Monday, June 27, 2005

It's A Girl

Baby Div Posted by Hello

Wow. Does life get any better than this?

I had intended to catch up on my blogging duties over the weekend, and in particular thank Joe Speaker for his kind words. But as you can see, nature intervened and Mrs Div went into labour a few weeks early.

Baby Div was born early this morning and mother and daughter are doing well.

Back soon!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Ethics and Economics Of Gambling

It is often said that the USA and UK are two nations divided by a common language.

The impending Party Poker flotation has highlighted a second glaring difference. The approach of the respective nations to gambling.

The greatest gambling destination in the world is Las Vegas, USA. The UK, indeed Europe, has no comparable city. Were such a city to exist, prevailing market conditions would be highly favourable towards it's future prosperity.

Prior to the 2005 election, far reaching UK government plans to liberalise the bricks and mortar gambling industry were stymied by a coalition of political parties and pressure groups.

A proposal to allow for the creation of multiple 'super casinos' in the same mould as The Bellagio, MGM Grand, Wynn, Treasure Island, Aladdin, Venetian, etc. was defeated in parliament. Plans to remodel fading seaside resorts, such as Blackpool, by allowing clusters of casinos in the same manner as the Las Vegas strip, had to be put on ice. Instead, only one super casino will be allowed in the whole of the UK.

This is hardly likely to become a mecca for European gamblers!

There appears to be a fear that introduction of these super casinos would lead to a dramatic increase in gambling addiction, and a breakdown in society. The bigger the casino, says this theory, the more addicts will be drawn through its doors.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of these establishments.

Yes, they do have enormous gaming areas, vast arrays of slot machines blinking and bleeping hypnotically. They also have superb restaurants serving a global range of cuisines, shows which would grace Broadway or The West End, enough hotel rooms to house an army, and an inventive range of other attractions which transform each super casino into an attraction in its own right and make hospitality and entertainment a 24 hours-per-day, 365 days-per-year industry.

It is perfectly feasible to spend an activity packed week in Las Vegas without actually indulging in any gambling activity.

The best Las Vegas casinos truly are world class. An accolade of which the UK government is keen to see more UK companies become worthy.

Instead, the new watered down rules will simply promote more small casinos. Each of which will have much gaming space, but no distinctive attractions with international appeal. More gaming space, less non gaming activity. No Bellagio fountains, no Venetian gondoliers, no Mandalay Bay aquariums.

Is this what opponents of the original plans really intended?

By constraining the industry in this way, the UK has missed a huge opportunity. In this era of DIY holidays and budget flight options, traditional UK holiday destinations have suffered greatly.

The consumer is hardly likely to choose a week in Blackpool with highly variable weather, when for £50 they can be winging their way to the sunshine of Spain, or cosmopolitan European capitals, such as Rome and Paris, direct from their local airport.

Budget airline flights from the UK generally take more Britains abroad, than foreigners to Britain.

What is needed to sustain UK tourism is a better mix of attractions.

Scotland, for example, has many attractions which have an appeal in both Europe and the USA. As the home of golf and whisky, with a rich industrial and historical heritage, there are many sites well worth a visit.

One thing Scotland most definitely does not have is the weather. Mild and wet in winter, cool and wet in summer. Whilst excellent for raising pedigree cattle, it is hardly the ideal conditions for a tourist industry built on outdoor activities.

A more balanced offering, which presented a range of indoors and outdoors events, could be built around a few super casinos.

For Europeans, and east coast Americans, a long weekend in Scotland could encompass a stay in a super casino with all the attendant gambling opportunities, alongside more traditional options such as golf at St Andrews, Gleneagles, or Turnberry, a whisky distillery trip, visiting historic sites, tours of the three 50,000+ seater football stadiums in Glasgow, or a myriad of other smaller events.

Instead of The Hoover Dam, think Edinburgh Castle. For The Grand Canyon, substitute Loch Ness or The West Highland Way.

Such a combination of events would negate the disadvantages of the Scottish climate, and stimulate a year round growth in inbound tourism, as well as the conference market which thrives in Las Vegas.

There may be an increase in the number of gambling addicts, but not on the scale the doom mongers predict. Anyone who wants to gamble already has ample opportunity to do so. Not only at smaller existing bricks and mortar establishments, but also online. Another area where US and UK policy differs fundamentally.

In contrast to the puritanical approach to bricks and mortar casinos, the UK has pushed ahead with a much more liberal approach to online gambling.

As a consequence, the UK shows signs of becoming the trading centre of the online gaming industry. While US investors in online casinos can expect the FBI to take a keen interest in their activities, they will receive more attention in the UK from government agencies keen to encourage them to put down UK roots.

Empire Poker has already floated on the AIM(junior London exchange), and in two weeks time Party Poker will float on the main London Stock Exchange with a valuation likely to place it in the top 100 companies list.

As both companies are likely to use their new status to issue further shares to take over smaller rivals, they are likely to grow further still.

Party Poker is a tremendously profitable enterprise, with margins most companies can only dream of. Online gaming is the perfect internet enterprise. All monies are paid up front, the service is delivered instantaneously to the consumer with no third party shipping costs, and for poker sites and gambling exchanges, the risk is assumed by the consumer not the service provider.

The one concern which hovers over the impending float is the possible illegality of Party Poker operations in the USA.

The nation which gave the world it's gambling mecca frowns upon any attempt to gamble within the sanctity of one's own home.

This approach is more rational than the UK approach.

A super casino, as allowed in some US states, generates a range of benefits which can be enjoyed by gambler and non gambler alike.

A lone gambler hunched over a PC, credit card in hand, generates only profits for the online casino, and in the case of poker, his more skilled, or fortunate, opponents.

Being more rational than the UK does not, however, make it a rational policy. To make criminals of millions of US consumers is to deny the reality of the situation. Online gaming is here, and here to stay.

Rather than attempting to hold back the sea of online players, the US government would be better advised to promote regulation and control, ahead of prohibition and an almost certainly futile attempt to strangle what is the perfect online enterprise.

A mechanism should be found to fund gambling addiction helplines. A surcharge on advertising of gaming sites is one option which has been suggested. By conveying legitimacy on the industry, the US government could easily justify some form of levy or tax to offset the negative social impacts of online gambling.

The USA and UK are not strangers, yet they have much to learn from each other. If their respective governments can share their experience and learn from each other, they have an opportunity to turn a perceived threat into a controllable opportunity, which can be harnessed for the common good.

If not, they risk ending up with the worst of both worlds.

In the US, a multi billion dollar industry with ineffective regulation, unclear ownership structures, and hidden social impacts.

In the UK, a rise in gambling activity, with no associated rise in ancillary benefits, and little or no boost to the tourist industry.

It is not too late to avoid this trap, but it requires bold thought and action. Can UK and US politicians rise to the challenge?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Taking Poker Into The Workplace

A recent report stated that poker was now being used as a differentiator by recruiters as they appraised CVs.

The report suggested some companies were actively seeking poker players, as an interest in poker suggested an aptitude for a variety of useful business skills, such as numeracy, strategic thought, people skills, etc.

My initial reaction was although this did seem to have a degree of rationality behind it, in all likelihood it was nothing more than a passing fad. Mind you, it didn't stop me adding poker to my CV. Just in case!

An event this week suggested my initial reaction could be wrong, as my own poker attributes were put to full use in the most unexpected of circumstances.

To make sense of the event requires knowledge of two facts.

Fact 1. The Div staredown has become my trademark in our homegame. Usually on TV I see the pros giving their opponent the big staredown BEFORE they act. After acting they will then generally go into frozen mode, while they wait for their opponent to react.

For some reason I tend to take the opposite approach, and face down my opponent AFTER I've bet or raised. Almost daring them to call. I'm told the look is fierce, and I'm inclined to believe that. I can be pretty intense in some circumstances.

Fact 2. Our previous home was in the centre of the city. A flat within walking distance of our respective work locations, all the shops, dozens of bars and restaurants. The perfect location for a young(ish) childless couple.

When we decided to start a family it was time to move on. Out to the suburbs and a house with a garden.

The Scottish way of selling homes often leads to a blind bidding outcome where interested parties submit a sealed bid by a given deadline, and highest bid wins. In our case, we received five bids. The highest of which was from a guy called Mark Hubbock.

The nature of the legal process tends to mean all the contracts aren't signed until several weeks after the bid is accepted. This was the case with our sale. Initially this didn't concern me, but when it got to two weeks before we were due to move home and things still hadn't been concluded, I started to get concerned.

At this point we got indications from our solicitor that Mark Hubbock was showing signs of pulling out of the deal. This would be unfortunate to say the least, as it would leave us stuck with a shortfall of roughly £120k (~$200k) on our new mortgage.

The game he was playing became clear soon after, when he submitted a revised offer on the flat which was £8,500 less than what he had initially agreed to pay. He appeared to be hoping we would be desperate enough to accept the reduced price, as it was so close to our moving date and too late to remarket the flat.

This is extremely unusual in Scotland. Not illegal, though certainly immoral. He was certainly a trailblazer in his field, as the practice was practically unheard of when it happened to us, but is now more common and has become known as gazundering.

Obviously he didn't know me very well. There was no chance we would make a deal on his terms. Cue two weeks of massive stress as I frantically reshuffled our finances to cover the shortfall. Ultimately we were hit with a few thousand in legal fees and interest charges that should never have been necessary, but Mrs Div and I did get things sorted out.

Mark Hubbock disappeared from the scene. No phone call, no letter, no expression of regret from his solicitor. Nothing.

I was absolutely seething, but there was nothing I could do.

Two years later, imagine my reaction when I walked into the office I'd been dispatched to this week, and there, seated in the same area I'd be working in, was Mark Hubbock!

The situation is - I work for a small company(SC). We are doing some work for a big customer(BC). The work is being done in the offices of a big supplier(BS) to BC - who are collaborating with us for the duration of this piece of work, but are effectively one of our biggest competitors. Mark Hubbuck is working as a freelance contractor on behalf of BS.

Still with me? If you are, you will see this is a delicate situation. Consequently my preferred option of strolling up to his desk and punching him hard on the nose had to be ruled out. I decided to simply go for the pretend he isn't there approach.

This was fine until the BS team leader decided to do the sociable thing and introduce me to the rest of the team.

Ugh. I had to shake Mark Hubbock's hand. Now I know how Prince Charles felt when Robert Mugabe approached him! I guess being polite to people you despise is a daily hazard for politicians, but it's not in my nature.

I played it straight as an arrow. Pretended to the team leader that we hadn't met. My poker face in full effect. I did make sure he got the Div staredown. Manoeuvring so my back was to the team leader as I did so. He didn't look terribly happy to see me. Let's just say he had a tell or two.

It doesn't get me back any of my cash, but seeing the discomfort writ large across his face certainly made me feel better. In an ideal world I'd like to at least 'have words' with him, but I don't want to harm the reputation of SC. Sometimes you need to put other considerations before your own needs.

It looks like I'll be settling for moral superiority, rather than the grim satisfaction of direct retribution.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Memo to Self....

...Stop losing at online poker!!

So far this month I have donked around 15% of my bankroll away, on a combination of bad play and bad luck. I think my cash No limit Hold Em will be better in the long run for the experience, but it's still a painful lesson to bear.

The bad play I covered earlier, so time for the bad luck moments. One of which, at first glance, seems anything but.....

Dealt KK in late position, I see an EP player make a raise, a MP player reraise, I reraise, EP goes all in, as does MP. Since I'm the biggest stack, I only need to call, and am delighted to see JJ and QQ, neither of which improves. Pot to me!

So, why bad luck? Well they were the two shortest stacks at the table, so I only made ~$60 from what was a freakishly good card combination. The sort you spend hours folding marginal hands for.

Half an hour later I'm dealt KK again. Raise it up and get a caller. The flop comes low but with two to a flush. The pre-flop caller now calls my pot size bet. The turn makes the flush, but I know if I check I am surrendering the hand. I bet out again, and get insta-raised. Fold. Bang goes most of the freak hand profit.

He doesn't show but claims to have made a set on the flop. Seems more than likely. A week ago I'd have reraised and blown away my stack on a 2-outer. Then again, maybe he was bluffing? That's the beauty of poker.

Over the last few days I have turned things around a little at the Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo tables. I'm in profit overall, though I still managed to lose a buy in on another freak hand. On the turn I am sitting with the nut low, when the betting goes crazy. With a flush board, two players go to war with pot size raising.

Caught in between, I decide that they are probably battling for the high, and at very worst I am splitting the low, and probably winning it, so I decide to tag along - which needs all my chips in the middle.

The river is an Ace, duplicating my hand. Ugh. Cards over and one player has the Ace high flush and no low, the other has a straight flush with four rags in the hole - and now beats my low thanks to the Ace on the river. So he takes down the whole pot. Nice hand indeed! Omaha truly is a game of the nuts.

On the plus side, the live poker scene is definitely improving. As well as the Riverboat Casino, I've now heard of an unofficial card room in the city, and, the piece de resistance, a dedicated card room with official licensing opening very soon.

Details are still sketchy but I know the name and where it will be located. Welcome to Glasgow for The Cincinnati Club.

I'll definitely be reviewing it when it opens! Perhaps my first visit will be the official head wetting for baby Div?

I'm really enjoying the WSOP 2005 live coverage from Pauly and the Las Vegas Vegas crew. They really do manage to convey the atmosphere of the event.

As Pauly himself said, it would be nice to get more info on the cash games that go on away from the glare of the TV cameras. With that in mind, I've set him on the trail of this guy. $5k to $76k in three hours. Superb! He will be telling that story for a few years I bet.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Poker and Pregnancy

Tuesday is almost a poker free zone now, as parenting classes are taking priority.

The routine is battle through the rush hour jams, quick change, off to class, home to dinner, grab a quick poker session if possible, then bed. Hardly the most relaxing of evenings, though I did manage to make a small inroad into the weekend losses during my hit-and-run poker session.

After our little scare on Monday evening, it was a relief to still need the parenting class, and I did find it interesting.

Last night was about preparing for the actual delivery - breathing and stretching exercises for the mums to be, details of the various procedures, the role of the partner, etc.

I'm pretty blase about medical issues, though I'm not over keen on needles. A few of the dads, as well as mums, looked rather more squeamish as the midwife was outlining some of the possible digressions from the path of a perfect delivery.

Politicians and various interest groups are forever bemoaning the fact that the UK has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

Usually the talk is on how we can improve sex education to persuade our children to postpone procreation til after high school. Abstention v contraception is the question that is posed.

It seems to me they are missing a trick. Rather than sex education classes, what they need is pregnancy classes. Forget about trying to persuade wispy chinned lotharios to carry and use condoms, or telling boozed up Lolitas that teenage motherhood is not a moral career option.

Instead, send in an army of midwives equipped with demonstration forceps, scalpels and needles, to explain the intricacies of the forceps delivery and incisions in the perineum. That would be enough to make sure prospective teenage mums kept their knees together and their boyfriends trousers zipped.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Just Another...

Not a good weekend, for a variety of reasons.

I think my restlessness at work has translated to my poker play, as I digressed from my usual steady, tight aggressive game to try to rumble it up a bit at the NLH tables. Raising with a wider range of hands, over valuing medium pairs, a few bluffs and, to be perfectly frank, some pretty donkeyish play from myself.

Some of the play might have been valid in a tournament, but for a cash game it was a bit too wild.

As Dave 'El Blondie' Colclough said on Sporting Life recently, the key to being a good poker player - 'patience, patience, patience'. Shame I didn't read that before the weekend!

I dropped a couple of buyins on Saturday. Won part of it back on Sunday. Won another chunk on Monday to get back within sight of a break even weekend - before events took an unexpected turn.

The table I'd won back a chunk on broke up soon after I'd made a nice profit from betting the nut flush draw on the flop, hitting it on the turn and having a guy instantly go all in with his lower flush.

I joined a new table and soon had the guy directly to my right throwing a lot of chips around: betting ten times the BB pre-flop, all in on uncoordinated flops, etc. He was taking down a lot of pots without showing cards, though on the few times cards were shown he did have the goods.

We hadn't gone head to head until I found K3 in the BB and several limpers. The flop came K52 and was checked by Big Bet Guy. I made a pot size bet, hoping to take it down, and it was folded back to BBG, who raises it up by double the pot.

At this point I figure him for a bluff, so I reraise, expecting him to fold. He goes all in. Hmmm. There's zillions of hands that could have me beat, but I'm still suspicious of him.

At EXACTLY that moment, Mrs Div appears in the room looking quite teary. The baby has been really active for the last few weeks, except today she apparently hasn't felt it move for fourteen hours. Usually a cup of tea after dinner is enough to trigger some foetal gymnastics, but today there was nothing.

Beep, beep....fifteen seconds to act.

Screw the poker. There's more important stuff to deal with. I should really fold, but the pointer is over the call button so I just click then drop the laptop, and pick up the phone to the hospital.

Half an hour later, Mrs Div is hooked up to a monitor in the maternity ward and there's big sighs of relief as the baby's heartbeat pounds out through the speakers. Racing like an express train, just the way a foetal heartbeat is supposed to sound.

More tears from Mrs Div, of course. It seems the little one was just having a duvet day.

An hour later we were tucked up in bed fast asleep too. It's amazing how draining that sort of stress can be.

As for Big Bet Guy - he had flopped a set of fives. More cash blown on another mongtastic call. Which concerned me not a jot. I'll learn from the mistake and win the money back later.

That I can handle. The thought of something going wrong with the pregnancy is just too awful to contemplate.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Party Poker Reload Bonus Gets Better!

I told you Party Poker was loaded!!

The June bonus has just been announced, and its 25% to $150 rather than the usual 20% bonus. So get your $600 in now with bonus code "BONUSJUN".

The golden age of online poker continues.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Party and Empire Float Bonanza

So, Party Poker and Empire are both going for public share listings in London.,3604,1497642,00.html?gusrc=rss

The Party Poker quarterly figures are truly astounding. In the first three months of this year they made a PROFIT of $128 million on REVENUES of $222 million. Therefore profit is more than 50 percent of revenue.

The company has only 1100 employees, yet a projected market value of $10 BILLION dollars. Roughly $9 million per employee.

Think about those numbers the next time you are raking a $50 pot and seeing two dollars rake disappear. About $1.15 of that rake is pure profit to Party.

With numbers like that, I think we can expect the bonus boom to continue for a while yet.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

May Summary

Slowly, slowly, things are turning around.

May produced a $348 profit. Better than April, but still less than the $500 monthly target. Even so, I am quite content, for two reasons.

Primarily, it's always better to win than lose. Secondly, I really didn't have anywhere near enough table time, so to hit 70% of the monthly target was creditable in my eyes.

Most of the profit came from hitting the bonuses on Party and Empire. I also signed up for the Poker Stars reload bonus, and am currently plying my trade in the $25 Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo there. There definitely seems to be profit in these games, though I am still finding my feet. They also grind through the bonus pretty quickly.

I made the mistake last night of trying to two table, but ended up with my first losing session. A few beats were on the river, but equally I misread a few boards, or missed some of the drawing options. There's really too much going on for a novice like me to multi table.

I'll persevere with Omaha Hi/Lo to work off the Poker Stars bonus, then might get back to Limit Hold Em. Probably at the 2/4 level, but I am steeling myself for 3/6 at some time in the next few months.

May was also a month with several important events in the Div household.

Mrs Div finished work and is now on maternity leave. The arrival of baby Div draws ever closer! The nursery is almost complete - thanks to a monumental effort by the future grandparents - and the cot and a multitude of other baby related goods have been delivered.

With exquisitely bad timing I also came to the conclusion it's time to change job. I've not been enjoying it for quite some time, but have been hoping it would get better. The guys I work for, and with, are a great bunch, but the work just isn't what I'm happy doing. For the first time in my career, I've been dreading each day in the office.

Not only has it felt like a betrayal of myself, but also a betrayal of my employers. It's a tiny company and it really needs everyone pulling their weight, and my heart just isn't in it.

Things came to a head when I had to fill in my annual review form, in preparation for the actual review.

It reminded me of the 1983 Labour Party Manifesto, which came to be known as the longest suicide note in history. Every answer in every section spelled out for me that things weren't right. Something had to be done. The timing is awful, but the alternative was worse.

I'll probably end up with another job in the same field, though a change of career is always an option. I'm quite into finance, and am renowned among our circle of friends for my financial discipline. I'm forever berating them for their credit card fees, uncompetitive mortgages, or lack of pension planning.

Maybe I could become the Alvin Hall of the poker world? A sort of personal trainer for the financially illiterate. I can see myself shadowing Grubby in Vegas. For a reasonable hourly rate I'd tail him through the casinos, armed with a cattle prod to drive him away from the slots and back to the poker room. He'd save in a day, my fees for the week!

On the subject of poker and finance, Scurvydog and I seem to think along similar lines. He mentioned recently a few things poker sites could do to improve their service and product range, some of which tallied with my thoughts on the matter. I've taken the concept a little further and devised a new poker related financial product. More on this in a future post.

My blogroll expanded a little more today, as I discovered two more British bloggers - one of whom is actually from Glasgow! He plays, and seems to win, regularly at The Riverboat (home of the insane rebuy tournament) and has some news of another two Glasgow cardrooms, so it seems the Scottish poker scene is picking up.