Is Levitt a Celebrity? It Depends on Your Definition

A few months ago, after someone claimed I was a celebrity, I offered to test that hypothesis by giving $100 to anyone who identified me spontaneously over the next 30 days. (In the deal I excluded the U of C campus area, because people know me there just because I am a professor.)

It was an easy bet to make, because I have been me for a long time and I know exactly how often strangers recognize me: never. I was almost certain that I would not have to pay a cent.

Much to my surprise, I did end up paying off one person, although technically I didn’t have to because they identified me two blocks from my house and the U of C campus. They said they only know me from TV and the book jacket cover, though, so I coughed up the cash. That was only the second time ever that someone has spontaneously recognized me.

The offer expired at the end of June. Predictably, no one has recognized me since either. Until yesterday. I was riding in an elevator in Las Vegas pecking away at my Blackberry as usual. A guy standing next to me says, “Hey, I think I seen a story on TV.” I turn to him, ready to acknowledge an appreciative fan. He continues, “Ya, that thing in your hand. I think I seen a story about them things on TV. Ain’t they like a phone that does email too?”

By a different definition, though, I am a celebrity because I got invited to play in the media/celebrity invitational at the World Series of Poker. (Or maybe that just means I am media.) I probably will not be able to play anyway, but the invitation was the impetus for me to overcome one of my most irrational fears. I have a terrible fear of playing poker against live people instead of over the internet. Despite the fact I have played an enormous amount of poker online, I have literally never sat at a table with a real dealer. In previous trips to Las Vegas I have spent hours in the poker room trying to will myself to sit down at a table, but eventually lost my nerve and walked away. This phobia is not without justification. I know myself well enough to know that bad things happen in these situations.

This time, though, I knew I had to do it. I walked into the room where they play the World Series of Poker and signed up to play in a satellite tournament: 10 players, $175 each, winner take all in the form of tokens to enter the World Series. I went to my table and confidently took a seat. A few seconds later a man gruffly said, “You are in my seat.” I thought he was just a jerk, but it turned out to be just the first of my many gaffes. To choose seats you pick a card laid face down on the table with the numbers one to ten, corresponding to which seat number you will be in.

I made every rookie mistake. At one point I decided to go “all in.” So I picked up my stack of orange chips ($100) and moved it into the middle of the table. Then I picked up my two green chips ($50) and put them in the middle. “All in for $650,” I announced. Not so easy, it turns out. You’ve got to put all the chips in at once or it is what is called a “string bet.” I was roundly chided by the other guys at my table. I could go on, but it is too embarrassing. The only thing that buoyed my spirits was that my new buddy Frankie O’Dell (long story, don’t ask) came by and gave me some props.

All of this buffoonery actually had a payoff in the end. The guys figured if I didn’t know how to act at the table, I probably didn’t know how to play poker either. I was able to exploit that and eventually found myself one of the last two players.

My worst mistake, though, wasn’t a violation of poker etiquette. Fittingly, it was a math error. Often when you get down to the last two players you make a deal to split the money. I had 40% of the chips, my opponent had 60%. He offerered a deal that gave him two $500 tokens and I would get one $500 token and $100 in cash. It didn’t sound like a good deal to me. I made a counter offer that he rejected, and we played on. It was only later that I actually thought more carefully about his offer and realized he was offering me 37.5% of the payout — somehow at the time I thought it was much less — and I probably should have taken it.

Two hands later I went all-in, lost, and walked away with my wallet $175 lighter. Still, the etiquette lessons were worth the price. The next time I sit at a poker table it will only be my play that embarrasses me.


Craig

As an Arkansan, I resent the way you quoted that (obviously) southern' man...haha, congrats on the final table, though.

starfish

I'm trying to figure out how any sized stack of $100 chips, plus two $50 chips, can add up to a $650 bet. Am I missing something?

princesaud1

You are in subset "celebrity" economists. Will you become a famous economist like author of Monetary History of United States? Understand you quickly recalled his name. Recall speed direct co-related to frequency of exposures of a particular arrangement of select letters from alphabet. Sugesstion: Where a name tag at all times. Personally distribute, at random, business size cards: your name and picture and this blog's address imprinted. Must be as you walk outside geographic boundaries of Hyde Park. And go to Yahoo Search type in only: freefromcyberspace For near Myspace.com hits at your blog. Famous as Adam Smith in view. Not as famous as "God/Allah".

synapticmisfires

I remember when I first started playing poker I would occassionally fold when there was no money bet. I would call the big blind, and then not noticing that it had been checked around to me I would fold. Nothing is more embarrassing then that, although I made the same mistake about drawing for seating...

zbicyclist

Thanks for an entertaining post.

You really didn't make "every rookie mistake", and I'm sure you weren't the only one in the sattelite tournament making rookie mistakes -- you were probably just so self-conscious you didn't notice.

You'll be more at ease next time, and can make "intermediate mistakes" ;)

no way out

Wow very interesting...

I think your book is very interesting.

I'm glad they have this blog, it's great to read.

TheQuitter

Hey, great blog man.

The one thing that always happens to me when I sit down to play poker in a casino is that my entire body goes into hyperdrive.

It's like the first day of high school. You don't want to look too stupid, but at the same time you don't know enough to look cool.

Closet Libertarian

Very interesting. I also have never played in a casino but have played in informal games. I didn't know about the drawing for seats and still don't understand the "string bet". I don't see how you can move all the chips at once unless, as often happens with me, I am light on chips. I'll be in AC for the first time in a few weeks and hope to play at least once.

711buddha

Everyone is a beginner sometime. The shame is in not trying. I applaud your courage.

If it makes a difference, I think you were correct to decline the deal offered you.

A good deal in those circumstances should fall between the equity you already have (roughly 40% of $1600 or $640) and an even split ($800.)

There are two possible outcomes, (if you are playing aggressively) either you are eliminated or you double up. Both are as a likely to occur (in the short run, it's a coin toss. The blind structure of satellites ensures it's the short run.) If you are eliminated you can expect $0, if you double up, you'll have a 4 to 1 chip advantage.

If that's the case, you need only win one of the next two coin flips to win it all. That happens 3 out of 4 times. Or 37.5% of time overall. That's what you were offered. (37.5% of $1600 = $600)

But it's not the whole story.

Even if you miss twice in a row, you are not out, the 4 to 1 chip advantage is reversed and you have the 1 in 4 chance of getting back into the lead… For lack of a better term, that “redraw” potential has a significant EV. I'd put it at 3.125% - a quarter of a quarter of a half, i.e. half the time when you double up, but drop two in a row and then come back to lead again…or as it works out $50 (realistically this should be discounted to reflect the revised chip position, but there's some implied tilt odds involved as well. Call it $20 to stop doing regressions)

Regardless of the actual amount you settle on, the total is less than you were offered. Your decision was close, but correct.

Read more...

kramsauer

Here's another reason why I don't gamble: everyone is too uptight about etiquette and stuff that doesn't change the game. Listen, if I wanted to be chided for my lack of knowledge, I'd try to storm a southern country club or something. Shut up and take my money and I'll be happy as you do it.

starfish

Um, sorry, but again: how does a stack of $100 chips, plus two $50 chips, add up to a $650 bet? Am I being (a) stupid for missing an obvious point? (b) exceedingly clever for pointing out another mathematical mistake, or (c) just annoying, for harping on the possibility of (b)?

dg

Starfish - greens are $25 each. He meant 2 greens for a total of $50.

Princess Leia

You really need to come to co-ed poker night out here, really. Let me know when you're in town.

Marlon

I won't argue with 711buddha about whether the deal you were offered was a good one. But I think I know why it seemed like a much worse offer than it was--or at least why it also seemed that way to me when I first read of the offer in your post.

In my mental shorthand, I accounted for the 60-40 split (as you described it) as a kind of modified version of 50-50. Your opponent's offer, on the other hand, looked to me like a 2-to-1 split in his favor, with the $100 a slight sweetener thrown in; the form of the offer, two $500 chips vs. one, made this interpretation particularly compelling.

So even though the offers were pretty close as ratios, I assimilated them to very different "milestone" ratios. This effect might have been weaker if the offer had been in the form of ten $100 chips for him and six for you.

I'm sure cognitive psychologists has studied this "milestone effect." Have economists?

Read more...

711buddha

Marlon - I'm not an economist or a cognative psychologist, but I do play cards. Much of poker is objectively evaluating close calls and trying to find little differences you can take advantage of. Becoming good (i.e. competent) means applying analysis.

I suspect this milestone effect is diminished in poker players as compared to other groups. I think the idea that people can be trained to make better decisions is the interesting part. I'd like to see that studied.

Craig

As an Arkansan, I resent the way you quoted that (obviously) southern' man...haha, congrats on the final table, though.

starfish

I'm trying to figure out how any sized stack of $100 chips, plus two $50 chips, can add up to a $650 bet. Am I missing something?

princesaud1

You are in subset "celebrity" economists. Will you become a famous economist like author of Monetary History of United States? Understand you quickly recalled his name. Recall speed direct co-related to frequency of exposures of a particular arrangement of select letters from alphabet. Sugesstion: Where a name tag at all times. Personally distribute, at random, business size cards: your name and picture and this blog's address imprinted. Must be as you walk outside geographic boundaries of Hyde Park. And go to Yahoo Search type in only: freefromcyberspace For near Myspace.com hits at your blog. Famous as Adam Smith in view. Not as famous as "God/Allah".

synapticmisfires

I remember when I first started playing poker I would occassionally fold when there was no money bet. I would call the big blind, and then not noticing that it had been checked around to me I would fold. Nothing is more embarrassing then that, although I made the same mistake about drawing for seating...

zbicyclist

Thanks for an entertaining post.

You really didn't make "every rookie mistake", and I'm sure you weren't the only one in the sattelite tournament making rookie mistakes -- you were probably just so self-conscious you didn't notice.

You'll be more at ease next time, and can make "intermediate mistakes" ;)