Tag Archives: Poker

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

It’s time to play everyone’s favourite game, Who Wants to Be a MBillionaire?

Yes, that’s correct. Billionaire. With a “B”. Billion. If you’re the Koch brothers it might just be enough money to buy an election. It’s enough money to give 999 people you know a million dollars and still have a million left for yourself.

It’s a lot of money.

Of course, I’m talking about the upcoming Powerball lottery jackpot of $1.3 Billion. That’s annuitized, though, which means that you would receive thirty equal payments starting with one this year and then for the next twenty-nine consecutive years. I did the math. The day you cashed in your ticket you would receive a cheque for $43,333,333.33. The last space tourist paid $40,000,000 for a trip to space. This means you could buy a spot on a Russian rocket and spend a week on the International Space Station once a year every year from now until 2044 and still have more than three million dollars a year left over to have some actual fun with, you know, in case a week in space every year isn’t rocking your socks.

NASA took this photo

But is it worth it to buy a ticket?

Well, the odds are what the odds are and every draw they’re the same, whether you play every week or once every ten years. In the case of Powerball, the odds are astronomical. I don’t throw that word around lightly, either. I studied a lot of astrophysics when I was in university, so I understand the concept of astronomical. Time and space are mind-bogglingly huge, and the Powerball odds meet the definition of astronomical. To put it the simplest terms possible, you’re not going to win.

But someone is going to win it eventually, right?

Yes. Someone is going to win, eventually, and they will be the luckiest son of a bitch since Billy Joel married Christie Brinkley.

AP Photo/Ron Frehm

I use a bit of simplified poker math to help me make my decision. In poker, there are a couple ratios that you factor in when you’re playing: pot odds and pot equity.

Pot odds are easy because you simply figure out how much you put in and compare it to how much you get out if you win. If I need to call a bet of $10 and the pot I’ll win is $1000 then my pot odds are 1:100 (winning a hundred times more than I’m betting). In the case of Powerball, you put in $2 and you stand a chance at winning $1,300,000,000. So your “pot odds” are 1:675,000,000. These are great pot odds. Matthew McConaughey would love this much pot.

Now in poker, pot equity gets a little more complicated. It’s simply defined as how much you “own” the pot based on the cards you have and the cards that are still available. For the Powerball lottery simple probably math gives us our chances. In every Powerball draw, a single ticket has a 1 in 292,201,338 chance of winning. This is terrible pot equity.

To put that in perspective a lot of people like to use the “hit by lightning” analogy. I prefer to use something a little more personal, so to put this into perspective let me say that your chances of becoming President of the United States (assuming you are actually American and not someone like Ted Cruz) are one in ten million. Which means you are 29 times more likely to hold the Twitter handle @POTUS at some point in your life than you are to win the Powerball lottery.

POTUS on Twitter

Anyhoo… now that you’ve got your two numbers you can figure out if you should play or not. In poker, this helps determine if you should fold, or chase that card you need for a winning hand. You decide by comparing your pot odds with your pot equity. If your pot odds are better than your pot equity, then go for it.

So, for Powerball, our pot odds are better than our equity (by 3 to 1) and I’ll be buying a single ticket (and not holding my breath). It’s a small price to pay for a potentially massive return. I treat it as entertainment. It’s fun, for however short a time, to have a non-zero chance at winning a billion dollars.

Plus, if you don’t play your chances of winning are guaranteed to be zero, and that pot equity is as bad as it gets.

~ Andrew

P.S. I’m Canadian, so I’m going to have to get one of my friends in MA, RI, or CT to buy me a ticket before Wednesday’s draw. I’ll see you next week when I’m in town and give you 1% of my winnings 😉

Deal With It

I like poker. I am by no means a fanatic, but I enjoy playing the game, especially with a small group of people, some of whom I know and others I don’t. A nice easy-going house game that ends early even if you win is pretty much as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned. I’ve played in Vegas for a few days a bunch of years ago and that was a great experience, but I found it equally as depressing as I did intriguing and fun.

The thing that most amazed me about Vegas, and any other casino I’ve played in for that matter, were the dealers. Granted, it’s their job to shuffle and deal so it stands to reason they’ve got a fair amount of practice with it, but it impressed me nonetheless. They are always so graceful with the cards. They mix and wrangle and straighten and shuffle, and the cards obey their every command. It’s a lot like watching Disney’s Fantasia with Mickey Mouse using his magic to choreograph all the mop buckets.

I, on the other hand, am clumsy. My fingers are all crooked and my knuckles are all swollen most of the time and my use of them is, how do you say, far from graceful. Whenever we play a home game and the cards come around for my turn to deal I get anxious. Even among friends, the fear of ridicule looms over me as I attempt to organize 52 plastic cards, shuffle them, and deal them out to up to eight players. Maybe the fear is greater because I’m among friends, for I know I’ve dished out a ribbing or two in my day and the return trip for such a thing is not nearly as fun to experience as the delivery.

If someone who has been knocked out is feeling particularly compassionate, they might jump in as a permanent dealer, and for this I am eternally grateful. “Can I get you something else to drink? Maybe top up that plate of nachos?”

So, when my friend David sent me an email saying they were down a dealer at Thursday’s KW Poker Chicks event and would I like to come be a dealer (ladies play, dudes deal) I immediately agreed. Another good friend of mine, Sean, once said, “Andrew sometimes lets his love of attention override common sense,” and such was the case this time.

I’m not the type to let a lack of experience or skill stop me from doing anything I think might be worthwhile. I like poker. I like people. I like people playing and learning to play poker. I like poker dealers. It sounded like it would be a fun experience. (Spoiler alert: it was!)

David told me there was no dress code and I didn’t need to brush up on my jargon but did offer one piece of advice: practice shuffling.

So, when I was done work for the day I grabbed my decks of nice plastic Copag‘s I sat down on the couch and started shuffling, and shuffling, and shuffling. I didn’t bother to count but after about twenty minutes my son looked up from the math game he was playing on his iPad and gave me a look. It was one of these raised eyebrows confused looks like the ones I give him when I see him wandering around the house with only one sock on, a laser pointer in one hand, and some random lego pieces in the other.

“I’m practicing,” I said.

“For what?” he asked, looking back down at his math game.

I explained to him the event and how my friend was short a guy and he asked me if I would help out so I said yes, trying to impart the lesson on him that it’s good to help out your friends.

“Are you any good?” he asked, making eye contact while his game leveled him up.

“Nope,” I said. “That’s why I’m practicing.”

“When’s the event?” His eyes were still on me.

“I have to be there a bit before seven,” I said, trying to shuffle without looking at the cards and spraying them all over the couch.

He looked up at the clock on the wall and then back to me wrangling the cards up again, raised his eyebrows, gave a “wowsers” look, shook his head, and returned to his video game. With adults in the room, this would have been the time I heard out of the corner of my ear, “You’re an idiot.” It’s a familiar phrase I’ve grown accustomed to hearing, usually as I’m applying a bandage to an injury.

The moment of truth came and I met my friend David in the parking lot before the event. Someone let us into the building and was promptly introduced to a few people. There were several small tables pushed together to make bigger tables where someone was putting out chips, two easels with big chart paper at one end of the room, and a table with red and white wine, other beverages, and some snacks that were either purchased or brought in by some of the players.

There were a few people getting tips from the organiser and my friend David gave a quick lesson to a couple beginners about pot odds and pot equity and then the organizer gave a similar lesson to the entire group using the aforementioned chart paper. Then, we got started.

I had been fiddling with the deck the whole time, getting a feel for it and whatnot and the first thing I noticed when I took a couple practice shuffles was that these were not the slippery slidey fancy plastic cards I had at home. They were not plastic. Instead, they were more paper-ish and the really fun part was the room was really warm and humid, and I was nervous so my hands were sweaty. The game had begun though so it was time to get to it.

I introduced myself and explained. like some people at the table I was new to this. Most of the ladies assured me that they would keep the taunting to a minimum. The first shuffle went just fine, though, and so did the second, and the third, and the fourth. I only forgot to move the dealer chip once and everyone got two cards each time! Overconfidence must have set in because on the next deal I totally skipped over a person handing out the first card. No one had looked at their card yet so we just backed the cards up and got it all sorted out. Crisis averted and my first blunder was out of the way.

Play continued for the next 90 minutes and things were moving along just fine. My table was a lot of fun and the women were a good mix of poker experiences. Even though a small amount of money was on the line everyone was still there to just have a good time. The unfamiliar cards mostly cooperated for me, but as the room heated up and the cards accumulated dust, and wine, and hand sweat from everyone pawing at them they got more difficult to handle. Once I lined up a shuffle and thumbed the cards while in the middle of a conversation and looked down and there were still two individual piles sitting in front of me. The shuffling equivalent of an air ball shooting hoops or a whiff at the driving range. Laughs all around. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

Break time came and they were contracting the group down to two tables and one dealer became redundant. David asked if I wanted to stick around, but I decided I’d bow out. Go out on a high, right? As it turned out I had forgotten to bring my medication with me and if I left right then I’d only be a half hour late with it when I got home, so I decided I’d make my exit.

I said goodbye to my table and wished them all luck. Smiles and waves all around. I hope one of them ends up winning.

So my first “real” dealer experience is under my belt and I can say with confidence that I’m not going to be quitting my day job anytime soon to do it professionally. I will, however, go back and deal for the KW Poker Chicks if they’re ever short another card slinger.

~ Andrew