Racing: No charges in HK drug test cases

August 30, 2012

Racing bosses have partially backed down on the Hong Kong drug testing controversy but could still face a battle with their most high-profile case.

The Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) has announced no charges will be laid against the trainers of three pacers who returned positive swabs after they were tested in the super-sensitive labs in Hong Kong.

The three horses were Harness Jewels winner Delightful Christian, Jewels fourth placegetter Precious Mach and Dreamy Eagle, who won the comparatively minor Northland Cup at Alexandra Park on February 24.

Both Harness Jewels tests were positive to arsenic, which is believed to have got into the two horses’ systems after they were treated with a commonly used supplement.

Dreamy Eagle’s positive was similarly innocuous, being a positive to capsaicin, which is present in a common substance used to stop horses biting their own tails or fence railings.

Had any of the three swabs been tested in New Zealand they would have come back negative but because they were in the very small percentage sent to Hong Kong, which has more advanced testing, they returned positives.

This has outraged trainers around the country, who fear being stuck in the middle of a game of drug-testing Russian roulette.

The RIU has shown common sense in not laying any charges against the three trainers involved, negating the damage on that side. But they are still almost certain to meet resistance at the Judicial Control Authority hearings when they seek disqualification of the three horses.

While the connections of Dreamy Eagle and Precious Mach may not bother going to the legal expense of fighting their cases, Delightful Christian’s Jewels win is a career-defining moment.

Not only was it a $150,000 race but carried group one status, which has enormous benefits for her future broodmare career. It would surprise to see her win not defended.

By Michael Guerin | Email Michael

Racing: No charges in HK drug test cases

ABC6 – Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, WeatherIran clings to Asian oil market as sanctions bite

August 30, 2012

By BRIAN MURPHYAssociated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – When Iran welcomes leaders to a world gathering next week, few will get a grander reception than India's prime minister. As Tehran tries to offset the squeeze from Western oil sanctions, there is no greater priority than courting energy-hungry Asian markets.

The planned visit by Manmohan Singh, the first by an Indian prime minister in more than a decade, puts into sharp relief the sanctions-easing strategies by Iran – and the political complexities for Washington that limit its pressure on Asian powers needing Tehran's oil.

Oil purchases by India, China and South Korea – which decided this week to resume Iranian imports – have not covered Tehran's losses after it was tossed out of the European market in July. But they have given Iran a critical cushion that brings in tens of millions of dollars in revenue a day and means that Iran has dropped only one ranking, to stand as OPEC's third-largest producer.

The U.S. has pressed hard for Iran's top customers – China, India, Japan and South Korea – to scale back on crude imports, with some success, offering in return exemptions from possible American penalties. But Washington cannot push its key Asian trading partners too fast or too aggressively and risk economic rifts.

“Despite Western sanctions … China and Japan will remain major importers of Iranian crude oil and so will India,” said Siddak Bakir, a Middle East and South Asian analyst for IHS Energy in London.

The ability of sanctions to wring concessions over Iran's nuclear program remains a key divide between Israel and the U.S. and its European partners.

Washington urges allowing more time for sanctions to eat into Iran's economy, which depends on oil exports for 80 percent of its foreign revenue. Some Israeli leaders have indicated a military attack is a possibility if they conclude the international community has failed to halt Iran's uranium enrichment. Iran insists it's not seeking atomic weapons and its reactors are for energy and medical use.

For Iran, however, there's a parallel fight: Trying to keep the oil flowing to its key Asian customers, possibly through deals to sell at below-market prices.

“China and India are not doing this as a favor to Iran. Quite the contrary,” said Pennsylvania-based oil trader Stephen Schork. “I am sure they are extracting a very good deal out of the Iranians. … I don't think it's fair to say Iran is unscathed. Certainly, they are under duress.”

At the same time, the U.S. is applying relentless pressure on Iran's big oil markets to cut back on Iranian imports. Published and anecdotal data suggest some headway by Washington, which sweetened the offer by granting the big-four Asian buyers exemptions from possible penalties in return for curbing Iranian imports.

On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the exemptions would be reviewed at the end of their six-month term. “What's important to us is … that the net flow is continuing to decrease,” she told reporters in Washington.

Still, it's clear the U.S. is unwilling to risk trade wars with key Asian trading partners, even over the showdown with Iran.

“The U.S. needs Asia. It needs to maintain good relations. It also needs Asia as a critical partner in its efforts to pressure Iran through sanctions,” said Sami al-Faraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies. “It's a delicate process of diplomacy, incentives and alternatives.”

Even fast-growing China – which counts on Iran for about 10 percent of its energy needs – has slightly scaled back on imports from Iran: 510,000 barrels a day in the second quarter this year, compared with 560,000 in the same period last year. But some analysts say this was more over a pricing dispute than U.S. pressure.

On Tuesday, South Korea said it would resume buying Iranian oil in September after a two-month break, but at reduced levels that comply with U.S. sanctions guidelines.

Cutting Iranian crude was just too big a price for South Korea, which has nearly 3,000 companies that sold $6 billion worth of goods to Iran in 2011. Iran was also the only country that supplied oil to South Korea during the 1973 oil crisis and, in return, a major downtown street in Seoul was named after the Iranian capital, Tehran.

“South Korea does not want its ties with Tehran to irk the U.S., so it made great efforts to persuade the Obama administration to give it an exemption. Iran is probably the most important Middle Eastern country for South Korea, and it is very difficult for South Korea to sever its ties with Iran because it offers cheaper oil,” said Chang Byung-ock, an Iran expert at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

The 27-nation EU accounted for 18 percent of Iran's exports, or about 450,000 barrels a day. Add that to the reductions in Asia – more than half of Iran's oil exports before the EU sanctions – and Iran has lost a significant, but not yet crippling, portion of its oil revenue.

According to the International Energy Agency, a 28-nation group that monitors global energy trends, Iran's crude oil production has fallen steadily since May to 2.9 million barrels a day in July, dropping Iran to the No. 3 spot behind resurgent Iraq.

Meanwhile, imports of Iranian oil by major consumers plunged to 1 million barrels a day in July from 1.74 million barrels a day in June, according to an Aug. 10 report from the agency, which did not give a country-by-country breakdown.

In late July – about a month after the EU halted Iranian oil purchases – Iran's central bank chief, Mahmoud Bahmani, called Western sanctions akin to a “military war” that requires new economic countermeasures in return. These likely will include boosting sales of petrochemical products, such as motor oil, that are not covered by sanctions, as well as expansive diplomatic efforts to secure oil markets in China and India.

The latter is set to take center stage with the Indian prime minister's appearance at the Aug. 30-31 meeting in Tehran of the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War relic that Iran seeks to rebuild as a counterpoint to Western influence.

India has faced a full-scale press from both sides.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped in India and made repeated appeals for Iran's No. 2 oil customer to scale back on its purchases. India has curbed some of its Iranian imports – agreeing after Clinton's visit to an 11 percent drop in the coming year. But there are limits to how far India can go as it struggles with a widening deficit and weak rupee, which drives up the costs of oil imports.

India has joined Japan in offering government-backed insurance for ships carrying Iranian crude, to bypass European sanctions that prohibit EU companies from offering coverage. The move seeks to avoid interruptions in the Iranian oil supply, with the first shipment by a government-insured tanker scheduled to arrive in India this week.

Japan was the first country to devise a workaround to the EU sanctions, passing the emergency measure in late June to avoid a disruption in critical oil supplies due to actions against Iran.

Any potential economic lifelines for Iran are likely to feed into calls by Israelis favoring a military strike on Iran. At the same time, opponents of military action have become increasingly outspoken as signs point to a war footing, such as the opening of new gas mask distribution centers in the Jewish state.

“Iran tries to present an image of having some kind of network of relationships with outside countries, and say they are not as vulnerable,” said Eldad Pardo, an Iranian affairs expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “But the facts on the ground show they are under a lot of pressure.”

Associated Press writers Pamela Sampson and Vijay Joshi in Bangkok, Erika Kinetz in New Delhi, Blake Sobczak in Jerusalem and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

ABC6 – Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, WeatherIran clings to Asian oil market as sanctions bite

County helps local producers with ‘food chain’ efficiency

August 30, 2012

Every day Karen Olsen milks her small mixed herd Holstien and Gurney cows at her South Kitsap farm. To keep her raw milk product the best and freshest for Kitsap County and other local markets, she works hard to cool the milk from 98 degrees to 45 degrees in 20 minutes.

Olsen gets it done at her Blackjack Valley Farm the old-fashioned way, milk cans set into bins of water loaded with ice. She acts at the “agitator” stering the milk for even cooling.

“You want to get the milk as cold as you can as fast as you can,” she said.

Kitsap County is not a big producer agriculturally, but the Kitsap Food Chain program seeks to cut energy costs and the carbon footprint to grow and delivering local food to local markets. In effort to make Kitsap County’s “food chain” more energy effecent and affordable the Board of Kitsap County Commissioners Monday approved a series of grants to local food producers.

Blackjack Valley Farms seeks to reduce its energy costs for its small dairy to daily cool 333 pounds of milk with ice using a mixture of residential and commercial equipment. A new 40-gallon cooling tank designed specifically for milk is expected to save money and time, said Kitsap County Resources Conservation manager Autumn Salamack.

A total of $47,708 in of federal stimulus grants were awarded to eight local companies out of the nine requesting rebates for energy efficient upgrades. The local program assessed 11 companies, of which nine moved forward with recommended upgrades and eight were awarded rebates for projects. Local companies receiving energy audits included Minder Meats in Bremerton and Monica’s Waterfront Bakery in Silverdale.

“[We’re] really excited to see that number of applicants,” Salamack said.

The monies will be awarded after the Kitsap County Conservation District verifies the work has been done. Two examples of projects made possible by the federal grants include the Blackjack Valley Farms project in Port Orchard and Pheasant Field Farm in Central Kitsap.

Pheasant Field Farms will replace its refrigeration too. Combined, the two farm projects’ cost is $18,000, which will initially be paid for by the farms. Once approved, the county will rebate about $14,000. The annual energy savings for the two farms is estimated to be 7,600 kWh, or $755 combined. The county estimates that the investment will take 24 years to repay itself.

The program is part of the county’s Energy Efficiency & Conservation Plan which was adopted last year. The goal is to reduce countywide energy use by 30 percent by 2020, with the energy year 2009 as a baseline. The program also seeks to encourage renewable energy use with a goal of 10 percent by 2020.

Kitsap County received $2.2 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009 in effort to reduce energy demand, save taxpayer dollars used for county operations, lower home utility bills, promote a green economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Much of it has been spent to retrofit county buildings for energy efficiency.

Olsen said she was shocked to see how much of the cold she produced when electricity escaped the doors of the freezers making ice for her milk cooling operation. She said the grant to help with improvements in her milk processing is welcome aid for her farm.

“It’s good for local business and it’s good for energy efficiency,” Salamack said.

After two years, the county has reported a 2 percent reduction in electricity and and natural gas usage and a 54 percent reduction in propane use.

Contact Central Kitsap Reporter Editor Greg Skinner at or (360) 308-9161 ext. 5050. Related Stories

County helps local producers with ‘food chain’ efficiency

Details in expanded gambling bill in Maryland

August 30, 2012

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Here is an overview of Maryland legislation to expand gambling in the state passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Casinos would be allowed to have table games like poker and craps. If approved by lawmakers and voters in November, table games could start early next year at a 20 percent tax rate for the state.


A casino could be built in Prince George’s County with table games and 3,000 slot machines, if passed on the ballot and county voters approve. The allowable area includes National Harbor and Rosecroft Raceway. Applicant proposals could include bids to keep between 33 percent and 38 percent of the revenue.


Veterans groups could have five instant pull tab gambling machines at their facilities.

Maryland Live! in Hanover would pay 8 percent less tax to spend on promotional costs and capital improvements to offset added competition from a Prince George’s casino. It now keeps 33 percent of revenue generated by the casino.

A planned casino in Baltimore would get a 7 percent tax cut.

The Worcester County casino’s share goes from 33 percent to 43 percent in July 2013.

A planned casino in Allegany County would get 50 percent of its revenue for 10 years and 43 percent after that.


About $174 million would go to education in fiscal year 2017, assuming a license has been awarded for the Prince George’s casino, which can’t open until 2016. That would go up to an estimated $199 million in fiscal year 2019.

Casinos would be open 24 hours.

Maryland Live! would get an added 8 percent tax cut for buying or leasing slot machines, instead of the state. Other casinos could get a 6 percent tax cut for owning machines.

Details in expanded gambling bill in Maryland

O'Grady, Barr face off in House District 46

August 30, 2012

Lincoln residents John Barr and Jeremiah O’Grady have each contributed years of government service, both on the local and state level.

And they will seek to add at least two more years to their political resume by running for state representative of House District 46, serving Lincoln and Pawtucket.

They must first, however, make it through the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, the winner of which will go up against Republican Matthew Guerra and independents Paul DiDomenico and Mary Ann Shallcross Smith in the Nov. 6 general election.

Barr, 48, who currently serves on the town Zoning Board of Review, in 1992 became the District 46 state representative, a position he held for a total of 10 years. He has run for town administrator twice, in 2006 and 2008.

He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1982, and he earned his associate’s degree at Community College of Rhode Island.

Barr has been a real estate investor since age 19, and currently owns LeadSafe Inspections and Consulting Inc. and Bedbug Extermination R.I. He has also worked for the Quinnville Fire Department.

Incumbent O’Grady, 42, just finished his freshman term for the state. Prior to that, he spent four years on the Lincoln Town Council, including two years as president, as well as time on the town Budget Board. He works for Olneyville Housing Corp., a nonprofit community development organization specializing in the revitalization and stabilization of the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence.

Both candidates are family men.

Representing the fifth generation of his family’s residence in Lincoln, Barr and his wife, Sharon, have four children ranging in age from 20 to 13, as well as a 20-year-old nephew who lives with them.

Calling his family “troopers,” Barr said they campaign door to door, attend social events with him, and talk politics at the dinner table. He said his college-aged children who will enter the workforce in the next few years inspired him to take on job creation, should he be elected.

O’Grady, originally from Massachusetts, married Lincoln native Elizabeth Crohan. After living in Boston and Washington, D.C., they settled in town 12 years ago to raise a family; they have a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

O’Grady said he first became interested in representing District 46 after he disagreed with policy decisions made by the General Assembly two years ago.

He said when car tax reimbursement was eliminated “on the heels of virtual elimination of state aid,” car tax bills had to increase “dramatically” along with fire taxes. O’Grady said the “burden shifted” to the municipalities, who only had property taxes as a tool, which “hit those who could least afford it the most.”

O’Grady said during his first term, he sought to stabilize municipalities both in terms of cost and revenue. He cited pension reform, joint Other Post-Employment Benefits and trust money, and collaborative self-funded health care as mechanisms he helped put in place “by which towns can achieve some efficiencies.”

This year, the discontented party is Barr, who originally announced in April he would seek the Senate District 17 spot, only to switch to House District 46 in June after seeing O’Grady support the table games at Twin River Casino referendum, on which voters will decide in November.

“The casino vote got me upset. It’s financially devastating to the town of Lincoln,” Barr said.

Barr said he originally wrote the bill that gives Lincoln 1.45 percent of the video lottery terminals, or VLT, money from Twin River, which brings approximately $6 million into the town each year.

Barr said that percentage received from VLTs will decline if the referendum passes because people would prefer to play traditional slot machines.

Where the state gets 60 percent of VLT earnings, they will get 18 percent of table game revenue, Barr said. The casinos will take 82 percent of the table game money, and the town will get nothing, he said.

If he is elected, Barr said he will try to negotiate that same 1 percent legislation for table games. He said to keep revenue coming into the town, “we almost have to pass it.”

The legislation includes a slippage provision that Lincoln and Newport will receive 1 percent of table game revenue for four years, should VLT revenue decline, in anticipation of the casinos opening in Massachusetts. But after those four years are up, Barr said, “the town of Lincoln financially goes off a cliff.”

O’Grady said “regardless of how I’ll vote as an individual,” he supported the bill because it was “my obligation and my fiduciary responsibility” that the legislation “provide the best outcome for the town should it pass.”

He said the bill would remove the need to legislate every year regarding the sunset clause.

The four years of the slippage provision will provide increases to the town it would not ordinarily have, O’Grady said, which can “smooth” the transition.

O’Grady said his experience in Lincoln has established “a track record of accomplishment.” He said “sound management and fiscal responsibility” are lessons he learned while in Lincoln that he has taken with him to the state level.

He said while campaigning door to door, he found that “people are highly satisfied with the way Lincoln has been run. We stand out as a municipality with strong fiscal and management practice. I like to think I played a part.”

His most important accomplishment of his first term, he said, involved the ballot referendum for a Department of Transportation bond for road and bridge repair, which he said used long-term debt to fund short-term repairs that “has led to a mountain of debt.”

He was the chief sponsor of the 2011 Transportation & Debt Reduction Act, resulting in “no DOT bond question on this year’s ballot, and none projected in the future,” with each bond issue the state avoids saving approximately $60 million in future debt service.

O’Grady said he is working for the restoration of the historic tax credit system, which would rehabilitate old mill buildings, creating jobs and returning “abandoned mill projects to the tax rolls.” He said that type of investment is not speculative, as was the investment in 38 Studios.

Barr said some of his accomplishments include getting the Blackstone River Bikeway to be on a path instead of on the side of the road, as well as fighting for funding for the covered bridge in Lincoln Woods. He said he also fought for funding for the historic property renovations of Moffit Mill, and he said he fought for the state to repair Lincoln’s Berkeley and Martin Street bridges.

He said he always made sure Lincoln was able to get a percentage of the DOT sidewalk repair money.

O'Grady, Barr face off in House District 46

Casino Host hangs on at Del Mar

August 30, 2012

DEL MAR HANDICAP | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 3/8 MILES (TURF)PostHorseWinPlaceShow1Casino Host$9.60$4.20$3.407Dhaamer (IRE) $3.00$2.609Fire With Fire  $6.00Gary and Mary West’s Casino Host got first run on 6-5 favorite Dhaamer in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar Handicap, and that prompt move by jockey Joe Talamo made the crucial difference. Pouncing to the front in the stretch, the 7-2 chance withstood Dhaamer’s furious late rally by a neck and returned $9.60, $4.20 and $3.40.

Casino Host, whose previous stakes victory came in the Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds on April 1, had only recently shifted tack to the Southern California circuit. Formerly based with Chad Brown, the Dynaformer colt was transferred to Ron Ellis and made his debut for the barn in the Grade 1 Eddie Read on July 21. Connections described it at the time as a stepping stone to the Del Mar ‘Cap, and his strongly-closing third was a hint that better was in store here.

“Gary West lives down here in Rancho Santa Fe,” Ellis said, “and they sent him out and mapped out these two races at Del Mar. I’m very glad it worked out.”

Enjoying a ground-saving trip much of the way, Casino Host was settled about midpack in fifth as Worth Repeating got away with slow fractions of :25 1/5, :50, 1:15 3/5 and 1:39 3/5 on the firm turf. Fire with Fire tracked in second, but Interaction and Dhaamer raced in the latter part of the field.

Talamo asked Casino Host to work his way into a better spot on the final turn, and he responded. Angling out for a clear path and striding well within himself, he was poised to strike in earnest. Dhaamer, on the other hand, was still biding his time, and had to come around rivals in the stretch.

By that point, Casino Host was already bearing down on Fire with Fire, who had taken over from the weakening Worth Repeating. Casino Host mowed him down in turn and braced for the inevitable challenge of Dhaamer. The favorite was now rallying mightily, but Casino Host was not wilting. Although Dhaamer was getting to him late, Casino Host was always finding enough to complete 1 3/8 miles in 2:14 3/5.

“Ron [Ellis] told me to ride him with confidence and to try to save all the ground I could,” Talamo said. “I had a perfect trip. It all unfolded just like I hoped. We got out right and he was running. Good thing, too. Garrett’s horse [Garrett Gomez on Dhaamer] was really running at the end. We had to work hard to hold him off.”

“He’s just riding very well right now,” Ellis said of Talamo. “He’s just a damn good rider at a very young age.

“We planned on laying a little closer today,” the trainer added. “I took him back too far purposely last time [in the Eddie Read] because he had been shipping all around and wasn’t at full strength. We got him a race over the course and it set him up real well.

“It got a little close there at the end, but he was game and battled when they came to him,” Ellis summed up. “It’s nice to know he can go that far going on to the Breeders’ Cup [Turf at 1 1/2 miles].”

Garrett Gomez was ruing his trip aboard Dhaamer.

“I just was stuck all the way around,” Gomez said. “I tried to move up, and they all moved up, and I’m five wide. I try to take back and save ground, and they slow it down. I just couldn’t get a spot with him. Lost way too much ground. He was running at the end, but we ran out of race.”

Fire with Fire checked in another length back in third. Worth Repeating held fourth, followed by Interaction, Hog’s Hollow, Dynamic Host and Brushburn. Temple’s Door was scratched.

Interaction, who had beaten Casino Host last time as the Eddie Read runner-up, ran well below that form Saturday.

“I just don’t know [what happened],” jockey Brice Blanc said of Interaction. “I don’t know what to say. I think he’s a better horse than all of them, but he just didn’t show it today.”

Casino Host’s second stakes coup advanced his record to 15-4-3-2, $575,175. A solid third in last summer’s Grade 2 Virginia Derby, the dark bay ran well without managing to hit the board in three subsequent Grade 1 attempts — a fifth in the Secretariat Stakes and a pair of sixths in the Jamaica and Hollywood Derby. He made a winning four-year-old debut in a February 4 allowance at Gulfstream Park, and next time out, broke through in the Muniz. Casino Host was a rallying fourth in the Grade 2 Dixie on May 19, but couldn’t recover from a rough start when seventh in the June 16 Colonial Turf Cup, his final outing for Brown.

Ellis is plotting a course to the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“We’ll probably have one more race in between,” the trainer said, with the Grade 2 John Henry [formerly the Clement L. Hirsch] Turf Championship at Santa Anita September 30 the logical spot.

Bred by Colts Neck Stables in Kentucky, Casino Host was sold for $290,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. His dam, the stakes-placed Seeking the Gold mare Ensenada, is a full sister to Grade 2 heroine Sahara Gold, who has produced Grade 3 victor Sahara Heat as well as this season’s Grade 2 Sands Point winner Better Lucky.

Casino Host’s second dam is Desert Stormer, who upset males in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. This is also the family of unbeaten Group 1 queen White Moonstone and Canadian champion Sound Reason.

Casino Host hangs on at Del Mar, GA News Weather & Sports 30th Annual Country’s Midnight Express is set for Aug. 28

August 29, 2012

Press Release COLUMBUS, GA – More than 2,000 runners are expected to hit the streets at midnight on Saturday, Aug. 28 for the 30th Annual Country's Midnight Express. In the hours leading up to the 5K run, the massive outdoor event at Country's on Mercury Drive will feature music, a poker run, a car show, cheerleaders and a stationary cycling fundraiser.But perhaps the most exciting part of the evening will begin around 10:30 p.m., when a simulcast from Iraq will begin with greetings from a few of the 200 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade and will continue with their own 5K run in Iraq.The largest footrace in Columbus, Country's Midnight Express is rich in tradition and has evolved into much more than just a 5K run over the years. For the past 20 years or so, proceeds from the Midnight Express have benefited the visually impaired in Columbus and the Valley region, says Country's co-owner and race organizer Scott Ressmeyer. That's why all the special events leading up to the race focus on bringing awareness to issues facing the visually impaired. While the Saturday festivities are scheduled to begin around 5 p.m., numerous events are scheduled for the entire week beginning Aug. 23:Monday, August 23 -  Dedication at the Columbus Public Library – 5:30 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony and dedication of the Country's Barbecue Recording Studio for the Visually Impaired. This new recording studio, housed in the library, will be equipped for volunteers to read and record newspapers, periodicals and books to be available for visually impaired library patrons.

Wednesday, August 25Flite for Sight Golf Scramble at Maple Ridge Golf Club – 8 a.m. Eight members of the American Blind Golf Association will challenge 16 blindfolded local golfers to an eye-opening 18-hole scramble.  This is just a small demonstration of the event's goal for next year. In fact, event organizers are working to bring an international blind golf tournament next year to Columbus.   Thursday, August 26Country's Twilight Golf at Maple Ridge Golf Club Activities begin at 5 p.m.; tee time is 6 p.m. -The last 9 holes of this scramble are played after dark with glow- in-the-dark golf balls, making for a great deal of fun.  Only 24 teams can play, and slots fill up quickly, so people interested in playing should call (706) 566-9149 to sign up. The title sponsor for both scrambles is Mercedes Benz of Columbus, and 100 percent of the sponsorship money benefits the visually impaired.Friday, August 27 – Beep Ball Game This year the event is moving to South Commons; 7 p.m. – The visually impaired Chicago Comets Beep Ball Team will take on the blindfolded Midnight Express sponsors for a fun-filled, awareness building game of this visually impaired version of baseball. This event is free to the public.

Saturday, August 28 – Country's 30th Annual Midnight Express at Country's on Mercury Drive -The fun cranks up at 5, with the local motorcycle community leaving the parking lot for the annual poker run that helps to raise money for the visually impaired. 

The event schedule includes:5 p.m. – Poker Run7 p.m. -Music featuring CSU students Garrett Miles and Heather Hammond. (Garrett is a current recipient of the Country's Midnight Express scholarship for the visually impaired.) The evening-long concert is sponsored by Columbus Regional Healthcare System.8 p.m. – Show and Shine Car Show presented by PTAPCSU CheerleadersUnited CheerleadersMusic by Big Woody and the Splinters9:30 p.m. – Bike-a-thon cycling fundraiserMusic by Classic Attic10:30 p.m. – Simulcast with the 3rd Brigade in Iraq leading up to their 5K run beginning at 11 p.m. This simulcast will be made possible by WTVM, United Rental, and Columbus Tape and Video.Midnight – Paul Vorhees of Ranger Joes and National Infantry Foundation Chairman MG (Ret.) Jerry White will start the 5k Run. Classic Addict will continue to entertain the spectators as the run continues. Once the runners cross the Aflac finish line, the Awards Ceremony will begin (around 1 a.m.)In 2009, Midnight Express raised more than $50,000 to benefit the visually impaired in Columbus and the Valley region. To date, the event has raised more than $300,000.”We started Country's Midnight Run 30 years ago as a fun event for our community to enjoy. We never dreamed that it would grow to become the largest footrace in Columbus,” says Ressmeyer. “After the first 10 years or so, we decided that we wanted to focus our event on a purpose. We chose to raise awareness and designate all the proceeds from our event to benefit the visually impaired members of our community. We wanted to be able to make a difference in their lives. With the programs we have funded and the awareness-building events we have brought to Columbus over the past 20 years, we believe that we are fulfilling our goal.”[Click here for more information on the event and how to register.]

Source: Columbus Regional, GA News Weather & Sports 30th Annual Country’s Midnight Express is set for Aug. 28

'Class Roulette' aims to mimic Bluebooking

August 29, 2012

As the Yale administration phases out the Blue Book, one student is looking to bring the spontaneity of flipping through the print course catalog into the digital realm.

Geoffrey Litt ’14 created the website Yale Class Roulette, which shows students a randomly generated set of Yale classes at the push of the space bar. His aim, he said, was to preserve the print Blue Book’s “experience of serendipitous discovery” by bringing it online. Since he announced the site’s publication on Facebook last week, has received roughly 1,500 unique visitors who have together generated over 9,000 random selections of classes.

“There’s quite a few online Bluebooking options available now, but many people (myself included) still love the paper Blue Book to death,” Litt said in a Monday email. “I think the main reason is that it’s so fun and easy to skim through the paper book and find random classes which are harder to find online.”

A Class Roulette conducted by the News brought together a diverse range of 17 classes, including “Elementary Modern Hebrew I,” “The Question of Form” and “Contemporary Reception of Greek and Roman Classics.”

The site allows students to view the courses in OCI and in the site that the University recently acquired.

'Class Roulette' aims to mimic Bluebooking

San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce holding annual Casino Night event on Friday

August 29, 2012

12th annual Casino Night — Hosted by San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce

Where: Directly behind Chili’s Grill and Bar, 555 E. Hospitality Lane, San Bernardino

When: 6-11 p.m. Friday

Cost: $50 donation gets admission for four adult players, 21 and older, (about $12.50 per person) and one entry into the $2,500 Grand Prize Raffle; everyone in attendance will receive a program packet that includes $200.00 in play money and one door prize ticket.

Information: 909-885-7515SAN BERNARDINO — All bets are on a winning night Friday at the chamber’s Casino Night.

The San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce hosts its 12th annual Casino Night Friday behind Chili’s Grill and Bar on Hospitality Lane.

“With the close of RDA, the Chamber of Commerce has aggressively taken the role of recruiting and retaining business,” said Judi Penman, chamber president/CEO and chairwoman of the event.

“We really are an advocate for business for the city,” Penman said.

Black jack, Roulette and Craps will be the draw for the Chamber’s biggest fundraiser, which also features live entertainment, food and prizes provided by local San Bernardino businesses.

The Chamber’s grand-prize raffle is $2,500.

Sponsorships are still available. A Table Sponsor, $175, includes company signage, recognition on the program, an evening of fun for 4 and one ticket for the grand-prize drawing.

Wall Banner Sponsor, $250, includes an evening of fun for 4, one ticket for the grand-prize drawing, recognition on the program and wall space for your company banner.

“Where else can you go for dinner, entertainment and lots of fun for $12.50?” Penman said.

Reach Michel via email, find her on Twitter @michelnolan, or call her at 909-386-3859.

San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce holding annual Casino Night event on Friday

Knowing When To Fold ‘Em: The Science of Poker

August 29, 2012

Last week, a federal judge in Brooklyn overturned the indictment of a Staten Island man who ran poker games in the back room of a warehouse, on the grounds that poker is a game of skill, not chance — and hence, such games cannot be prosecuted under federal laws prohibiting illegal gambling businesses.

It’s just the latest sally in the ongoing debate over poker that’s been raging for more than 150 years. And it comes on the heels of a ruling last year by the Justice Department that 1962′s Wire Act applied only to sports betting, not poker. This is kind of ironic, since the Justice Department also shut down online poker in the spring of 2011, charging the men behind the three most popular online sites with fraud and money laundering.

Clearly, the issue is far from resolved, but John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Player’s Alliance, is encouraged by the latest ruling by Judge Jack B. Weinstein. “Today’s federal court ruling is a major victory for the game of poker and the millions of Americans who enjoy playing it,” he said in a statement. (The alliance is dedicated to decriminalizing poker.)

But wait! Via @Chemjobber on Twitter, I learned of a spanking new study by German researchers concluding that winning at poker is basically all about luck. They recruited 300 poker players, half self-defined “experts” and half “average,” sat them down at tables of six, evenly divided between expert and average players, and then had them all play 60 hands of Texas Hold ‘Em. Oh, and they fixed the deals, the better to measure the effects of luck.

Their conclusion, per Neuroskeptic: “Luck, rather than skill, was key in determining final balance, with experts taking no more, on average, than novices. Experts did play differently, on various measures, and seemed better able to cope with bad luck, losing less; but they also won less when given good cards.”

So are the German researchers correct that poker should thus be classified as gambling? Not necessarily. A 2008 study concluded that poker is a skill — students who received some basic pointers performed better while playing 1000 hands of poker than those who received no training at all. Still other studies support the German conclusion. Who are we to believe?

Neuroskeptic rightly points out a major flaw in the 2012 study, namely, the classification of “expert” players was based on self-reports. I would argue further that playing a mere 60 or 1000 hands of poker is an insufficient sample size, given the statistical complexities of the game. There are 52 cards, with more than 2.5 million possible five-card combinations. Texas Hold ‘Em uses seven cards so there are around 133 million combinations. Plus, you know, fixing the deals really messes with those probabilities.

Compare this to the sample size of the expert witness cited by Judge Weinstein in his massive 120-page ruling. Randal D. Heeb is an economist and statistician (and avid poker player) who analyzed 415 million hands online of no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em and found that the skill of a player “had a statistically significant effect on the amount of money won or lost.”

The many mathematicians and physicists who are aficionados of poker would agree with Heeb. I wrote a feature for  Discover in November 2010 on poker-playing physicists, which included the Time Lord (a.k.a. Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, a.k.a. my Better Half), as well as string theorist Jeff Harvey, particle physicists Michael Binger and Marcel Vonk (both of whom have done extremely well on the professional circuit), and a former grad student of Harvey’s named Eduard Antonyan. It spawned an NPR piece for good measure. And I gathered all the material cut from the article into a massive blog post, which dealt explicitly with this question of whether poker is a game of chance or skill.

If poker is a game of chance, and hence gambling, why do physicists love it so much? Physicists hate to gamble. “I don’t like gambling at all,” Antonyan told me. “I don’t enjoy it and there’s nothing in it for me to compensate for the clear negative EV decision of gambling.”

Harvey’s not a fan, either: “Personally I don’t like to gamble on games where the house has the odds, but I’m not critical of people who do.” And while the Time Lord gamely learned craps with me while I was writing The Calculus Diaries (it was research, people!), he hasn’t been tempted to play craps since.

Binger doesn’t mind gambling, per se, but he learned the pitfalls of blackjack as an undergraduate, when he wrote a computer program to beat the game through card-counting (or, as the casinos like to call it, “cheating”) for his senior project. Then he tried to put his strategy into practice. He lost a pile of cash playing blackjack on an ill-fated trip to Reno, and was barred from six casinos in one day for card-counting in a desperate attempt to recoup his losses. “I realized I wasn’t going to get rich playing blackjack,” he recalled.

But poker was different: as he studied the game and pondered the underlying mathematics, Binger realized that poker could be a “beatable game.”

Fundamentally, poker is a game of skill and strategy, not a game of pure chance (although luck plays a role). (UPDATE: For clarification, when you play poker in a casino, you are playing against the other players — not the house. The casino takes a cut of the pot, but in essence, you are renting the table. So casinos make far less money off of poker than they do off their usual pure games of chance. They make some — that’s their business model — but if poker weren’t so enormously popular, casinos might not host the games at all.)

Vonk has always loved games, but his love for poker rests on the combination of “math skills” and “people skills,” as he put it. “Good poker requires that you make sound game-theoretic decisions but there  is still plenty of freedom to try and outsmart your opponents,” he said. “Other casino games miss that second element. All you can do in blackjack or roulette is make the best possible mathematical decisions, and even then, you will still lose in the long run. I have never been attracted to those games. It’s the fact that you play against other people that makes poker so interesting, and that makes it possible to actually be a winner at the game.”

Math skills help, but that’s not all it takes to be a poker badass. Binger said the probability and equity calculations and statistical analysis he applies give him an edge in the game. Vonk finds that his post-game analysis of how he played specific hands benefits from his mathematical skills.

But both Vonk and Binger admit that there are also plenty of other players who really don’t know much about the underlying math; they have a good feel, or instinct, for how to play the game.

“There are many people who hate math but are great poker players, but there are hardly any players who lack the people reading abilities and still manage to be good poker players,” said Vonk. “Mathematical knowledge can to a large extent be replaced by intuition and experience. After a player has played a million hands of poker, even if he does not know the math at all, he will have a decent feeling about when it is profitable to draw to a flush and when it is not.”

That said, knowing the math means you can acquire this kind of knowledge much more quickly, and those skills can give an edge in very rare situations that don’t often occur in a poker game. “To be a great player, you need both!” Vonk insisted. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson is one of the best players in the world, and definitely relies on math and game theory when he plays (his father is a UCLA mathematician, and the two men have written several papers together):

Antonyan estimated that the game of poker is “90% simple math/general strategy, and 10% understanding the dynamics of the table and/or the attitudes of one or more players towards you as they develop.” The math part rests on basic probability theory, and the probabilities of poker are a bit more complicated because there are many more possible combinations of hands — plus you’re working with incomplete information.

Vonk broke down the process to a few basic questions: What cards do I have? What range of cards do I think my opponent has? Given these, what is the probability I will win the hand after all cards have been dealt? And most important: given that probability, will I make money in the long run when I pay the bet? The best one can do, most of the time, is “make a very broad guess,” he says. Per the Time Lord (blogging way back in 2004):

“Texas Hold ‘Em is so popular because it manages to accurately hit the mark between ‘enough information to devise a consistently winning strategy’ and ‘not enough information to do much more than guess.’ The charm in such games is that there is no perfect strategy, in the sense that there is no algorithm guaranteed to win in the long run against any other algorithm. The best poker players are able to use different algorithms against different opponents as the situation warrants.”

To get a sense for how the probabilities can play out, consider the following three possible pairs of hole cards:

Sean posed this question on Cosmic Variance back in 2006: Which hand is most likely to win if you choose to stay in the pot all the way to the showdown, against other pairs of randomly chosen hole cards? The answer took a whole ‘nother blog post to delineate.

Mathematically, it depends on the number of opponents. The probability that you will win goes down as the number of opponents goes up, because there are more ways for you to be beaten. Some hands play well against very few opponents, while others play well against many opponents. It all depends on the circumstances.

Against one opponent, the sixes will win 62.8% of the time, versus 57.3% for Ace-7 and 56.2% for Jack-10 suited. Against four opponents, those odds are reversed: Jack-10 suited will win 27.3% of the time, versus 20.7% for Ace-7 and 17.9% for the pair of sixes.

Why does this happen? “Against only one randomly-chosen pair of hole cards, there is a substantial chance that the sixes won’t need to improve; likewise the ace can often come out on top just by itself, so the Ace-7 is second-best,” Sean explained. “But against four randomly-chosen pairs of hole cards, chances are excellent that someone will improve, and Jack-10 suited has the best chance.”

The probabilistic outcomes change again if we pit these three hands against each other, two at a time. In that case, sixes are slightly more likely to beat Ace-7, and Ace-7 is likely to beat Jack-10 suited, but Jack-10 suited is likely to beat a pair of sixes.

The sixes are the best starting hand all by themselves. For one of the latter two to win, favorable community cards must appear on the flop, turn, or river. The only way for the Ace-7 to beat paired sixes is for either an ace or a seven to turn up — or, less likely, for just the right combination of four cards to land on the board to make a straight or flush.

Pit those same sixes against Jack-10 suited, and the situation is reversed. In that scenario, there are more ways for Jack-10 suited to improve. The cards are “connectors,” so there are more possible cards that would give low straights (7-8-9) and high straights (Q-K-A), plus the hole cards are suited, making it much easier to make a flush.

So Jack-10 suited will usually beat a pair of sixes. But it won’t usually beat Ace-7 if the ace is of the same suit. For instance, if four more suited cards come up, the Jack-10 suited will have a flush, but the Ace-7 will have a higher flush, and will win the hand.

See? Poker is a very complicated game, even more so once you add in player behavior during the various rounds of betting. If determining the edge and the odds were all it took to succeed at poker, probability theory would suffice, and one could fairly deem it gambling. If it were a purely logical game like chess, it would merely require impressive feats of calculation to determine the winning series of moves.

But poker is a game of limited information, where players must deduce what cards their opponents are likely to have based on their knowledge of the odds and clues from other players’ behavior. There may not be a single answer. As Harvey put it in the Discover article: “Chess is like classical mechanics. Poker is like quantum mechanics. In chess, there is only one right move. In poker, there is a probability distribution of right moves.”

Harvey admitted that one of his classic errors is “calling when I think I am beat for other reasons (betting patterns, tells),” but he calls anyway because “the math says I should. At times like that, I need to pay less attention to the math.”

Human beings aren’t always predictably rational, particularly when it comes to poker: if you assume your opponent is skilled and rational, and he isn’t, your strategy could backfire and fall victim to “beginner’s luck.”

I found this enlightening analysis over at, outlining the different between an optimal strategy and an exploitive strategy (Ferguson’s favorite) in No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. (Note the very specific circumstances described throughout: change even one element and it might call for a different strategy.)

“Let’s say you’re playing no-limit hold ‘em against a calling station who never folds pre-flop no matter what the bet is, but will sometimes fold after the flop if he misses completely. He just insists on seeing the flop. Now say you’re dealt two aces and you each have a few thousand blinds in front of you. The optimal strategy is probably to make a small raise, both building a pot and disguising your hand. But with this player in the game, a much better play is to move all in, knowing he’ll call you.”

“To take maximum advantage of this terrible opponent, you need to employ an exploitive strategy. The optimal strategy would still win you money but against bad players, other strategies might win you more money. … An optimal strategy is designed to protect you against opponents who play well. But when we can find ways to do better than optimal strategy against certain players, we do it.”

The article also mentions mathematical/computational giant John von Neumann, who with Oskar Morgenstern (an economist) wrote the definitive treatise on game theory and poker in 1944: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. It offered an intriguing insight into the art of the bluff: you should always bluff with your worst hand, not a mediocre “bubble” hand.

If betting is slow, it might be worth calling, or “limping” into the game, with a mediocre hand, because your chances of winning are pretty good against other mediocre hands (assuming someone isn’t “slow-playing” pocket aces). A bad hand won’t win unless everyone else folds, so an aggressive raise is the best strategy.

Indeed, there are rare cases where game theory dictates you should fold pocket aces before the flop when playing a tournament. In non-tournament play, the goal is not just to win the hand but to make the most money. In a tournament, you want to outlast your opponents to win it all. That might entail intentionally opting not to maximize your monetary gains on one specific hand to remain competitive in the tournament. You sacrifice short-term gain to achieve the long-term goal.

It doesn’t pay to be too consistent, either. I once played poker with a group that included Harvey. I consistently bet when I had a strong hand, checked when I had a “bubble” hand, and folded when I had a bad hand. So when I scored with pocket aces and nothing but rags (low cards of varying suits) after the flop, I pushed all-in, going heads-up with Harvey.

He had pocket Queens, a strong hand — unless one’s opponent holds pocket aces. It’s hard to fold pocket Queens but that’s just what Harvey did. He correctly analyzed his chances, based on my all-too-predictable style of play. I won the hand, but didn’t win much money because Harvey folded before he’d committed many chips to the pot.

The optimal strategy can also depend on what type of poker is being played: your strategies will be different for No-Limit Texas Hold-Em, for a No-Limit tournament, a Limit Texas Hold ‘Em “ring game,” and different again for online poker. “The only people playing online are serious,” said Harvey. “They also use software to keep track of their opponents’ statistics, which is consistent with the rules of the site, even if it seems a bit like cheating.”

Here’s the difference: in a live game, you have to remember/keep track of opponents’ style of play yourself, i..e, when they raise and in what position. The online software can analyze thousands of hands being played at the same time, and that larger sample space makes for a more accurate statistical analysis.

“It’s much more about modeling, statistical analysis and game theory at that level,” said Harvey. “I’d have to spend as much time learning and playing poker as I do on physics.” And to date, he’s been unwilling to do that, unlike Binger, who left physics after scoring big in the 2006 World Series of Poker. He won $4 million with his third place finish, and more than $2 million since.  (You can follow his exploits on Twitter: @mwbinger.)

The mathematicians have had a good run when it comes to analyzing poker, but the Time Lord is (rather cheekily) on record predicting that physicists will prove to be the better poker players in the future. His reasoning? No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em is such a complex system that “we cannot derive a dominant strategy in a closed form.”

“Game theorists and mathematicians study simplified systems about which they can actually prove theorems,” he explained. This is a decent strategy for two players going heads-up, but for a full table, pre-flop, “it becomes a question of which approximations to make and which models to choose for your opponents.” Physicists, let’s face it, are often pretty adept at choosing the best models.

He also had a corollary: “Phenomenologists and astrophysicists will be better poker players than string theorists.” Take that, Jeff Harvey!

There’s a saying that Texas Hold ‘Em consists of long stretches of boredom punctuated by three minutes of sheer terror. Poker never lacks for suspense: you can play a hand flawlessly from a probabilistic standpoint, but there is still the possibility you’ll lose; statistical anomalies do happen. In poker, they’re known as “bad beats.” Even with pocket aces and a flop of 9-9-2, your chance of winning a heads-up showdown against pocket queens is only 92%. Harvey once faced just that scenario – and a third queen appeared as the very last card. His opponent “sucked out on the river.”

Temperament matters too. Poker requires nerves of steel, and an emotional equilibrium that Harvey, for one, admitted he does not possess. “You need to be unflappable. Bad luck can’t bother you. It’s too easy to get ‘tilted,’ and start playing looser, more erratic, or too passive.” More often than not, he said, “My emotions get the better of me.”

How can you possibly take into account all those confounding factors in a small study involving 300 players and 60 hands of poker, where the deal is fixed? Quite frankly, you can’t. As Dedonno and Detterman concluded in their 2008 paper, “The reason that poker appears to be a game of luck is that the reliability of any short session is low…. [O]btaining accurate estimates of poker ability may not be easy. Luck (random factors) disguises the fact that poker is a game of skill. However…. skill is the determining factor in long-term outcome.”

Having a good poker face won’t hurt your chances either.

Adapted from an October 2010 blog post from the archived Cocktail Party Physics blog.


Dedonno, M.A. and Detterman, D.K. (2008) “Poker Is a Skill,” Gaming Law Review 12(1).

Ferguson, Thomas, and Ferguson, Chris. (2003) “On the Borel and von Neumann Poker Models,” Game Theory and Applications 9 (2003), 17-32.

Ferguson, Thomas, and Ferguson, Chris. (2007) “The Endgame in Poker,” Optimal Play – Mathematical Studies of Games and Gambling, 79-106. Stewart Ethier and William R. Eadington, eds. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming.

Ferguson, Thomas, Ferguson, Chris, and Garwargy, Cephas. (2007) “U(0,1) Two-Person Poker Models,” Game Theory and Applications 12, 17-37.

Fiedler, Ingo C. and Rock, Jan-Philipp. (2009) “Quantifying Skill in Games—Theory and Empirical Evidence for Poker,” Gaming Law Review and Economics 13(1): 50-57.

Meyer, G., von Meduna, M., Brosowski, T., and Hayer, T. (2012) “Is Poker a Game of Skill or Chance? A Quasi-Experimental Study,” Journal of Gambling Studies, Online First, August 15, 2012.

von Neumann, John and Morgenstern, Oskar. Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1944.

Knowing When To Fold ‘Em: The Science of Poker

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