never play A 2.

So I'm trying to build my range, which, for all the normal people who might read this, is the set of hands you will normally play (instead of throwing away) from any of the positions around the table.

This is a critical step for anyone who wants to consider themselves a serious poker player, but it's especially important for me because my biggest weakness as a player is.....wait for it......discipline.

That's right. Amazing? No. I'll play almost any hand, all the time. So by building a range, you're kind putting yourself on a diet, giving yourself rules for what hands you will and won't play. Now, is it really like a diet? Where you give yourself rules for what you will and won't eat, and then constantly either follow or break those rules? Yes, yes, kind of. But this is more important than a diet.

I joke. Anyway, today I was playing, and I was dealt an ace and a deuce of the same suit, which we write as A-2s, "s" signifying "suited". Now A-2 is one of the hands that I have told myself one billion times not to play, and inevitably I play it and it sucks and I say never do that again you stupid fuck.  And then it's dealt to me again and I play it again while saying "never play A-2 again you stupid fuck". Maybe poker is just a semi-harmless way for me to just violently and endlessly berate myself for not listening to my own good advice.

Annnywayyyyy, to bring this fascinating glimpse into my life to a close, today I was dealt A-2, annd I said to myself "never play A-2", and then I went ahead and bet and said (to myself) "OK, now this is why you never play A-2, you dick," and of course I was immediately dealt another ace and another deuce. And I won the hand. Great story Mark, could you tell it again?

Oh right, I'm not a koala anymore, I'm a black cowboy wearing purple.



screen saver.

Above: here's the beach my screen saver showed me today. Below: here's the beach I went to today. That is the beach, right there with the backhoes on it, dismantling it completely.

Note the long fence below preventing you from going down there. At least I'd only taken a 38 minute train ride to get to this wasteland. I saw one family with kids, beach gear in tow. They did not reek of localness, in fact they looked very much like they had traveled very far to get here for some reason, they were actually tearfully clutching the fence in frustration, as if they had no idea the beach was going to be totally destroyed this summer. Seems like someone would've told them along the way.

OK so it wasn't much of a "beach" anyway, they weren't really missing anything: about 100 meters of dirty sand leading to thick mud, but it is the closest "beach" to Groningen. But really, it was disappointing even for a Dutch beach. Anyone American who is roughly my age who has ever come to visit me in this country has said at some point, "yeah, there's a lot of good stuff here, socialized medicine, legal weed, beautiful womens, good jazz, liberal thinking, a society that tries to be tolerant of and help all peoples, but....yeah, the beaches aren't so good, are they."

On a good day Bloemendaal can be a lovely experience. I myself like Castricum as well. Bergen is kind of nice. Even Zandvoort is OK once you drop your expectations accordingly. And the dunes on the islands are serene and severe, in a good way. But if you've grown up with Florida and California, those are just a different kind of beach. Waves.

Anyway, I say all of this to say that Delfzijl, where I was today, was by far the most depressing beach I have ever been to in a country of really mediocre beaches. I am very sorry for you if you live in Delfzijl at this moment, I cannot believe the streets are not littered with suicides. On a tropically hot summer day, someone has decided to tear apart your sad little beach. I can't decide if it was sadder to not have been able to go to the beach there today, or would it have been worse if I'd actually been able to lay my towel down on the rocks and listen to the sucking mud in front of me and the highway directly behind me.


card death.

So I've been playing a lot of poker lately. And though I want to grind my teeth to dust whenever someone other than me repeats all or part of their previous sentence more slowly for emphasis, I'mma do it myself right here: I mean a lot of poker.

If I wasn't already pretty keenly aware of how much it's come to monopolize my, ahem, "free time", the two apps with which I spend my all of my waking hours thoughtfully keep track of some numbers that could conceivably help one chart/graph/etc his or her complete withdrawal from interactive human life. In the past two months or so, I've played 6,602 hands in WSOP and 5,060 in PokerStars. Considering that each hand takes anywhere from 30 seconds (if everyone folds to an opening bet) to 3 minutes to play (if everyone stays in and there's lots of thinking and raising), and if 5,000 minutes is roughly 84 hours...you can see that it's been a lonely, fixated couple of months.

As you can imagine, this kind of devotion is not without its glamorous rewards. For example, I'm currently ranked #1 in the Netherlands*:

* OK, OK, I'm #1 in "my league", which is called "Skilled I" (I've already maniacally plowed my way through all five levels each of the Starter and Novice leagues and have Master and Elite to look forward to).  And overall I'm 6,972nd in the world. This is not quite as unimpressive as it sounds. Supposedly there are 87,580 other misfits/shut-ins/quadriplegics playing on PokerStars at this very sexy moment.


I'm sure I'll write much more about the nitty-gritty ins and outs of my thrilling new old man pastime; like the week I spent being a black woman instead of a koala and became totally convinced that people were less friendly to me. Or the wonderful tension of ending up with my koala avatar sitting next to Pipe'nigga (in 4th place above) and all the other very carefully-crafted and -researched Cool People Avatars you can choose from as your "poker face" (cleverrrrr). Or how I have pretty much played poker my whole life (since I was 9 or 10 maybe?) without a deeper understanding of how it worked, and that that is kind of one of the beautiful things about poker: you can learn the rules in 15 minutes and play happily at that level for your whole damn ignorant life. But! If you're the kind of person who likes to get into things deeply, there's another whole underlying or overlying art/science to it that you can probably spend that same whole life looking at.

No, but hey: the first thing I wanted to write about was a poker term which I have found myself considering very metaphorically lately: being "card dead". This is different than the nearly equally compelling "drawing dead", which is when you are in a hand, paying to stay in and receive new cards in an attempt to better your hand but in fact, there is no card which can help you because you've already lost. Statistically speaking. You just don't know it yet because you don't know what your opponent(s) have. This is one of the really sadistic moments in televised poker, because you know what everyone has. It's hard to think of another televised "sport" where you get to watch someone optimistically pour their efforts and money into winning when you and everyone else watching knows that they absolutely, mathematically can't. I would mention the Mets or the Browns here but etc.

Right, that's drawing dead. Being "card dead" on the other hand is when, from hand to hand, you can not get good cards to save your life as they say. Time after time, you are doing everything right, technically speaking, but the cards refuse to help you in any way or show you the slightest bit of mercy. You know it's nothing personal, that it's "just probability", but after 25 hands of 6-3, 2-9, 9-3, 10-2, 2-3, 2-6, 7-3, repeat, you start to think "this can't continue".

So finally you get something barely bluffworthy and open with it because you think well it must be over now, I'm ok! and then you immediately (check out my new lingo) find you've gotten yourself into some postflop trouble by having over-aggressively reraised a late-position preflop raiser. You overestimated your hand, underestimated someone else's, and now someone else has the actual nuts that you've been pretending to have and the only way to keep looking tough is to just keep betting on your dead hand, not admit you made a mistake. But you're own your own buddy, you might as well be setting those chips on fire, the good cards aren't coming to rescue you.

Now, they also say that in Texas Hold-em, which is the game I mean when I say I've been playing poker, most of the time it doesn't matter what your cards are. And that poker is a game of skill, not luck. But good cards sure do help. More on this after a brief pause.