Sunday, December 1, 2013

post-NaNo victory lap

Total word count: 50,014

I think I only missed writing one day this month, which I’m hugely proud of and is maybe the most important takeaway for me. I’ve written long stories before (though only screenplays, and they’re a different sort of beast), so crossing the finish line didn’t bring the kind of elation you get winning a poker tournament in Monaco or anything. For me, ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo brought more of an overall sense of satisfaction, like finishing a lengthy run and taking in a giant breath of fresh air.

A bunch of people have asked me how they can read ‘Nightmare 1.0.’ Firstly, y’all are awesome for offering! Just delightful. But the gift of having interested readers is not something I take lightly (because, like, who reads these days?!). Writing 50k words in one month does not produce a great, or even good book. Great stories of any length take a lot of time and effort, rewriting, editing, and whiskey. Anyway, this particular story requires a lot more time in the oven, a lot more blacksmithing or what have you, for it to be worthy of readership, or visual adaptation, or toy lines and t-shirts and video games and midnight book store parties. Because without midnight book store parties, WHAT IS THE POINT.

I’ve printed the draft out and put it in a box along with the last screenplay I wrote (also a first draft). I like writing these long form works and putting them away until my brain wakes up one day and is all like IT’S CLOBBERIN TIME! In the meantime I’m working on a few different projects in the short term: some short stories, The Micros, and a stoner poker comedy. Some might argue The Micros is a stoner poker comedy, but hey, that genre’s got plenty of room.

Thanks for cheering me on! It totally helped.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day 12

15432 words. Observations:

1. Writing a novel is fing hard
2. Writing a science fantasy novel is really fing hard.
3. It is hard to write super fast and write good sentences. Counterstrategy: each day write down a random sentence from a book, spend all day trying to measure up.
4. I’m really happy I took this Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction class last year. 
5. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood’s first episode is brilliant. Band of Brothers is amazing.
6. An iPad mini makes a sick reading/writing/music instrument of destruction.
7. Coffee?
8. The process of writing a novel seems like it could have lots in common with playing a ton of hands of online poker. Long, tilting, some days you win.
9. I’m behind pace, but 50k words and a complete story is happening. Lockdown? Lockdown. LOCKDOWN!
10. This draft will be a POS, but progress is progress. Writing a good story is like getting out of Shawshank.
11. The structure of a novel is a completely different problem than the structure of a screenplay.
12. Do better.
13. Fuck

I wish I were able to shelve every other responsibility for November, but we’ve had some exciting BET RAISE FOLD developments. I’m not making 3 hours+/day consistently, but I’m almost always getting at least 2 hours. Weekends are tough but I’m growing the beard to remind myself that I’m supposed to be a hermit.

goals for this week:
More writing
More reading
Keep better time tracking/word count on sessions

Thursday, October 31, 2013

November: in which I write a lot of fun stuff really fast

I'm about to start NaNoWrimo - national novel writing month. The goal is to write a 50k word novel in one month. I read lots of books, and I’ve tried this before, but I have too much respect for people who actually write novels to say that I’m writing one. I’m writing a 50k word "exploratory draft" of a science fiction story! The last time I tried to do something insane like this I wrote a screenplay that reads like a Wes Anderson movie crossed with Kung Fu Hustle (coming to Google Glass in 2018?).

I don’t know how much blogging I’ll do during this, but it’s much easier to crush this kind of thing when you make your goal public. Because it’s so incredibly shameful if you fail. So this blog post is my failsafe. 

Also, I have a side bet with Kristy Arnett - if either of us finishes, the other has to make a video dancing on 5 strangers in public for 10 seconds each, and buy them a $100 book/writing gift. There is no way I will lose, Kristy!!! At least one of us is going dancing. (edit: unless both of us make it, then the embarrassment bet is a wash but we still get each other presents!)

Goals for NaNo:

1. Finish it, 50k words or more
2. Write for 3 hours+ for 30 straight days.
3. Be dramatic, comedic, and entertaining.

made a Pinterest board with some tools 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pacific Rim is the best summer blockbuster in years

As a child I spent many a weekend gorging myself on summer action adventure blockbuster movies (and sour candy). Those escapes into the cool theater were a favored way to pass the time with my younger brother and father. Star Wars was our absolute favorite, the king of the hill, but we saw all the others in the hopes that something could match it and let our imaginations run wild. Nothing really satisfied (the first Indiana Jones movies, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Independence Day and the first Matrix the exceptions). As I grew older my viewpoint on these kinds of movies grew more cynical. Nearly everything Hollywood spat out seemed like an excessive waste of money, a retread of the same old story, and a gross failure to deliver on what makes these movies resonate (the escapist thrills, a sense of fun, adventure and wonder, larger than life heroes and villains and meaningful conflict portrayed on an epic scale). This was our pop culture cinema, Hollywood was the only entity with the machine in place to create this particular kind of dream, and they were (and still are) failing miserably. 90% of blockbuster movies basically steal your money, feed you cancerous snacks, and leave you psychically violated with a primal urge to rant on Twitter.

So my childlike curiosity sent me looking elsewhere, in books and on television. Some of my favorite stories came out of the East, in the form of the giant robot/mecha genre of sci-fi. Maybe it was because Voltron was just so super cool!, maybe it was because Robotech offered a layered tapestry of characters set against a philosophically sophisticated war saga, or maybe it was the nightmarish traumas splashed across the colorful, trance inducing images of Neon Genesis Evangelion. This stuff coming from Japan was much more imaginative than the stories the West was producing, and I lost myself inside these worlds. I often tried to imagine what it would be like to see them realized using live action and visual effects. I assumed it couldn't be done, or that if Hollywood went for it, they’d fall flat on their faces (case in point: the Transformers movies).

I’ve seen Pacific Rim twice now, and Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beacham fucking did it! The first time I saw it in IMAX 3D. The 3D was impressive, but we sat too close (rookie mistake), and my high expectations for the storytelling were disappointed when I realized the script played more like a campy Saturday morning cartoon than an epic philosophical meditation on the nature of war against monsters and the kinds of people who have to fight them. But they got SO MUCH right! In doing so they cracked my mask of adult cynicism and returned me to the silly state of a boy smiling in pure wonder. It’s an amazing achievement.

This movie delivers astounding visual images of heroes (real heroes who leap into action, not the emo, brooding kind found in most superhero movies) being heroic. The Battle for Hong Kong is one of the greatest action sequences I’ve ever seen in my life. It's so fun! This kind of pop culture cinema is important for our future. These are the dreams burned into the imaginations of the next generation, and Pacific Rim offers a humanistic, cooperative, positive dream.  It doesn’t match the resonance of Star Wars, but it’s so visually intelligent, bursting with detailed love for this kind of operatic cinema. There were literally people whooping and cheering, bursting out of their seats in both screenings I went to! It gives me some hope that we can go to a movie theater in the future and have a great time again. 

If you like blockbuster movies with amazing spectacle, and think GIANT ROBOTS vs GIANT MONSTERS sounds pretty cool, you have to see Pacific Rim on the biggest screen possible. Watch it as if you were 12 years old again (or bring a 12 year old with you if you know any), Discard your cynicism, have fun with the story. Be an optimist again.

Also, Idris Elba (aka Stacker Pentecost - how awesome is that name?!) is a goddamn BOSS in this.

*The new Star Trek, INTO DARKNESS, is pretty good too. It's really entertaining and features some crazy images and fun sequences. JJ Abrams is going to hit a home run with Star Wars 7, imo.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Applied Game Theory

I'm part of a new video series with Josh "sthief" Plotkin on DeucesCracked called Applied Game Theory.
Applied Game Theory is your introduction to applying game theory to poker. In this series, you will learn to calculate EV tables, analyze equilibria, apply toy games to NLHE, and plug your own leaks. Join KRANTZ and Josh in learning about the ways that game theory can complement an exploitative approach to poker. Follow along they review Jay's fundamentals, discuss practical examples (including some high-stakes hands), and walk you through the slow, but rewarding steps to using math to improve your game. 
The first two videos, "Introduction" and "Foundation", went up today.

Thank You.

This is so cool. As a boy I always dreamed of playing poker or making movies. To combine both into one experience… it's only fitting that poker made another dream of mine come true. That's what poker has done for me, and I feel very fortunate right now. 

In co-producing BET RAISE FOLD I was put in an interesting position as both an online poker player and a member of the poker community. I found myself on the outside looking in, trying to analyze who we were, and after Black Friday, what had happened to us. From the outside what I saw was unsettling. I saw that Black Friday had destroyed our spirits. We loved online poker and we loved the lives we were able to live because of it. We were dreamers, but in one fell swoop the absurd forces that exist in the world turned us into cynics. We took the ultimate bad beat in Black Friday because it robbed us of the chance to keep grinding through the downswing.

Here's what I believe about poker. The spirit of the poker maverick is enduring. It will not be extinguished. The dream is not gone. If you work hard and believe in it, it will always be within your reach. I hope BET RAISE FOLD can help start to heal the wounds of Black Friday and give us hope for brighter days ahead. From the inside looking out and the outside looking in, I'm proud to be a part of this community. 

Thank you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

our bet is made

It's hard to really articulate what I'm feeling as I head off to Las Vegas to premiere BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker in front of almost 200 friends, peers, and poker world colleagues who have, like me, such a close and personal connection to the online poker story. Overwhelming excitement trumps everything. Movies and poker have been the two defining throughlines of my life, so to have them coming together like this is such a huge event for me that I won't know how to piece together the significance until I can look back from down the road. I'm trying to just enjoy the moment and capture it in my memory as best I can. Mentally I am in the zone. Like the great Bruce Lee says, "I am water."

Despite the amazing success of our Kickstarter campaign so far, it's surprised us how cynical some people have been about our motives. I wanted to repost a reply I wrote on TwoPlusTwo to a fellow poker player/pro who wrote "I think it's kinda sad that some of the BRF fundraising is done under the guise of "this is +EV for poker as a whole" and not "You can financially support a project you will like"

My reply:
I think it's sad that so many of my peers are so damn cynical!  
Firstly, the BRF = +EV for poker = a small portion of our Kickstarter. We list 4 reasons for making the film and "to do good for poker" is the fourth reason.
Secondly, this is generally what we mean when we say the film is good for poker (as listed in our FAQ):
This is not a promotional movie. We have no ulterior motive beyond the desire to tell the story of online poker. When we say we're trying to "do good for poker", what we mean is:
How many online pros, casual players, and poker fans have been met with a blank stare when they tried to explain their passion/profession to family and friends? The online poker boom created a multi-billion dollar industry and a massive sub-culture that changed countless lives, but it's still so difficult for people outside this bubble to really "get it". You can't ask "outsiders" to spend weeks sifting through thousands of classic TwoPlusTwo posts or hundreds of YouTube videos in an attempt to better understand online poker. You can ask them to sit down in a comfortable chair with a bag of popcorn for 100 minutes and watch an entertaining story that explains what all the fuss is/was about. BET RAISE FOLD is foremost a piece of entertainment, but beyond that, it's meant to act as a communication tool -- a film that will finally bridge that gap of confusion between you and your family/friends. After Black Friday, it's more important than ever for people to understand that online poker is (was?) a legitimate profession that should be legalized and regulated in the USA -- because these days, it often feels like that blank stare is accompanied by misguided suspicions of criminal activity.  
Beyond that, 10 years from now, some of you might still be playing poker, some of you may have moved on to other interests, but wouldn't it be great if there was a movie you could watch any time you want that perfectly captured that unique, once-in-a-lifetime period of your life when online poker was new and fresh and everything seemed possible? 
Nothing like this has ever existed before, and we feel like that's "good for poker". 
Thirdly, I personally do believe the documentary is going to have a positive impact on the perception of online poker in the public consciousness. I know I said earlier that I'm not trying to be a "white knight", but if this film wants us to be the "white knights" of online poker, if it needs us to be that for it to succeed, then that's what we will have to be. We are all-in on it. Black Friday hit all of us in the stomachs and we survived to tell the story. We were the only people to capture the drama on camera as it unfolded from the POV of the players. Now we have a vehicle to give players impacted by it a voice in the wider world. If you think believing this (or trying to get others to believe in this) is sad, we don't see eye to eye on a lot more than just this movie and Kickstarter campaign.
June 12 is the theatrical premiere. June 30 we release online, worldwide, from I'm all-in on this movie. So are many of the top thinkers and players of my generation, ~500 Kickstarter backers, and all the people who helped in front of or behind the camera to make this happen.

Take that for what it's worth, but our bet is made.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

thoughts on learning GTO after 4 sessions of 'blah blah GTO'

blah blah GTO = video series running now on DeucesCracked in which blah234 trains me in the art of learning how to completely rethink poker from an EV-based, mathematical perspective.

it's really hard, especially given how much time I'm spending on BET RAISE FOLD. it would still be really hard even if I had all the time in the world to devote to it. DC shipped me a copy of Matt Janda's new book but I haven't even had a chance to read more than a few pages.

DCer Zinger posted a comment in the latest video thread that I've been mulling over. I definitely feel the truth in this, and though I know we are a long way away from a GTO solution to poker, I find myself wondering exactly where poker is headed. What do you guys think?
There's a lot of focus on what GTO could be from all the latest poker training materials. Analysis tools and poker bots are also getting better. 
With the flood of information creating an army of near-GTO bots, poker's future looks bleak. Games were always getting tougher but the idea that you could be playing someone with no weaknesses to exploit is utterly depressing.  
It sounds so cold and boring. To me, poker's a creative endeavor and while I don't think someone's nose-picking is an indicator of hand strength, I'm still a bit of a romantic. *plays Rounders clips* A great hero call or well-timed bluff give me satisfaction. I feel like an explorer in a jungle of unknown variables. Was that sexy play actually right? It gives me a little puzzle to ponder over and catalyze further improvements. 
However, it seems the future flair or creativity will be what CREV spits out in yet another of thousands of simulations. Poker feels less like a game and too much not just like work but like drudgery. Instead of seeing myself as a child when trying to integrate this new conception of poker, I reflexively see a tired accountant with endless spreadsheets to sort through. I certainly don't see Chris Moneymaker winning the WSOP. There are lots of ways to make good money but unlike most of them, poker was supposed to be more fun.
I could live with the fact that tomorrow will always be harder than today, but I laid my hope and motivation on the notion that I could always beat anyone if I improved sufficiently. With guys like Sauce123 actively trying to play GTO, this idea no longer holds merit. Poker's looking increasingly like an absolutely terrible career choice. I thought Black Friday was bad but this new approach to poker makes me feel even worse. 
Poker 2015: We worked so hard so we can now trade rake! In a theater near you!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Game's the same, just got more fierce

Poker blog, entry 232. Yeah that's right, I ain't retired yet…

While I haven't been playing high stakes poker competitively since Black Friday, I still have been playing some poker - primarily in the form of micro and small stakes training videos for DC. These videos have me building my bankroll from scratch as I work out all the leaks in my game acquired from disengaging my brain from the dailyness of thinking and obsessing about hand histories, 3bet percentages, and which avatar suits my screenname best (clown, long may he reign). What I like about these videos is that they've allowed me to open up a dialogue with other players at these levels, where they can help critique my game and follow along as someone with a lot of experience approaches sharpening his skills in the modern era of online NLHE. 

OK, so what skills am I sharpening right now? On DC there has been a lot of geeky discussion led by a group of super smart poker minds - blah234, improva, shuttle, and sthief - in a new poker theory forum that's been created. These dudes are working on applying a GTO approach to their game, which really intrigues me as it seems like a) this is where the best players are headed and b) applying math and theory to my decision making has always been the weakest part of my game. Lately I've found that I'm making too many wild guesses about my opponent's ranges and blah has pointed out repeatedly that guesswork is a losing proposition and the GTO approach could give me exact answers.

So in the coming months I'm going back to school and attempting to unlearn all my old habits, replacing them with a new foundation born from mathematics. Since I can't spend 8 hours/day doing this, it's going to be a long, tough road... but I plan to simultaneously chart my path in an extensive video series on DC (where I'm under the tutelage of blah) in order to help others who might also dare to remake their game. In the end, I think this will provide a sweet guide for players who might find this stuff interesting but are also intimidated by all the math and work away from the tables. And I think it will make me a deadlier player than I ever was, even at my peak.

For awhile before Black Friday I felt like I had hit a ceiling in terms of achievements, but these days I'm older and wiser and realize that poker is a game that's miles deeper than most people think. The challenge of mastering it over the course of my lifetime is something I now relish, and knowing that challenge lies ahead has done a lot to renew my passion for playing cards. So that's where I'm at and where I'm going - I'm rethinking poker, and I hope to have more frequent thoughts to share as I continue to do so.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

documentary release variables

We're in the home stretch with the BOOM documentary project, and as we inch even closer to finishing the movie, we're receiving more questions about firm or even approximate release dates. This post is to help answer these questions to the best of my ability.

As of today, we are fairly confident the movie will be picture locked by March 1. This means that all editing will be finished and the movie will be for the most part complete, and all that remains will be final polishing aspects like sound mixing and color correction.

We submitted a rough edit of an earlier version of the movie to SXSW and unfortunately were not accepted (they only took 8 films out of 905 submissions). We have two other major film festivals coming up: Hot Docs in Toronto (we are notified of acceptance by 3/18, festival runs in late April) and the LA Film Fest (unsure when notified, festival runs in mid June). Our distribution and broad release plans go hand in hand with whether or not we get into these festivals, and how the movie performs at them. However, we don't have all our eggs in these baskets…

Sometime in early-mid March we will be launching our website, powered by VHX, which will be the online home for the film from then on out. We're fully embracing the new models of hybrid independent film distribution and plan to follow in the footsteps of documentary success stories like Indie Game: The Movie, We Are Legion, and Sound City. We'll be going live with a new trailer and the ability to digitally pre-order the film, as well as join our mailing list. The important thing to note here is that regardless of our film festival results, we will be distributing the movie online, globally, in a wide variety of standard digital formats, so you can buy the film directly from us and watch it wherever and however you want to. We will be rolling this out no matter what happens, so the only thing in question now is a timeline (which depends on the festival results and distribution deals we could be offered). At the latest we hope to be available in wide release by this summer. We could hold the movie and apply to other major festivals later this year, but you guys have been waiting long enough and we believe it's important to get this out there sooner rather than later. We also have faith in our collective ability to reach people who really care about the online poker story and will share it with friends and family!

Lastly, we are strongly considering Kickstartering a theatrical tour to take the film to poker hotspots/communities throughout the US and Canada (and possibly further abroad). This wouldn't kick off until the summer, but we think it would be a great way to keep drumming up support for the movie and continue to spread awareness. Plus, the movie looks good! We want to see it on a big screen with everybody else!

If you have any questions, fire away, we are happy to answer! Exciting times ahead...

Saturday, January 19, 2013


“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” - Mark Twain
Books are awesome. If you're not reading books (or listening to them on audiobook at least), it's my opinion that you're missing out on important ideas and arguments and real knowledge, the kind that you can't find in your daily Internet browsing simply because the authors' arguments require detailed thought and a lot of pages. This is a big problem, as our society (the US, *fake coughs*) is becoming dumber and dumber in only a kind of funny way, so we should take a lesson from the Dark Ages when Rome collapsed and all the monks who could read used their uncommon and highly valued knowledge to rise to the power elite. What I'm saying is, those who have the knowledge will win the post-apocalyptic power.

So I read a fair amount of books in anticipation of the collapse of civilization, and being as it's a New Year and everyone has all these resolutions they can't stick to (replace one you don't like with "reading more books!"), I thought I might share some books I've recently read and am reading that have been stretching my own mind and motivation:

Dialogue is a huge component of screenwriting, but it's a practiced skill that a lot of writers seem to forget about. There's a reason why Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet's characters' words sound like musical ping pong--they honed their shit over years and years of rigorous practice. A theme of mine for this year is SKILL SHARPENING (both writing and poker) and this workbook is a whetstone for sharper dialogue.

Another writing workbook I discovered through the Google+ Writer's Discussion Group. Basically full of creative exercises designed to help writers hone all their skills. I plan to use this one a lot throughout the year.

Kind of in line with Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours concept, this book weaves together biographies of great masters of various disciplines (the arts and sciences), past and present, to illustrate various strategies to find "your calling" and spend those 10k hours optimally. Highly recommend this one for anyone creative or looking to become more creative, or generally feeling lost about what you want to do with your life.

A collection of essays, notes and interviews by and with Hayao Miyazaki, one of the greatest directors of ALL TIME!!! and the most respected animation director in the world. If you haven't seen his work, check out Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. If you like animation and/or Pixar movies, you'll love him, he has inspired pretty much everyone working in animation today.

I'm a huge Tommy Angelo fan, and his book The Elements of Poker and video series The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment are musts for any serious poker player. But last WSOP I read Jared Tendler's The Mental Game of Poker and immediately realized he had completed the mental game trifecta. Jared applies strategies rooted in sports psychology to help fix tilt, emotional control, confidence problems, fear and motivation, both in life and at the poker table. Tommy and Jared's books have definitely influenced the growth of my game more than any other poker literature I've ever read.

Francis Glebas, a legendary storyboard artist at Disney, teaches visual storytelling. This book is an amazing read for any visual artist interested in storytelling, and if and when The Micros comes back you can attribute some of the increase in quality to my learning lots from this book (and the diabolical John Wray, ldo).

Interviews with famous tech company founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple) and Max Levchin (PayPal). I've read a lot of books about how to build successful enterprises (especially during the first few years of DeucesCracked), but this book is always one of the first I recommend to budding entrepreneurs as I think it contains the most practical wisdoms--lessons learned through painful experience. From what I understand there's another book like this called Coders at Work that's a great read for programmers.

So do you guys have any good book recommendations from 2012? Post in comments and help us get all the gold!

bacta tank bonus (the three best fiction books I read last year): The Left Hand of DarknessThe Forever WarThe Beautiful and Damned