Monday, December 22, 2008

Tagged. And I almost missed it!

The Rules:

  • Link to the original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 facts about myself in the post - some random, some weird.
  • Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

Tagged. I think this is blogger PVP. And it happened like a week ago…so I got ganked and missed it! Ok…time to catch up then:

7 Facts about myself:

1) After 20 years of active duty US Navy, retired Chief, endless nautical fun, I’m back working for the Government at the Naval Hospital I started at in 1987. Loving it.

2) I have lived in Florida, Texas, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, Missouri, California, and Illinois. During my formative years we raised: Sheep, Horses, Cows, Pigs, & Chickens.

3) I love online gaming (shocker!). Played: Island of Kesmai (compuserve), Gemstone, Dragonrealms (AoL), Ultima Online, Runescape, City of Heroes, Everquest I&II, WoW, Tabula Rasa, Dark Age of Camelot, EVE…and others I have forgotten.

4) It’s amazing how much Letrange and I have in common regarding our thoughts on spam and chain mail.

5) When I used to play Magic:The Gathering competively I learned that I was the kind of gamer Wizards of the Coast coined ‘Timmy’. The guy who loves to tweek. To figure out the inner workings of a rule set and discern the optimal approach to winning. I love to system analyze a game, find profit margins in the economy, damage ratios in the combat, and the most efficient approach to crafting.
‘Timmy’, we don’t just make the flavor of the month, we make the flavor of the month taste better!

6) Before Obama has been President for 2 weeks I will have turned 40 years old.

7) I adore San Diego. The weather here is pristine and everything (scuba, surf, snow skiing, casinos, wilderness, urban shopping) is right nearby.

So, Ga’Len tagged me good and those are my 7 facts. I’m loving the EVE Blogosphere and hope to keep posting and reading others’ great posts.

The Many and Varied Threads We Weave

Sometimes, it’s tough to figure out where you are going. I struggle with this feeling a lot because, although I am terrific at starting a new task or tackling a challenge, I tend to lack the momentum needed to see each endeavor through to the end. I lose interest in my undertakings often and manage to get things done half way.

I have found that, for myself, it is necessary to frequently re-assess my direction and try to stay focused on what is important to me. Because of my tendency to lose interest in what were previously very engaging projects, I try to diversify my activities and constantly renew my interest in the ones that are starting to lose my attention.

I began my journey in New Eden by enrolling in EVE University. I learned a great deal there about flying with a fair amount of discipline in a massive fleet full of ferocious frigates frothing for a fight.

My initial direction in EVE was going to be commercial trading and business, but like many other pilots I discovered that you can’t make a big pile of isk without starting with a big pile of isk. Thus, I began diversifying my skillsets in order to find what interested me most.

Faction Warfare came along and I dropped my degree program at the University to pick up the Caldari Militia standard and run with that. I did the plex capture/defend thing. I did the militia fleet blob thing. I joined a couple of good corporations and did the small gang and even Hi Sec warfare thing. I focused mostly on ECM skills and T2 frigates. I can now fly every Caldari T2 frigate with some degree of success.

The doldrums of attention span caught up with me again and I retired my commission with the Caldari Navy Reserve (CAIN) in order to pursue other things around the galaxy.

Then I found out about Poker in EVE and I’ve been doing that as well as learning a great deal about Exploration. In fact, Poker and Exploration crossed paths last night!

I had just scanned down a combat plex in Yria (0.5sec in The Citadel). I was shuttling back to my Lo Sec system to grab an assault frigate when someone in local said Hello.

I must admit, at first I didn’t recognize Niraia but when she said she was from Eve Online Hold’em I remembered. She asked me if I happened to be packing a remote armor repper. I replied I was not and was just rushing through system. It seems some gate sentry gunners took offense to her unwarranted attack on a ship flown by a banker from the poker room. This sounded like a very interesting tale but I really was just passing through. Off I went.
On the return leg, now in my Rail Harpy, I saw Niraia in the same system and said hello in local, asking how she was. She replied that she’d just lost her ship after finding yet another banker on a gate and attempting to ambush yet again. This time, apparently, the gate guns had their way with her vessel.

I wondered aloud whether she had it in for the bankers from the card room; maybe she’d been cold decked for awhile or something. No, she was just having a bit of holiday fun.
And off I went to run that combat plex.

So, what’s the point of this whole tale? I think it is my year in review (I’m just over 1 EVE year old) and my attempt to refocus yet again. And it’s a way of seeing all these varied threads of activity starting to slowly weave together into some kind of tapestry.

Thanks for reading and remember, if you are getting bad cards at the table don’t blame the dealer. Change tables, change games, take a break, diversify!
AND – if you feel the inexplicable need to attack a banker on a hot gate, use that snowball launcher you just got! It will save you some insurance fees.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Whose Hand are you Playing?

There are stages to a poker players’ education. But they’re not stages like floors you can get to on an elevator, not nearly that well defined. They are more like evolutionary phases that you can place someone in roughly.

When you begin playing poker, you learn the rules and start to learn the pace of play. Understanding where the action is and what your options are when it is your turn to act.
During this and many subsequent phases, the new poker player plays his own had. You get two cards and those are the ones you play. You act according to the relative strength or weakness of your hand.

There is nothing wrong with this; it’s just the beginning phase of poker hand play. You raise with strong hands, call with moderate ones and fold the weak majority.

The next phase involves playing based on your position. You fold KJ suited in early position (Under the Gun, +1, and +2) because it can’t really stand the likelihood of a raise from the 4-6 players behind you. You raise the exact same hand in the Cutoff or on the Button because you are either responding to the lack of raises in front or representing a stronger hand, thus allowing a more believable continuation bet on the flop.
So, in this phase you’re still playing your cards but you’re also playing your position.

After this, the evolving poker player starts playing other peoples positions against them.
What you have in your hand doesn’t make much difference, if there are only 2 or three people left to act and the blinds and stack sizes permit, you will raise with anything. And as long as the situation warrants it and this tactic wins more chips than it loses over time…it is correct to do so. This is what is known as Positive Expected Value (+EV).

Wikipedia denotes EV and gambling as this:

‘There are three variables common to all forms of gambling:
How much is being wagered, the initial stake (in money or material goods).
The predictability of the event.
In mechanical or electronic gambling such as lotteries, slot machines and bingo, the results are random and unpredictable; no amount of skill or knowledge (assuming machinery is functioning as intended) can give an advantage in predictability to anyone.
However, for sports events such as horse racing and soccer matches there is some predictability to the outcome; thus a person with greater knowledge and/or skill will have an advantage over others.
The odds agreed between the two (or more) parties to the wager; where there is a house or a bookmaker, the odds are (quite legally) arranged in favor of the house.
The expected value, positive or negative, is a mathematical calculation using these three variables. The amount wagered determines the scale of an individual wager (bet); the odds and the amount wagered determine the payout if successful; the predictability determines the frequency of success. Finally the frequency of success times the payout minus the amount wagered equals the "expected value" The skill of a gambler lies in understanding and maneuvering the three variables so that the "actual value" is positive over a series of wagers.’

The phase of card play that evolves after playing according to your opponent’s position is playing your opponent’s hand. In order to do this effectively you must develop the skill of placing your opponent on a range of hands based upon all the information you have at a given moment. How have they played in the past, how do they play in this position, how do they play with this stack size, are they currently playing on tilt or erratically? What hand does their bet size represent? These and a myriad of other data will feed into an estimate of a range of hands your opponent might be holding. As with all things, experience and trial & error will hone this ability.
But once you are confident what kind of hand your adversary is holding you can play HIS hand instead of your own. You can raise with air and fold your over pair with ease. You can act with confidence out of position and with over confidence in position.

Ever heard of Annette Obrestad? Her account of winning a 180 person tourney while not looking at her own cards is fairly well documented and believable given her phenomenal skill.

It is important to push yourself as a player along the evolutionary scale of poker skill. And it is vital to try and recognize where your enemies are on this scale in order to play effectively against them. If you get too comfortable with your game you tend to stagnate. That way lies poker extinction!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Variety is the Spice of Life

I apologize to the three of you that read this blog for my extended lack of input.
I have had quite a productive week even though my post count cannot attest to it.

I got a new computer from NewEgg.Com. It has 4 times the RAM and an NVIDIA graphics card that allows me to see EVE for the first time in premium graphics. Now that right there would be enough to distract me for a few days…but!

A Tale in the Desert IV started on Saturday and I was working in the open beta for a few days prior to that. ATITD tends to appeal to a wedge of the gaming market that doesn’t crave the fast action, bright lights and rampant violence of a lot of today’s top offerings.

What ATITD players love is complex social team work enmeshed in the most intricate crafting system on the market. If you ever hit that wall where WAR and WOW and even EVE are feeling stale stroll on over to electronic Egypt and see what we’re building (and brewing)!

Now, THAT would certainly be enough to drag me away from blogging for a week BUT!

PokerSchoolOnline is having a holiday surge of activity and I’ve been doing quite well in the beginner’s and Bronze league play. I have a bookcase at home with two large shelves dedicated to and filled up with poker books. I have played steadily since mid-late 2001. I’m the kind of person that tears through something that grabs my interest. I love to dissect every aspect of a topic that I’m into. I played for a long time, many years ago, before poker’s online boom, at PSO. The great thing about this place is, well, let me list them:

· Terrific Software – with note taking, stat tracking, table & betting options, etc
· Dedicated Teaching Environment – PSO has a large faculty of pros that contribute to everyone’s game. And the players/students are all very interested in improving each others’ abilities.
· League Competition – You play for PSO money, not ISK, so you won’t lose your shirt while gaining an edge. But the sense of serious competition is maintained through league play and ladder rankings.
· Sponsorship – Your success will translate into dollar value through paid entry into live poker events and sponsorship/backing by PSO. PSO has had players at the final table of the WSOP. I was there in Binion’s to see it.

So, those things have keep me busy over the past week. I hope to bring more input to this blog very soon. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Of Learning Curves

We’ve all seen the picture of EVE’s learning curve. It is so funny because it’s so true. The learning curve in the game of poker may not be as steep (not at first in any case) but it goes on much farther.

I was trying to figure out why this is. According to the rules, poker is a very simple game. Yet the mastery of it can take decades if it is ever achievable at all.

As far as massively multiplayer games go, EVE is one of if not the most complex in terms of diversity and variety of content. The number of mechanics and tools and possible interactions dwarfs those of some of EVE’s popular competitors.

Why, then, does it take longer to be very good at poker than it takes to be ‘very good’ at EVE?

Let’s examine what they have in common and how they differ. In terms of commonalities I would say: both are games, both focus heavily on PVP, skill at both requires strategic and tactical thought. Risk versus reward is a prime consideration in both. And economy of action is also a predominate feature. By this last I mean, “How much will taking this action cost me?”

What are their differing qualities? There are considerably fewer actions that can be taken in poker than can be performed in EVE. There are usually fewer participants in a given iteration of poker but, to some degree, EVE can be played in a more solo fashion if one chooses. A single iteration (hand, game, tournament) of poker takes less time than the open ended, ongoing duration of EVE. This last point is countered by the argument that many accomplished poker players attest that poker should be viewed as a single life-long game.

And here is my final example of a prime difference between the two: EVE is much closer to a game of perfect information than that of poker.
An example of a game of perfect information is chess. Both players know, at any given moment, all of the pertinent information about the current state of the game. The only information in chess that is unknown is what action will be taken in the future by your opponent. And given the limited number of various allowable moves, this possible future action can be more easily deduced and planned for.

In EVE there are innumerable variables. Who are my opponents, where are they, what are they flying, selling, fitting, plotting? What are their skills? Who are their allies? But all of this information is, to one degree or another, discernable. With the right intel, recon, communication and time, a great deal of information can be deduced about the opposition in EVE. Granted, the vast majority of such data is never gathered or even considered but it could be.

Poker, for all its simplicity, is a game of uncertain information. There are only 52 cards in play but most of them are hidden at any given point in a hand. Add to this the random factor that cards are shuffled in the deck and dealt out to players and the lack of firm data becomes a very considerable problem. As a matter of fact, it is poker’s relatively small number of rules and possible actions coupled with this randomness and lack of clear info that makes it such a difficult game to master.

Why? Because in EVE if you know some of the information you need (who are my enemies, where are they, what might they be in) you can extrapolate a great deal of data. You know, roughly how much damage they can do in how many seconds. You know how long it could take you to get off a gate. There is some very fine documentation about the formulas for how things work in EVE. And, most importantly there are a myriad of things at work! The sheer number of variables begins to act as a buffer of protection.
Like a lone zebra in a massive herd you just need to know the general direction of the lions…not that they’ve recently sharpened their claws or that 15 of the 100 zebra between you and them are considering running left versus right.

In poker there is a proportionately greater amount of hidden data that cannot be determined and comparatively fewer overall possible actions and outcomes. This is why, in any given hand a rank amateur can win against a consummate pro. And this also accounts for why pros suggest that poker should be viewed as a single life-long game.

A lot of people refer to the random factors in poker collectively as Luck. And they lump poker in with other games governed by randomness as gambling. But on the strata of games governed to some degree by chance, I would place poker closer to EVE than I would to many of the others.

An example of the line might look like: Coin Flipping, Slot Machines, Roulette, Ro-Sham-Bo, Black Jack, Poker, EVE, and Chess.

Where randomness versus discernable information can directly effect the outcome of the game.

In a future post I want to talk more about poker as a game of skill versus chance and how it is viewed by popular culture as well as US legislation.

For now, I feel like I’m still way way down the learning curve in both poker and EVE.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Networking is a River

I want to thank CrazyKinux for adding me to the EVE Blogroll. I’m thrilled to have the kind of exposure that such a place provides. PocketPairs&PodPilots got started because of my explorations through CK’s site and all of the links to amazing content.

Networking is not something that came about with MySpace or Facebook. It has been around since before the internet, before board room meetings, before organized society and probably before language.

But each step we take along the path of networking evolution enhances the effect and benefits that it provides. Networking is a river that can sweep us up and move us to places faster than we thought possible. It is a force multiplier towards whatever goal we set for ourselves.

Listening to some of the ideas and plans that CCP revealed during this year’s FanFest was very exciting. I believe they are realizing (faster than their competition) the powerful effects that networking tools will bring to the EVE community.

And just like the Obama campaign demonstrated how an innovative, distributed approach to election networking can revolutionize how a society can be motivated toward a lofty goal, CrazyKinux is building a grassroots movement, a groundswell of positive networking for the EVE Online community.

You don’t have to be a blogger to contribute (I’ve been a blogger for all of five days and I’ve contributed by following for over a year), but you do have to be involved.
Read, think, decide and most importantly: Feedback. Comment on what you like and what you don’t. Participate in this river of networking change!

Thanks to CK and all that add to the flow of what we’re doing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poker Personality

What is the stereotypical poker player?

Wild Bill Hickock ? Doyle Brunson ? Mynxee ? Ricdic ?

Truth is, there are a lot of characteristics that go into what common culture deems the stereotype of a poker player. And those characteristics change over time.

Everyone plays poker. Most of us do it with cards and chips; flushes, straights and overpairs…some of us do it with long range scanners, gate camps and blockade runners.
Others prefer senate confirmation hearings, EBay auctions, or school report deadlines.
But we all play.

I want to speak briefly about one of the personality traits common to real poker players that I have not only had the privilege to witness but read about countless times in poker literature. Trustworthiness.

There are innumerable accounts of players giving one another staggering sums of cash, credit or favor with the express understanding that such would be repaid in due course and at the soonest opportunity. I find it ironic to note that, in light of the recent world credit crunch, the largest economic powerhouses on the planet don’t trust one another enough to extend financial faith when it is in everyone’s best interest – yet poker players do so as a matter of course and with much less leverage.

I needed a link or two as well documented examples to regale you fine readers with….alas I am unable to reach them at the moment (trust me, I’m a poker player).

But I will attest to the event I saw just last evening while docked up in a Black Rise station. I was recovering after my Hilton Sisters (QQ) were promptly snapped off by Sergiiy {I do hope my memory is correct here; hand history is not my forte} with Q6off when the flop brought a 6 and the turn another. The 28million Isk buy in, 6 player double-thru table finished just as bankers and dealers were changing out in the EVE Online Hold’Em chat channel.

There was obviously a bit of confusion about the buy in and pay outs as Antron, the new banker, assumed this was a 54million Isk game. It became apparent that Levka ( an upstanding member of Black Nova Corporation and one of the top 3 finishers) got paid more than the expected sum. Chat looked something like this:

Antron: Levka, are you there?

Antron: Levka?

Diametrix: uh oh. I think Levka got overpaid and may have left the building…

Diametrix: ‘beullar? beullar?’

Levka: I’m here. Wait, I need to send more.

Levka: Ok…that does it.

Antron: Thanks.

And just like that I realized poker in EVE is no different than poker on Earth. It doesn’t matter if he’s a pirate, miner or trade mogul – he’s a poker player and that comes first.

Your name and reputation are only as good as your actions and your quality and value as a player are dependent to a degree on that reputation.

I’m very happy to have found this community in New Eden and look forward to trading pots and thoughts with all of you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Controlling the Pot

Mike Sexton and a few others like to call No Limit Hold’Em the Cadillac of Poker. And, although some very serious high stakes limit players (Doyle, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Jen Harman) can attest to the depth and complex strategy of limit play, No Limit demands a whole new set of tools and tactics when it comes to betting.

As an aside, I would suggest that the ‘Cadillac of Poker’ moniker has as much or more to do with building the brand that the WPT represents as it does with the complexity and difficulty of NLHE.

But there is a concept that is essential in poker as a whole and no limit in particular: pot control. A player controls the size of the pot and to some degree the size of subsequent betting by sizing each bet placed with regard to the overall pot size and relative to the involved stack sizes.

An example of this technique, say the blinds and antes pre-flop add up to 50 and 5 players see the flop. Player A has a stack size of 200, player B has 150 and player C has 700, D has 300 in the SB and E in the BB has 200. The blinds were, say, 5 and 10.

This means there were 3 callers and the SB completed and the BB checked. On the flop the SB checks and the BB likes his hand and the flop. What is an appropriate sized bet if he wants to take the pot here and now??
50, 10 or 30?

I see a lot of bets on a pot like this in the 10 range. I hate this sized bet. Sometimes I see bets in the 100+ range. I hate this bet too, especially if made in early position with others still to act.

But this is my dilemma. I’m struggling in a new poker field (EVE Online Hold’Em) to figure out what is the norm for bet sizes and why it’s the norm and what a particular bet size is communicating. Does this guy bet 10 because he’s building a pot? Is he afraid he’ll look too weak with a check? Does he expect me to take this bet seriously as though he has a made hand?

The overbet can be confusing too. Why are you betting 100+ into a 50 pot with people to act behind you, especially if the bet constitutes almost half your stack?

I don’t expect people to play with their hands face up or to always check with nothing and bet half the stack with top pair solid kicker. But when I’m starting to play in an unknown field it can be a challenge to figure out whether my opponent understands why bet size matters and to appreciate what they’re communicating with a given action.

In yesterday’s post, Continuation Bet, I spoke of Poker as a language that is vital to be fluent in. Imagine trying to have a constructive and engaging argument with someone who speaks an entirely different tongue. You’re not even sure they’re on the same topic you are. When you both speak the same language the debate you’re having can be very intricate and detailed with a great deal of strategy and finesse. When neither of you understand the other at all the game declines into a series of blows via blunt instruments.

There are times to build a big pot via pot sized bets. There are times to limit the pot size via smaller bets. If you don’t want to offer your opponent pot or implied odds then don’t let the pot get too big relative to their stack size. If you want your opponent to come along then don’t bet double or triple the pot (of course, there are times when this is exactly the tactic to employ).

As in so many situations in poker: It Depends! Perhaps what is most important is to have a reason for every action you take. Know yourself. Know your enemy. I’m workin’ on it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Continuation Bet

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” Sun Tzu

Whether it is over a grungy table in LasVegas station with newly cloned fingers shuffling chips or via a small wedge of bandwidth dedicated to communication with 5 other capsuleers across the virtual felt while camping a gate in Rancer, poker is alive and well in New Eden.

As discussed in my previous entry, Opening Hand, the activity of poker can be as simple or complex as the player chooses. I have found that it is vital to understand a few things about poker beyond the rules and some basic strategy.

One of these things is that poker is a form of communication. Every action that a player takes while participating in a game of poker is analogous to words spoken from one person to another. Whether it is a bet, call, check, raise, check-raise, hesitation, overbet, underbet, stringbet, second glance at your hole cards, whatever…everything is part of the language of poker. And the better you speak and understand this language the more skilled you become at communication in its medium.

One of the tenets of good public speaking (and have no doubt that when playing poker your are speaking ‘pokerese’ publicly) is that you must communicate to your particular audience in a language they can understand.

The point that many of us forget so often is that despite our increasing fluency in the language we’re speaking, our audience of listeners may not be hearing the full beauty of our prose.

In other words- if that bloke across the table doesn’t have any clue that your check-raise means you’ve got it or that your 2X pot sized bet means you want him to call; no amount of subtle poker action will get the message across.

We must know not only ourselves and our abilities, but those of our opponents and their limitations. I noted this concept in the quote at the beginning. It was apparently spoken by a general of some renown, Sun Tzu. From what I gather on the data streams this fellow was Caldari and very successful during an extended series of war decs long ago.

So, the bottom line is: before you go for that check raise or tricky ‘post oak bluff’, be certain your opponent will understand the language your action is speaking.

Contrast this with the simplicity of an interceptor racing across a stargate boundary to tackle a Crane after it cloaks a moment too late. The unwary transport is quickly rendered into so much debris by the sniper gang hovering 65km off gate.

High velocity antimatter speaks a language all its own.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Opening Hand

Pocket Pairs & Pod Pilots is my first attempt at blogging.

It incorporates two of my most avid interests: EVE and Poker. Recently I have discovered that these two tastes taste great together! There is a healthy and growing community of Pod Pilots that play Poker against each other on a frequent basis.

If you're familiar with this lot then you probably know more about the ins & outs of EVE Poker than I do. Feel free to chime in and enlighten us to this wonderful niche in our galaxy. If poker in EVE is as new to you as it is to me then let me be the first to welcome you to the exciting world of Texas Hold'Em between the Stargates.

Get the info and updated chat on the in game channel "Eve Online Hold'Em". Then follow the links and instructions in the Message of the Day to "Poker Mavens" so that you can see and set up the web site to play at. Next thing you know, you'll be slinging chips across the virtual felt against the likes of RicDic and Mynxee, LTJW and Sniper699.

Poker is such a fascinating game! It gets as deep as you can dig when it comes to strategy, tactics and intricate conflict. Yet, it's very simple to learn the basics and work out the foundations of some math, odds and skill. The more you try to learn about poker the more you find there is to know. The mastery of this game is a lifetime pursuit and, yet, it provides a quick and easy outlet for those "gotta get out there and tangle with a foe" moments that can be hard to satisfy without a fully fitted fleet operation.

I plan on discussing thoughts about poker in general here and, as I come to know and identify with the denizens in the Eve Online Hold'Em channel, I will explore some of the personalities and interactions at the tables.

In Eve Poker, currently, there are ring games (everyone buys in with as many chips as they choose, within some limits) and there are tournaments (the fast, furious Sit & Go variety). It's a great beginning to a burgeoning field.

ISK is the currency of choice. This is a wonderful place to grow a small bankroll from a recent lucrative trade or feel the thrill of risking some of that hard earned mining payout after a day of drilling. And that's what it's all about, really: Risk.

Risk versus Reward is the slope that we all love to race down. Some like it steep and bumpy. Some like it gentle and safer. Poker provides yet another place to plot your course.

So if it sounds interesting, drift on over to the tables between gate camps and check out the action. I'll be here and there, scraping for an edge and looking for things to write about.