Thursday, May 22, 2008

Joker Scheduling

It is that time of year again. The 2008 World Series of Poker is about to begin. The month-plus long string of tournaments will include 55 events this year, including the third annual $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament, the second annual heads-up NLHE event, and my personal favorite (non-main event), the second annual $2,500 Omaha H/L-Stud H/L combination event.

And looming at the end of the series, starting on July 3, is the 39th annual $10,000 World Championship of No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em. This event IS the WSOP. This is the one that everyone has been trying to win. The big money, the picture on the wall, the prestige, the respect. Johnny Moss, Stu Unger, Doyle Brunsun, and Johnny Chan all won the event multiple times. Win the main event, and you instantly become a legend. As the field has expanded, the number of days has extended. From a single table to a week-long festival, the main event has the largest prize pool, largest top prize, and largest field every year. Last year, Jerry Yang had to survive seven days of play over an 11 day span to capture $8.25 million and the title.

This year, however, the main event schedule has taken a turn for the ridiculous. After playing for seven days over an 11 day period, the final table will be set. But instead of getting the nine surviving contenders for the throne together on the twelfth day and playing down to a champion, this year, the nine survivors will be handed ninth place money and sent back to their regular lives for the next four months. Then in November, they will all gather in Las Vegas again to play down to the heads-up match, which will gather the next day to decide the winner.

Why take a four month vacation in the middle of an event? Why, for the benefit of the television audience, of course. The assumption is that ESPN will be following the nine finalists around, filming their regular lives, or as regular as they can be still having a chance to become the face of poker. As if the first 50-plus events, in addition to the first 7 days of whittling the main event field down, were not building enough hype for the main event championship, now we will have to wait an extra 108 days to reconvene the final table.

No momentum going into the final day, no one steaming, no one on tilt. Everyone will be able to start fresh. While this may seem like a decent enough idea on the surface, it in fact takes away one of the best human elements that the main event has represented. Fatigue and stamina have played a role in the outcome of the main event since the field started expanding to the point that multiple days were required to decide it.

I do not know who suggested this psychotic scheduling change, but I hope that this becomes one of the WSOP's one-year experiments, much like playing the final table outside the casino on Fremont Street was in 1997. This is a mistake, and I for one am not looking forward to the four month hiatus. The whole idea of the main event is to outlast an ever-growing field over the course of a week or 10(ish) days. Now putting the entire tournament on layaway until just before Thanksgiving takes away one huge aspect of the event, and increases the amount of luck involved, reducing the skill aspect that makes poker the most human of gambling endeavors.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

There is Something Seriously Wrong...

On Washington Street in the West Roxbury area of Boston, there is a small brick building. A sign on the building identifies it as a Disabled American Veterans chapter building. And leading up to the front door of the building is a flight of steps.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Justice is Done

The California Supreme Court today ruled that it is unconstitutional to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples in the state.

The 4-3 opinion takes effect in 30 days, and will only face one serious challenge: a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November. And Governor Schwarzenegger, who vetoed a bill to legalize same sex marriage, has said that he will oppose the ballot initiative.

From the majority opinion, authored by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court:

...we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional.
I cannot say it any better than that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

9:02 + 13 Years

Christopher Nguyen is graduating from high school.

A simple statement, a seemingly random sentence, plucked out of nowhere and presented on this page. Christopher Nguyen is graduating from high school. So are millions of other students across the country. So what makes this one noteworthy?

13 years ago, Christopher Nguyen was a four year old child in a day care center while his parents were at work. One day in April, he was one of 21 children at the America's Kids Day Care Center. By the end of that day, 15 of his playmates died in what was at that time the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history. Christopher Nguyen is a survivor of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Since that fateful day in the spring of 1995, Timothy McVeigh, who drove the truck, has been executed for the death of eight federal officials. Terry Nichols, McVeigh's co-conspirator, was sentenced to life in prison for those eight officials, plus on 161 counts of murder by Oklahoma state courts. The Murrah building was razed to the ground and replaced by a national memorial, and a new federal building has been built in Oklahoma City. Life has gone on, for Oklahoma, for the United States, and for the survivors.

And now, the first of the six child survivors is about to graduate from high school. Christopher Nguyen carries forward. He does not remember the bombing, which is hardly surprising, but seeing him standing, staring at the last remaining pieces of the Murrah building that today stand at one side of the memorial, you can see in his eyes the questions that will likely dominate his life. Why did he survive, when so many others did not?

On the outside of one of the gates to the memorial are the following words:

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
Now Christopher Nguyen will take his first steps out into the world. He is both a survivor and a symbol. I wish him nothing but the best, and a long, happy, and healthy life. And I hope that the survivor of this ultimate act of violence and hate will see in his lifetime even a glimmer of peace for us all.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Electability and Analyzing the Votes

Hillary Clinton won the Indiana primary last night.

Barack Obama won the North Carolina primary last night.

Clinton's margin of victory in Indiana: 23,000 votes, 2% of the electorate in that state.

Obama's margin of victory in North Carolina: 235,000 votes, 14% of the electorate in that state.

But here is the key point: No Democrat will win Indiana's 11 electoral votes in November. It just is not going to happen. John McCain can put those votes into his pocket without a worry or a second thought. While it is unlikely that a Democrat will win North Carolina's 15 electoral votes, it is still possible that a Democrat can compete with McCain there. And even if the eventual Democratic nominee does not win North Carolina, they can still benefit extensively by forcing McCain to commit resources to the state.

I said it before, and I will say it again: Clinton wins Democratic votes where Democratic votes do not matter (like rural Virginia and now Indiana). Obama wins Democratic votes where they can make a difference (like possibly breaking the solid south, including Virginia as a whole and North Carolina).

Who do YOU think is more "electable"?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Debriefing the Derby

On the heels my last post, I was listening to Ronn Owens on KGO today. He was discussing the death of Eight Belles and horse racing in general, and I decided to chime in.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

When Agony Follows Ecstasy

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) statements are often viewed as a joke (at least by me). Among other things, PETA has started an X Prize-type competition for a commercially viable good tasting replacement for meat. And today, they have called for the suspension of jockey Gabriel Saez, who rode the ill-fated filly Eight Belles in yesterday's Kentucky Derby.

PETA is claiming that Saez should have known something was wrong with Eight Belles. Looking at the most recent headline horse racing tragedy would give credence to their argument. When Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro suffered the injury that would eventually lead to his being euthanized, jockey Edgar Prado immediately got him slowed down, saving the the horse's life for the moment and giving him a fighting chance to live a long and successful life at stud. Saez, on the other hand, was not able to do anything to preserve Eight Belles' chances, and therefore he must have been at fault.

A closer look at the two injuries, however, show how ridiculous PETA's claims are. Barbaro broke ONE HIND leg. Eight Belles broke BOTH FRONT legs. Barbaro could support himself on 3 legs. In the words of the Churchill Downs veterinarian, Eight Belles "didn't have a front leg to stand on." With such a painful injury, and no hope of a successful course of treatment, the only humane thing to do was to euthanize her.

Understandably, PETA has probably never watched a horse race, and has no concept of the connections that are forged in the business. If Saez could have done anything, anything, to help Eight Belles, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have done it. If there was any foul play at all, and I do not believe that there was, the only thing I can conceive of right now is that the owner or trainer gave the horse drugs when she should not have been racing. Again, however, I DO NOT BELIEVE this to be the case. What happened, as I see it, Eight Belles finished second in the race, and on the cool down, had a freak accident in which one front leg hit a weird patch of dirt, breaking the ankle, and causing the horse to go down. This put such a strain on the other front ankle that it, too, broke, leading to the tragedy of a horse being euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs.

I was in Louisville, Kentucky in the summer of 2006, for a conference. I was not going to go to Louisville and not see Churchill, so I skipped a morning's events and took a taxi down tot eh track. I took a few tours around the grounds, and have a horseshoe from the stables behind the track. It is a powerful place, rich in history and tradition. The Kentucky Derby truly is the Great American Race, with all due respect to NASCAR and the Daytona 500. For a tragedy such as this to strike at the heart of such a great tradition is heartbreaking. For PETA to make such outrageous claims in the hope of blatant self promotion is sickening. Let those connected to Fox Hill Farms (Eight Belles' owner), horse racing, and sports fans in general mourn such a tragic and all too early loss.

And one final side note/post script to the Derby. According to Sports Illustrated, the jockey who rode Big Brown to victory, Kent Desormeaux, got back to the winner's circle after a two year slump that included less than 200 wins in 2005 and 2006 combined. Horse racing really is a different animal altogether, when nearly 200 wins over two years is a slump. Driver Richard Petty, the King, had a total of 200 wins over his legendary NASCAR career, giving him the most wins in history, with a margin of 95. The sport of kings has a standard of excellence all its own. That is one of the things that make it special, and keeps it relevant even today.

Two weeks until the Preakness, then three more until the Belmont. And on May 2, 2009, the world will focus on Louisville and Churchill Downs once again, as for the 135th time, the three year olds will run for the roses. Hopefully next time only with triumph, and without any tragedy.