Sunday, August 28, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 12 -- Exponentially-Growing Happiness

Most of these tournaments we cover tend to run together, with most ultimately not standing out too starkly in the memory even just a few weeks on, let alone years later. Somehow I think tonight’s finish to the European Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event will ensure this one will stick in the memory a little more successfully.

They pretty much raced down to heads-up in the sucker, leaving just two players from the 1,785 who entered -- Uri Reichenstein (originally of Israel, now Germany) and Sebastian Malec (of Poland). Reichenstein is in his late 20s, has a ton of big online wins, and fits the mold of the very solid, smart young player. Malec, meanwhile, is just 21, and qualified for the €5,300 buy-in Main via a €27 satellite online.

Malec is also clearly an intelligent player, and in fact it wasn’t that surprising to see these two emerge from the final group to make it to heads-up. Malec didn’t necessarily stand out all that much prior to it getting down to two, but afterwards he did. I mean that literally, too, as in he was standing for a lot of the time while playing, particularly after he made an incorrect hero call of a big river shove by Reichenstein to give the latter the chip lead.

His nervous energy made watching and reporting on him a little stressful, I have to admit. He chattered nonstop, mostly to himself and occasionally to Reichenstein. He’d rock back and forth on his feet while standing and added tons of extra movements to every action. Meanwhile Reichenstein couldn’t have been more stoic and serene, and when Malec occasionally did engage him in conversation, he was very cool and classy with his responses (I thought), making him a likable character in the developing drama.

I found myself liking Malec a lot, too, though, despite all of the talking and near-mania of his behavior. When heads-up first began, he said something to Reichenstein about the “glory” of winning an EPT title, asking him whether he wanted heads-up to be short or last a long time. They were very deep to begin, with Reichenstein on about 100 big blinds and Malec on 70 or 80, so a long duel was a possibility.

Reichenstein said he didn’t care much one way or the other about the length of their match, he just wanted to win. But Malec was firmly on the side of wanting it to go on for a while. He referred to how special it was to get to that point and how he wanted it to last as long as possible.

Then, much later in the match, Malec uttered a line amid the chatter that really stood out -- so much so that my colleague Howard quoted it in his recap of the night:

“My happiness grows exponentially the longer we play,” he said.

You don’t hear that kind of stuff at the poker table very much. Heck, you don’t hear it much anywhere at all, with reference to any profession or recreation or activity in which we engage.

But if you think about it, there are certain things in our lives (hopefully) that do give us happiness, and for which the longer we experience them the happier we grow. I’m mostly thinking of friendships and our relationships with those we love, but there are other things we do that we really like to do, and which keep giving back to us over and over in greater degrees.

One of the things I like to do is to watch other people be happy. And so when Malec won and his joy was such that he couldn’t avoid letting the tears flow, it was hard not to enjoy that. A lot.

Check Howard’s recap for more on what happened, and you can also read the account of the last hand in the live updates. Really, though, you ought to watch the last half-hour or hour of the EPT Live broadcast to get a better idea of what a spectacle it all was. I’m thinking I probably will be doing that myself again once I’m home.

Flying tomorrow. Was a great time and ended on a genuine high, and getting to experience it with friends made it even better. Talk again from the other side of the Atlantic when I’m back on the farm.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 11 -- Learning Games

Was a nice morning and early afternoon today, as I had a chance to visit the pool for a short while and also to go for a longish walk along the coastline to see all of the beachgoers. Saw a bunch of dudes gathered around a table playing some sort of dice game at one point (and snapped the pic at left).

When I tweeted the photo earlier today, Remko Rinkema shot back that “Looks like they have a lot of skin in the game,” reminding me of one of my other favorite Remko quotes: “Imagine how much funnier I am in Dutch.”

They had a cup they used to shake up the dice, and one had drawn lines on a sheet of paper for tallying the score. Anyone know what game they might be playing? (Click the picture to embiggen.)

Speaking of not understanding games fully, I had a couple of funny things happen in short succession while helping cover Day 2 of the €10K High Roller at European Poker Tour Barcelona, both suggesting something similar -- and perhaps not so obvious when looking at these tournaments from the outside.

In order to get to the High Roller tables in the back right of the spacious tournament room one had to pass through a few dozen other tables in the front, and early on there was a pot-limit Omaha hi-lo tournament happening. It was a smallish side event with a 72-player cap and a €550 buy-in.

As I was passing through, that tournament was going on break and I noticed lingering at one of the tables two seated players, two more standing up, and the dealer engaged in an animated conversation while pointing to a set of community cards on the board. From the looks of things, one of the players had just lost the hand, but had questioned the result afterwards.

“You use three of these and two of these,” another player was saying, pointing first to the board cards then to the player’s hole cards. The player was nodding, and before I got out of earshot I heard him express his appreciation.

A little later I was back on the other side of the room with the High Roller, and noticed a couple of people near the edge of the playing area but didn’t pay them too much mind. Then someone came up behind me and after greeting me in Spanish had a question for me.

“What is the short stack?” he asked. Thinking initially he was one of the group I had seen observing the tournament, I asked him what he meant. Was he asking who was the shortest stack in the room at that moment with about 150 players left or what size stack at that point in the tournament qualified as “short”?

He clarified that he was asking the latter. The blinds were 2,000/4,000, and I’d just reported a couple of hands in which players with 10-12 big blinds had shoved all in. “About 40 or 50 thousand,” I said. “That’s when people are going all in,” I added, using my hands to mimic the gesture of pushing chips forward.

He nodded. “Good,” he said. “I have to wait.”

I watched him then proceed back over to the edge of the tournament area and take a seat behind a stack of about 110,000.

It wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on. They were about 30 eliminations off the money, and he was trying to gauge whether or not he could fold his way into the money. Indeed, over the next hour-plus he mostly did just that, but alas went out a few spots shy of the bubble bursting.

It had been amusing to see the player in the Omaha hi-lo event being confused about the rules. It was more surprising to encounter the one in the €10,300 high roller inquiring about short-stack strategy as the bubble approached.

All of it reminded me that the stakes for which players are playing don’t automatically suggest anything in particular about their skill level or experience. These were exceptions, of course, but I don’t think it’s that uncommon to find players in low buy-in non-hold’em events who aren’t completely clear about the games they’re playing. And when you have a €10K NLHE tourney with nearly 600 entries, there are probably going to be more than few less experienced folks among the field.

One more day of poker to go here in Barcelona, with the €10K playing down from 36 players to a winner and the Main Event final table also playing out. Check that PokerStars blog all day and night on Sunday to find out how things turn out.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 10 -- Popeye & Paella

Had a short one today, working only up to the dinner break of Day 4 of the EPT Barcelona Main Event and skipping out on the last 90-minute level as I’m due to work what will likely be a late one tomorrow. Gonna be over on the €10K High Roller, and with 550-plus entries on today’s first day (with late registration open until the start of Day 2) it’s going to be an unavoidably long day.

The most interesting hand of the day I watched was between the young Belgian Anthony Chimkovitch and a Polish player named Norbert Berent. Wrote it up on the PokerStars blog with the generic-sounding title “Big-chip battle between Berent and Chimkovitch” -- click here and scroll to 5:15 p.m. if curious.

To summarize here, Chimkovitch called a raise from the blinds, check-raised the flop, barreled the turn, then bet big on the river only to see Berent raise all-in. With three spades and a pair on the board, Chimkovitch ditched his hand pretty quickly, and Berent showed his ace-high for a bluff.

In the post I began by describing Chimkovitch’s t-shirt which had a picture of Popeye, and with Berent in the role of Bluto I had Chimkovitch’s strength-representing bets expressing the sailor’s “I am what I am” ethos. Ultimately, though, Chimkovitch needed some spinach because he wasn’t strong to the finich. I liked his play on the hand, though, and his demeanor at the tables as well, and so wouldn’t mind seeing him take his run deeper if he can.

After finishing had a chance to enjoy a “real meal” somewhere other than the casino or hotel, hitting one of the places along the beach called Moncho’s. I actually remembered eating there a year ago (and not enjoying it very much), but this time was much better. My colleague Stephen and I shared a lobster paella dish, and our buddy Brad took a picture of us just before digging in. It wasn’t spectacular, but quite good and satisfying, with the on-the-way-back ice cream from Farggi rounding out a pleasant evening meal.

On the way back we watched a little beach volleyball. Check out these dudes -- no hands!

Like I say, it’s going to be a long one tomorrow. Check that PokerStars blog for updates of both the Main and the High Roller.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 9 -- Friberg Reflects

Day 3 of the European Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event went smoothly enough, ending at a decent hour. They’ve now played down from a starting field of 1,785 players to just 98. Starts to get a little more interesting from this point onward.

One of the players making it through to tomorrow is Erik Friberg of Sweden. Those with longer poker memories will remember him from the 2006 Main Event final table where he finished eighth. That was the biggest WSOP Main ever, won by Jamie Gold.

Was kind of intriguing today hearing Friberg talk to a tablemate (Felipe Oliveira) about the experience of making that WSOP Main Event final table just over 10 years ago. Oliveira asked him if he enjoyed it, and Friberg immediately responded “no.” He then explained how he’d made a couple of mistakes, he felt, partly because of the pressure of the situation and not being able to be as mentally strong as he would’ve liked.

Most interesting (I thought) was hearing Friberg say he wished there had been some kind of delay before the final table such as has been introduced and made the norm with the November Nine (in place since 2008). Even just a week, he said, would’ve helped him get his wits together and perhaps helped him to have performed better.

Of course, we can all argue how being able to handle those pressures and the stress of many consecutive days of poker is “part of the game,” so to speak. That’s what those making the final table of this event will have to handle, all of whom will be playing their sixth day of poker in either six or seven days.

Meanwhile I’m on nine straight days here, and as I’m tired I’m gonna cut it short. Talk again mañana.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 8 -- Double Bubble

Today at the European Poker Tour’s Barcelona stop was highlighted by Day 2 of the Main Event reaching the bubble near the end of Day 2 (faster than typical thanks to the new payout schedule in which 20% of the field cashes) and the always fun media event.

I happened to be there for the bubble hand today in the EPT Main. I was also there for the one in the media event as, alas, I was the one going out one spot shy of the cash.

In the Main Event there were 360 players left, meaning exactly 45 eight-handed tables had gone to hand-for-hand play as the top 359 made the money. There were several of us on hand to try to catch the bubble hand, although to be honest it usually isn’t that hard to witness at least the end of such a hand given how the usual procedure is to stop the tournament, get the EPT Live cameras over and ready, then deal out the hand and/or have a showdown. By then there are many reporters from multiple outlets there, too, again making it easier to get details if needed.

I was watching just a handful of tables, and somewhat uncannily was standing right beside the one where the bubble hand ended up taking place, being there from the very start to record the preflop action. The hand was a bit unusual for a bubble hand. Rather than a preflop all-in, it had lots of postflop back-and-forthing and culminated in the at-risk player calling off his remaining chips on the river. Kind of a neat hand to follow, actually -- you can read about it here.

The media tournament came later, starting after 10 p.m., drawing 40 entrants. It followed the same 20% payout scheme of the other EPT events, meaning the top eight made the money with eighth getting €25, just five euros more than the buy-in.

Your humble scribbler-slash-low-roller made it to the final nine, getting lucky once along the way when my ace-king outdrew pocket kings. I might’ve folded into the money, but took a reckless gamble in one hand to lose about a third of my stack, then lost with ace-king versus pocket sevens to finish ninth.

Good fun, though, getting to play for two-and-a-half hours or so. And it wasn’t that bad getting back to the room in time to get a decent night’s sleep, upon which I am presently going to embark.

Will probably have to write a little something next week about the big announcement today from PokerStars regarding its live events and the consolidating of all the tours as “PokerStars Championships” and “PokerStars Festivals” -- a lot of buzz about that, as you might imagine.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 7 -- Knowing Where to Look

Moved over to help cover the Main Event today at the European Poker Tour Barcelona festival.

It was the very big Day 1b which ended up creating a total turnout of 1,785 players (a record for EPT Barcelona) and a €8,657,250 prize pool (also a record).

I’ve written here many times before about covering Day 1s of multi-day poker tournaments (i.e., three-day or longer), and how the big field events in particular make it both impractical and unfavorable (I think) to cover things the same way as you do later on in the event. That is to say, the individual hand reports and chip counts that are important later on -- say, after the money bubble bursts and (really) once the sucker is down to just a few tables -- simply don’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things during a tournament’s initial stages.

In fact, I was thinking today when walking around the tournament how the reporter is often better off on a Day 1 looking up rather than down -- that is, at the faces rather than the chips and cards. See who’s there, listen to what they’re saying, get a sense for the “characters” (so to speak) that will begin rounding out the cast of the narrative you’re creating about the tournament.

Eventually you begin to move your gaze downward -- namely, to the chip stacks. Of course, you’re always counting chips, even from the start. But it really isn’t until play gets a few levels in and even into the late stages of Day 1 and the start of Day 2 that the stacks matter much at all -- except, of course, to the short stacks and endangered players sitting behind them.

Later you move your focus still further downward to the table -- specifically the cards and the chips that are going in the middle, which at some point take over the narrative as the most meaningful motivator of plot. Sure, “color” will crop up here and there, and adds greatly if noticed and shared, but you can’t avoid talking about hands anymore.

By the very end you’re looking at payout schedules and filling blanks showing where players end up. You could say you begin looking away from the table entirely, toward the cashier’s desk and that last transaction made by those participants who manage to be around for the story’s final scenes and denouement (not always a “climax” to the story, as sometimes -- even often -- that’ll happen earlier than the end).

Enough abstraction. Check out the reports on the PokerStars blog where some of these high-falutin’ ideas can be shown being put into practice.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 6 -- Samri, Moorman, and the Kooij

A short one today as the Estrellas Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event played down from nine players to a winner in just about six hours or so.

The Frenchman Mohamed Samri ended up winning the sucker, kind of a surprise to be honest as there seemed others in the final group more likely to come out on top, including the eventual runner-up Teunis Kooij of the Netherlands and third-place finisher Chris Moorman, the British standout.

Moorman started today with the lead, and Kooij -- which we were pronouncing as though it rhymed with “huge,” often referring to him as “The Kooij” -- took it over early on. Both had big stacks and Samri was short during three-handed play, but Moorman lost a big preflop all-in with pocket sixes against the queens of Kooij, then lost the rest in the next hand to go out somewhat surprisingly in third.

Kooij had the big lead to start heads-up play, but after the last two made a deal it was Samri winning both of the all-ins to take it down. Samri had less than $4,000 worth of tourney cashes before, so the €353,220 score was crazily big for him. And Kooij had no recorded results, so it was huge for him as well. Or should I say, hooij.

Got back in the room in good enough time to give my mom a call on her birthday and assure her I was doing fine out here with the long work days and (often) short nights of sleep.

Speaking of sleep, I’m moving over to help with Day 1b of the Main Event tomorrow, which has another of those undesirable 10 a.m. starts. I’ve traded off shifts, though, so thankfully won’t be going in until later. Gonna take advantage of the extra hours here and relax some -- more mañana.

Photo: courtesy René Velli/PokerStars blog.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 5 -- La Cena

Had a relatively shorter day of work today, short enough any way to allow for a nice, slow, late dinner with most of the PokerStars blog team that made for a very pleasant end to the workday.

Had a rich tapas plate similar to one I remember enjoying last year. (In fact, I found a photo I snapped of the same dish a year ago and am including it to the left.) I also very much enjoyed passing around stories with the fellas regarding not just our poker-reporting adventures, but our non-poker lives as well (which we all thankfully have).

Such is a nice side benefit of the late, post 9 p.m. dinner -- typical in Spain and referred to as la cena. The day is essentially done and there’s no more worries to tend to afterwards (except perhaps writing a quick blog post before bed). No rush to “get back” anywhere.

There was a lot of rushing around the tournament room today, of course, as we documented the playdown from 98 players all of the way to just nine on Day 3 of the Estrellas Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event. Online legend Chris Moorman carries the chip lead to tomorrow’s finale, and would seem to be the favorite to win the sucker.

It should be the shortest day so far tomorrow, if all things play out as they should. Might even have to wait a few hours afterwards before going for la cena once again.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 4 -- Percentage Players

Have been here since Tuesday morning and still am out-of-whack sleep-wise, so I’m cutting this entry short so as to get some snooze time sooner than later.

The bubble burst in the Estrellas Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event today, but with 695 players making the money out of 3,447, that made the event a little less climactic, particularly since the first wave of cashers were only getting their €1,100 buy-in back.

Was saying yesterday how I tend to prefer freezeouts. Not sure what to think, really, about the idea of paying a higher percentage of players in these things -- namely 20% (instead of 15%), a change the EPT introduced this season.

There were some in the €50K Super High Roller tweeting negatively about their event featuring 20% payouts, and today I heard Frank Op de Woerd interviewing EPT Tournament Director Neil Johnson about it. (EDIT [added 8/21/16]: Here’s that interview, if you’re curious.)

I’ll have to think further about it to decide what I think. Having the top 10-15% cash has always seemed like a reasonable amount, but I can also imagine entertaining arguments that such a range is arbitrarily selected -- that is, if another percentage had been adopted as the “standard,” we’d feel differently about this one.

All I know right now is my energy level has dropped to that same 10-15% range, so I’ll cut it off here and sign off. Check the PS blog. More here mañana.

Photo: courtesy René Velli/PokerStars blog.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Barcelona, Day 3 -- The Big Freezeout

Crazy huge field for the third and final Day 1 flight of the Estrellas Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event, which my colleague Jack and I helped report once again along with help from our photographer friend René.

That to the left is a pic of the registration line early in the day. Ended up with 1,755 players on this day alone, which brought the overall number of runners up to 3,447 -- a little over 150 more than what they drew for this same €1,100 buy-in event from a year ago. That makes the prize pool €3,343,590 with €423,600 up top for the winner.

It’s kind of a unique thing these days to have a relatively big field event for a relatively low buy-in and there not being any reentries involved.

Looking at this past summer’s World Series of Poker, there were seven events out of the 69 that drew larger fields in terms of entries, although four of these were reentry events. Only the Main Event, the Seniors, and the Monster Stack were freezeouts drawing more “uniques” to play -- of those, only the Monster Stack really compares (being a $1,500 event).

As a fan and reporter, I very much prefer freezeouts. As a player I do as well, although that could be in part because when I first started playing tournaments, “rebuy” events (as they were called, and for which there is a distinction) were then the exception, not the norm.

From the reporting side of things, it’s tedious enough to do multiple Day 1s, but to have the same players entering over and over and report on their bustouts time after time is more than a little absurd. I’m remembering one event from a couple of years back I covered in which a player entered seven times, and I reported five of his bustout hands.

Talk about chronicling trivia.

Anyhow, things get a bit more interesting tomorrow with the bubble bursting and everything becoming a bit more meaningful going forward. Thankfully I’m catching a slight break with these 10 a.m. starts, as Jack is covering the start and I’m doing a little extra at the end, giving me a bit more time in the mornings for other things. I won’t go on about it, but I’m no fan of the pre-noon starting times, no way no how.

Back at it tomorrow. Check that PokerStars blogfor more on the ESPT, as well as for reports from the first €10K High Roller which should be playing down to a winner.

Photo: courtesy René Velli/PokerStars blog.

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