Thursday, February 24, 2011

Aggression in Card Games

The other night, I couldn't sleep. So, at 3 or 4 AM, I was watching the final table from the Main Event at last year's World Series of Poker. For those of you who don't know, the Main Event is a $10,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold Em event. So, on any hand, you can bet as much as you like including the infamous 'all in' where you put all your chips in the pot. If somebody calls your bet and they have as many chips as you and you win, you double your stack, but if you lose your out of the event.

So, as I looked at the final table, most of the players were amateurs and of the poker pros there, they were almost all in their 20s and not among the best known players. Why is that?

I think it has to do with a combination of youthful exuberance and the fact that once you are playing with chips as compared to real money, the players with experience in big cash games are actually at a disadvantage. Consider this. At any table, the player with the biggest chip stack has a big advantage. He can be the table bully. So, on the first hand of the tournament, if you get dealt a good hand, why not go all in? If you lose, well so be it. Most people don't stick around long enough to 'cash' in the Main Event. If you happen to double up, you are now the bully, the boss, the head honcho.

Top players don't play this way. It's not a percentage bet. But the internet players who have gotten used to playing hand after hand after hand, usually in lower stakes games aren't bothered. Online, if you lose, you just find another tournament. It happens so fast.

Consider the effect of doubling up early though. When you start the event as a random player, you have about an 11% chance of cashing. That is, roughly 89% of players will lose their $10,000. The remainder will turn a profit, albeit small for most of those who cash. I don't know this, but I would hazard a guess that someone who rolls the dice, so to speak, gets lucky early on, and doubles up a few times significantly increases their chances of cashing. So, for example, if by being ultra-aggressive (some might say ultra-risky) early on, you might double your chances of cashing, or even more. Now, here's where the math gets funny.

Suppose the result of over-aggression is that at the end of the first day of play, either you have doubled your chances of cashing or been eliminated. Let's also defined 2 possible outcomes, either you cash, "C", or you lose, "L". Initially, your chances of C were 11% and that has doubled to 22%. Initially, your chances of L were 89% and that has increased by only about 1/8 to 100%. Frankly, I like that play, but the top pros are too conditioned to make the same play they would make in a cash game. I would never play against them for real money, but in tournament conditions, I think their edge is diminished significantly.

I could take this analysis to duplicate bridge as well, especially head-to-head team games. Suppose my partner and I are playing against two of the best players in the world, and similarly at the other table, our poor teammates are playing against another top pair. If we play things straight, we may rate to lose 95% of the time and win 5% of the time. Suppose we go wild instead. We interfere in their auctions ultra-aggressively and take lots of chances.

Frankly, we will probably now lose by an extremely large margin most of the time. But, if we lose, we don't care what the margin is. If you lose in a knockout, you are out. So, suppose when we played things straight, in our 19 losses out of 20, we lost on average by perhaps 50 IMPs. Now, by taking a walk on the wild side, when we are losing, it is by 125 IMPs on average. But, we are now winning 2 matches out of 20. Then we have increased our winning percentage by 100% (2 divided by 1 minus 100%), and the way we got there was by losing by more when we lose.

Bottom line: in the right circumstances, stupid looking aggression can pay off. If the worst downside is humiliation, but the upside makes sense, go for it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Statistics Inflation

I read a headline this morning: "Rondo triple-double leads Celtics past Heat." Rajon Rondo had a nice game. He had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. You know what I say? Big deal!

Look back to the 1961-62 NBA season. I realize that was a long time ago, and that the game has changed significantly. Here were Oscar Robertson's key statistics for the season: he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game for the entire season. With those averages right now, he would be leading the league in scoring (Kevin Durant leads at 29.1 per game), fifth in rebounding (Kevin Love leads at 15.5), and second in assists (Rondo leads with 12.3).

But, we have become so enamored with statistics that don't really matter that all of these cute little thresholds have been devised. Triple double! When the Big O averaged a triple double, the term hadn't been invented. Because of that, players didn't strive for ten of each, they just played to win.

Who leads the NBA in free throw percentage in home games played on Tuesdays against teams from the Western Conference? Thankfully, I have no idea, but I'm sure that some bored person could find the answer, and if he or she did, then some player would use that come contract negotiation time.

Everyone is enamored with these statistics. And, it's the thresholds that get all the publicity. Here's a really good example that I got from the book, Scorecaster. No player in recorded major league baseball history entering his last at bat of the season with a .299 batting average has ever drawn a walk. The number of players who have finished a season with 30 home runs exceeds the number who have finished with 29 by a statistically significant margin. Likewise, the number who have finished with between 100 and 105 RBIs exceeds the number who have finished with between 95 and 99 by a significant margin.

And, while I haven't seen it in that book anywhere, I would bet you that not too many NBA players finish a game with Triple 9s (points, rebounds, and assists), or even with double digits in two of those categories and nine in the third. Have you ever seen a player in a tight game take a really stupid shot to try to score their 50th point when a pass to a wide-open teammate for a layup was the right play? I have. Have you seen an NFL coach keep his star QB in the game to throw a few more passes in a blowout so that he can get to 400 yards passing? I have. And, in that circumstance, I've even seen the star QB get injured and miss a game or two with that injury, all in search of a useless holy grail. 385 yard passing games are not a great negotiation tool come contract time, but 400 yard games are.

Players should be measured by what they do for their team, not what they do for themselves. But, a great defensive small forward doesn't put fans in the seats. A 30 point per game scorer does.

I just hope that someday when future sports historians are writing down the greats of the games that they remember the players who made their teams winners not the players who made their contracts bigger.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Americans and Their Wine Habits

When I was a kid, adults who wanted to look distinguished drank scotch. Scotch made you look really cool, and if you were a man, you had a cigar with your scotch. Now, I don't want to put a damper on scotch because a good scotch can be very enjoyable, but this post is about wine.

Tastes of Americans gravitated with the generations. Gradually, scotch gave way to vodka, and then to wine. And, that's ok. There are lots of incredible wines out there in all price ranges. So far, I'm pretty agreeable, huh? If you think I'm always this agreeable, then you don't know John.

So, what's the catch? It's what Americans drink. As a group, we drink overly oaked Chardonnay and not great Merlot (read that to mean alcoholic blueberry juice). Chardonnay is a very nice grape. Oh, and we also drink white zinfandel which I refuse to concede is actually a wine (I think it's a poison). The Burgundians have done wonders with it creating such wonders ranging from Pouilly Fuisse to Montrachet. There are some great American chardonnays as well, but most are not cheap. The cheaper ones, as a group, are very mediocre. They are either overly buttery or overly oaked, and it's intentional.

What is the #1 selling wine in the United States? I can't vouch for my research on this one, but it tells me that the best-selling producer in US restaurants is Beringer and the best-selling varietal by a producer is Kendall-Jackson chardonnay.

Most wines are aged in oak -- French oak, American oak, Hungarian oak to name a few. And, among them, there is new oak, used oak (usually being used for a second time), and neutral oak (being used for a third time or more). Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson found a better way to impart that oak flavor -- ok, it's not better, but it sure makes more money -- instead of using oak barrels, he uses oak chips. And, people love it ... and I don't know why.

And, I go back to where I was -- chardonnay and merlot. As I said, great chardonnay is largely the province of the Burgundians, while merlot is one of the five legendary red grapes of Bourdeaux (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot being the other four). So, some really fantastic things can be done with both of them.

But, too many Americans don't get it yet, and we drink the bottle with the fun name or the cute label. It's time to branch out. Drink the well-made wines, and drink some different varietals or some blends. Drink wines that show off the terroirs from which they come (terroir is a fancy word for the land and terrain).

So, here is my challenge to Americans who are exploring wine. Smell your wines, taste your wines, chew your wines. Try at least two wines made from each of these grapes (by no means an exhaustive list), and make sure they are from different regions so that you get different styles. Then, figure out what you like.

White grapes

  • Riesling
  • Gewurtzraminer
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Semillon
  • Pinot gris (also known as pinot grigio in Italy)
  • Pinot blanc
  • Albarino (albarinho in Portugal)
  • Roussanne
  • Marsanne
  • Chardonnay (intentionally put in very small font
Red grapes
  • Cabernet sauvignon
  • Cabernet franc
  • Merlot
  • Malbec
  • Petit verdot
  • Pinot noir
  • Syrah (called shiraz in Australia)
  • Petit Syrah
  • Tempranillo (sometimes known as tinto fino)
  • Mourvedre (known as monastrell in Spain)
  • Zinfandel
  • Grenache (known as garnacha in Spain)
  • Sangiovese
  • Barbera
  • Gamay
Ok, get the picture. You're going to be branching out. Don't forget, smell your wines, sip your wines, chew your wines, and above all, enjoy your wines ... and let me know what you think.

Prayer in Public Schools

According to a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports: , 65% of adult Americans favor prayer in public schools.


Ok, forget about separation of church and state. I have heard all the arguments there. The US Constitution doesn't have a separation clause, it has an Establishment Clause that prohibits establishment of one religion [presumably over another or all others]. The courts have interpreted this a bit more broadly to generally preclude the spending of taxpayer dollars where they judge there to not be a separation of church and state. Both sides point to the intent of the founding fathers ... as if they know.

Look! I can see into the past and the future as well as the next person (since this is my blog, I can do it better here). And, you know what? I have no idea what was going through Thomas Jefferson's (or whomever else may have written it) mind when he drafted the Establishment Clause.

Let me repeat: I don't know exactly what Thomas Jefferson was thinking. Neither does Glenn Beck. Madalyn Murray O'Hair'Hair didn't either.

Here's what I do know. Too many American children need to be praying in school because they don't have a clue what is going on in school. But, there's the rub. They shouldn't be. If they spend, say, 7 hours per day in school and sleep 8 hours (I doubt that most of them manage that), that gives them 9 hours per weekday and 32 hours per weekend for a total of 77 hours per week to pray. That's a lot of prayer. What they need is more time to be learning so that they don't have to pray for good grades.

I have a strong opinion on the legality of this one, but that's beside the point here. The point is that school hours are dear. Our students need them for education. Perhaps they should be giving up video game time to pray instead.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Curriculum in the Schools

OK, I admit it. I am eligible to join AARP. In some circles, that makes me old. In other circles, that makes me wise. I prefer the latter, but you can decide for yourself.

What's up with curricula in the public schools. It used to be important to learn your reading and writing and 'rithmetic. Now, it doesn't seem to matter. Sometimes, when I look at resumes, this becomes obvious. When I look at business correspondence, it becomes more obvious. And, finally, when I see some of the math done by otherwise intelligent, obvious has reached a whole new level.

But, we debate on what other, obviously far more important things, should be taught in school. In many parts of the country, the politicians want to make sure that the educators enforce that evolution is just a theory. C'mon people. In 1859, Charles Darwin wrote "The Origin of the Species", outlining his Theory of Evolution. Yes, it is still just a theory, and it always will be. But, more than 150 years later, there is not one scintilla of evidence to disprove this theory, and trust me, people have tried.

Then, there is this crap about integrated learning. In this debacle, a not atypical math assignment asks a student to research a math topic and write an essay on it. Tell me, how does this serve a student.

Even when I think back to my days in school (yes, it was after the invention of the light bulb), we learned a lot of stuff that had little, if any, value when we could have been learning more important things. I applaud, for example, Vasco da Gama for being the first man (actually everyone else on his vessel was probably tied with him for this honr, but I never learned their names) to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. I think that learning this once was probably sufficient, but we covered it in every grade of elementary school. On the other hand, we never made it as far as the end of World War II in US History.

Worse yet, in this country, I would posit that the US Constitution is and has been as important a written document as about anything else out there. In 12 years of schooling before college, we barely covered it. I think we learned that there are three branches of government and we knew their names. We learned that there were a bunch of amendments and that the first 10, when taken together, were called the Bill of Rights. All the rest of that stuff, we skipped over it for the most part.

This is ludicrous. Schools need to go back to the basics. You want your kids to learn about your religion? Teach them at home. You want your kids to learn about the explorers (beyond the basics)? Buy them a book, or give them a link to a good website. You want them to learn about pop culture? They can't avoid it.

Let's get back to the basics. In my world, here is the really important core of the curriculum:

  • Math, out the wazoo. There is no reason that good students cannot be in calculus by 9th or 10th grade. Yes, I know we don't have enough teachers who can teach at this level yet, but we should. But, if we spent more time on math, average and better students would be learning algebra in 5th and 6th grades, and the rest would follow naturally.
  • Computers. Everything we can teach our kids about them. They are now, and without them, our students are lost.
  • Civics. Yes, let's teach them about the US Constitution.
  • Reading and writing, including grammar ... and more grammar ... and spelling ... and more spelling.
  • Culture, so that they can have more diverse discussions.
  • Foreign languages, so that we are not the only country in the world with a bunch of mono-linguistic oafs.
OK, I've probably pissed off enough people by now. If you are one of them, let me hear it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What Used to Be My Ears Really Hurt Today

Did you watch Super Bowl XLV yesterday? Did you see the halftime mess?

The average person in attendance at the Super Bowl is probably post-adolescent, or believe it or not, even older than that. How anyone beyond the age of 14 could have possibly liked that debacle between halves is beyond me. That they brought Slash in to wail on his guitar on "Sweet Child O' Mine" was a disgraceful attempt to make the 30-to-50-somethings feel like they belonged. So, they tried a rock anthem, but Fergie is not a rock singer.

Who are they trying to kid? Christina Aguilera botches her own stylized version of the national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner was never intended to be sung with runs. In fact, though, it has lyrics and they were not intended to be changed.

Back to the halftime show. This is football. Why do we need to have a politically charged song in "Where is the Love"? And, if they have to sing that song, why can't they sing it instead of screeching it? Along with everything else they did, it was just flat out bad.

You want the good news? They didn't get paid a cent. The NFL and promoters paid the travel expenses for the Peas and their entourage, but their real pay was their opportunity to shine (oh, excuse me, it was the gaudy dancers who were shining).

In the early Super Bowls, the halftime entertainment was typically a college marching band. The band from Grambling State (LA) University had the honor of appearing more than any other. You know what? That band was good. And, they took incredible pride in their performances. They nailed them.

This year, the halftime mess was a travesty. If you disagree, it's my blog, so you are clearly wrong, but I'd like to hear from you anyway.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl MVP

It's Super Bowl Sunday, or should I say it's the day of the Big Game. Before I rant about the game's MVP, the NFL needs to get a life. They need to stop suing people who use the term Super Bowl in advertising. Is anybody going to a bar to watch The Big Game? Is anybody going to a Big Game Party? Of course not, they're going to see the Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLV.

You know, there was a business a few years ago that they made change their name. Don't quote me on the type of business, but I think it was a bowling alley that had been called Super Bowl since the 1950s. But they didn't trademark the name and the NFL did.

Back to the MVP. It's probably going to be a QB or a RB without an outside chance of a WR. Thus far, it's been a QB in 22 of 44. There have been 7 RBs and 6 WRs. There have been 2 defensive ends, 2 linebackers, 2 safeties, a cornerback, a defensive tackle, and a kick returner. If you are counting, that adds up to 45, because SB XII had co-MVPs, defensive lineman from the Cowboys.

Some of these are ridiculous. Timmy Smith, a nobody ever heard of him running back broke the SB record with nearly 200 yards rushing in SB XXVI, but Mark Rypien was the MVP. For what, handing the ball off to Timmy Smith? If you're counting, Rypien was 18 for 33. That's less than 55%. Who did he pay off?

Super Bowl XXXVI -- Tom Brady goes 16 for 27 for 145 measly yards, but is somehow the MVP. If he was the most valuable player in that game, then they all must have sucked.

I could go on, but it's almost kickoff time. Go Giants! Oops, they forgot to make the playoffs this year.

Interesting Radio Commentary

I heard some commentary on the radio Friday that was certainly not mainstream. The gist of it was that drugs should be legalized in the United States. We're not just talking marijuana here, we're talking all drugs -- heroin, hallucinogens, crack cocaine, methamphetamine.

The commentator's rationale included the following:

  • Drug trade is controlled by gangs and cartels. If you make this stuff legal, they will no longer control it, and with that lack of control will come a decrease in gang violence and a decrease in violent crime.
  • If you legalize these products, they will become less expensive, but subject to taxes, such as sales taxes. That combination is probably good for the economy.
  • If they were legal, they would be more likely packaged and labeled. Labels tell you what's in the package, and in our highly regulated society, packages come with warnings.
  • According to this particular commentator, if you are then stupid enough to take the more dangerous among the drugs, then you deserve what is coming to you. As he says, this would do a good job of making the existing gene pool stronger.
I can't tell you that I agree with every word that came out of his mouth on this topic, but there is certainly more than a grain of truth. What do you think?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wine Prices

Lisa (my wife if you didn't know) went to a few Arizona wineries this week. One of them, Javelina Leap, was a return visit, as we had been there in the fall of 2008. The others were Oak Creek Vineyards and Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars.

One of the appeals of Javelina Leap the last time we were there was that the wine was very drinkable and the prices were moderate. Now, they are selling Cabernet and Zinfandel for $75 per bottle (that's a normal sized bottle). For $75, I can get a very good Napa or Sonoma or Washington Cabernet. They will improve with age over 5 to as much as 25 years. I can also get one of the great Zinfandels for this price.

This Cabernet and this Zinfandel are not that good. They are meant to drink now or soon, and they remain drinkable. We have probably made our last visit to Javelina Leap.

Oak Creek Vineyards was amusing. As I was going to be making a long drive, I planned to spit my wine (a common practice when wine tasting, believe it or not). For context, the outdoor temperature was about 20 degrees ... Fahrenheit. They gave me a little plastic spit cup and said I could spit in it ... as long as I went outside to do my spitting. Their wines were bad. These were not 90 point wines, or 80 point wines, and in fact, some of them were not 70 point wines. They were BAD. And, still most were priced over $30. PYECHHH! (You can look it up, I swear that's a word.)

Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars was different. The average price of a bottle of wine there is $22. Some are less expensive. If you buy 6 bottles of any of their wine, they will give you a bottle of their Syrah ($24 retail) for $1. And, their wines are structured and balanced. They blend grapes to create their own version of a Rhone style. Tasting (and spitting without going out into the cold) was a pleasure there. They grow about a dozen varietals on their 130 acres and take care to produce well-made, appropriately priced wines.

I salute Page Springs, and think the other two need to take a lesson.