Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Professionals Leave the Table

Today Full Tilt Poker announced they aren’t renewing sponsorship contracts with Viktor “Isildur1” Blom and Gus Hansen, thereby jettisoning the last two sponsored pros from the site. Also gone (apparently) is the name originally given to the site’s “power trio” of sponsored pros -- Blom, Hansen, and Tom Dwan -- shortly after the launch of FTP 2.0 in November 2012: “The Professionals.”

Dwan left the band in December 2013. I wrote here then how the occasion inspired “thoughts of how the whole idea of poker celebs -- that different class of poker ‘professionals’ -- once such a very effective construct of online sites and abetted ably by the TV shows the sites sponsored, seems like something from an earlier era.”

Today’s news moves the needle even less. Hansen has long remained a figure of interest to many thanks to his win in the very first televised World Poker Tour event way back in 2002, his high-level involvement with FTP as a member of Team Full Tilt, and his continued participation in the “nosebleed” stakes games on the site where he’s reportedly lost over $20 million, including more than $17 million on the site during the last two years (according to High Stakes DB).

Blom, too, has fascinated many ever since the mysterious “Isildur1” showed up to challenge all of those Team Full Tilters and the rest of the world in late 2009. I’ve written here many times about Blom, including how intriguing it was to report on him at the WSOP. High Stakes DB shows Blom sitting around break-even during his almost two years playing on FTP 2.0, having been up nearly $6 million during the first six or seven months before falling back down to where he was on the site back in November 2012 (down a few milly).

The last post I wrote here about Hansen was in January 2013 when just a couple of months after FTP 2.0 went live he fired off some tone-deaf tweets in defense of Howard Lederer that were dismissive of just about the entire online poker community. The title of that post, “Ungrateful Gus; or, Hansen on High,” suggests how his thoughts were received here. The last one I wrote about Blom was right about the same time, the title of which was a response to enthusiastic tweets from the FTP account reporting his presence at the high-stakes tables on the site: “Blasé About Blom.” Again, the title is an indicator of the attitude expressed in the post.

Today the dissolution of “The Professionals” altogether brings a different thought to mind about the significance of sponsored pros to online sites. I actually think they can serve a great purpose, even today, not just in helping attract players and building sites’ presence, but in helping to advocate for poker, generally speaking. The Team PokerStars Pros are an obviously well managed example of this, with players all over the world doing a lot to help explain and promote poker to wider audiences in their respective countries.

I’m realizing today, though, that FTP’s “Professionals” idea -- a dim echo of Team Full Tilt from the start -- had very little to do with establishing and strengthening connections among members of an online poker community. Rather, its whole ethos was to emphasize the impassable distance between Hansen, Blom, and Dwan and the unwashed masses.

The spectacle of watching “The Professionals” play for high stakes was mildly diverting for some, but hardly inspiring for most, particularly given the seeming apathy -- or even antipathy (in Hansen’s case) -- they appeared to have for the poker community as a whole.

In fact, the news of the end of the “The Professionals” makes me think of what a table full of amateurs might say to each other after a pro player finally gets up to leave after having made things difficult for them for the previous several hours.

“Glad he’s gone.”

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 4 -- A Grand Final

The final day of play in the LAPT Peru Grand Final Main Event took a while, starting at noon on Sunday and lasting until just about 9 p.m. before Oscar Alache of Chile came away with the victory following a three-handed deal. Was kind of a neat way to end Season 7 for the tour, with eight players from eight different countries (seven of them in Central or South America) vying for the last title of the year.

Heads-up between Alache and the 65-year-old Uruguyan Daniel Campodonico was kind of curious, actually, with both players almost always just limping in from the button, the other almost always checking, followed by a lot of passive play postflop. The only variation would come with open-raises all in, although the key hand of the match saw a limped pot produce a check-bet-shove-call sequence.

Alache had flopped two pair with 7-3-offsuit, Campodonico a flush draw, and the two pair held to give Alache a big lead before he finished things off. There had been room for some postflop play, if the players had wanted to engage in such -- there were about 70 big blinds in play for a lot of their duel -- but neither chose to do much other than call or check or shove.

Third-place finisher Jerson Backmann actually won the largest share of the prize pool thanks to the three-way deal, though. When the final three went off to discuss a possible deal, I joked with Sergio Prado (blogging for the PokerStars Brazil site) that they should come back and say they wanted to play it out as a Spin & Go. (Rim shot.)

All in all it was a nice finish for the season with such a big turnout and a record prize pool (for Lima) for the LAPT. There’s a lot of anticipation surrounding the Season 8 kickoff in the Bahamas -- coming just before the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure -- as well as a lot else LAPT-related to come.

Fun spending the week with so many people excited about poker, and of course to get the chance to work with such a great group of people as are part of the LAPT.

Long day of travel ahead. Talk to you again from the farm.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 3 -- Muy Rápido

An unexpectedly fast one yesterday at the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Grand Final. Not sure why I always come to these events anticipating days to last longer than they ultimately do, but one of these times I’ll remember that on the LAPT the pace is pretty much always muy rápido.

We had 45 players to start the day and had to play down to eight. Settled in thinking it would take us deep into the night to get there, but they managed to work all of the way down to that goal in just under six one-hour levels.

Was a wacky day, really, with the player who started it in 41st place out of 45 -- Jerson Backmann of Mexico -- ending the day with a big chip lead. Another one, Argentina's Jose Torre, was in 44th position, and he made the final table, too, with a middle-of-the-pack stack. Meanwhile Nacho Barbero's quest for a third LAPT title came up short as he busted in 17th.

The early finish allowed us finally to break free from the casino and head a few blocks away to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant called Punto Azul where I enjoyed a delicious dish of fettuccine full of seafood with the black squid ink adding some extra flavor and character.

Having to be muy rápido with posting today as the final table is drawing near. Check the PokerStars blog today for updates, and while you’re watching the NFL perhaps look in on the LAPT Live stream as well.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 2 -- Nacho with Chips

It was a long one yesterday -- another noon-until-after-midnight shift -- and it’ll be another long one today, as well. The field of 692 entries in the LAPT Peru Grand Final has now played down to 45 players, which leaves a lot left to take care of before the final table can be determined for Sunday.

Kind of incredibly, Nacho Barbero is leading heading into play today. Barbero has won two previous LAPT Main Event titles, one of only two players to achieve the feat along with Fabian Ortiz. He won them both during Season 3 -- back-to-back in fact -- and as it happens his second victory came here in Peru in 2010, my first trip to help cover an LAPT.

Nacho ended the night with a ton of chips, but came perilously close to busting in 104th on the stone cold bubble when he was all in with A-K versus an opponent who’d five-bet shoved on him with 10-8-suited. The flop brought a flush draw to his opponent, and after the turn both the ten and eight were still live, too. But Barbero faded the river, and after the bubble burst picked up some big pots to cruise out in front of the pack.

Nacho recently ended his tenure as a Team PokerStars Pro -- a mutual decision between Stars and the Argentinian -- which perhaps might add a little extra intrigue to his doing well in this first tournament after that event. He’s got a lot of other interests, I know, including running what I’ve heard is an excellent restaurant in Argentina, but poker is likely going to remain a central focus for him for now.

Besides reporting on Nacho at night’s end (evidence of which can be found in the picture above), I had fun writing up a post about Leandro Csome, a.k.a., “Peluca,” after he happened to be the one knocking out the 104th-place finisher and thus bursting the money bubble. That event reminded me also of the LAPT event here in Lima from back in Season 3, and a funny story involving Csome that happened as the bubble neared in that event.

The dealers are here and the bags full of chips are starting to be distributed to the six tables. Soon the players will come and cards will be in the air again. As always, head over to the PokerStars blog to follow the action, and when you’re done with the EPT Live show from London perhaps dial up LAPT Live -- it’s only in Spanish or Portuguese, but as everyone knows poker has its own language anyone acquainted with the game can follow.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 1b -- Sweet October Miracle

All goes well in Lima. The turnout turned out better than anticipated, with 692 total entries -- way over the 557 from a year ago. The prize pool is also up over $1 million, a first for the LAPT here in Peru.

I continue to eat very well, even if I’ve been confined to the Atlantic City Casino each day thus far. Such will likely remain the case at least until Saturday when we’re hoping possibly to have a shorter day and thus a chance to enjoy a nice dinner elsewhere.

Still, I can’t complain. I can also confidently state I’ve eaten more octopus this week than I have all year. I also ordered a dessert the name of which provided the title above, discussed further here.

Had a chance yesterday to chat with Thomas Lamatsch who is serving as the Tournament Director here this week. Thomas is usually to be found on the EPT, but is filling in for LAPT TD Mike Ward who had to miss this one. It’s a first trip to Peru for Thomas, and we had a fun conversation comparing the tours and talking about the future of poker.

Another highlight yesterday was talking to the newest Team PokerStars Pro Online member, Celeste “LadyMace86” Orona of Argentina. The announcement of her joining the team was made during the day yesterday, and she took some time during the dinner break to chat about her background.

Her story kind of reminded me a little of my own, at least with regard to her leaving a comfortable, “normal” career path (in her case working in the corporate world) and trying something new with poker. Come to think of it, so did Thomas’s tale, particularly when he speaking of how friendly and supportive everyone is here on the tour.

Going to run again, but check in over at the PokerStars blog for more poker talk from Peru.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 1a -- Mata Aces, BodogAri, and More

We were nearing the end of the night yesterday when I told Sergio, my blogging colleague here on the LAPT, how it always seems to happen that Day 1a takes the most out of me. I think it has to be mostly related to the travel which usually immediately proceeds those first Day 1s, with the fact that those days are almost always noon-to-midnight (at least) and thus usually the longest ones to cover.

The field of 274 entries was decent-sized, and with a bigger Day 1b (as anticipated) the overall turnout will exceed that of last year’s LAPT Peru.

Had some fun during the day playing a poker variant called “Mata Aces” with Christian de Leon, a wacky game that sorta kinda combines elements of hold’em, stud, and even draw. It’s getting big in Mexico, and perhaps might begin to spread elsewhere as it provides a lot of action -- read about it here.

Also enjoyed chatting with Ari “BodogAri” Engel near the end of the night, a very friendly guy who’s played (and won) on just about every tour there is in addition to his considerable online success. Here’s a post sharing what we discussed.

If you’re looking for something else interesting to read today, check out Jonathan Grotenstein’s recent article for All In about Daniel Colman, titled “Silent Assassin.” Grotenstein speculates in interesting ways about the wunderkind’s motives, giving a shoutout to Hard-Boiled Poker along the way by referencing a post of mine where I was attempting something similar with Colman.

Gonna cut it short as Day 1b is drawing close. Check the PokerStars blog for reports throughout the day.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Arrival -- Holding It Together

Have made it safely to Lima, Peru, the 3,200-mile trip (or whatever it is) going about as smoothly as I could have hoped. All flights were on time, my shuttle to the hotel was waiting for me, and the accommodations very comfortable for my six-night stay here in Miraflores.

Reading material for the long flight from Miami to Lima mostly consisted of my working through a four-decade old paperback of David Halberstam’s excellent The Best and the Brightest, a book written during the early 1970s that attempts to explain how the U.S. found itself gradually getting involved in the Vietnam morass despite myriad indicators that such a course was not recommended.

The 800-plus page book is so old the binding is completely shot, forcing me to hold the sucker with both hands when reading and to use a rubberband to hold it together when I’m not. An emblem for Vietnam, that.

Besides being well written and researched, Halberstam is unafraid as well to include his own sharply-drawn judgments along the way, which both helps clarify the mistakes he’s describing while adding an extra layer of intrigue to the narrative. Despite writing so soon after (and during) the events he’s describing, he lends the story useful perspective, allowing those of us reading much later to appreciate the novel-like twists and turns that inexorably led to successive administrations’ poor decisions regarding southeast Asia.

Most of my casual reading of late has been about political history, with Nixon and Kennedy having become touchstones for me. I suppose all presidents’ stories provide seemingly endless threads of interest thanks to their connectedness with practically all aspects of American culture, but there’s something about these two in particular -- perhaps the most fascinating heads-up political opponents of the century -- that intrigues me to no end.

Will be especially busy this week and so anticipate only firing off short bursts here to share brief anecdotes, likely pointing you to the PokerStars blog as I do where I’ll be filing my LAPT Peru Grand Final reports. There won’t be any politics over there, I can assure, but a lot of interesting conflicts, negotiations, and resolutions over the cards and chips. More to come.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Perusing Peru Posts

A quick one this morning to report I’m back in an airport again, about to make another trip down to Lima for the LAPT Peru Main Event that gets underway tomorrow.

This makes my fourth time going down to Lima, I believe, where I’ve seen and reported on some interesting tournaments over the last few years. Always a fun place to go, with the cuisine a great highlight.

Yesterday I was looking back through some of my Peru posts here and found myself dwelling in particular on one particular visit, the one in April 2011 when Dr. Pauly and I were there during Black Friday. Crazy time, that. Seemed like everything was suddenly coming to an end then, poker-wise, in so many ways.

About a week after getting back I wrote one of my favorite Hard-Boiled Poker posts here about a game of Big Deuce involving myself, the good doctor, F-Train, and Reinaldo -- “2011 LAPT Lima Postscript: Plotting in Peru.”

Probably wouldn’t have predicted then that three-and-a-half years later I’d be going back to Peru yet again. I’m glad I am, though, and expect to see a decent-sized field there along with my many LAPT buds. More to come.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Picked Apart

After six weeks of the NFL football season, I’m feeling as though I’ve been thoroughly picked apart as far as trying to pick winners in the Pigskin Pick’em contest goes.

A month ago I was cheerily writing here about getting an average of two out of three games correct and how that wasn’t too bad, but by now I’ve fallen off that pace considerably and am already in a desperate spot in the pool near the bottom and a dozen games out of the lead just over a third of the way into the campaign.

While yesterday didn’t go well at all for me, last week was even more difficult to get through after losing three early games in which the teams I’d picked all blew big leads. Even worse, all three were meaningful games as far as the pool was concerned, for which the picks were evenly divided and thus getting them right or wrong affected one’s standing more significantly.

Below are the win probability graphs for those three games as calculated by Advanced Football Analytics where I’ll sometimes find myself much as when playing online poker I would end up over at Two Dimes after suffering an improbably bad beat -- kind of a masochistic seeking out of an answer to the question “How bad was that, really?”

That’s right -- I had Chicago, Tennessee, and Detroit, all of whom had a WP of 80% or better in the fourth quarter of their games only to lose. The Titans were up 28-3 at home versus Cleveland before blowing their game 29-28. I also had Houston beating Dallas in the early game a week ago, and the Cowboys won in overtime, completing a four-game sweep of close ones going the wrong way.

This week’s games featured fewer heartbreaks but a lot of surprises (at least for me), thus hurtling me even further down the leaderboard in the pool. Like can happen in poker after enduring a long stretch of losing, I’ve now entered a zone in which I’m doubting my ability to play this game at all. Sure, I might have won at it in the past, but was it all just dumb luck?

I take a little bit of comfort knowing that I’m not gambling serious cabbage on NFL football -- indeed, I don’t bet on games at all. For those who are, I have great sympathy, especially after yesterday saw not one but two games end with “pick-6” interception returns for TDs that helped teams (Denver and Arizona) cover spreads during the final seconds.

Speaking of, check out Nolan Dalla’s post today titled “Anatomy of an NFL Apocalypse” in which he spells out in profanity-laced detail the “impalement of the heart, mind, and wallet” that was NFL football yesterday.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Ivey Loses, Spin & Go Spins, and Johnny Carson’s Poker Game

Hello, weekend (almost). Looking back on the week in poker, there were three items I wish I’d had more time to explore with blog posts, but did not. Gonna just catalogue them here to invite comment, and perhaps next week if inspired I’ll get back into issues raised by one or two of them.

One was Phil Ivey losing his case against Crockfords Casino in Britain’s High Court. The case started on Monday, then two days later Judge John Mitting decided Ivey was not entitled to the £7.7 million he’d won playing Punto Banco and that Crockfords had withheld from paying out.

In Mitting’s view, the “edge sorting” technique Ivey employed “gave himself an advantage which the game precludes.” “This is in my view cheating,” he concluded, ruling in favor of Crockfords.

Last week I was mentioning Ivey’s appearance on the 60 Minutes Sports program (which was on Showtime this week, which I don’t get) where he defended himself against accusations of being a cheater. I also mentioned there how out in the non-poker world the stories of Ivey’s suit against Crockfords and more particularly the Borgata’s still-pending one against Ivey have suggested that “cheater” label for him in the minds of some.

The Two Plus Two thread about the case indicates most in the poker world were surprised by the ruling and disagreed with it, and that’s the general tenor of response over Twitter, too. Jeff Ma, a member of the MIT blackjack team back in the mid-1990s, has written an op-ed for ESPN’s poker page defending Ivey’s play as not unethical (while expressly forgoing talking about its legality as interpreted by the High Court).

A second item popping up here at week’s end concerns those new Spin & Go games on PokerStars which I was trying out over on the play money side when they were first introduced. The new format has proven especially popular, so much so that some sit-n-go regs are not happy about the way they have affected traffic in other games. In fact, a petition “to demand a removal of these games” has been started by one disgruntled grinder -- an extreme-seeming response, to be sure.

The petition isn’t really that interesting to me, but some of the discussion that it has provoked both about the Spin & Go format and online poker in general has provided some worthwhile observations. One of the most thought-provoking came from Daniel Negreanu in a contribution to a 2+2 thread about the petition in which he points out that the full-timers (including the Supernovas and Supernova Elites) who are complaining about the way the format attracts recreational players and thus draws the “fish” away from their games are in fact themselves the greatest danger to the online poker’s survival.

“Do you know what kills games and destroys the poker ecosystem above and beyond all the things mentioned? Winning players,” explains Negreanu, who goes on to say how if the Spin & Go format does in fact deter pros from playing, that would be a positive as far as the survival of the “ecosystem” is concerned. Negreanu also says that if he were in charge of VIP systems he’d reward the losing players, not the winning ones. It’s an interesting read -- check it out.

Incidentally, with regard to “ecosystems” Darrel Plant authored an interesting article this week for PokerNews called “Circle of Life, Circle of Death: Depletion and Replenishment in Multi-Table Tournaments” that provides a nifty, math-based explanation of why poker needs new players (or at least new money). There’s also a very cool simulator embedded in the article which allows readers to input their own numbers to crunch to see how depletion and replenishment works in MTTs.

Finally, Martin Short was on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show this week talking about a poker game he once played with Johnny Carson. Also part of the game were Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Chevy Chase, and Steve Martin, along with some big-time agents and others. Short had actually never met Carson beforehand, and so was understandably intimidated when participating in the game.

As it turns out, there isn’t too much poker talk in the story, but it’s still contains a couple of grins -- you can watch the clip here. It does make me curious, though, to dig a little deeper into Carson’s poker-playing. Indeed, his having had Amarillo Slim Preston as a guest a dozen times in the early 1970s suggests Carson had more than just a passing interest in poker.

Like I say, I might get back one or two of these items next week, and if you have thoughts to share about any of them, fire away. Meanwhile, enjoy the weekend, everyone!

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