will be limits to your happiness.  You may achieve a lot, but if the voice in your head (sometimes called the ‘itty bitty shitty committee’) feels you ought to be doing something else, the ‘bracelet’ moment will be quickly followed by more existential malaise.  This is not theory.  I returned from a massive series where I’d won two tournaments and narrowly missed ‘player of the series’.  I’ve been somewhat depressed since and this ‘ought I to be doing this’ is part of that depression.  (In a later article series, I'm going to discuss poker, addiction and mental health.)

If you don’t think you ought to be doing it, you will not devote yourself passionately, whole-heartedly to being the best you can be.  You may be talented, but you will not spend the countless hours away from the tables improving.  You may not take ancillary factors seriously enough: diet, sleep, exercise.  You may distract yourself with other, more ‘legit’ pursuits.

So we, I, need to settle this question.  You need to settle this question.

Let us first deal with ‘ought’.  In ethics, ‘ought’ has some moral force.  In Freudian psychology, ‘ought’ is the superego (parental and societal influences) talking.  Always, the ‘ought’ in poker comes out against it.  It doesn’t count as a legit occupation in the eyes of society – despite the fact, as I’ve argued elsewhere, that poker is precisely the same set of intellectual activities as trading on Wall Street.  Few parents, and especially not mine, find tears of pride when they discuss ‘my son the poker player’.

However passionately we may feel about the game, those are substantial psychic forces – greater in some individuals than in others – will act as a counterweight to our passion: a ‘but’ that will always be there.  That can be hard to live with.  In this century, in the West, we are unlikely to get invited to the snootiest of country clubs.

It is ok to care about this (negative) influence; it is ok to not care about it.  What is less ok from a psychological point of view is to pretend not to care (who gives a s^&t) when actually part of you does.  Intellectual honesty is required, and in my case, with my parentage, and the cultural influences in my life, the ‘my son the poker bum’ will be hard to avoid.  It is one of the realities I have to live with.

When you do decide ‘I can live with this’, it is wise to be aware that it may limit opportunities elsewhere.  The nice girl you now want to marry, may decide as tying the knot comes closer, that the ‘oughts’ in her life are too strongly against marrying a poker player.

Samurai warriors used to visualize their fear out in front of them, at their sword tip, so they could 'look it in the eye'.  That is what, if you are serious, you need to do with the 'oughts' in your Pokerlife.  They are always there - the choice is how to accept them fully, and deal with them honestly and squarely.

In part 2, I will look at a model of career values, and provide you with a ‘values questionnaire’ to help you decide whether poker aligns with your values.

In part 3, I will look at a three-part career model (from career counseling), which asks whether the three key career choice factors are there:  passion, skills/ aptitude, and lifestyle fit.

Paul Gibbons has been an investment banker, a consultant, a top executive coach, and a successful serial entrepreneur.  In 2011, he founded Healthy Poker LLC.  He has $500k in live and online cashes during the last eighteen months. He has degrees in Biochemistry, Philosophy and Psychology.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Epistemology, Poker and Health

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge.  What do we mean when we say we 'know' something?  When Carl Jung said 'I do not believe in God, I know...', did he mean the same thing as I do when I say 'I know that 3 plus 4 are seven', or 'I know that object is blue'.
There are two interesting tracks in Epistemology relevant to Poker.  I will cover just one now (and very briefly).  The second is skepticism which I will get to another day.
It has to do with two different 'kinds of knowledge' - conceptual knowledge (know about), and practical knowledge (know how).
Lets quickly take losing weight.  We all (conceptually) know about losing weight - fewer calories and more exercise (broadly).  Some of the fattest people could probably reel off the calorie count of half the items in the supermarket.  It does no good.
'Know how' is the ability to do that which we 'know about.'  What becomes interesting is someone who says, 'I know HOW to exercise, I just don't'.  We should treat this skeptically - KNOWING HOW to exercise is more than just knowing what to do at the gym, it is KNOWING HOW to get your body to the gym.
Take a Poker parallel.  I may 'know' that I can check-raise bluff this river profitably - villain never has more than a pair.  But, if in the moment, I freeze, 'wait for a better spot' or otherwise chicken out, do we really know HOW TO check raise bluff rivers?  If we can't overcome the anxiety (of putting in a lot of money with no hand), or the habit (of sitting on the couch rather than going to the gym 3-4x per week), can we accurately say we KNOW HOW rather than KNOW ABOUT?
The second point is that conceptual knowledge can be the enemy of personal change.  This is important, because you could say that CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE is  the bedrock or foundation of practical knowledge.  In fact, it can be the enemy of PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE.  How many times do we wave off advice, ignore criticism, or opportunities to learn and change thinking 'I KNOW THAT'.  I see this in my programs on personal effectiveness (time management) - people 'know about' time management (because it is pretty simple), but they suck at it.  They let the fact that the CONCEPTS are simple get in the way of the hard work of applying them.
When it comes to personal change, improving, learning, growing, KNOWING ABOUT is the booby prize.