World Series Poker Theorist

By JoAnne Hewett | August 10, 2006 1:45 am

We’ve finished with the World Cup and the big bike race across France. We’re in anticipation for the Fall season of baseball with the playoffs and world series. But, in between, is a lessor known sporting event – the World Series of Poker. The final game will be played Thursday 10 August, and one of the 9 finalists in that game is a genuine particle theorist! It’s Michael Binger who was a graduate student here at SLAC, studying under Stan Brodsky, and defended his thesis just a couple months ago. I was on his committe and can say that he did a fine job. And on Thursday he is playing at the final table at the World Series of Poker. He is coming into the final table ranked 8 out of 9 (apparently 9 people sit at the final table) with a pile of chips worth over $3 million.

This is the World Series of Poker, No-Limit Texas Hold-em Championship. Within poker circles, this is the big event. About 8700 people entered the contest, buying in with $10,000 of tournament chips, each. These 8700 card-playing studs battled it out several weeks until 9 super-players were left. Those 9 will battle it out for the championship on Thursday. And a particle theorist – from Stanford – has amassed over $3 million in chips and thus cracked the top poker playing circle. Eat your heart out Sean!

Michael Binger worked on physical renormalization schemes with applications to grand unification and split supersymmetry here at SLAC under the guidance of Stan Brodsky. Essentially, they have a unique method of describing the running of the strong coupling constant (i.e., how it changes with the energy scale it is being measured at) and found a number of qualitative differences and improvements in precision over conventional approaches when applied to calculations within grand unification theories. It’s interesting work and I’m glad somebody took a look at it.

It seems that Michael is somewhat of a novelty in the poker circles due to his physics PhD. He’s been interviewed and quoted as saying:

Michael Binger hopes to continue doing research in physics without having to run the rat-race of getting a job and impressing all the right people as he puts it. A win here at the World Series of Poker Main Event would definitely give him the freedom to do pretty much anything he wants.

I’ve never followed the world series of poker before, but now I’m rooting for a rising star and a genuinely nice person. GO, BINGER GO!!!

Update: Michael Binger finished in third place! His winnings totalled $4.123 million. He was eliminated in hand #229 at 3 AM PDT, after more than 12 hours of play. He had an Ace-10 suited pair in his hand and with a hand like that he understandably bet the store. For more details on the hand, please see Sean’s comment below (#20). All of us here at SLAC give him our heartiest congratulations!! Rumor has it he will be stopping by on Monday!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Entertainment, Sports
  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/ John Baez

    Is that a picture of Michael Binger? He doesn’t look nice. But maybe that’s just his poker face.

  • Cynthia

    I’m not surprised. After all, Bond King Bill Gross began his lofty career as a card counter in Las Vegas. Perhaps success is all about playing your cards right.;)

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/music-of-spheres.html Plato

    I wonder if Binger started off with “solitary” first?

    You know “predictability” on the outlay of cards?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Consider my heart eaten out! Go Michael! I’ll try to be there next year.

  • Lee Sawyer

    Hey, he’s not the only particle physicist there. Josh Kalk, a grad student on the D0 experiment (and my postdoc’s husband) was also invited to the world series and sponsored by one of the online sites. Experimentalists can calculate probabilities too!

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/08/game-of-life.html Plato

    Maybe, poker has really become the “game of life” for some?

    if experimenters have free will, then so do elementary particles.-John Horton Conway

  • Ben L

    Go Binger!

    He was my office mate in grad. school, and taught me a bit about poker. Needless to say, I’m now wishing I remembered more of what he said.

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  • spyder

    In addition to making the final table of the Main Event, Binger made the final table of a $1,500 buy-in event earlier in the tournament and won $100,000.

    Unfortunately he is playing against Allen Cunningham, who is regarded as one of the very finest tournament players in the world. And Allen has five times the number of chips that Michael has; though Allen is $8 million short of the table’s big pile leader. The good news is that even if Binger plays all in (and current at current level 32 the blinds and antes add up to more than half a million per hand) and loses, dropping out in ninth place, he would still take home $1.5 million on a $10,000 dollar investment buy-in. Top purse is a bit over $12 million, with the prize distribution split down to the 9th place’s $1.5m. A couple of early good hands and Michael could walk out with three to five million. How long would that take to earn in a physics department????

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    John Baez, I thought he was just looking very, very serious. I would look serious too, if I had that much in chips sitting in front of me!

    Lee Sawyer, hmmmm – maybe this is turning into a viable career option for particle physicists! But I can’t help but point out that Michael, as a theorist, is the only particle physicist in the final game with multi-millions of dollars worth of chips!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    How long would that take to earn in a physics department????

    Syder, that’s much too depressing a calculation to perform!

  • Hunter

    It is all here today in Las Vegas.

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  • Elliot

    as of latest update, final table down to 6 with Binger in 6th place.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    This is nuts – I’ve been checking this poker website (that I didn’t even know existed yesterday) every 5 minutes all afternoon/evening! As of 8 PM PDT, 3 of the final players have folded, 6 are remaining, and Binger is in 5th place with $4.3 M.

  • Carl Brannen

    Historically, physics was advanced by people who had the spare time on their hands, but becoming independently wealthy is not going to be an easy way to make a career in particle physics nowadays. The physics community generally looks down on amateurs and this is not something that is changing for the better.

    If you think that you have a tough time getting people to take you seriously as, for example, a female physicist, you should try it as an amateur. For example, arXiv did not even allow contributions except from .edu websites until recently, and they replaced that simple system with a more complicated one with the additional objective of getting rid of contributions by graduate students.

    Carl

  • Elliot

    As of 1:40 PDT, Binger is in 3rd place and can finish no worse than 4th.

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  • graviton383

    Binger ends up in 3rd place winning $4.123M! Cool!!!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    You need both luck and skill to win these things. On hand number 229 (!) of the final table, with three players left, Binger raised to $1.5 million (!) with A-10 suited and was called by both of the other players. The flop came 10-6-5. Binger, with top pair and top kicker, bet $3.5 million, but eventual winner Jamie Gold moved all-in. Binger called — which he had to do in that situation, with so many chips committed and such a good hand — and Gold turned over 4-3 for a straight draw. Gold was an underdog at that point (about a 1 in 3 chance of winning), but he could afford to make the play because he had so many more chips (otherwise he wouldn’t have been in the hand with 4-3 offsuit in the first place). But the turn was a 7, giving Gold the straight. It happens.

    Congratulations!

  • Elliot

    Seems like earlier in the night the “luck” was flowing his way however. Third place is pretty impressive.

  • Helen

    It is his poker face. Michael has a very gentle soul, and treats everybody with the same respect, regardless of your IQ. Congratulations Michael, and enjoy!!!

  • Ben L

    Here’s an interview with Binger after he went out in 3rd.

    Way to go Binger!!

    And, as Helen said, that was definitely his game face, he’s a great guy in person. In the video they talk about how he had the best poker face at the table.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/08/at-what-point-does-universe-make.html Plato

    Wall St. next, one might wager? :)

  • Adam

    I think Binger started off with blackjack. I took a statmech class with him in spring ’02 and he was telling me then that he was going to take some time off gradschool to play blackjack (He can count cards!).

  • Vasilis

    Well, for scientists in World Series of Poker, I see your particle physicist and I raise you a computer science PhD who won the World Series.

    The prize at WSOP has gone up a heck of a lot since 2000 though. Good going Binger!

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