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Chicken Dinner

This post here been moved.  Please click here to view it on the Lightwood Games blog.

Game Hack!

This post has been moved.  Please click here to view it on the Lightwood Games blog.

The comfort zone

Am I still a poker player?

It’s an interesting question. Is there such a thing as an ex-poker player?

I don’t think it ever leaves your system. Just like you can never be an ex-alcoholic. Or like that band on X-Factor a couple of years ago that claimed to be “ex strippers“. I didn’t buy it. Once you take your clothes off for money, you’re a stripper, right?

I haven’t played online poker in quite some time. It wasn’t necessarily conscious decision to quit, but just the way things came together.

At the end of 2009, the site I was playing at the most was about to restructure its frequent player program to take away many of the benefits I’d come to rely on to make it worth playing. I was way past the recreational stage and if I couldn’t produce numbers to show that I was making money, I wasn’t going to play.

Unfortunately, I relied on what was effectively 60% rakeback from this particular iPoker skin in order to show satisfactory results. I’d show a small loss at the tables but cash out a few hundred dollars in net profit every month thanks to the perks. Since then I played odd tournaments on Poker Stars, but never got myself back into the right frame of mind to take it seriously. Playing online poker to make money takes commitment and discipline and this was at a time when I was getting busier than ever in my work.

I was long past the delusion that I could “go pro” with poker and use it as a primary source of income. I still enjoyed playing – by which I mostly mean that I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing I was getting out more money than I put in – but it was either a way to pass an evening or to fill some spare clock cycles on a quiet work day. Although I never consciously made this decision, it was essentially a choice between finding a new poker site where I might expect to eek out $10-15 per hour for my spare time, or filling my time with low-paying contract work – undercutting everyone to build a portfolio.

You want a complete mobile app for $50? Ask me 2 years ago.

You want to know if that gamble paid off? Ask me at the end of the year.

I have played live poker exactly once since I last went to Las Vegas. That’s not particularly unusual. Combine a decent tournament with the chance to visit somewhere new – like, err, Stockton – and I might be interested. Otherwise, I steer clear. But I am looking forward to playing again on my next trip to Vegas – even through by then O’Shea’s will be gone, and I’m still mourning the passing of the Sahara.

However, I do think there are parts of the poker mindset that stick with you day-to-day, no matter how out of practice you are.

Is something good value? Am I the sucker here? I think he thinks such-and-such, but what does he think I’m thinking? How can I exploit that?

Meh. Poker player. Passive aggressive sociopath. Who can tell the difference?

Of course I find myself yelling “string bet!” and sighing “don’t splash the pot” at the TV almost every time I watch anything that has a poker scene.

And I do keep seeing parallels between what I was trying to achieve with my poker play and what I’m trying to achieve now in business. Of course it’s a gamble. If I didn’t think I had the best of it, I wouldn’t be doing it. And I absolutely want to maximise my edge wherever I can.

Assuming I’m able to articulate them, that is most likely what I will be writing about here.

So, yes, I still consider myself to be a poker player. I just don’t play cards much any more.

Many days later

It took some time to click the “Add New Post” button, but the blogging voices in my head are strong and apparently there’s things I want to write about in order to try to quieten them. I’m not sure this is the right outlet, but it’s what I’ve got.

So then. This all fell apart two summers ago. I suspected the end was in sight as I just didn’t have time to keep writing as regularly as I wanted to, but I thought I’d least get to the end of one last trip report. Once I broke my arm, it pretty much ruled out me having anything interesting to write about.

In fact I just went back and checked what photos I had taken after the accident.  Basically nothing.  A shot of some floor tiles at The Orleans (they have little silhouettes of their jazz alligators on them, which is pretty cool) and a video of a slot club promotion that I couldn’t even be bothered to watch the whole way through.  I wondered whether it might have been possible to reconstruct at least some of what happened in the last 21 days of that trip – but it seems not.

So, much as I hate having left things hanging that way, and I always detested “sorry it’s been so long since I blogged” posts, let’s move on.

In the past 20 months:  Claire and I broke up.  Katherine and I got engaged.  I’ve not played any online poker.  Just haven’t felt like it.  I took Katherine to Las Vegas and she seemed to enjoy it enough to want to go back again this year.  T-44.  She wrote her own trip report, so I didn’t have to :) I transformed my company from being software developers for hire (who dabble with mobile apps) into a games studio (that does a bit of contracting on the side).  I expect this is what I’ll be writing about more than anything these days.  Oh, and I discovered that I do like sushi after all.  Now there’s almost nothing I won’t eat.

So what next?  I don’t know.  I have ideas in my head that I have to write down.  They’re quite likely garbage.  You might see some of them.  I just needed to post something here first to mark the passing of time, and to see whether anyone was actually still reading.  Not that it matters.  I just thought that if anyone is still hanging on, you deserved a little update.  You got a very little one.  Enjoy.

Heads up

I have to admit I’ve been really slack about capitalising on betting offers for this year’s World Cup.  It’s one of the best promotional times for bookmakers and I just haven’t been scouting for them, or pretending to be various members of my family, as I rightfully should.

In fact, I even received a similar offer to the one I’m playing this weekend before now and completely let it pass me by.  I’m a disgrace to the profession of bonus whoring right now.

Sporting Index miss me so much that they’ve given me 25 quid to bet with, and this time I’m going to use it.  I still have a bit of a balance left with them from previous offers, and although they said this is promotional money for a free bet, it’s actually been all lumped together into one balance.

Such is the fun of spread betting that you can think you’re gambling with £25 of someone else’s money and end up owing them much more of your own if things don’t go your way.  With a stop-loss limit of five goals, a £25 per goal bet on the winner of the World Cup Final – which is what it seems like they’re offering at first – is far from a risk-free opportunity with this offer.  You could lose the free £25 and have to cough up another £100 out of your own pocket.

It would appear that it’s similar to their previous promotions that give you a refund on losses, except instead of give you the money back when you lose, this time they give it to you first to bet with, then take it away at the end if you win.

However, with no interest in or knowledge of the football whatsoever this year, I clearly didn’t want any more exposure than the free £25 this weekend.

Which was quite a challenge, if you want to place a no-risk bet that actually has the chance of a significant upside.  Obviously, I do.

My selection process involved looking down the list of markets for small numbers.  Assuming that I could buy low and hope for some kind of miracle that would result in at least a two-figure payoff.

Buy total goals a@ 2.3?  To limit the risk to £25, that’s £10.87 per goal.  A three-goal match wins £7.61, four goals £18.48, five goals £29.35.  That doesn’t sound so great.

Multi-corners, buy @ 27.  This used to be a regular favourite of mine when I wanted to bet on a match and didn’t care who was playing.  Spending 90 minutes cheering for nothing but corners makes for quite an interesting game, and as the result is based on number of first-half corners multiplied by number of second-half corners, if things got busy early on it made things really exciting.  But this time, I’d have to buy at less than £1 per point, and we’re looking for a result of at least 50 to make things worthwhile.  That’s more than 7 corners needed in each half before things get interesting.

The winner, though, came in the form of one of the most ridiculous bets I’ve done yet.  Headed Goal Minutes.  The result is the sum of the minutes on the clock for all the goals scored by headers.

I don’t remember ever seeing this market before, so I don’t know if it’s fairly new and available all the time, or just wheeled out for big games.  If I can actually be bothered to watch the game, this bet will bring a whole new energy to my support for both teams.  Buying @ 22 means I can put more than a quid per point on it, and all I need for a decent win is one headed goal in the second half.

Two or more headers in the back of the net, and I’m totally laughing.

Easy money, right?

Breaking the silence

It’s been more than three weeks since I last wrote anything here.

That’s way too long.  I always said to myself if I couldn’t be bothered to update my blog at least once a week it wasn’t worth doing.  Pretty much I’ve managed to stick to that for the last four years. Which, to be honest, has impressed the heck out of me, so I guess there had to come a dry spell eventually.

It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about.  I’ve actually had a few ideas, but for some reason I’ve ended up putting work first lately.

It’s a bizarre concept, but it seems to have potential.  I might try it for a little longer.

As for the blog, right now I’m putting myself on notice: post something regularly or give it up.

And I don’t want to do that, so if I stay busy it’ll be interesting to see just how I carry on treading water in between Vegas trip reports.

Right now it’s T-14.  So I don’t have to pad for long before the next one.

Here’s a preview: British Airways, Rio, Flamingo, Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza and Matt Goss.  That’s a list I never would have predicted, but it’s about all I have planned so far!

Super Bowl coin toss rigged like online poker

Here’s an amazing statistic, coming from the insightful TV commentary leading up to kick off in yesterday’s Super Bowl.

It came after the large no-cash-value metal disc they loosely called a “coin” was flipped into the air and landed on the side they’d decided that today they would refer to as “heads”.  I think that side had a helmet on it, so it was close enough.

“The past 13 years the NFC team has won the toss.  The odds of one team winning 13 straight are about eighty-one hundred to one”.

Obviously, this kind of revelation is the reason commentators don’t STFU during the pre-match shenanigans and wait for the actual game to start.

In fact, the number he was looking for is closer to eighty-two hundred.  Two to the power of thirteen is 8,192, which would give odds (assuming a fair fake coin) of 8,191-1.

The number’s right, but it’s not quite the right context.  Indeed, across a series of Super Bowls, the odds of the team from one particular chosen conference to win 13 coin flips is as above, but the probability of one team winning 13 straight is lower.

If we don’t care who wins the first toss (after all, someone has to win it) then whoever does only needs to guess another 12 correctly to make a streak of 13.  The odds of that happening are 4095-1.

Still a fairly unlikely occurrence, but it’s half the first number – and I’m sure they’d still have mentioned it if was the AFC team who’d got there.

It would be just as noteworthy – in fact, probably more so – if there was a streak of 13 straight heads or 13 straight tails.  The odds of any one of the four streaks I’ve mentioned so far happening brings the price down to a heavily discounted 2047-1.

I began wondering, with all the stats that are thrown about during a typical NFL game, whether a game ever passes that something doesn’t show up that looks vaguely remarkable.

This coin toss streak actually only considers consecutive Super Bowls.  It’s much easier to find wonderful patterns if you consider consecutive playoff games, or Monday evening games, or games played in domes, or in the rain, on the West Coast where at least one team is wearing blue.  And they do look for this kind of meaningless correlation.  All the time.

But in this case it didn’t need any such fudging.  I’ve tried to discount it as much as I can, but it’s still a pretty terrific streak of coin flips coming down in the same arbitrary (yet definitely consistent) direction.

It’s one to remember the next time you hear someone complaining about a “sick” (see my air quotes there?) losing streak when playing online poker. Maybe they lost five or six 50/50 races in a row.

They’ll probably try to convince you this never happens in real life.  Guess what… it actually does.

For what it’s worth, if you’d bet a dollar on the NFC winning the coin toss in 1998 and parlayed the winnings onto the same bet for the past 13 years at the typical bookmakers odds of 10-11, you’d be in for a whopping payout of $4474.51.

Not too shabby – but that equates to juice of more than 45% when you compare it to the true odds payout of $8192!

Tesco Value toolkit for Mac mini

A steal at one pound seventy nine pence.  RAM upgrade complete.  And I only needed to use two of them.

tescoknifeset

My supreme loyalty; or How to use your iPhone when you visit the USA

For those interested in how to travel to the USA and still manage to feed a healthy iPhone addiction without racking up massive data roaming charges, here’s how I did it.  YMMV, and various other disclaimers.

The answer lies with T-Mobile, not AT&T.  While AT&T still have exclusivity on the iPhone, they don’t offer any kind of service plan that is suitable for a visitor.  T-Mobile, on the other hand, has FlexPay – where you can pay for each month of service in advance, with no minimum commitment.

For 500 voice minutes, 500 text messages and unlimited “smartphone” data, the cost is $59.95 (+ local sales tax).

I’ve read some reports that you don’t need to admit that it’s a smartphone and the web access still works, saving you some money.  But this time I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems and was up front about wanting to use an iPhone work, so I can’t vouch for that.

It’s not cheap for a 10-day trip, but at least it keeps the costs under control and still comes in at less than the cost of a 50Mb data roaming bundle (£50 with O2) or about 7Mb otherwise (at a horrendous £8/Mb).  My thinking was that I’d probably top up $10 on my prepaid phone for texts and pay $10/day for hotel internet anyway.  That’s just to check my email, do random browsing and for blogging – nothing I couldn’t do on a handheld gizmo really.  The added bonus of being able to instantly brag about my jackpots on Facebook, or to say “where’s the nearest cinema and what’s on?” was pretty sweet.

Here’s the amazing thing: T-Mobile don’t (can’t) sell the iPhone.  But they already have enough of a customer base that it’s very well supported.  When I called to ask for the network settings, they put me through to the “unsupported handsets helpdesk” – which surely should not exist! – and got me up and running in no time at all.

T-Mobile certainly appreciated my supreme loyalty too.  When I got home and needed to make sure I wasn’t signed up to a recurring payment (I wasn’t) they thanked me for being a customer for almost two weeks.  Sarcasm?  I’d be surprised.

tmobileloyalty

Anyway, here’s how I went about it:

I got my iPhone unlocked in advance the legitimate way – by asking O2.  I’d only had the phone a month, but that doesn’t matter any more.  They’ll unlock any contract iPhone for free and any pay-as-you-go for fifteen quid as long as you’ve had it at least a year.  (Other unlocking methods are available).

I checked what would happen when I put a US SIM card in it, using my basic T-Mobile pre-paid account.  The phone froze up and demanded it be connected to iTunes immediately to activate the new SIM and I obliged.

I expected that I would have to do the same thing again when I got a new SIM, so I prepared for this by loading just enough of my iTunes library onto my laptop to get by.  That is: iTunes Library.itl and the folder iTunes Media/Mobile Applications.  I couldn’t find a way to stop it wiping my apps if they weren’t present on the computer, but the music and video files don’t have to be there.  As long as the iTunes library on your computer looks the same as it does on your iPhone, there’s nothing to sync so it won’t bother trying to transfer any files.

I tested this several times before leaving the country as I couldn’t take my whole iTunes library with me (my laptop is a few years old and it didn’t have enough free space).  I also decided to uncheck “automatically sync when this iPhone is connected” and to turn on “manually manage music and videos” as an extra precaution.  This is actually the only reason I took a laptop with me this time.

In fact, once I got the new SIM card, I didn’t need to activate it. That’s probably because the phone had already seen another T-Mobile SIM, rather that it being a one-time only step so don’t bank on getting an easy ride if you try this.  If you switch the SIM and can’t hook up to iTunes, you might end up locking your iPhone until you get home  - or having to sneakily sync it with a random iTunes library at an Apple Store to bring it back to life (but wiping your music library and apps in the process).

But getting hold of the magic SIM was ridiculously easy.  I went into a T-Mobile store, said “I’ve got an unlocked iPhone, can I get a prepaid SIM card that will work in it?” and it was as easy as that.  No problems with being foreign or anything, they just swiped a credit card and I was on my way.

To configure the internet was pretty easy.  I should have printed this off in advance but it was easy enough getting instructions over the phone.  For future reference:

Go to Settings -> General -> Network, set Data Roaming on and 3G off (if you have an iPhone 3G; T-Mobile’s 3G frequency is different, unfortunately).  Under Cellular Data Network, set APN to internet2.voicestream.com That’s it.  You don’t even need to note down the old settings for later, as it will remember the right values for whichever SIM is inserted.

One mistake I made was not registering on the T-Mobile web site before I left.  You can only get a password to manage your account online via text message, and you can’t get international roaming – except for Canada and Mexico.

But as you can see from the online chat above, I managed to make sure the account was cancelled once I got home, and they said I can also use chat to get it reactivated before I go back next time.  The account remains dormant for 60 days (they say; I’ve read reports of it being much longer) before you lose the phone number.

This works out just right for when I go back to Las Vegas at the beginning of April :)