Texas Hold ‘Em Poker – Can You Beat a Bot?

When I first started to learn the game of chess, I bought a cheap chess playing computer from Radio Shack. I was pretty good at the novice level, but when I moved the setting up a notch or two, I soon realized just how poorly I really played. I never won a game. That was 30 years ago. Computers have come a long way since then.

I mention this because it ties in with an article I recently read about a poker playing Bot. (A poker bot is computer program written to play online poker.) Before I get into that, let me tell you about an experience I had several years ago. A gentleman stopped by my computer store one morning and asked me if I could get him the fastest computer on the market. Then he told me that when an even faster one comes along, he’d buy that one too.

I asked him what he was going to use it for (So I’d know how to set it up.) and he was very hesitant in answering me. Finally, he invited me to his house, saying it would be easier for him to show me than to explain what he was doing.

When I got there, I found two computers setting side by side. One was state-of-the-art, the other was just an average system. After much him-hawing, he finally told me that he was making a ton of money playing Backgammon on the Internet. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

Here’s what he was doing. He was entering high-stakes online Backgammon tournaments that paid big bucks to the winner. He had an edge. He had purchased a world class Backgammon program and was running it on the “fast” computer while he played the tournament on the slower computer. He would duplicate the ‘live’ game, move by move on the “fast” system, and it would analyze the board positions and tell him what move to make next. Because time was at a premium, he needed the fastest computer he could get to do the analysis. I was amazed.

In the last few years, Texas Hold’em, not Backgammon has become the game of choice. It’s estimated that as many as 2 million Texas Hold’em players ante up online each month. The PPA (Poker Players Alliance) has over 1,000,000 registered members in the United States. I’d guess that most of these players figure their odds of winning online are about the same as they would be if they were playing in a physical casino. That may not be the case.

One problem when doing anything on the Internet is that you can never be sure of who or “what” you might be doing it with. That’s true with chat lines, messaging services, and now, even fellow poker players. There are poker bots you can purchase on-line that are specifically programed to play ‘limit’ Texas Hold’em. They analyze the game in real time. They know the ‘percentage of winning’ as the hand unfolds. They don’t get tired and make mistakes, they play using the most powerful poker strategies available including pot-odds, and they need ‘no’ human intervention at all. Some of them can even play up to eight tables at the same time.

Bots are outlawed in almost every online casino. But because they are so hard to detect, my guess is…many of them are playing right now and the other players at the table have no clue as to what they’re up against! Remembering my experience with the chess computer…I doubt I’d stand a chance against a poker bot. Not in the long run. Of course, they don’t win all the time. There’s still a lot of luck involved in any card game. But if I were a betting man, I’m afraid I’d have to bet on the bot.

Walking Tour Of Downtown San Jose – Costa Rica

Downtown San José usually doesn’t make it to most tourists must-see spots in Costa Rica. Most folks do not want to spend time visiting San José but you are really missing out on seeing a real vivid part of Costa Rica. Sure it’s congested and smoggy but a lot of people go visit New York City. And although you can now fly directly to Liberia so you can hit the beaches without even stopping in San José, the fact is most people still fly into the San José International Airport so why not go on a walking tour of downtown San José?

Here is the route I take friends on when visiting Costa Rica. Depending on how much you get into it this tour it could take several hours even a full day.

If you have a rental car parking is very cheap. I like the parking lot across the Omni shopping center so that is where I’ll start this tour. Make your way towards East of Calle 4, Avenida central near the Plaza de la Cultura where you will see a lot of people and pigeons hanging out along with the street preachers, comedians, and musicians all preforming live. Across the plaza is the famous Teatro Nacional. It opened it’s doors in 1894 and it is beautiful. Guided tours are available. Across from the theater is the Grand Hotel de Costa Rica. Which is the most famous hotel in Costa Rica. It used to be the most exclusive and luxurious hotel in Costa Rica. They have a nice outside cafe where you can have a coffee or a drink and a snack. Their sandwich de jamon (ham sandwich) is delicious. There is also a casino inside the hotel if you’re the gambling type.

Back towards the theater and down the grassy steps on Calle 5 is the tourist information center of the ICT. It’s open Monday-Sat 9-1, 2-5. From there you can enter the plaza’s underground exhibits including the Gold Museum which features pre-Colombian artifacts. Admission is $6 and it’s open daily 9:30-4:30.

The main road off the Plaza de la Cultura has been made into a pedestrian mall so you can walk freely since cars are not allowed. Keep an eye on your valuables and don’t wear jewelry that can be snatched by thieves. Here you will see many shops and restaurants vying for your attention on both sides of the streets.

Some good stops include La Casona which is off the pedestrian mall just look to the right off of the Calle Central and you will see it. It’s a two story building full of typical Costa Rican souvenirs. You can take care of all your gifts for friends and family right here. You will also see the Librieria Universal which is one of the oldest stores in Costa Rica. You can buy gadgets, maps, books, and more. You will also see Libreria Lehmann another great bookstore.

There you’ll notice a large monument to Costa Rica’s democracy which is a group of bronze campesinos standing humbly but firm looking up proudly. It’s out in front of a large building which is the Banco Central. Keep walking and you’ll pass La Gloria, Costa Rica’s largest department store. Across La Gloria is the Banco de Costa Rica a huge black marble building.

Make your way down towards the Mercado Central. The market is crowded full of shops, restaurants, produce stands and more. It covers the whole block of Avenida Central 1 and calles 6-8. This is a great place to take in the daily life of local Costa Ricans. You will also find some interesting food and meats on display. There are herbs sold for medicinal use with claims of curing ailments.

If you’re claustrophobic or don’t like crowds do not visit the market! Two blocks down is the historic Correo Central building. If you’re a stamp collector check out the second floor where they have a museum of the Costa Rican postal history with rare and old stamps on exhibit.

Head back towards the plaza de la cultura heading north passed the ICT offices and Gold Museum.

You will see a park in the middle of the city, which is the Parque Morazan. It’s near the Aurola Holiday Inn. At the center of the park is the Music Temple, patterned after Le Trianon in Paris.

Head 2-3 blocks north and you’ll run into the Parque Bolivar and the location of San José Zoo which is opened daily form 9-4:30. Admission is only around $2.00.

Heading east you will pass the Parque Espana which is full of plants and trees in the middle of the city. Keep going on Avenida 7 you will see la Casa Amarilla which is the home of ministry of foreign relations. It has a nice park in front. Both donated by Andre Carnegie. Near by is the Centro Nacional de Cultura open Tue-Sat 10-5. It houses a museum and theaters. Near by is the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design also open T-Sa 10-5. Admission is $3 and they have art and exhibits from all over the world.

Up the hill on Ave 7 is the Biblioteca Nacional which is the national library. It faces the largest city park, the Parque Nacional. Check out the Monumento Nacional which honors the battle again filibuster William Walker. The statue was made in France Rodin Studios and shipped to Costa Rica.

Across the street from the park you will see the statue honoring Costa Rican hero Juan Santamaria holding his torch and the Legislative Assembly which hoses the Costa Rican congress.

Two blocks south of the Parque Nacional is the Museo Nacional open Tue-Sunday 8:30-4:30. This a very popular tourist attraction. Admission is $4 and you get to tour the former Bellavista Fort. You can still see the bullet holes from the 1948 civial war. Excellent exhibits in Spanish and English.

Next stop after the museum is the Plaza de la democracia. You can see it from the museum. This is rather new built in 1989 to commemorate democracy. It features a statue of Jose Figueres hero of the 1948 civil war. Former president who abolished the army after the civil war. The plaza is full of tented market stalls selling everything from clothing, jewelry, to hammocks and crafts.

Places To Eat

There are several great spots to grab a quick bite, a cup of coffee, or a cold cerveza. For a nice cup of coffee and a delicious bagel-yes, bagel-Bagelmen’s is a must. Located on Avendia Central in Barrio California downtown.

Cafe de la posada on the pedestrian walkway south of the national museum. More local in nature. Good stuff.

Giacomin. Coffee and Italian style pasteries. Located near the Fischel pharmacy downtown.

Manolos which is right on the pedestrian mall. Excellent casados and delicious churros.

There is also a Pops downtown right around the corner of the Plaza de la Cultura right on the pedestrian mall. Best ice cream in town.

If need be you’ll find all the franchise stuff downtown like KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Macdonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s. For a bit more Latin fare try Rosti-Pollos which is downtown right across Cine Vanidades.

There you have it. A great walking tour of downtown San José which hits all the great spots. So wear comfortable shoes and have fun!

A Couch Potato’s Guide to Poker on TV!

I love Poker. I love to play it. I love to read about it. I love to watch other people play it, especially on TV. It’s an inexpensive way to learn from the pros. You can see what they do in real-world situations, not just what they say they would do in their books. Watching Poker helps improve your game. You can learn pot odds, combinations, order of hands and many other basics as well as advanced, psychological strategy such as tells.

I watch a lot of Poker on TV. Yes, I do. Apparently, the networks are taking notice of the TV-viewing public. A lot of us are crazy for Poker. In this article, I’m going to discuss several, TV series that are still running now, that I highly recommend and regularly watch.

1) Celebrity Poker Showdown. This is on Bravo, usually on Thursday nights. Poker Pro Phil Gordon and comedian Dave Foley (Kids in The Hall, News Radio) are the moderators for this light, fluffy show featuring celebrities such as Alex Trebek, Ben Affleck, Rosie O’Donnell and Camryn Manheim. Some of the celebs are really very good. Of course, there is also that wonderfully evil moment when you can watch someone on the D-List or above sink on the river.

Phil gives expert commentary. There’s a short film each week in which the basics of No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em and the betting rules are explained. It’s entertaining TV even for newbies, pros and the star-struck alike.

2) The World Series of Poker. ESPN is currently showing episodes of the 2005 WSOP. The other night, I saw Johnny Chan win his record 10th WSOP bracelet in the Pot Limit Hold ‘Em event. It was awesome. He beat out Phil ‘Unabomber’ Laak to take the lead against Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth, who were both present during the match, for the all-time record bracelet wins. Hey, don’t feel too bad for Mr. Laak. His girlfriend, the beautiful Hollywood actress, Jennifer Tilly, won the Ladies’ Event at the WSOP this year.

A week or two prior to that, I got to see Josh Arieh, a very good player who doesn’t get too much airtime (yet), play – and win – the Omaha tourney. It was great to see Omaha Hold ‘Em played on TV for a change. I loved it.

Even if you’re not a poker junkie like I am, you can appreciate the epic nature of the World Series of Poker with its international field featuring the best of the best – and a few Cinderella stories thrown in for good measure.

3) World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel. Travel the world from your chair and watch pros play in the World Poker Tour. They play in exotic locales such as Aruba and Paris. Host Mike Sexton is so knowledgeable about the game that he makes up for his co-host Vince Van Patten’s shtick. The man tries to give nicknames to any hand combination possible. Some of his groaners include:

QQ – Siegfried & Roy or Paris & Nikki (Hilton)

55 – Sammy Hagar (after the song, ‘I Can’t Drive 55’)

Rounding out the commentator group is the lovely Shana Hiatt. She interviews the pros and showcases different aspects of the poker-playing lifestyle on each episode. The WPT hosts names like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer and more. It’s a veritable who’s who of Poker and it comes fresh and new into your home each week.

These aren’t the only Poker shows on TV. ESPN has a drama called TILT starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) which is a fictionalized version of a poker pro’s dirty and dangerous life.

E! Entertainment Network, beginning on St. Patty’s Day 2005, aired several episodes of E!’s Hollywood Hold ‘Em Game. Laura Prepon, of That 70s Show, produced the show and starred in one of the episodes with her live-in love Chris Masterson (Malcolm in the Middle) and some friends, including Chris’ brother and That 70’s show star, Danny Masterson (Hyde). Other episodes had Mila Kunis (Family Guy, That 70s Show), Macauley Culkin – yes, that Macauley Culkin. He’s Mila’s beau – and Shannon Elizabeth. I haven’t seen it on recently; but, I desperately hope that it comes back. It was pretty good poker and Phil Laak was the dealer/mentor/host.

The Game Show Network has Poker Royale. This is a 6-person tournament that runs for several weeks. There are several elimination rounds, then a finale. The first had all pros. It was men vs. women. The men won each individual match; but, the ladies, led by Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Harmon and Cyndy Violette took the final – and decisive match. The second installment had Celebrities vs. Poker Pros. I found it to be a watered-down version of Celebrity Poker Showdown. I missed Phil Gordon and Dave Foley, gotta admit. The third installment, which is currently airing, is the Comedians vs. Poker Pros. I didn’t find this one too fun or funny; but, I’ve had other things to do lately.

Actually, I dropped watching that because the Fall Season picked up; and, well, I’d rather watch the Poker Superstars Invitational on FSN! This is awesome. It’s a turbo tourney – the blinds go up really quick and the play is fast – featuring Johnny Chan, Carlos Mortensen and other luminaries. It’s action-packed, high-stakes poker that goes by in the blink of eye.

If you can’t find a good online or home game, why not sit down and watch one on TV? Chances are – there’s one on the television right now. Go. Watch!

Fantasy Football – A Lesson In Monetizing Anything

Attention entrepreneurial spirits – the following would have seemed as fictional as Star Wars to our grandfathers, not to mention Vince Lombardi. However, it’s all true and there’s a valuable lesson in this – you can monetize anything!

Congratulations to the NFL. They’ve found a way to keep a huge fan base despite the myriad off the field issues they seem to shrug off weekly. The referee strike of 2012 and the inept replacements? Forget it – that didn’t even register on the NFL fan’s “List of Things to Care About. ” How could it? This is a league that has recently seen popular players either indicted or found guilty of domestic violence, rape, child abuse, and murder. Nice guys, huh? In short, there is NOTHING that would keep us from tuning in each Thursday, Sunday, and Monday (in my lifetime, I am sure there will be a game on every night of the week). TV ratings suggest this monster really IS too big to fail.

So why do we do it? It’s not because we care about who wins or loses the actual game. Some of us do, but we’re now in the minority. No, the wins and losses are not even the second reason. Sports gambling, though illegal in most states, WAS what kept the NFL atop the list for sports fans. People gamble nearly $10 billion on the Super Bowl alone. Imagine what a full season brings in. The joke used to be something like “Daddy’s favorite team is the Dolphins and he wants them to win by less than 4 points.” However, because gambling has such a negative connotation in society, people don’t talk about it much, and certainly not when they lose.

The thing that will help the NFL remain the king of the hill indefinitely turns out to be the photo negative of gambling. It’s Fantasy Football, and it’s nearly reached the point where we can remove the word “Fantasy” from the name. It’s quite real, and it’s here to stay. Gambling is illegal because it’s considered a “game of chance.” Wagering on Fantasy Football is legal because it is considered a “game of skill” (don’t ask me who decides these things, but it’s true). Gambling is ugly because it can ruin people’s lives when they lose. Fantasy Football is innocent and fun, even though the same amount of money is spent on participating, and yes, half of it is lost. With gambling, there is only money. With Fantasy Football, there is money, but also funny team names, trophies, and bragging rights. It’s market norms versus social norms, once again. Unless you live in one of the few states where gambling is legal, it takes connections to people with connections to partake. Participating in Fantasy Football only requires an internet connection and as little as a $1 investment.

Fantasy Football’s roots can be traced back to the 1960’s, but that was a different world. It wasn’t until the last 10 years, thanks entirely to the internet, that it took flight and became a craze… and a SERIOUS business. About 40 million Americans are playing some form of Fantasy Football this year, and they are spending approximately $2 billion to do so, but that’s just the beginning. When you consider the entire industry, the empire that is Fantasy Football is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion! And it’s going to continue to grow. Everybody’s doin’ it. I play, my friends play. Heck, even NFL players play! Just this week, one NFL player tweeted “I’m probably going to lose my fantasy football matchup this week cause (Adrian Peterson) can’t play Sunday for disciplining his child… ” Really.

While you won’t hear announcers talk about point spreads, they frequently refer to Fantasy statistics. The crawl at the bottom of the TV screen is now devoted to the new national pastime. As big as the NFL has become, it recognizes that it NEEDS the Fantasy Football element to keep its brand healthy, so they go out of their way to promote it. There are magazines, books, radio shows, and TV shows devoted to it and there is even a TV series based on a group of friends tied together by their Fantasy Football league. Only in America!

On-line Fantasy Football sites are raking in money, capitalizing on the popularity of this “game of skill.” One of the most popular sites boasts that it pays out more than $10 million per week. Considering they are cleverly charging 10% on every dollar to facilitate the thousands of contests among strangers, it’s easy to calculate how a company like this can quickly become worth millions almost overnight. And it’s not just NFL football. Most of these sites provide the forum for “Fantasy” baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, and the major college sports.

The lesson in all of this is simple – If you build the site, they will come, and they will come with dollars to spend. Find the product that people are crazy about and make it available to them on-line, in any form you can. If you don’t have the product itself, write a book about it. If you don’t want to write a book, write an article and sell it. Position yourself as an “expert” (whoever questions that anyway), and you’ll command a price.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. It’s nearly game time and I need to root for my kicker’s offense to move the ball down the field to the 30 and then get stopped. Strange thing, this Fantasy Football.

Hob-Knobbing With The Swells – Tales from the Saratoga Springs Horse Racing World

It was a dark and stormy night. Whoops, wrong story. It was the early 1980’s and my girlfriend and I at the time were hanging out a lot with our good friends Rick and Shawna, the original owners of Madame Jumels restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York. I’m not sure what’s there now, but Madame Jumels was at the bottom of Caroline Street and quite the popular place in it’s day. I was a big fan of the early morning radio show on WPYX hosted at that time by Bob Mason and Bill Sheehan, a gnarly pair of shock jocks known for their over-the-top pranks. (It is now known as the Wakin’ Up With the Wolf show, hosted by Bob Wolfeld.) They came up with the idea of having a Marylou Whitney look-alike contest. For the ill-informed, Marylou Whitney is the widow of millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and a local celebrity, socialite, philanthropist, and all-around nice gal. The thought of spoofing her in a look-alike contest was more than I could stand. I set out to talk my friends into joining the contest.

Rick and Shawna were more familiar than I with Mrs. Whitney as they also ran a horse-drawn carriage business that Marylou had used the services of. The event was to take place at Siros, a popular upscale restaurant and watering hole near the Saratoga Racetrack. Everyone agreed this would be a blast. As seasoned veterans for several years at the infamous Bolton Landing Bed Races on Lake George, we had a fair idea on how to make headlines while having a good time. It’s kind of a Ratpack thing. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Angie Dickinson; we had learned from the best. Back when men were men…and booze was your buddy. Growing up in the sixties surely had it’s benefits. We set about making our strategy.

It was decided the horse and carriage would help make our entrance memorable. As Rick and Shawna would be manning the carriage and I was ugly enough as a man, let alone the well-preserved Whitney, that left my girlfriend to be Marylou. The girls came up with a flashy gown as one might imagine Marylou dressing up in for one of her annual soirées at the Canfield Casino. Rick and I decided on leotards (kind of a court-jester look) and long trumpets as part of our garb and props for our parts as “Her Majesty’s” entourage. It was also decided that “our” Marylou wear a blond wig and gold tiara, as well as a garbage bag “slicker” to mimic a press clipping of the real Marylou wearing the same during a rainstorm at the Saratoga Racetrack. We enlisted a few family and friends as “press agents” sporting fedoras and press passes. We also equipped my nephew Ken with a VHS video camera, a bulky contraption back then as you virtually had to carry an entire VCR on a shoulder strap. With our costumes complete, it was time for the big day.

Our gig officially started at 6 a.m., coinciding with the WPYX 6 to 10 a.m. morning drive show. We decided to arrive fashionably late (or maybe it was a hangover). Anyways, our timing turned out to be impeccable as we were, as I recall, the last contestants to arrive. Our horse and carriage pulled up in front of Siro’s with as much fanfare as we could conjure. The grounds were packed with spectators as well as various guys and gals dressed as Marylou. Rick and I jumped off and rolled out a red carpet for our celebrity. We did our best trumpet rendition of the opening racetrack riff and held “our” Marylou’s hands up as she descended the steps of her carriage. The crowd went wild. All the local TV news cameras rushed up to record the spectacle. We escorted “our” Marylou through the crowd as she pressed the flesh and threw fake money into the air. Rick, Shawna and I remained dutifully in character as we tended to “our” Marylou and fended our way through a sea of people and inside Siros. The reporters scrambled for interviews and “our” Marylou had them eating out of her hand as she recited: “Trash, flash, cash; nobody rides for free.”

We were led to the table with the D.J.’s as a side-splitting back-and-forth ensued between the good-natured Mrs. Whitney and our imposter. The judging began and in spite of the many outrageous and wonderful costumes, we won hands down. No brag; just fact. Mrs. Whitney graciously invited us to stop by her box seats at the track later in the day where we were promptly thrown out for improper attire but not before we were introduced to a few of Marylou’s friends. Our reward? Two all-expense paid airline/hotel tickets to Universal Studios in Los Angeles and the L.A. Coliseum for Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA tour under a warm and moonlit night.

Marylou Whitney; one hell of a sport.