A losing hand of poker

Poker is a beautiful game of skill. Its depth and complexity have always drawn me in. I think that in it one can find the ultimate expression of rationality and self-discipline in their raw forms. I had just bubbled out of a small poker tournament due to a momentary lack of both. For those of you whom are not familiar with tournament poker terminology, finishing on the bubble means that I finished one spot outside of the money payouts. In this case, I had finished in 11th place, when 10 people were to make the money. Then again, if you did not know this, you probably won’t gain anything by reading on… Save yourself some time and move on ;)

If you know tournament poker, feel free to read on for the TL;DR:

With 13 people left, I had a chip stack of approximately 17.5 big blinds. It was 6 handed at my table and I looked down at the TT in the cutoff. I had been raising a lot of hands in this position, and my standard raise was 2.5 big blinds. I made it 2.5BB again. The guy in the big blind had about 13 big blinds. He had not played a single hand for approximately 5-6 orbits. He asked me the following question: “Why do you keep raising my blinds?” I answered: “Because I have a huge hand.” To this he responded by immediately declaring: “I am all in.” I analyzed the situation and came to the following conclusion: “This guy had not played a hand in approximately 6 orbits and he immediately pushed all in when I told him that I had a huge hand in that specific situation and sat back in his chair.” It’s as if he told me: “The worst hand I can have here is TT+ or AQ+.” In that situation, there was no way I could ever be far ahead - it’s as if he played his hand face up. At best, I was a 57.2% favorite (if, for example he had AQ). At worst, I was a 4-1 underdog. The pot was laying me about 1.5-1 money odds. A truly miserable situation any way you slice it. Even if it were to be a coin toss, it wouldn’t have been exceptionally favorable equity. Against that gentleman, it was almost never going to be a coin toss. 

Instead of folding and leaving myself with 15 big blinds (in this case, I would have still had the second biggest stack on the table and the third or fourth biggest stack in the remaining field), I went completely against all rationality and took one last look at my otherwise very strong hand of TT and shoved in the remaining 10.5 big blinds. To those of you whom have been paying attention, I don’t need to tell you what he turned over: KK. The rest was history.

There were 5 other players on that table, against whom calling with TT in that same situation would have been a standard play. Against that individual, it was the worst possible mistake of the tournament. It ultimately cost me the money bubble, and likely a top 3 finish - given that the rest of the field were some of the softest players that I’ve played against in a long time. 

When playing poker against live opponents, always side with reason and use all past observations to your advantage (so long as you have been observing your opponents up to that point). In that case, your hand is merely secondary to the meta-game and the observations that you had made up to that crucial moment. 

First place was $4750. Next time.

Ryanair CEO is John Galt


Powder Anxiety

Some time in October, around the time when ski movies are premiering and new ski mags show up in the mail, the annual “jones” for shreddin powder begins. We gather our gear, mount up new skis and anxiously wait, day dreaming of blue bird pow days. Eternity seems to set in and fall drags on forever and ever. Until one day it starts to snow, winter begins and skiing follows. However, this year the phenomenon of winter is not really happening yet.

 Desperate times call for desperate measures, so resorts around Lake Tahoe began to make snow and push for openings around Thanksgiving day. It’s great to get out on the boards and rail some turns, but unless your from the midwest, you’re probably going to get board with the man made “ribbon of death” sooner than later. With so much uneasiness and anxiety about skiing and winter, I had no choice but to quit my job, and head north where the snow is.

I hopped on the next available Southwest flight, and hours later found myself in Seattle, just moments away from gigantic peaks and yes, lots of snow. My first days ever spent in the Cascade Mountains were with “extreme” skier Drew Tabke. We shredded around Crystal Mountain seeking out every last bit of pow we could find. Crystal is awesome! With breathe taking views, sustained steeps and rock features everywhere, there’s not really ahything to dislike. 

 Tabke was fired up to ski something new, so the next day we journeyed out for the CJ couloir. A 3000 foot long couloir with a 50 plus degree entrance that leads to a tight choke half way down. After a 2 mile approach, we strapped on our crampons and booted straight up the beast. The climb was challenging with constantly changing conditions of punchy crust layers, bullet proof ice and occasional powder patches. We pushed onto the top, a little apprehensive of how the variable conditions would ski.

 Tabke dropped in first, carefully making his way down the steep exposed entrance. I hesitantly skied in behind him, and much to my surprise the turns were powder-ish. The conditions were definitely variable though and a fall would have been fatal. So we took are time and survival skied down the couloir, rather than opening it up and “givin er”.  We were both psyched to ski such a rad line and celebrated with cold beers down at the truck.

Being more responsible than I, Tabke traveled back to Seattle to work. I continued on, and hooked up with some friends from Squaw Valley, who just happened to be at Crystal. I joined the crew of shredders; Josh Anderson, Mat Jackson and Ben Paciotti who all grew up skiing at Crystal. We spent the next few days casually crushing it on their favorite lines from childhood. Inevitably, we found ourselves reminising and playing cards at the Snorting Elk each night until last call.

Now I find myself in Tahoe again, back to the ribbon of death. Dreaming of the ellure created by the mighty Cascade Mountains. I am anxious and needy as ever for snow, but feel fortunate that I got to experience a brief moment of winter for Christmas. For now there is nothing to do but eagerly wait and  obsesively check weather forecasts and models. The only other option is to burn skis, vacuum cleaners and pray for snow.

 -Josh Daiek    

Steve Jobs on Startups


“I hate it when people call themselves ‘entrepreneurs’ when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business.”

(Source: airows, via daslee)

"When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars."

Walt Whitman, p. 418 of Perrine’s Sound and Sense (11th ed)

Breaking Bad and its Philosophical Context - Part 2

As I’ve posited in Part 1, the discussion of Walter White’s character in Breaking Bad is necessarily a discussion about philosophy. More so, it is a discussion about the nature of morality in a social context - it must begin with a study of his code of ethics - the one he finds after being faced with death.  

The pilot episode finds Walt working two jobs: as a middle school teacher and as an attendant at a local car wash. His pregnant wife Skyler lives at their home with their son Walt Jr., whom is suffering from cerebral palsy. This is not a rosy suburban family. We know that while they love each other, they are facing difficult times. Walt finds himself hating his carwash job. We also see that he is struggling through his days due to a nagging cough that won’t go away. Suddenly, during one of his shifts at the car wash, he collapses. He soon finds out that he has stage 3 lung cancer. His family has no savings. They will have no way to pay for their expenses if he is to die. It is with this realization that Walt looks to make enough money to ensure his family’s livelihood after his death. He teams up with Jesse Pinkman - a former student, turned street drug peddler, to make it a reality.

I began this part by stating that Walt finds a moral code. His character began the first episode as a bit of a loser - a washed up brilliant chemist in two dead-end low-wage jobs, suffering from health problems. Walt ended the first episode with a solution to the dire situation that he found himself in. Everything in between were choices that are within the realm of ethics. 

"Drugs are bad" - this is what we hear day in and day out. This is what is fed to us by our friends at the DEA, and other agencies of the federal government. We are guilted into believing that things we put in our bodies are bad for society - and bad for us. Yet we also find ourselves surrounded by legal drugs: alcohol, cigarettes, prescription drugs, etc. Interestingly enough, meth is available by prescription as Desoxyn. The latter is prescribed to children with ADHD by your neighborhood psychiatrist. The irony.

So what makes drugs bad? What does “bad” mean? Why are they bad? By whose sanction? The questions of what, why, how, whom, etc. are the questions that I like to ask whenever I consider the ethical merits of a decision. When I consider Walt’s initial decision to get into drug manufacturing for profit, I consider whether this decision was good or bad on the merits of the answers to those questions and some others. But let us begin with those. 

It seems that we had not learned the lessons of the Volstead Act: we did not learn the lessons of the countless murder sprees in the name of business - that is in the name of monopolies created through government corruption; we did not learn the lessons of corruption at all levels of federal and state government… I can go on, but it would be easier for the reader to watch another excellent show called Boardwalk Empire for the tl;dr summary. Suffice it to say that Volstead was repealed a long time ago, and booze flows freely through bars - freely that is, after it is taxed and after the surgeon general’s warnings are plastered on the bottles, among other things. Lest we forget that “minors” under 21 years of age cannot legally purchase alcohol - without threat of hefty fines to the seller and to shaming of the drinker through various guilt inducing ad campaigns, parental sanction, etc. Does it stop teenage drinking? Not particularly. It just makes it that much more desirable.

Prohibition and taboo of any choice of a human being to act on his decision, which does not prevent another from freely going about their lives, is a breach. It is a breach of that human being’s capacity to choose that which he thinks is right for him - whether or not the decision is a mistake. It is a violation of his ability to think. It is a sanction on his brain. It is a statement that some people’s decisions are better than others’ without consideration for individual cases, individual needs, or individual experiences.

The above is an introduction to the reasoning I use in deciding that Walter White’s actions in the pilot and next few episodes are moral.

I intend to dive deeper in Part 3 by covering some abstract concepts regarding morality and demonstrating their applications in Walt’s decisions throughout Season 1.

Again, I welcome comments and suggestions. Please keep it civil.

Breaking Bad and its Philosophical Context - Part 1

I do not watch much television. Most programming these days is just that: sheep herding - the same philosophical ideologies of altruism, amoralism, nihilism, etc. put into moving pictures - alas, regrettably so.

Breaking Bad is decidedly different. 

Breaking Bad

The show’s basic question of “What if you had terminal lung cancer and knew how to cook the best meth anyone had ever tried, to provide for your family?” merely scratches the surface of the ethical questions it raises.

Morality is within the realm of ethics - and ethics, in turn, is a branch of philosophy. The primary reason I think Breaking Bad is excellent is that it is a fantastic study of morality in a social context. Thus, it also serves as an excellent portrayal of various philosophical ideologies - all ideas, after all, eventually find their sources in philosophy.

Breaking Bad begins with the brilliant chemist turned teacher/family man Walter White finding out that he has stage 3 lung cancer. With the realization that he may not have much longer to live, he looks for a way to ensure his family’s well-being after his death - understanding that his family’s future lives depend on this decision. He finds his solution in the production of methamphetamine. For the first two seasons, he hides this from his immediate family, from his DEA-agent brother in law Hank, etc. He understands (or learns with experience) that his decision to sell meth puts him in grave danger with the feds, with other meth dealers, and ultimately bears the risk of failure and death (even before the cancer gets to him). He deals with these risks systematically, rationally, and swiftly. He learns, he strives forward. With every step, he gets closer to his goal - sometimes having to take one step forward and two steps back, before finally getting what he’s after. Eventually, he succeeds.

Does Walter White make mistakes along the way? Certainly. Are his actions moral? Fundamentally, I posit that they are. According to the society in which he lives: No. This is the dilemma that is core to the philosophical context of Breaking Bad and the one I’d like to explore further in this essay. Walter White’s actions are the result of a rational decision to provide a product to people whom have voluntarily decided to consume it - to their own detriment notwithstanding - to make a profit to be used for his family’s livelihood. Walter White cannot do what he does without taking tremendous risks - imposed wholly by the societal context in which he finds himself. 

This concludes Part 1. I welcome comments. As always, please keep it civil.

Poker within the context of economic theory

Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources, which have alternative uses.

-Thomas Sowell

I am a poker player. My fundamental problem with poker had been its status as a zero sum game - and the resulting chastisement of this hobby of mine among certain members of my family and friends. I am also an entrepreneur. I am driven by wealth creation - the polar opposite of a zero sum proposition. This is a dilemma and seeming contradiction, which has gnawed at me throughout my poker career.

Per game theory’s purist tenets, poker is indeed a zero sum game.

I think of it more as a perfect study of economic theory. Further, I would posit poker is a mechanism of indirect wealth creation - and therefore challenge the very notion of it being a zero sum activity (while fully preserving its status as such in the context of game theory).

In any version of poker, there are two core parties: a winner and a loser - but these two parties only win and lose in dollar terms. In reality, however, both parties benefit - so long as the loser doesn’t happen to be a degenerate gambler (caveat: most losing poker players, including myself, have counted themselves in the ranks of degenerate gamblers at one time or another).

Among responsible adults, poker is either a pastime, a part-time job, or a full-time source of income, and a variety of combinations thereof. For those to whom it is a pastime, it serves as a good way to socialize, spend time satisfying competitive urges, watch a televised game while having a beer, etc. For this group, losing money, while not necessarily pleasant, is simply the cost of admittance. For the ones who play poker as a source of income - whether full-time, part-time, or anything in between - it is a competitive activity in which the score is tallied in terms of the dollars won or lost. In any of these cases, the exchange is voluntary. 

As I had established in the very beginning, “economics is the study of the use of scarce resources, which have alternative uses.” In the poker world, the resources are money and time. When a losing poker player decides to step into a casino or a card-room, he allocates some of his dollars and some of his time towards either entertainment or towards an income. In either case, win or lose, the assumption is that the poker player perceives a tangible benefit from participation in the activity. 

I’d like to finish by saying that poker serves as a mechanism for indirect wealth creation. When a losing poker player allocates some of his excess time and money (resources that are in scarce supply to others, but not to him), these resources are transferred to people whom will eventually make greater use of them. The winners of a poker game will go on to purchase goods and services. If they are especially profitable, they will go on to purchase real estate, start businesses, hire employees, etc. All of these examples constitute wealth creation. 

A conversation among a few of my Facebook friends and me about what I consider to be idiotic syllogisms of the English lexicon: phrases like “no worries,” “no problem,” “have no fear,” etc. I think that they place the conversation partner in a somewhat awkward position of a negative assumption. For example, telling someone “no worries” is the equivalent of saying: “You thought I was worried, but I wasn’t” or “you shouldn’t be worried about it.” Well why are those assumptions made? Why can’t we be more positive and optimistic in our day-to-day conversations? That’s the subject of this discussion :)