Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Stories untold

I could have taken some time today to blog about my lovely visit here in Los Angeles, during which I have enjoyed the gracious hospitality of Samantha Butler and Clifford Johnson (frequent Preposterous commenters, not to mention highly accomplished scientists), and where we were joined last night for dinner by Marc Kamionkowski (also an accomplished scientists, but not [so far as I know] a commenter, although now that Lawrence Krauss is leaving comments perhaps we should encourage all the famous cosmologists to do so). I didn't take the time because I spent the day in pleasant conversation with various USC physicists, up to and including a nice dinner after my talk. At that point a responsible blogger would have spared a moment to recount the day's stories, but instead I took advantage of my visit to LA to go play some poker at the Commerce Casino.

Commerce is one of those many municipalities that is spiritually part of LA, but politically a separate entity. Playing cards for money is apparently legal in some of these places, although I don't think that other forms of casino gambling are. The Commerce, at any rate, is one of the biggest card rooms in the world; I counted about fifty active tables of Hold'em alone at midnight on a Monday.

I played a fairly low-limit game ($3-$6) for a few hours. At this point I should regale you with tales of how my shrewd poker skills won me pot after pot from the bedazzled locals, but alas these aforementioned skills were not much in evidence. It was one of those frustrating games where it was hard to do well because there were a substantial number of unpredictable (read: bad) players at the table. You could have great cards yourself, but inevitably four or five people would call you down to the river and someone would hit a straight or flush at the end. At least four or five times someone had pocket aces, and I don't think they won once. In such circumstances you have to take multiple flyers on long-shot drawing hands, hoping to rake in huge pots once in a while. After substantial swings on either side of the ledger, I ended the night down by a net total of nine bucks.

I've always (in my limited experience) found poker players at casinos to be engaging and chatty people, except for the occasional loose cannon. We had one tonight, a young guy who suffered a bad beat early on and sat there for another ten hands cursing loudly about how we were all amateurs and he couldn't stand playing with such losers. I wanted to politely ask why he didn't simply adjust his devastating game and take us all to the cleaners, but I'm pretty sure he would have turned around and hit me. Then my chips would have scattered everywhere, and it would have been a mess. Not worth the drama.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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