Saturday, April 25, 2009

The NBA playoffs and The Wire (tv, stock, entertainment)

The NBA playoffs are here and there are a few really good matchups (actually every matchup is close except the Cavs' and Lakers' series). It's just a really good mix of crippled past champions, up and comers, and solid teams competing against each other. Unfortunately, I think that'll stop after the first round, and the rest of the playoffs won't be as enjoyable unless you want to watch the crowning of Kobe or Lebron.

I also started rewatching The Wire on DVD, which I still think (and I'm sure I'm not alone) is the best drama ever on TV. I bought the whole series on DVD from Amazon for about $180 a while back but only just opened it. While I was bored the other day, I googled stuff about The Wire and came across some interesting stuff. First, the UK Guardian is doing a weekly blog post about rewatching The Wire (currently on season 1 episode 9 or so). Then, this amazing collection of posts on the NYT Freakanomics blog: or more specifically where the author actually watched the 5th season as it was happening with "thugz" and former gangsters to see what they thought.

In a post about a few months ago, the same author made a suggestion that Geithner should take advice from those "thugz" rather than from the Wall St. people who've failed us. This part, which I'm just going to copy from , made a really interesting point:

"The unanimous opinion among The Thugz was that you must base your work around a time-tested law of ghetto capitalism: losers must die in full view. What? This doesn’t make sense. O.K., well, let me explain. Your first mistake (more accurately, your predecessor’s error) was to mix the bad apples (banks) with the good (banks). By doing so, you forgot what makes capitalism so much fun: winners win at the losers’ expense, and everyone gets to watch and laugh. Sort of like public hangings, except reported on the financial pages. Otherwise, why read The Wall Street Journal?
The moral is: don’t ever take the joy of death away from the public. Because if you don’t see losers in pain, you begin to think the game is rigged. And we all know the game is fair, open, and transparent … yes?"

"If you don't see losers in pain, you begin to think the game is rigged." That's exactly how I feel about the whole situation with the banks. It doesn't feel like there's a real loser amongst the banks. Where's the actual pain for Citi and BofA, or AIG for that matter? The government continues to throw money at them, money that then ends up on their bottom line as profit. The game is rigged. But since it's the only game in town, everyone still comes to play.

A quick thanks to my friend Brad (I don't think he reads this blog though) who introduced me to both The Wire and Freakonomics.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some financial stock stuff (stock)

It makes me sick that even after going below $50 not that long ago, Goldman Sachs manages to raise money by selling shares at $123/share. Not only that, but supposedly it was oversubscribed. Who are these people buying at this price? Even at its all-time highs the stock never went higher than $250, and now with the added dilution of three offerings in the last year, someone thinks it's a good investment at this price?

Speaking of Goldman Sachs, CNBC was reporting that one analyst (I think it was Dick Bove) said that Goldman should pay back Buffett rather than the TARP, because Buffett's stake is more expensive. Of course they're not going to do that, seeing as how Buffett's a valued customer and paying off the TARP allows them to regain control of their executive compensation. I hate the financial world.

Among other financial instruments came the fun fact that FAS and FAZ crossed paths at $9.50 last week, and right now are priced to cross paths at $9.18ish. I've mentioned before how ridiculous these instruments are:
If I remember correctly, both FAS and FAZ came out priced at $70 each less than a year ago. As my friend likes to point out, SKF is now lower than it was when it came out in the first quarter of 2007. It's bad enough that these are poorly designed instruments, but I heard from someone at work that his friends had brokers try to push SKF on them as a downside hedge. It's ridiculous either way whether these brokers are just complete idiots or are purposely pushing to sell something that is faulty. I hate the financial world. I can't wait for the class action lawsuits.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gramercy Tavern disappoints me again (food)

I had only eaten once previously in the main dining room at Gramercy Tavern. It was with a friend and we had the tasting menu. I don't recall the specifics, but I remember feeling underwhelmed, especially for the price. I vaguely remember a squid ink pasta dish that was nowhere near as good as the one I had at Esca subsequently. However, I've been to the tavern side of the restaurant (different menus, no reservations at the tavern side) a few times and have enjoyed my visits. Most recently I've been going there for lunch, when they do a delicious and filling soup and sandwich for $14. So today when I went and was told I'd have to wait for a table in the tavern, I decided to give the main dining room another try.

I ordered a cauliflower soup to start and a lamb pappardelle entree. The cauliflower soup had quite a yellow color, which I assumed came from either curry or saffron, though I could not discern any strong flavor of either of those two things. It was poured into a bowl with a couple small pieces of lobster, a couple small pieces of cauliflower, and what tasted like tiny diced apple. I could not figure out what those things were doing there. While the soup itself was decent, I just thought the whole mess of a dish was a confusion of flavors. The lamb pappardelle was similarly confusing. There were little olives throughout the dish and random tastes of lemon that I did not comprehend. The sauce itself was a little thin, considering that I always thought pappardelle, like tagliatelle, was supposed to be served with a rich ragout type sauce because of its width.

I got out of there quickly without even looking at the dessert menu. For the price, I could have had two pastas, one side, and 3 flavors of gelato at Otto and been much more satisfied. I still think the tavern side is worth visiting, especially for the soup and sandwich or the cheese-stuffed meatball.

This leads me to wonder why Gramercy Tavern has such a good reputation. I've been disappointed twice by the main dining room. While I can see that the food is cooked at a high level, I've just never really liked any of the flavor combinations that I've been served. I do know that most of its reputation came from back when Tom Colicchio (guy on the show Top Chef) ran the kitchen. Perhaps it's just time to move on when the head chef does. I could easily imagine the same thing happening at Le Cirque (there's an HBO documentary about its reopening last year), where much of the praise came when Daniel Boulud was in the kitchen, even though they still charge ridiculous prices today.

Friday, April 3, 2009

10 Hours on Pokerstars (poker)

Yesterday marked the beginning of Pokerstars' inaugural Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP). This series of poker tournaments features the novel idea of running three separate tournaments with different buyin levels (low, medium, high) for each game. With the Pot Limit Omaha/8 tournaments being held on the first day, I played in all 3 buyins.

My first major decision came in the medium buyin tournament. There were about 870 people left out of 2104 with 306 cashing and I was a little above average in chips. A short stack in middle position made a pot raise and I called from the button with Q432. I figured that since the short stack didn't have many chips left, I'd probably be able to check down the hand with someone else. Both the small blind and big blind called. The flop came A♣K♣8. This was checked around to the preflop raiser who as expected put what little he had left in chips into the pot. I called from the button, and the small blind now check-raised the pot. The big blind then pushed all in on top of that, and it was to me. I had the big blind covered but the small blind had me covered. At this point I had 13k in chips left, which was about average. If I went all in, the pot would be about 48k. In general, I'm a big advocate of never putting all your chips in for half the pot (in this case I still had scoop chances of runner runner straight). I went through my read and it seemed to me that the only reason players would check raise here would be with high hands susceptible to redraws. If I hit the low alone I'd get 24k in chips while if I shared the low I'd still get back 12k in chips. The problem was that if no low came my tournament was over. So the real question here is the marginal utility of the extra chips versus me continuing to grind with an average stack. After considerable thought, I decided that I had the only low draw out there, and that an extra 45 big blinds was very important considering we were still far off from the money. So I pushed and the full hands were:

Preflop raiser ♠A♠3♣J♣3
Small blind J8J8
Big blind KQ♠K9

This was about as good a distribution of the other hands as I could have hoped for. When I ran the numbers, I had an 81% chance at the low. Unfortunately, no low card came and I was out of the tournament.

In the low buyin tournament, there were an astonishing 7622 entries, which is a ridiculous number for a PLO/8 event. I played fairly well, but found myself a little impatient and undisciplined at about the 4 hour mark. At one point, I was drawing to 16 outs on the river just for half the pot. I managed to survive that and was in good shape once we made the money. With about 250 players left I'd just taken down a big pot to push to 12th place. Then the very next hand, I get ♠A♠JA5 and have it all in against someone's A8♣A♣6, only to get scooped when they hit their flush. I was ahead on that hand 54-46 in terms of expected value. That hand crippled me and a few hands later I have it all in against someone who decided to chase an A3 low and hit a straight on me. I ended up 242 of 7662 for a return of 3.3x my buyin after 6 hours of play.

The most fun was in the high buyin tournament, which drew a field of 327 players. There were many big name players, from live pros to well-known online pros. The table I was at early was so stacked with online PLO and PLO8 pros in fact that a couple of good PLO8 players commented in the chat box "WTF table" and the like. I'm not even sure if they acknowledged my presence with that comment, there were so many known guys there. I played well early, realizing that the table was pretty tight and loosening my game up just enough to take advantage. Again, I started to lose my patience and discipline about 4 hours in after a string of missed flops. With a little less than average chips and less than 100 people remaining, I went all in over the top on the flop with the worst of it when both my opponent and I had trips but I was outkicked. I hit one of my 9 outs and came back up to above average. Much of the road to the bubble was fairly smooth from that point on. I was at a great table where I was second in chips, but double the next players' stacks, and the chip leader of the table was fairly tight. Also, the player directly behind me was tight. This was really useful as I could raise mildly favored hands preflop and expect to get checked down most of the time.

With two spots to go until the money, came one of the toughest hands of the night. I was well above average in chips when it occurred. I held AA2J once suited and raised in early position. From the button, the chip leader of the table reraised me. This was a very tough decision. With 2 till cash and a healthy stack even if I fold, it's a much tougher risk/reward guess than the hand in the earlier tournament. I finally pushed all in over the top, but I think that I would have folded anything that was AA4x or worse. I scooped that hand and made the money comfortably. A little later on, about 9+ hours in, I got a little tired and made some uncharacteristic plays.

Another interesting hand came just as we were about to collapse to the last two tables. A shorter stack raises from the button and I'm holding AK35. I think this is a very strong hand because it's a very good high hand with AK, you can counterfeit an opponent's A2xx with both an A and a 2, and if you were to run into aces, you still might have the best low draw. So I pushed over the top and ran into AA46. Somehow I managed to win the hand (I think I hit trips but it's all a blur right now).

So not long after we became the final two tables, I got dealt A24Q and limped UTG. The chip leader calls from the button and 4 players see a flop. The flop is 832 with two diamonds of which I have none. It checks around to the button who bets the pot. I call after some thought and the turn is the 3 of diamonds which makes the board 8323 with three diamonds. I check again and the button bets the pot again. This is a very tough decision here. My read was that I was either entitled to half the pot (ie. opponent has a hand like 88xx) or even 3/4 of it if my opponent has a hand like A456. I decided to call again. It is important to note that even if I thought I was ahead, it makes no sense to raise here. It is ok to be wrong on my read and still come away with a quarter of the pot. It is not ok to get counterfeited and lose everything. I call because if the river counterfeits my low, I'm very willing to let the hand go. The river is a K and I check call the final pot bet. Chipleader shows A4JK and I feel sick. Getting quartered by a 6 outer is tough enough. But the pot bet on the turn by him is such an amateur move that it's so gross when it lucks out. A guy looking at AKJ4 should be much more worried about both getting quartered or counterfeited than even I was. My guess is he's from that school of poker where if the opponent check calls he must be weak and you can bully him off if you keep betting.

A few hands later, chip leader raises in middle position and I reraise with A2Q♣Q. The flop comes ♣9♣86 and I push. This is a pretty good flop for me. Nut low draw, no overcard, and a backdoor flush draw. Chipleader quickly calls with A♣K♠Q♣6 and the ♣2 hits the turn and the ♠T on the river and I'm out. I spent 10 hours straight in that tournament, the longest I'd ever been in a tournament, and came away 17th of 327 with 3.5x my buyin. It was a disappointing end to get sucked out on twice at the end by the same guy playing badly. But overall it was a fun if tiring experience and I'm looking foward to the next set of PLO8 tournaments. I think at this point I'm ready to admit that PLO8 is my best game and I should only play these tournaments. I have cashed in the last few big online PLO8 tournaments, but have not gotten that run of cards late that's seen me to the final table. Still gonna keep trying.