April 9th, 2011

games, MTGO, Niv-Mizzet

I'm embarassed to admit I have a "popular" interest

I guess it says a lot about the social contexts I've put myself in for the past, ooh, 24 years, but I find myself distinctly self-conscious when I like something that his reasonably well-accepted and high-profile in popular culture. I'm fine with well-accepted obscure things, or off-mainstream visible things, but doing things that are simply flatly okay by society's standards isn't something I'm really comfortable with. I guess I've defined enough of my identity as "in relevant ways, deviant" that I'm worried about the reaction I get to admitting I do something mainstream.

So, it's slightly more uncomfortable for me to admit that I like Texas Hold-'Em than it is to admit that I like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The latter is, at least, marginally culturally transgressive. The former is damn near mainstream; it'd make my mother uncomfortable, but that's about all.

I've been playing on the low-stake play-money tables on Full Tilt Poker. I've been winning quite a lot more than I've been losing, and am considering moving up the stakes soon. (Washington state explicitly defines poker as "gambling", despite annual legislative efforts to get the explicit listing of poker off the law so the argument can be made that it's a game of skill- an argument I happen to strongly agree with. If it wasn't primarily skill, I wouldn't have an over-50%-win-rate for 9-player tournaments. The upshot to this is that moving to tables for real money, even trivial and petty amounts, isn't an option for me- without a VPN and a hearty disregard for an explicitly unenforced law, anyway.) What's more fascinating is that I'm enjoying the game; most games fail to hold my attention for more than a few weeks at a time. Pokemon, Chess, Puzzle Pirates, and Tetris Attack are the rare exceptions; my attention span is otherwise short. Time spent playing poker is displacing the other ones, notably.

I'm not sure why it fascinates me. I suppose part of the answer is "I seem to be passably proficient at it", but that's certainly not true of Chess, so that isn't enough in and of itself. I think I consistently enjoy games where the most important skills are to figure out patterns in my opponents and obscure or intentionally subvert patterns in myself, and poker is that in its purest form. Online poker even more so than over-the-table poker, actually; as much as you can search your opponent for "tells" across the table, playing online, there is only one type of lie they can tell you, and that is the lie they make with their chips, and those are the only lies that they directly must take game-ending risks to make- and the lies that are most reliably understood. Searching for physical tells means nothing compared to listening very, very carefully to what they say with their decisions.

I am of the firm opinion that tournament poker is a game of skill. Note that I specified tournament poker, though. While I also believe that ring game poker is a game of skill, it's a much harder sell, especially because each hand is a sort of game unto itself, and the outcome of each of those games is due to chance. It becomes a game of skill in aggregate, and while a tournament (extremely fast blind structures excepted) allows probability and sound decisions to rule the day, for the most part, cash game variance is rather higher. People who take stupid risks in tournaments leave quickly; people who take stupid risks in cash games can buy more chips. And while, in the end, they give those chips away, I admit I prefer the consistency and reliability of tournaments. I suppose I don't have enough patience to play ring games well.

Tournament poker is a game where players attempt to manage a limited set of resources given limited information about when using those resources will be correct, in competition with other players attempting to, through their own resource usage, prevent you from making the correct decisions. There is a meaningful element of random chance in determining which resources are best, but the game relies on uncertainty to be meaningful. It seems strange that such a game is considered "gambling". But when played with a direct mapping of a game's points to cash, it's fairly clear that it is, as in the long term, wins and losses are unbounded; a tournament that has prizes- and it doesn't have to have them to be meaningful, unlike to a certain degree ring games- has a fixed prize structure, and seems like any other contest with prizes in that regard.

An unrelated aside: I've tried a few free-game-only versions of poker, but the best versions of the game seem to be from those questionably-legal sites that offer real-money games. It's no surprise, though. The free sits must turn a profit through whatever invasive advertising they can muster; sites that offer cash games have a very, very clear profit model, and its interest is best served by making the best game they can for everybody, to keep paying players paying and non-wagering players open to the idea of, someday, throwing money into a pot- and, by extension, into the site's rake. I like when I understand how a company makes its money, especially when its financial incentives happen to line up nicely with what I want them to do.

So I seem to have gotten pretty far off my original point, but that's okay, it's my blag and I can ramble if I want to.

I know I have a few people in my audience who play poker, but I suspect I don't know all of who do. Who else?

I've migrated to DreamWidth. The original post is at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/472119.html. View comment count unavailable comments at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/472119.html#comments; go ahead and use OpenID to post your own, or you can comment here.
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