Episode 103: Matt Sienkiewicz

Matt Sienkiewicz is an assistant professor of communications and international relations at Boston College. He’s also a film buff and a poker fan. Matt puts Andrew’s knowledge of Foucault to the test with his analysis of key scenes from Rounders as well as a discussion of power dynamics in the poker world.

To bask in more of Matt’s podcasting prowess, check out the Interpreter Magazine Podcast that he cohosts. You can also follow Matt on Twitter.


0:30 Hello & Welcome
1:45 Strategy: Deepstacked NLHE for Advanced Players
37:39 Interview:  Matt Sienkiewicz

25 thoughts on “Episode 103: Matt Sienkiewicz

  1. Nice episode. Three quick points:

    1. African Americans in Rounders: the inmates Worm is hustling at Hearts at the time of his release. If I recall correctly, the trailer to the film shows a deleted scene in which one of the inmates has another scene on the outside.

    2. Grama’s anger at Mike winning the final hand: this has to be either a continuity error from a deleted scene in which it is revealed Grama’s financial arrangement with KGB gets him profit in the Mike-is-owned-by-KGB-as-a-staked-serf but very little if Mile is able to pay the debt, or an indication that Grama is fueled by a personal rage at Worm for being his former lackey that overrides his financial incentives. Also, we could probably write some bad fan fiction I which Grama is actually the kingpin and KGB is the storefront, and so the freeing of Mile from debt is a direct and total financial loss for Grama.

    3. Sunglasses are so post-boom. I’ve got a green plastic visor I somehow acquired in the 90s that I’ve occasionally worn to my home game’s annual championship, but I’ve never been able to summon the courage to break it out at a casino. Now that I understand the power dynamic such an item constructs, I’ll have to try it.

    I always thought Andrew was the handsome version of Louis CK.


    • I knew there was a celebrity I get a lot, but I couldn’t think of who it was, and I knew it wasn’t anyone famous for being handsome. It’s Louis CK!

    • Re: (1). One of the three judges in the mock trial is African-American.

      Re: (3). My current view of why Grandma’s angry:

      (i) It doesn’t much affect his finances whether Mike repays that $15k on time. Grandma isn’t operating independently but rather works for Teddy KGB. The debt isn’t really being repaid to *him* (think of him as a loan officer).

      (ii) Relatedly, it *does* benefit him if Teddy KGB wins back the $60k+ Mike has on the table, insofar as it benefits the firm. This is why Grandma’s yelling: he’s not (just) expressing anger that Teddy lost; he’s angry that Teddy won’t sit down and play Mike for the money (Mike, of course, is letting Teddy reload, which we hear explicitly and which is also the only way to explain how Mike has >$60k after they sit with $10k and Mike busts Teddy twice).

      So, that’s my view. Because of Grandma’s relationship with Teddy, the first $15k is much less important to Grandma than we might have thought, and the next $45k+ is much more important.

      • Nate: your hypothesis on Grama made me realize we might be overlooking the most simple possibility: perhaps KGB has quickly sold off some of his action for the match, and Grama was an investor. Given the stakes, it wouldn’t be surprising, and given Mike’s situation, you’d think KGB has a definite edge.

        One thing that might be evidence for this would be if KGB glances at Grama for approval when Mike suggests they double the blinds after he sits back down after getting even. That might be worth checking out.


  2. Granma’s anger can be inferred based on the fact he partnered/sold Worm’s debt. By fact of Mike getting out of debt instantly, he stops paying ‘juice’, instead clearing the debt entirely and making Grama’s having sold the debt at a discount regretful.

    Grama is a result-oriented thinker.

  3. I’ve always been in the ‘poker would be really boring without the (psychological effects) of the money, but who knows.

    Aaron Brown’s book traces the history of poker in America and argues it and the financial markets are closely related related and both come out of an urge to gamble, so perhaps the question is less why do we play poker for money and more why do gambling games take the form of poker.

    There are other games and contexts where these sorts of questions are interesting – bridge, say. Go is usually played not for money, but a rich gambling culture around it exists in Korea, Aiui, akin perhaps to street chess, and I think backgammon is a good example of a game which straddles the money divide.

    Monopoly just sucks.

  4. I do think poker shows up in lots more media than you guys were able to recall in the moment.It shows up in lots of small skits but is not a primary focus (Louie has several episodes on his TV show in which the comics have a home game, stuff like that). It is interesting, after the success of Rounders and the poker boom that there haven’t been more films entirely centered on poker. Hollywood usually jumps on a trend and runs it into the ground.

    • There’s a funny poker scene in “I Love You, Man” where Jon Favreau loses it on Paul Rudd after he hits runner runner to win with a flush.

  5. Perhaps Grama is mad simply because his boss and financial partner, KGB is mad. In other words, they had already reached a point where Mike could pay them back, and that did not make them mad. But they goaded him into putting it all on the line, and they expected to own him. KGB is probably just mad at the loss, and thus, so is his lackey.
    But I like Matt G’s explanation.

  6. FWIW other than Rounders my favorite poker movie is God Of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage, although God of Gamblers and GOG 2 are excellent as well. What makes this whole series great poker movies is not the card play (which as discussed in the podcast is really hard to do in a way that will be meaningful to the target audience, or something) but the meta-game deception going on around the games and before. In most other ways they are pretty standard Hong Kong action movies, so if you find that genre intellectually insulting then skip em, otherwise they are pretty cool movies with really cool and creative showdown scenes and are worth checking out if you can find them.

  7. I’m very uncomfortable calling anyone out over Foucault, but…

    I’m not sure the discussion of Foucault’s use of the panopticon represents the classic articulation of it, and I think the application of it to poker was therefore possibly a bit dubious. There was some mention of glass cells, I think, and it led to the suggestion that community policing within the poker community was related to F’s idea. Rather than go from my sketchy memory, I went to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    “Bentham’s Panopticon is, for Foucault, an ideal architectural model of modern disciplinary power. It is a design for a prison, built so that each inmate is separated from and invisible to all the others (in separate “cells”) and each inmate is always visible to a monitor situated in a central tower. Monitors will not in fact always see each inmate; the point is that they could at any time. Since inmates never know whether they are being observed, they must act as if they are always objects of observation. As a result, control is achieved more by the internal monitoring of those controlled than by heavy physical constraints.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/foucault/

    Thus the process is that we are constantly (possibly) being watched, and thus we have to behave at all times as if we are being watched, and thus we internalise the values the state wants of us, not that we police one another. So a better application of the panopticon to poker might be the casino’s eyes in the sky, I think.

    • Good point, Ian. I can’t really disagree with you textually here (I tried). I suppose this is my own extrapolation. Foucault’s analysis of the evolution of discipline as a technology of power considers a few trends, one of which is the decentralization of power. It is no longer the King or his immediate delegates acting in his name who exercise power. Anyone can occupy the watchtower (Bentham stresses this point), and while I think you’re right that internalizing certain behaviors/expectations/morals is Foucault’s main point here, I think the trend also extends to disciplining one another. This seems like the culmination of the process of decentralization, where anyone is (or could be, anyway) not only an informant (because ultimately there isn’t a need for a central authority to inform TO) but a “discipliner” himself. I didn’t bother to read them but quite a few people now cite Foucault in analyses of reality television, social media, the selfie, etc. Although these are monitored by the state, it seems to me that they reinforce norms and standards in ways that have nothing to do with the fear that the CIA might be reading your Twitter feed.

  8. Very entertaining episode – enjoyed the discussions.

    I had to chuckle at Nate going to that movie by himself. It reminded me of the time in college where over the course of a week or two I went to different theaters by myself to see all the films nominated for best picture (Feb. 97, the year Slingblade should have been nominated). After one of the screenings I came out of the theater and saw some people I knew and I remember them giving me a really weird look when I told them what I was doing.

  9. Loved the episode, I know you guys reference worrying about not tailoring to your audience enough with guests and discussions like this. but I at least love the non strategy based episodes (swell as the strategy based ones obviously) and have loved all the episodes since cracking triple digits.

  10. 1. Poker in China is technically illegal (like all gambling), but live games can be found without much effort, and online sites can be accessed sans VPN. Poker is like golf here: off the books, under the table, but exploding in popularity and exposure.

    2. Like many others, I love Rounders, but I hate how they out-and-out cheat in several games, which almost everyone would agree is wrong. I’ve often thought about the ethics of different, less straightforward ways of colluding. Is it really OK for 2 players with shared financial interests to even sit at the same table? It’s soo common, but that doesn’t make it right.

    3. How do you spot collusion at the table? Terrence Chan told a story in a podcast (not sure if this one) about seeing JJ and AK checked down through the river in a blind battle. In that situation, he spoke up, but it’s usually not so apparent. Parallel question: if you wanted to collude yourself, what would be the best ways of doing that?

    • 1. Interesting, thanks.

      2. We talked about this a bit I believe in our first interview with Olivier Busquet. I think ideally players would be required to disclose any financial arrangements when they are at the same table, so that other players can be on the lookout for collusion, because the incentive is definitely there. I think the impossibility of enforcing this makes it unrealistic, though.

      3. It’s very tough if people are doing it well. Biggest thing would be to look for players who never re-raise each other. Once they are heads up, there actually isn’t incentive for them to softplay each other, because it doesn’t matter who wins (not in a cash game, anyway). Their incentive to softplay comes when others are still holding cards. That’s about all I want to say in terms of giving people ideas about how to collude.

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