Saturday, April 26, 2008

Elvis or Beatles?

In the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman's character says that everyone is an Elvis person or a Beatles person (I'm a Beatles person). Personally I think the dichotomy is Beatles/Rolling Stones, but the point is that there are certain areas of pop culture and of societal preference where you have to take a stand. There are Beatles people and Rolling Stones people. There are cat people and dog people. There are Star Wars people and Star Trek people.

And there are Superman people and Batman people.

I have always been a Batman person. When I was an avid comic book collector in my youth I was accused of buying anything with Batman on the cover. Not true (although I did buy this).

A great argument for why Batman is the more intriguing character is presented at here. You can guess the basic reason: Batman is human and therefore relatable, Superman is basically a God. Alan Moore knew this, and gave us the kind of Superman we could understand in MiracleMan and Dr. Manhattan. As the article points out though, if Superman had too much depth, he would cease to be Superman.

I actually recently heard from a Superman fan the only good counterargument I've ever heard, which went a little something like this:

"Imagine that anything you ever wanted you could just take, and no one could stop you. Any frustration could be dispelled, any desire immediately quenched. You decide not to act on those desires. Now imagine you have to make that choice every second of every day. Most of us don't have the willpower to skip a tasty looking donut even though we know it's not good for us. Now look at Superman."

Does sort of put the debate in a different light, I must admit.

Why Not Backgammon?

Why isn't backgammon televised? I can understand why chess is not televised, or is televised rarely. The strategy of chess is fascinating and there are even some interesting personalities. However, chess, like poker before hole card cams, is basically unwatchable. A half hour or more can go without anything happening at all (this happens in soccer too, but at least there are a lot of people running around to distract viewers). In addition, the players are generally immobile and quiet, which is not good television. Plus, the finer points of the game are difficult for the average viewer to grasp.

Backgammon is a different story. Many of today's poker pros, like Gus Hansen and Paul Magriel, are top backgammon players. Backgammon can also be played for huge sums of money, and the amount of money at stake can even change with the strategic application of the doubling cube. Also, backgammon is highly accessible, as a brief primer on the rules can make it easy to understand for everybody. Additionally, there is constant action, one player or another is always on move, and while finding the correct move can be difficult, the options are usually somewhat limited. Finally, backgammon can be played online, both for money and for free, so people can watch the action and then jump in themselves.

I am only a casual backgammon player, but I'm ready for the World Backgammon Tour. Steve Lipscomb, are you listening?

Monday, April 21, 2008

In the Beginning...

I recently stumbled upon the American Book Review’s “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” I immediately began to wonder by what standard these lines were judged. It seems to me that many of them were judged based on the novels that were to follow, or on how familiar the line was as belonging to a particular work.

To me this does not seem to me a fair way to judge. Is the first line on the list: “Call me Ishmael,” really such a great line? Or is it great because it is so recognizable as the opening line of Moby Dick? Or how about Marcel Proust’s “For a long time, I went to bed early”? A great first line? One of the 100 greatest? Really? Some of these lines I agree are truly great, for example, 6, 8, 18 and 29. Others are severely wanting.

To me, a great first line is one that compels the reader to read not just the next line, but to the very end, on the strength of that single line. It is a line that tells the reader everything about the novel to follow, and yet nothing. That having been said, here are some of my “best” opening lines of novels:

1. When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.-Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

2. This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.-Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

3. If you’re going to read this, don’t bother. –Choke, Chuck Palahniuk

4. Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that, Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.-Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

5. ONCE UPON A TIME, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine.-Cujo, Stephen King

6. You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.-Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney

There are others, but I think you get the idea—C.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I'm halfway through Volume 1 of Dan Harrington's latest book, Harrington on Cash Games, so I thought it would be a good time for a preliminary review.

Dan Harrington is one ofthe great tournament hold'em players of all time. He won the World Series of Poker championship in 1995 and has made the final four not once but twice since then, navigating huge fields to do so. His Harrington on Hold'em series changed the way people think about tournament poker. In fact, a week after I finished them, this happened.

Naturally, I was excited to pick up these volumes, since my no limit hold'em cash game has been a bit lacking compared to no limit tournaments or other forms of poker. While I'd still recommend getting the book, I must say that halfway through I am a bit disappointed.

My main issue is the way Harrington conceptualizes no limit cash game players. He essentially says that everyone at the table should have at least 100 big blinds worth of chips at all times, since anyone can rebuy whenever they want, so there's no reason anyone should have less than this unless they are specifically playing a short stack strategy.
Of course, there are many reasons why someone would have less than this. Unlike Dan Harrington, some people have financial considerations and can't afford to continually rebuy not only when they go broke, but whenever they dip below their starting stack. Others come to play their buy-in and that's it.

Furthermore, in Los Angeles where I play, most of the no limit games I play are capped buy-in, which means that it is mandatory that all players start with around 40 big blinds.

What all this means is that I'm not sure how much the information applies to the non-pro, unless the online no limit game is radically different from the one I play, since I rarely play NL cash games online. While I recognize and appreciate the need for deepstack cash game advice, I'm not sure that deepstack high bankroll pros are the main audience for the book, and if they are, there's no need to waste 50 pages explaining concepts like pot odds, implied odds, calculating outs and bluffs.

I like the way the book is constructed, with detailed hand analysis and problems to check your work, and I still have high hopes for the rest of the Volume and part 2. My only hope is at some point the book addresses the games that have plenty of stack sizes anywhere from less than 10 to greater than 300 which I commonly play in.