We’ve got a slightly weird podcast for you this time around, as it was recorded on Friday, November 4, a few days before the US Presidential Election, and is now going live the day after. Naturally, the election is one of the topics of discussion, so it may seem odd as a listener who knows the results to hear things being discussed by three men who didn’t at the time of recording.
Our guest is Adam Small, co-owner of PocketFives. Aside from the election, the other major topic of conversation is of course the recently-concluded 2016 WSOP Main Event, won by Qui Nguyen, and what his win means for poker. In between, we talk a bit about the PokerStars “Festival” in New Jersey, which suffered from extremely disappointing turnouts.
Note: In the episode intro and outro, I erroneously refer to it as Episode 12; don’t worry, you are listening to the correct episode.
In a briefer-than-usual intro, we say hi to Adam, apologize to our listeners for the long delay between this episode and the last, and then get right into discussion.
Two Very Different Champions (1:21-22:00)
Much of our discussion of this year’s November nine focuses on the winner, Qui Nguyen, a gambler and amateur poker player whose loose-aggressive style of play worked out for him in dramatic fashion. We contrast him with last year’s winner Joe McKeehen, who was competent, dominant at the table, and pretty systematic in his win. Not only are their styles of play different, however, but Nguyen has a certain personal flair and excitement about him, while McKeehen was quite taciturn throughout his final table, and has shown little interest in interacting with fans and media in the year since his win.
Naturally, Nguyen is seen by most as being “better for poker” as a champ than McKeehen, but Adam makes the point that the whole final table this year had more name recognition and charisma to it than last year’s, which consisted mostly of what he describes as “random European high stakes online players.” The pace of play was also faster, he points out, with less stalling by players in obvious folding situations, which made the live broadcast more bearable.
Adam also talks about how Qui’s play could be described as “mashing buttons,” and that this is both more exciting and more relatable to amateur players than the precisely calculated style of McKeehen and others like him. Alex mentions that being the loose cannon can actually help a player to win at a tournament final table; when some players at the table understand ICM considerations and others don’t, that burden is shouldered entirely by those who do understand the concept. That is, the more knowledgeable players may be forced to pass up theoretically profitable semi-bluffing opportunities against the less knowledgeable ones, as they can’t be sure the latter will make the correct fold, rather than a mutually-destructive call.
Disaster for PokerStars in Atlantic City (22:00-36:12)
PokerStars recently switched from its geographically separated tours (EPT, LAPT, APPT, etc.) to a two-tier global system, with low stakes “Festival” and high stakes “Championship” stops. The first PokerStars Festival just went down in Atlantic City, and can fairly be described as an unmitigated disaster. According to Mariana Vamplew – who listeners may remember from Episode 8 (“The One About Sexual Assault”) – was there with her husband, pro player David Vamplew, and told us that many events had been cancelled outright and others ran with low double-digit, and even single-digit fields. Adam points out that even the Main Event only managed a top prize of a little over $38,000, more akin to what you’d expect from a side event.
We’re all in agreement that this should be very concerning to PokerStars, despite New Jersey specifically and live events in general being only a small part of their overall business. The question is why the Festival did so poorly. We conclude that it was a combination of hubris – banking on a reputation that PokerStars arguably no longer has – and a lack of resources put into organizing and marketing the Festival, perhaps due to the smallness of the New Jersey market. Alex points out that both PokerStars and 888poker seem to be treating New Jersey as a proving ground when it comes to their online sites there, and although Adam agrees, he says PokerStars may be backing off now because the opening of new markets in the US and the possibility of PokerStars’s inclusion in them are both looking less likely and further off than was previously thought.
The US Between a Rock and a Hard Place (36:12-1:10:18)
Finally, we get onto the subject of the election. The first idea that Adam and Andrew want to put to bed is the notion that either of them are fans of Clinton; all three of us agree that she has serious flaws and would make a mediocre president, but fear Trump as a possible existential threat to Western democracy and global security. Andrew says that his hope is that the US makes it through the next four years one way or another, but treats this election as a learning experience and makes the changes necessary to prevent the voting public from being put in such a predicament in future.
This brings us to the subject of the media’s role in Trump’s success, and here our views diverge somewhat in terms of the specific nature of the problem, and exactly how much of the blame goes to the media for giving him the attention he needed to make his run.
We next discuss the question of small versus large government, on which we again have slightly different views, but are generally in agreement that local government has advantages that are currently absent at the federal level, namely a sense on the part of the electorate that they’re actually heard and understood by the people ostensibly representing them.
Andrew brings up the vote-swapping strategy being employed by Clinton supporters and protest voters, but Adam and Alex have grave misgivings about that system. (Note: It has since turned out that Andrew’s vote-swapping partner was in fact a Trump supporter masquerading as a protest voter, with no intention of making good on his side of the bargain.) Alex points out that as a game designer, when you see players going through contortions to get around the intended constraints of the rules, it means there’s a serious problem with your rules.
Next, we get into the question of trying to understand the rationale of those voting for Trump, and why so many hang on to arguments in his favor even when they’re in contradiction with hard facts. We refer back to Andrew’s debate in our last episode with Bryan Paris, as evidence that it is possible to find common ground and have a civilized discussion about such things, but much harder to actually change anyone’s mind.
Alex finishes up by taking things a notch darker and expressing the view that, from the point of view of non-Americans looking in, it really does seem like the nation is on course for a second civil war. We muse for a bit about what that would look like, and who would win, but then the conversation starts to digress into the Oregon standoff between the Bundy family and government authorities, and from there to the current protest at Standing Rock. At that point, Adam has to leave, so Alex and Andrew decide to end the conversation there and move on to strategy.
Strategy: Bluffing with a Counterfeited Pair (1:10:18-1:24:48)
The hand we discuss this week comes from the first day of the November Nine, between Kenny Hallaert and Michael Ruane. The latter is holding pocket Sixes on a flop of QTT. He calls Hallaert’s continuation bet, but the turn brings a second Queen to counterfeit him and leave him with no showdown value. The question then, when Hallaert checks, is whether Ruane should try to bluff on the turn, the river, both or neither, and if he does, how big he should size it.
To explain the takeaway lessons in detail would give away the outcome of the hand, but in general, Alex and Andrew both have points to make about playing with and against polarized ranges, as well as with sizing your bets so as to be unexploitable.
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