Love Letter

The controversial, noted, and Pulitzer-winning play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar was addended by a “talk back.” I had the opportunity to see the performance, as well as attend the discussion, which is something I will generally skip.  After all, you can expect a lot of very dull sentiments at these things, from the audience, the MC, and even from the worn out actors. However, from curiosity I hung around just long enough to be entranced not by what I heard, but from the combination of vehemence, personality, and enlightening incoherence (table talk, if you will) from all parties.

I knew something was afoot from the MC’s technique of opening the conversation by asking the audience to word associate based on the characters, wherein out of the string of predictable words, including “passionate,” “confused,” and “suffering”, the label “stereotypical” was included by one charmless fellow.  This one stuck out because if there is a word that simply cannot be applied to this very, very strong piece, that was most definitely not it. Someone, in other words, had an axe to grind. I was intrigued.

The play itself opens in a lower upper class apartment on a set sharply reflective of its Manhattan location. From the decorative modern artwork – which would neatly play into the plot – to the amazing, unused kitchen, to all the white plaster and designer furniture, to the balcony that a Master of the Universe could well survey his hunting ground from, complete with sounds of traffic when the door was opened, we were told with precision and authority exactly what world we were in. The characters defied their background. Lawyer Amir stood, pantless, being painted by his Islamic art obsessed and white wife, Emily, in an imitation of a famous Velazquez. When all was said and done, Amir had been dragged into the trial of possible terrorist, had lost his potential partnership, confessed to a rivetingly real interior dialogue, beaten his loving, faithless, deluded wife, and was comforting the somewhat unwitting agent of his undoing, in yet one more scene where the personal had met the political in the most painful and profound way. There was nothing stereotypical about this piece, which, but for one significant flaw, is a modern masterpiece by a very brave writer who has earned every accolade.

Which, all in all, was just another reason not to listen to the squawkings of the audience, who, after all, were at their best and most dignified listening, but I could not help myself.  I didn’t have to wait long for a reward, as the indignant fellow who came up with the deluded description of both Amir, and I think in his mind, the play and the playwright, insisted on taking the mic first. He told us, unnecessarily, in that way that people like to do to give themselves the illusion of authority, that he is Muslim, and that he was on a date with his wife, and that his evening had been ruined by the simplistic, offensive portrayal of Islam. He went on and on for several minutes, in the way those that enjoy being offended do, although his argument amounted to no more than what I just wrote. He received thunderous applause for his conceited response, which was banally curious.

The mic was passed on to a few more people in the seats, but everyone knew, or should have known, what was looming: the actors were itching to answer the charge brought by the offended man. Finally the MC had the mic brought to the stage, and we heard the response.

Unfortunately, the actors could not summon much return fire except for their own personal feelings, unintentionally evading the complaint. Two responses were still noteworthy. One, the actor playing Amir, was very forceful in his disagreement, even if he could not explain himself cogently. Second, and perhaps most interestingly, the actor who played Abe/Hussein, announced that he, in fact, was Muslim as well, and had struggled with the play and his part in it, a character whose self-esteem was bound up in the classic ressentiment of the seemingly oppressed: a powerful and key, if minor, role. He openly wept and rubbed his eyes, pausing uncomfortably before finally finding his way forward in defending the play.

Yet the answer to the offended man’s diatribe – which he would return to in an even more wrong-headed speech later – was so simple, so easy. In fact, I suddenly grasped a simple something that my years in the theater had not yet revealed to me in its fullest: actors are very akin to athletes, and are performers, not thinkers. Asking them what they think outside their own character, which they ought to inhabit as completely as possible, and therefore even at the expense of other details, is a little unfair. The best defense of the play was not to be mounted by them tonight, despite the gaping invitation made by the angry man.

The answer was simply this: plays are composed of characters, people whose motivations reveal the plot and the moral of the work as a whole. You cannot take a line or a character or a scene from a piece of art, which only functions organically, and suppose that is what the author intended as propaganda for his belief. End Date Night Monologue.

But no. There is evidence that even logic would not have quieted our hopping little tyrant. The offended man opened his second lament by lying to himself and others when he tried to concede, “I understand this is a play.” Then he went on to say that he had expected his problem with it would be resolved when the pro-Islamic Abe/Hussein would upbraid Amir for straying and thereby confirm the essential goodness of his preferred religion. Gag me with a headscarf, hypocrite.

prophet pipsAnyone can see, yet no one seemed able to state at the time, how backwards he had it.  In fact, when Abe/Hussein instead finished the drama by blurting out his acquired and interiorized grievance, the sense of “disgrace” that some Islamists have from historically having ceded cultural ascendancy, the noble playwright had gone even deeper into his subject. Ahktar had turned the kaleidoscope one last and unexpected time, obviating the easy answers. Here it was: good, no, great, writing at work in the trenches of our contemporary struggles. In other words, what this fool on a date really wanted – his world views confirmed after supper, like a pleasing and moist baklava – was not happening.

No such luck, and I was glad for it, even if the cast could not summon up more than empirical feelings on their association with the work, and some pandering blather about right wingers to assure the audience of their personal virtue. I can’t entirely blame them for this last meandering, especially when the audience, in fact, had revealed themselves as the worst panderers. Many of their turns at the mic were attempts to sooth the wild beast, disrespecting his essential position in a way that, as much as I detested his argument, I could not endorse. Conquer your enemy, or in this case, his position, by knowing and confronting him honestly.

At this point, you must be wondering, why do I go on like this in a poker blog? Well, first of all, it’s mine and I can do whatever the hell I want, but more importantly, there are lessons for the poker player in these all too real conflicts. Poker is at heart a relational game. It is the opposite of Solitaire, despite using the same deck of cards. To best play poker, you must account for as many variables as you can, stepping outside your own subjectivity to truly understand the situation.

This works both strategically and as mental game. D’Artagnan, the slightly ridiculous fourth musketeer of the Coven, loves to, as he puts it, “go to level 29,” which, I now believe, is a cool code name for an ATM withdrawal. The level you want to be at is one ahead of your competition. Level 29 is only valuable if your opponent is on level 28.  To be clear, five dollar games rarely go past level two, period.  Sorry for the finality, but if you think differently, you are finding ways to lie to yourself.

Just like the offended man is.  He doesn’t even understand the nature of the play, the play he just witnessed, or his own views, in part because he doesn’t want to. He verbally confirms that he wishes the play to end with a pro-Islamic message, yet says, with bravado, that he expects nothing like that, that we are “not in that world.” (Thank God for that!) He cannot win his little war, and neither can you win yours on the felt, if you take highly subjective positions.

Then, just as in the forums or in the games, our misconceited fellow goes on tilt, unable to resolve his misconception of reality with the evidence presented to him. During round two, he shakes his finger threateningly at the cast and audience, probably oblivious to what he is doing and lost in his sense of wounded self-love. He rails at the injustice of the world and blames others around him.  Sound familiar, O poker player complaining about that terrible 60/40 you somehow lost?

Deeper than this, as I observed the play and the discussion unfold, I was struck by how nonmonolithic our society is. Just as Disgraced so effectively unraveled the lives of its characters, so too were the fractures between all the individuals in the theater plainly revealed. The same is true for poker. There are no easy answers, and therefore, no true consensus. Poker is not solved, despite the hand wringers and Chicken Littles: there is room for ever more depth of understanding and strategic adjustment. As much as I believe in what I post at any one time, I am equally unsure of it, because the answers are nearly impossible to precise. As has been restated a million times and in a million different ways, the more I learn, the less I know.  I apparently have over a thousand posts on Red Chip and I wish I was allowed to erase them all. The paradox in life and in poker, is that to even begin to understand, one has to bear in mind, essentially, the remote possibility that the offended man has it right, or that the guy who deliberately and repulsively spells both “your” and “you’re” with “ure” has a point. It’s unlikely of course, but to weigh all the factors of an argument or a poker situation, one must be able to keep contradictory and seemingly mutually exclusive propositions in one’s mind. Our game is a truly complex and purposeful reflection of life.

As for me, I really wished this fellow’s evening was ruined.  However, it was not. He got to get everything off his chest, several times. The lumpkins behind him ferociously clapped him into some sense of comfort; the actors did their best to assuage him. The congregation, under the hallowed proscenium of ideas, bent over backwards to accommodate one crank in their baffled need for consensus and identity security.  One hand washes the other: one more disgrace. The world is a poker table and almost everyone is, naturally, a fish.

Meanwhile, and good for me, the humor increased. A woman stood up, and while it seemed to go over the heads of even the cast, she managed to say one of the funniest things I have ever heard in a theater – and that’s amidst a pretty strong field. After she gave us her obligatory background (Christ on a Frisbee) she tried to compliment the players. “Everything was so real, I really believed it! It was not like a play, more like a movie.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! I almost died laughing, and was suddenly in a spiritedly good mood, grinning maniacally and inappropriately for the remainder of the talk back. Talk back to this, peons.

I now wanted this discussion, the kind of event I try to avoid for my own sanity, to go on forever. I wanted the mic.  I wanted to let the actors know how important theater could be, and for once, it truly rose to its potential place in the world, and about how proud they should be; and we knew this to be the case because of this offended man, provoked by their art. We all had roles in a night of triumph.

Now, what was the only real flaw in the play? My mother, who had insisted I go, so fortunately, with her, and I discussed it.  It was her second time seeing it.  She had been so impressed I got an all caps text from her the night before, wanting to immediately go back. She claimed it was the best play she had ever seen… suspiciously high praise from a former and trained actor.

Well, it was not the best play ever, and I think she knew that the second time around. What it had, most certainly, was all the bones of a great, catastrophic modern tragedy. It was Albeesque. The problem was, Albee’s plays and other great works in that remorseless vein have more than just bones, they have a whole body, lots of meat and fat, which both slow and peak and widen one’s involvement and interest. All the characters, even Amir himself, could have taken on more. In other words, Disgrace is in a hurry, too much of a hurry, to get to its point. It is a ninety minute, one act tour-de-force. It lacks subtlety in its insistence on being a wrecking ball and not merely a sledgehammer.

A small problem, though, in the big picture: the play is wonderful, and in ironical contrast to the livid man’s ugliness. Its bones formed, perhaps in the intersections of disparate characters, a touch of the kind of pattern, the architectural, geometric, kaleidoscopic pattern, that characterized the long-off peak of Islamic art and civilization. Mr. Akhtar no doubt is aware of this. In any case, he has given us a true gift. A real love letter to humanity, to repurpose some of his dialogue.

A letter compelling enough to touch even upon all us performers on the felt. See it when you can.


  1. Interesting post, but my question is what do you do with very deep stacks, against skilled players, when ure looking at AQo UTG? Is opening it trite, boring, and predictable? Shouldn’t you have some folds there to balance ure range?

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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

Limp First In

A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.