The Wayback Machine reveals….

The internet is an amazing repository of everything. I was “googling myself” for some strange reason the other week and found this article I wrote for The Varsity when I was attending the University of Toronto many years ago. I had no memory of writing this review or even watching the movie, although I had to tidy up the page breaks etc. and gradually some memories resurfaced. Anyway, here is my “long lost” movie review.


The opening sequence of 8 Million Ways to Die is shot from a helicopter traveling over a vast network of freeways. Jeff Bridges mumbles, in a voiceover, “Ya don’t know where it’s comin’ from … strangers are killin’ each other.” This is a fairly good explanation of this movie which often needs explaining. Bridges plays an alcoholic ex-cop who gets involved with drug dealers, prostitutes and. naturally enough, murder. He is contacted by “Sunny” — a call-girl who wants to leave the business — through a cryptic encounter with another A. A. member. So he goes to this mansion where there are a lot of prostitutes and cocaine, and where people are betting on closed- circuit boxing matches: vice seems to prevail.

It takes Jeff Bridges (playing “Scudder”) half the movie to figure out finally “where it’s coming from,” and by this point Sunny has been killed and Scudder has missed a horse riding date with his daughter by going on a binge which lands him in a detox centre. Bridges spends much of the movie looking in rough shape as he battles his alcoholism and Sunny’s killers. He is well cast as the angst-ridden — though amiable — hero pitted against the evil foreign drug dealers.

8 Million Ways to Die is often interesting, particularly when we never know what’s going on. At key moments we feel that there are 8 million ways one could die and this brings out the best existential film-noir elements of the movie. But other moments last too long. The love interest between Scudder and Sarah (another prostitute played with unflagging courage by Rosanna Arquette) is not believable: it consists of a few embarrassingly long scenes where they exchange the smallest of talk and the most furtive of glances. However, there ait many superb episodes: at an A. A. meeting the camera pans through the members nervously smoking cigarettes and folding bits of paper. We feel that one addiction has been replaced by others — man is a creature doomed to his vices. Also, having Angel (the evil cocaine dealer) buy Salvador Dali’s house where he delivers a lecture to Scudder on how everything was built at a 45-degree angle “because that was the perfect way to observe nature — which is truth” is marvellous irony.

Perhaps the movie’s erratic nature can be blamed on the fact that the director, Hal Ashby, was fired just before completion. The final editing -may have been done by someone else, with less skill and craft. 8 Million Ways to Die is a flawed but interesting movie. It could have been better but it’s definitely worth seeing as a diversion with moments of delicious insight.


Las Vegas Trip, 2016, Prologue

I have probably been to Las Vegas over 20 times in my life and it is usually a lot of fun. But in 2016 I went for a singular purpose: to play poker for 5 days straight!

I play poker regularly in the fall and winter at the Orangeville Poker Tour (OPT) and at other games around Kitchener and some tournaments at the Brantford Casino. The competition at OPT is quite good and most of the players work to improve their game. In addition to the league games (12 – 15 over the winter) they have satellites to various tournaments, including Montreal WSOP and Las Vegas. I don’t usually play satellites but in early 2016 I said “what the heck” and drove out to Bolton and played in an event.

We paid $260 USD to enter and I also paid for a $100 “add on”. There were 10 of us playing and we raised enough to give away two entries into $1500 USD WSOP tournaments and I won one of them! This was an “equity” tournament and everyone signed an agreement so if either of the winners made money in a tournament they would take 15% of it and split it up amongst the other 9 players at the table.

This was a pretty exciting event because prior to winning the entry I had never thought about going to Vegas on my own just to play poker. Several of the people from Orangeville do it every year, but now it was something that was happening to me!

There are over 60 events in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas each year in June and July. I had to find the $1500 event that I wanted to play in. Complicating the issue was the fact my company was holding its user conference in Nashville in mid-July and I had over a week of work to perform in June in preparation for this. So I had to pick the event to play.

No Limit Hold ‘em is by far the most popular poker game being played but of the 60+ events many are other forms like Omaha, Omaha 8, 7 Deuce triple draw, limit hold ‘em etc. and they have buy ins at $1000, $1500, $2500, $5000 and the “main event” which is $10,000. But I was just looking for a No Limit event with a $1500 buy in. Even then, there was a “deep stack” option which had you starting with $15,000 in chips instead of the $7,500 you get at the regular event. The $1500 event normally lasts 3 days and has over 2000 entries. Occasionally the final table can take longer and it can reach a 4th day!

I thought about the deepstack option but it was a 5 day tournament. Even though the odds are good that you will get knocked out in the first day or two you must still prepare optimistically, and so 5 + 2 days of travel = at least 7 days total compared with the 3 day tournament and travel which = 5 minimum. The well known professional poker player and author/trainer Jonathan Little wrote a great article about how amateurs are better off playing shallower stacked tournaments where variance is higher. They stand a better chance of making money in one of those whereas the pros have a big advantage in the deep stacks.

Once I settled on playing in a $1500 3-day No Limit Hold ‘em tournament I found there were only three of these out of the more than 60 tournaments scheduled! I was surprised because this is the basic “everyman” entry level into the WSOP and fairly popular and I thought there would be more. There are also a couple of $1000 buy-in events but they start with even fewer chips and there is the $565 “Colossus” event but with more than 20,000 entries your chances of cashing are pretty slim.

I decided on playing the $1500 event #6 on June 6, 2016. It started on a Monday and I booked my flight and hotel from Sat June 4 to Thursday June 9. This gave me 5 days to play poker! My attitude was: I will play poker all day for 5 days. If much of that is in the $1500 tournament, then great. But if I bust out of that, so what? I’m in Vegas and everything is good and there is always more poker!

Flights and hotel: I scoured Travelocity for a few days and got a pretty good deal: Flight on Westjet and 5 nights at the Polo Towers (on the strip, next to Planet Hollywood) for just over $1000 (including tax). I also booked a rental car on my aeroplan points: all the W.S.O.P. events are at the RIO and it is off the strip. So a cab to it costs $20 to $40 depending on where you are coming from so that can be a big expense.

I had a choice of renting from Avis or Hertz and chose the latter since the compact car was 3,000 points cheaper. I have spent almost 15 years traveling for my work and was, at one point, a member of Hertz #1 Gold but now I’m just Avis Preferred. I did not think of that when booking because I’m used to the bus dropping me off at an electronic board with names and stall numbers where I go to my car and drive it out. At the Vegas airport my Hertz experience was quite a bit different. I arrived to a lineup of 8 people and there were only 2 desk agents! But the lineup was actually for the bank of video kiosks and there was one agent directing us to the next available one. This seemed like a punishment when I had already booked the car yet still had to line up to get the paperwork completed. There was one guy at the front of the line with an frustrated/disgusted look on his face and when I asked him “I already booked my car, is this the right line?” he assured me it was and that he was waiting for one of the “live” agents who seemed totally tied up with the two people who had been there all the time I was waiting. After about 15 minutes I got to the video Kiosk and took the phone and was talking for a couple of sentences before I realized that it there was a screen and an agent was talking to me (with cloth backdrop showing trees and a mountain). I had to provide my license and rental information which was awkward because there was no counter upon which to rest a phone or wallet or paper. Eventually she found me a car and the kiosk spit out six narrow pages of paperwork that I was warned was coming because if I had not caught each piece they would have just fallen on the floor.

The car rental was a major pain because my flight landed around noon and my first tournament I wanted to play in was at Binion’s in downtown Vegas and it started at 1 pm. By the time I got in my car, drove downtown, parked at Binion’s parking lot and found the tournament, it was 1:30. The tournament buy in was $160 and they had 40 minute blinds and you could enter (or re-enter if you busted out) any time within the first four rounds. So there was no risk of my missing entering the tournament but I still like to get there on time to see all the hands I can. So I paid my entry and got in the tournament at the second blind level.

To be continued……

How No Limit Hold ’em works

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Ted’s quick No Limit Hold ‘em primer: for those unfamiliar with “No Limit Hold ‘em”, here is how it works. This is just a guide to the basic elements of play for this one version of poker. When I was in high school and part of our chess club turned into a Poker Club, we played “dealer’s choice” which included crazy games like Baseball, Guts etc. These all had wild cards to make the play more exciting. When I first started going to Vegas the most common game was 7 Card Stud and I played that for several years. A typical poker room might have 5 tables of 7 card stud and one table of Texas hold ’em (and this table was often a lot louder than the 7 card stud games). Over the past 10-15 years the game has shifted so that No Limit Hold ’em is by far the most popular game played and almost the only one you see on tv. But in larger casinos Omaha and some other versions can be found.

In No Limit Hold ’em, players must make the “best 5-card hand” out of any combination of their two “hole cards” (which only they see) and the 5 “community cards” which everyone sees. There are two compulsory bets called the “small blind” (SB) and the “big blind” (BB) which move clockwise around the table. In a poker tournament these “blinds” get larger and larger as time goes by–if they did not, then everyone could fold their bad cards and the tournament could last days, or weeks! Blinds “force the action” and they get their name from the fact that you must put in your chips “blind”, before you even see your two hole cards.

N.B. for tournaments that last only one evening the blinds increase every 15, 20 or 30 minutes. For the $1500 tournament I played they increase every hour and for the $10,000 “main event” it is every 2 hours.

After everyone is dealt two hole cards the action starts on the first person that is in “front” of the big blind and moves clockwise around the table. This first player (called “under the gun”) has a choice to “call” (i.e. match the amount of the big blind), “raise” (put in a bet larger than the big blind) or “fold” (throw away their cards). Let’s say the small blind (SB) is 50, big blind (BB) is 100 and the “under the gun” (UTG) player raises to 300. Now if anyone wants to keep playing this hand they must at least match 300 (“call”) or they could raise.

Raising: The original BB is 100 and UTG raised to 300. That is a raise of 200 so if another player wanted to re-raise they would have to at least double the 200 chip raise therefore betting 500.

N.B. It is called “no limit” hold ‘em because there is no limit to how many chips you can bet during your turn. Anyone can move “all in” with their remaining chips when betting. There are many “limit” versions of poker as well.  

In our example, let’s say there are 9 players and 3 additional players have good enough hole cards that they “call” the 300 bet. You now have 4 players left in the hand and at least 1200 chips in the pot (if the SB and BB folded then you have 1350 (300 x 4 + 150), but if the SB and BB are 2 of the 4 players, you only have 1200 chips). Now the dealer deals 3 cards called the “flop”. At this point the players have seen 5 of the 7 total cards possible and have a decent idea about the value of their hand. The second round of betting begins with the SB (if they are still in the hand), BB (if they are still in the hand) or UTG player and continues clockwise. Let’s say the SB and BB are 2 of the 3 players who called and they “check” (they are not forced to bet at this point) . UTG bets 600, one other person calls 600 and the SB and BB fold. There are now 2 people left “in the hand” and the pot contains 2400 chips.

The dealer deals another card called “the turn” so the players have now seen 6 of the 7 cards possible. UTG “checks”, other player “checks”. The dealer deals “the river” (the final card). UTG bets 1000 and the other player folds so the UTG player wins 2400 chips!

Some things to consider regarding strategy:

  • The power of position. It is better to be in late position, after other people have acted, than early. Having good cards is great, but putting in a big raise (after players have just called the big blind) can get people to fold. The more “information” you can gather, the better.
  • “Putting people on a hand”. If someone raises you have to think about their range. In early position it will be something like AK, AQ, AJ, AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 10 10, 99 etc. But in later position, if no one has raised, it might be “any two cards” within reason (e.g. K 10, Q 10, J 10 etc.)
  • Putting together the story: the fascinating part of poker is trying to figure out what other people have, and acting accordingly. Poker has been described as “like playing chess but only seeing half of the chess board”. Even when you are not playing in a hand you should be observing what other players are doing. How often do they raise? Do they “check raise”? If you do get to see their cards at the end of a hand you should memorize them  (“wow, he raised in early position with Q 10, that is a really wide range”).
  • Paying attention is important: In the above scenario (blinds are 50 and 100) if 4 people just “call” the big blind and it gets back to the SB and that person folds, you know they are a weak player. They would only have to put another 50 chips in to have a chance at winning 600. So they are getting “12 to 1” on their money (e.g. they only need to win the pot slightly more than 10% of the time for this to be profitable). So they should be playing “any two cards”. If a player folds then you know they don’t understand “pot odds” very well and are weak. You can “exploit” that later on.
  • Aggression is often a good idea. Why bet when you can raise? It’s hard to make a pair. Most hands are won by a higher pair, or two pairs. But sometimes things get much more complicated!
  • David Sklansky is one of the earlier writers on poker theory and he presented a detailed and complex analysis of the topic. This is his “fundamental theorem”. “Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

Reading the Rolling Stones

I’ve recently started reading Keith Richards’ autobiography Life. This book was recommended to me by my friend Ian a couple of years ago and although I bought it then it sat around for a while. I read many of my books online but this is an actual physical copy. It’s big but then he had a big life!


When I was growing up in Whitehorse I was more of a Beatles fan. In fact after I discovered the 62-66 and 67-70 anthologies I was blown away by their inventiveness and progression through styles over eight years. Seeing the  centre art for the records even now brings much excitement.


I did have a few interactions with the Stones. My father was co-owner of a garage and salvage yard called Yukon Salvage. They were well known for their excellent repair work and they also bought most of the car wrecks off the insurance companies and stripped out the usable parts like engines, wheels, brake parts, transmissions etc. They sold these parts and used them in their own repair work. I worked there on weekends all through high school and a few summers as well (but that’s another story!).

What does Yukon Salvage have to do with the Rolling Stones you ask? No, the band did not travel through the Yukon and wind up crashing their car. But in many of the car wrecks people left behind their possessions like books, records and other personal effects. Most of the injured may have stayed a few days in the hospital and then flown back to wherever they came from in Canada or the USA. The insurance company would handle the costs and having a car accident usually put an end to the holiday.

Over the years I accumulated an Agfa Isolette camera, several record albums and a few books and music books. One of the albums I “salvaged” was Between The Buttons.


This is a great album. It has “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, “Ruby Tuesday” and “Miss Amanda Jones” among many other excellent songs. It also has deliberately quirky songs like “Something Happened To Me Yesterday”. So I listened to it many times perhaps around when I discovered the Beatles.

I also listened to other Stones songs but did not buy any of their albums for a few years until I purchased Exile on Main Street. I think I got that because a guitar player at the Courtenay Youth Music Camp I attended for two summer sessions told me it was a “great album”. I liked it, but not a whole lot. Much has been written on how messy the original mix was so I mainly listened to “Happy” and “Tumbling Dice”. I am re-listening to it now that a remixed version has been released and it is much better.

Over the years I heard lost of great Stones songs and bought their “best of” collection but I preferred the tighter harmonies of the Beatles (which also spurred my obsession with Harry Nilsson). And then I got into Bowie, Eno and many other artists.

So reading Life has been so informative and fascinating on a number of levels. I’ll expand below:

  1. For a while I called myself a bit of a “Beatles trivia expert” (though I admit to not remembering the name of the drummer who replaced Ringo for 1/3 of a world tour when he was ill). So I have read quite a bit about their rise, the clubs they played, the Ed Sullivan show and beyond. Reading Life is like reading about a parallel universe that shared the same history, had many of the same characters, but with a quite different take on it all. It is familiar and new at the same time.
  2. The Stones’ musical background is so much more rooted in the blues as Richards makes clear throughout the whole book. Although I knew this, it is great to listen to many of their songs with his background and stories in mind. It makes it all so much richer. The Beatles considered themselves a rhythm and blues band, but their songwriting has more of a pop foundation and even hearkens back to the English music hall. Bowie is like this as well. But the Stones started out just trying to bring American blues roots music to England and then became so successful they had to start writing their own songs!
  3. I released my own album, My Neighbourhood,  in 2015 and have been promoting it since then. I have received many comments on how certain songs sound like Neil Young or Joe Jackson. But my friend Glenn Buhr made an unusual comment when he rattled off the history of Beatles, Dylan and Stones and said my album had a lot of Rolling Stones feel behind it. And after listening to a few tracks like “Traveling Song” and “University Town” I have to agree. So perhaps they had much more of an influence on me than I suspected after all these years.

So do yourself and favour and read Life, it is a great ride through music and cultural history!



Album Release: “My Neighbourhood”



I spent four years (or more!) recording my first album release: “My Neighbourhood“. Prior to that I spent over twenty years writing the songs, performing them in folk festivals, coffee houses, porch parties and for friends.

Why release an album? Well I fancy myself a “songwriter” and have gone to several local songwriting groups. It is a fun way to enjoy music and get a reaction from like minded people who are -not- your family and friends. I needed to have a testament to all the work I have done, largely on my own and quietly, to produce these nuggets of words and melodies. I believe this is a “work of art” and that the songs sound about as good as they can get! I hired musicians to play bass, drums and some piano, trumpet and to do some background vocals. I played all the guitars, a fair amount of piano, some background harmonies and (on one song) bass and drums.

I hope to get some of these songs on tv shows or in a movie soundtrack. But my main motivation is to be able to listen to any of the songs and say “Yeah! That sounds great!”. And I hope others can have the same reaction to a few of the songs. If we can all clap our hands and save a few fairies from dying then it will have all been worthwhile!

Music background: I started playing saxophone in high school and also took up guitar. I studied saxophone at University of Victoria, Berklee College of Music and University of Toronto. I’ve played saxophone in various jazz bands in school, classical groups, saxophone quartets and my favorite experience was with a crazy Victoria group we called “Buncha Hardboiled Guys”. I have a cool example of our ‘style’ here.

I played guitar with a number of people and perhaps the weirdest example of that was the band Violence and the Sacred, an intense group of anarchists and post modern theorists, some of whom lived in a coop house and listened to a lot of Throbbing Gristle. I play on the Cathexis album and designed a cool Fripp-like guitar line you can listen to around 3/4 of the way down this page on the song Mary Brown.

For the past several years I’ve been playing at home and in a few porch parties in the Kitchener/Waterloo area. Evidence of this can be found here and here. I love my 1948 Gibson ES-125!

After spending a lot of time messing around with various recording technologies, including BOSS and Acid and Garage Band, I decided to get professional help in order to push the process along. Fred Smith was a great partner. He knows everything about recording, is quick to throw on a banjo track for you, can direct you and others on appropriate harmonies and has a beautiful studio he mainly built himself. It was a pleasure working with him and this project would not have gotten finished without his help.

Please buy my album! It is only $10 on iTunes (or CDBABY, or Amazon or EMusic etc).

Final Hand, Tuesday March 3rd, Talking Stick Casino, Phoenix AZ

First, a few words about the tournament. It is the 7pm tournament and has $145 buy in with 20 minute blinds. This is not my ideal tournament as it is set up to last about 5 hours. With only 20 minute blinks we are getting about one orbit of 10 players per round. The “luck” factor, or “variance” is fairly high. The casino has a better structured tournament on Saturday with 30 minute blinds but the entry fee is $330 which is a bit high. I’m here in Scottsdale with my wife on vacation and do not want to commit so much money to one tournament.

The starting stack is 10,000 chips and within the first half hour of the tournament I had won a few pots and was up to 14,000 in chips which was pretty good. Then I basically went card dead for a couple of hours which is deadly in this kind of structure.

So here is my final hand:

The blinds were 600 and 1200 and I had about 9,000 in chips, so 7.5 big blinds. I had been prepared to shove for several rounds but kept getting 9,2, 10,6 kinds of hands. Finally I’m dealt AJ, the best had I’ve seen in about 2 hours! I am in middle position at an 8 handed table. I have 2 options, either shove or call. I have only 9,000 in chips so the min raise is 2400 which is about 30% of my stack. With three more rounds of betting ahead (flop, turn, river) I’m essentially pot committed so I may as well shove. If I shove I have a good chance of winning 1800 chips which is about 20% of my stack. But with a hand like AJ I want to maximize my earnings. I need to double up or go home since 1800 chips will only give me one more round.

The big blind is fairly new to the table. He has a large stack (> 50 K) and has been somewhat aggressive. He has been raising a fair amount and I think his range is pretty wide, so I decide to just limp for 1200 hoping he raises and I’ll shove. At that point he will have enough equity and has a big enough stack that he will call and I will probably be ahead. In fact everyone else folds and the small blind completes for 1200. The BB thinks about it for a moment and then just checks. Dang.

The flop comes 10, J, 4. Bingo! The SB checks and the BB bets 2500. I shove all in for around 8,000 (another 5K approx) and the BB calls. I have TPTK and he turns over 89 for a straight draw. I’m ahead approximately 70% to 30% on this so I’m happy to have a decent chance of doubling up. However, the turn brings a 7 (!!) which gives him the straight and the river is no help so I’m out!

Ultimately, I think I played the hand perfectly, had a great flop and got unlucky, which happens.


Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour

It stopped raining for an hour or two and I was able to take this photo on my last full day in Hong Kong.