Rank #1: It was 40 Years Ago Today… The Birth of Baader-Meinhof
Forty years ago today Ulrike Meinhof helped break Andreas Baader from police custody, giving birth to the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
May 16 2010
Rank #2: Science of Poker
David Chesworth Interview – The Science of Poker
Last week, a federal judge in Brooklyn overturned the indictment of a Staten Island man who ran poker games in the back room of a warehouse, on the grounds that poker is a game of skill, not chance — and hence, such games cannot be prosecuted under federal laws prohibiting illegal gambling businesses.
It’s just the latest sally in the ongoing debate over poker that’s been raging for more than 150 years. And it comes on the heels of a ruling last year by the Justice Department that 1962’s Wire Act applied only to sports betting, not poker. This is kind of ironic, since the Justice Department also shut down online poker in the spring of 2011, charging the men behind the three most popular online sites with fraud and money laundering.
Clearly, the issue is far from resolved, but John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Player’s Alliance, is encouraged by the latest ruling by Judge Jack B. Weinstein. “Today’s federal court ruling is a major victory for the game of poker and the millions of Americans who enjoy playing it,” he said in a statement. (The alliance is dedicated to decriminalizing poker.) Find the best tables at Pkv Games.
But wait! Via @Chemjobber on Twitter, I learned of a spanking new study by German researchers concluding that winning at poker is basically all about luck. They recruited 300 poker players, half self-defined “experts” and half “average,” sat them down at tables of six, evenly divided between expert and average players, and then had them all play 60 hands of Texas Hold ‘Em. Oh, and they fixed the deals, the better to measure the effects of luck.
Their conclusion, per Neuroskeptic: “Luck, rather than skill, was key in determining final balance, with experts taking no more, on average, than novices. Experts did play differently, on various measures, and seemed better able to cope with bad luck, losing less; but they also won less when given good cards.”
So are the German researchers correct that poker should thus be classified as gambling? Not necessarily. A 2008 study concluded that poker is a skill — students who received some basic pointers performed better while playing 1000 hands of poker than those who received no training at all. Still other studies support the German conclusion. Who are we to believe?
Neuroskeptic rightly points out a major flaw in the 2012 study, namely, the classification of “expert” players was based on self-reports. I would argue further that playing a mere 60 or 1000 hands of poker is an insufficient sample size, given the statistical complexities of the game. There are 52 cards, with more than 2.5 million possible five-card combinations. Texas Hold ‘Em uses seven cards so there are around 133 million combinations. Plus, you know, fixing the deals really messes with those probabilities.
Compare this to the sample size of the expert witness cited by Judge Weinstein in his massive 120-page ruling. Randal D. Heeb is an economist and statistician (and avid poker player) who analyzed 415 million hands online of no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em and found that the skill of a player “had a statistically significant effect on the amount of money won or lost.”
The many mathematicians and physicists who are aficionados of poker would agree with Heeb. I wrote a feature for Discover in November 2010 on poker-playing physicists, which included the Time Lord (a.k.a. Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, a.k.a. my Better Half), as well as string theorist Jeff Harvey, particle physicists Michael Binger and Marcel Vonk (both of whom have done extremely well on the professional circuit), and a former grad student of Harvey’s named Eduard Antonyan. It spawned an NPR piece for good measure. And I gathered all the material cut from the article into a massive blog post, which dealt explicitly with this question of whether poker is a game of chance or skill.
If poker is a game of chance, and hence gambling, why do physicists love it so much? Physicists hate to gamble. “I don’t like gambling at all,” Antonyan told me. “I don’t enjoy it and there’s nothing in it for me to compensate for the clear negative EV decision of gambling.”
Harvey’s not a fan, either: “Personally I don’t like to gamble on games where the house has the odds, but I’m not critical of people who do.” And while the Time Lord gamely learned craps with me while I was writing The Calculus Diaries (it was research, people!), he hasn’t been tempted to play craps since.
Binger doesn’t mind gambling, per se, but he learned the pitfalls of blackjack as an undergraduate, when he wrote a computer program to beat the game through card-counting (or, as the casinos like to call it, “cheating”) for his senior project. Then he tried to put his strategy into practice. He lost a pile of cash playing blackjack on an ill-fated trip to Reno, and was barred from six casinos in one day for card-counting in a desperate attempt to recoup his losses. “I realized I wasn’t going to get rich playing blackjack,” he recalled.
But poker was different: as he studied the game and pondered the underlying mathematics, Binger realized that poker could be a “beatable game.”
Aug 06 2010
WeAreMany.org: Recently posted audio
Witness History: Archive 2014
The History of the Cold War Podcast
Reading Marx's Capital (audio)
The Eastern Border
A to Z of Psychedelia on 6 Music
Belabored by Dissent Magazine
Working Class History
This Is Hell!
Russian Rulers History Podcast
Revolutionary Left Radio
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The Secret History Of Hollywood
Rank #3: On the Arrest of Verena Becker
The April 2010 arrest of Verena Becker puts the Baader-Meinhof Group back in the news.
Apr 08 2010
Rank #4: Urban Guerrilla Bommi Baumann Interview
Interview with former West German Urban Guerrilla Michael “Bommi” Baumann. Pay attention to the moment when Richard realizes that this is the man who build the bombs that could have killed his parents.
May 05 2010
Most Popular Podcasts
Rank #5: Fritz Teufel is Dead
Fritz Teuful, co-founder of Kommune 1, clown prince of the Berlin student movement, and inspiration of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, died this week at 67.
Jul 11 2010
Rank #6: How Heated Rhetoric Helped Give Birth to Baader-Meinhof
The deadly Arizona shooting offers interesting and tragic parallels to the heated environment and rhetoric that helped give birth to the era of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Jan 20 2011
Rank #7: Carl Tighe on the Springer Press and Heinrich Böll
Dec 12 2011
Rank #8: The Return of the Red Army Faction?
A recent wave of leftist bombings in Berlin leaves Richard Huffman wondering if we are returning the the days of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Oct 11 2011
Rank #9: The Strange Saga of Ulrike Meinhof’s Brain
The strange saga of Ulrike Meinhof’s brain. How the brain of the world’s most famous terrorist ended up sitting on a doctor’s shelf for 25 years, and what we learned from it.
Nov 03 2011
Rank #10: The Politics of Burying Terrorists
We compare how the US buried bin Laden with how the bodies of Ensslin, Raspe, and Baader were buried.
Aug 03 2011
Rank #11: Siegfried Haag: Lawyer, Terrorist
Publicly, Siegfried Haag was a lawyer for the Red Army Faction. But secretly he was the de facto head of the terrorist organization, planning violent actions across the Federal Republic.
Jul 20 2010
Rank #12: Robert Storr, Dean of Yale Art School
Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale Graduate school of Art and formerly of the Museum of Modern Art, discusses his acquisition of Gerhard Richter’s famous cycle of Baader-Meinhof-inspired paintings for MoMA.
Jul 06 2010
Rank #13: Trading Terrorists for Hostages
What happens when you decide to trade imprisoned terrorists for hostages? What message do you send to other terrorists?
Nov 13 2011
Rank #14: Three Books that Fomented Revolution
Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man; Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Carlos Marighella’s Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla. Three books that helped kickstart the Baader-Meinhof Group’s attempted revolution.
Oct 30 2011
Rank #15: Logorama Creators Interview
An interview with two of the directors of the sublime and wonderful Oscar-winning cartoon Logorama.
Apr 24 2010