Friday, August 22, 2008

Black swans and lurking horrors

So here in my first post-Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 rambling I want to go ahead and focus on the unknown. As poker players we are always trying to make the unknown known, whether that be by focusing on pot odds, hourly rates, or past player tendencies as we try to eliminate risk in all its forms and make things predictable. The problem with this is that we can never fully make our future known through past results. As we all know, the game is ever-evolving and yesterday's tricks will never yield the same exact results.

My current thinking has been heavily impacted by the best-selling business author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. For those of you who do not know, Mr. Taleb is a former options trader who is railing against the current view of society as being predictable both in the future or in hindsight. He focuses on what he calls black swans -- those rare events that are difficult, if not impossible to predict, and have profound impacts, but yet tend to lead to some later conclusion that they were predictable all along. He says that these are the events that truly shape history. The former paradigm was that history crawls forward, he says that it makes jumps.

In his newest book titled The Black Swan, he also mentions that despite all forms of risk management it is always black swans that ruin our plans. So as this applies to poker, we can do everything we want to to protect our bankroll, minimize our risk exposure, or calculate our hourly rates, but these things will always fail to predict our ultimate results. Here are some examples:

1. We do not put in the hours needed to achieve our expected results. This actually happened to me today. I got up fairly early (for me) and took my girlfriend to get a new tattoo with her bonus money from work. The tattoo artist said it could take as little as two hours but I was expecting more along the lines of three hours. So I went to the bookstore and read for a while, checking in periodically to see how the progress was coming. Incidentally, I did not even get home for about seven hours, only to find that my Internet connection was blown out from some unknown force.

2. You have some unknown cash emergency and need to raid your bankroll, thus inhibiting your ability to play at your highest expectation stakes.

3. Someone, knowingly or unknowingly, hacked your account and either lost a portion or all of your bankroll or dumped all of your chips to a cohort. While this was one of the original fears of online poker players, seldom do you hear this actually happening somebody. However, this actually did happen to a friend of mine several years ago. He left one of his friends behind in his apartment alone with his computer. He had about $1100 in his Party Poker account and his friend, believing that this was play money, pissed away about $900 playing $15/$30 limit hold'em.

4. The money transaction site you are using either stops excepting certain forms of payments, blocks access to certain online sites, or completely folds altogether, sometimes leaving your cash in limbo.

5. Your native government passes new laws like the UIGEA that inhibits or eliminates your opportunity to play altogether. This one took me completely by surprise even though the girl I was dating at the time who knew nothing about the industry, couldn't care less about the game of poker, and was altogether basically ignorant warned me about this happening. As a result, I failed to take the warning seriously and left my money sitting in the sites where it was parked at the time and ended up having no access to its for about four weeks longer than expected. Incidentally, this was all the money I had in the world at the time.

6. And quite possibly the most feared of all outcomes, the action in your preferred game either becomes too difficult to make significant money or the game dries up altogether.

I can certainly go on and on giving different apocalyptic scenarios for what can happen to your money or expectation, but I believe that these are some of the most commonly overlooked or underrepresented threats to your online bankroll or moneymaking capabilities.

So as I get used to using this new software, I hope to become one of the most active or prolific poker writers on the Internet. I hope I am not being too long-winded, because it will be far easier to go on waffling about different topics when I can sit here thinking and speaking about it than by typing alone. I am certainly open to different suggestions and discussion but hope to keep it rather non-confrontational, specifically because I hold very little loyalty to my own ideas or things that I say and I am willing to revise them as new information presents itself to me and I learn through my mistakes and the input of others. Hope to keep you guys reading!

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