Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Force Re-Re Awakens



My buddy Jeremy Johnson, a renaissance man who is as at home on the gridiron as he is on a film set, referenced this blog, specifically my Star Wars rant, on the latest episode of Filibuster Freestyle. There's a bunch of other good content there too, so check it out!


Saturday, January 09, 2016

Out of This World!



I won the inaugural Other Worlds Austin Science Fiction Screenplay Contest for my TV Pilot, "Jen-16"! Yay!

You can read more about it here:

http://www.otherworldsaustin.com/news/2016/1/1/2015-screenplay-contest-finalists-and-winners

Now when I blog to you about science fiction, you can be confident I know what I'm talking about!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Five Things I Didn’t Get About The Force Awakens



This is a post about the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and you care about knowing things about it, skip this post and wait for the next one until that changes. In other words:



Okay, now that that bit of business is out of the way:

I want to preface this by saying that Star Wars: The Force Awakens exceeded my expectations. I remember when the prequels came out, and while I liked The Phantom Menace more than anyone in the galaxy (that is to say: at all,) I think we can all agree that the Star Wars Universe would be no worse, and quite possibly better, without them. Also, I was not pleased with J.J. Abrams’ take on that OTHER sci-fi franchise (I hate time travel stories in general, but using time travel to effectively wipe out decades of beloved canon to pave the way for a fairly standard sci fi action flick? Brrrrr), so I was pretty cool going in.

However, Abrams made the wise move of bringing “Empire” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan back into the fold, and the film totally worked, in my opinion. That being said, there are at least five things I did not understand about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To wit:

Why Does Jakku Exist?

Much of the first act of the movie centers around Jakku, where our heroes meet. From what we can see, it’s an impoverished desert planet populated by all measure of strange and unscrupulous creature, where scavenging is a way of life and oily, large-bellied aliens hold the populace, including humans, under their thumb. It’s also a great place to hide a droid with secret plans that could help rebel forces overthrow the evil empire. Does this sound familiar? Of course, I am describing Tatooine. So why not just make this planet Tatooine? It would certainly make sense that Luke’s daughter would end up here (and if Rey is NOT Luke’s daughter, they put a hell of a lot of work into this red herring), and Jakku resembles Tatooine in every other way that we’ve seen. What’s the deal? Was Tatooine not included in the 4 billion dollar sale of the franchise to Disney?

Why Does Captain Phasma Give It Up So Easily?

The big plot point at the end of the movie is that our heroes have to get the shields down so that the rebels can destroy the exhaust port oscillator protecting The Death Planet Starkiller Base. They do this by pointing a gun at the premier Stormtrooper officer, Captain Phasma, and making her do it. But Phasma is a hardcore First Order Officer who’s risen through the ranks in a power structure where both disloyalty and failure are typically rewarded with a quick and painful end (she also happens to be Brienne of Tarth, FYI for you Game of Thrones fans). Why would she just turn around and undermine her Empire in the most treasonous fashion possible, even if she did believe her life was at stake, which, she probably wouldn’t, because she knows the ex-trooper who’s holding the gun is a wuss. I would have found it more convincing if Han Solo had learned a Jedi Mind Trick over the years to get her to fall in line.

How Much Did Mark Hamill Get Paid?


Hamill appears in literally 15 seconds of the movie. Did they just throw him 10 or 20 grand essentially to grow a beard, or did he get paid as part of some two movie structure, where he gets one lump sum for the next movie where he presumably has a much bigger role, and that little cameo gets tossed in in the deal?

Why Is Luke Holed up in an Island Paradise?

When Yoda goes into exile, he ends up on a swamp planet. Ben Kenobi disappears into unending miles of desert. Luke seems to be on some vacation world:


. Does he have a better Agent?


What’s with the No Romantic Entanglements for Jedi Rule?


Although from what we see in the movies this seems to be thought of as more of a guideline than a rule, isn’t it kind of counterproductive? It’s been made quite clear that the ability to manipulate the Force is genetic. Why would you try to select out possibly the most adaptive evolutionary mutation of all time? I mean, I get the whole, Paladin/Knights’ Templar/Knight’s Watch, religious warrior unsullied by concerns of the flesh thing, but here it just doesn’t make sense.We're just hoping kids with high Midichlorian counts will keep popping up? WHY?

Greatly looking forward to having none of these questions answered in Episode VIII!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Spotlight on: Victor Dandridge


While at the Austin Film Festival last week, I had a chance to stop in at the Wizard World Comic Con, which was a blast. At Comic Con, I had the opportunity to meet a remarkable guy named Victor Dandridge.

Victor creates, writes, and publishes his own comic books under his Vantage In House Productions Imprint. He’s also famous for his 8-bit character designs.

I met Victor at “Drink and Draw,” a Wizard Con party that takes place at a bar where invitees are given a prompt to write a short story or draw a certain character or scene. The writers and artists are then judged and a winner is chosen, but mostly it’s about the camaraderie and doing more at a bar than just drink, flirt, and make small talk.

Victor was the emcee of the event, and kept things moving by throwing comic book themed trivia at everyone. I was immediately impressed at his encyclopedic (Wikipedic?) knowledge of mainstream comic book history. I mean, I like to think I know a lot about this subject but this guy blows me away. Victor was funny, smart, and full of energy, and could probably have his own talk show.

The next time I saw Victor was at his “U Cre8 Comics” panel at Wizard Con. This panel, aimed at kids, teaches young people how to create their own comics and more importantly, their own stories, by breaking down just how a superhero is created, complete with a take home character card. Kids (and adults), really got into this event, and it reminded me a lot of my days at Chess-in-the-Schools, getting kids interested in learning through playing games.



What really stood out for me is how quickly Victor shifts between worlds. His material for more mature readers, such as The Samaritan and The Trouble with Love, fearlessly attack adult themes such as inner city violence, depression, and infidelity with skill and thoughtfulness, while his Wonder Care Presents line and U-Cre8 Comics make it clear how passionate he is about using comics to reach the next generation.


As a fledgling comic book creator myself (Team Echo #1 still available for digital download at Gumroad.com!) I was extremely impressed with Victor’s versatility and the passion with which he’s created his mini comics empire, and I hope I can match it myself someday.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Cash or the Crown?


Which is more important in poker tournaments, the trophy or the prize money?


During the final table of the WPT Deepstacks LA, commentators Owais Ahmed and Tristan Wade got into a brief debate over which is more valuable, winning a first place trophy or winning the most money possible, with Owais speculating that some people might be willing to take a little less money if it meant getting the crown, and Tristan insisting that money rules the day, and he could always go buy a trophy if he really wanted one.

This is a debate that has been knocked back and forth at least since the poker boom, with conventional wisdom being that any “real” poker player is only in it for the money, and should have as a goal to make as much as possible, with no consideration to accolades (one might argue that any “real” poker player who’s only after cash wouldn’t play tournaments at all, but that’s another debate). 

On the other side of the debate are more skeptical types who suggest that when push comes to shove, many of these “real” poker players deeply covet the prestige that comes with bracelets and trophies, and value them much higher than the monetary reward.

The Trophy vs. The $$$$

I think that in the real world, the two concepts are completely inseparable. The first place trophy only has significance because of the financial win it represents. If I win a WSOP bracelet, that has meaning because people know that hundreds of opponents invested their own (or sometimes, someone else’s) hard earned cash to get that title, and were highly motivated to stop me from winning it. I highly doubt that anyone would display their World Series of Online Play Money Poker championship bracelet with any particular level of pride. Conversely, if I tell someone that I won a poker trophy but someone else got more money because we made a deal before hand, that person would probably get the sense that despite my owning the hardware, I didn’t really win the tournament at all, and just kind of bought a meaningless title that I didn’t actually earn.

The Experiment

Fortunately, as a philosopher, I can design a thought experiment that truly brings this question to light. The experiment goes as follows:

You are a fairly strong professional poker player. Strong enough that you have made a decent living for yourself although your bankroll fluctuates considerably, and you have the respect of your peers. You receive an invitation to play in a poker tournament that purports to feature the nine best players in the world (including yourself). There is no entry fee and no prize money, but the winner will be declared World Poker Champion, and the event will be televised on broadcast TV in prime time, so that if you win, even casual fans of the game will know you as the poker champion of the world.

Later that day, you receive an invitation to a private home poker game. It will be a sit n go with only one prize, a million dollars for first place. Since the other players in the game are wealthy hobbyists who want to test their mettle against a pro, there is no entry fee for this game either. However, this game takes place on the same day as the World Championship and you cannot play both. Which would you choose?

I submit that many tournament pros would probably go for the World Championship trophy, even though no money is up for grabs. I believe this for two reasons. 1) A successful tournament pro can always make more money, and while the overlay is infinite, winning the million dollars in the money game is not guaranteed. 2) The opportunity value of being World Champion is probably worth more than a million dollars in sponsorships, invitations to profitable games and tournaments, and other general perks.

I also think that the money vs. fame debate is not absolute. If you are a mid stakes grinder who has never made more than $50,000 a year playing poker (but has never lost money in a year of poker), the money game is a no brainer. Not only could it potentially change your life, but at your level, it’s probably more profitable if people don’t know your name, style of play, or amount of skill. On the other hand, if you’re Daniel Negreanu or Antonio Esfandiari, you’d probably be at that World Championship table before your wealthy friend could get out the worlds “million dollar freeroll.” 

You can also see how your perspective on this issue can change not only from player-to-player, but can also fluctuate for an individual player depending on where they are in their poker career.

Fortunately, most of us will probably never have to make this choice. We’ll keep playing for first place because that’s where all the money is, and happily take the trophy/bracelet/ring that goes with it, and whatever other perks of poker fame that hardware brings.


Have a different take? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

WPT Deepstacks Los Angeles Main Event


On Tuesday, I finished 2nd in the WPT Deepstacks Los Angeles Main Event. The event took place at my "home casino," the Bicycle Casino ("The Bike") in Bell Gardens. Starting with a short stack of 300,000 in chips (effective M less than 3, fewer than 8BB), I managed to get heads up with a 4 to 1 chip lead. But heads up matches can be fickle, and four coolers in fairly rapid succession later (KJ vs AJ, KJ vs KQ, rivered Broadway straight vs. rivered backdoor flush, and A7 vs. A8), I was shaking the hand of the champion James Gorham. While he got lucky in the end, James is a great player, who manhandled me when I was the chip leader on Day 2, and who had entered the Final Table with the chip lead himself. Here’s my analysis of the event.

The Game

While I entered the event with by far the shortest stack, I was fairly confident. (Don’t believe me? Check out my pre-game interview) I actually think that short stack play is the strongest part of my tournament game (owing to my having had so many over the years, I imagine), and I knew that if I could find a few cards early and steal a couple of pots or win that first double up before getting low in chips, I’d have as good a chance as anybody.

That’s exactly what happened. Although I lost a round of blinds almost immediately, I managed to pass through with pocket sevens, and then doubled when my KT held up against 88. After that I was off to the races. While I was hitting some flops, I was fortunate enough to be up against players who didn’t really want to fight. James, because he was the chip leader, and was happy to let everyone else go to war while he picked his spots and picked up a few chips here and there, and everyone else because they were either ABC players who were only going to play real hands, or because they were waiting for the short stacks to bust so they could move up the ladder.

Of course, putting me at a table full of tight players is like dropping a piranha in a goldfish tank, and I went to town, opening, calling, and raising with a wide range of hands and rapidly building my stack. I think the commentators at first thought I was just a maniac (Tristan Wade at one point saying “Craig just cares what he has, he doesn’t care what anybody else might have, he’s got a good hand and he’s going with it,” which is patently ridiculous), but as the match proceeded I think they recognized there was some method to my style of play. As the players fell, my confidence grew, and although when we got 3 handed, Prash several times advocated for a deal, I wasn’t having it.


Heads Up

After James eliminated Prash and we were heads up, we did make a deal, taking 70K each from the prize pool and playing for the rest of the cash and the trophy. It seemed like a logical move, since we were almost dead even in chips at that point and James was the strongest player at the table, and it worked out after I hit that rash of coolers.

The bad luck at the end was disappointing, but I took solace in three points. A) I lost to the odds on favorite coming in, and I felt I had outplayed him, losing only because of some unfortunate situations that would have defeated almost any player B) I had to get lucky to get there, as does any player. I entered the tournament late, an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. When I arrived, one of my opponents jokingly admonished me for not saying hello to everyone when I joined the table. “I won’t be here long,” I joked. Although the reverse psychology on the poker gods worked, five hands in, it seemed like my words might be prophetic. I was all in and covered against two other players, holding Ac 5d, on a board reading Qc Jc 8c, up against Qh Jd and 9s Th. The beautiful 4c popped up on the river, and I tripled up and, much like with the final table, never looked back, running my stack up to a Day 1 Chip Lead of 417K. C) I had entered the final table with the short stack, and while I was confident, I knew all the confidence in the world wouldn’t have helped me if I didn’t get a little bit of luck early, and having to exit the final table after five minutes with all my friends and family watching on line would have really sucked.

The Commentary

I learned from social media that Tristan Wade had been a bit hard on me in the commentary, and I love that my boys had my back, firing back at Tristan on Twitter. I feel like he just didn’t understand my game at first, and came around at the end. After the game, he offered me some very gracious, positive, and congratulatory tweets on Twitter, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re good.

One of Tristan’s biggest issues with me was that I was playing a little too passively against James Gorham, entering pots against him with weak hands and checking them down, passing up opportunities to steal pots on the river when James appeared weak. What Tristan couldn’t have known was that I had played with James all day on Day 2, and he had tossed me around like a rag doll, whittling my stack down so much that at one point I thought I might not even cash, which would have been a disaster, although I know I’m far from the first chip leader to have this happen to. A large part of James’ success against me came from calling down river bluffs, and I only managed to get back into the game when I caught a nut flush against his jack high flush on a board where a fourth diamond hit the river and got him to pay off a big bet.

From this experience I felt strongly that James would call me fairly light on the river even when taking weak lines, which is why I challenged him on the river fewer times than I would one of the other players. I think this strategy bore fruit late in the match, when I got James to call off a large river bet with only a pair of threes on a K K 2 9 5 board with me holding K5. In general, I know Tristan was “calling it like he sees it,” and he didn’t know me as a player at all before this match. Still, thanks again to my brother and friends for having my back.

Jokes about my love of clubs (the suit, not the partying venue) aside, I thought Owais’ commentary and insight was quite good. A couple of times his analysis of what I was planning or thinking was right on. At one point, he accused me of Hollywooding (which, while I’m not against in principle, I generally don’t do) but after a couple of minutes, revised his analysis and suspected I was playing a leveling game in my head with Prash, which is exactly what was happening.

The Tell

Owais observed that he thought I had a tell, which was that when I merely announced a big river bet, I was strong, whereas when I put the chips out, I was bluffing. Although I could see it might look this way on T.V., I don’t think this is the case. Typically, if I just announce a bet, I will always put the chips out eventually. I’ll wait ten seconds or so to see if I get an instant response, and if my opponent tanks, I’ll bring out the chips. Most of my announced river value bets were either snap called or insta folded, so there was no need to bring out the chips. You’ll see there’s one hand, were I was bluffing, where Owais insisted I brought the chips out, proving his theory, and Tristan wasn’t so sure I had. This was one of those situations where I announced, James went into the tank, and when I saw he wasn’t going to act right away, I counted out the stack. Nevertheless, now that this “tell” is out there, I’ll probably play with it in case any of my future opponents watched the stream (or read this blog).

Conclusion

All in all, it was a great experience, and knowing all my friends and family were watching and cheering me on was the best part (after, you know, all that money). If you have any questions about the match, post them in the comments and I'll be happy to answer if I can. Looking forward to the next one!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Team Echo



A year ago, I had a dream. To tell the story of a team of superheroes who saved the world from a zombie apocalypse, and then couldn't be found when the world needed them to do it again. Now, with the help of gifted Australian artist Jonathan Munro, that dream has been realized.

Team Echo #1 is complete, and is available now in digital form: here: https://gumroad.com/l/teamecho1

I plan to sell the book digitally through other venues, and eventually, to make hard copies available. Without an established publisher, this may take some time though, and I wanted to make sure the story is available now. Whether or not an issue #2 will be published is heavily dependent upon the reception of this first issue. I have the entire story planned out, so there's no question that the series will be there if there is interest.

I'd love it if you would head on over to gumroad and buy a copy, and if you have any ideas on how we can make the publication available to a mass audience, I'd love to hear that too. Thanks!