Gaming Podcasts

I’m breaking up the “nonfiction” podcasts I listen to into two entries: Gaming podcasts, and everything else. As I said in my intro, a few Magic: The Gathering podcasts have been key in keeping me motivated in running. I also listen to a couple of poker podcasts. I’ve listened to several others of each, some of which have ended, some of which I’ve dropped, but the ones included below I’ve been listening to for quite a while.

One common thread in these podcasts is that the hosts clearly put a lot of work into planning out their episodes and staying on topic (presumably through skillful use of editing and post production in some cases), so you know what you’re going to get: A consistent product, and a clear indication when an individual episode is going to be different. I’ve listened to a few podcasts in each category which don’t exhibit this discipline, and they often end up running 90-120 minutes per episode, and/or spend a lot of time in rambling digressions which don’t hold my interest.

So, these really are the cream of the crop that I’ve found for each game, at least as far as what I’m looking for in these podcasts goes. YMMV.

Magic podcasts

  • Limited Resources: Probably the podcast I look forward to the most each week, LR covers the limited (draft & sealed) forms of playing Magic, which are the formats I mostly play these days. Besides being a clinic in playing, LR is also a clinic in producing a professional-grade weekly podcast on its topic, with insight, humor and depth. I discovered LR back in 2012 because I figured there must be a podcast on Magic drafting out there, and this was honestly the only one I could find at the time. It had already been around about 3 years by then, and it was already very solid. Host Marshall Sutcliffe also does commentary on the Magic pro tour. Co-host Luis-Scott Vargas is in the pro tour hall of fame, also does coverage, and brings great analysis and usually-great humor to the show. Both of them show their enthusiasm for and expertise at the game in every episode.
  • Good Luck High Five (formerly Magic the Amateuring): The GLHF hosts have backgrounds in improv comedy and so they’re the rare podcast which is able to dive into off-the-cuff humor and make it work – but I think it’s because they have the discipline to not let it get away from them. They cover all forms of Magic in a friendly and upbeat way, and have both played competitive magic and worked in coverage of competitive events. They’ve recently picked up the proverbial baton of keeping their listeners apprised of developments in the MtG world, which I enjoy even though I’m not strongly plugged in to that side of the scene.
  • Drive to Work: By Mark Rosewater, the head designer of Magic, who records it while – you guessed it – driving to work. He releases 2 episodes each Friday. Rosewater has a great mind for game design and his podcast is worth listening to if you’re interested in Magic design, game design, and to some extent any sort of design.
  • Kitchen Table Magic: An interview podcast about the personalities and histories of the game. Host Sam Tang does a great job bringing out his subjects’ love of the game, and in the cases of long-time players their historical perspectives on the game. For anyone who’s watched the Enter the Battlefield video series, KTM is a more in-depth and regular feature with many similarities. Organized by “seasons”, it comes out weekly with some gaps in the middle and end of each season.
  • Allied Strategies: As a rule I’m not a fan of podcasts in a “friends hanging out” format, but this one makes it work, and I think it’s because they’re very good at knowing when to ad lib and when to rein it in. Two of the friends have been professional Magic players, and all three are entertaining and insightful. Not every episode is deeply interesting to me, as they rotate through a variety of Magic topics, but I listen to most of them. They usually end the episode with an amusing story from a recent event.

Poker podcasts

  • Thinking Poker: Much like Limited Resources, this is a fine example of producing a focused podcast. Co-hosts Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis open with a usually-short intro (a bit longer when they themselves have been playing in major tournaments), then launch into a strategy segment analyzing one or more hands. The rest of the episode is usually an interview with someone from the poker world. Some of the most interesting interviews have been with people who are only tangentially part of the poker world, and the hosts are excellent interviewers. Episode 200 is a good sampler of interviews with several of their best guests.
  • Just Hands: This podcast started off as what its name implies, individual episodes analyzing poker hands and that’s it. It’s been extending a bit into interviews, especially as one of the original hosts has recently left and the other is having a different guest each week. It’s a good listen, though I think their strength is in hand analysis.

Next time I’ll cover the rest of the nonfiction podcasts.

A Long Birthday Weekend

My birthday weekends get a little more low-key over time. Having a big to-do of a party seems less appealing than it used to. Maybe for my 50th.

This weekend I decided what I mainly wanted to do as play poker, so Friday night I had five friends over for an evening of our low-stakes game. Rooting around for the new deck of cards I knew I’d bought, I looked at my order history on Amazon, and found that it had been over two and a half years since I’d hosted a game. Probably almost that long since I’d last played no-limit, too. But it was a successful evening for me, more than doubling my buy-in. I was particularly pleased with a hand where I turned two pair with a 4-straight on the board, and realized no one had the straight when they didn’t bet the turn, so I was able to make a little more money on the turn and river.

(I’ve been listening to the Thinking Poker podcast, and find it’s maybe even more instructive to learn about hand-reading by listening to it than by reading a book about it.)

Saturday was my actual birthday, and I’d thought of going to the Magic Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease, but decided that poker was probably enough gaming for the weekend. Instead I opened presents, talked to my Dad on the phone for a while, and then watched the Patriots beat the Chiefs in the playoffs.

In the evening we went to Amber India with some friends for dinner. They moved a few months ago (I think their old strip mall is going to be redeveloped soon), and their new spot has a nice outdoor patio (not suitable for this rainy weather, but should be great in the summer). The inside feels a little cramped and warm, but possibly they just have a few kinks to work out. The good news is, the food is still awesome!

Sunday was had a relatively quiet day, though in the afternoon we drove over to Half Moon Bay hoping to catch some of the rain showers we were supposed to be getting. We stopped for lunch at Cameron’s British Pub, whose English pastie was exactly what I was craving. Then we drove down the side street the pub is on and ended up at the Wavecrest open space preserve, where we hiked around for about an hour, getting our sneakers muddy and (in Debbi’s case) soaked. But it was a pretty – if blustery – day, and we had a good time. We then drove up to Point Montara Lighthouse where we sat in the car and watched the waves crash on. Alas, we never got more than some drizzle on the whole trip, which was a bit disappointing.

In the evening we started watching Person of Interest, which I’d been curious about for a while, but it never aired at good time for us. (Now that’s a concern we won’t have in the future now that we own a TiVo.) It’s good stuff, a little over-the-top, but at least as good as other police procedurals, and I understand it gets more sophisticated over time.

Oh yeah: And my company’s “gift” to me for my birthday was that we have Martin Luther King day off for the first time. So today we took care of a bunch of chores in the morning, including having a plumber over to fix two of our toilets whose gaskets were having problems. In the afternoon we had some other friends over, who hadn’t been able to join us for cupcakes on Saturday, and I played with the kids for a bit, and they chased the cats and Debbi’s BB-8 robot around for a while. We wrapped up the weekend with dinner, some more chores, and some more Person of Interest.

A pretty busy weekend in a lot of ways, but also some nice quiet time. And we did get that rain I was hoping for, but it came in last night. Wish we could get a good solid day of rain during the daytime on a weekend. But for now it looks like I’ll have to be satisfied with another shower tomorrow.

Inaugural Poker Night

Thursday I had people over for the inaugural poker night at the new house.

It’s taken us a lo-o-ong time to get the dining room set up: Buying a big buffet to store my board games (and empty all the boxes of games that we lining the room), and getting a rug for the room to protect the hardwood floors. Then last weekend I bought a length of felt to use as a playing surface (I already knew the table cloth doesn’t really work – it bunches up whenever you try to pick up the cards). But finally we were ready.

The great thing about our dining table (which I inherited from a friend of mine) is that with both leaves in, it easily sits 8, and could probably sit 10 without too much trouble. We got 8 people – though we maxed out at 7 at once – for the game, and everything went smoothly. I even hauled out our glass mugs from the freezer for the people who wanted beer (“How unusually civilized” one of the players said). The cats briefly checked things out, but only Blackjack hung out with us for the evening. And Debbi said that after she went to bed, she could barely hear us still playing (and talking) downstairs.

The only casualty is that I managed to knock over my own chair right into an electrical outlet, chipping a piece off of its frame. But that should be easy to replace.

The game – our usual small-stakes 5¢/10¢ blind no-limit hold ’em – went well. I won some early pots, lost some late pots, and ended up a couple of bucks. Two players got it all in after a ridiculous flop betting line (several near-minimum-raises followed by an all-in overbet and a snap call), revealing a set-over-set situation. One player said, “I didn’t think you’d call me!” and the other replied, “I didn’t think you’d beat me!” A third player just shook his head at their (deliberately) silly line of play, even though the outcome was inevitable.

People started turning into pumpkins sometime after 11, so we called it a night. The next morning Debbi said she wondered how we ended up with more beer than we started with (since we don’t drink beer, and most of what we had was left over from my birthday party). I said that Adam left it to encourage me to host again.

I certainly will.

Poker Outing

It’s been a while since I played poker in a card room, so with the week off I headed over to Garden City Casino this afternoon. Garden City is an old-school card room, with a whiteboard for a waiting list, and tables jammed together on a big floor. Or rather, it used to be, but since I was last there – over a year ago – they’ve completely renovated the inside, with a new room for high-stakes games, electronic screens and waiting lists, and a spacious middle aisle and side area near the eatery. It’s still a little crowded with tables (though that’s to be expected in a card room, I guess!), but it looks much more modern.

(Oddly enough, they still don’t have betting lines on the tables, which was an issue in one hand today when one player thought another had raised, but the other claimed he was only counting his remaining chips, as raising would have put him all in. I’m not sure why they even make tables without a betting line anymore.)

I sat down in a 3/6 game after a short wait. 3/6 is what you call your low stakes game; maybe if you worked at it, you could lose a few hundred dollars in a few hours. I once lost $100 in an hour at 3/6. That was a pretty bad session. But it’s by far my worst hour in the hundreds I’ve put in at these stakes. So we’re not exactly breaking the bank here.

(Don’t ask me about my comic book habit, please.)

This was a pretty rough session, with a number of bad beats. Some notable hands:

  • My worst-played hand was probably pocket Queens on a K62r board, calling a flop bet, then folding on the blank turn, figuring someone had to have a King. The two players who showed down had pocket Tens, and a 6 for middle pair on the flop. I played this too timidly.
  • My pocket Aces got cracked when my opponent rivered two pair. Gah.
  • The roughest hand was playing Q9 and flopping a straight on the JT8 flop. Sounds great, right? Except my surviving opponent hit his river King and show AQ for a better straight. Painful.
  • The most amusing hand was ATh on a A98 flop, one heart. The turn was the Jack of hearts, giving me both the straight draw and the nut flush draw to go with top pair, giving me 20 outs to improve my hand. I didn’t improve on the river, but top pair was good anyway.
  • I lost with a set of Threes to a set of Jacks. What can you do? I flopped a set of Twos in another hand, but the board turned a four-flush and I was sunk there, too. If you can’t win your flopped sets once in a while, what can you count on in this world?

Thanks to the set-over-set hand, I ended up down for the day. Sigh. But I’d been down a lot more earlier in the session and clawed my way back to even. And I had fun, so it worked out. I’ll get ’em next time, right?

Vegas FTW

Debbi and I are back from a three-day trip to Las Vegas. This time around we went to meet up with her parents, who are spending the week there. We flew in Sunday and had an evening to ourselves before they arrived, and had our usual dinner at Bally’s Steakhouse, which was delicious as always. The waiters there are also terrific: Low-key yet entertaining. Ours introduced himself and said, “I’m here to bring you whatever you want.” Whatever we wanted was an appetizer of beef short rib ravioli, two steaks, sides of asparagus and onion rings, and a very rich chocolate hazelnut praline dessert. Oh, and two glasses of wine. We rarely indulge in these sorts of restaurants, but we do like this one.

Monday morning we gambled at the MGM Grand, where Debbi hit a royal flush on a nickel video poker machine:

Debbi's royal flush at video poker

Since it was a nickel slot it wasn’t the ginormous win it could have been, but still: It may be years before either of us hits another of those.

Deb’s parents, Jerry and Sis, arrived in the early afternoon. They’re not the big walkers that Debbi and I are – we regularly walk all over the Strip and are usually pretty pooped by the end of the day – so we cut back on our perambulations some. We did head up to Treasure Island where we had dinner at Kahunaville, an island-themed restaurant we discovered a few years back. They were a bit short on staff so we had a longer wait than we’d expected, but the food was still good. Jerry got a huge drink in a souvenir glass which we all shared, in addition to our own drinks.

Then we went to Harrah’s to see comedian Rita Rudner, who was very funny. I think I’ve seen a little of her in the past, but not a whole lot; her material focuses on gender differences. If you enjoy stand-up comedy, I recommend her.

We went to a few other hotels to see some of the sights. After brunch on Tuesday at the Bellagio cafe, we visited their conservatory, which right now has an autumn theme, like so:

The Bellagio conservatory in fall

We also went to the Flamingo where we looked in on their reserve of birds and fish, and their elaborate network of pools. Next time we go during warm weather (highs were in the 80s every day we were there) we might stay at the Flamingo and use their pools.

Debbi and Michael at the Flamingo hotel

On the gambling side of things, Debbi picked up Pai Gow Poker, since she’d been getting frustrated with not winning much at the slots or video poker machines. She thinks she’s found her game now, since she was winning or breaking even almost every time she played. I played too and finished up slightly at the game. We played a couple different (though slight) variants of the game, though they’re all basically the same. At one table a fellow sat down and made a big bet on the bonus circle and was dealt a royal flush, which won him five hundred dollars instantly! Yoiks!

For myself, I played regular poker, and had my winningest time ever in Vegas, even factoring in a poor first day there. I mostly crushed the low-limit games, which was satisfying since I ought to be able to crush those games at this point. I also played my first casino session of no-limit poker (at a 1/2 table) and won there, too, mainly on the strength of a 20-minute run of good hands. I saw a few tables where the betting was crazy before the flop, but this table was relatively sane: Some loose calls before the flop, but a fair respect for raises after the flop. I’ve been nervous about playing no-limit in the casino for a while, since I’m sure it can be very different from our fairly disciplined home games that I play in (for much lower stakes – on a really bad night you might lose all of $60, but that’s pretty rare), but this makes me think perhaps I should be playing no limit more often.

As usual, it was a trip of good food and good times. I think Deb’s parents had a good time, too. But certain furry friends were very happy to have us get back home:

Happy to be home

Articles about Nate Silver

An article at New York magazine about Nate Silver, the brains behind Five Thirty Eight, the election web site we’ve all been reading daily of late. (via Daring Fireball)

There’s also an article at the University of Chicago Magazine on Silver’s baseball analysis exploits, as well as his Wikipedia entry.

Since Silver’s stock-in-trade is statistical analysis of real-world phenomena, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he also made a living playing poker during the Internet poker boom. (Maybe he still does, I dunno.)

Responsible Updating

I haven’t been very good about updating this week – sorry about that. And with plenty on my plate for the weekend, I might not be so good about it for the next few days, either. So to be a responsible journaller, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been busy with:

The long weekend was nice. We mostly took it easy, although I did put a few comic book collections up for sale on eBay. Sunday we got together with Subrata and Susan for some dinner and gaming. Subrata and I have been playing the occasional Magic sealed deck duels, with 4 Shadowmoor packs and 2 Eventide packs. We tend to find that we can get 2 or 3 (or even 4) decent decks out of this mix, so there’s plenty to keep us busy; the hybrid mana costs allow for a lot of flexibility – almost too much, it sometimes seems. I think I’ve decided that I prefer pure Shadowmoor for sealed deck, though; you get to make better use of the hybrid auras and generally have more synergy among your cards. I bet pure Eventide would be fun, too. I’m kind of sorry they decided not to make Eventide a “big” expansion like Shadowmoor was, especially since the enemy hybrid colors can be a lot of fun. (I ought to write a whole article on what I think of the Shadowmoor and Eventide sets, actually.)

Speaking of games, last night I played poker with some other friends. It was a mostly-nondescript evening, as far as the game went, and I was mostly entertained by the livelier-and-snarkier-than-usual conversation. But around 10:45 when I announced I was going to leave soon, I went on a big winning streak and didn’t leave for another half an hour. I managed to stack one of my friends, and win some other decent pots besides, and ended up with probably my most successful session yet. Good deal!

Have I mentioned we’re getting our complex’s exterior painted at home? We are. It’s taking a while, since they’re repairing and replacing some of the siding, and although that’s a pain, I’m glad they’re doing a good, diligent job with it. It’s not something you want to scrimp on. The place will look nice once it’s done. Still, I will be glad when it’s done and I can move my plants from the patio back up to the porch where they belong.

I had a weird glitch with the ol’ journal last night: My site was unable to contact Akismet and so my spam trap stopped working. I get hundreds of spam per day, so this was really annoying. It was fixed by this morning. My hosting service has no idea what happened; I suspect some bad data got propagated around the DNS and it got stuck in their servers overnight. Probably not their fault, and hopefully it was a one-time thing.

Lastly, we’re having another heat wave this week – not as bad as last week’s scorcher, but still pretty hot. I’m hoping today was the peak and that it will cool off over the weekend. Fortunately, it always cools down at night so it has to be a really bad heat wave to really interfere with my sleep.

I think that about cover it. Now to get a good night’s sleep so I can bike in to work tomorrow!

Excalibur Poker Room Going Electronic

The first time I played Texas hold ’em was at the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas (admittedly only a couple of years ago). It was a pretty nifty room then, set aside from the casino and brightly-lit. They’ve since moved it to a dimly-lit area in the middle of the casino, which made it harder to get away from the smoke. I’d still play there from time to time, though.

So it’s with a little sadness that I read that the Excalibur poker room will be going all-electronic later this month, with dealer-less tables. Chatting with the dealers is one of the perks of playing low-limit hold ’em, and the better ones are both good dealers and fun conversationalists. Of course, not having a dealer to tip means more profit for winning players. It still seems weird, though. The dealer is also the accountant and policeman for the table, and a good one can have a calming effect on a rowdy or out-of-control table.

I’ll be curious to see how this experiment works – will the players embrace it, or will they abandon the Excalibur to go play with actual dealers? My guess is some of each, depending on how much each player is concerned about the rake and tips.

T.G.I.F. Dammit

All things considered, this has been a pretty crappy week:

  • A couple of last-minute, difficult projects landed on my shoulders this week, resulting in a great deal of stress for me at work. I managed to finish one today and make progress on the other one, but man, it was a rough week. And of course the things I’d planned to work on got deferred in the meantime. Sigh.
  • Debbi has her own job stress, since the majority shareholder of the company she works for has made an offer to buy the rest of the company. I’ve never been part of a corporate buyout, never mind one of this magnitude, but I’m sure this makes everyone who works there uneasy, since who knows how things might change if the buyout takes place?
  • We’re painting our townhouse complex soon, and I realized that my vegetable garden runs right along one of the exterior walls, so now I’m stressed out that I might need to pull out the vegetables just as they’re ripening in order to allow the painters access. Gah! Maybe I can cover them with tarps for the days they’ll be painting there, or maybe I can offer to paint that section myself after the growing season is over. Sigh.

So I’m really glad it’s Friday, because I’m exhausted and frazzled.

On the bright side:

  • I upgraded my journal to WordPress 2.6 and started having a couple of problems with it. But I eventually discovered that one problem was due to having the wrong bookmark to access the admin pages of my journal (I’d bookmarked the login page rather than the admin page), and the other was because I’d been editing some old entries recently which explained why Akismet‘s “automatically discard spam comments on posts older than a month” feature seemed to be broken – editing the entries apparently re-set their age counter, so I’m getting a little more spam in my spam trap than I used to. But, it looks like it’s all good in the end.

    (All that said, I am really looking forward to using the “live preview” feature of WordPress 2.6, as I’ve wanted to switch to a new journal template for FP for months now.)
  • I got to play poker last night with friends, and finished up a few bucks in our low-stakes game. All of my profits came from a single hand when my set of Jacks beat pocket Aces. I also managed to get away with losing the minimum when my A-Q hit top pair on the flop, and I folded to two bets – correctly, as it turned out as I was up against Aces again. I’m far from a great player, but I seem to be holding my own in this group.
  • And Debbi and I went to my favorite Italian restaurant for dinner tonight. Yay!

I think we’re going to have a low-key weekend. We have a few chores to do, but otherwise we need to empty our brains and de-stress.

Cache Creek

We wanted to do something more than just going to dinner for our upcoming anniversary, so yesterday we took a day trip to Cache Creek indian casino, which is about 2 hours away, outside Sacramento.

We headed out a little before 10 am and got there just before noon. It was a sunny, warm day, a nice day for a drive. We were fortunate to have good radio reception almost all the way there, so we were able to listen to all but the last few minutes of Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, which was a particularly good episode, too, with Drew Carey on the panel, and Moby as the guest, both of whom were hilarious.

Anyway, Cache Creek has lots and lots of parking, and is in pretty much the middle of nowhere. After getting off the freeway onto Route 16, we drove through some truly small towns: Madison seemed to be little more than a general store a few roads; Esparto is bigger, and you drive right through their downtown, past their school and post office (note to self: they have a shaved ice stand along the way); and Capay seems even smaller than Madison, but features red-brick shoulders down their main street. But mostly it’s just farmland and grape vines. Pretty, but very, very rural.

We easily found parking in the garage and went inside. I took a couple of pictures of the lobby before a security guard came over and told us that we couldn’t take photos pointing the camera towards the casino. A little strange, but oh well. Their lobby is pretty impressive, though:

Lobby of Cache Creek casino

The casino is much the same as a Las Vegas casino, maybe about average by that standard (bigger than Bally’s, not as big as the MGM). It’s a big room of slot machines and tables games with restaurants around the edge, a nightclub/concert venue on one side, and a large poker room. To my surprise, they even had some penny slots. They also had video poker machines with better payouts than we usually find in Vegas.

We both played some video poker during the afternoon. I had a surprisingly run of luck, getting four-of-a-kind twice. Debbi was not so lucky, which is too bad since she plays a lot more video poker than I do. She could use a run of luck.

The main disappointment for me is that I had heard that they have no limit Hold Em here with 1/2 blinds, but when I asked they said they only had 2/4 blinds. Since I haven’t played NLHE except with my friends at our home games, I wanted to start at the lowest blind structure when playing in a casino. Oh well. Also, one of the room managers told Debbi she couldn’t stand behind me and watch me play one time when she came in, which is different from every other room I’ve played in. I’m not sure what the motivation was there, but whatever.

Anyway, I played 3/6 limit hold ’em instead of no limit. Which even though I ended up down a little was a lot of fun. I made full houses three times and won a number of other hands, going on quite a roll in the middle of the session. Unfortunately the winning stretch was bracketed by a period of making the second-best hand a bunch (a good way to lose a bunch of money), and a card-dead period. I would have finished up a little except that twice a woman managed to make her flush on the turn or river to beat my flopped two pair. But, that’s the way it goes.

We didn’t try any of their sit-down restaurants, instead doing the grill and the deli. The grill was pretty good, the deli was pretty mediocre. The dessert place served great milkshakes, though.

The drive home was uneventful (setting aside the amazing number of bugs which hit my windshield), and we got home almost exactly 12 hours after leaving in the morning.

There’s not quite enough to keep us occupied there for a whole weekend, so I’m glad we didn’t get a room to stay for the weekend, but it should be fun as a day trip a couple times a year. I think leaving just a little earlier would make the trip a little smoother, but this trip went well, and we had fun!