Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My most memorable poker game

It was a few years ago, before the US government started banning online poker for cash. There was a site, now defunct, where I used to play for play money and "bonus points" that could be used in lieu of cash to enter some tournaments.

As an inducement to get in in on the action, the site offered 800-player freeroll tournaments with a prize pool of $100. The top prize was $10. I cashed in a few of these tourneys, usually to the tune of ten or fifteen cents for finishing in maybe 25th place.

One evening I signed up for a $100 freeroll, but before the tournament started, my wife said "Let's go out for dinner." I left myself signed up for the tourney, hoping to get home before all my chips had been blinded off. As luck would have it, I got home with about two big blinds left. If I'd been five minutes later, I'd probably have been out of the game. But I wasn't quite.

I got K-10 off suit, and moved in behind two limpers for my two big blinds. I got three calls, and hit top pair to win the hand and quadruple up. A few more lucky hands, a few well-timed bluffs - it's amazing how many people think that because you've been on a rush for three or four hands, you're more likely to have the goods on the next - and I was back up to ten, then fifteen, then twenty big blinds. Still well below average but no longer short stacked, I was encouraged by my comeback and determined to give it my best shot.

By the next hourly break, I was up to a slightly below average stack. Before it was over, I found myself at the final table; I watched players bust out one by one, more than one of them by my own hand, until there were three of us left - and I was sitting there with the chip lead.

I'd like to tell you that I won that tournament, but I'd be lying. I finished second, maybe third; but I was there at the end with a chance to win it. You've probably heard that all you need is "a chip and a chair;" I've experienced it first hand. I won three dollars and change in that freeroll, and over the next few months I parlayed it into a $90 bankroll. Alas, I had not learned the art of bankroll management, and I soon got cocky and started playing for higher stakes than I should have. The first time I hit a cold streak, my bankroll dwindled to nothing. But I learned two valuable lessons from that tourney: it's really true, you aren't out of a tournament until there's nothing in front of you but felt; and no matter how small your chip stack, you have to play aggressively to make a deep run.

I still haven't played for anything approaching real money, but I'm going to someday; and when I do, I'll have a wealth of knowledge gained from my experiences online. But the game that I learned the best lessons from is the one I was almost out of before I even started playing.

This story is participating in PokerListings “My Most Memorable Poker Game” story freeroll.

Well, that's over

I spent the last three days before the election avoiding facebook, twitter, YouTube, radio, and commercial TV. I just couldn't take any more of the negativity, the name-calling, and the vitriol.

Next election cycle, please remember this: you have friends whose political views don't match yours. And when you post hateful things about the people on the other side, those friends see what you say. When you say the people that disagree with you are stupid, unpatriotic, or evil - you're talking about your friends. And it's hurtful to have your friends call you those things.

There was a time when people on opposite sides of the aisle could admit that many of those on the other side were well-meaning, reasonable people, who happened to disagree on the best way to solve the problems of the day. They acknowledged each other's patriotism even when they vehemently disagreed on matters of policy. They discussed their differences without calling each other Nazis or communists. They found compromise, and sometimes even common ground. And they made progress.

We can't go back to those days, but I hope we can regain some of that ethic. You don't have all the answers and neither do I; we can't get anywhere until we learn to listen to each other. And to do that, we need to stop listening to those on our own side who demonize those on the other side.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

They should all be named Peggy

You've seen the commercials where the guy calls the help line and gets a middle-aged man with a vague foreign accent who identifies himself as "Peggy."

Well they're ALL Peggy in my book.

A month or two ago, I got a piece of (paper) mail from Comcast saying I ought to upgrade my cable modem to get the best performance I could get. My old modem, they told me, might not be taking advantage of everything that was available. Probably horse shit, I thought, but no harm in getting up-to-date hardware. They said it wasn't going to cost me anything. So I ordered the new modem, and it arrived a week ago.

Yesterday I opened the package and read the instructions. It said I needed to go to in order to activate my new modem, and that I would need my account number and the MAC address of the new modem, both of which were helpfully included on a sheet that came with the instructions.

I was a little apprehensive about installing the new modem and then trying to activate it - if it wouldn't work until it was activated, I obviously wouldn't be able to get to the activation web site. So, before installing the new modem, I went to I was prompted for my account number and phone number, which I supplied. When I clicked the "next" button, I got an error message: "Oops, something went wrong. We are unable to connect to our server. Please try again or click here for assistance."

I tried again. Same result. I clicked for assistance. Below is the chat session that ensued (you may have to open the image in a separate window in order to read it). The log, since it is not timestamped, does not show the interminable wait I had before each and every line of text from the customer service representative. It does, however, show him impatiently prompting me on one occasion when I took longer than he liked in typing an answer to his question.

So I hooked up the new modem and, to no great surprise, found that I had no internet connection. My router, which is supposed to get a DHCP address from Comcsst, was getting a local address from the modem (which sets itself up as a DHCP server at when it can't connect to the cable network).

I called the 800 number above. They asked for my name and account number. I gave them. For security purposes, they said, they also needed my street address. OK. Thanks, they said, and now for security purposes, could I please give them my phone number. Sure. Wonderful, they said, now for security purposes (I am not making this up), they needed the last four digits of my Social Security number. I feel so much more secure now, knowing that not just anyone can call them and have them GET MY FUCKING CABLE MODEM TO WORK.

Finally satisfied that I was not an impostor trying to get the cable modem working for some nefarious purpose, and after asking me for the manufacturer, model number, and serial number of the new modem, they decided they would send the refresh signal and then it would work. They did.

It didn't.

After another refresh and about 15 minutes of power cycling, startup self-tests, and rebooting of both my router and my computer, I was back online. But this whole process was needlessly and ridiculously complicated. The instructions were ludicrous: how was I supposed to go to a web site to activate the modem that would be connecting me to the internet? Had they made it clear from the beginning that (a) I would need to either have an alternate internet connection or call the 800 number to activate my new modem, and (b) the modem would require 10-15 minutes to get itself working once it was activated, this whole mess (which took an hour or so to unfold) could have been avoided. Had "Herbert" been able to give me a straight answer, it would have been relatively painless. Had he eventually given me a correct answer, I would have known what I had to do. Had the people I finally spoke with via the 800 number been aware of the time required for the refresh to work, I would have had at least some consolation and less confusion. But this is Comcast I'm dealing with.  Their CSRs are all Peggy.