Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tales of the Poker Table, Vol II

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Today's entry comes to us courtesy of DB, who ran a lot of smack before last night's game about how she was going to dominate. Did she dominate? I'll leave it to you to decide.

My comments will be interspersed with hers in italics.

It was a quiet night for poker. Only 4 players were in attendance; Gary, The Mayor, Smitty and me.

Despite me giving everyone else a nickname, I find that no one has given one to me. Although I seem to have been dubbed "Evil Gary," based apparently on someone's pet rodent.

I'd gotten myself a nice little stack and I'm the big blind. When Gary raises in first position, tripling the blinds, I call. I have a J-Q so I take a look at the flop. Flop is J, 7, 3. I flopped top pair with an over card for a kicker. Gary bets, and I raise doubling his bet. He immediately moves all in - then starts his song and dance. Now let me tell you something about Gary. I can read him. I've pretty much got him down pat, and he knows this. I'm looking at him - chest is heaving like it always does when he has something good - he's knows I'm reading him and he starts his reverse psychology. "Call me, put it in" he says, over and over. Covering SOMETHING. Is it reverse psychology or reverse psychology with a twist? I can tell he thinks he has something good - but does he have better than what I have? I know he raised big in first position, so I think he didn't match the rags on the flop, unless he has trips. It's about 7 minutes into the first game, and I don't really want to put it all on the line, but it's Gary so I call him out. My buddy has J-3 off suit (jack off for a jack off) and he's flopped two pair. This is the guy who complains about my luck at the table. Anyway, I don't catch another pair, and I'm out. Game one is over for me and Jack Off has a win under his belt. POKER ISN'T FAIR. Neither is life, I suppose. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night. We played a total of four games. Gary won two and Smitty won two, and I sucked eggs.

To give DB credit, this accounting of the facts actually bears a little resemblance to actual events. The way I remember it is this: We were at the first round of blinds still, where the big blind is tiny in comparison to everyone's stack. I was under the gun (first position after the blinds) and looked down to find J-3 offsuit. For no reason other than to mix up my play, I raise a standard raise, 3 times the big blind. Smitty and the Mayor (who has been re-christened "The Mighty Timekeeper") fold down to me. DB, of course, doesn't. She could have had two rags and she'd have stayed in with me, because the very thought of me winning a hand uncontested so incenses her that it clouds her common sense. And she hadn't built up a stack - it was seven minutes into the game, and we all had more or less the same stack. Anyway, the flop comes J-3-4, not 7, and I connect two pair, top and bottom.

My thinking was along these lines: she thought I had nothing, and before the flop she was right. Not for nothing is she my main adversary. I could have bet small, or checked, but I decided that I would reinforce her notion that I was bluffing, and went all in after she bet. So she starts deliberating on her hand.

Now obviously I want desperately for her to call. What I did was exactly the opposite of what she said I did: I started an act that indicated that I knew she had garbage, and stop wasting everyone's time and FOLD ALREADY. I never begged her for a call. I begged her for a fold, which was, as she suspected, the double-reverse psychology with a twist - what Daniel Negreanu calls "third level of strategy." She calls and I triumphantly turn over my cards. The hand holds up and I tell her that I can work her like modeling clay - and I'm right, and she knows it. She can talk all she likes about luck, but at the end of the day it was the way I played my opponent that made that hand, and that's what irked her the most.

I'm a firm believer in creating your own luck at the poker table. I believe successful players are aggressive and force others to make hard decisions. I like to go into a pot with a premium hand, just like the next guy, but my experience tells me that if you only play premium hands you're not playing correctly. You need to pick up as many blinds as you can. Squirrel away those small pots so you have something to work with. I didn't play that way last night. Last night I played conservatively, (read scared) and when I do that, I never win. I'm much better when I play is Gary. Gary was better last night. He played better AND had better luck. But that was just one night. Let me catch the Jack Off with a jack-off next week...they don't call me DB for nothing.

Ah, DB. If you'd truly played conservatively you wouldn't have called my all-in with top pair and decent kicker. And as I said to you last night: Some people play their cards, and that's fine - but good poker players play their opponent. That's what I did, and that's why I walked away with your money and not the other way around.

The Last Entry You'll Ever See Here Regarding Basketball

The Celtics were wronged by the fickle ping pong ball of fate and were awarded the fifth pick in the upcoming draft, instead of the first or second.

Say it with me, now: WHO GIVES A RAT'S ASS?

Thank you for your time and attention.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

God Finally Breaks His Silence

Today Jerry Falwell died at 73.

It's not for me to spit on a warm corpse. I'm sensitive to the fact that he left a family who loved him on a personal level, and believe me, I'm hip to how much his death is hurting them, especially today and in the coming days. So if one of Falwell's immediate family is reading this, please accept my condolences for your loss, and I apologize in advance for the hard words that will follow.

But the man you loved was, at his heart, a bad man. He turned his love for his God into a political agenda, and in so doing brought shame to himself and diminished many people's view of his God. For his sake, he'd better hope there is no heaven, because he's gonna be on the outside looking in.

It's my belief that Falwell did more damage to the American political landscape than any other human being, other than perhaps the current President and his administration.

Falwell's particular brand of havoc was to inexorably tie religious beliefs to politics, against the specific instructions of the framers of the Constitution. In so doing he has set the course of American history back by decades. I know this is a difficult concept for a lot of people, especially Christian people, but there are more people in the United States besides Christians. And there are plenty of Christians who can separate the notions of how a country should be run versus how one's house should be run. But Falwell decided things should be otherwise.

There's nothing wrong with being a person of faith, though I admit freely that I am not one. What's wrong is that certain people of faith are, you should pardon the expression, hell-bent on subjecting the entire population to the same set of rules by which they have chosen to live (the selfsame choice, by the way, that might never have been possible had the Founding Fathers decided that religion and politics ought not mix).

A provocative question: How much different is the Christian right - specifically that segment of the Christian right that pursues a political agenda - from those who would see Islamic regimes set up based on Shariya, ancient Islamic law? Sure, maybe the way punishment is meted out might be different (we'll throw you in the hoosgow for knocking over a liquor store; those crazy bastards will cut off your hand), but the idea is the same: conduct YOUR life according to the tenets that I believe, and if you can't see the folly and the arrogance of that, you're not paying attention.

And Jerry Falwell was the man that pioneered the concept that his God should run the United States. And would say and do anything to further his political agenda, irrespective of whose beliefs he trampled or whose good name he besmirched. He claimed that feminists and Democrats -- Democrats, for heaven's sake! -- were doing the work of the devil. He claimed that AIDS was God's divine retribution for the "sin" of homosexuality. He claimed that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were the direct cause of abortionists and the ACLU. He of course later claimed that his remarks two days after the attacks on Pat Robertson's 700 Club were taken out of context. I'll let you be the judge:

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.


JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

How out of context could that be? On September 13, 2001, when the whole country was shaken and raw, and tears were shed for total strangers, and there was a universal outpouring of sympathy and pity and love for one's fellow man, here's Jerry Falwell blaming Americans for that horrible tragedy and furthering his own political agenda at the exact time that a TRUE man of God would be trying to heal the nation's wounds.

No, Jerry Falwell was not a good man. History will not remember him kindly, and that is the one true legacy that he deserves.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Few More Words About the Red Sox

My favorite baseball quote of all time comes, ironically enough (you'll understand the irony soon) from Earl Weaver, the longtime skipper of the Baltimore Orioles:

"You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You've got to throw the ball over the goddamn plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all."

Yesterday, the Red Sox, down five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, scored six for an improbable 6-5 victory over the selfsame Orioles that Weaver managed for so many years. Had they harkened to his words of wisdom, this game would have ended up the laugher that it had been shaping up to be all afternoon. But an error, an ill-timed pitching change, a few base hits, a few walks, another error, and hey presto, 6-5 good guys.

One hears that the Yankees were scoreboard-watching and couldn't believe that the Sox ended up winning. "I looked up and couldn't really believe it," the New York Daily News quoted the ever quotable Johnny Damon as saying. "It seemed like the Orioles had the game convincingly. I thought they might have made a mistake, that it should have still been 5-0."

No mistake, Johnny D.

Combined with a 2-1 Yankees loss to the Mariners (where A-Rod had the game on his bat with two outs and two on in the eighth, but whiffed), this means that the Orioles and the Yankees both trail the Sox in the AL East by eight games, which is quite a lead for the middle of May. Of course it's no guarantee that the crown comes to Boston this year, but I'm sure they'd rather be eight up than eight down.

In my last post I articulated why I think this is no fluke; the team is strong in just about every category you can measure. But I'll add some additional analysis, and hope that the less stat-minded among you will forgive me.

The Red Sox are tied for second place in all of baseball in the category of runs scored with 198, tied with Detroit and second only to a certain New York based team whose name rhymes with "Shmankees." They are also the outright leader in runs allowed, with 125.

A heady combination, that. Makes one really start thinking that this team is well-constructed for the long haul.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spot the Weakness

Sorry for the lack of posts. Lot going on for the Crafty Southpaw these days, and only some of it is good. But something is really starting to loom large, so large in fact that I find myself having to write about it.

I'm speaking, of course, of the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox.

Now, I know that it is just May, and that predictions have a tendency to stand on their heads when they're made in May. But as of this morning, the Sawx enjoy a seven-game lead over their closest opponent, as of this morning the Baltimore Orioles by a whisker over the Yankees. More importantly, if this team has a glaring weakness, I can't spot it.

Starting Pitching: Do I even need to go here? The Sox' rotation is as formidable as any in all of baseball. The staff's nominal ace, Curt Schilling, is with his stingy 3.28 ERA only the third-best starter they have by that measure. Josh Beckett is 7-0 with a 2.51 ERA and is the lead horse in the race for the AL Cy Young. Perhaps his closest competitor is Boston's number four starter, the ageless Tim Wakefield, whose 1.79 ERA rules the AL right now. In a word, ri-god-damn-diculous.

Relief Pitching: The Sox have perhaps the best 8th-inning/9th-inning tandem in Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon that the game offers right now. I'm not as up on the NL closer situation as I might be, so I'll allow myself to be educated otherwise, but I don't think so. How disheartening is it for an opposing team to know that if they're not leading by the end of the 7th that they have virtually no shot at winning? My goodness. And they're not the only stars of the 'pen either. Brendan Donnelly has been buried at the end of the bench through no fault of his own - JC Romero and Joel Pinero have been performing yeoman's work when Oki and Pap have days off or any mop-up duty is called for. Kyle Snyder is a capable long-relief man, but there's really been no great need for long relief.

It is often said that relief pitching is the most difficult part of the roster to fill well - after all, if a pitcher were top-shelf he'd be a starter, usually. But the Sox pen is as lights-out as I personally remember a Red Sox team ever being, and I'm just a hair on the sunny side of 40.

Defense: Sure, we don't have Alex Gonzalez to stare at in wonder any more. I still remember the silky, fluid perfection of his work at shortstop and can't believe he lost the Gold Glove to Jeter. But if our defense isn't top-5 in the league, it's certainly no liability. Go around the horn and it seems that the worst defensive player, this year as last, is Manny Ramirez - and he's only a little ways below average. Despite the howls of the Faithful, Manny is not a BAD left-fielder. He's just not a really good one. Given Manny's other gifts, I'll take it.

Offense: The Sox are pounding the crap out of all comers, and Manny isn't even starting to hit yet (though he will; the one constant in the world besides death and taxes is that Manny will finish the season with an average over .310). The one player thought to be soft with a bat is Dustin Pedroia, and he's been knocking the cover off the ball lately, bringing his average up to a respectable .267, with only upside to come. Those of us who followed him in Pawtucket knew this would happen, by the way; he started off his tenure there poorly, then went through a phase when he made solid contact but always right at someone, then built his average up to over .300 by the time he got called up last September.

Bench: Alex Cora is hitting over .400, and is perhaps the smartest player in the game - look for him to embark on a wildly successful management career when he decides to hang up his spikes (and if he wants to). Wily Mo Pena is looking less lost at the plate and woe betide the poor pitcher who doesn't use scouting reports and tries to sneak a fastball by him. Hinske is only batting .200 but he's only had 30 AB's. If he gets enough work, he'll be good for a .260-odd BA, which is his career average.

Conclusion: Sure, there have been a few pleasant surprises: Mike Lowell is perhaps playing beyond himself, as may be Okajima, but this is not a team of overachievers. This team is the real deal. If the injury bug stays away, you have to figure these guys to take it all. Who's going to beat them in a race to five or to seven with Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield as the starting four, and Oki and Pap at the back end? This might just be May, and it certainly could be said that I'm reaching for a little good news in my life right now, but my pick is for the Sox to earn at least another pennant, and perhaps another parade.