My first book, My Friend Sancho, was published in May 2009, and went on to become the biggest selling debut novel released that year in India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and had earlier been longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
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Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.
My posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.
Today’s column begins with a fashion update: A ribbed, silk green gown from Vivienne Westwood’s spring/summer 2010 collection has been selected as Fashion Museum’s Dress of the Year. Androgyny has become the latest trend on the catwalks. In India, The Times of India, who should know, informs us that “yellows are in.” And oh, have you heard about Anna Hazare? He’s quite the flavour of the month.
Yes, that’s right, I’m an Anna Hazare cynic. I understand that like Yuvraj Singh, he’s in the zone right now. I get it that he stands for the battle against corruption, one of India’s gravest problems. But I’m amused that most people supporting him haven’t read and understood the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill, which Hazare has been fighting for. I’m appalled that they don’t understand that this bill does nothing to fight the root causes of corruption, and may instead add to the problem. And yes, I’d be astounded if they care about this bill or the man two weeks from now, when the fashion would have changed, yellows would be out, and purples would be, like, so in.
That corruption is one of the biggest problems India faces is a banal truism. But where we go wrong in thinking about it is that we treat it like a disease, when it is really a symptom. Corruption arises from power. When people have power over our lives, they will misuse it: that is inherent in human nature. When you need 165 licenses to open a hotel in India, including “a special licence for the vegetable weighing scale in the kitchen and one for each of the bathroom scales put in guest rooms”, there is a recipe for corruption right there. When every government servant you encounter while doing some routine work, from a driver to a peon, can delay you or derail you, corruption is inevitable.
Corruption is inevitable in India because the government has too much power. If a hotelier did not need 165 licenses—and there is no reason why he should need any—that would be 165 bribes less to pay. (I’m assuming one bribe per license, which is honestly quite optimistic.) If our mai-baap sarkars did not have control over so many elements of our lives, there would be less scope for chai-paani. In practically every area of our lives, there is government interference or oversight, either overt or covert. And, to repeat that old cliche one more time because it is both pithy and true, power corrupts. That’s just human nature.
So what is the solution to corruption then? Since the problem lies with power, you need to tackle that first. You need to, first of all, question the many ways in which the government controls our lives. Completely dismantling the license-and-inspector raj is one way to do. Scrapping every ministry that has no reason to exist, at both the central and state level, would be another. (We’d be left with just three or four of them.) Governments should exist to implement law and order, to protect our rights, and to provide basic services—nothing else. The more we move towards this ideal, the closer we come to rooting out corruption.
Obviously these specific goals are high-hanging fruit. Those in power will never willingly give up any piece of it. But an equal part of the problem is our default attitude that our government exists to rule us and not serve us. This must change. Equally, we seem to believe that the solution to bad government is more government. This is exactly the opposite of the truth, and broadly the mistake that Anna Hazare is making.
The Lokpal Bill does not tackle any of the root causes of corruption. Instead, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it in his wonderful critique, the bill amounts to “an unparalleled concentration of power in one institution that will literally be able to summon any institution and command any kind of police, judicial and investigative power.” In other words, in a situation where the problem is power, we create an entity that has even more power and, what is more, has appointed officials instead of elected ones. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta writes, this is not “the deepening, but ... the profound erosion of democracy.”
I’m not as skeptical of Hazare as my friend Manu Joseph is—I think Gaurav Sabnis’s view is more balanced. I’m sure the man is well-intentioned, and has achieved much in the past. But he is fighting for the wrong thing here. You do not cure a diabetic man by feeding him sweets; equally, you cannot root our corruption by creating more centres of power.
I must admit, though, that Vivienne Westwood makes some funky dresses.
* * * *
I’m always amused to see how a worthy cause acts like Red Bull to our chatteratti. From the meaningless, feel-good candlelight vigils after 26/11, to countless self-righteous online petitions about this and that, to support for Anna Hazare, the new middle-class icon. (Who woulda thunk?) Why, I even heard about a movement on Twitter that was trying to get everyone to fast for one day in solidarity with Hazare. One day! How far we have come: from “fast unto death” to “fast until midnight.” This is progress, India.
* * * *
Speaking of androgyny being in fashion, it strikes me that most foreigners, when they hear his name, must think Anna Hazare is a woman. I would so love to see a desi Lady Gaga clone on MTV soon, calling herself Anna Hazare. She’d have to be really thin, of course, because not only is that fashionable, she’s been fasting. I have the title of her first single already “Would you like to be my lokpal, baybeh?” I can see her in my mind’s eye, and lemme tell you, it’s corrupting me.
This is the third installment of Pocket Quads, my bi-monthly column on poker for Cardplayer India. It appears in the issue dated March-April 2011.
Poker is a beautiful game, but one poignant truth about it is that the vast majority of poker players are losers: in the long run, they put more money on the table than they pick up. The element of luck in the game ensures that they have a few winning sessions, and many memorable hands, that serve as oxygen to their hopes of becoming poker sharks. But in the end, just a few people end up profitable. What do all these losing players have in common that separate them from long-term success? In this column, I’ll tackle a few common leaks that I’ve observed in local cash games (and have tried hard to eliminate in my own play).
1. Losing players play too many hands.
There seems to be a common misconception among poker players that the game is about winning as many hands as you can. It is not. It is about winning as much money as possible. In a recent Cardplayer column, Dusty Schmidt cited a study by Kyle Siler of Cornell University, which analysed 27 million hands played online and found that “the more hands you win, the more money you’re likely to lose.” Losing players typically enter many pots, win many small hands, and lose a few really big ones. This is the exact opposite of the formula to poker profitability.
Television is partly to blame for this. Televised poker gives edited versions of long poker sessions, or tournament final tables with relatively high blind structures, and to the casual viewer, there is action every hand, and any two cards (‘ATC’) are playable. Thus, we have players in my local game who call 10x BB raises with 79o or 36s, with no grasp of the situational nuances that prompt top players to play them once in a while. Occasionally, they’ll flop two pair or a straight and bust aces with them, which will make them feel like Rambo, so they’ll try it again and again. But with two random cards, you will flop two pair or better once in 34 hands. (And even then you may be behind.) In the long run, such holdings are simply not profitable.
2. Losing players don’t know how to fold.
Besides not folding enough preflop (see previous point), losing players also don’t fold enough after the flop. If they see a flush draw, they will chase it to the end, regardless of whether the pot odds offered to them are profitable or not. If they play suited connectors (say, TJs), they will overplay their hand if they hit top pair, which misses the point of playing suited connectors. There is an old poker jungle saying, “Never go broke on one pair.” They will do exactly that, especially if that pair is pocket aces or kings. They will fall in love with their hand, and will indulge in wishful thinking about what their opponent might be up to.
This is why flopping a set is the most profitable situation in poker against your average donk. If he has hit top pair, he will simply refuse to put you on a set. The thought of winning that pot is too precious to him to accept the possibility of someone having a better hand. He. Will. Not. Fold.
3. Losing players ignore the math.
You’ve reached the turn, are chasing a flush, and are offered 2 to 1 odds to play on. Do you do so? You’ve raised to 1200 in a 100-200 game with TJs, a short stack has gone all-in for 3200, you are sure he has AKs, and there’s no one else in the hand: do you call him? You’ve missed your straight draw at the river but a third heart has hit the board, you think there is a one-third chance that your opponent may fold to a bluff bet of 75% of the pot, should you make it? Every decision we face in a poker game is a mathematical one at its core, once we account for our reads and the psychology of the game. Losing players ignore the math, and go by their feelings, their intuition or their ‘judgement’. It works for them a few times—but in the long run, they cannot win if they ignore the numbers.
4. Losing players don’t build big pots with their monster hands. (And vice versa.)
It is a fundamental axiom in poker that you must build big pots when you have a big hand, and keep the pot as small as possible when you have a marginal hand. Too many players, I have seen, will flop a monster (say, trips or a set), and will check the flop, and check the turn, and perhaps value bet the river and moan when they don’t get paid off. This is crazy.
When you have a monster hand, you need to calculate how to get as much of your opponents’ stacks in the middle as possible. Start building the pot right away. Make them pay for their draws (even if they’re drawing dead, they may not know it). Monsters don’t come around often and you need to maximise them.
Sometimes, of course, slow-playing works, especially if you’re up against a compulsive c-better who will certainly bet if checked to. But in general, betting your monsters is a good idea. Don’t take it too far, though, such as I did once when my pocket aces turned into quad aces on the flop, and I c-bet because I surmised that a check from a compulsive c-better like me (as I was at the time) would seem suspicious. Everyone folded.
5. Losing players make too many moves.
There are few things more satisfying than a successful bluff at the river to win a large pot, or a check-raise at the turn with a gutshot draw to make two pair fold. But, carried away by youth and the dopamine rushes that characterise gambling addiction, many players make way too many moves. They may not build monster pots when they have huge hands, but they sure make small pots huge in their urge to steal them with tricky plays. They make ill-timed squeeze plays, throw out large bluffs on the river without first telling a plausible story about their hand on preceding streets, and lose more money on stone cold bluffs, for pots that were tiny till they pumped it up, than they win with pocket aces.
This does not mean, of course, that you make no plays at all. If you sense weakness, it is your duty as a poker player to exploit it. But it’s easy to stretch this too far. One young man in my local game plays every pot, always bluffs if checked to, and once called himself the “Tom Dwan of Lokhandwala”. He drops, on average, five buy-ins per session. Dwan would cringe if he saw this guy invoke his name. To be a successful loose-aggressive player, it is not enough to be loose and aggressive—you also have to be successful. If you do not have the incredible psychological and situational skills of a Dwan or Ivey, it is better to keep it tight, and keep it simple.
6. Losing players let the game get to their emotions.
They lose a big pot, and they steam. They play perfect poker for five hours, get a bad beat in the sixth, go on tilt and give away their stacks away in the next ten minutes. They get tired and play hands they wouldn’t otherwise have played. They take the game personally, and let their ego drive them into wrong decisions.
These are all traps I’ve fallen into myself. (Indeed, at some phase or the other, I’ve committed all the mistakes I speak of in this column. Who hasn’t?) And I have come to realise that more than technical ability or mathematical skill or psychological acuity, poker is a game of character. It demands great discipline, patience and self-control. If you have these qualities, the rest will come.
Click here for the earlier installments of Pocket Quads.
... when life sucks, but you can’t afford to die:
As families across China begin today’s annual “Qing Ming”, or Tomb-sweeping, festival, there has been a growing chorus of complaint about the price of cemetery plots, some of which now exceed cost of luxury apartments in square foot terms.
“I cannot afford to buy a house while I’m alive and now cannot afford to buy a grave for when I’m dead,” commented one user on the portal dayoo.com hosting a discussion of the subject, while another added bitterly, “So now we cannot sleep peacefully even after we die?”
Yes, I know, we do it best here in India: it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
(Link via Marginal Revolution.)
Kumar Sangakkara, in a statement released to announce his stepping down from the Sri Lankan captaincy, has said:
I would like to announce that after careful consideration I have concluded that it is in the best long-term interests of the team that I step down now as national captain so that a new leader can be properly groomed for the 2015 World Cup in Australia. [...] I will be 37 by the next World Cup and I cannot therefore be sure of my place in the team. It is better that Sri Lanka is led now by a player who will be at the peak of their career during that tournament.
The thought seems noble, but I’m struck by two things here:
1] The implication that the World Cup is the biggest thing there is in cricket, the only aim of any cricketing nation, and takes precedence over all other cricketing goals.
2] The notion that it takes four full years to groom a captain. If Sangakkara was to give up the captaincy in, say, 2013, wouldn’t two years be enough? Why not? What’s the optimum time a new captain would need to build his team or himself become comfortable in the job?
I can understand that the poor chap must be fatigued: the captaincy of any international cricket side must be immensely draining. That would surely be a good enough reason to state for quitting—though this certainly seems more statesmanlike.
New diets for cows and sheep could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, research funded by the Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) shows.
Feeding the animals maize silage, naked oats and higher sugar grasses could reduce the amount of methane they produce, the study by Reading University and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences showed.
Agriculture accounts for around nine per cent of all British greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this comes from sheep, cows and goats.
I can just about imagine a cow reading this and going, “Naked oats? Mmmm!” and setting off a pleased fart. Also, I would guess that Gujju cows have historically emitted less methane, since they’ve always like sugar in their grass. I wonder if news channel reporters could also be force-fed naked oats and sugar grass.
Yeah, I know this isn’t an astonishingly substantive post, but India Uncut has resumed, so how can I not do a cow post? ;)
(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113.)
Aside: What a badly written news article. Just see the first two paras. Jeez…
My buddy Deepak Shenoy has a Yahoo! column up today that expresses a complaint I’ve had about many Indian sports journalists for a while now: they are innumerate, and draw conclusions on the basis of inadequate data. The example Deepak provides is the following fact, trumped “on Twitter, TV and ... the internet when Mahela Jayawardene scored his hundred” in the World Cup final, as if it had great statistical or predictive significance:
“No century-scorer has ever been on the losing side of a World Cup final.”
As Deepak points out, there have been only five World Cup finals before this in which a batsman scored a century. Just five. There is no way that is a sample size large enough to draw a meaningful conclusion from.
Cricket journalism is littered with such conclusions, though, using stats with unjustifiable authority. Consider the following widespread belief among cricket lovers:
South Africa are chokers.
I heard this a lot after they crashed out of this World Cup, but what’s the basis for this, really? Cricinfo’s Statsguru reveals that out of 27 ODI tournament finals, they have won 16. On the bigger stage, though, at the World Cup, they have lost at the knock-out stage five times.
Now, much as 0 out of 5 seems revealing, that’s still way too small a sample size to draw conclusions—especially when those five times stretch across generations. When we say South Africa are chokers, are we talking about Kepler Wessels’s squad in 1992, Hansie Cronje’s side in 1999, or Graeme Smith’s boys this year? Is there a new science of Sports Genetics that explains how such qualities can be passed on across generations?
Through the World Cup, reporters fed old narratives or built new ones on the basis of such nonsense data. For example, MS Dhoni got savaged for promoting Yusuf Pathan up the batting order, where it seems he was a proven failure—on the basis of 11 ODIs (out of a total of 51), in which he batted between 3 and 5. More importantly, Pathan batted at 3 or 4 in just two games in this World Cup, and failed in both—but two is not a remotely meaningful number.
In such cases, I’d always defer to the captain and team management’s judgement, who are closer to the action and the players, rather than the ranting of reporters who couldn’t tell the difference between an arm-ball and a doosra, but feel the need to criticize from their perch on high, using numbers with all the finesse of monkeys using calculators.
The judgments the media arrives at, you will note, are passed in hindsight, after the outcome is known. MS Dhoni got applause for leading us to the T20 World Cup, but would have been slammed for his decision to bring on Joginder Sharma for that last over in the final had Misbah-ul-Haq played one shot slightly differently. All our experts criticized him for picking Ashish Nehra over R Ashwin in the recent semi-final, and praised him afterwards for his prescience. Had Dhoni gotten a bad decision or an unplayable ball in the final, and India had lost, he would have been chastised for promoting himself up the order—but we won, so hey, it’s a masterstroke.
One of the lessons I’ve learnt as a poker player—and it applies generally to life as well—is that the quality of your decisions should not be judged by their outcomes. In the short term, too many variables determine the outcome of any action, beyond just the action itself. The quality of a player’s captaincy, for example, can only be judged over a long period of time—and even then, the other variables at play make that very difficult. For example, the question of whether Dhoni or Saurav Ganguly were greater captains than Tiger Pataudi or Sunil Gavaskar are difficult ones precisely because the latter two led lousy teams in difficult times, and they couldn’t possibly have gotten the results Dhoni and Ganguly (and also Dravid, for that matter) did. So our evaluation of their captaincy cannot be based on results alone, and there is a subjective element to it.
In my subjective opinion, Dhoni is the best captain we’ve ever had—but my basis for this opinion is not just his results, but the manner in which he goes about his job. He had the cojones to promote himself up the order in the final and take the responsibility upon himself in that ultra-high-pressure situation. Even if he’d been out for a duck, and India had lost, he’d still have my eternal respect for that.
If Poonam Pandey does manage to ‘perform’ for the Indian World Cup squad, imagine how pissed Praveen Kumar and Rohit Sharma will be.
The WTF statement of the day comes from Philip D’Souza of the Shiv Sena:
We’re going to protect the daughters of Goa, irrespective of caste, creed, colour and political affiliation.
That last bit is just magnificent. And what exactly is this gentleman from the Shiv Sena trying to protect the daughters of Goa from? Bipasha Basu. Insane.
Q. If D’Souza was in West Bengal, who would he be protecting?
Ans. The daughters of Guha.
Two bits of good news for long-suffering India Uncut readers:
1] Yahoo! Opinions, the section of columns at Yahoo! edited by me, has resumed operation.
2] India Uncut is also now going to wake up from slumber and become regular again. I know I’ve promised this before and gone right back to sleep, so this time it’s not too credible, but hell, give me a chance. For around four of the six-plus years this blog has been in existence, I wrote an average of five posts a day, so I certainly am capable of getting that momentum going.
But how can I write more posts if I don’t finish this one?
Nick Paumgarten’s fantastic profile of Shigeru Miyamoto in The New Yorker has this wonderful quote by Miyamoto about his childhood:
I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish. That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation. I wish that children nowadays could have similar experiences, but it’s not very easy.
I think Miyamoto’s lament holds true not just for kids but for all of us. We are desensitized and apathetic, and there is no sense of wonder in our lives anymore. How does one recapture it? I don’t think going back to nature and escaping from the urban grind is an answer in itself. Those of us who do that do it as an anaesthetic or a balm. There has to be something more.
When was the last time you noticed a fish?
Because of Pepsi’s new campaign, as seen below. Like, ewwww!
Update: Here’s more from the campaign. FSM help us!
A Wired story by Rich Schapiro begins thus:
At 2:28 pm on August 28, 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had a short cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt. Wells, 46 and balding, passed the teller a note. “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000,” it said. “You have only 15 minutes.” Then he lifted his shirt to reveal a heavy, boxlike device dangling from his neck. According to the note, it was a bomb. The teller, who told Wells there was no way to get into the vault at that time, filled a bag with cash—$8,702—and handed it over. Wells walked out, sucking on a Dum Dum lollipop he grabbed from the counter, hopped into his car, and drove off. He didn’t get far. Some 15 minutes later, state troopers spotted Wells standing outside his Geo Metro in a nearby parking lot, surrounded him, and tossed him to the pavement, cuffing his hands behind his back.
Wells told the troopers that while out on a delivery he had been accosted by a group of black men who chained the bomb around his neck at gunpoint and forced him to rob the bank. “It’s gonna go off!” he told them in desperation. “I’m not lying.” The officers called the bomb squad and took positions behind their cars, guns drawn. TV camera crews arrived and began filming. For 25 minutes Wells remained seated on the pavement, his legs curled beneath him.
“Did you call my boss?” Wells asked a trooper at one point, apparently concerned that his employer would think he was shirking his duties. Suddenly, the device started to emit an accelerating beeping noise. Wells fidgeted. It looked like he was trying to scoot backward, to somehow escape the bomb strapped to his neck. Beep… Beep… Beep. Boom! The device detonated, blasting him violently onto his back and ripping a 5-inch gash in his chest. The pizza deliveryman took a few last gasps and died on the pavement.
This is just the beginning of a complex case where all the details haven’t yet been resolved. But what a story it is. Just the start, these first three paras, can be the basis for a gripping film or novel: a metaphysical thriller where the collar bomb could stand for much more than just a collar bomb. I wonder what some of Bollywood’s new directors would make of it.
Of course, in the film our pizza deliveryman wouldn’t die so soon, but would struggle against time and circumstance, as we all do. And that’s the story.
The Times of India investigates if “Aishwarya Rai (Jodhaa Akbar) has been replaced by younger Bollywood star Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) as the face of cosmetics firm L’Oréal”, and ends its report with these two priceless paragraphs:
Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, suggested that instead of obsession with minor issues like “pitched battles of Aishwarya and Freida”, media should focus more on highlighting major issues facing humanity, world and India today.
Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, stressed that instead of running after these mundane things, we should focus on realizing the Self. As ancient Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad points out that when wise realize the Self, they go beyond sorrow…When one realizes Self, there is nothing else to be known.
Stunning WTFness—and in case you need some background on this publicity hound and self-styled “distinguished Hindu statesman”, my friend Prem Panicker’s classic post from 2009 has more.
* * *
I’m racking my brains about what “realising the self” could mean, and I can’t think beyond masturbation. In my nihilistic worldview, there can be nothing more divine than a self-inflicted distinguished Hindu orgasm. The rest is illusion. No?
* * *
Meanwhile, bothered by thoughts of neither Aishwarya nor Freida, the irrepressible MF Husain has expressed his love for Anushka Sharma. Besides being gorgeous, she also acted really well in Band Baajaa Baaraat, so I’m going to cheer him on in his efforts to “paint her in myriad hues.” I wonder what Mr Zed would have to say about that.
The Zed link via email from Arjun Swarup.
The quote of the week comes from the man revealed to be the mysterious Isildur1, Viktor Blom, describing how he got into online poker:
I deposited $2,000 and within three weeks I had two million.
Ah, well, that’s the dream there, neatly encapsulated, isn’t it? It’s quite believable, actually, though there is no way Blom could have turned 2k into 2 million in that time if he practised disciplined bankroll management, so it’s quite clear that he played above the limits he should have, and got struck by the lucky side of variance. He’s experienced swings both ways since, but if the variance had worked against him at the start, who’s to say if Isildur1 would even exist?
That said, he’s obviously bloody good. And he’s just 20. Scary…
* * *
In other poker news, here’s a charming post by one of my favourite players, Daniel Negreanu, on how he missed most of his 2010 poker goals.
His first goal for 2011 was get back on the all-time money-leader list, and he’s already achieved that with his second-place finish in the PCA Super High Roller tourney. Studness.
If Hartosh Singh Bal did not exist, one would have to invent him. A few months, he stirred up much righteous outrage across Indian literary circles with his attack on “navel-gazing contemporary Indian fiction”—see the comments there, much fun. On that occasion, I thought he had a point, but expressed it poorly, with all the wrong examples, and commenters duly took him apart.
Well, now he’s back with an attack on the Jaipur Literary Festival that seems to be attacking the establishment only because it seems a cool thing to do, and makes a whole bunch of silly arguments, such as a bizarrely personality-based one about William Dalrymple—I’d be surprised if he even convinced himself with that piece. The action has begun in the comments there—my friends Nilanjana, Devangshu and Sonia have already weighed in—and there will surely be much more in the days to come. Watch that space.
But why do I welcome Hartosh’s pieces when I don’t entirely agree with them? It’s because, like a true Bigg Boss watcher, I like the drama and the fighting that ensues. I also enjoy the terrible self-importance running through some of the comments, and that oh-so-serious tone as if the issue being discussed affects all our lives, and is hugely important, like global warming or Islamist terrorism or the ethics of wearing hoodies and sunglasses during poker tournaments. It’s not! No one gives a shit! It’s just books! Chill out, people!
So much fun.
* * *
On the subject of book festivals, I’ve attended just a couple (Jaipur and Galle, though I wasn’t an invitee at the former), and had a whale of a time at both. For any reader, it’s an amazing experience to be able to spend three or four days listening to writers talking about their craft, and mingling with fellow enthusiasts. And the Jaipur fest, far from showcasing only foreign writers, as Bal implies, actually presents a terrific platform to Indian writers as well, including vernacular ones. At the very least, even if you’re skeptical about them, they do some good and no harm at all. So where’s the problem?
* * *
I won’t be going to Jaipur this year, though. My pilgrimages are poker tournaments, and there are three this weekend in Goa. My writing has suffered terribly because of this new addiction, but I’ll find a balance soon. Just as soon as I finish playing this hand.
What did you say, raise? Are you kidding me? That’s so rude. Ok, then, I’m all in.
* * *
I mentioned Bigg Boss earlier in the post, and the thought now strikes me: Is Hartosh Singh Bal the Dolly Bindra of Indian literature? Now it all makes sense…
Huffington Post has a good feature up in which a few major contemporary writers are asked to name “the most important contemporary fiction writer” according to them. There are some interesting choices there, and I’m not surprised that the only one picked twice is Alice Munro. As I’ve blogged before, she’s my favourite living writer by a long way, even though reading anything by her makes me feel my own inadequacies as a writer so much more acutely. As Joni Mitchell once said, “Whereas Carver makes me think I can write short stories, Munro makes me think I can’t.”
Anyway, go check out the whole list: hopefully you’ll add a few items to your must-read list, as I did. Time to go buy me some Stanley Elkin…
(Link via Nilanjana Roy.)
... have been announced. It’s a solid line-up, and I’ll be looking forward to the talks by Antonio Damasio, David Brooks, Anthony Atala, Ed Boyden and especially Roger Ebert, who has reinvented himself so magnificently on Twitter. And ah, there’s also Salman Khan—not the Bollywood actor, but the entrepreneur who created the wonderful Khan Academy. It should be quite something.
* * *
Aside: If the Bollywood Salman Khan was ever invited to TED to give a shirtless speech, what do you think he’d talk about?
A few years ago, I made to decision to never work in a company again. I struck out on my own, did much blogging and column-writing, wrote my first novel, and started playing poker seriously. And while I occasionally felt the inevitable loneliness that comes from working alone, from the writing life, I never regretted the decision or considered going back to a regular job. Being my own master was an awesome luxury, and the tradeoffs were worth it.
One of the factors in my decision was the nature of companies. The skills you need to succeed within a corporation are actually quite different from the ones that you need to excel at whatever you’ve been hired to do. William Deresiewicz expresses it perfectly in this wonderful essay on solitude and leadership:
That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along.
You, reading this: I presume you have a job and work in a company somewhere. Do you agree with this?
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Besides this, I found that I was much more productive while working on my own than in a company environment. Maybe it’s just me, but I found that in a normal office day, I might be at work for 10 hours, but within that period I’d only actually work for a total of maybe one. The rest of the time would go surfing, faffing, idling, day-dreaming, gossiping and other such ings. When I am by myself, on the other hand, I may idle all day, but when I work, I work. It may only be for an hour, but at least I don’t waste nine more in a pretense of work, in an elaborate charade that benefits no one.
Still, that’s just me, and I speak of my experience in television (in the last millennium) and journalism (in this one), and I’m sure there are other corporate environments which are more productive. But Deresiewicz’s observation about the greasy pole, I suspect, holds true for them all. That’s the nature of the beast.
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Salman Khan bagged the Best Actor Jury Award at an award function last night. Apparently the actor was expecting to win the Best Popular Actor Award which went to Shah Rukh Khan.
The actor was present backstage when the Jury Award and the Popular Awards were announced. Disappointed with the announcement, Salman refused to come on stage to receive his award.
This is hilarious at multiple levels, but leave that aside. I feel a bit sad for Salman, that such a petty thing should matter to a grown man. In award-infested Bollywood, who remembers who got which award for what film anyway? After the kind of career he’s had, it’s kind of poignant that Salman Khan needs validation this bad.
Having said that, I will now stop commenting on how 40-plus men can play characters so many years younger than them. If they behave like babies, then maybe they’re really just acting above their age.
(Pic source: bollywooddeewana.)
Here’s Russ Roberts on economics:
I have often said that economics, to the extent it is a science, is like biology rather than physics. Let me try to make that clearer. By biology, I do not mean the study of the human cell, which we have made a great deal of progress understanding though there is more to learn. I am thinking of biology in the sense of an ecosystem where competition and emergent order create a complex interaction of organisms and their environment. That sounds a lot like economics and of course it is. But we would never ask of biologists what the public and media ask of economists. We do not expect a biologist to forecast how many squirrels will be alive in ten years if we increase the number of trees in the United States by 20%. A biologist would laugh at you. But that is what people ask of economists all the time.
Beautifully put—and you can make the same comparison with medicine. I am just reading The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s magisterial history of cancer, and the similarities between medicine and economics in the last century are striking. You see hubris, false certainties, ideological fervour, and mistakes on a giant scale that cause the suffering of millions and are diagnosed only in retrospect. Both fields have grown by quantum leaps and achieved much: Just look at the radical increase in life expectancies and living standards in the last 100 years. But complexity still abounds, cancer still kills, economies still fail, and humility is always a good thing.
This post by Dan Zambonini offers an explanation for why the east of cities are usually poorer than the west:
The reason for this is that in much of the northern hemisphere, the prevailing winds are westerlies – blowing from west to east. The massive, unchecked pollution from these early industries would therefore drift eastward, making the air quality much lower in the east end of cities, lowering the desirability (and price) of the housing. Middle classes preferred the cleaner west ends.
This is certainly one possible factor for why rents in the Western suburbs of Bombay are so much higher than those in the East. (Compare Andheri West and Andheri East, or Bandra West and Bandra East.) But I’m sure there are other, specific local factors as well. What do you think those are?
(Link via Marginal Revolution.)
This has to be the quote of the day:
We are not rigid on the half pants.
Quick, without clicking through, guess the context!
There is something terribly poignant about a man trying to commit suicide by jumping off a ninth-floor window but being saved by an uncollected heap of garbage that lies below. His self esteem is obviously low, he feels discarded by the world, but, like the garbage that eventually saves him, not yet dispatched. So he jumps, and wakes up not in an afterlife like heaven or hell or suchlike, but in a hospital, all bandaged up, tubes entering and exiting his body like the world refusing to let go. It makes me wonder what is the greater tragedy for him: feeling the need to let go, or not being able to do so.
There’s the seed of a short story here, but I feel too lazy to write it. Such it goes.
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On another note, if someone asked me to guess where this happened, I’d think of garbage and I’d immediately rule out New York. Instead, my guess would be Andheri East.
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(Pic courtesy Reuters.)
From Shane Warne to PSR Anjaneyulu (allegedly), the sending of lewd SMSs is a common complaint against many high-profile men, especially those intoxicated by power. Now, here are two contradictory notions I am wrestling with:
1. Most women are turned off by lewd SMSs.
2. No rational man would indulge in an act again and again unless it paid off at least some of the time, thus compensating for the many times it didn’t.
I have never sent a lewd SMS in my life, and thus have a sample size of zero to attempt to resolve this from personal experience. So I wonder: Are lewd SMSes positive EV? Or, in non poker terms, do lewd SMSs work often enough to justify their downside?
My theory is that sending a lewd SMS in either like surfing porn—gratification from a distance, without the slightest chance of actual contact—or a form of release, and that a man doesn’t need to find takers for his lewd SMSes to keep sending them. It is also possible that a lewd SMS would work with women already interested in you. But then, any SMS would work with those women. If you send a lewd one, though, and the woman responds, you could mistake correlation for causation. Maybe that’s why…
The whole point of acronyms is that they make stuff easier to say or write. I was reminded of this the other day during an online conversation when a friend typed: ‘ROTFLAOM.’ ‘I mean, ROTFLMOA.’ ‘Wait, ROTFLMAO.’
At that point it struck me that many internet acronyms are popular not because of functionality and ease of use, but because of the coolness factor. You feel cool using them. That said, imagine using them in the real world. Like, you’re hanging out with friends at a cafe and you ask, ‘Hey, where’s Rajeev, wasn’t Rajeev supposed to be here?’ and Ramona pipes up, ‘Rajeev’s stuck in traffic in Mahim. I told him to come via the Worli Sea link, but he said that’s a symbol of unbridled capitalism, so he took the Mahim route instead, and he’s still stuck there.’ At which you point you laugh and say, ‘Dude, R.O.T.F.L.M.A.O!’
Now, that would be ROFL, at the very least, if not MAO too. No?
This is the second installment of Pocket Quads, my bi-monthly column on poker for Cardplayer India. It appears in the issue dated January-February 2011.
I must be the worst tourist ever: in the second half of 2010, I went to Goa half a dozen times and never saw a beach. I suspect there are many others like me, for whom Goa conjures up images not of the sun and the sand and the awesome food, but of full houses and quads and grown men banging tables as they’re delivered yet another bad beat. A decade from now, 2010 might well be remembered as the year Indian poker started coming of age. Goa is the epicentre of that.
This is especially so when it comes to tournament poker. High stakes cash games now abound in all the Indian metros, but if you want to play regular well-organised tournaments, there’s no place yet quite like Casino Royale. I’ve played multiple editions of the IPC, the IPS and the Aces Unlimited Tourneys there, reaching seven final tables out of about twice that number, and the turnout keeps growing at a staggering pace. The quality of play has gone up at the final tables—but so, I’m afraid to say, has the amount of donkamental play before that.
At the last IPC tourney I played, four of the first six hands dealt at my table saw all-in moves. Almost a fourth of the hands dealt in the first two levels saw someone moving all-in. (The only time I called one, my KK got busted by KTo.) The game can become a bit bingoish when the blinds go up too fast (though I’d contend there is much skill involved there as well), but it was sick to see such wild play so early in the tourney, when everyone at the table had between 50 to 100 big blinds. It also made me wonder what these rinse-and-repeat all-in pushers thought the game was all about. Perhaps they’d learnt their poker from Facebook, or even television, where selected hands shown from the last stages of tourneys feature a much higher percentage of shoves than you actually see in actual play.
To be successful in the long run in tournaments, though, it isn’t enough to be fearless enough to shove every time you think you’ve been dealt a good hand. Poker is about situations and the people you’re playing with, and the cards you’re dealt are just a small part of the puzzle. In a tournament, context is important. And to understand context, you need to keep in mind, always, during every single hand that you play, your M Ratio.
This is not complex mathematical jargon. The M Ratio is a number that is, quite simply, the figure you come up with when you divide your stack by the cost of a round. (The term was popularised by Dan Harrington in his series of great books on tournament poker; the CSI, or Chip Status Index, is an independent formulation by Lee Nelson and Blair Rodman that means the same thing.) For example, if you start a tourney with 5000 chips, and the blinds are 25 and 50, the cost of a round is 75 and your M is 5000/75, which is 66.6. If your stack is 10,000 and the blinds are 400 and 800, with antes of 100 on a nine handed table, the cost of a round is 2100, and you have an M of 4.8. These two situation require drastically different kinds of play, and while it is correct to go all-in with AQ with an M of 4.8, it would be moronic to do so with an M of 66.
Basically, the higher your M, the more play you have in the tournament. When your M is over 20, you can afford to play speculative hands, but it is pointless to commit too much to the pot without a seriously good holding: the risk-to-reward ratio just isn’t worth it. This is a good time to play suited connectors, suited gappers and small pairs—because you are deep-stacked, and so, presumably, are your opponents, you have the implied hands to play hands like those. When you hit a set or a straight, you are quite likely to bust a high pocket pair, as many players find it impossible to let AA or KK go on a 89T flop with two to a flush.
There are two approaches to playing with deep stacks in a tournament. The old-school, classical approach is to play really tight, wait for premium hands, and not try fancy moves. A newer, more aggressive approach, exemplified by the likes of Gus Hansen and Daniel Negreanu, is to play lots of hands very cheap, try to outplay more conventional opponents on the flop, and build your stack by using the power of your deep stack, instilling fear in your opponents, who are scared of taking too many risks early. The old-school player, if he starts with AsJs and sees a flop of 9TJ with two hearts and a player pushing all-in, will consider folding, given how wet the flop is. The aggro internet pro, if he has 67o with one heart on such a flop, puts his opponent on AJ, and senses fear, will gladly raise and reraise as a semi-bluff to get top pair to fold. Depending on where you come from, both the AJ fold and the 67o push make sense.
The aggressive players can go bust early, but they can also become chip leaders on the final table, because they know how to accumulate lots of chips without putting their entire stack at risk. The conventional players are less likely to go bust early, and if they loosen up as the blinds rise and their M goes down, they’ll do just fine. If you’re a beginning player, and are less likely to outplay other players after the flop, I recommend you stick to the conventional style: play tight when your M is high, and loosen up as your M comes down.
When your M reaches 15 and below, speculative hands lose value, and you’re better off playing more premium hands. For example, if you have 22,000 chips with blinds/antes of 400/800/100, you have an M of just over 10, and a standard raise to three times the big blind would be 2400. If you have, say, 89s, it doesn’t make sense to call a raise for more than a tenth of your stack. That hand would be good for a call if you had a M of, say 30, with high implied odds. The same logic applies to small pairs. You’ll hit a set once in eight hands, but your implied odds need to be far more than 8 to 1 because very often you won’t get paid off. (For example, if you have 33, the opponent has KK, and the flop comes A32, the A is a scare card for him.) As a rule of thumb, I play small pockets when I have implied odds of 15 to 1, or a really small M—but we’ll come to that.
When your M goes below 10, you’re in the danger zone. You have to play your premium hands strongly, use position without fear, and take a few risks to take your M higher. If you have an M of 6 and everyone folds to you on the button, for example, and you look down at A8o, you might want to shove here. Unless the small blind or the big blind are also either short-stacked or desperate, or really deep-stacked, they are unlikely to call: their chances of having a better ace or pockets are negligible, and the situation demands that you take the risk. Early in the tournament, it is unadvisable to play a marginal hand like A8o; but desperate times call for desperate measures.
By the time your M reaches 5, you have only two moves in your arsenal: all-in or fold. If your M gets any lower, your stack will be so small that you won’t have fold equity left: with an M of 2, you’re practically guaranteed a caller when you go all-in. So you have to make your moves right away. Any pocket pair or medium ace or two face cards could be good for a push here. One important principle to remember, though, is that you should always try to be first to the pot with whatever move you make, unless you have a truly premium holding: KJo is good to make a move with if you’re first to the pot, but you should probably fold it if two other people with similar stacks have gone all in before you.
Naturally, the M Ratio is a very basic concept, and there are hazaar situational complexities to consider during a journey through a tournament. You have to consider the other players at the table, your table image, your position during every hand, the stage the tournament is in (during the bubble, when most players are scared of not making the money, it pays to be aggressive and steal blinds and antes), and so on. But without keeping in mind your M Ratio, you will not know where you stand in the greater scheme of things, and are likely to miss making the optimal play. So do remember the key to success: Dial M for Poker.
And yeah, the next time you go all in preflop on my table in the first hand of the tournament with KTo, and make me fold AQs, I will rise from my chair and physically kick your ass. Be warned!
For a blogger who once took pride in writing five posts a day, my decline has been startling. For the last few months, I’ve basically gone into hibernation, popping up only to post my column for Yahoo!, Viewfinder, on IU—and that too, often weeks late. This is shocking and will not do. I protest. I am deeply pissed with myself.
So here’s my new year resolution for 2011, taken a few days in advance: I will get back to blogging, perhaps not a few posts a day, but certainly a few posts a week. I will also tweet. I will make up for my abandonment of you with a series of blazing, insightful posts that, in the manner of much that you read in the blogosphere, you will forget in the time it takes to finish a cup of coffee. What is life without these momentary pleasures?
On to more mundane matters: some of you may have noticed that the entire Yahoo! columns section has disappeared off their site. This is in no way a consequence, as one imaginative reader speculated, of my scathing attack on the Indian media in the last installment of Viewfinder. Instead, this has happened because the columns section is shifting publishing platforms in Yahoo!, and while we get the new one ready, the old one has gone offline for all kinds of complicated technical reasons. The section will resume in a few days, and the archives will be up again, so chill and go easy on the salt, it’s not good for your blood pressure.
In more immediate news, I feature as a talking head in the latest episode of the CNBC TV18 show, Storyboard, hosted by Anuradha SenGupta. The show deals with the emergence of “the empowered digital citizen” in India in 2010, and Santosh Desai, Sevanti Ninan (of The Hoot) and Neeraj Roy are the other guests. It will, no doubt, be online on their website soon, but if you’re old-fashioned like me and like to watch TV shows on TV, you can tune in to it at 8.30am and 2.30pm today (Saturday, Dec. 25) or 11.30am and 9.30pm tomorrow. I hate watching myself on TV, so I’ll probably give it a skip, but you’re welcome to point and laugh.
Phew. That’s more blogging than I’ve done in months. I’ll take a break now, but I’ll be back soon, right after a non-commercial break.
This is the 30th installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India, and was published on November 25.
Indian journalism stinks right now.
A few weeks ago, a plagiarism controversy broke over at India Today. Content theft is alarmingly common in Indian publications, but this was different because it involved the editor. Aroon Purie’s bylined editorial had lifted a few sentences, verbatim, off a piece written on Rajnikanth by Slate journalist Grady Hendrix. In Twitterverse and the Blogosphere, parallel universes that mainstream mediawallahs generally manage to ignore, poop hit the fan. Eventually, Purie came out with an explanation that was at once shameful and shameless: he was jet-lagged, he said, and someone else had written the piece for him. Hendrix duly ridiculed the explanation (scroll down to his comment here).—it couldn’t have been very hard to mine it for humour.
There were three issues that Puriegate highlighted. One, Indian publications don’t give a damn about plagiarism, which is a sackable offence in any respectable publication in the West. Over the years, established writers like film critics Nikhat Kazmi of the Times of India and Gautaman Bhaskaran of the Hindu have been caught plagiarising, and they have continued in their jobs. (Kazmi was exposed by fellow Yahoo! columnist Jai Arjun Singh; Bhaskaran was outed here.) While those were the high-profile cases, numerous other mainstream media plagiarists have been exposed in the last few years, but none punished. In fact, an India Today journalist was accused of plagiarism not long ago, and the magazine turned a blind eye. All of this amounts to an admission by editors that they do not believe that their writers are good enough to produce quality content under pressure, and so it’s okay to steal. That makes it ironic that they so often take the moral high ground, ranting and raving about corruption in public life, while they harbour thieves themselves.
The second issue, a rather comical one, was that Purie doesn’t write his own editorials. This has been known for years—as many as three different friends of mine have ghost-written his edits in the past—and it’s absurd. Purie is the editor of a major national magazine, and he’s incapable of writing 800 words of coherent text? No wonder he condones plagiarism, as does the institution he has built. No wonder their standards are so shoddy, their prose so uniformly insipid, their journalism so mediocre. And while that last sentence is true of India Today and Purie, it is also true of practically every major Indian newspaper and magazine today—and Purie is probably no worse than most other editors. So there you go.
The third issue, the most serious one according to me, is how the media closed ranks to support Purie. So much so that a column Mitali Saran wrote for Business Standard highlighting just these issues was spiked by the paper. Saran’s column, Stet, had run in BS since 2006, and its distinctive authorial voice made it one of the most highly regarded columns in the country. Then she wrote this piece; BS refused to carry it; and she walked away. Consider what she had written: “When our [media] is confronted with its own scandals, you can hear the clang of a fraternity closing ranks, followed by the weird sound of thousands of furious back-scratchings, followed by the thunderous silence of stones not being thrown in glass houses.”
That thunderous silence can be heard this week as well. I haven’t gone through the transcripts of the Niira Radia tapes, and I don’t have an opinion on the controversy itself. But it clearly is a major issue that should be covered by all major newspapers and TV stations. And yet, as The Hoot and blogger Harini Calamur point out, the media has mostly ignored their story, as if it doesn’t matter. But if this story doesn’t matter, then the media doesn’t matter, because this strikes at the heart of what journalism is and should be about. The media isn’t willing to do this self-examination—for obvious reasons. So much, then, for the notion of our journalists being the watchdogs of society—these dogs guard the burglars who strip our houses bare. Such it goes.
This is the 29th installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India, and was published on November 18.
The world is so insane that it is a wonder satirists have a job. I read recently in Hindustan Times—yes, HT, not an Indian version of The Onion—that the makers of Golmaal 3 have been sued by The Indian Stammering Association “for mocking people who stammer.” Shreyas Talpade stammers in the film, and the other characters reportedly keep making fun of him. (I haven’t seen the film.) So this organisation of stammerers is upset about it, and they’re going to court. So far, an association of mute people hasn’t surfaced to join in the revelry—Tusshar Kapoor plays a mute character in the film, and ends up landing the heroine, which does not surprise me: which woman can resist a man who just shuts up and listens?
Seriously, are we a society of eight-year-olds? Even if the explicit intent of the film was to make fun of people who stammer—and it obviously wasn’t—so what? Such mockery always reflects badly on those doing the mocking, not on those being mocked. Why be so sensitive to criticism and mockery (or even abuse)? How insecure do we have to be to let mere words affect us so much?
A few months ago, a salesman from an finance company called me a couple of times to try and sell me an insurance package. I was irritable that day, and the second time I said something to the effect of “... and don’t f***in’ call me again!” before hanging up. 30 seconds later, the phone rings. It’s the same guy, demanding to know “Why you call me f***er? WHY YOU USE BAD LANGUAGE?” I lost it this time, and unleashed a string of pejoratives at the fellow. I hung up again, he called me again. Though I did not answer any more of his calls, he called me about 35 times in the next two days, and his number is still saved in my mobile phonebook as ‘Birla Sunlife Troll.’
Why did it matter so much to him that a random stranger called him X and Y? He screwed up his peace of mind, agitated over it for a couple of days, and it is likely that it affected his interactions with other people around him as well, besides endangering his job. It was irrational—but we are an emotional species more than a rational one, so it is understandable that one gets upset about it, even though being called a ‘bastard’ or a ‘bhainchod’ does not literally make one a bastard or a bhainchod—and hell, we don’t even know what ‘chootiya’ means. But while being upset at abuse or mockery is understandable, what is bizarre is that we expect the legal system, like a school teacher in a yard full of unruly schoolkids, to take over and punish the bad boys. What is even more bizarre is that our legal system actually has provisions for this.
I’ve written before about how certain provisions of the Indian Penal Code make it a crime to give offence in certain contexts, and how the Indian constitution does not provide adequate protection to free speech. All that is a shame, and an example of what’s wrong with our legal system. But there is also something wrong with us, that so many of us take offence so easily at something we could so easily ignore. It speaks of low self-esteem and diffidence, the very qualities that a stammering association should be trying to eradicate in its members. That makes this court case especially ironical, doesn’t it?
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My respect always goes up for people who show they can laugh at themselves. The sardar who tells sardar jokes, the fat guy who jokes about his paunch, the poker player who mocks his own poor plays, these are my kind of people. They are comfortable in their own skins, and they get that we are a bumbling, imperfect species doomed, biologically, to self-destruct—so some things are just not worth getting het up about. The biggest human failing is that we take ourselves too damn seriously. When we do that, the universe laughs at us.
This is the first installment of Pocket Quads, my bi-monthly column on poker for Cardplayer India. It appeared in the issue dated November-December 2010.
I played an interesting hand recently in a local cash game, blinds 50-100, stacks 15 to 30k. I was in the big blind when the player to my left, under the gun, a loose aggressive player, raised to 1500, just above the standard raise for this game. Everyone folded. I put him on JJ or TT, looked down at KQ, both clubs, and called. The flop was K72, with one club. I checked, expecting a continuation bet, planning to raise that. My opponent bet 2k, I check-raised to 7.5 with top pair. My opponent insta-shoved, putting me all-in. (I had 7k left.) He then revealed his cards. (The house rules for this particular game allow that when it’s heads-up.) He had AA. “You should fold,” he said. “I have you beat.” And indeed he did.
I revealed my cards, went into the tank, and thought for about five minutes. Then I called. I spiked a queen on the turn and won the pot. My opponent started steaming and called me insane. He told his bad-beat story the next day to all the players in our circle, and they all thought I was nuts. And yet, I maintain that, regardless of the outcome, I made absolutely the right play, that it was a no-brainer, and that the only embarrassing thing about that hand was how long I took to make what should have been an insta-call. Let me explain.
His all-in move took the pot to 25k, and I had 7k to call into that pot, getting odds of slightly more than 3.5 to one. I had five outs: two kings and three queens. That came to 20% over the next two cards. Plus, the backdoor flush draw gave me about 4% more. That comes to 24%, odds of just about 3 to 1. Even discounting the cards that help my opponent, I’m just about better than 3.5 to 1 to win the pot. (Cardplayer.com’s Odds Calculator puts it at 22.8%.) Therefore, the right decision is to call.
Ironically, had my opponent not shown me his aces, I would have folded. When he shoved, I put him on either AK or AA, and AK made my king outs redundant, thus mandating an easy fold. Counter-intuitively, AK was actually a better hand for him to hold than AA. Also, I made my opponent an offer before my last decision: return 5k to me, and I fold, and the pot is yours. Given that 5k was 20% of the 25k pot at the time, and his chances of losing were greater than that, he should have insta-accepted—but like most players I play with, he doesn’t do the numbers, and his aces looked good to him.
Indeed, this is the huge weakness of many of the players I play, and the reason many of them will lose money over time: they take poker hand-by-hand, and don’t understand that it is a long-run game. Here’s a basic truism of poker: In the short run, good decisions can lead to bad outcomes, and vice versa. But in the long run, good decisions will make you money, and bad decisions will wipe out your bankroll. A good player recognises this, and aims to just keep making good decisions, and not get disheartened by their immediate outcomes. As the Bhagawad Gita, that fine poker guide, says, keep doing the right thing, don’t worry about the fruits of your actions.
Now, let’s define a good decision in poker. Every time you put money in a pot when the odds of winning the hand are better than the odds the pot is offering you, that’s a good decision. It’s as simple as that. Obviously there are many subtleties here: poker is a psychological game, and you have to get your reads right to calculate your odds. Also, there are all kinds of plays one makes at the board, like bluffing when you sense weakness, that may not seem like they have much to do with maths—but they all do. If you’re last to act on the river, with a hand that’s missed its draw and cannot win, and you put your opponent on a similar missed draw, and think of bluffing out into a pot worth 10k, how much should you bluff? If you think your opponent will fold one in three times, then a bet of half the pot is break-even for you. If you think he will fold half the time, a bet of 9k is profitable. (Naturally, he may expect you think like this and reraise what he sees as a bluff while holding nothing himself, but even this should be based on his estimation of the probability of winning the hand.)
All poker decisions, at their heart, involve maths. The psychological aspects are a bonus, and separate the great players from the merely good. But you cannot be good in the first place without mastering the math. That is essential to winning in the long run.
And yet, in the local poker games that I play in, I see many players who ignore the science behind the game and try to coast from one good hand to another. They play for the thrill of gambling, for the dopamine rushes they get during big hands, for the false sense of achievement that showing down a good hand gives them. But every serious player knows that the game is a cold, hard grind, and winning it requires you to control your emotions, to observe and remember, and to do the hard work required to make as many correct decisions as possible, especially when those decisions involve folding a hand and missing out on action. (Learning how and when to fold is perhaps the most important part of a poker education.) It takes a heck of a lot of discipline—and perhaps the good sense not to insta-fold a pair of kings when the opponent goes all in and shows a pair of aces.
* * * *
Let me end this piece with another example of a hand in the same game that led my fellow players to look at me as if I was crazy. I had 78o in the small blind, and called a preflop raise. The flop came 99T rainbow. I bet my open-ended straight draw, one player flat-called. The turn was a king, I again made a bet 2/3 the size of the bet—a common-sized bet for me whether I have the nuts or pure air—and my opponent called again. The river was T, making the board read 99TKT, with no flush possible. I had missed my draw, and checked, suspecting that my opponent had also missed his draw, and we’d split the pot. My opponent bet 2.5 into a 7.5 pot. At this point of time, I was playing the board. And yet, I sensed weakness, and felt that my opponent had also missed his draw—he probably had 8J or the same hand as me, or maybe lower pockets. I had to put 2.5k into a 10k pot, but I was only playing for half of it: 5k. So if I got that split pot more than one in three times, it was a profitable call.
I called, and my opponent, who indeed had nothing, assumed that I surely must have a piece of the board to have called, and actually mucked his cards. I picked up the entire pot, and, to get the poor guy steaming, showed my hand. Mouths fell open across the table. How could I call with air? (Thinking of it later, it’s clear that raising was also a viable move, making a play for the full pot instead of half of it. But, given my read, even if I felt there was a 40% chance of my opponent having nothing, calling is also positive equity.) To my fellow players, this was just one more example of my unpredictable play. But while I do mix it up with regard to pre-flop play and betting patterns, in decisions like this, I’m immensely predictable: I play by the numbers, and I play for the long term. There is no other way to play winning poker.
Sita Sings the Blues: The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told
Dev.D doesn't flinch from depicting the individual’s downward spiral
9 across: Van Morrison classic from Moondance (7)
6 down: Order beginning with ‘A’ (12)