Monday, May 9, 2016

Discipline and extrinsic motivators

It is often said discipline is like a muscle & fatigues with use. Muscles, of course, don't just fatigue -- they also strengthen with use. Exercise is an attempt to break down muscle tissue so that the body can respond by building back stronger tissue. 

People around me often praise me as a disciplined person. It's one of the few compliments that I really enjoy when I get it, because I pride myself on working hard on my discipline. But in truth, I don't actually think I have discipline that is substantially better than my peer group. Among the general population, sure, perhaps I am 80th percentile or better. But I know many successful and diligent people, and most of them are much more disciplined than I am.

There are some ways in which my discipline is very poor. I've been without a traditional job for the last two years, and without deadlines to meet, my procrastination is often ridiculous. This entire blog post is being written at a time when I have many other errands that I have been meaning to do for at least a couple of weeks.

But there are many aspects in which I am very disciplined. Nutrition is probably the one area where I am very good relative to the field. I eat very clean, even by the standards of a serious athlete, and often to the chagrin of my girlfriend (who has at times accused me of orthorexia). But even this "discipline" is just a hack. I am not disciplined in the sense that I am much better than average at avoiding an open bag of potato chips or a carton of ice cream in my living room. But I am very good at walking past the potato chips and ice cream in the grocery store. I am very good at keeping my fridge full packed with vegetables and meats. 

One skill which I have developed is a very high ability to delay gratification. I have managed to frame things in a situation where I am often able to convince myself that the thing that I want right now will be much better if I simply wait until the future. It doesn't really matter what the thing is; I have learned to become very good at delaying its consumption. Particularly in the areas of diet and saving money, this skill has been very useful.

Should we incentivize discipline, or punish a lack of it?

One thing I'm not sure about -- and I welcome commentary on this in the comments below -- is whether extrinsic motivators to be disciplined are a good or a bad thing. In interviewing JC Alvarado and Olivier Busquet for All In Or Knocked Out Part 2 (entitled "Seek Discipline And Find Your Liberty", both men independently expressed to me the idea that they both wanted to go through a fight camp, but they needed the extrinsic motivation of a six-figure bet in order to drop everything and do it. They both acknowledged that without the bet, they would not train hard and dial in their diet, nutrition, and exercise. (Olivier also expresses this idea in his well-written blog post on the topic.)

Both men also said that the six months training for the fight were tremendously beneficial in that the fight enforced discipline on them. They had both felt that their discipline was lacking given the lifestyle that they lived, and the value they gained from their respective six-month fight camps was an appreciation for discipline which they both hoped would carry over into their post-fight lives. 

Time will tell whether Olivier and JC improve their self-discipline to a level that they are happy with (it's only been three weeks since their fight camp ended), but extrinsic motivators are everywhere. is a very popular website where you are required to pay a penalty if you don't achieve a certain goal. I recently came across this tweet in my timeline from another poker pro; note it's popularity in terms of likes/retweets:

Discipline for its own sake

I'll argue that discipline is one of the most important life skills that we have in a modern society where basically unlimited hedonism is available to us in various forms, be they food, drugs/alcohol, staying up late, watching TV, surfing the web, porn, shopping, or anything that brings us farther from the person we want to be. But what should be the source of discipline? Should discipline be sought for its own sake, as a sort of monastic value? Or is it desirable -- perhaps even necessary -- for people to establish extrinsic motivators to enforce self-discipline? Again, I welcome comments below.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All In Or Knocked Out, Part 1

After a ton of painstaking work, Part 1 of our audio documentary "All In Or Knocked Out" is finally online.

Check it out at Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Olivier Busquet / JC Alvarado fight audio documentary

Over the last few weeks, myself and PokerCast producer Ross Henry have been working hard on a behind-the-scenes all access audio documentary on the $270000 fight between JC Alvarado and Olivier Busquet.

We've interviewed both men in-depth about their stories, their backgrounds, their reasons for taking the fight, their fears, their concerns, their ups and downs. We'll also have interviews with coaches, training partners, friends, and fellow gamblers. It's a compelling story, and one that we think deserves to be told well.

Ross and I have always had a love of good narrative audio storytelling (think This American Life, Radiolab, and other NPR/Gimlet-style productions) and we want this to be our contribution to that genre. Obviously we're both also seriously interested in both MMA and the poker/gambling world. I think that with my MMA/poker background, and Ross' formal training (he went to school for broadcast journalism), we'll be able to tell this story as well as it deserves to be told.

We are asking for your support/begging for money. I was always turned off when podcasts asked for donations, but I am starting to realize how expensive (in terms of both actual dollars and cents, as well as time) putting together a high-quality audio story really is. If you're willing to support us, we would like to do multiple episodes (I can't say exactly how many hours the edited final version will be) and release them all to the public on a donation basis.

If you're interested in donating this cause, you can either:

1. Send me money on PokerStars (Unassigned).
2. Send the money on PayPal by clicking this button:

3. Contribute to the Indiegogo campaign.

For those looking to minimize fees, Indiegogo is cheaper for smaller donations and PayPal for larger ones.

Thanks so much for your support! We're very excited about this project and are very much looking forward to creating a high-quality documentary that will be enjoyed by fight fans, poker fans, and the general public alike.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fight recap: My "thrilla" in Manila

That was a crazy trip to Manila! This was my second time travelling away from home to fight -- the other time was to Suncheon, South Korea -- but I expected it to be a lot smoother than that trip. On this trip, I would be travelling with a teammate, coach, and girlfriend, and figured logistics would go a lot smoother.

And for the most part -- everything but the fight event, really -- they did. My weight cut went well. There was some issue with a local blog saying that I weighed in at 129.6, when I actually weighed in at 125.6. I freaked out about this and even threatened (legitimately) not to fight if this wasn't rectified, because possibly the worst thing that you can do for your reputation as a prize fighter is miss the contracted weight.

But thankfully that got sorted out, and we arrived to the venue around 4 PM for a scheduled 7 PM start time. First thing we noticed: outdoor amphitheatre, in Manila. 29 Celsius at 90% humidity. It was going to be a hot and humid one, which for fighting means two things: 1) it would be tough on the endurance, 2) it would make the grappling game much more slippery.

One exciting thing about this fight was that this would be UGB's first event under the banner of World Series of Fighting Global. WSOF (really hard for me to type that acronym without typing "WSOP") is considered either the #2 or #3 MMA promotion after the UFC. WSOF's VP of Operations, Jason Lilly (who coincidentally, has 5 WSOP cashes) was in attendance all the way from Vegas. So there was definitely reason to be excited about the show.

The first sign that this might not run too smoothly as the fighter rules meeting, where at least one referee seemed very confused, telling us the fights would be conducted under the Unified Rules of MMA but then telling us we wouldn't be allowed to strike with the point of the elbow, use neck crank can openers, or throw oblique kicks (all are perfectly legal under Unified Rules). After all of the experienced fighters and managers raised hell, they went outside, consulted, then said that this was all allowed now.

Most MMA events I have attended either as a spectator, cornerman, or fighter have started late. An MMA event is a hard thing to put together, and to do it as smoothly as the UFC does it is difficult for most promoters. That being said, I never would have guessed we would start over two hours late, with the first fight going through the gate well after 9 PM. This was a bit of a concern for me as I typically go to bed at 9-10 PM, and wake up at 6-7 AM. By far the most farcical part of the show was they called up all the fighters and had us enter the ring as our names were called, and then they played the national anthems. Of every nation represented. Eight different national anthems. I'm going to try to keep that in mind the next time I'm bitching about bracelet ceremonies at the WSOP.

But adrenaline is a heck of a drug. I listened backstage to Elliot Roe's MMA hypnotherapy MP3 which got me pretty pumped. But I knew my emotions would definitely hinge strongly on the performance of my teammate Nosh, who fought immediately before me. Happily, Nosh dominated his fight, stopping his opponent with strikes from mount in Round 2. I was disappointed to not be able to be in his corner, but I was focused on getting warmed up backstage.

Both mentally and physically, I don't think I've ever felt this good. Despite the late start, I was the perfect level of warmed up; not doing so much that I felt tired, but doing enough to feel loose and explosive. Not having Nosh or my coach Rodrigo back stage immediately before actually turned out to be a benefit because I was just able to focus my own headspace. 

"Okay Terrence, when you go out, stand on the platform for 10 seconds before you come down." (Exact quote.)

I came out ready to kill, and yet much less nervous than I ever have been for a fight. I've heard guys with 50 professional fights say that they still get nervous before fights, that the other guy just seems so scary. I'll admit that watching the other guy warm up is always a bit intimidating. You're watching someone shadowbox, punching and kicking the air, and you think, "wow, what if he lands one of those on me?" But you've got to put that thought out of your head. You've got to look across the ring at the other guy and instead think about how you're ready to beat that guy up.

I don't remember a whole lot about the fight. I do remember that we both came out pretty fast. I wanted to walk him down but not rush. I wanted to use my boxing to put him in the corner, where I would be able to use the clinch and my size advantage to wear him down. Here's the full fight video:

I didn't really plan on taking the fight to the ground in the first round, but when my short counter left hook caught him off-balance and put him down, I was more than happy to engage on the ground.

Within the first ten seconds, I knew that I was safe inside his guard. It is usually easy to tell right away when someone has a dangerous, tricky guard, and this wasn't it. I knew at best he would have a good defensive guard, one where it would be perhaps to be difficult to pass or do damage. I also immediately felt my size and strength advantage. When you're bigger and not worried about being reversed or submitted, you can just continue using pressure, continue putting weight, and eventually the guard will fall apart. So the plan was to smash and grind. Nothing fancy, no big movements, nothing that would allow an escape. And that's pretty much exactly how it happened.

At first his defensive posture was decent, but as I started to soften him up with punches, knees, and elbows (the latter of which the opposite corner complained about because they were even more confused about the rules than the ref), his hands started to get out of position and I was able to control his wrist.

Once I got control of his wrist, the strength advantage was even more apparent. In the gym, when I get wrist control on someone, it takes all of my force and bodyweight to control it. This time, when I got to the wrist control kimura grip pictured here, I knew I would be able to easily break his defensive grip and take his shoulder off.

My first attempt was actually unsuccessful, which shocked me. I had his arm bent backwards badly, yet he didn't tap. I didn't have enough control over his body and his entire body ended up rotating as I torqued the shoulder. It is a bit like using a wrench to remove a stubborn bolt from a machine; if the part attached to the bolt is capable of free movement, you end up spinning the whole thing instead of removing the bolt itself.

Part of me in the moment also hesitated -- albeit briefly -- to really rip this guy's arm apart. It almost felt too easy, almost unfair in a way to destroy this arm that was so much smaller than my own. In practice, I know when you have someone in a compromised position, and so I can give them the opportunity to tap out. But in a fight, we are here to break least in theory.

Once I re-established the grip, there was no such hesitation. I said to myself, "this might be one of those freakishly flexible dudes. If you try not to crank it in fear of hurting him, he might come back to knock you out or submit you." So I got the grip, and I wrenched hard, as hard as I've ever pulled on anything in my life. I committed to yanking on that thing until the ref pulled me off. Finally, the ref did pull me off, and my opponent grabbed his shoulder in pain. 

A few different looks at the kimura (aka "ude-garami" in judo, or "hammer lock" in catch wrestling) finish.

To be honest, in the precise moment, it is a bit of a gross feeling bending someone's shoulder behind their head in the direction that you know nature did not intend. As happy I was to finish the fight, I did feel badly for him.

But my empathy was short-lived. My coach euphorically jumped into the cage to hoist me up in celebration. I went back one last time to check on Joco, only to have his coach intercept me and complain vehemently about the "illegal" elbows. In the end, Joco's shoulder was fine and a short while later he came backstage to congratulate me.

Jab MMA head coach Rodrigo Caporal

Joco Mabute, dangerous fighter, great sport, and man of very flexible shoulder joints.

The rest of the card dragged on through the evening. I don't know what time I actually fought, but looking at text message timestamps, it was some time between 10-11pm, and there were five more fights after me (including a clusterfuck of a main event where the referee inexplicably allowed a four-minute break between rounds for one fighter). We left the venue around 2am for our celebration meal. We called an Uber and asked the driver to take us anywhere with good food, before crashing back at the hotel.

And that's it! After that it was back to normalcy. How do I feel about the fight? I guess it's hard to be anything but happy, when you finish a fight early taking precisely zero damage. Perhaps there was a time where I might have thought, "oh, all this preparation and just 2 minutes of fighting; I wish it would have gone longer." 

Those days are long past. I'm now at six fights (four amateur, two professional), and I am thrilled to win without any damage. I do look forward to that one fight which will push me to the edge of breaking, where I have to find out what I am made of and break through, where my body is screaming that it wants to quit. It feels like the worst of clich├ęs; like a Hollywood-manufactured struggle. Yet I would be lying to myself if I didn't say it was there.

But it is foolish to make an easy fight difficult, just for the sake of this Hollywood ending. If I keep winning, I will end up in the big leagues. If I end up in the big leagues, that super-tough fight will surely happen at some point. Wins like last Saturday's will be what get me to that fight safely and efficiently.

Much thanks go out to coaches, teammates, training partners, and opponents worldwide. Everyone I have ever stepped on a mat with shares a part in my victories. But the greatest thanks is reserved for my wonderful girlfriend Robyn, for being everything a fighter and a person could ask for.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Manila observations, weight-cut, and 24 hours to the fight

(Preamble: If you only came here to get info on how to watch the fight, scroll to the bottom of this post.)

I have been in Manila a little over 24 hours now, and I will be fighting in a little over 24 hours as well. It's the first time in about five years since I've been here. The last time I was here, I made the final table of the APPT event, so I saw nothing other than the hotel and the casino. The time before, I stayed at the house of a jiujitsu friend, and we shuttled back and forth between the competition and his family's mansion. So suffice it to say I'm not really knowledgeable about the city, nor am I now.

Brief (tourist) Manila observations

The best thing about Manila is certainly the people. Manila is not a top-tier city to visit, but Filipinos are great people. They are, in general, very friendly people, willing to go the extra mile with respect to hospitality. I contrast them with Thais, whom for the most part I've generally felt are more or less merely tolerant of first-world tourists rather than genuinely welcoming. (This is understandable; in my travels, I have seen some abhorrent treatment of people in developing countries at the hands of 1st worlders.)

Yet things are often confused and difficult and unnecessarily complex here. Exhibit one is from pretty much as soon as we landed. We obviously looked for an official taxi, but the lines were long. But apparently there are legitimate cab companies that are not allowed in the airport, but just hang around touting outside. In most developing countries, using one of these guys is an invitation to get ripped off. We probably did overpay, but the experience was pretty smooth once we decided that it was reasonably safe.

The ironic part was that the MMA promotion had actually sent someone to pick us up. The only problem? They neglected to actually inform me of this. Later that evening, once I was in the hotel, I got some facebook requests and messages from the people who intended to pick us up. Durr. One of the people there even contacted my teammate to say, "Terrence is a hard man to get a hold of," which is a bit confusing since I actually went to the trouble of getting a local SIM card so that I could be connected to mobile data/Facebook/e-mail/WhatsApp/etc. I'm like the easiest person to get a hold of, in general.

The hotel is acceptable but they also do lots of strange things; the check-in process is arduous and there is way too much paperwork involved. They asked me for my booking number because they had three people with the name Chan checking in that day and had no way of differentiating. I mean, c'mon, it's like one of the ten most popular surnames in existence. The other thing I find bizarre at the hotel is that there is a metal detector that you are required to enter through, but they do not make you swipe your key card to get to your floor. They also charge for misplaced room keys, which I think is silly since keys are almost always lost on the premises, and also cost next to nothing.

The supermarket across the street is also paranoid by most first-world standards. My girlfriend went to do some shopping for basic groceries. They had to call a manager over to make sure that it was okay that she bring a bag of already-purchased items into the store. Normally in developing countries, simply being a white woman is sufficient to get preferential treatment from security. (I don't consider this good thing; this is merely an observation.)

The weight cut

Priority #1 was dealing with the weight cut. I arrived in Manila on Thursday afternoon weighing about 133.8 lbs for a contracted fight weight of 125 (with one-pound allowance for scale variance). After a quick nap I headed down to the hotel spa to shed what I could before the Friday 10am weigh-in.

The spa itself is exceptional, although again laden with very random rules, although here at least most of the rules pertained to personal hygiene (most humourously, many many signs pertaining to not peeing in the shower). I was actually a little bit worried that if the cut did not go well, we would get kicked out of the spa. The place is not a spa like any in the Western world; rather it is more like what we would call a water park. In addition to the sauna, steam room, and hot tubs, it also featured an 8-lane lap pool, a lazy river, and a wide variety of massage jets. In another context, I would have enjoyed this place a great deal.


But weight cutting is always miserable, even in the best of contexts. For those who will never attempt it, is hard to explain what losing 8-15% of one's body weight in a few days does to a person. The feeling is vaguely similar to having a very bad flu. But imagine having the flu, and saying that you could end it at any time by just getting out of the heat and drinking some water. You would do so immediately, every time. That's why weight-cutting is as psychologically difficult as it is physically difficult. In theory, you could end the misery at any time. But the fight -- the fight that you have worked so hard for-- is over. You will have let your teammates and coaches down. You will be sneered at by opponents, and any media. You will be considered untrustworthy by the promotion and may not be offered future fights or important fights. And so it is that such a small percentage of fighters actually miss weight, in spite of how awful it feels and how dangerous it is for the body.

After four hours in the hot tubs and sauna (with breaks, not consecutive), I was down to 129 by the evening. I was hoping to sleep off a pound or two by sleeping in thick sweaters, but lost just 0.4 lbs in a night of sleep. To contrast, when I am fully hydrated, I usually lose 2.5-4 lbs in my sleep. The body will do amazing things to ensure its survival.

So at 6:30am, I went down to the sauna yet again. I emerged at 9am at 126.0 on my own personal scale, but 56.4 kg (124 lbs) on the sauna's scale. I figured that it was likely the official scale would be somewhere in between the two, and as it turned out, I was 125.4 officially. (Most promotions will allow you to get on the official scale beforehand so that you can compare it to your own, but unfortunately this didn't happen here.)

The weigh-in

The weigh-in itself was fairly uneventful, though the promotion did their best to make it an "event", It was held in a market similar to Seattle's Pike Place or Vancouver's Granville Island markets, but much smaller. There was a smattering of local media; perhaps a dozen or so. At the event, we were told by the organization that they are "trying very hard" to raise their profile, get sponsorships, and so on. For this event, we are being paid $100, which does not include our flight here. They put us in a dirty $20/night love motel. I did not stay there but my teammate did the first night and he complained of hearing couples fucking through paper-thin walls, disgusting smelling toilets, and no soap or blankets even (!). In any case, UGB MMA say they are trying hard to be a little more "legit", and I believe them. Rome wasn't built in a day.

So, here is what I look like when I am 10% smaller than I normally am:


You'll likely agree that I cut more weight than my opponent. I usually fight up at 135 and am dwarfed by my opponents because I do not cut. (see here). This time I dehydrated down to 125 whereas my opponent didn't, so this time I have the big size advantage, especially in height. As I write this, I am 136.4 lbs; pretty close to what I weighed when the fight was confirmed last Monday.

Someone on Twitter asked me what weight I would have to get before I look as shredded (or emaciated) as Conor McGregor fighting at 145 lbs. McGregor's coach said he weighs around 178, so using that as a baseline, it puts his official weight at 81.5% of his actual weight. My regular weight is about 140, and 81.5% of that is 114 pounds. I think most people would not consider 114 lbs to be a healthy weight for a 5'7" man. (As an aside for the MMA fans, this is why I think it's silly/hyperbolic to say McGregor was fighting "up two weight classes". The man is gigantic at 145 and legitimately belongs at 155 if he values his longevity at all.)

That's all the observations I have for now, as it is time for dinner (yay!).

Fight info:

Once again, the fight will supposedly be streamed at The event begins at 7pm Manila time on Saturday night, which is 4am Pacific, 7am Eastern, and 11am GMT, and I am the fifth fight of the night, so you can adjust ~60-90 minutes accordingly. I hope to put on a good show for you guys!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fight fight! Saturday! Saturday!

I'm excited to announce my next fight! And it's happening in six days!

The story of this one is a bit of a wild one. I was originally supposed to fight this weekend in Hong Kong for Impi World Series, but that event got cancelled and postponed to August. So then I was offered a fight in Underground Battle MMA in the Philippines. I wasn't super-excited about cutting down to 125 lbs in the Philippines away from the comforts of home, so I turned it down.

A new guy started training at our gym in the meantime, and he accepted the fight. But he effectively pulled out of the fight over the weekend, so I decided hey, I'm in shape, I've been training for months without a fight, and I'm only 139 lbs right now anyway. Fighters fight, so let's do this shit. I called up our contact, and here we are.

My opponent is named Joco Mabute. He turned pro with a loss last October and is officially 0-1, but actually has close to 15 total fights. Here is the best-quality video I could find on him, from his older amateur fights:

There's also another poor-quality video of him winning by first-round armbar, so his ground game is no picnic either:

I am very excited for the challenge. I suspect this will be a very tough opponent, but I have a good game plan and my MMA game is as sharp as it has ever been. I have been working very hard on strength and conditioning as well. For the first time in a fight, I will be the much bigger man (he's only 5'2"!) and look forward to bullying him around.

My Hong Kong-based teammate Nosh Khan (also fighting that night) and BJJ coach and world-class competitor Rodrigo Caporal will be in my corner. My girlfriend Robyn looks like she will also make the trip too.

I might need a tranquilizer to sleep tonight; I am too excited!

Livestream: I am told by the promoters that it will stream on, but no other details. Will udpate here if I learn more.

Friday, March 11, 2016


I did an "AMA" for PokerVIP a few weeks ago, which was a lot of fun. A mixed bag of questions about MMA, mindset, and old school PokerStars.

 The thread is locked now, but you can check it out at PokerVIP's forum here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What are your predictions about data storage?

I'm in the market for a new computer, likely another 15-inch Macbook Pro Retina, and so the question arises whether I want to pay an extra $500 (USD) to upgrade from 500 MB flash memory to 1 TB.

Here's what my usage looks like now. I'm pretty full, but there's a bunch of movies I could delete and not miss. So I think I could easily be fine if I were better at hard drive housekeeping.

This gets me to thinking: what about the next 3-5 years of storage? Clearly we are moving to a more cloud-based storage world. Does that necessarily imply that we need less storage space locally? Or does the ubiquity of downloading random shit off the internet (most of which we probably don't need) offset that cloud-based movement, in a manner similar to how people who have bigger desks just end up having more clutter on their desk?
Will we need more or less local storage on our computers?
About the same
personality test

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

UFC weekend preview/rewatches

Like every MMA fan, I'm super-stoked about the UFC weekend going on. I've watched a lot of video in an attempt to handicap some fights that interest me. Instead of giving who I think are good value, I will just highlight some style matchups that I think are interesting. I doubt anyone is interested in my tout service anyway after I said that I laid the -800 on Ronda Rousey against Holly Holm. I suspect/hope that will lead to a decline in people asking me to handicap fights in a quantitative manner.

Paige van Zant (-145) vs Rose Namajunas (+131)

For this fight, I rewatched:
van Zant vs Felice Herrig, 4/18/15: van Zant made a lot of technical errors vs Herrig. But she showed that she is very coachable. There were times where they would be in PVZ's corner, Herrig would threaten the back and you see PVZ first reach for a side headlock and then instead overhook Herrig's arm. So either the corner was screaming at her to let go of the side headlock, or she figured it out herself. These small technical errors could get her in trouble against someone who is as dynamic as Rose. But a 21-year-old can come a long way in 8 months with a good team, so she might make many few technical errors now.

Namajunas vs Carla Esparza, 12/12/14: Rose actually had a really solid first round against the way more experienced Esparza. But Esparza is an awful style matchup for her since she is way too savvy to give it up against Rose's aggressive submission game. What I didn't like about Rose her is that she really wilted (groan) after things started turning against her. She fights with a lot of emotion and I think she really started to crumble once Esparza started getting takedowns consistently. This bodes very poorly against someone like PVZ who sets a ferocious pace and has shown a lot of resilience.

Both fighters are so young (21 vs 23) and the winner will be whoever has improved most. They're both very athletic in different ways. If I wanted someone to help me move a piano, I would pick PVZ. If I wanted someone to jump over the piano while catching a football, I would pick Rose. Rose is more technically polished but PVZ is so tough, so in-your-face. When the line came out originally 2:1 in favour of PVZ, I wanted to jump all over Rose, but now I'm almost leaning the other way.

Frankie Saenz (+492) vs Urijah Faber (-592)

For this fight, I rewatched:

Saenz v Alcantara, 2/22/15: First of all, Alcantara fought like shit, strategically. Seemed like he was saving up for aggression that never happened. Pissed away rounds, looked like he was never even trying. But Saenz did things well. He was very well-coached; hitting an immediate double off of the first kick that Alcantara threw was awesome. But he made a lot of mistakes, giving up his back twice. If he gives up his back against Faber, I think he can get finished. On the feet, Saenz is good defensively, when he moves his head side to side and shuffles his feet, but got hit a lot while standing still. Real sloppy when coming forward (crossing feet etc). He is very much a less polished Faber in this respect.

Faber v Alcantara, 8/17/13: Faber was totally dominant other than his big mistake in the first few seconds. Once he recovered from that, he blew Alcantara out of the water. And unlike vs Saenz, Alcantara actually tried really hard here. He attacked with a ton of stuff, but Faber is technically too good of a grappler and just scrambled his ass off. There was no standup striking to speak of in this fight, though. For the direct wrestling comparison, I actually think Saenz is a more powerful wrestler than Faber but the latter is so much technically a better scrambler that he was always able to get the better position. Faber has never been submitted in a 40-fight career, and Alcantara even putting him in bad spots is impressive for him.

But I don't think that's a good apples to apples comparison because of how the "constant" Alcantara actually fought, plus Faber has aged 2 years and 5 fights since then. So let's go to:

Faber v Edgar, 5/16/15: Such an awful style match for Faber against maybe the best boxer-wrestler ever. Edgar just took angles on him over and over. What was interesting here is that Faber tried to both counter and lead. He actually did a little better off the counter than off the lead which is interesting because I think he prefers to be a more offensively-minded fighter than a counter fighter.
This line opened up tighter and money has come in on Faber. I think Faber is better technically, probably has better gas tank but unclear given Faber's age. Saenz more power, I think he can hit takedowns but probably a hard time establishing position/grinding UF down. I think Saenz finishes Faber almost never. Faber likely doesn't finish Saenz either, but is probably like 3x more likely to do so. 

Chris Weidman (-130) vs Luke Rockhold (+116)

For this fight, I re-watched

Rockhold vs Lyoto Machida, 4/18/15
Rockhold vs Michael Bisping, 11/7/14
Weidman vs Vitor Belfort, 5/23/15
Weidman vs Machida, 7/5/14

And I still have no idea what's going to happen. Weidman has beasted on people physically but for once he doesn't have a size/strength advantage. One big edge Weidman has is four straight fights against southpaws. Rockhold has seemingly cleaner technique in everything he throws, but Weidman gets significantly better in this aspect with every fight. Rockhold loves kicking the body, but Weidman is good at catching kicks and converting them into takedowns. I have no idea. This is gonna be awesome.

Conor Mcgregor (-121) vs Jose Aldo (+110)

I'll say I got the line movement on this way wrong. I assumed Conor money would come in late as the casual fans/Irish would wait until fight time, but it seems they got it all in early and now the hardcores are coming out.

This one is weird because both guys have fought Chad Mendes but under different circumstances and their strategies were both different. Both guys wanted to avoid Mendes' takedowns, but go about it in a completely different way. Aldo will stay in his Dutch-style Muay Thai stance and limp leg out of single legs to retaliate. McGregor conceded the takedowns and played an incredibly defensive stalling guard in order to get the fight back up. Big advantages/keys for McGregor: Aldo has typically not looked outstanding against southpaw strikers. Also McGregor's awesome straight left is a natural counter to Aldo's rear leg kick. Finally, gas tank, especially if he is allowed to play his pressure game and move Aldo backwards. Everyone remembers Round 5 of Hominick/Aldo. Big advantages/keys for Aldo: Wrestling: Because Aldo is such a feared strikers, he gets takedowns when he wants them (72% career takedown accuracy over big sample size). I've studied his wrestling and he has basically zero tells in this department. He is able to level change right out of that Muay Thai stance. Jiujitsu: the man beat Cobrinha twice; enough said (well maybe not, it was in the gi after all). In the MMA sphere, look at what he did on the ground to Korean Zombie who was at the height of his game at the time.

That's it. Sorry about the sloppy writing; just wanted to spill all of this out there before fights started. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The end of the online poker pro?

In the beginning of online poker, there was no rakeback. There was only rake. In the days of Planet, Paradise, and Party Poker, no one thought that 5% to $3 was a great deal, but hey, it was the same or less than most brick-and-mortar rooms were charging. It didn't really matter; the games were so good. If you played poker seriously in the era where Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem or Jamie Gold were reigning world champions, then money was falling out of the sky and landing in your bank account.

It was, of course, the affiliate system that led to what we now know as rakeback. Poker sites wanted more players, so they turned to affiliates. Savvy affiliates said that they wanted lifetime value players, not to be played a flat CPA. Savvy players then realized that affiliates were making buckets of money from the rake they were paying, and in turn they demanded rakeback.

PokerStars was intelligent in proactively doing an end-around this process. They knew that people were hungry for rakeback and that they would circumvent the rules to get it, so they created the VIP program. And their tiered system was brilliant. The more you played, the higher your status. The higher your status, the more you earned. So you wanted to play more and more, a positive feedback loop that never seemed to end. At least, until this week. This week, Stars pulled out the rug on its highest volume players. With its announced VIP changes to 2016, PokerStars is being very obvious in what they want to do long-term. Stars no longer considers poker pros making 50k or more per year to be partners in their business. Rather the statement made is that poker pros are leeches on our games, parasites on our idyllic poker economy.

Pulling out the rug on the 2015 Supernova Elites in such a fashion is not something that sits well with me. From all indicators, these people entered into a quasi-contract with Stars that they would get an expected amount of effective rakeback for 2016. There certainly would not be the backlash that there is in the poker community right now if they announced these changes 12 months ahead of time. By announcing the changes so late in the year, they continued to make the revenue line look good for investors, keeping the stock price high. Who knows what the volume in 2015 would have looked like had they made this announcement in January? Stars is now under immense pressure from its players to pull back from their announced changes. I hope they do bow to that pressure, but don't be surprised if they don't. This isn't the Scheinberg era, folks.

In any case, the implications the new VIP program are huge. The death of the online poker pro has been predicted many times, but this one is as legit as it comes. It won't be an explosive implosion; the games will not suddenly dry up on January 1, 2016. But at least in the short term, there will be a significant contraction of the money available to win (across all limits) and the marginal pros won't survive. If you are an online poker pro, and you have not made at least 100k/year in the last two years, you should strongly consider applying for a real job somewhere. If you are an aspiring poker pro and haven't quite made the leap yet, you need to look long and hard about whether you really want to sign up for this grind. Stars' goal is to create an equilibrium where everyone is a small loser. It is an uphill battle when you are fighting against the most powerful organization in poker.

I have some further thoughts on how this will all shake down, but I'll have to save them for a Part 2. Tomorrow though I'll be talking about this more on this week's Pokercast (sponsored by the PokerStars VIP Club!) though, and hope to have that Part 2 up soon.

Edit: I want to clarify that with the exception of honouring its previously advertised 2016 commitments, I'm not taking a position on the rightness or wrongness of PokerStars devaluing their VIP program. They have the right (and responsibility) to control that program as they see fit and to maximize the long-term profits of their company. Stars does not owe poker players the right to make a living at their tables. They do, in my view, have a responsibility to deliver on the promises made to them in 2015. But aside from these commitments, I am not taking any sort of moral position on the changes.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The WSOP didn't earn my business today

Context. Today is 1B of WSOPE event 8, the 1000+100 Euro turbo event which was scheduled (for weeks) to start at noon local time
. This tweet showed up at 11:58am.

When I responded that I was already en route and asked when this change happened, Jack responded:
I want to express my disappointment in Jack’s decision to change a noon start time, and announce it at 11:58am — two minutes before cards were supposed to be in the air. According to Jack, only 50 players were registered at noon for the turbo, leading him and other management to believe that they must have thought it was a 4pm start.

I think making a last-minute change to the start time based on a guess that players simply misread the schedule is a terrible idea. Here are just a few reasons why:

1) Many pros/regulars tend to buy in late for a 1k event. I was literally getting in a cab when I saw the announcement and was planning to show up around 12:20pm.

2) Many recreational/infrequent players don’t necessarily follow Jack on Twitter, and would not know of the change. They would only see the website and/or the print material distributed in the Spielbank casino.

3) The change was announced so late (again, 11:58am) that even if you do follow Jack, you likely couldn’t do anything about it.

4) Jack himself sent out a reminder tweet (now deleted) at about 11:15am reminding people that the start time was noon and late reg closes at 3:45pm.

5) Even if there *are* a great number of people who thought the actual start time was 4pm (and I dispute this is the case), those people would have until 3:45pm to register anyway.

6) 50 players is actually an awful lot to go tell “sorry, go take a hike for four hours”. I also suspect a very high percentage of these 50 players are recreational players as opposed to influential circuit regulars. In general, I think recreational players get screwed over a lot by pandering to vocal pros and it’s one of the things I like least about poker.

I think it would be hypocritical of me to be this critical and still patronize the event, so I’m choosing to skip the event. I both enjoy playing in turbo events, and feel I have good ev in them, so my decision is certainly harming me more than them. I do feel like it is a bad look for them. But more importantly, I feel like an ass if I take the time to do all this complaining and then hand over my 1100 Euros anyway like an obedient sheep. I love the WSOP but not more than not appearing to be a hypocrite. Today I simply don’t feel like the WSOP has earned my business. So instead of playing, I’m choosing to skip the event and instead take my girlfriend (who patiently puts up with my bitching about poker tournaments, among my various other character flaws) to a much-deserved dinner and night out.

See you guys tomorrow in the main.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

An "unlucky" injury

I've been forced to pull out of my September 11 fight due to an injury.

There are so many thoughts that go through your head when you have an injury right at the end of training camp. The most tempting, the most pernicious, is "fuck, what bad luck."

It's a dangerous thought because it's partly true. You do need some luck to survive a training camp without a major injury.

Poker players know that losers blame bad luck when they lose, and call themselves geniuses when they win.

Winners know that while you can't control the luck, you can do everything possible to stack the odds in your favour.

MMA training camps are hard things. The best way to train for a fight is to simulate a fight. A fight is a mess of fists, feet, knees, elbows flying all over the place while two guys tangle themselves up in a struggle to control the other guy's arms, legs, heads, and spines. And the best way to train for a fight is to find people who are as good or better than you at all the chaotic punching, kicking, and limb-tangling, and try to fight off their attacks.

If you don't train hard, you don't get better. If you train too hard, you get hurt. It's a hard tightrope to walk. Athletes and coaches always want to do more. The great sprinting coach Charlie Francis always said that he spends 90% of his time holding athletes back and only 10% of his time pushing them to do more. Balancing overtraining and undertraining is a hard task; there's no magic test or formula that tells you what to do.

It really sucks to pull out of a fight two weeks before it, right as training should be tapering off. I was very much dedicated to this training camp. I invested hours and hours into my mental and physical training and I felt like this was going to be the best iteration of me in the cage, ever. And now I don't get to prove that to myself. It's rough.

You'll notice I haven't talked about the details of how I got hurt. That's because it doesn't matter. I could blame this, that, or the other, but the blame lies with me. Maybe it was because I didn't warm up properly. Maybe it was because I hadn't rested and recovered enough for that session. Maybe it was because I didn't have the mental focus in that moment. Maybe I should have asked the training partner to take down the intensity. But the bottom line is that I have to look in the mirror and say that I'm injured because of me, because of decisions that I made. It's my body, it's my athletic career, and at the end of the day, I have to take responsibility.