Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Malta, Arrival -- What’s New, Pussycat?

Hello from the Mediterranean! I made it to Malta in one piece, once again experiencing some run good with my travels.

The overnight flight to Munich was quite comfortable. Flew Lufthansa, who have always provided a nice ride in my experience. Watched an old episode of Columbo (awesome, like they all are) and the recent film The Nice Guys starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling (inconsistent, but entertaining), so was happily locked in the 1970s with Same Difference-like crime stories.

Was another short flight from there to Malta. Got to my hotel by mid-afternoon and not too long after got up with my buddy Gareth who is here to play. We ended up taking a longish walk all of the way to Valletta where we grabbed a bite to eat. Really liked getting out and looking around, given that this is a new place for me.

I’m staying relatively close to the Portomaso Casino where the festival is playing out, near the Spinola Bay and looking out on the St. Julian’s Bay. Our winding walk down south to Valletta meant circling inland around the Marsamxett Harbour and a marina past all of the many hotels, shops, and restaurants -- two or three miles, at least (although I don’t know for sure as I didn't bring my Fitbit).

Along the way we chatted a bit about the drive over from the airport and how we both saw a lot of construction and less immediately impressive landscapes and architecture than is the case in the more touristy central region of the island.

Malta is an archipelago consisting of three islands, with the one named Malta the largest of the three. I was looking online to find the square mileage of Malta (122 sq. miles) is less than half that of the city of Charlotte, with about 450,000 inhabitants or so packed in that small area.

Speaking of, the sidewalks were fairly jammed with people all of the way to Valletta, the cloudy skies not keeping them inside. We parted after dinner and I walked back alone as night descended along with what ultimately became a fairly steady rainfall, and that didn’t scatter the crowds either. The scene somewhat recalled that of Punta del Este thanks to the close proximity of the water and the many boats and yachts, although Uruguay was a lot less populated last month during its off-season.

Lots of stray cats about, including these two at left relaxing of the hood of a car.

It was over in Sliema (on the way to Valletta) I spotted the 10-foot high cat statue pictured up top as dusk was starting to settle. Reading about the statue, it’s the work of an artists named Matthew Pandolfino who put it up there in the Ta’Qali National Park about seven years ago, and apparently other artists are invited to paint it over every couple of months. (You can click on the pics to embiggen.)

After I got back I took a quick trip over to the casino to reunite with some folks and get a sense of things. Gonna pack in early here as I need to catch up sleep missed last night while flying over.

Will be helping cover the second and final Day 1 flight of the Italian Poker Tour (IPT) Main Event, a €1,100 buy-in tournament that drew 219 runners for Wednesday’s Day 1a. There’s a €10K event going on already as well, with a number of other high rollers and the Main Event coming up over the next week-and-a-half.

Check the PokerStars blog for updates from the festival. And keep checking here for other stuff from my prowling about with the Maltese kitties.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On the Move to Malta

Writing a quick one here from the airport where I’m waiting once again to begin another tourney journey. Heading to Malta this time for the European Poker Tour festival which has already begun there on the tiny archipelago just off Italy’s boot.

This’ll be a new destination for your humble scribbler. I’ll admit I don’t know a heck of a lot at present about where I’m heading.

Back during my full-time teaching days I had a colleague swing a year-long sabbatical to Malta, although I never really talked much with him afterwards about his experience. Of course, Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel The Maltese Falcon is one of my fave reads, although that book has about as much to do with Malta as it does falcons.

In fact, toward the latter part of my detective novel Same Difference -- which is pretty deliberately meant as an homage of sorts to Hammett, Chandler, Cain, and other hard-boiled greats -- characters joke around a little about that novel’s story and how the Maltese falcon at the heart of it turns out to be a fake. (There’s a similar reference to the even more elusive postman in Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.)

We’ll see what comes of this new poker plot I’m embarking on, and will try to sort out the important from the trivial. As always, I’ll try my best to keep in touch here as it goes.

More later from the Mediterranean!

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Like a Boss

Been following those WSOP Main Event shows on ESPN, which have now dwindled down to the last couple of weeks prior to the “November Nine” (which actually starts October 30).

The pair of shows from Sunday (episodes 11 and 12) focused on the first part of Day 7, starting with 27 players and only getting down to 21. A ton of time was spent highlighting William Kassouf’s table talk and tanking, with the last hour in particular dominated by examples as well as the rest of the table getting increasingly upset about his “speech play” and very deliberate pace.

It’s a bit misleading, I think, to watch all of this play out in edited form as we are, although that isn’t preventing many from weighing in on Kassouf, the WSOP staff, and the other players. I will say that ESPN has managed to create a fairly compelling mini-drama out of it all, fashioning a kind of “villain” role for Kassouf (reality TV-style) over whom viewers can get animated as they take sides.

Knowing how things end up going for Kassouf later in the day, it’s hard not to foresee some sort of “karmic” climax to his performance (spoiler alert -- he runs kings into aces to fall in 17th).

The ganging up on Kassouf shown this week at times seemed every bit as bothersome as Kassouf’s own antics, but as I say, it’s hard to judge without having been there. Even being there, it would be hard to know for sure how to assess what was happening, given we can’t see players’ cards and thus can’t say with certainty whether or not they are playing their hands in “acceptable” ways (scare quotes deliberately added).

Nearly 10 minutes of the latter portion of this week’s shows were devoted to a single hand in which Kassouf opened, a player shoved a short-though-not-insignificant stack, and Kassouf had to decide whether or not to call with pocket treys. He correctly assumed he might be racing (the shover had two unpaired overcards), but his contemplation ended up getting interrupted and delayed further by other players’ objections plus a lengthy visit from floor staff.

It seemed a lot like Kassouf had successfully managed to get nearly everyone to crack -- players, staff, and perhaps some of those in attendance, too. Even Lon McEachern and Norman Chad humorously got in on it, with Chad acting as though he was being affected as well.

I’m not saying I’d have enjoyed being part of that scene, but from the outside (and through the heavily blinkered lens of ESPN’s edits) it sure seemed like Kassouf had everyone right where he wanted them, as though he were the one in charge of everything.

You know, like a boss (as Kassouf likes to say of himself). And we know how much poker players prefer to be their own bosses.

Image: “‘Like a Boss’ T-Shirt @Target LOL Spotted by Mike Mozart” (adapted), Mike Mozart. CC BY 2.0.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Poker Hall of Fame: Carlos Mortensen and Todd Brunson Make 52

Saw yesterday how Carlos Mortensen and Todd Brunson had been elected as the 51st and 52nd members of the Poker Hall of Fame. Now’s the time for the World Series of Poker to create a commemorative deck of cards featuring pictures of all 52 members.

If I’d had a vote I certainly would’ve given support to Mortensen’s candidacy, though there were other nominees I’d have probably chosen this year ahead of the younger Brunson (though he’s certainly deserving).

Mortensen is a WSOP Main Event champion (2001), and I tend to have a bit of a prejudice in favor of that select group when it comes to the PHOF. With three WPT titles, nearly $12 million in career tourney earnings, and a near-miss to make a second WSOP Main Event final table in 2013 (when he finished 10th), he was a shoo-in. That’s not even counting the highly advanced chip stacking skills that further distinguish the Spaniard (originally from Ecuador).

Todd Brunson has won a lot in tournaments as well (nearly $4.3 million, including a WSOP bracelet in 2005), although he’s much better known as a high-stakes cash game player. His notable heads-up battles with Andy Beal -- including a $13.5 million win over two days (as chronicled in Michael Craig’s The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King), then another belated reprise versus Beal in early 2015 which Brunson is said to have won another $5 million -- are legend-making and probably enough to earn him serious PHOF consideration.

I’m going to guess he got a lot of support from the living Poker Hall of Famers, and perhaps not quite as much from the media who voted. Speaking of living PHOFers, he joins his dad, Doyle Brunson, as a PHOF member, which has to be fairly unusual as far as hall of fames go, generally speaking.

The only other father-son combo I can think of in any sports hall of fame would be Bobby and Brett Hull, even if Ken Griffey, Sr. and Jr. spring to mind (Jr. got in this year, Sr. isn’t a HOFer).

In any case, congrats to both. And if the WSOP is reading, feel free to steal that special WSOP PHOF deck idea!


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The UIGEA: 10 Years Ago Today

Ten years? Ten? Hmm... can we even remember that far back?

A couple of weeks’ worth of dread preceded the president signing the bill into law. There’d been a few months of less specific fretting, too, as I recall, although few seemed genuinely concerned.

In July 2006 this blog was only three months old. A lot of my posts to that point had been about playing poker -- online poker, that is. Not unlike many of the other hundreds of poker blogs at the time. Occasionally I’d write about other things -- hard-boiled novels, for instance -- as well as other poker-related topics emanating from “the rumble.”

I did notice that month the passage of a bill in the U.S. House, something called the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act,” and wrote a post here at the time about it titled “Raising a Glass to the Return of Prohibition.” I can’t honestly say that when writing that post I was all that concerned about my ability to play online poker being curbed at all, though.

One reason why I wasn’t so worried was the fact that the bill the House had passed wasn’t the much harsher seeming “Internet Gambling Prohibition Act,” the one certain legislators had been working over for the previous decade or so. Rather the “UIGEA” -- the acronym some of us would become very familiar with (and others consistently screw up) -- was only focused on credit card companies and financial transaction providers, meaning playing online poker wasn’t a problem. And, well, getting money to and from the sites didn’t seem like it would be a problem, either, or at least all that seemed too abstract at the time to bother us.

Besides, the sucker still had be passed by the Senate, then signed by the president. And pretty much everyone in the poker world who’d actually been following these attempts at legislating online gambling were predicting that wouldn’t happen.

We made it to the end of September 2006, then woke up one Saturday morning to realize the unthinkable had happened. The UIGEA had been snuck onto another piece of legislation and passed through the Senate with hardly any resistance at all. I wrote a post that morning titled “Deals in the Dead of Night” remarking on the event, still naively occupying a position of only moderate concern.

I noted at the time how it was already a given that then-president George W. Bush would sign the bill into law, but could only muster the opinion that “then things should get more interesting” once he did.

I’m remembering the following two weeks. It was that Monday, October 2nd, that PartyPoker (now styled “partypoker”) announced it would be cutting off the Americans. Somewhere mid-week I remember having a phone conversation with Party support and having it confirmed that yes, indeed, I would have to withdraw my funds as I wouldn’t be able to play on the site once the bill became law.

Like everyone else I began to wonder if all the other sites would follow suit, but both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were quick to confirm they wouldn’t be pulling out of the U.S. It all seemed a lot more uncertain, then, as we got the news that week that the UIGEA would be signed by Bush the following Friday the 13th, a suitably ominous-seeming day for the event.

We got to October 13, 2006, and while sitting at a desk with a banner reading “Securing the Homeland” Bush indeed signed the “SAFE Port Act” into law. In his comments Bush spoke of how the law “will make this nation more prepared, more prosperous, and more secure.” He went on to thank various legislators, reiterate the importance of protecting Americans from terrorism and making our borders and seaports secure, and winning the “war on terror.”

In his comments Bush didn’t mention the internet at all, nor the UIGEA which had been sneakily appended to the bill before its passage. It seemed almost like he might not even be aware of it.

Some of us were aware of it, though. And gradually more and more of us would become aware of it, especially four-and-a-half years later when Black Friday suddenly occurred as a kind of a belated next step in the UIGEA’s “long game.”

And now, exactly one decade after the UIGEA was signed into law, all of us here in the United States who’d like to play poker online (as they do in much of the rest of the world) are necessarily aware of its consequences -- even if we don’t know the reason why.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Unpredictable Leader

Among the various, repeated themes of this year’s presidential election has been the unpredictability of the Republican party’s unbelievable choice for a nominee.

Ever since he announced his candidacy in mid-June 2015, observers have been focused intently both on his strange, highly unorthodox campaign and his penchant for saying and tweeting out odd, often unexpected comments and criticisms -- statements made all the more strange-seeming given his status as a candidate and eventually the frontrunner choice of his party.

I mentioned just a couple of days ago my Richard Nixon course and how the current presidential campaign does (or does not) compare to ones from the past. In the course we discuss some of Nixon’s poker strategy, something he himself talked about at length in a few different contexts. There’s one quote in particular from Nixon that we as a class tend to go back to frequently when discussing both his poker playing and the strategy he’d employ in campaigns and while in office -- a quote about being unpredictable.

The quote actually comes amid a discussion of how poker and politics tend to overlap, so the advice Nixon is putting forward actually relates to both. Speaking in 1983, Nixon complains about what he calls “the almost insatiable tendency of American politicians to want to put everything on the table. Their inability to know when to bluff, when to call, and above everything else, how to be unpredictable. Unpredictability is the greatest asset or weapon that a leader can have.... And unless he’s unpredictable, he’s going to find that he loses a great deal of his power.”

To be fair, Nixon was speaking primarily of a president dealing with foreign heads of state, although the observation applies not only to poker but to other areas of political strategy. Nixon often in his campaigns made big “moves” or “plays” that were unanticipated by many of his opponents. As president he also often would be unpredictable, often using televised speeches to make genuinely surprising announcements about Vietnam, the economy, various policies and initiatives, his trips to China and Russia, and later on, Watergate.

I wrote a little about this quote and its connection to the Republican candidate earlier this year, responding to a pundit who was congratulating him for being “the best poker player in the Republican field” and in particular being very good at being unpredictable.

I’ve taught the Nixon course a few times now, and during our discussions of the quote we’ve tended to agree with the idea that unpredictability may well be a good campaign strategy. We can also readily see how it might be a favored trait when dealing with foreign powers, especially when in conflict with them.

However, we’ve also recognized that we don’t necessarily like our leaders to be too unpredictable with us. We need to be able to count on presidents not to say or do things that don’t at least conform with our idea of what we expect of them (never mind wildly oppose that idea). Even if they present ideas or courses of actions we hadn’t specifically anticipated, we need those ideas and courses of actions to fit with our earlier “read” of the person whom we’ve chosen to lead us.

That’s because even though it may be hard to remember when we think about our relationship to our elected leaders, we aren’t their opponents. At least we shouldn’t be.

The unpredictability of the Republicans’ current leader -- earlier heralded as savvy and strategic -- has become much less celebrated over recent weeks. It has also become a genuine cause of concern for those contemplating what his presidency might be like, including among many of those formerly enthused about his unpredictability.

What happens next? It’s hard to say. And yeah, that’s unsettling.

Image: “I wonder if #TheDonald reads every tweet about him” (adapted), Steve Baker. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hail to the New Bubblebassador

This year’s World Series of Poker Main Event saw the top 1,011 finishers make the money. From a starting field of 6,737 for the $10,000 buy-in event, that meant the top 15% cashed. Those who made the minimum of $15,000 still realized a decent return, plus the not insignificant story of cashing in the world’s most famous poker tournament.

This year a fellow named Adam Furgatch was the player who late on Day 3 found himself finishing 1,012th, one spot shy of the money. All in for exactly one big blind with Q-9 versus Georgios Zisimopoulos’s A-7, Furgatch failed to improve and was out even before hand-for-hand play could begin.

The Californian was hardly in sour spirits, though. In fact, from his perspective, he’d earned a pretty neat story out of the deal, too.

I remember reading Howard Swains’s post about Furgatch’s knockout on the PokerStars blog back in July, where Howard noted Furgatch “actually seemed pretty delighted with the way things panned out.”

Knowing he was either barely going to miss the money or make that min-cash, Furgatch found a lot of silver lining in the result -- which also happened to include a free entry into next year’s WSOP Main Event (not a bad consolation prize).

“I was going to go out soon more than likely, with my chip stack,” Furgatch told Howard. “But now I get the experience of being the bubble boy.”

Marty Derbyshire talked to Furgatch for PokerNews as well, and he similarly told Marty how much he valued the experience of bubbling, noting that “the difference between that and maybe going out a few hands later for an extra $5,000... the experience may be worth $5,000.”

I was reminded of Furgatch this week when watching the new episodes of the WSOP Main Event coverage on ESPN. They’re up to Day 6, but for some reason decided this week to flash back to Day 3 and share Furgatch talking again about how interesting and worthwhile the experience of being the bubble was to him.

Along the way, this year’s 1,012th-place finisher jokingly invented a title for himself.

“I must say that I will take my duties as bubblebassador -- poker’s bubblebassador -- very seriously,” says Furgatch. “Because for everybody who plays for hours and hours and days and days and doesn’t quite get to the money... just never give up, never give up. Which I didn’t and all of a sudden something very strange and magical happened. So you just never know in the game of poker.”

Had to grin at that, as well as his concluding promise to “do my best to represent all... the poker bubblers everywhere.”

Just by inventing and assuming the “bubblebassador” title, Furgatch has already gotten his tenure off to an excellent start. Which is important, because bubblers tend to start better than they finish.

Image: ESPN

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Debate and Switch

I’ve mentioned here a couple of times how I’m once more teaching an American Studies class called “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics.” The class covers Nixon’s drama-filled political career, with a bit of emphasis (especially early on) on his poker playing.

We end up spending a fair amount of time in the class remarking upon how tactics used in campaigns and/or while serving in office often can resemble or at least recall poker strategies. The course additionally provides a detailed introduction to American political history from just after WWII to the mid-1970s -- the start of the Cold War era up through the end of the Vietnam conflict. And since during that period Nixon was a vice president for eight years, ran for president three times and won twice, and served as president for five-and-a-half years, there’s a lot of focus on the White House and the presidency’s centrality to American politics.

I’d never taught the course during a presidential election, and so had been looking forward to the chance to do so this fall semester. We’ve had some kind of uncanny moments already, such as when I happened to have assigned a viewing of the first debate between John F. Kennedy and Nixon the same week the of the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

There have also been opportunities to discuss some of the references to Nixon that have come up both in coverage of the campaigns and even from representatives of each major party. Of course, any comparison of a candidate to Nixon is understandably meant as a criticism, especially when the comparison comes from the Democrats or Republicans.

For instance, not long ago Trump was attempting to liken Clinton’s email saga to Watergate. Meanwhile Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine compared Trump’s apparent encouragement to the Russians to hack the Democratic National Committee’s servers to the Watergate break-ins, too.

There have been other moments when we’ve been encouraged to bring up the current race when discussing things like Nixon’s early hard-fought campaigns (and their “dirty tricks”), the Alger Hiss spy case, the “fund crisis” and Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, and the ’60 campaign and election. (We’re only now getting to 1968.)

The whole “#TrumpTape” craziness over the weekend -- and rumors of additional tapes -- again somewhat evokes what became the major issue of Watergate, namely the revelation of the secret White House audio recordings and subsequent, protracted legal battle to force the Nixon administration release them.

But truthfully, most of the parallels tend to feel more than a little forced, I think. Why? Because thanks to the Republicans’ unbelievable choice for a nominee, this year’s presidential race is essentially sui generis, meaning any comparison tends to fall apart as we try vainly to pretend Trump even faintly resembles the weakest “real” candidate ever put forward by a major party.

As you might imagine, when my students watch and comment on the 1960 debate between RMN and JFK they are noticing many, many differences with what they are seeing today. Indeed, the contrast couldn’t be more stark, starting with the respect shown between the candidates, the civility of the proceedings, and the generally elevated level of discourse.

If you’ve never seen any of the four debates from 1960, go watch the first 10 minutes of the first one to see what my students are talking about when listing these differences. Then think about the unpleasant, badly moderated, stress-inducing and mostly useless ordeal a lot of us endured last night.

I mean, they call them “debates,” and for the sake of convenience I guess that’s what we have to refer to them as, too. But that’s obviously not what they are.

Future historians will inevitably point back to 2016 and show how what we ended up with this year could be traced back to that first televised debate on September 26, 1960, the night “style” began to challenge “substance” in a more vivid, conspicuous way than had been realized previously when it came to presidential politics. Might be easier to show the connection a half-century from now, although some are already working on making the argument, I’m sure.

Meanwhile for those of us living through 2016, it’s getting harder and harder to see any connection with the past -- never mind worrying about what the future holds.

Photos: “Presidential seal,” Ted, CC BY-SA 2.0; Kennedy-Nixon First Presidential Debate, 1960, JFK Library.

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Friday, October 07, 2016

The Matthau Line About Poker and America

There’s a much shared quote about poker attributed to the comic actor Walter Matthau that you’ve probably come across somewhere before.

Matthau’s career spanned nearly the entire second half of the 20th century. He appeared in 80 or so films along with dozens of stage and television credits. Among all those roles are relatively serious turns in a couple of my faves, Dr. Strangelove and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. He also starred in one of my top ten films of all time, The Bad News Bears.

Probably his most famous role was as the slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, both the play and the 1968 film (though not the subsequent TV series). That whole story is anchored by a weekly poker game, which is from where that image of him holding a hand up above comes.

Here’s the quote, which like I say you’ve probably heard:

“Poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great.”

I was thinking about that line a little today, one that often gets brought up without too much commentary as a quick reference to the idea that poker uncannily reflects American culture and society -- both the good and the bad. In particular the observation highlights how both poker and our economic system necessarily make us rely on each other while also (paradoxically) forcing us to compete with one another.

Matthau’s line gets quoted everywhere. For example, James McManus appropriately includes it in his history of poker, Cowboys Full, as meaningful support to his point “that poker and the United States grew up together” and that “the game is often said to epitomize American values” like independence, liberty, equality, freedom, work, entrepreneurial love of risk, and, of course, the central importance of money.

In his collection of essays Risky Business: People, Pastimes, Poker and Books, Al Alvarez offers to explain what Matthau means.

“Poker, he meant, is social Darwinism in its purest, most brutal form,” writes Alvarez regarding the line. “The weak go under and the fittest survive through calculation, insight, self-control, deception, plus an unwavering determination never to give a sucker an even break,” he concludes, evoking the 1941 comedy by W.C. Fields (another actor often captured on the silver screen holding a poker hand).

Anthony Holden likewise quotes it in his sequel Bigger Deal as a kind of punctuation mark to a lament about the post-“boom” commercialization of poker.

There Holden summarizes the scene at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino back in 2005, where, suddenly, a whopping 5,619 were playing in the Main Event when just 839 did two years before. Referring to the Gaming Lifestyle Expo with all of its poker-related products, Holden decides “the whole jamboree strikes me as acutely depressing: visual confirmation that the maverick, bohemian, once backroom game I have loved for so long has now turned into just another branch, logos and all, of corporate American capitalism.”

Then comes Matthau’s line, in this case positioned as a kind of judgment on poker having become something other than the game Holden had written about much more enthusiastically in his earlier Big Deal.

These are mostly serious reflections on the quote, though in each case the author is obviously aware of the humor it injects into the discussion. It’s very W.C. Fields-like, in fact, the way the quote kind of sneaks up on you -- beginning like some sort of sober truism and ending with an absurdist rim-shot (e.g., “The world is getting to be such a dangerous place, a man is lucky to get out of it alive.”).

The line acknowledges there’s something bad about the way both poker and capitalism pit us against one another. But it also celebrates such a flawed system (or set of rules) as having somehow, maybe even despite itself, produced something “great.”

The line also evokes both the love-hate relationship I think some (perhaps most?) players have with poker and the similarly mixed feelings a decent percentage of Americans often have about their country.

After all, whether we’re talking about poker or America, we find ourselves often having to acknowledge both the good and the bad. If we’re offering praise, we acknowledge shortfalls (even if we don’t articulate them). Similarly, if we’re being critical, we know there are positives, too (whether or not we include them in our commentary).

Image: The Odd Couple (1968), Amazon.

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Helping Hands

I have been keeping up with the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN. I never watch them live, only picking them up on YouTube later -- much better without the commercials.

They’ve been rolling out a couple of episodes every Sunday, having gotten through eight so far. The last one this week finished partway through Day 6 with 51 players remaining.

I marvel at how good Lon McEachern and Norman Chad continue to be with their commentary. They do especially well pitching things in such a way that different kinds of viewers -- from the most casual fans to hardcore strategy-nerds -- can find something to focus on and enjoy. They work in plenty of grins, too, and I find myself genuinely laughing out loud a couple of times per hour either at the more overt jokes or sly “inside baseball” references occasionally snuck into the proceedings.

The first episode this week (Episode 7) began with the start of Day 6 and an interesting situation involving the player Jason McConnon. Returning to a about 25 big blinds, McConnon had brought to the feature table a “cheat sheet” ostensibly offering guidance for when to push or fold a short stack with certain hands in certain spots. You know, kind of a helping hand (pun intended).

Kenny Hallaert was sitting to McConnon’s left and mentioned to McConnon before they started how he wouldn’t be able to use the sheets during a hand. (Hallaert, who went on to make the November Nine, is a tournament director himself, likely to know something about the issue.) Then during the very first hand McConnon picked up ace-queen offsuit and pulled out the sheets to take a look. That led to a visit to the table by Tournament Director Jack Effel and a ruling that McConnon had to put his notes away while playing his hand.

There’s an article over on PokerNews today reviewing the situation and highlighting some of the WSOP’s rules that are pertinent. It actually sounds like a bit of a judgment call, though just stepping back from this particular situation I prefer players not using notes or other helpers during hands. On the broadcast Norman Chad offers a similar take as a humorous rant (made even funnier when his teleprompter “fails” him as he’s trying to finish).

The situation reminds a little of my teaching days when it did happen (rarely, but now and then) that I’d catch students trying to cheat in various ways. I’m vaguely recalling a little joke I’d make whenever passing out exams. I’d say something like, “Put your books away -- all you need is a pencil... and your brain.”

Back when I was teaching full-time, I didn’t have to deal with students being constantly online with smartphones and/or laptops, of course. Now that’s become part of the reality of the classroom, greatly affecting many instructors’ approaches to teaching and testing -- changing the pedagogical “game,” so to speak.

Some teachers ask students to put away all their electronics, kind of reverting back to a more “primitive” or even exotic-seeming situation of just simply talking to one another, perhaps with a book open and a pen and pad nearby for note-taking. I’d kind of like poker to be played that way, too -- with the phones and iPads put away and players interacting minus such interference.

But that’s not our world anymore, so I understand as well those who wouldn’t want to play that way.

Image: “110725-G-EM820-800,” US Coast Guard Academy. Public domain.

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