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Community Q&A – Doug Hull

After 15 years of working at MathWorks and a successful blog on MATLAB Central, Doug Hull “retired” to Las Vegas so he could combine his mathematical knowledge with his love of poker.  

Thanks for agreeing to this interview.  What did you do at MathWorks during your 15 year career?

I started in Applications Engineering, that is the technical arm of the Sales Team. Mostly we provided technical proof for the sales process and gave seminars and workshops on the product. There were only eight of us for all the products when I started in 2001. I demoed essentially every product we made at the time.

Eventually I moved into Advanced Support where we handled the toughest of technical support cases.

What I am mostly known for though is the stuff that I made into my job over the years. I started the first MATLAB blog and then I started making a lot of MATLAB training videos for that blog. I also ended up teaching about 40 hours of MATLAB, presentations skills and such to our new-hire engineers every month.

What was your role in the MATLAB Central Community?

I mostly did whatever Ned Gulley convinced me to do with his mind control magic (like starting the blog). Usually he convinced me it was my idea too. LOL

That included generally modeling good behaviors on MATLAB Central, making user-contributed content for the various sub-sites. I often helped design the MATLAB programming contest. The Video blog was my most visible contribution.

Is there anything you contributed to the Community that you think still has value today?

The videos. Everything I did was essentially in core MATLAB. Not much of it is any different today than when I made it. I still program in MATLAB and find it hilarious that I Google up my own videos to remind myself how to do certain things. Often I don’t remember making the videos, but I can see how useful they are!

Stuart McGarrity has taken over the Video Blog. Do you ever check in or continue to use MATLAB Central?

I never looked back.

I look for my old videos now and then or look for support like any other user. I have not been involved in the MATLAB Community except when you all reach out like this or for the MATLAB Cody anniversary. I did stumble upon a MATLAB Answers question a few years ago when I was trying to find something and answered it.  

Mostly Doug rode into to sunset never to be seen again.

Why did you decide to leave MathWorks?

It was time to retire/career change (age 41). If MathWorks opened a branch office in Las Vegas, I would be the first one to apply. I needed to be able to dedicate my time to poker research from Las Vegas.

Now, I mostly write poker books, make poker videos, and coach poker. It is the same core skills that I made my career on at MathWorks, only the topic is poker instead of MATLAB. I also relieve people of the their poker money on the Las Vegas strip on a regular basis.

What are some poker books you have written?

Poker Plays You Can Use, Poker Plays You Can Use Volume 2, and Poker Work Book for Math Geeks are my three big ones.  

Do any of the books involve MATLAB?

All of them do, at least behind the scenes. My math book had a lot of images that I made via MATLAB script. The hand review books all have at least one hand where I geek out in data visualization in MATLAB.

Tell me about Red Chip Poker, what is your role?

I am co-founder of this poker video training site. I make a decent amount of content for the site, from articles, quizzes and of course my monthly videos. These are the supplemental videos to my newest book Poker Plays You Can Use Volume 2. The first video shows footage of my playing in a broadcast game out of California.  The second one is more technical and uses my MATLAB-based Flop Falcon software to analyze a poker situation. Very mathy and geeky stuff.

What is your MATLAB based Flop Falcon software?

Poker is a big math problem at its core. There were some key data visualizations that were not being made in existing software, so I filled that gap. I see there are some brilliant pieces of poker software out there. Most of them suffer from the same flaws that my MATLAB customers did. They could do the math, but then the usability of the program was horrible and the output of the results was confusing. My time at MathWorks taught me a lot about software usability and data visualization.

Often the math behind poker is simple, but tedious and needs to be done for thousands of scenarios. Making it easy for people to use, and then understand with good visualizations is what I bring. I have many more software ideas percolating for other new poker programs.

What is the most you have won gambling in Vegas?

In one night? About $7,500 in a $250 entry tournament.

To be clear, there is a bright line separating “poker” from “gambling” (against The House). Poker is the only game of skill in the casino, The House is more of an impartial referee. 95% of the people playing the game have never made even a cursory study of the math fundamentals of the game. They are simply outmatched. They can and do get lucky for a night or a week, but overall they employ strategies that will lose over time.

I mostly play no-limit hold’em cash games. That means you just buy-into the game for about $300 to $1000 and leave with your money whenever you like. You do not tend to make a whole lot in one night. Doubling or tripling up your buy-in is a very solid win. You do not measure poker success from a single hand, session, or week. You measure it by the year or more.

Do you have a preferred Casino?

I play mostly at Mirage, though I sneak over to Orleans also. It is funny, I used to drive 2.5 hours to a casino when working at MathWorks. Now, the added 10 minutes to go to Aria or Caesars Palace seems like too much. I am well known at most of the card rooms in town, it is a small community of locals.

Have you ever been on TV at the World Series of Poker or any of those other poker television shows?

I usually see myself in the background of one or two shots of the World Series of Poker television coverage.  The WSOP is a series of tournaments. I play in some of the smaller non-televised events but mostly I play in the cash games and those don’t get televised. I was a regular commentator on Live At The Bike, a streaming poker game.

I found this 6 minute video of you playing a hand of poker, Live at the Bike 

I was very surprised the other player in the video called

I talked with him after. He knew who I was, read my books. He swore before the show that he “was never folding to me” no matter the cost… My reputation precedes me.

Can you think of a situation when MATLAB was used during a hand of poker?

Not during, lol. I will proof out concepts and then bring those to the tables. Flop Falcon was created to answer the question “If I play a speculative hand that rarely hits, but when it does is very strong, how often will my opponent simultaneously hit something strong enough that he will lose a lot of money to my rare hit?”

My software gave me a pretty precise answer to this question for a variety of tempting hands.

What do you like most about Las Vegas?

Mostly I am on a 20 year working vacation until my 401K kicks in (thanks for all those matching contributions MathWorks!) I can look out my kitchen window and see a casino. I can jump on my motorcycle and be seated at a table at the Mirage in 15 minutes.

The cost of living here is ridiculously low, especially compared to Boston. My yearly mortgage here is less than just the taxes on my old place in Boston.

What do you like least about Las Vegas?

The heat in the summer, especially on motorcycle can be oppressive. Thankfully that is just a couple of months in the summer and then the rest of the year is awesome weather.

What is your top recommendation for people visiting Las Vegas?  

Drink a lot of water. It is a desert. Drink twice as much as you think you should to start, then add more later.

Do not play poker your first night, you are jet lagged and will lose. I take that back, as a well-rested local, I invite you to Table 11 at the Mirage. I got a seat for you.


Thanks to Doug Hull for participating in this interview and for being a good sport with letting me include a video of him losing a hand of poker.  

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