Sunday, February 21, 2010

Poker, Pudding and my Monthly Brush with Fame

I love poker. I think it is the perfect combination of math, strategy, risk, psychology, camaraderie and randomness.[1] 2009 was a phenomenal poker year for me. I won 3 of the 7 tournaments I played in. Some of this is just a predictable positive stochastic perturbation after a dry run that was worse than my game justified. But I also think I am getting better. The progression of my poker game included eight major conceptual thresholds. The last three didn’t really develop until this year and, I think, contributed to the success.

1. Play too many hands too long and paradoxically fold too easily (standard beginner errors)
2. Tighten up and play only premium hands. This resulted in substantial improvement.[2]
3. Start computing and utilizing pot odds statistics.
4. Loosen up a bit.[3]
5. Start playing ‘implied odds’.[4]
6. Try to put my opponent on a hand.
7. Pay more attention to position.
8. Play fewer ‘premium hands’ in early position and more ‘sneaky hands,’[5] cheaply in late position.

My friend Dave took professional looking pictures at the last tournament.

Dave has a nickname that is worth writing about. We call him ‘pudding’. About a decade ago Healthy Choice had a promotion where they gave away airline miles on their product packaging. However, they did not adjust the number of miles you got for the cost of the product. So there was a guy who calculated that if you bought the individual puddings, it was an extraordinarily good deal on airfare. He purchased $3,000 of pudding and made an agreement with a local food pantry that if they pulled the tops off all the packages for him, they could serve the pudding. He ended up with millions of frequent flyer miles and is still traveling the world on them years later. He did the major talk show circuits and was covered by most major news outlets. I was living in NY at the time and remember hearing about this. A few years ago, Adam Sandler’s character in Punch Drunk Love[6] did the same thing, based on this guy’s story.

It is an urban legend with a "true" status on and the 'pudding guy' has his own Wikipedia page. This guy is Dave[7]. I play poker with the Healthy Choice pudding guy.[8]


[1] So I am going to write about it in what must seem like my continued attempt to make this blog so thematically eclectic that it is impossible to follow.
[2] I played pretty well through this stretch but ran into a protracted period of bad luck. (As diagnosed by others since we are such poor evaluators of our own luck). At one point my friend Jason and John were picking on me about this and suggested that ‘I should try living right’ comically implying that I had suffered from such an unlikely string of 2-5% bad beats that God must clearly be against me. My response: “You guys should just be grateful that you are profiting from my character formation.”
[3] This went well at first because everyone has me pegged as a tight player, but soon resulted in nearly a year long slump.
[4] When you do the math, you need to consider not only the money that is in the pot, but how much of your opponents money you can get them to bet if you hit a sneaky hand. There is another layer to the math than straight odds.
[5] A-10 looses way more money over the long haul than 7-6. If you hit 7-6 (either with two pair or a straight draw) you hit it and if you miss it, it is easy to fold. Conversely, if you pair the ace in A-10, you could be in a lot of trouble. The point is to lose small hands and win big ones. Also, opponents rarely suspect you to be in a big pot with 7-6, so they will often try to push with A-K, A-Q or something like that if the board is uninspiring.
[6] I did not like this movie, but a great role for Sandler.
[7] Dave, incidentally, is nothing like Sandler’s character in PDL. In the movie it is a symbol of a guy with great plans but that never goes anywhere. Dave has taken full advantage of the miles.
[8] Speaking of brushes with greatness, I shared a gondola with an actor the other day. I can not reproduce his name or even anything I have seen him in…prompting my friend Jason to deem it ‘the worst story ever’ when I shared it at poker. But one of the other guys in the gondola confirmed my suspicion when he told the nameless actor that he liked his movies. It seems like I have seen him play minor villain roles or management roles (i.e. the kind of guy Bruce Willis would ask permission from to do something and then ignore it). He struck me as a poor man’s Chris Cooper, which, I guess, makes him a homeless man’s Matt Damon (in Simmons parlance).


JMBower said...

fantastic shots, especially the first one. It blows my mind that you know the pudding guy. That's impressive in a really weird, uniquely American way.

Joel said...

At least you approach poker with strategy. My game play is based on the idea that some of the cards look good and I hope everyone else has bad ones.

Also, like Justin, I am impressed with your friendship with Dave, the pudding guy. I remember hearing about him.