What Happens When the House Loses?

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If you follow me on Facebook you’ve read many of my tales of the poker table. I used to even write some of them for this blog. It was only six months ago I got to live the dream and play in the WSOP which got an extensive post here. I also spent a year of my life dealing cards in a casino, so when a gambling story gains enough traction it’s covered by mainstream media outlets, I feel a responsibility to answer some questions on it and provide what context I can. With that in mind, let’s talk about Phil Ivey, edge sorting, baccarat, and what happens when you take a casino to court.

If you were to make a list of the top poker players of today, Phil Ivey could easily hold the number one spot. He won his first WSOP bracelet at 23 and has won nine more since then. He has lifetime tournament winnings topping $23.4 million spread out over multiple varieties of poker. I tell you all of this not because this story has anything to do with poker but because you need to understand that Phil Ivey is a man who understands odds, cards, and gambling at a level few others on this planet do.[1]

This story actually has to do with a game called baccarat. This is one of the games that I was certified to deal when I worked for Prairie Meadows. There are only three things you really need to know about the game: the sixes through nines are extremely important, this is a game popular with high rollers, and because of that fact, this is a game with a great deal of superstition around it. To demonstrate that last point, please take a look at this:

Players will keep these cards to track the results of the various hands. Think of it like writing down the results of a roulette wheel to try to predict the next number, but with cards instead of a ball. I can assure you though, it’s equally as inaccurate. You could track one hundred flips of a single coin but that still won’t help you figure out if the next flip is heads or tails. Players take these cards quite seriously, and to give a personal anecdote, I watched a player track results for 8 decks worth of cards and then place a single thousand dollar bet. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to deal through 8 decks, and through the rest of it the player would just sit and observe. He did this for the entire eight hour shift I worked that night and he was still going when I went home.

Phil Ivey, along with another woman, won $9.6 million over several months playing baccarat at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. A court just recently ordered them to give all the money back saying they cheated. How did they do it? The woman had identified a flaw in the design of a certain brand of trusted playing cards, they weren’t perfectly symmetrical. Phil Ivey had a reputation as a high roller in this casino known as a poker hot spot and was able to talk the casino into a baccarat game with several stipulations.[2] Again though, weird stipulations from high rollers with this game is not unusual.

One of them was to use this particular brand of playing card, another was that a shuffling machine be used, and the most important was that as the cards were being sorted that the sixes through nines be rotated 180 degrees compared to the rest of the deck. The shuffling machine is great at rearranging cards, but it doesn’t rotate them like a hand shuffle and wash would do. Owing to the flaw in the backs of the cards, this setup allowed the players advanced knowledge of where the key cards would appear before they were flipped over which allowed the pair to beat the house and walk out big winners. This technique has been dubbed ‘edge sorting’. A district court has ruled that this was fraud and that all the money is to be returned to the casino. If you want to read the judge’s opinion in full you can find it here. At least the judge did agree that the comped value of food and rooms doesn’t have to be repaid.

There are two other recent cases I’d like to compare to this one. The first happens to be from my former employer, Prairie Meadows in 2010. A man won a slots jackpot of $9,387. Winnings of that much demand a W-2 be issued, but upon getting the player’s information, it was revealed he’d been banned from the casino for vandalizing a machine several years prior. The casino denied the payout on the grounds that the man was trespassing, the man sued, and the court ruled that the casino was within their rights to withhold the jackpot.[3]

I’ve been trying for a while now, but can’t dig up a citation for this other story, so my apologies on this one. It was a British man sometime around 2008 who had voluntarily signed a self-trespass waiver for a casino. These are a last resort for some gamblers who have trouble breaking the addiction. The man violated the waiver, but wasn’t discovered by the casino. He lost a large sum of money then sued the casino for it back saying the casino should have noticed he was there and thrown him out. The court once again sided with the casino.

Please note, I am in no way a lawyer and I don’t even regularly play bar trivia with one anymore, but there is an obvious difference to me in these cases. In the last two, the player did something wrong that the casino didn’t agree to. Phil Ivey made his demands quite clear and the casino accepted the terms. They never touched or rearranged the cards themselves. They asked the casino, and given the amount of money at stake, it’s not like this was just a minimum wage dealer shrugging their shoulders. This went up several layers of management, had multiple sets of eyes on it, and they all gave it the OK. Ivey’s lawyer has said that the decision will be appealed and I hope another judge will agree that sitting down at a game as the favorite isn’t a right reserved only for the house.



Three Important Moments in Trump’s Interview with the New York Times

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Trump Cabinet Update

Secretary of State – A great deal of speculation continues about this key position. Fortunately, it looks like the John Bolton possibility has fallen by the wayside. Now things seem to be between Giuliani and Romney. Inside sources are saying that for Romney to be offered the position he needs to apologize for the scathing speech he gave about Trump back during the GOP primaries. [1] Although it’s a nice thought that Trump would build a ‘Team of Rivals’, it’s a long way off for now.

Attorney General – Jeff Sessions seems to be the leading choice for this position. He was the first senator to endorse Trump, so it isn’t surprising he’s up for some cabinet post. The awful thing here is that Sessions was up for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, but was denied the post because of concerns about his racism. There was testimony that he called assistant US attorneys who were black ‘Boy’, thought the NAACP and ACLU were un-american, and joked that he thought KKK members were, “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” [2] It was unacceptable for a federal judge in the 80s, but it may be acceptable for Attorney General in the Trump administration.

Secretary of Education – This one is a done deal, it’s Betsy DeVos. Now, I will say that she has a long record of supporting Arts Education in schools, so major positive points there. There is a glaring flaw though. She has spent her entire career fighting to undermine public education through voucher systems and school choice. There are ways that system can be used for good, but given that Trump just settled one of the fraud lawsuits about his own university for 25 million dollars, we can guess what a voucher system might look like under Trump. Michigan has around 80% of its charter schools run by private companies. [3] This is an issue that deserves more attention than just this paragraph, but if you’d like to see more examples of how this system has worked so far in this country, I’d invite you to watch the segment John Oliver did in August on charter schools. Overall it’s just strange to have a secretary of education who didn’t attend public schools herself, didn’t send their children to public school, and has never worked in a public school.

Before the Meeting

Because we can’t have a news story about Trump without a bizarre series of events that include twitter, I relay the following. There was plenty of anticipation for the meeting between Trump and the NYT staff, but then the President-elect tweeted this:

This was news to the NYT who hadn’t changed any conditions of the meeting, and hadn’t been contacted about the cancellation. They found out along with the rest of us when Trump tweeted the above. When the Times told Trump nothing had changed then the meeting was back on as planned. The question remained though, why did Trump think something was being changed?

According to three sources who talked to the NYT, it was RNC Chair and soon to be Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Supposedly he thought Trump wasn’t ready for the interview and instead of telling him that, attempted to sabotage the whole thing. [4] As these sources have remained anonymous, it’s impossible to know. I’ve seen other people suggest it wasn’t Priebus, but instead it was members of Trump’s staff who don’t like Priebus since he’s such a key member of the establishment and this was their attempt to undermine his authority. Again, tough to say anything for certain other than somehow Trump thought things were changed, ranted on twitter, and then upon finding out they weren’t, put everything was back on.

The Interview

It was an hour long interview and you can read the entire transcript here, but there were three things that really jumped out at me.

“The Times is a great, great American jewel,” and “Well, I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

Both of those were comments Trump made about the NYT after calling them failing earlier that exact same day. During the campaign he repeatedly called them liars, threatened them with litigation, and his supporters even invoked the term ‘Lugenpresse’ to refer to them. [5] Now they’re a jewel he has great respect for? I don’t see how he can possibly ump back and forth between those two opposed stances so readily.

I want to get back to the term Lugenpresse though. It was often invoked during Hitler’s rise to power and many people have pointed that fact out in tying Trump’s ‘Alt-Right’ supporters to the Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups that all seem to share so much of the same ideology. Trump had comments about the Alt-Right directly:

“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group…It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
To start with, they are indeed quite energized. Richard Spencer led an Alt-Right conference in DC this past week. It should be noted that Spencer was the man who coined the term Alt-Right, so if anyone has the right to claim what the Alt-Right is and isn’t, it’s him. So what did he do at this conference? According to the NYT: “He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the ‘children of the sun,’ a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were ‘awakening to their own identity.’ [6] This was followed by the full room of people giving the one armed Nazi salute to Spencer. When asked about this, Spencer defended it by saying the salutes were, “clearly done in a spirit of irony and exuberance.” [7] Again, this is the man who coined the term Alt-Right and he’s completely fine with his followers being so excited about everything they just can’t help but give the Nazi salute to him.
It’s not hard to figure out why they feel so energized. The appointment of Steve Bannon I talked about in my last post played a huge role in the Alt-Right’s excitement. Bannon is proud of the fact the Breitbart has been a platform for Alt-Right views, but claims that it’s ok because he doesn’t think things like antisemitism are really a part of the Alt-Right. I go back to the fact that the guy who invented the term seems to think those things belong, but there are also plenty of instances of antisemitism that have been posted as endorsed articles on Breitbart like calling Republican strategist Bill Kristol a ‘Renegade Jew’ [8]
If Trump didn’t want these people to feel like Neo-Nazism and White Supremacy were mainstream ideas gaining momentum in this country, he shouldn’t have given their mouthpiece a cabinet post. I don’t know if Trump is ignorant to the fact that he has done this or maliciously lying about the fact that he knows he’s done this. I also don’t know which paints a bleaker picture for the next four years. There was something else said in the interview that makes the next four years much murkier though.
In response to whether or not he would appoint the special prosecutor for Clinton he promise during the campaign:
“Well, there was a report that somebody said that I’m not enthused about it. Look, I want to move forward, I don’t want to move back. And I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t….Yeah, look, you know we’ll have people that do things but my inclination would be, for whatever power I have on the matter, is to say let’s go forward. This has been looked at for so long. Ad nauseam. Let’s go forward. And you know, you could also make the case that some good work was done in the foundation and they could have made mistakes”
So no movement to indite Clinton for either the emails or the Foundation. This obviously goes against one of Trump’s direct promises during the campaign. Merchandise was sold saying “Hillary for Prison”, chants of “Lock Her Up!” were common at his rallies, and Chris Christie had his big speech at the RNC getting the attendees to shout “Guilty” as he read through a list of accusations against Clinton. Some of his supporters obviously feel betrayed on this point. [9]
If he sticks to this idea that he won’t push for anything to happen to Clinton though, it will be an incredibly blatant lie. It got me thinking about all the promises he made (Defeating ISIS, building the wall, imposing term limits on Congress, that he would release his taxes, the list goes on) and how he’s going to handle these in four years. I know we don’t want to think about 2020 yet, but Trump is going to have to run a reelection campaign and how does he handle some of these things he unequivocally said he would do, but now seems to be backing away from. I see four options.
1. He claims he never promised thing X despite all evidence to the contrary.
2. He claims he actually did thing X despite all evidence to the contrary.
3. He claims he would have done thing X but was stopped by the establishment.
4. He admits he didn’t do thing X and apologizes. (Look, it’s theoretically possible and I’m being thorough)
It was surprising for me to see him back away so quickly from going after Clinton, but I imagine it will be even more surprising for me in four years to watch him answer questions about it. For now though, it leaves us back in the position of not really knowing which campaign promises he was sarcastic about and which ones he was not that sarcastic about. I guess we have four years to find out.

Seven Days Without a Politics Post Makes One Weak

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For those of you who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, I did most of my political analysis running up to the election there. Since the vast majority of my traffic came when I linked my posts to Facebook, I figured I’d just cut out the middle man. Political novel posts fly during election season, but now that things are done-ish I’ll be mostly shifting back to here. More on that at the end of this post, but for now let’s talk about what we know now that one week has passed since we all heard the words we didn’t expect ‘President Donald Trump’

Election Night Numbers

The first thing I want to address is all the hate that pollsters are getting right now. People are asking, how did the polls get it so wrong? I’m here to tell you that they didn’t and to blame pollsters is to commit a grave error. On the morning of the election Clinton held a 3.5 point lead over Trump. After all the votes are tallied it looks like Clinton is going to win the popular vote by 1.8 points. Since 1968 a 2 point polling error is the average which means the pollsters were actually closer than normal on this one. Now the people who looked at a 3.5 point lead and assigned a 95%-99% chance of Clinton winning? Those people definitely carry some blame.

Unfortunately it’s a near guarantee that in 2020 (Yes, I’m going to talk about 2020, after all the primary season is only two years away) people are going to claim that all the polls are wrong, just look at 2016! That’s not what happened here. Like I said, please blame groups that looked at the polls and gave inflated probabilistic forecasts, but don’t blame the polls. Clinton was roughly a 70/30 favorite on election day, so despite how it’s being spun, this isn’t the greatest upset in American political history.

Looking at a couple additional interesting numbers from this election. Clinton outdid Obama by around 200,000 votes in Florida but still lost the state. Clinton lost Michigan by only 16,000 votes which is notable because in the country in which Detroit is located, she under performed Obama’s 2012 numbers by 60,000 votes. Clinton lost Wisconsin by 60,000 votes and it’s estimated that 200,000 people were turned away from the polls because of the new voter ID laws in the state. If you take Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania combined, Clinton lost those states by just shy of 150,000 votes total which is why she’ll lose the electoral college despite being up in the national popular vote by over a 1.2 million votes and counting. I know a ton people are going to focus on the electoral college, but in all honesty looking at Wisconsin and looking at North Carolina (A state that had 10% less turnout of the black vote than in 2012 after passing voting laws that were struck down in courts for targeting minorities) there are other more winnable legal battles that also have immediate consequences.

Trump’s Transition

I watched Trump’s acceptance speech the next morning. I really was impressed. He struck a nearly humble tone, thanked Clinton for her service to the country with what sounded like sincerity, and discussed infrastructure which wasn’t really a plank of his campaign platform. In an exercise in grasping at straws with a friend I suggested that maybe Trump really had Art of the Dealed the whole country. You start from an extreme position and then through negotiation end up in the middle. Perhaps Don the Con earned that name and the next four years weren’t going to justify the fear. Nancy Pelosi even eagerly came forward saying that Democrats would be happy to talk about an infrastructure bill. That hopefulness of mine lasted precisely four hours, then the theoretical appointments started turning up.

It should be noted that all appointments except three are hypothetical. Several names have been thrown around for Secretary of State. First it was Newt Gingrich, but at least according to Giuliani, the top choice now is John Bolton. [1] Again, this is a theoretical pick, but it needs discussion. John Bolton, aside from being a Washington insider, establishment politician, and therefor the exact sort of person Trump said he was draining the swamp of, was one the key architects of the Iraq war and instrumental in allegedly falsifying the intelligence that said Iraq had WMDs. Trump made such a huge deal out of how much he knew ahead of time the Iraq War was a mistake and then Bolton gets floated for SoS? We’ve also seen Carson brought up for Department of Education, but Carson has already said no in a statement, “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.” [2] Which has to be a joke given that he was running for the Presidency, but I digress.

One of the picks we know for sure is Reince Priebus for Chief of Staff. Being the head of the RNC, you can’t get much more establishment than that, so to his supporters that might seem like a slap in the face and another example of his claim of ‘draining the swamp’ being more hollow than the Cheetos Trump is so often compared to. We also know that at least as far as the transition team, not necessarily a permanent post, is Myron Ebell for the EPA. This is a man who thinks climate change is “Silly”, has lobbied with Arizona Congressman John Shadegg on an effort to rewrite parts of the Endangered Species Act to be “more respectful of property rights”[3], and his current organization The Competitive Enterprise Institute received multiple donations between 1998-2005 totaling 2 million from Exxon Mobile[4]. And yet it’s the third appointment that has me the most concerned for the next four years.

Steve Bannon has been called many things. He’s been called anti-Semitic for not wanting his children to go to a school that had too many Jews. He’s been called a White Nationalist for all his work helping to found and stoke the fires of the Alt-Right. He’s been called a misogynist for publishing articles on Breitbart news blaming women for the wage gap because of their poor interview skills and saying that birth control makes women ugly and crazy. Glenn Beck, yes that Glenn Beck put it this way, “When people really understand what the alt-right is, this neo-nationalist, neo-Nazi, white supremacy idea that Bannon is pushing hard; I hope they wake up because, if not, we are racist. If that’s what we accept and we know it, then we are racist. I contend people don’t know what the alt-right is yet.”[5]

Here’s the thing though. Of all the things in the above list that trouble me, it’s the publishing articles on Breitbart part that legitimately worries me the most. Steve Bannon is the co-founder of the alt right news website and now he’s Chief Strategist in Trump’s White House. Sean Hannity, a close friend of Trump and Fox News contributor, has suggested that CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post shouldn’t get White House press credentials. [6] Trump is also known to have an extremely adversarial relationship with multiple media outlets. Steve Bannon has the resume of a bigot, but it’s the fact that he’s a bigot with a publishing arm that could easily muscle its way into becoming a state sponsored media outlet with the only access to the White House that has me wondering what the Fourth Estate is going to look like down the road.

Policy Sneak Peak

For the optimists though, Trump continued to throw out scraps, but they need to be identified for what they are. I watched people on MSNBC’s Morning Joe talk about the relief the LGBT community must be feeling about Trump’s comments that he views marriage equality as “Settled law.” [7] I could point out the oddity of viewing Obergefell v. Hodges as settled but not Roe v. Wade. Instead I want to focus on one of the 20 supreme court justices on the list Trump posted as candidates for Scalia’s spot. William Pryor filed a brief in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision decrying not gay marriage, but gay sex as possibly having, “…severe physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences, which do not necessarily attend heterosexual sodomy, and from which Texas’s citizens need to be protected. [There is] no fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy just because it is done behind closed doors” [8 PDF Warning] Trump may not care about marriage equality, but if he puts a man who views two gay men having consensual sex in the privacy of their own home to be spiritually damaging onto the Supreme Court, then the potential damage is out of the President’s hands.

The other Trump soundbite getting a lot of play recently was his apparent softening on the campaign promise to repeal Obamacare. [9] This came after his meeting with the current President where the two apparently discussed the matter and Obama attempted to impress upon Trump just how vital some of the pieces of the law are. Similar to the issue of marriage equality, this is a thing that even if Trump changes his mind on, I’m not certain it will effect the potential fallout during the incoming administration. Don’t forget how many times Congress has voted to repeal Obamacare and how many of those Congressmen have campaigned on continuing to do just that. Now that they finally have a clear path to doing so, would they stop and give up the opportunity to put that notch on their bedpost? Would Trump go so far in his new view of the law that he would veto such a bill if it didn’t have a replacement plan attached? What will Trump do with Paul Ryan’s new plan to rewrite Medicare while they’re already working on the ACA?[10] One key thing to keep in mind with any new promises Trump makes that might seem moderate, will the Republican controlled House and Senate fall in line or will they continue on the same track they took while Obama was in the White House? Trump doesn’t have to do the damage himself, he just has to not get in the way of other groups much more intent on some of these proposals than he is.

This Blog Moving Forward

You all know how I like titles. I debated about this one because although headlines and puns are not strangers, perhaps this matter was too serious. To quote Who Framed Roger Rabbit though, “A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have!” I’ve always lived by those words. A laugh can take the sting out of an event that then lets you start to deal with it. When you laugh at a thing, it also sticks in your mind longer. It’s easy to disengage when things are feeling down, but now is not the time for that. I’m going to work to not go too long without posting here myself, but I also want to invite others to do the same.

This has always been a personal blog of mine to just talk about whatever. It turned into more politics because that was the topic I had the most motivation to share my thoughts on. This election has stirred a lot of people into wanting to take a more active roll in things. Starting a blog can be intimidating, so I’m opening up mine. If you want to do a guest spot, reach out to me. This space isn’t much, but if it can be used to help others find and amplify their voices, especially now, then let’s speak up and speak out together.


What People are Missing About the Khan/Trump Feud

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In case you missed how this started, a man named Khizr Khan spoke at the DNC. It’s only a six minute speech, so I’d invite you to take the time to watch it all if you have the time.

Trump fired back Friday in an interview with George Stephanoloplis that can be seen below You may watch the whole thing, but the piece relevant to this post starts at 14:30.

Since Trump’s response there has been a boatload of coverage coming in from every media outlet but I need to make a point I don’t think is being understood in the matter. This individual incident won’t sway a single vote in the presidential election. I purposefully loaded that sentence with two key qualifiers though, so let’s take a look at those.

“This individual incident”

Odds are that Trump attacking a Muslim family isn’t going to shock anyone. His supporters already agreed with him on that issue, and his detractors already saw it as a huge flaw. You might think attacking the family of a fallen soldier might be a step too far, but don’t forget what Trump has already said about the military and veterans while suffering virtually no setback in the polls.

On POW and GOP Senator John McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” [1]

On ordering the military to follow orders that are in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions by killing unarmed noncombatants, “They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.”[2] That remark drew sharp criticism from CIA Director Hayden who questioned how Trump could be Commander in Chief without understanding the military is expected to disobey immoral and illegal orders.

Trump even had a small, by his standards, scandal regarding his claims that he’d given money to charities for veterans and whether or not he’d actually given the groups the money he claimed. [3]

Yet none of this has moved the needle much as far as his support goes, so I don’t imagine attacking a Gold Star family is going to break that trend. But this incident does demonstrate something else that could be a problem down the line for Trump. He is completely unable to respond to criticism in a rational and, more importantly, targeted manner.

Plenty of people have pointed out that Stephanopolous really did force the issue and that Trump may have laid low on this one on his own. I would suggest it’s the job of the interviewer to force the issue, but either way the key is in the way Trump responded. Trump didn’t just address the criticism he made it personal with not just the person doing the criticizing, but also their family.

Mr. Khan’s wife stood nearby and never said a word during the speech. Trump made it a point in his response to attack her as well. The reason this matters is because one thing that often supersedes political allegiances is going after family. I maintain a major reason Cruz didn’t endorse Trump is because of the attacks Trump made on Cruz’s wife. Attacking the family of a Muslim fallen soldier might not end up meaning anything, but if Trump doesn’t understand that there are people who are off limits politically, he’s going to find himself with no allies left while he’s running for the oval office.

“In the presidential election”

Since Trump’s remarks went public, the Khans did an interview in which they specifically called for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he called, “leaders and patriots,” to denounce Trump’s comments. Each has released a brief statement:

McConnell said, “All Americans should value the patriotic service of the patriots who volunteer to selflessly defend us in the armed services. And as I have long made clear, I agree with the Khans and families across the country that a travel ban on all members of a religion is simply contrary to American values”

Ryan said, “America’s greatness is built on the principles of liberty and preserved by the men and women who wear the uniform to defend it. As I have said on numerous occasions, a religious test for entering our country is not reflective of these fundamental values. I reject it. Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.” [4]

Notice what’s missing from both of those statements? Any mention of Trump. The media has definitely noticed and has been asking for more specifics from both of them. This is a big key to this election I’ve been trying to point out for a while. Every time Trump creates a controversy, it’s not just him that has to be Mr. Teflon, it’s everyone running lower on the ticket. The 24 GOP senators running for reelection will hardly be able to run their own campaigns without being stopped every third day to be asked how they feel about Trump’s latest comments. Being asked to choose between supporting the military and supporting their party’s nominee is not a situation they want to be in. Will this impact votes in the presidential election? Likely not, but as far as the House and Senate are concerned?

If there’s one thing the Democrats have learned under Obama, it’s just how empty a victory with the executive branch can be if it’s coupled with a loss in the legislative branch. Trump needs to stop forcing his fellow Republicans into press conferences entirely focused on Trump or else he’s going to find himself with no allies left if he’s in the oval office.

The Ted Wedding Episode of the RNC

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Last night Ted Cruz addressed the Republican National Convention. You can find the full text of the speech here. You can watch the minute relevant to this post and to the current news cycle below. It should be noted that throughout the speech Cruz only said Trump’s name once and that was to congratulate him on winning the nomination. He even included complimentary things about the idea of building the wall. He never said a negative thing about Trump, but the absence of an endorsement was extremely loud.

You could call the reaction in the hall mixed. You could call it that if you managed to hear his words over the boos of the crowd. How bad was the reaction in the arena? Well Ted’s wife Heidi Cruz had to be escorted from the room by security because people were physically approaching her and being verbally abusive.[1] Then when the Cruzs tried to get into the sweet of major GOP donor Sheldon Adelson they were turned away.[2] I feel obligated to say Adelson is one of the biggest forces in this country behind keeping online poker illegal, so I have something of a personal grudge against the man.

First things first though, why would Cruz do this? There are three possibilities, and it could really be any combination of the three.

  1. Cruz is bitter he lost. Cruz, as a losing candidate, is bringing more delegates to the convention than anyone else in that spot has had in decades. That can be a tough pill to swallow especially for someone whose rise has been as rapid as Cruz’s has.
  2. The comments Trump has made about Cruz’s family. Ignoring Trump calling Cruz ‘Lyin’ Ted’ every day for six months, Trump insinuated Cruz’s father was in on the JFK assassination, and we also shouldn’t forget Trump’s tweets comparing the looks of their wives. It was clear at the time that Cruz found the attacks on his wife completely out of bounds and to ask Cruz to endorse the man who said such things about his family is quite the stretch.
  3. He’s setting himself up for 2020. This is the big gamble. It’s possible GOP voters won’t forget this in much the same way the several hour tour of storm destruction in New Jersey with President Obama is still held again Chris Christie. It’s also possible an endorsement of Trump is going to become similar to a vote for the Iraq War in the sense that if you did it, it will forever be a commentary on your judgement. (Unless you’re Trump picking a VP, but that’s a different post.)

Any one of those three could justify Cruz’s decision. I lean towards the third point being the biggest because of some of the content in the rest of Cruz’s speech because up until the ‘vote your conscience’ moment it really was a traditional stump speech. Lines from the speech like, “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience,” really sound like the words of a candidate getting ready to run and trying to reach out to different voting groups. This speech could be remembered along the lines of Reagan in ’76 if Cruz plays the next four years correctly.

I want to say two other brief things about the content of the speech before talking more about the lack of the endorsement since this is probably the only post I’ll have time to do about the convention as a whole. The line ‘vote your conscience’ getting booed is notable because of how much the GOP has been relying on the whole idea of people going with their conscience against the government and that being important. You hear that line about conscience when Republicans defend businesses discriminating against the LGBT community or refusing to include birth control on employee insurance plans. Now I know people were really booing the lack of unity behind Trump more than the idea of going with your conscience, but in the examples I gave they’re also attacks against the unity of us all being one people more than attacks of conscience.

Also in the speech were the lines, “Our party was founded to defeat slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We passed the Civil Rights Act, and fought to eliminate Jim Crow laws,” Now that I live in Mississippi I find it extremely odd to hear Republican’s claiming Lincoln while at the same time demanding the Confederate flag continue flying as part of the flag of this state and while of the 2,472 national delegates at the convention, a grand total of 18 are black, the lowest percentage in over a century.[3] That’s right, there were more black people invited to the convention when they had to drink out of separate fountains. Someone should also send the memo to Iowa Representative Steve King who gave an interview outside the convention hall insinuating only white people have contributed anything to civilization.[4]

The other key question is did Trump know what Cruz was about to do. Most indicators say yes. Cruz has said that he told Trump to his face he wouldn’t endorse him several weeks ago and told him over the phone on Monday. Trump also claims he had seen the speech, but just that it was a couple hours before as can be seen in Trump’s only response so far to the speech.

Trump knowing ahead of time would also explain Trump entering the convention hall right as Cruz hit the spot that garnered all the boos. That also could have been a coincidence since at a Cruz event earlier in that day the Trump plane flew overhead at a key point in that speech too.

Even if Trump knew, he must not have shared it with the rest of the RNC or they didn’t anticipate the strength of the response. Newt Gingrich spoke immediately after Cruz and had several lines about Cruz’s speech trying to smooth things over, but those lines weren’t in the copy of Newt’s speech that was distributed to the press an hour before he took the stage[5] Given all the issues with getting the RNC and the Trump campaign on the same page with the Melania Plagiarism this could be another case of Trump’s campaign knowing but not including other Republicans in on the process.

It’s tough to say who came out on top here. Did Cruz win because this looks like Trump has no control, can’t unite the party, and had his VP pick entirely overshadowed by his top rival from the primaries? Or does Trump win because this looks like he allows his opponents time to speak their mind, Cruz may have just massively angered 50% of the GOP electorate, and as Trump is fond of saying, “All press is good press?” I don’t think we’ll know for four months. If Trump wins in November then Cruz’s gamble was a failure, but if instead we see Cruz as the final speaker at the 2020 GOP convention then we’ll see many replays of this speech leading up to that moment.


Three Common Mistakes Hollywood and Authors Make When Writing Poker Scenes

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Gambling is one of those things we expect the heroes of our stories to succeed at just like they succeed at everything else. This has led to it being included in and even the focus of numerous books and movies from classics like Cool Hand Luke, where the title comes from a poker hand, to modern remakes like Casino Royale, a movie with Texas Hold’em at its core but based on a book that used Baccarat instead. Unfortunately, either due to lazy writing or the real thing not being dramatic in the right way, poker is often misrepresented. No one likes a favorite hobby of theirs treated in such a way, so with that in mind here are the three things I see media get wrong most frequently.

Bet vs Raise vs Re-raise

These are three terms that mean different things and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. The first time during a betting round that money is put into the pot, that’s a bet. If someone wants to increase the amount of money being played for after the initial bet, that’s a raise, and if someone wants to increase it beyond that it’s a re-raise. This graphic should help.

It doesn’t have to be different people though. If no money had been put in yet, player 1 would bet, player 2 could raise, player 1 could then re-raise, and then they could go back and forth re-raising for almost however long they wanted, which brings us to the second thing.

Table Stakes

Since I brought up Casino Royale earlier, I’m going to use this scene to highlight an important poker rule this scene actually tries to get right.

So what are table stakes? It means you can’t win or lose more than you have on the table at the start of a hand. The villain in the above clip can’t pull out his checkbook to bet more with the hand almost done. He also can’t bet the car, but it’s a Bond movie, and I do appreciate the dealer trying to stop them. Sometimes you’ll see this in really old westerns where our hero has to suddenly put their farm on the line in order to call a bet. In reality you just call and if the villain has bet more than you have, then the villain’s bet is reduced to match the amount of money you have left.

The other side of this is that you can’t win more than you have in front of you either. If you have $100 at the start of a hand and you’re playing someone who has $500, the most you can win from them is an additional $100. If there are more people than just the one other player in the hand you can win $100 from each other person. This should come up at the very end of Casino Royale when we see Bond rebuy after getting knocked out. For Bond to win on the final hand of the movie he would have had to quadruple his stack sometime off camera in order for him to have the villain covered and win all the chips in that final all in.

String Bet

“I see your wager, and I,” nope stop you’re done. Once you say call or push chips into the middle equaling the bet then that’s the end of your action. This is to prevent someone from trying to get an extra read on an opponent by dragging out a call, looking for weakness, and then deciding they want to raise to put additional pressure on. It should also be noted that verbal commitments are binding at the table, so as soon as the word call leaves your lips, that’s all you can do. Now if you say raise, then you can push out the chips that would be a call by themselves because you’ve committed to the raise. The important part is that a bet must be made all at one time. You can’t say “I see your wager and I’ll raise you X,” you can’t push out a stack to call and then push out a stack to raise. Either say exactly what you want to do, or do exactly what you want to do. If you try to string bet in a casino, any dealer should declare your action a call and return any chips you tried to raise with back to you.

Poker has enough dramatic happenings without needing to embellish any. This list certainly doesn’t cover all the minor things that frequently get characterized incorrectly about the game, but they’re certainly the most frequent offenders and now you should be able to pick them out when you see them and know how the hand would play out if it was in a casino instead of on a sound stage.

My 2016 WSOP Experience

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This post might be a little choppy, but I’m going to try to not write a novel about the three days in Vegas I’ll remember for years to come.

t-minus 18 hours until WSOP: My flight arrives in Las Vegas on time and I’m met by a friend of a friend who takes me to an incredible ramen shop where we chat about life, the Air Force, and the city.

t-mins 16 hours until WSOP: I get dropped off at the Rio and become one of many late 20s-early 30s men who think they’re good enough to be there and are going to show it by wearing sandles, khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and headphones while nonchalantly pretending they know their way around the gigantic casino. I had no idea I apparently dress like a poker player, that has to be a good sign right? The hallway to where the tables are is lined with portraits of the greats new(Ivey and Negraneu) and old(Unger and Brunson). I’m back to feeling like a rank and file amateur.

The room itself is gigantic, literally several hundred poker tables, most of which with games going on. I take a moment to drink it in and take a long look at a $175 fixed limit sit’n’go table, but sleep is more valuable to me at this point then squeezing in any more hands. I find the registration cages and line up behind someone speaking Russian quite quickly into their phone and I enjoy being reminded of just how international this event is. We come from different places all to play the same game.

I get my ticket and head across the street to the Gold Coast where I check into my room and try to convince my brain it can sleep. The time zone change helps a bit, but I still only manage around five hours.

t-minus 8 hours: I wake up, eat breakfast, shower, do yoga, and chat with friends online about not poker. You know that scene in the movie Ratatouille where the critic is coming so the main character gets up and stumbles through a really terrible pep talk? That’s essentially where my head was at.

t-minus 1 hour: I head across the street to the Rio. I scope out my table and go sit in the seats surrounding the ESPN featured table stage. It’s the final table of the Millionaire Maker event and serves as a good distraction. I’m really enjoying the atmosphere of the room and I feel like I made a great decision in coming, which is good since there’s no going back now.

Hour 1(7,500 chips to start the hour): My table only has six people to start with, I’m first in the big blind and get dealt QQ. What a way to start! Even better they hold up and I scoop the first pot of the tournament. I’m amazed so many people late register/show up late to claim their spot. It’s good for a couple reasons. I play 6 handed online all the time, so I’m perfectly comfortable, and the fact that so many other people are being so casual about the event is helping me not psyche myself out over the fact that I’ve been waiting over a decade to get to this table. I’m amazed how calm I really am. Once the cards started flying there was no more anticipation to get in the way of things. The rest of the hour goes well for me and slowly but surely our table fills up.

Hour 2(9,250 chips): I continue to catch great cards and my reads are starting to firm up. The guy to my right is raising too much especially post flop. The guy to my left seems pretty solid, there are two players at the far end who are way too tight, and there’s another player who is playing suited cards like he’s going to hit the flush every time. Conversation starts up between three of them and it seems like they know each other from a regular 30/60 game in LA. Lovely, their normal game is three times richer than the highest stakes I’ve played in my life. This would discourage me, but the way I keep taking down pots from them it’s telling me I really do belong.

Hour 3(16,675 chips): Not much to report from hour three. I take a couple hits, and the guy to my left wins multiple big pots, he’s loosening up what I would call too much though, so I’m hoping I can exploit that later.

Hour 4(17,625 chips): Got a little sloppy in trying to exploit some aggressive players that just got seated at our table and ended up calling too lightly on back to back hands costing me around 1/3 of my stack. I salvage things by getting my first knockout of the tournament on the last hand of the level. I bet preflop with AQ and the big blind, who is severely short stacked, raises me. I reraise since I know his whole stack is going in the middle anyway. He shows A5. A queen comes on the flop to make it even more grim, and a queen hits the turn to give me the win. Did I just knock someone out of a WSOP event? Holy shit!

Hour 5(14,525 chips): Fold mostly and sit back while trying to stay focused. A guy gets his AA cracked by 37 making a straight and handles it better than I would have. Watched another player hit a two outer king on the river to eliminate another player from our table who also handles it pretty well all things considered. After that player left the table the guy who caught the king jokes, “I really pulled a Curry and dunked on him there,” Several of us chime in that Curry isn’t really a dunker, and someone else jokes that he played a Draymond Green. The whole table laughs and even the dealer cracks a smile. The day before Green had gotten suspended for the next NBA finals game for hitting another player in the groin. Your opponent hitting a two outer on you on the river feels close enough to a punch in the nuts that it seemed quite appropriate. Out of the original nine on the table, only four of us are left including the villain to my left who keeps getting richer.

Hour 6(11,600 chips): I win a big pot by turning a flush and feel confident enough to successfully steal the ever increasing blinds a couple times. I knock out another player when my QQ holds up against his 99. I try to knock out a third but my 66 can’t beat his Q5 when a queen hits the turn. Almost double my chip stack during the level though and feel right back on track.

Hour 7(22,075 chips): The buy in window finally closes. Total entries are 665, I’m a little disappointed one more person didn’t join us. I’m amazed to see them announce they’ll pay top 100 places and that there are only 360 remaining. I’ve already outlasted almost half the field and I’m second in chips on my table! I suffer a brief attack of delusions of grandeur before shaking myself out of it and spending another hour mostly folding and missing flops. The table has become increasingly aggressive especially preflop. So aggressive in fact that when I pick up JJ and am first to act, I almost limp because I’m so certain someone else will bet and I can raise, but I play it standard and bet as first to act. It folds around to the big blind who calls me. Flop comes 236, no flush draw. Big blind checks,  bet expecting to take it down right there, but big blind calls me. Turn comes 9, big blind checks again. I bet, big blind raises. Looking at my options it’s possible big blind has two pair, but I think it’s more likely he’s holding something like A6 or A9 and thinks I’ve got air, so after pausing for a moment I three bet. Big blind calls to make the pot 11,100. The river is another 9. Big blind checks and I check. At this point I think it’s unlikely he’s going to call me if he has a 2, 3, or 6. He either hit a hand that can beat me or he’s folding. I don’t think there’s any value in betting here. I ask if he has the nine, somewhat sheepishly he says yes and flips 9Q. I’m not going to hide it, that one hurt. He wasn’t drawing dead, but only five cards in the deck help him there and that was a big pot. I can’t believe he floated a Q high on the flop and got rewarded for it, but such is life.

Hour 8(19,125 chips, 315 players, and average stack of 15,833)

Now comes the hand that I’m going to wonder about for a long time. I’m dealt A♡10♡ on the button. It gets raised from middle position by a player who splashed around a lot early, but hasn’t played a hand in a while. I call and both blinds call. Flop is 10♤5♢6♤. Both blinds check and the preflop raiser checks. I have top pair and no draw, but that’s a board with a lot of draw potential, so I have to bet and do so. Everyone calls. Turn is 7♤, possibly the worst card for me. Several straight draws and flush draw are now there. It checks to me again and I think about it, but to bet again would be around 20% of my remaining chips, and I check. River is K♢, both blinds check and the preflop raiser bets. I decide to lay it down because of the chances of him hitting the king or of either blind raising behind me, but both blinds fold and the preflop raiser mucks his cards without showing. I regret my fold almost immediately because I notice how few chips the preflop raiser had left. When someone is close to their all in they’ll raise lighter. I’m kicking myself for folding and for getting fatigued enough that I’m missing details like stack size that I’m normally pretty perceptive of. I needed that pot and I didn’t fight for it the way I probably should have.

Hour 9(13,725 chips, 252 players, and average stack of 19,792) Fatigue is setting in all over the room with the only benefit that it’s hitting all of us. My table finally breaks and for the first time all tournament I’m moved to a new seat. I’m a little upset because I have to get new reads on everyone, but I know with my chip stack I’m really just looking for a hand to make my last stand with pretty soon. The new table has a truly bizarre series of events happen. One of the players is joking about how often a queen is coming on the flop, and it was a lot, but obviously this player was just having fun at a really late hour. The dealer suddenly starts to spread the cards for what’s called a setup, it’s when they change decks. Players will request one for often superstitious reasons, they’ll say a change in the cards will mean a change in the luck. Another player stops the dealer and asks who asked for a setup stating that he objects, the dealer points at the player to my left. I never heard the guy say anything. The guy says he didn’t ask for a setup he just joked the dealer needs to shuffle the cards really well. Since the setup has started though a floor supervisor needs to be called over to stop it. The floor says go back to dealing and after the cards have come out and one player has bet, but before the flop someone notices there are still cards in the dealer’s tray, cards from the deck he just dealt the hand with. Floor is called over again who says to keep dealing the hand. After the hand the floor pulls three cards out of the dealers tray which get shuffled back in and we carry on, but we played a hand with a 49 card deck.

Hour 10(5,400 chips, 198 players, and average stack of 25,189)Things are truly dire. I’ve folded preflop almost every hand at the new table but the blinds are making it in impossible to lay low, so with 30 minutes before the end of the day I catch a hand I know will be my first all-in of the day, A♢Q♢. A loose played in middle position limps, I’m in the small blind and raise, hoping to get the big blind out and play this heads up. Unfortunately big blind calls and we go to the flop with me only having one bet left. Flop is 9A10 with no flush draw. Both myself and the big blind go all in and the middle position calls. I feel good about where I am with my top pair, but middle position flips A10 for top two pair, and big blind flips QJ for an open ended straight draw. With one of my queens in his hand, I know only two queens are left to help me and neither comes. An 8 does hit the river to give the big blind the main pot, but I had more than him, so technically the A10 in middle position is the hand that knocked me out in 180th place. I bid the table good night and stumble back across the street and go to sleep.

Recap There are likely few places more self reflection has been done then on return flights from Las Vegas. I’m sitting here at cruising altitude now, and despite leaving with less money than I brought, I have to put this one in the win column. My goal in going was less about the profit and more about validation. I’ve spent more hours than I should count at a poker table. I love the hobby dearly. I’ve come to convince myself that I’m even above average at it. This week showed me that the time hasn’t been wasted. I sat with some high caliber players on the largest stage poker has to offer and I outlasted over 72% of the field.

A close friend asked if I felt like I’d had enough or if I’d be going back soon. If the opportunity presented itself I wouldn’t mind a return trip to a future WSOP, but I got what I came for.  I can go back to my small games in Minnesota and Mississippi not having to wonder if beating those games is meaningless. This fish winged bullfrog just needed to see if he was only big in his own pond. I wouldn’t have said no to a bracelet, and coming up only 80 spots shy of the money bubble is disappointing in its own way. But that said, I’m happily putting a check mark next to this bucket list item.

As a souvenir I have these two shots from the official WSOP photographer.

Action Shot Cat Who Ate the Canary