A guy who’s signed an agreement not to talk about poker might seem like an odd guest for a poker podcast, but the notorious Abe Limon is such an interesting and polarizing character we had to have him on eventually. He’s never one to pull his punches when it comes to dirty business in poker and elsewhere, so given how much of it is going on in both the poker and non-poker world right now, it seemed like the right time.

We begin by skirting just outside the boundaries of the forbidden topic of poker, discussing the debt situation between Leon Tsoukernik and Matt Kirk and just avoiding saying too much about the game in which the debt itself was incurred. We then move on to other ongoing public controversies, specifically the sexual assault allegations against various men including Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore, with a digression onto the subject of religion.

From there, we go to our next planned topic, the Twitter conversation which led to Limon being invited on the show in the first place. That conversation involved the subject of charity, something Andrew and Alex have rather different feelings about, particularly when it comes to giving tax deductions for charitable donations. Here too we digress, into the subject of social good and the role of government.

Finally, it’s on to strategy, but with just the two hosts, due to Limon’s prohibition on poker talk. Rather than dissect a tournament Hold’em hand as usual, we talk about Power Up, the new game at PokerStars. Andrew, who has never played, gets put in the hot seat by Alex, to walk through a hand the latter played just before showtime.

Introductions (0:00-2:20)

After the customary hellos and a quick rundown of the show’s topics, Alex asks Limon about the nature of his ban on poker talk. They then confirm that it is, in fact, okay for him to discuss the show’s first topic.

Tsoukernik and Kirk (2:20-12:00)

Alex gives a brief rundown of the story, describing Tsoukernik’s previous feud with Elton Tsang, and the similar situation which arose with Matt Kirk, namely that Tsoukernik borrowed $3 million from Kirk during a high-stakes poker game, then refused to pay most of it back, claiming he’d been taken advantage of while drunk, and that gambling debts are unenforceable in Nevada.

Note: This episode was recorded one week prior to release, to some facts of the story which have since come to light were not known at the time of recording.

Limon’s take is, predictably enough, that both men are scumbags. He makes a good point, however, that the situation was largely created by Kirk taking on backers to play for such astronomically high stakes, and that this is the problem underlying a lot of the biggest controversies coming out of the poker community.

Andrew points out that even worse, sometimes professional players will actively help a known whale not to repay debts, in the hopes that whatever money the mark thus saves will be lost to them instead.

Louis CK, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore

(12:00-25:39)

Alex brings up Louis CK, feeling that there’s a parallel between how the rumors surrounding him were treated prior to his confession and apology, and how the poker community has reacted or in many cases not reacted to the accusations against Tsoukernik. The point, he feels, is that a lot of times, people’s decision to either rush to judgment or defer it depends on whether it’s personally convenient for them.

That is, people who enjoyed CK’s comedy were happy to ignore the rumors up until his confession came out, while those who never cared for him were quick to declare him guilty. Likewise, the silence of many people in the poker community on Tsoukernik very clearly had to do with the fact that a major tournament stop was taking place in his casino, and to criticize him but still attend would be to leave oneself open to accusations of hypocrisy.

Since there’s general agreement on this front, the conversation quickly moves on to CK’s apology, plus other confessed or alleged sex offenders including Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore. Limon feels that although what all of the men did was awful, the public is making a grave mistake in lumping all their acts together; he says that they’re both qualitatively different in terms of psychology and quantifiably different in terms of impact, and that this needs to be part of the conversation.

Andrew worries that if CK’s apology is disregarded entirely, that there will be no incentive for men accused in future to admit to anything or to attempt an apology. Alex agrees, but is troubled by the fact that the apologies always seem to come only after it’s already inevitable that the truth will come out; whatever the content of the confession and apology, he’d be much more inclined to accept it as sincere if it was made proactively, rather than reactively.

Religion (25:39-30:23)

Regarding Roy Moore specifically, and his denials and justifications, Limon says that the religious culture in the deep south makes this sort of behaviour inevitable. He makes the claim that religion is built on such a tower of obvious lies that it means that any acknowledgement of any kind of truth will bring the whole thing tumbling down, and that this attitude is then reflected in other facets of life.

Alex points out that this is really only true of scriptural literalists, and that there are many religious people in the world, especially outside of the United States, who don’t believe that everything their texts and leaders say is infallibly true. He points out that such dogmatic (what he calls “gnostic”) thinking is not even specific to theists, but that it can be found and can be equally problematic in other sorts of philosophies, including atheism.

This leads into a digression about terrorism and its causes, whether it’s primarily related to religious zealotry, mental illness, or narcissism and anger issues.

Charity (30:23-38:57)

On to the topic of tax-deductible charity, the three begin by recapping their Twitter discussion. Andrew feels that charity is essential to society, and that tax deductions are necessary in order to incentivize people to donate. Limon says he would donate to his chosen charities whether he got a tax deduction or not, but wishes the deductions didn’t exist because they’re so often abused by bogus charities; he goes back to the subject of religion to say he wishes houses of worship were not given charitable status, given how often this is abused.

Alex has a deeper philosophical issue with the concept of tax deductible charity. His stance is that democracy is founded on the idea that everyone makes contributions to common coffers through taxation, and that they then decide together – by electing a government – how that money will be distributed. That wealthy people can donate money to causes of their choosing and thereby pay taxes seems to him to be an end run around democracy, allowing the rich to effectively have greater say in how public money is spent.

Devolution of Government (38:57-41:18)

Andrew counters this by saying that in his opinion, charity and public spending are necessary complements to each other. He sees government as being very effective at dealing with large-scale issues, but very bad at dealing with local ones, and that this is where charity is needed.

Alex says that for him, this is less an argument for charity and more an argument for a greater number of levels of government, and devolution of power from the top level to the lower levels. Andrew agrees, and mentions that “skin in the game” is an important concept here as well, that the greatest power should be wielded by people directly known by and accountable to their electorate.

Power Up Intro (41:18-44:27)

Before diving directly into strategy, Andrew suggests that Alex should give a rundown of how Power Up works, for listeners who haven’t tried it, or aren’t familiar with all the powers. If you are familiar with the game, you can safely skip this portion of the podcast.

Relative Power (44:27-47:36)

Andrew asks Alex is he has any opinions about the game’s balance, whether certain powers are too strong or too weak relative to others. Alex says that yes, he does find he uses certain powers more than others, but that he’s read another person’s opinion on the relative strength of the cards and that his impressions and theirs barely line up at all, so the perception of strength or weakness may depend a lot on the person’s strategy.

Strategy! (47:36-End)

Alex dissects a hand in which he has Jack-Nine suited and misses a dry Ten-high flop, but happens to know that his opponent also holds a Jack due to having used the X-Ray power. His opponent knows that he knows this, however, so the question is whether Alex can better exploit his information advantage by bluffing immediately, or by floating. Andrew is overwhelmed by the strategic considerations involved in this game he’s never played, and resolves to try it out for play money and perhaps play against Alex some time for the benefit of the podcast listeners. (The randomized seating of Power Up may make this difficult to arrange, however.)

Podcast Links

Offsite links in italics. Articles by one of the hosts in bold.