Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Favorite Poker Games

1. Pot Limit Omaha

The most popular form of Poker today is Texas Hold 'Em where you get 2 cards in your hand, and 5 community cards. Omaha is the same except you get 4 in your hand. Also, unlike in Hold Em, where you're allowed to play 1 (or 0) cards from your hand w/ 4 from the community cards, in PLO you must use 2 from your hand with 3 from the community cards to make your best 5 card hand. Also, the most popular form of Omaha is played Pot Limit, which means you can only bet the size of the pot at any given time.

Of course this makes for a drastically different game. Here are some of the key differences between the games:

* Stronger hands are necessary to win at showdown in PLO. Where in HE 2 pair is a strong hand in most situations, you will often need a flush or better by the river in order to have a strong holding in PLO (depending on the board).
* Hand values run closer together in PLO than in HE. That is, any 4 cards before the flop are usually not a large favorite over any 4.
* 'Drawing' hands are extremely powerful. Drawing hands in HE are almost always an underdog to the 'made' hand, where in PLO the drawing hand can easily have a made hand on the flop in bad shape.
* Pots are bigger in PLO. Because hand values run closer together people tend to play more hands, and since everyone connects with the board more often, there's a lot more action in this game.
* Because hand values change drastically from card-to-card, big bluffs on the turn or the river become near mandatory fairly often, where in Hold Em that's less the case.

Amongst others.

2. No Limit Texas Hold 'Em (w antes)

The 'cadillac' of poker, as it was referred to for years, is an excellent game. Unlike in Pot-Limit Omaha, because there are only 2 cards in your hand and only 3 on the flop, there arise many situations where neither player in a hand has either a strong hand OR a strong draw. This has a few implications. First, that you have to bluff a decent amount, at least in small pots, because it's so likely your opponents don't have anything. And secondly, you sometimes have to call bets with fairly weak holdings especially against aggressive opponents. To contrast, in pot limit Omaha you can play a solid, winning strategy by almost never purely 'bluffing' early in the hand (i.e. preflop or on the flop). Though in that game you will sometimes need to bluff the turn or river, as discussed.

In NLHE, again, contrasted with PLO, hand values are much more divergent. In NLHE there arise all kinds of situations preflop or on the flop where you are a dominating favorite over your opponent. Such as your JJ against his 99, or your AK against someone's AQ. Or your AA against their.. anything. Because of this NLHE is a game where your preflop starting hand requirements are extremely important, and having a feel for how people play different types of hands from the very beginning of the hand, preflop, is essential. Whereas in a game like PLO, your starting hand requirements aren't as important, and being able to put people on a 'range of hands' preflop isn't as an important skill. In PLO it's more important to figure out what type of hand they have on later streets than from the beginning. Because the games differ in these ways, there are certain things about NLHE that aren't there in PLO, which are interesting game elements to have.

The 'w/ antes' caveat at the top is there because without antes the game of NLHE isn't as good. It comes theoretically correct to play very tight w/o antes. With antes the game is more loose and more interesting.

3. No Limit Deuce-to-Seven Single draw

We are already entering territory where I have no formal education, outside of general poker theory. But, in this case, i'm not the only one. The highest stakes 2-7 NL games that run on PokerStars are $0.25/$0.5 blinds (extremely low), and the play there is very bad. So, essentially, either virtually no one in the world knows how to play this game, or at least virtually no one likes to, for some reason. In any case, like #1 and #2, this is another 'big-bet' game (as opposed to a 'limit' game), which is my favorite form of poker. And for some reason this game seems to be much more skillful than regular 5-card draw, though that could just be a misconception from my limited experience.

This game has a small blind and big blind, just like NLHE and PLO, and is played like 5-card draw, but rather than making your best hand you're attempting to make your worst hand. It's a lowball game. Straights and flushes count against you, and an Ace counts as a high card. So the best hand in this game is 75432 - no pair, no straight, no flush, 5 lowest cards possible. There's one betting round before the draw, and one after.

I think, for some reason, the fact that the only 'hand values' in the game are lowest card, rather than pair, 2 pair, 3 of a kind, straight, etc. lends itself to a better game for the 5-card draw structure than does 5-card draw, high.

4. 7 Card Stud - High

The top 3 games are really the only forms of poker I like a whole lot, and play somewhat regularly. Limit forms of poker, like 7 card stud, are much less interesting to me. But I still like to play them occasionally.

5. Pot Limit Omaha - 8-or-better

This is just like PLO, but in this game if you have 5 cards 8 or lower then you have a 'low' hand, and you split the pot with the high hand winner. I don't like splitting pots, though, so it's not my favorite game. But it's still pretty good.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shrinking Middle Class? Not Exactly.

You may have heard in the media, or from politicians talk of "the shrinking middle class". And while this can be said to be technically true, it's only through statistical sleight of hand that you can get there. The 'data' used to support the shrinking-middle-class theory is arrived at by defining a certain, static income bracket that defines the middle class (say $40k - $50k), which was perhaps the true median-income level at some point in the past, and claiming that the amount of people in that bracket is shrinking as we move forward in time (which is true), but then ignoring the reason that it is shrinking is because average incomes are moving up, not down, along the curve.

To illustrate, here is a (very rough) approximation of what I'm talking about, via a bell-curve distribution of incomes:

Some point in the past:


Clearly in the second graph the number of people in that income-range has shrunk. But the median income has shifted and become larger. The actual size of the true middle class hasn't changed at all, if you shift the definition of it with the shifting median.

In summary, beware of snakes with forked tongues. Yes, the 'middle class' (if defined as a certain static income-range) is shrinking. No, it's not because the rich are plundering the poor. Economics is not a zero-sum game.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sowell on "Income Distribution"

The very phrase “income distribution” is tendentious. It starts the economic story in the middle, with a body of income or wealth existing somehow, leaving only the question as to how that income or wealth is to be distributed or “apportioned” as professor Hacker puts it.

In the real world, the situation is quite different. In a market economy, most people receive income as a result of what they produce, supplying other people with some goods or services that those people want, even if that service is only labor. Each recipient of these goods and services pays according to the value which that particular recipient puts on what is received, choosing among alternative suppliers to find the best combination of price and quality — both as judged by the individual who is paying.

This mundane, utilitarian process is quite different from the vision of “income distribution” projected by those among the intelligentsia who invest that vision with moral angst. If there really were some pre-existing body of income or wealth, produced somehow — manna from heaven, as it were — then there would of course be a moral question as to how large a share each member of society should receive.

But wealth is produced. It does not just exist somehow. Where millions of individuals are paid according to how much what they produce is valued subjectively by millions of other individuals, it is not at all clear on what basis third parties could say that some goods or services are over-valued or under-valued, that cooking should be valued more or carpentry should be valued less, for example, much less that not working at all is not rewarded enough compared to working.

- Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care: Why Not?

A lot of my fellow Conservatives are out stating many strong reasons why healthcare reform should not have been passed, and why it's detrimental to our society. The largest of these has been the fiscal argument; that we simply can't afford this bill. And they are absolutely right, of course. This bill, combined with the rest of the insane government spending under this administration, is going to lead to inflation, destroy the currency and bankrupt your children. So, yes, this reasoning alone is more than enough to be vehemently against healthcare reform.

However, there's an even more fundamental reason to be against it. That is; it's not within the federal government's authority, per the Constitution. Thankfully, due to Republican obstructionism and moderate democratic opposition, this bill is not a full-blown takeover of healthcare at this juncture. Concessions had to be made in order to get it passed. But it is a definite step in that direction.

Government takeover of healthcare is in fact an illegitimate seizure of your liberty. Some people, perhaps, are willing to give up some bits and pieces of liberty for what they feel is security. The problem is, even if you do feel that way, there's a slippery slope involved. As your freedom and liberty slips away piece by piece eventually they're going to be taking over areas that you aren't comfortable with. Or, worse still, we become so accustomed to our liberty being eroded we become numb to it and drift along into 'utopia', in the process ceasing to be individuals at all, instead becoming drones under a tyrannical government. That might come off a bit melodramatic, but you can see some pretty dramatic changes in our society happening before our eyes already.

Further, even if a majority of the country did feel that way (that they'd give up some liberty for some 'security'), it wouldn't matter. The Constitution controls over the whims of the people. And the Constitution is a document of limited enumerated powers for the federal government. Healthcare is not one of those powers, and thus is not within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Consult the 10th amendment. Of course this fact has been obscured by rhetoric and decades of judicial misinterpretation, but it's right there, in black and white. Plain as day.

Republicans who echo Democratic rhetoric by talking about things like "controlling costs", and "making healthcare affordable" do a disservice to conservative principles. Aside from protecting against fraud, and perhaps from reforming the legal system so that frivolous lawsuits aren't as prevalent, government has no business attempting to "control costs" of anything, healthcare included. The costs are the costs. I suppose it's understandable that politicians have to employ such rhetoric so as not to come off heartless, but as non-politicians it's important for us to not fall into these trappings and adopt the rhetoric of the left and use it to frame the debate. No we don't want to control costs. Yes, I'm fine with that. No that doesn't make me heartless. Doctors charge what they need to charge, patients pay what they can, and when someone can't afford it we as family, and communities step in to fill that void, either directly or by setting up organizations to address the matter. There is nothing unreasonable or unworkable about the idea of self-responsibility extending to healthcare. To the extent reforms in our current system need to happen they need to happen in that direction, rather than this, the opposite direction.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kafkaesque Bureaucracy

I work for a governmental agency and today someone accidentally sent out an email and put the entire organization in the CC line, rather than put them in the 'To' part. Some people didn't think they should be getting the email, so they responded and asked to be taken off the list, but the way the initial email was formatted caused their replies to go to the entire organization as well, EVEN IF they didn't hit 'Reply to all'. Everyone in the organization began to get emails at a dizzying pace, at this point.

Then people began replying to the replies saying things like "Please stop hitting reply to all!" or "Ok. Stop it. Send it to the sender only. Hit reply. Not reply to all.", or "DON'T REPLY TO ALL! YOU'RE CLOGGING MY EMAIL!", which everyone also recieved. Yet, at this point, the mass of email replies everyone was getting ALL said this same basic message. Now, either these people intentionally hit "Reply to all" themselves (while telling others NOT to hit "reply to all"), in order to get their vastly important message out, so that everyone could be enlightened, or they didn't hit "reply to all" (so as to follow their own advice), in which case the only person who would theoretically see their reply was the original sender. In which case their email would serve no purpose as no one would see it. Not to mention the mind boggling irony in sending out messages saying "stop replying to all, you're clogging my email!", whilst recieving 100s of emails that all say "stop replying to all, you're clogging my email!"

That this many people, literally hundreds of people, could all be so dense not to realize that them attempting to tell others not to reply in order to stop a problem, had become the entirety of the problem itself, is unbelievable. If they followed their own advice, and everyone else did as well, the problem would cease.

I realize this is a bit dizzying and convolved, but I just found it fascinating and comically surreal.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dissecting Propaganda - Why We're Fat

The implication of these pyramids is that the government is keeping us fat through it's farm subsidy policy. A corrolary of this implication is that the solution to our 'obesity problem' is one that must be addressed through government action, or reform of government policy.

What's missing from this data is a third pyramid titled "What food people like, and choose to eat, the most." If this pyramid were shown it would undoubtedly mirror the pyramid on the left very closely. In other words, the government doesn't arbitrarily set subsidy policy independent of the will of the people. A salad costs more than a Big Mac because the demand for salads is lower. Government subsidies are the way they are because we choose to live, and eat, the way that we do. If we all ate like rabbits, farms would go out of business, and the government would have no reason to continue subsidizing them.

None of this is to say that I'm in favor of farm subsidies, I'm not. It's simply to point out the misleading nature of graph comparisons like these. They're intended to make us feel like victims of some greater force beyond our control, when really, if we're victims of anything, it's our own eating habits. So while they want you to see this data and think "Uncle Sam is responsible for making me fat!", what the data actually reveals is what any child knows; what tastes good often differs from what is good for you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

'Why' Questions Are Inherently Questions About God

When you ask 'why', you are asking 'for what purpose?', 'for what reason?' or 'to what end?' Inherent in any question of 'why' is the assumption that there is a rational intelligence behind whatever system, or set of facts the question is being asked about. For example, if you ask 'why' the sun rises every day, a scientist might (errantly) explain the various physical mechanisms and facts that we know lead to the sun rising. The scientist is really answering the question of 'how', and not 'why'. When you ask why the sun rises, you're asking for what purpose. Even asking the question implies a recognition of a will, and of an intelligence, responsible for making the sun rise. For it makes no sense to ask 'for what purpose' or 'to what end', or 'why' a random, chaotic, un-planned event happened.

If you are a naturalist, that is you believe the natural world is all that exists, then you can only rightly ask 'why' questions about human decisions. Why this person did this, or why did that guy do that. You can't coherently ask 'why' questions about any natural phenomena that occur independent of human will, for the question becomes nonsense. 'Why is the sky blue?', 'Why do earthquakes occur?', 'Why does the mockingbird sing?' Forget about being answered, none of these questions can even be asked by a naturalist. They must either be recognized as incoherent, or the 'why's must be replaced with 'how's.

Therefore it's my contention that the very fact that 'Why' questions preoccupy so much of human inquiry, probably the vast majority of it, is evidence that God exists. If we are solely the product of natural phenomena, then what evolutionary paradigm could our mental preoccupation with the nonsensical question of 'why' possibly serve? As a matter of fact, in evolutionary terms, that very preoccupation would be a quite costly, and dangerous distraction from more pertinent questions such as 'when' 'where' and' how' to secure our next meal, for example.

But if we are the product of a will, and of an intelligence, made in that image, then it follows that we would want to understand the reason behind events occuring. And that the rational being that created us would endow us with rational faculties of our own, and a curiosity to understand not only the what, where, when and how, but also the why.