Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lets talk Indie games...

Similar to the movie industry there are a lot of independent games that are produced out there. The challenge for me has been finding them - well, looking - I had a few bad experiences and gave up. The last few issues of PCGamer have had a section on non-mainstream games.

The first one I downloaded was Strange Attractors from ominous development. This is called a 'single switch game' in that you only use one key, the space bar, to move about. You control a small object with a gravity drive. When you enable your gravity drive you are pulled toward the largest gravitational element, and then the fun begins. You bounce, ricochet and spiral your way in and out of maps and traps. At its core its very simple and I've already lost a few hours playing it. A very nice change of pace.

Next was one that blew me away. I downloaded Babylon 5: I've Found Her, a completely freeware game set in the B5 universe. Before you go screaming off to another page, if you liked B5 and you like a real flight sim feel, this is for you. I could barely survive training. You are a Fury fighter pilot out flying cover, etc. I was blown away. The graphics, gameplay, and even the voice acting felt like any game I've bought at EB. If your looking for a challenge, pull it down. See if you over shoot the combat zone by 25k like I did doing 1.5k/sec. Oooops.

Finally, for those looking for a more leisurely game, check out Bonnie'’s Bookstore. I had the pleasure of being part of the beta for this game and got to watch it come together. This is a more traditional shareware game. The setting is Bonnie writing books with the game mechanic being you making words by connecting cubes in typical boggle fashion. There are power-ups, game changing tiles, etc. Just what you'd expect from a game of this type. I usually find myself playing this one while I wait to log-in to WoW.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Teaching vs. Correcting

I've been attempting to continue my learning of the Spanish language. Due to reality, I wasn't able to continue taking the one I had been learning from and I realized that too late to grab a spring semester at a college and the only other class I was able to track down was already running. Bad luck, to be sure, but no reason to stop. So I've been doing my best talking with my wife and her family.

In doing so I've realized that there is a big difference between teaching and correcting. I am very pleased that my wife's family takes the time to correct me - I know it's like listening to a two year old, and the corrections do help - but the biggest change in my learning has been from those who help me to keep going - the ones who teach.

It's the difference between "Here's how you should have said it" and "You did okay, you just flipped these two words and really meant to use this one". Subtle, to be sure.

Amazing how small the important things are. Now to apply that to my own teaching.

Monday, March 27, 2006

163 of 6000

No, I wont be talking about the borg. I decided on Saturday to jump into one of the free-play satellites that PokerStars has. These vary, anything from a free-money buy-in (where you win fake cash) to a completely free tournament where the top players advance into other tournaments. I did the latter.

Most times when I tell people I jumped into a 6000 player tournament their jaw drops, "The game must take forever!" is the usual comment. No, not really. At the end of the first hour you've usually lost half of the players - normally me included. This time, though, I saw two sets of breaks before busting out just before the third break. I am really pleased with my play, however this isn't always about me. ;)

What I did find is that these tournaments get closer to the type of game I want to be playing. The blinds are still slower compared to what I've hit in the casino, but the level of play was more accurate - well, after the first hour anyway. You were able to bluff, steal the blinds, slow play - you could break out the poker skills and work on them.

It was a very fun night. I busted out right around 11p having started play at 8p. Not a bad 3 hours. For those of you on PokerStars you can find these tournaments under the (you guessed it) tournament tab for Play Money. They happen daily at various times.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Did the world end?

I go through my normal routine, get dressed, have breakfast, etc. and I sit down and run into this headline on Slashdot;

"It's official Dell acquired Alienware" (Google News sources)

I'm not sure if that's going to make things better or worse. I've been impressed by Dell over the years, but I know many people who have the exact opposite reaction to them. Although I've been very impressed by the hardware Alienware has put out, their customer service didn't reach the "Godhood" status.

As if this wasn't weird enough news, I start reading the poker sites and run into this one at CardSquad:

"Hellmuth New Host of Celebrity Poker Showdown" (Official Press Release)

If your like me you've watched Celebrity Poker Showdown once or twice and then gotten a little bored with the level of play. It's fun to watch celeb's duke it out, but it's not going to help you improve your game watching people with the nuts check down the river.

Now imagine Phil Hellmuth commentating. *laughs* I can't help but be curious, it's a bold move. I hope it works for them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Poker: Luck or Skill?

Take a moment to think about that for a moment. Ever lose on the river to someone with a 2-7 offsuit? Win because you flopped a full-house? Been dealt four of a kind?

Oddly enough, this is one of those very polarized questions. People I talk to feel very strongly in one direction or the other - but I ask you, what is the difference between luck and skill? Hopefully you took a moment to think about that, as the answer may not as easy as you might think.

To help frame this question, I want you to picture a continuum that runs from the card game War (pure luck) to the board game Chess (pure skill). In War you are dealt some number of cards that you place into a pile and flip over one at a time, highest card wins. There is no skill involved, and the only "luck" is that when a war occurs you have a higher card. There's nothing you can do to improve your odds of winning aside from cheating (stacking the deck).

Chess is the other end of the spectrum, everything is on the table and in plain view. The only difference between you and your opponent is your skill at the game. If you have memorized all the opening moves and your opponent hasn't you'll probably beat them.

Poker though, falls somewhere between the two. Although it does require luck, there is an element of skill. You need luck, and even the pros call that out, in order to win. At some point, you need to take a chance and pray you succeed. At the same time, you can minimize those guesses by determining the types of players you are against, maximizing your position in the game and focusing on playing well against those factors.

Where am I going with this? As I had posted earlier, in Massachusetts Poker is a game of chance, and therefore illegal. For the longest time I didn't agree with this, as playing the players can win as much as playing the cards - as long as your luck holds out.

And that will probably keep it illegal in Massachusetts, for the time being. Too bad really, there's a lot of untapped revenue that the various states are missing from making poker for money illegal.

Guess they learned how to cope with the digital age from the RIAA.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Poker in Massachusetts...

Disclaimer: While I did my research, I am not a lawyer nor am I well versed in our legal system. These are the answers I've found by calling, reading, and getting headaches deciphering our legal system.

You should consult an attorney, or the helpful folk at the Lottery Commission and Attorney General's office, for further information. I've included my references at the bottom of this post.


Summary

  1. Poker is a game of chance, therefore it is illegal
  2. No court in MA has been called upon to determine if traditional poker (with cards) is a game of chance
  3. Since #2, See #1.
  4. Qualified Non-Profits can run tournaments, legally, due to other rules

Details

I got a note from a friend talking about an upcoming poker tournament his Temple is holding. It turns out that there is a company called Bay State Poker that runs tournaments all over Massachusetts. Now, this should be tossing flags up as I'm the one always saying that Poker is illegal in MA.

It is illegal - sort of.
II. A poker tournament that would otherwise be an illegal lottery in
Massachusetts is legal when operated by a properly licensed qualifying
non-profit organization.

Section 7A of Chapter 271 allows certain qualifying organizations to hold special events, known as bazaars, for fundraising purposes. Bazaars (also referred to as Las Vegas or Casino nights) may include games of chance such as roulette, craps, blackjack, and poker, including Texas Holdem. A qualifying organization which operates a bazaar pursuant to section 7A is not in violation of the section 7 lottery prohibitions so long as the organization and players comply with the requirements described in more detail below.
So, Non-profits can hold these as long as they are properly licensed, and don't run Bingo/Keno type stuff. If they run Bingo, they can't run Poker (I had a chat with the Lottery Commission yesterday - where Poker is illegal). So what's the confusion?
At least one court has ruled that under Massachusetts law, chance predominates over skill in video poker games and, as such, they are illegal lotteries. Massachusetts appellate courts have not been called upon to determine whether traditional forms of poker are considered games of chance rather than skill.
Now, the piece you may be missing is that, under MA law, any game of Chance is illegal to be run (unless run by the state). So, at this point in time, Poker at home is considered a game of chance (not skill).
Assuming that all forms of poker are games of chance, it is illegal to promote, operate or play in a poker tournament if a) players pay an entry fee, bet, or otherwise contribute something of value to play and b) prizes of cash or something else of value are awarded to winning players. The only exception to this prohibition involves fundraising activities by certain non-profit organizations issued lottery permits under section 7A of Chapter 271.
And there it is. The key from above is that since the courts have not ruled on whether traditional forms of poker are games of chance, or not, the default is to assume they are and therefore call them illegal.

References

Massachusetts State Lottery Commission
(781) 849-5555, ext. 527

"Attorney General's Advisory On Poker Tournaments"

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Sometimes Microsoft surprises me...

It's rare, but it happens. I forget who originally pointed me to the "What would happen if Microsoft did the iPod packaging" videos, although I've now seen it linked all over (Google Video). I had figured it was someone poking fun at Microsoft, everyone does... but no, this was Microsoft making fun of itself!

Good job guys. *laughs*

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tournament Stories - Final Hand

Before I delve into answering yesterday's cliff hanger about online non-money play, I at least owe you the hand that busted me out of the tournament. My original table was finally broken up and I took my few chips and moved to "Table 1" where I was, unquestionably, the short stack.

I was able to pick up a few chips by pushing back at folks with all-in bets (I was short, but still painful to call) and eventually ended up heads-up with a guy from my original table. I knew he played tight, so I raised pre-flop with the KQ offsuit I had. The flop came down with an Ace and I started hoping he missed it, I raised strong and he went all in. I knew he had the Ace, and I would need a miracle runner-runner to survive. I looked down at my chips, around 1100, and called.

Silly? Perhaps, but if not that hand then the next. I picked the right player, almost the right move, and definitely the wrong time. Looking back on it, I should have pushed all-in preflop and gone for the blinds instead of being greedy. He may have folded, who knows. What I do know is that the move I made to see what he had told me everything, but I had committed so much that even had I kept it I was "doomed" on the next few hands to keep pushing all-in and praying to double up just to get back where I was when I started the hand.

Lesson Learned.

Did playing online help or hinder? Yes.

First, my normal disclaimer; Due to MA law I cannot play in most cash games (don't ask, I'll post my findings on that later on) and definitely can't play online until someone is willing to go through the court system and prove Poker is a game of skill to the MA lawmakers. That being said...

I've learned a lot playing online, from how to slow play, to managing my table image, to how to bet against given opponents, etc. It's been very rewarding, and my play has increased with it. It has taught me a lot about myself, the types of players out there, and how to manage myself.

What it didn't teach me, was how to survive against a strong blind schedule. The Pokerstars blinds, even with a large tournament, are pretty subtle. You don't feel them till well into the tournament, usually into the final table. Usually, by this time, there are only a few of you and while the blinds and antes are large, they're not a large percentage of the stacks that are around.

Compare this to the Foxwoods blinds where into the second hour, you are already feeling it. You need to steal the blinds, and you can. Unlike Pokerstars where most free-money players will pay to see a flop, most players at this tournament were playing tight. I didn't have this skill as I sat down, and it took me a few blind levels to realize that it was happening.

I had a very exciting time, even if I didn't catch as many good hands as I would have liked, I still learned, improved, and will be better primed to go back next time. If your looking to improve, and are in similar "silly state laws" as I, I still recommend playing online - any experience is better than no experience. Just keep it in mind as you sit down at a real tournament.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tournament Stories - So that's what face cards look like

I had a cold deck, overall. I did catch a few hands, but they were few and the waits between allowed me to practice the other skills I need to develop. When playing at home with 300/600 and 75 antes we're usually down to 3 or fewer players, so stealing the blinds nets you a decent 1125 chips but its not much compared to the action during the hands. In the live game, we still had 6 full tables, so at the same level we're talking about 1650, just for stealing the blinds. Suddenly all the pro's talking about stealing the blinds to survive makes sense.

The best hand I saw (and can say stood up at a showdown) was when I got dealt pocket Kings. I raised, 4x the BB and was called down by one of the players on a rush. The flop came down Jack high, all different suits, and no straight possible. I went all-in.

At this point, I had bet strong preflop, and made a pot-sized bet at the flop. By all accounts, given how tight I was playing, he should have folded. Nope, he thought his Jacks were good. They weren't good enough, I took the pot as the turn and the river contributed nothing to either of us. I doubled up and the other gentleman became the short stack. It would take a few more hands, but he would be eliminated.

What amazed me about this hand is that he was convinced I was trying to buy the pot. Even though I had played tight all day, not even stealing many blinds, he didn't want to believe me that I had a strong hand going into it.

One of the most common questions I get from friends is "how well does playing online prepare you for a real game?" - well, honestly, the question is "Those idiots in the free money games - no one plays like that". Know what? They do, and they'll play for real money just as badly. Whether it's a tournament or a table, at the casino these are the people who feel they can win, or just mom and dad out for a fun weekend of gambling. In either case, they're not there for the same reasons you may be and their play style is that different.

How well does playing online prepare you? More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tournament Stories - The first few hands

After checking out, dumping the excess luggage in the car, registering and a simple breakfast I found myself finally feeling like the fast forward button had released. Although the first hand was memorable, I wasn't in it. The gentleman who won, who I now call Raises-with-any-pair, won with quad 10s.

Not a bad start for him. The next hand? Won with a pair of 10s with a high kicker. The next few hands? All won with 10s of some kind. It was eerie. The joke at the table was that you weren't allowed to raise unless you had a 10 and if you managed to steal the pot before the showdown everyone was chanting "show the 10!".

It shouldn't be surprising that after watching a lot of hands go by, my stack has gotten a little low and I get dealt pocket 10s. I raised to 3x the BB, my first big action at the table, and the short stack to my left goes all in for about 500 chips more. I call.

Pocket 10s vs KQ offsuit. He didn't catch any cards and I won a nice pot. He was out. I remember shaking his had as he got up to leave, then raking the chips in and doing the math to figure out where I was versus the blinds and the other players at the table. Then someone hit the pause button and I sat there thinking "I just knocked someone out of the tournament".

It was one of those moments I didn't think I'd see. Okay, so it doesn't sound like much, but for that instant it was huge - I knocked a player out of the tournament and kept going. I survived, its not something I had expected to see at my first outing. Looking back at it, the odds were pretty good it would happen, but it was still a small rush.

Tomorrow: Pocket Kings

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tournament Stories...

Thursday night is a blur. It's as if someone hit the fast forward button around 4pm. As work wound down I was just able to get the 4 hour process running before heading up to be with the kids and get packed.

Head up stairs and gain my helpers. The younger two didn't get into it, but my eldest was all into helping. Back downstairs to get an overnight bag to fill, and then the two of us went through everything I needed to bring. I picked out the clothes I wanted as she reminded me to bring my toothbrush, toothpaste, one (yes, just one) Q-tip to "clean my ears after my shower", and a ziplock bag filled with tissues ("in case they didn't have any").

Finished packing and had dinner. I have no idea what we had. I think the editor did a fade-to-black and brought up the next scene at Martial arts. Who ever did the editing, left the fast forward button down though. Class was a blur of the dojo getting ready for the tournament on Saturday. Mostly boosting the confidence of those going and helping to get them some experience before they went.

Fade-to-black, bring up the lights back home. Back from class running around getting changed. Not sure how a Gi would go over at the tournament, bet it would be unique though. Grab the bag, jacket, and head out the door. I remember leaving, with the radio playing Queen's "We are the Champions".

Tomorrow: Fade-To-Black and bring up the lights on Hand #1...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Decommissioning...

For whatever reason that was the only word that came to mind today. Today, after 6 years of solid service, the crib that all of my kids have come home to and outgrown was decommissioned. My wife and the youngest went out to buy a new kid bed and the elder two and I took apart the old one.

The kids thought it was a lot of fun taking it apart, seeing how the screws held it together or what the underpinnings looked like once we had the sides off - me, I'm still staring at the memories.

I remember the first time I put it together. I think there's a blackmail shot of me under it, tools tossed about, as I was figuring it out. I remember when we moved my first child from our room into "her" room and how every noise for the next week made one or the other of us wake up and do a "she's okay, go back to sleep". I remember how we took the side off so my youngest could have a semblance of a bed as she moved toward today's transition and the elder two moved into their bunk beds.

In the end, all I can picture, is placing small few-month-olds in and out of it and how much my life has changed.

It was a good crib.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Foxwoods Tournament #1

Today I got into my first real Poker tournament at Foxwoods. This was an $80+20 no limit Hold-em, one of the regular daily games. There were 250 entrants, figure I was in the top 60 when I popped. I was happy with the way I played and with what I learned.

The final hand was the right person, the right bet and the wrong time. Unfortunately the tight player I was trying to push out caught the flop - my bad for not pushing it all-in pre-flop and making him choose then. Lesson learned.

The other lesson had to do with the way the tournament play works. With 250 players, they were compressing tables at a fast rate. We were at 300/600 blinds with 75 antes when I found myself short stacked at the table (~3500) I was moved into. I knew I was in trouble, but being my first time in I didn't realize that stealing the blinds would be so key - if you always have 10 players, playing your position and the players becomes more prevalent - you can't wait for a perfect hand or you end up short stacked.

Not bad for a $100 lesson at Foxwoods. I'll be curious to see how things change as they open up the SnGs in the new poker room in a week. I'll be back, I'm hooked. I still want my moment in the WPT camera.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Patriot Guard Riders

There are some news articles that make you sad, others angry, and a few proud. This article on CNN will do all of the above. The writer does a good job of telling his story, he is following the movements of one, in my words, deranged preacher, a Mr. Fred Phelps. He and his family have made it their personal goal to ride around and disrupt military funerals.

No, you read that correctly. Disrupt their funerals. He has very chilling signs "Thank God for IEDs" etc. I wonder about his sanity. According to a little reading he believes that "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God". So they go around disrupting an already emotionally charged event.

Thankfully, in America, for every evil there is a group of good Samaritans that will stand against them, in this case the Patriot Guard Riders. Now these guys deserve some press, and the first time I hear of them is in the addendum to the story above. So, lets get them the press they deserve!

Army Times - Free Republic - Google News - Their website!

And the list goes on. You can see groups forming all over.

Protest the war, protest the deaths, but leave those mourning their husbands, wives and children alone. They, and their families, have already paid the price to safeguard your right to protest - have some decency to do it elsewhere.

Let them mourn in peace.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The TV isn't a babysitter...

There is always going to be someone who does things the easy way.
But that should not stop you from doing things the right way.
It is your journey, young warrior. Only you decide when it ends.
-Chu-hui, Teen Titans
Ever since I was a kid there was this rising fear that television would spawn mass murderers, serial killers, etc. It was all due to this new mediums violent content. Things like Looney Tunes and Spiderman had gratuitous violence that would insight all who watched it to lash out!

Right. Amazing how simple it is to take a statement such as "This show contains violence, make sure your talking to your kids" and turn it into "I can't leave my kids watching TV and do something I want to do because the shows are too violent". Here's a new headline for the news agencies; The TV is not supposed to be the babysitter!

I just got finished reading this article over on CNN. It's not the first, and it wont be the last. I've seen them my entire cartoon addicted life. I like cartoons, I watch them. The kids know that for at least a few chunks of Saturday morning, Dad owns the TV. My kids are some of those watching Teen Titans, from which the quote above was taken.

Know what? I spend time teaching my kids, during the show and after, what is acceptable and why the Teen Titans is; First, a TV show not real life and Second, why in that context they do what they do. It's also one of the few shows I watch and really like on TV because it teaches Honor, a concept very foreign in our society.

Do my kids catch that? Who knows, but I keep pointing it out. Since my eldest is 6, she may be starting to see it - especially as she practices her Martial Arts. The story isn't about how violent our TV shows have become - they've always been that way - 3 Stooges, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry - My generation was vicious. Before that? Superman? Comic Books? Actual *gasp* Novels? Try our legacy literature, it's also violent. Don't think so, go read the story of David and Goliath from the Bible.

You want our kids to know, to understand, proper usage or lack of usage; Stop using the TV as a babysitter and take responsibility for your children. It's not just the video games, or the TV shows, or their friends - its your lack of interest and involvement. You are the sanity check, and you should know when a game or show will push your child over the edge.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pocket Pair Wars!

This was a fun hand I had at my typical SnG on PokerStars the other day. We were at a full table of 9, when I got dealt pocket 6s in the BB. I had been having a run of luck, so I pushed it up to 3x BB and most of the table folded, except for two others.

The Flop came down J 6 Q. Not bad, not bad. The player to my left leads out strong, next player calls, I re-raise and the all in wars begin. All 3 of us end up all-in.

Lefty: 7 7
Righty: 8 8

Gotta laugh when things like this happen. Although they weren't laughing when I turned up trip 6s and they were both behind. I survived, and took two more players out. Interestingly, even though I was winning (at showdown no less) the players still didn't believe me on that initial raise, or they felt their pairs were better than what landed. Makes you wonder.

Ended up placing 2nd in the SnG. Learned some good lessons about dealing with "sitting out" players and how to behave when your heads-up but not heads-up.

Story for another day.