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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Monday, 19 February 2007
Formative experiences.
Topic: Misc.

My recent posts about climate change have generated some input from people who seek to mock. A classic example is this:

"David has spoken. He's never wrong so just face facts. The vast majority of us, including the majority of scientists, people who have had a university education and people with plain common sense, are wrong! I know it is hard to believe that someone can look at the evidence, claim to know a bit of maths and says he makes a living from poker but sees the exact opposite of what we are seeing."

This, I hope, is why you read this site - because I'm someone who's prepared to stick his neck out and express a contrary view. But I don't think that I've ever expressed why before. It's time I should.

I left university in 1990 and joined Midland Bank (later HSBC). On the induction day for new graduate trainees, we were given a potted history of the bank. The bit that interested all of us most was the experience of the losses incurred in lending to third world countries. The people giving the training were honest enough to give a warts-and-all explanation. I don't recall the whole story now - the acquisition of an American bank called Crocker seemed fairly important in the story, but that's beside the point. What was interesting was talking to people who'd been in the bank for some time about how it was that so much had been lost through poor lending. A common theme was that 'everyone was doing it' - a sort of safety-in-numbers mentality that is nowadays called "groupthink". It imprinted on my mind the idea that there are times when it's vital to be able to hold a contrary view to the crowd.

The stock market had crashed in the first term of my time at university (Oct 1987) and after that I read a lot of books about markets and their speculative booms and busts. 'Markets Wizards', 'Reminiscences of a Stock Operator' and 'Crashes' were some of them. I was particularly struck by a passage in Market Wizards where one of the star traders talks about the need for a 'variant perception' - that unless you believe something that most others don't, you won't be a successful trader.

After graduating in the summer of 1990, I went to Australia to stay with my uncle and his family for a few weeks. While I was there a building society called Pyramid went bust. There were fears of runs on other banks. My uncle closed his account with another building society and withdrew his money. The idea of a 'run on the banks' in a first-world industrial economy seems hard to believe in the modern age, but as little as sixteen years ago in Australia people were taking their money out of financial institutions in fear of imminent collapse

In the first three years of my employment at Midland, companies were going broke left, right and centre. The Corporate Banking division in London created a team devoted to handling problem accounts. It was called the Lending Services Division (yes, really LSD!). As more companies started facing trouble other LSD teams were formed. At the time when the government was telling people to prepare for the European single market in 1992, a great many of our customers were telling us they just wanted to survive to the end of 1991. It was awful. I don't think that younger people who graduated years later know what it was like. One minute someone's in charge of a profitable enterprise of many year's standing, the next it's in rubble around his ankles. It bred in me an awareness that nothing can be relied up, safety in numbers is an illusion and that things can deteriorate very rapidly.

I'm sure that this thinking affects my views in politics. Remember that story about my school history teacher telling me in summer 1987 that I would not see a united Germany in my lifetime? It took three years! With respect to Iraq, it's bred in me an aversion to the sanctions and containment approach. Critics of mine like Roger Kirkham believe that Saddam was contained and that further pre-emptive action was not needed. I instinctively distrust "containment", because I think it gives the container the illusion of permanence, so when it collapses, the 'container' is the one caught unawares, just as the CIA totally failed to forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union and believed that East Germany was the world's ninth largest economy right up until the late 80s.

I'll mention later why I'm sceptical about some of the claims and proposed solution to the issue of global warming. For now I just want to state the reasons why I'm happy to "look at the evidence" and see the exact opposite of what others are seeing. If I can't make you change your mind about the things on which you and I disagree, at least you should know where I'm coming from. The experts and the crowd are often wrong.

_ DY at 6:02 PM GMT
Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007 8:54 PM GMT
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Thursday, 15 February 2007
Climate change revisited.
Topic: Politics

My thanks to Frode Gjesdal for bringing my attention to this piece in the Times concerning 'global warming'. It's by a former editor of the New Scientist

The key quotes:

"while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported. Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean...

 ... The best measurements of global air temperatures come from American weather satellites, and they show wobbles but no overall change since 1999. That levelling off is just what is expected by the chief rival hypothesis, which says that the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do."

Perhaps some readers are aware that there are contrary views to the orthodox story of global warming that Al Gore and others serve up. To them I can only apologise for repeating what they already know. But I get the impression that a lot of people accept the theory of man-made global warming as being proved beyond dispute and think I'm a "Flat-Earth" believer for thinking otherwise.

The Czech prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, is a firm sceptic and plans to write a book about it. He regards environmentalism as "the incarnation of leftism and a fashionable metaphysical worldview". 

Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Valentine's Day advice
Topic: Misc.
Lots of serious topics I could attack today, but as it's Valentine's Day, I'll just link to the Girl with a One Track Mind and recommend that male readers check out her advice on How To Get Laid When You Place An Advert On A Casual Sex Website.

_ DY at 2:26 PM GMT
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Friday, 9 February 2007
The pun explained.
Topic: Misc.

I have had a couple of people tell me they don't get the joke I made in a recent post:

Tal  - I've just been in France with my uncle. He's got a sanctuary for animals ... all kinds of them. He's got a panther in there that's friends with him. He goes in the cage and gets right up close to it.

Me - Is his name 'Claude'?

For 'Claude' read 'clawed'. Come on folks - a Frenchman who gets in a panther's cage - this was too good to miss.

Monday, 5 February 2007
Sceptical about 'climate change'.
Topic: Politics

Here's an open letter to the Canadian prime minister that appeared in the National Post newspaper last year: 


"Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant."

"...significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary."

 "'Climate change is real' is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural "noise." The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next."


It's signed by sixty scientists from relevant fields. Of course there will be others who believe that there is human responsibility behind the 'climate change'. I'm with the sceptics. The sun is over a million times larger than the Earth and I can't help thinking that small changes in its activity have far greater consequences than anything that man does. I suppose I'm biased because the global warming story reminds me of that nonsense I was taught in R.E. at school about a great flood being sent down to punish man for his transgressions. It makes people feel important to think that they are the cause of what goes wrong around them. Accepting that things change for reasons over which you have no control is harder. Far better to con yourself into thinking you can change them.

In any case, I'm pleased that this winter has been so mild. Most years we are told stories about old people dying from cold conditions, even when given extra money to handle heating payments. I've not read any stories like that this year. It ought to be a cause for celebration, but fear sells newspapers so it's forgotten.

Thursday, 1 February 2007
Scenes from the Vic
Topic: Poker

Long-term followers of dull feuds on the Gutshot forum will appreciate the irony of Padraig Parkinson writing about me in an article for Card Player. If he sells the same story to someone else later, you won't hear a word of complaint from me about it! The story is really about Frank Hughes, a Vic regular who had a bad day a few weeks ago:

Now, David Young gets on pretty well with Frank, but has never been accused of having any tact whatsoever. Legend has it that when tact was being distributed, David arrived too late because he'd been getting measured up for his blazers. A couple of years ago, I was having a drink in the Vic with some of David's friends, and they were hoping that David would be invited to take part in the reality TV show Big Brother, so that they could bet the farm on him being voted out first.

Anyway, true to form, David arrived in the club, completely ignored all the obvious clues, and asked Frank how things were. Unless you're in the medical profession, it's not a good idea to ask a guy who's bleeding how he got the cuts. Frank provided the gory details and threw in a few philosophical quotes on the unfairness of poker and life in general. Any normal man would have stopped poking the snake, but not David. His idea of consoling Frank was to shrug and say "It happens like that."

Actually Frank and I were already in a game together at the time this conversation took place and he appeared to think I hadn't heard him telling me his misfortune, so I said something so he would know I'd heard. The story is otherwise spot on.

Frank isn't just a 'survivor' by the way, he's a gourmet too. You've eaten a good meal? He's had a better one! You've found a great new restaurant? That's nothing, you should try this other place! You think the Blue Elephant is a good Thai restaurant? It's a dump! If you want to know where to eat in London, he's the man to ask.

I'm not deriding the man, in case it appears that way. I like being around people who have some conversation and who express opinions. Recently we got on to the topic of films and someone, probably Neil, asked for the top ten films of all time. It was typical of being with men that all the films the two of them suggested were gangster films or war movies. Frank nearly choked when I suggested 'The Wizard of Oz'. I'm not a 'friend of Dorothy' - I just think it was years ahead of its time (1939). Still, Frank would have none of it. All three of us did agree that Lawrence of Arabia deserved a spot in the top ten. And that lead to the conversation we've all had:

Frank - That film has the best opening sequence of any ever made.

Me - When he falls off the bike?

I didn't see him yesterday, and with Neil away too, the place was a bit less fun than usual. I got no reaction to this:

Tal  - I've just been in France with my uncle. He's got a sanctuary for animals ... all kinds of them. He's got a panther in there that's friends with him. He goes in the cage and gets right up close to it.

Me - Is his name 'Claude'?

Silence. Blank look. Channing would have given me a drum roll at least. Come back soon, Neil!

_ DY at 2:33 PM GMT
Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007 9:34 PM GMT
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Wednesday, 31 January 2007
Russian casinos.
Topic: Poker

I'm surprised how little attention has been paid in the poker media to the decision of the Russian government to close its city-based casinos. In two years time, casinos will only be allowed in designated areas many miles away from the major conurbations. The BBC reports that the government is concerned about the increase in gambling addiction in Russia, but there is also an ethnic undercurrent to the move, as many of the existing casinos, especially the smaller slot-machine arcades, are run by Georgians.

I've never been to Russia. Whenever I mention the country's lawless reputation, people who have been there tell me that they felt safer there than in London. If you want to play poker in St Petersburg or Moscow, time is running out.

_ DY at 3:03 PM GMT
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Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Cardiff terrifies me.
Topic: Misc.

Well well, Manchester it is then. They kept that pretty quiet, didn't they? I got up in time to switch on the news this morning for the 11am announcement and saw that the BBC and Sky both had announcers at Greenwich and Blackpool. The poor BBC bloke standing in front of the dome was blathering away when the news scrolled on the bottom that the site was to be nowhere near where he was standing. For some inexplicable reason he was allowed to continue for about 30 seconds even though there was no longer any reason to listen to a word he said. It was quite clear that neither news station had sent anyone to any of the other candidate cities. Who knew that Manchester was in with a shot?

Neil Channing is the least surprised of the people I've spoken to. He claims to have noticed a surge in money for Manchester on Betfair about a week ago, although the price swiftly drifted back out. I've followed the market from time to time and Blackpool was odds-on with Greenwich about four to one, despite all the know-it-alls on the Hendon Mob who were convinced some underhand deal had been done to fix it for the dome. The other cities were at massive prices. Spare a thought for Neil by the way. This week he's in Cardiff, one of the other candidate cities, to conduct interviews for a televised team poker event. He's a braver man than me.

Cardiff terrifies me

_ DY at 1:45 PM GMT
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Sunday, 28 January 2007
Lette's ask Kathy.
Topic: Misc.

I woke up early one day this month and caught Kathy Lette on breakfast TV. As usual she was doing her schtick about relations between the sexes and telling men what they were doing wrong. She informed us that women needed a man who knew that 'the Kama Sutra isn't an Indian restaurant' and 'monogamy isn't a type of wood'. With insights like that it's easy to see why the Savoy Hotel appointed her 'Writer in Residence'. Lette's message to the men of Britain was that for women: 'wordplay is foreplay'.

If only.

I really wish I'd been the token male on the couch interviewing her, because I would love to have asked her the question that's always bugged me whenever I hear the comment about how 'women love a guy with a sense of humour' or a 'nice personality'. Why is it then, that whey they go out on the pull, they go to places with loud music where you can't hear a word anyone says? It seems the worst possible way to select a mate if those really are the criteria that matter.

Dare I suggest another possibility? That the loud clubs allow women to see the things that really count - like how much money a guy has to spend (on clothes and drink), what sort of friends he hangs around with and what his status is within his peer group? And that all of this can be done by visual inspection in a loud environment in which the distractions of personality, intelligence and 'wordplay' are blanked out? I waited for the token male to ask this, but alas, question came there none.

_ DY at 4:03 AM GMT
Updated: Sunday, 28 January 2007 4:10 AM GMT
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Thursday, 25 January 2007
Lost for words.
Topic: Politics

Has this every happened to you? You're having dinner or at a party and the subject of George W. Bush comes up and you decide to stand up for him and ... huh ... oh did I lose you there? Oh well, maybe it's just me then. Well anyway, I announce that I think Bush is a good president and that I'm happy to defend his overall record and before ten seconds has elapsed someone says it. Someone always says it. I've heard this at least three times in the last year, probably more and believe me, I don't get into this conversation all that often so it might be 100 per cent reliable. But I know someone will always say:

"How can you respect a man who says 'The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur'?"

I wait a couple of seconds to see whether there's an ironic smirk coming. But it never does. They sit there stony faced and I realise that they really believe it. They really, really think that this happened. I'm not suggesting that the only criticism of Bush one can make is that he doesn't know French (though he can speak Spanish - can you?) but this is often the first line of argument that his oh-so-smart detractors chose to make. I tell them that it's a joke - possibly one that he made, but more likely one that was made about him. It almost certainly never ever happened. They won't accept it.

I finally decided to refer to Snopes last week and check out its authenticity. Snopes is a great site for debunking or verifying urban legends. In the section on quotes I find this: 

which informs us that the story started in Britain in 2002 and the original source was Shirley Williams. Snopes says it's false, but unfortunately the source for the denial is one Alastair Campbell. The people behind Snopes probably don't know about Campbell's reputation in the UK, so it's a shame they don't supply a second source for the denial. Nevertheless, now that he's no longer working for the prime minister, it would be interesting to hear him deny it again. His son plays poker at the Vic so if he ever comes in to see how junior is getting on in the £100 hold'em game, maybe I'll get my chance.

Talking of the Vic, I know that some readers are put off playing there because it's so full of Greeks. They fear that the Greeks are unfriendly to non-Greeks. I can honestly say that it's totally untrue. In fact I have it on good authority that they don't even have a word for Xenophobia.

Monday, 22 January 2007
Poker as a platform game.
Topic: Poker

And so we say farewell to Bluescouse over at 88% Concentration. I’m very much a late arrival to the party here, having only caught on to his blog in the last month. I wish I’d jumped on for the ride sooner. For those who don’t know his story, the gist is that he’s a teenager in Wales who plays online and has in the past managed to win huge sums having started small and continually parlayed up to bigger and bigger games. At one stage he had his bankroll up to about £170k, but inevitably perhaps, when his lucky streak ended and he experienced the normal run of bad luck that all of us get at some point, he wiped out the lot.


Undeterred, he cashed in his ISA and proceeded to give that a spin. That got him a fair amount of negative feedback. Yesterday he saw the light and decided to quit. He blames the pressure of impressing his father and his loyal readership for some of the mistakes he’s made, but as he's got no understanding of money management, I don’t think he would have lasted even without that pressure.


He’s not alone. I’ve heard of others who done something similar. One south of England player springs to mind. He has run his net worth up to over £200k a couple of times, and up to lesser levels of £50k and £100k several times too – always going completely broke within months. Given that I can think of many ways that my life would be improved by having more money, I struggle to understand people like this. Both the people I’ve mentioned so far live with their parents! Couldn't they at least rent an apartment for themselves? That’s got to be the dream of any person under 30, surely?


I don’t think of them as compulsive gamblers. Although I’ve met several compulsive types in casinos, I really don’t think that poker lends itself to compulsive behaviour. It’s just too slow. The casino games of roulette and craps are far faster. You don’t have to wait as long for the resolution of any given bet. So what is going on with these people? One possible answer was suggested to me by Matt Arnott. We were discussing these guys at the Western when he suddenly said:


It’s like they’re playing Super Mario Brothers!


Of course; that’s how they see it. The challenge isn’t to raise your standard of living. It’s not to increase your income. It’s not to achieve financial and personal independence. Their aim is simply to get to the next level or die trying. That led to a discussion of who must be the final ‘boss’ to beat at the end before they could quit. Matt suggests Gus Hansen, but I’d make it Ben Roberts.

Calling all boks!
Topic: Misc.

A few days ago it occured to me that Shilpa Shetty might be odds-on to win Celebrity Big Brother after all the publicity that her fate has generated. I saw a price of 2.6 on Betfair and decided to contact the usual suspects in the Special Bets market. None of them replied so I did nothing about it and promptly watched her price collapse to 1.67 now. Bah.

Should I now be hoping that more people see this? 

_ DY at 1:44 AM GMT
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Thursday, 18 January 2007
Jade Goody / Colin and Justin
Topic: Television

I said recently 'I wish all these reality shows and elimination contests would go away. I can't believe that people aren't already sick of them.' They won't go away soon, but I'm hoping that the bust-up on Big Brother could mean that I will soon no longer have to see any more of Jade Goody. I'm sick and tired of seeing her face on magazine covers every time I pay for something at the supermarket. Please, please, let this be the end of her so-called career.

Until now she's served a useful role in informing the educated public of just how ignorant many people are in this country. Jade can't plead poverty. She's been rich for several years. She could have used her money to educate herself and become a more rounded individual. She doesn't do this, because she doesn't care. She has no way of understanding someone like Shilpa Shetty, but also has no understanding of her own country's culture either. To do so would require her to make an effort to think about someone other than herself. Jade is a product of a leisure society, where only short-term gratification matters.

Separately, I'm recommending that you all watch tonight's 'Colin and Justin on the Estate', Channel 5 at 8pm. I don't watch property renovation programmes as a rule and generally hold them in the same contempt as 'reality TV', but last week I caught this while staying at my sister's house and was quickly grabbed by the theme. I've no interest in shows about how someone with a budget of £250,000 is going to buy a place in the South of France and spend another £20,000 turning in into their own palace. I don't care. But this show is something different altogether.

Instead of decorating the homes of the rich, Colin and Justin have taken on the task of improving the quality of life on an estate in Glasgow. Perhaps I'm taken by this because I was born there. I won't pretend I was raised in the Gorbals, but I do recall seeing the less pleasant estates as a child because my mother was a GP and did house calls to the homebound sick. People in the south-east of England today can't imagine what it was like in some of those places in the 70s. You would see houses that had been sheared in half mid way through demolition, sometimes with furniture left in. It looked like a doll's house opened up. The word "bleak" hardly begins to apply.

What makes Colin and Justin's task hard isn't just that the Arden Estate is so desolate, nor that they have very little money to improve it with. The real problem is that there is a reason why the place is so wrecked. In last week's episode it didn't look as though they were going to tackle it, but in the final minutes we saw highlights of the next week's show (tonight's) where at last they tackle the 'elephant in the room' that nobody was talking about before - that it's the young kids on the estate who are destoying it. We saw C&J confronting the young vandals and even giving them a taste of their own medicine by vandalising their property in return. I can't wait to see how it pans out. At last a 'property porn' show is tackling a social issue. I hope they make the most of it.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007
The rakeback kid.
Topic: Poker

Here's an interesting feature about Mark Goodwin:

The money quote:

"His figures show that he’s made $180,000 from tournament winnings this year – but his entry fees and expenses total $182,000! Without the sponsorship deal paying his entry into events he would be breaking even – and he’s currently sixth in the European rankings!"

I have to say that this 'business model' reminds me of those online players who break even in the games and only make money because they have a rakeback deal.

However the lifestyle side of it is a lot better!

_ DY at 6:38 PM GMT
Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007 6:40 PM GMT
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Tuesday, 16 January 2007
Sad day for poker.
Topic: Poker

I'm sad to see that Derek Kelly has been found guilty in the case against him regarding the Gutshot Club. I think it sets poker in Britain several years back, unless overturned on appeal. I haven't read the Gaming Act of 68 but I sense it's intended to protect people who play games of chance against the house. I'm told it has nothing to say about poker. The fact that it talks about games of both skill and chance being games of chance suggests to me that it's concerned with games like Blackjack and Casino Stud Poker where some decisions made by a player can reduce his expected loss, but not give him a positive expectation. But I'm not a lawyer.

In any case, the current situation is absurd. This morning I read in Metro that a late night ITV phone-in show was found to have held a game where players were invited to suggest items that a woman might have in her handbag. Two of the 'correct' answers were a balaklava and a rawl plug.

I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.

Nearly every television channel is running these ridiculous phone-in games with there being no transparency whatsoever. And what have the authorities decided to prosecute? - A member's club where the game is dealt fairly and transparently. Incredible.

Who is the victim in Kelly's crime? By my personal moral code, a thing is illegal because it's wrong, not wrong because it's illegal. In every other crime I can think of, the 'victim' wishes that the crime had not occured. Yet Gutshot's players, the people who have paid the disputed 'service charge' are the people most keen to keep the place open! The only losers have been the established casinos who cannot stand the thought of losing customers. Actually this isn't really the case. If a private members club were to take away 100 potential players from a casino on a given night, the casino would only care about the loss of the five who also punt heavily on the dice and roulette. The other 95 are of next to no concern.

I really don't want to go back to where we were in this country a few years ago, where with the exception of the Vic, poker was treated as a 9pm loss-leader to drag in a few punters to keep the pit games busy. The game could be so much more than that. Condemning Gutshot isn't going to protect anyone. The people who play in it can easily play online (where a rake is charged) or go to casinos (where they must be subjected to the temptation to play negative EV games).

Who wins today? Nobody except perhaps the established casinos operators. And in my opinion, most of them don't really care about poker enough to invest in doing it properly and have no idea how much more profitable it could be if they cared.

_ DY at 4:55 PM GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007 4:58 PM GMT
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