Rethinking Online Poker

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I started playing online poker in September 2004. It instantly became an obsession. For the first 10 months, I believe that I missed only one single day where I didn’t play.

I still play a ton, but it’s definitely well beyond the obsession stage. In the past year, I have gone two weeks in a row without playing a single game, at least a few times. That would have been unthinkable in the first year.

I enjoy it immensely. It’s great entertainment, distraction, escape, etc. I have come to accept the incredibly bad beats that I regularly experience with a clamness that I could never have predicted earlier, which I’m hoping is a sign of maturity with regard to the nature of the game.

It satisfies my inherent nature to gamble, without really being a gamble. First, I consistently make money (albeit a very tiny amount). But, even if I were to lose, that too would be a tiny amount, certainly less than I pay for our more regular entertainment (concerts, new TV’s, restaurants, etc.).

So, why am I rethinking online poker? For the first three years, the only real glitches that I had were connectivity problems, and on rare occasions, server overload problems. They were certainly frustrating, especially when it happened in the midst of a tournament that was otherwise going well, but they were understandable.

When the US passed the idiotic banking laws to try and thwart online gambling, most of the online poker sites that I had an account with turned away all US citizens. That included the site that I played on 95% of the time. I shifted 100% of my play to one site that was my second favorite anyway. For 14 months, I had virtually zero problems with them.

Now, for the past month, it has been one problem after another, all administrative, not table related. I have reported on a few of them. While they have made it right each and every time, I don’t feel like being ever vigilant about my account, and then chasing them down when I spot a problem, and waiting too patiently to hear back and eventually get it fixed.

There is enough mystery about the online experience, that trust has to be a big part of the proposition. This particular site is quickly losing my trust. In the past, reporting a problem typically yielded some sort of response within a few hours. Now, it can take days. Something is wrong.

As I reported recently, I had a credit (called Tournament Dollars or TDs) for an entry into the big Sunday tournament. Last night, I settled in and was ready to use that credit. At roughly 3:20pm, I tried to register for the 5pm start time, using the credit. The menu only allowed a cash entry fee. I double-checked my account, and indeed, the credit was there, just not available during the registration process. This had never happened before.

At 3:30pm, I used their highest level of customer support, a form which reports live play problems (presumably bringing much quicker help). It is now nearly 19 hours later, and I haven’t heard a peep from them.

I had promised myself that I would not pay the $215 entry to the weekly tourney. But, since I was settled in, and geared up to play, and believed that the site would eventually do the right thing (take away my credit, and put back the cash), I decided to pay the full freight entry fee last night for the first time.

1069 entrants, top 110 paid. I’ll spare you the details of the incredibly bad luck I had on my last hand, but I finished 471. I don’t care about the lost money (though the lost credit would have been nicer). I do care about the problems, and the lack of swift service.

So, what are my choices?

  1. Suck it up, ignore the problems (perhaps, even expect them), and continue on with this site.
  2. Move my money from this site to a new one (there are still a number of top sites that welcome US players).
  3. Take a break for a while (leaving the money in my account, so I can take it up again).
  4. Withdraw my money, and not think about online poker for a while.

I honestly have no idea what I’ll end up doing, but I’m seriously considering all of the above, for the first time in three years of nearly non-stop playing. If you have any insightful suggestions, feel free to leave them as comments here.

HDTV Transition Continues

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In September, in this post, I reported that we finally broke down and bought our first HDTV. As predicted, after watching the new TV for nearly four months, I started presenting all of the holiday deals on HDTV’s to Lois, whenever I saw them. I know she considered it nagging, rather than presenting. 😉

Finally, she said “just do it”. Her rationale (and I’m not kidding) was that we’re more generous with our friends than we are with ourselves (generally speaking), and that it was a shame that I didn’t splurge for these new “toys” for myself.

So, we took the plunge and bought two new HDTV’s for the apartment (bedroom and living room). One is the identical model that we have in the bedroom in the house. It cost $300 less than it did in September, at the same Sam’s Club. The other one is slightly larger (47″) which was the perfect size for the living room. It’s a Philips.

We brought them to the apartment on Thursday. While Lois was dreading getting them unloaded and up in the apartment, it turned out to be relatively hassle free, with the help of the building staff. Both TVs were set up in a very reasonable amount of time. The only problem was that we didn’t have HD capable cable boxes. I also had two HDMI cables on order that were scheduled to arrive the next day.

The HDMI cables showed up at 6:37pm yesterday. This morning, I walked over to Time Warner Cable’s store, and exchanged our two DVRs for HD DVRs. When I got back, I wired everything up. When I turned it on, I got a mini heart attack. There was zero sound through the HDMI cable. It had worked perfectly in the house, with FiOS, with the same cable, and the same exact TV. Oh oh…

Since both TVs got zero sound, I knew it wasn’t the TV. A single Google search yielded a forum thread from 2005 where people complained about this exact problem, only with Time Warner (so it wasn’t the box, it was the software on the box). The solution turned out to be trivial. There is a software setting (available through the settings menu) where you can direct that the sound be sent through the HDMI interface. Whew. I have concluded that the Internet is a good thing. 😉

One last thing for the near future (just didn’t feel like hassling with it today). While these DVRs come with 160GB disks, the FiOS one comes with 320GB, and it is puny when it comes to recording things in HD. In particular, with our travel schedule, the disk can fill up fast. So, I bought an external drive the other day that supports eSATA. The FiOS boxes have an eSATA connector, but do not yet support that port (they claim that eventually, a software update will light it up).

Time Warner (supposedly) supports eSATA, so I can turn my 160GB into 660GB when I plug in the new drive. I’ll get to it in the next week or so, no rush since the disk is empty at the moment, and we’re around for a while to watch whatever we record.

This leaves only one TV that remains non-HD. That’s the downstairs TV in the house, which is an ancient 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi. We’re rarely down there any more, and the thought of moving that beast out is not interesting to either of us, so it will be a while before it succumbs. It will happen, no doubt, but not just yet…

Abigail Washburn and Sparrow Quartet at Joe’s Pub

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At the bottom of this very long post, I mentioned that Lois and a friend were going to see Abigail Washburn at Joe’s Pub, on April 3rd, 2007. I went to see the Allman Brothers Band on the same night with that friend’s husband, so I didn’t blog about Abigail, even though Lois gave me a complete update.

Lois really enjoyed the show, which was Abigail playing banjo along with Ben Sollee playing cello. She bought two of Abigail’s CDs after the show. One thing that makes Abigail different is that she’s fluent in Mandarin, and writes and sings a good portion of her repertoire in Chinese!

I listened to both CDs while exercising, and while I liked both of them, I got a little tired of the Chinese (which I enjoyed on the first cut) after the third or fourth song that was in Chinese.

Her life story is fascinating, and well worth the read on her site (click on Bio on the bottom left of the screen).

Last night, she played at Joe’s Pub again, this time with her new quartet (Sparrow Quartet). In addition to Ben Sollee (mentioned above), the quartet includes Bela Fleck and Casey Driessen.

Bela is considered by many to be one of the greatest banjo players in the world. Casey is an extraordinary fiddle player. I had never seen Bela, and wasn’t familiar with his music, but I certainly had heard of him, in particular Bela Fleck and The Flecktones. His bio is fascinating too. Among many interesting facts is that he holds the record for most categories of Grammy nominations. In other words, he’s an exceptionally talented person!

I was particularly interested in hearing them, because I love banjo playing, and hearing two banjos on the same stage is unusual.

Whew, lots of background…

A quick word on the meal. Chocolate Martini was perfect, as always. Seared Tuna was as delectable as always (done to perfection). Joe’s Fries were yummy too! Absolutely perfect meal, which ended seconds before they took the stage, perfect timing on that front as well.

The concert was excellent. They are a talented group of people. Abigail had a cold, but she sounded great anyway, so I guess she sounds better on other nights, but I wasn’t disappointed.

That said, they only played one purely instrumental number (about 2/3 of the way through), and to me, it was by far the best number of the night. That’s not to take anything away from her voice, which is excellent. There is just a ton more energy in the group when they are jamming together, rather than accompanying Abigail.

While listening to a half dozen songs in Chinese was much more interesting live than on CD, it was at least a tad over the top (to me). A little more so for Lois.

Thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I would see them again live without hesitation. That said, I wouldn’t likely listen to a CD of last night’s performance, so (to me) this is more of an immersion experience than a just listen one.

Here is a YouTube video of them playing together in Shanghai. They sat in the same order (Fleck, Washburn, Sollee, Driessen) last night as well. I found it slightly ironic that this is a song done in English to a Chinese crowd, while we heard a bunch of Chinese delivered to an American crowd. 😉

Here is a much longer YouTube video, which includes music and interviews with all of them in Beijing. If you haven’t lost interest to this point, I found it quite enjoyable.

If you’re reading this today (Saturday, 1/12/2008) and you’re already in NYC, they are playing again tonight at BB King, so you can catch the show and decide for yourself! 🙂

Phil Keaggy Beyond Nature

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In this post, I mentioned that I intended to buy Beyond Nature and Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II by Phil Keaggy. Then, in this post, I explained how I was going to get it, namely, in a bundle from philkeaggy.com (including a repeat of Acoustic Sketches, which I had previously purchased as a download from Amazon.com).

It took a long time for those CDs to arrive, but due to our travel schedule, it’s possible that they were sitting here waiting patiently for over two weeks. I finally got to unwrap them and listen to both Beyond Nature, and Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II.

Both are excellent albums, and Beyond Nature is likely better (at least on first listen). Thanks to those who recommended it, including Bill Cooley and DigitalDreamDoor’s top 100 Acoustic Guitar Albums List.

As mentioned in the previous post, I now have a shrink-wrapped CD of Acoustic Sketches by Phil Keaggy. Even though that’s higher quality than the download I purchased from Amazon.com, I am going to give away the CD to one lucky friend.

If you’re reading this, know me personally, like Acoustic Guitar music and are interested in owning this CD, don’t hesitate to let me know (publicly as a comment, or privately in an email, IM or phone call). I haven’t decided whether I’ll give it to the first person that asks, or whether I’ll give everyone a few days, and see whether something else prompts the decision (proximity for ease of handoff, need, level of begging, etc.). 😉

For the moment, I’m done collecting Phil Keaggy music. I like it a lot, but I’ve accumulated so much new acoustic guitar music in the past two months, that I’m close to done in general (at least for a while), not just with Phil. That will be the subject of a different post, in the next few days.

I feel a flurry of posts coming on over the weekend…

Magnatune.com Totally Nails Music

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I’ve had a number of music-related posts kicking around my head of a while now, and I’ve even threatened publicly to finally birth my Pandora and Last.fm post. It’s coming, as are a few other music posts in the next week.

However, I just discovered an online music label called Magnatune this past week. The story of how I discovered them is interesting (to me at least) 😉 but I will save that for another post, as Magnatune is special enough to deserve at least one post purely about them.

You can learn more about them from them than you can from me, by reading each of the entries on their information page. I certainly encourage you to do so. That said, I’d like to highlight what’s so special for me.

First, you get to hear 100% of every song that’s available through Magnatune for free, online, an unlimited number of times. That’s right, if you don’t care about listening when you’re offline, you don’t ever need to pay for a single song from Magnatune. Say goodbye to ever purchasing something that disappointed you, because you didn’t get to hear all of it in advance.

Next, pay what you think it’s worth, with a minimum of $5 per album. I thought that the Radiohead experiment, which included the option to pay nothing, was interesting, but also stupid. The fact that they discontinued it, and now sell through normal channels, is also interesting.

Not all music is created equally. You and I may have different tastes. We might both like artist A, but she might be your favorite, and way down on my list. You should happily be willing to pay more for her music than I would be. Furthermore, we can’t all afford to pay the same amount, whether that’s fair or not. But, if there isn’t a bottom line price, it devalues the asset (in my opinion).

Next, download it any number of formats, or purchase it on CD. Holy cow batman, this is just right and cool. Want the CD instantaneously, and have the bandwidth for it? Download the WAV files directly, and burn the CD (or don’t!). 😉 Want high quality MP3 with VBR? Prefer Ogg Vorbis? You get the point. This is absolutely right.

You and I may want to buy the same music, and we may even want to pay the same amount, but we might want it in a different format, for our own convenience. Geeks (myself included!) can certainly always grab the WAV files, and convert to their hearts content. Many more people don’t want to think about the hassle, even if they’re capable of doing so.

Next, (sit down, and get ready for this one) give it away to three of your friends, completely for free, completely legally! Yes, that’s right, they encourage you, not only permit you, to give away copies of what you buy to three different people. You say that’s cool, and obviously it is, but wait, it’s even cooler than that.

Cooler? How could that be? Well, aside from me being allowed to copy and distribute the music (however I want, burn a CD, email the files, etc.), that might be inconvenient for me (emailing 100+ megs might not even be possible for many people). Running to the post office to send off my newly burned CD, etc. So, Magnatune permits me to forward the email that I received with my special login/password combo so that my friend can download from their site!

Wait, not only do they permit me to share the music for free, but they spend their resources delivering it to my friends for free? Awesome! Even more awesome is that now my friends can pick their desired format. If I downloaded WAV files (for example), they could choose FLAC, MP3, etc. I don’t have to guess, or convert for them, etc. Amazing.

Next, they also sell through Amazon.com MP3 downloads. This is smart. Not everyone wants to create new accounts or give their credit card to a new merchant, when they already trust a particular service. They also worked hard to negotiate the pricing on Amazon. I’ll have more to say about that in another post, but for now, let’s just say that Magnatune got this part right too, in that they can’t expect to be the sole distributors of their music.

Finally, and this one is really important to me too (and I’ll elaborate in another post about another label that mostly gets it right, but not as right as Magnatune!), they are 100% transparent about the economics between them and the artists. This affected my behavior (in a positive way toward the artists!), and I bet it will affect other people’s behavior (as the founder of Magnatune explains well). In a coming post I will explain how the other label didn’t get this part as right.

Those are the biggies. To review:

  1. Listen to entire albums for free, as often as you like
  2. Pay what you think it’s worth, with a floor price of $5
  3. Download in any number of formats (or order a real CD)
  4. Share it for free with up to three friends
  5. Distribute as widely as possible (while making your site preferred)
  6. Be 100% transparent about how purchases benefit Artists

There are a number of other things about Magnatune that are cool. You can use their music in your podcasts. You can license their music (in a hassle-free manner!) for use in commercial projects. Check the information page linked above for more cool things.

Basically, they totally get it, 100%.

I’ve already bought three downloads from them. I’m sure there are many more to come. I don’t want to mention the artist in this post, because this isn’t about the music itself, but rather about a label that gets it.

Here is their banner, linked to their site, as requested by them in helping to spread the word!

Magnatune.com

Weekend Poker Update

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We spent the day with our friends in Leesburg yesterday, and had a very nice time.

Got back to the hotel to relax for the evening. After dinner, I decided to enter the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo. I didn’t have a free entry queued up, so I ponied up the $22 to get in.

170 entrants, top 20 paid. Some crazy hands along the way, including having my very nice stack cut in half by someone who got extremely lucky on me after being way behind. But, all’s well that ends well. I finished fourth, and got back $289 for my $22 entry fee. In the last hand, I had such a fantastic draw for scooping the pot, which would have put me in first place, but it didn’t happen, and I was out.

I was already entered into tonight’s big one. Here are my detailed notes. For those who don’t want to read all the way, I missed the money, but just barely. 🙁

*****************************************************

I had an entry already banked, but when I won another entry
on New Year’s Eve, they automatically entered me into this
one, and I didn’t “unregister”, so I am playing tonight, and
still have one entry in the bank for a future tourney.

20 minutes in, and I’m down a drop. Never been above my
original chip count, so it’s a slow start.

A little patience paid off in back-to-back hands against the
same person. In one, I had a read that he was bluffing, and
I called his raise pre-flop, then his bet on the flop and
his bet on the turn (where I paired my K). He checked on the
river and folded to a large bet on my part.

The next hand, I limped with A9s. The flop came A49
rainbow. I checked, he bet, I raised, he re-raised, I
re-raised all-in. He had A7, and he’s out, and I am
breathing a little better now.

1063 entrants, top 110 paid.

980 left, in 41st

Made it to the first break. 🙂

862 left, in 104th
796 left, in 149th
591 left, in 145th

Made it to the second break. 🙂

498 left, in 200th

Lost a number of hands where folding was likely correct, but
who knows. Then I got very lucky. I had 99 and I raised. The
big stack at the table called. Flop came JT8 with two
diamonds. I had the 9 of diamonds, but it’s the straight
that emboldened me to bet with two overs. He called. The
turn was a J. I went all-in, he called. He had KJ, so he was
crushing me. River was a 9, so I caught a full house and
doubled up. Since then, I lost with AQ to AK, and with 77 to
KT when he flopped a straight.

So, while I’m ahead of my double up, I gave back a ton of
chips on those two hands…

393 left, in 208th

After losing the blinds for a few rounds, I had AA on the
button, and the same big stack raised. I went all-in and he
called with TT. AA held up, and I’m back to nearly where I
was when I last doubled up. Whew.

325 left, in 128th

I folded JJ in the small blind to a raise and a large
re-raise, both of him had me covered. One had AK, the other
KQ. JJ would have held up. Oh well, no guts, no glory…

Was getting low on chips. Got AK in the small blind. UTG
raised, everyone folded, I re-raised all-in, and he had
AT. AK held up and I’m in better shape now.

208 left, in 119th

Made it to the third break. 🙂 Crunch time is coming.

184 left, in 125th
168 left, in 144th

Got AA in the big blind, with the same guy raising when I
last doubled up with AK. Everyone folded, I re-raised
all-in, and he called with KQo. AA held up, and I’m now in
much better shape than even before. I can easily make the
money if I “shut down”. So, we’ll see how it goes…

144 left, in 87th
130 left, in 97th
126 left, in 101st

Might be tighter than I thought. Oh well, some things never
change…

Went all-in with AK. Got called by someone with JJ. I
flopped a K, so I was in great shape, he had two outs. The
turn was a J, so I was toast. I finished in 120th, 10 out of
the money. Like I said, I could almost definitely have
folded my way into the money, but I’m a drop tired of doing
that (though the “money” is nice), so I’m not upset with
myself for “going for it”. Also, considering that I was
ahead, I had a real shot to move way up in the standings if
I had more than doubled up there.

So, can’t really complain, even though it didn’t happen this
time…

Hotel TV Victory

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In this post, I mentioned that it wouldn’t be until January that I got to try out my new low-tech cable solution for watching our own stuff on the hotel TV.

We just had the longest stretch in six years of not being in a hotel. Our last stay ended on November 20th, and tonight is our first night since (we’ve stayed with friends for five nights during that stretch, so they weren’t all at home).

Tonight I pulled out my low-tech cable and connected it to the TV in the hotel. I then put two AAA batteries in my programmable remote and looked up the code for a Philips TV. After a moment of panic, when I noticed that there wasn’t a button labeled Input on the remote, I finally found (by trial and error) that there was a button labeled A->B which did the same thing.

Sure enough, I was able to change the hotel TV to all of the inputs (S-Video, Front RCA, Rear RCA, something else, etc.).

I then connected to my home DVR (the DirecTV Hughes HDVR2 that I’ve recently resuscitated) through my SlingBox, and we watched a two hour show that I had recorded months ago. It worked flawlessly!

I enabled a second monitor and extended my desktop to it. I then ran the Sling window in that second monitor and maximized it (800×600) which was the perfect size for the TV. I was able to play Poker on the main laptop screen, without interfering with the show on the TV (also very cool!).

But, there was one last problem. I like having the sound on for the Poker tourneys, so that if I look away from the screen, and it’s my turn, I hear the beep. But, to get the sound on the TV to work, I really have to crank the sound to the headphone jack on the laptop. That would make the Poker beeps way too loud on the TV.

My solution is almost Rube Goldberg, but it worked! 😉

I have a tiny USB sound adapter (I can never get the Microphone input to work, and the volume on the output is deafeningly loud, but, it works). So, I first connect the Sling when the normal headphone jack is enabled. Then I insert the USB sound device, and set that to be the new default sound device. Poker (and most other apps) immediately switch to the new default device, but the Sling keeps playing through the device that was the default when it was launched.

So, I listened for the Poker beep through earbuds that were connected to the USB sound device, and the low-tech cable was connected to the S-Video port and the headphone jack.

Total Victory! Sweet! 🙂

Last Poker Post of 2007

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OK, I really didn’t expect to post again on poker this year. But, I have to. 😉

I just played in two qualifiers. They started 40 minutes apart, so when the second started, I played in both simultaneously for about 90 minutes.

The first was for the big tourney on Sunday. That one cost me $15.50 to enter. The second was for the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo which I love so much. That one cost me $4.10 to enter. In the bigger one, there were 53 entrants, top four would win the free entry. I came in second, so I got the entry, and I’ll be playing this Sunday (and still have another entry in the bank).

In the second, there were also close to 53 entrants, but the top nine would win the free entry (worth $22). I came in ninth (which is as good as first in these types of tourneys!), so I won that entry too. I unregistered (since we’ll be out for New Year’s Eve tonight), so I can play tomorrow night without needing to qualify for it. 🙂

So, two for two today, with a nearly 15-1 return in the first one, and 7-1 in the second.

Then, feeling that I was on a roll, I entered two more qualifiers for the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo. Unfortunately, I lost both (poor play on my part, not poor luck). I gave back a whopping $7.16 in those two tourneys. Now officially done for the year!

The final tally for the month got a tad worse (since I lost the entry fees mentioned above), and now stands at down $267.25. That said, I now have two big tourney entries in the bank, and one Omaha Hi-Lo one as well, which is worth $452. Hopefully, I’ll convert those entries to real cash. 🙂

December 2007 Poker Update

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Well, as I mentioned in this post, December wasn’t a good month economically. That said, I had some very good results in qualifiers, including winning three seats to the big Sunday tournament. As mentioned in that last post as well, I ended up getting crushed in one of those tourneys, have the TDs to play in a future one of my choice, and got a cash refund for the third (which cut my losses for the month nicely!).

So, the bottom line is down $240.61 for the month. Nothing horrific, but nothing to be proud of either. That said, I was down $537 at the peak, so I cut the losses dramatically this past weekend. Considering that I have one free big tourney entry left in my account, I essentially broke even for the month.

For the year, I have done well. I didn’t start blogging about monthly results until March, so I don’t have a clean monthly tally for the year. So, roughly guessing where my account was at the beginning of the year, and where it is now, I’d say that conservatively speaking, I’m up $1,600 on the year (probably more). In other words, I’m minting money. 😉

I’ll probably be playing in one or two small qualifiers today, so the above results aren’t exact, but darn close.

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! 🙂

Cool Christmas Gifts

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Just got back from a wonderful dinner, and enjoying watching people get real excited about watching their favorite Redskins beat the Cowboys to make it into the playoffs!

When we got back, our friends gave me two gifts. The first is a mug with a picture of a Shark on it, with the word “card” printed above it. “Card Shark”. Cool! 🙂

The second is a T-Shirt that is also a bona-fide WiFi locator. I had just recently read about it, that it was the current geek chic gift of choice. It’s very cool. Here’s a link to the online store.

Thanks to my current hosts for the cool gifts! 🙂