Monday, July 28, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 4 -- Manos: The Hands of Fate

The final day at the Latin American Poker Tour Panama Main Event was kind of a strange one. The final table zipped by quickly, finishing in less than five hours. That wasn’t so odd, as these LAPT final tables do tend to move along quickly. Also, in this case they’d gotten a little deeper in the structure than usually happens thanks to a very long final table bubble (about three hours), so there were tons of short stacks at the start.

But after almost a dozen hands passed yesterday, there were six eliminations within the space of about 15 minutes of poker, which was a little bit head-spinning. The all-ins just kept coming, and while there were a couple of small double-ups thrown in there, most ended with knockouts.

The Argentinian Fabian Ortiz who began the day with the chip lead was the one handling most of those bustouts. He actually lost the lead on the day’s first hand after triple-barreling in a blind-vs.-blind confrontation to drop about half his stack. But he got that back quickly, then began motoring through the others in short order.

Heads-up looked like it might end in a single hand, actually, as Guillermo Olvera of Mexico shoved all in on the river and Ortiz had to tank a while before calling. But Olvera had Ortiz beat and they continued on, in fact playing more than two hours more before Ortiz at last came away with the win.

It marked Ortiz’s second LAPT title after winning back in Season 2 in Chile. He became only the second player in the LAPT’s history to win two Main Events, the other being Team PokerStars Pro Nacho Barbero.

Interestingly, the final hand yesterday saw Ortiz winning with K-7-offsuit, managing to outrun Olvera’s A-7 when a king fell on the turn. King-seven was the exact hand with which he won the LAPT2 Chile event as well, suggesting the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference above. (Photo of Ortiz holding up the hand of fate by Carlos Monti.)

Gotta run as my shuttle to the airport is coming. Still promising that report on the trip to the Panama Canal on Saturday, which I’ll share later this week. It was a fun week, and again it was great to work alongside the LAPT folks, all of whom are excellent at what they do besides being a lot of fun to hang around with.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 3 -- Short Cuts

It was a memorable day yesterday that began with my getting up very early in order to take a tour into Panama City, highlighted by a visit to the Panama Canal.

The trip was arranged through LAPT travel, and they set me up with a terrific guide who took a couple of us throughout the city to visit various sites, learn about the country’s history, and of course check out the Canal where we were able to see a ship passing through.

The Panama Canal is such a marvel to consider. Such a complicated history regarding its conception and initial construction at the start of the 20th century, and of course its operation is also incredibly complex.

That turned out to be my foremost impression from my visit to the Canal -- simple awe at its being such a creative, ingenious solution to a difficult problem. I managed to write a little about the trip in a post for the PokerStars blog yesterday, titled “The world’s most famous short cut.”

I didn’t have time to give the subject the treatment it deserved as there was a lot of poker to report yesterday, too. The 47 players played down to a final table of eight, taking all of the way to midnight to finish up with the Argentinian Fabian Ortiz finishing as chip leader as he seeks his second career LAPT title.

Only Ortiz’s countryman Nacho Barbero has ever pulled off the double, and in fact my first ever LAPT trip was to Lima to cover Barbero’s second LAPT win.

The morning trip and long Day 3 added up to a more than an 18-hour day for me, and thanks to having to take care of other business this morning I also don’t have time here to give the Panama City trip enough time for a proper report. So I’m having to take a short cut here with today’s post. I’ll write more about it next week once I’m home, including sharing more pictures.

Meanwhile, to follow today’s last day at LAPT7 Panama, head over to the PokerStars blog. You can watch a live stream of the final table, too, by clicking here.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 2 -- Talking Towers

Was another busy day on the seventh floor of the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel as they continued the LAPT7 Panama Main Event, playing from 179 players down to just 47 (into the money). That sets up what I think ought to be a longish Day 3 today, although often whenever I anticipate such on the LAPT things rush along more quickly than I expect.

I’m writing in haste early Saturday morning, just before taking my trip and tour to the Panama Canal which I’m squeezing in prior to the start of play today. Will try to take some pictures and deliver a report here of that trip, if not this weekend perhaps after I get back home.

Just a couple of quick highlights from yesterday to share, both involving the great Carlos Monti, the photographer with whom I get to work each time I come to report on these LAPT events.

On the ride into Panama City from the airport on Tuesday, I’d noticed the skyline and all of the many high-rises filling the landscape. Then once the tournament got going in earnest and players began constructing towers of chips from their starting stacks, I had a post idea that I shared with Carlos.

He neatly realized the comparison I was imagining in a couple of photos, which made for a fun write-up yesterday called “Towers upon towers.”

Also, before play began yesterday Carlos showed other talents during the preparations before Day 2 began. Enjoy:

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 1b -- November Niners

Another long day yesterday for Day 1b of the LAPT7 Panama Main Event. A huge turnout actually ended up bringing the total number of entries to 550 for the event, just a little under the 570 from last fall and I think above expectations.

Had a couple of highlights along the way, one being a quick chat with Badih “Bob” Bounahra of Belize who traversed Central America to play. We talked just a little about his November Nine run from 2011, his WSOP this year (which included a third place in a $1K event), and his continued love of deuce-seven.

Sort of an interesting turn of events today as Bounahra got seated at the feature table with Scott Montgomery, who also of course made a November Nine back in 2008 (the first one). Most agreed it was certainly the first time two November Niners had been seated at the same table at an LAPT event, and possibly the first instance of two playing in the same tourney.

Looks like 179 made it through to Friday’s Day 2, which apparently will be a shorter day -- just eight one-hour levels without a dinner break. Then there will be a party at the pool afterwards, which should be a good chance to relax a little and possible get some good eats as well.

I’m most excited, though, about having booked a trip to see the Panama Canal on Saturday morning. Gonna have to get up early to make it there and back before the noon start of the tourney, but it’ll be worth it, I’m told. More on that when it happens.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 1a -- Veni, Vidi, Veneto

A full day yesterday for Day 1a of the LAPT Panama Main Event at the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel here on Vía Veneto y Av Eusebio Morales in Panama City.

As expected there was a relatively modest-sized field for the first Day 1 flight, although the 174 total entries I think might have been a little more than some were thinking might turn out.

Most (but not all) of the usual suspects were present, and while the first levels of any tournament generally don’t provide too much excitement in the way of poker, there were some intriguing hands and I also had a chance to meet some interesting players.

Early in the day I chatted with Joel Micka who arrived bright and early for the first hand at 12 noon after having stayed up late the night before making a deep run in the Super Tuesday, the weekly $1,050 no-limit hold’em tourney on PokerStars (he finished 10th). A friendly guy who has had a lot of online success plus some good live results, too, including a huge million dollar-plus score in early 2013 at the PCA when he took runner-up in the Main Event.

Also enjoyed talking to Angelina Rich, someone with whom I felt like I probably had a little more in common for a few reasons. A relatively new player, Rich has enjoyed some success during the past year winning the Women’s Sunday on Stars, also cashing in three events at EPT10 Sanremo including winning the Women’s Event a few months ago, plus winning her seat into the LAPT Panama tourney via FPPs.

Rich has a degree in fashion design and started a during the past year as well called Rich Street Fashion, and we had a chance to talk about her poker education as well as her blog yesterday.

I expect I’ll meet a few more new folks today. There will be some of the same faces back again, too, as the tournament allows reentries, meaning people like Humberto Brenes and Leo Fernandez of Team PokerStars Pro who busted last night will surely be returning.

Staying right here in the venue is extremely convenient, something I don’t always get to do on these trips, although I suspect it’s gonna keep me from seeing too much of Panama City this week. Perhaps later when we do get to some shorter days there will be a chance at least to walk around a little.

More mañana.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Arrival -- Between the Americas

I send along an update from Central America and the Republic of Panama, my home away from home for the rest of the week as I’m here to report on the LAPT Panama Main Event for the PokerStars blog.

The trip in was relatively easy, with no surprises along the way other than perhaps a little extra excitement on the ride from Tocumen International Airport to the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel where I’m staying and where the tournament is being played. Zipping along in the shuttle at 100 km per, we had a couple of close calls with others jockeying for position along the two-lane Corredor Sur, but made it in good shape. And good time, natch.

Riding in we were traveling west and did for a time duck out over the Gulf of Panama, before curving back inland. Could see the skyline, kind of a distinctive feature of Panama with its several tall buildings not bunched together but spread out along a lengthy swatch of the coastline. Am west of the canal, I believe, spanned by the Bridge of the Americas.

I checked in and hung out in the room just a short while before connecting with Sergio, my fellow blogger who handles PokerStars’ blog for Brazil. We relaxed in the bar area next to a large pool which was pretty popular when I first arrived, but soon the skies turned gray and opened up to send everyone under cover.

We shot the breeze for a good while, then eventually ventured out into have a nice dinner at a Peruvian restaurant a couple of blocks away called Machu Picchu where I filled up on seafood appetizers (calamari and parmesan shrimp) and a delicious sea bass entree.

As Sergio pointed out, we’ll be mostly confined to the hotel-casino for the next few days where it’ll be a lot of burgers and fast meals, although we’ll probably get out -- and likely back to the Machu Picchu -- once the weekend comes and the tourney days are shorter.

Not sure what kind of field size we’ll see tomorrow, although it sounds like with the WSOP having just ended and the Brazilian Series of Poker having their BSOP Brasilia event next week there will probably be a somewhat smaller group here than last fall when there were 570 total entries.

Gonna file this one now and get some rest. Probably will only have time for the short reports this week between all the other stuff I have to get done. More to come.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ain’t No Stopping Now... Panama!

In an airport again. Has been a while, after I stayed home on the farm all summer during the World Series of Poker. Am now about to take a quick post-WSOP trip down to Panama City for the LAPT Panama event that runs from Wednesday through Sunday.

The Main is a $1,500+$150 buy-in with a couple of starting days. It’s the third year the tour has made it to Panama. They drew 338 two years ago (with a $2,300+$200 buy-in), then last fall with the same price tag there were 570 total entries. It’s the third event of Season 7 for the tour, following Chile and Brazil.

This’ll be a first trip to Panama for me, one of a couple of LAPT stops I’ve yet to visit. I’ve never even been to Central America. Am curious to see the skyline and canal and whatever else I can this week, while I am also looking forward to reuniting with all the LAPT folks and players once more.

I think there might be a few making the trip from the U.S., perhaps more than is usually the case for these LAPT events. I say that both because this one falls in the middle of a relatively quiet period on the poker calendar and the trip down isn’t nearly as arduous as the ones down to the lower part of South America. Saw Chris Moneymaker tweet that he may make it, and I’ve heard a few other U.S. players may be going, too.

Indeed, I’m looking at about five hours’ flying time total, which seems like nothing compared to the two-day long voyages I’m often taking for the LAPT events. Will definitely be nice to be there by the afternoon and (hopefully) not be much fatigued from the travel.

Jump back... what’s that sound? Ah, the boarding announcement. Better cut this short. Back with reports from Central America this week.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

On James Garner, Who Portrayed a Poker Player and a P.I.

Actor James Garner passed away over the weekend at the age of 86. Much beloved for a variety of roles, Garner’s most famous ones actually covered special areas of interest for your humble scribbler -- one a poker player and the other a private investigator.

Those of my generation probably most remember Garner from The Rockford Files, the TV series in which he played a private investigator. It originally aired from 1974 to 1980 then stuck around a long while in syndication, and I remember watching it a lot with my Dad. The groovy theme song is pretty firmly etched in my memory.

Besides having engaging, problem-solver plots, the show also highlighted a father-and-son relationship between Jim Rockford (Garner) and his Dad, Rocky (played by Noah Beery, Jr.), and looking back I’m realizing how as a kid that aspect of the show was appealing to me as well.

For those of my Dad’s generation, though, most probably most readily associate Garner with the poker-playing Bret Maverick character he portrayed on TV from 1957 to 1962. I have no memory of watching that one, although I know I did see a few reruns as a kid. And in fact the bouncy theme song to that series describing the Old West hero “livin’ on jacks and queens” sits faintly tucked away in the back of my noggin, too:

I wrote about Bret Maverick once in a “Poker & Pop Culture” piece a while back, a fictional character uniquely associated with poker demonstrating the meaningful connection between the game and the Old West. I also wrote here several years ago about a reprint of a book I’d picked up called Maverick’s Guide to Poker which had been reissued following the 1994 film.

I’m of course familiar with the film adaptation starring Mel Gibson -- I often show a clip of the climactic poker scene in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class -- and while it’s thoroughly entertaining it isn’t necessarily my favorite “poker movie.” Garner does a turn there, too, getting introduced as a supporting character, Marshal Zane Cooper. (And now that I think about it, there is kind of a father-son thing going on there as well.)

By the way, Nolan Dalla shared a nice story yesterday about Garner dating from 2006 when he turned up to play in that year’s World Series of Poker Main Event and on one of the starting days agreed at the very last minute to deliver the traditional directive to “shuffle up and deal” -- only Garner handled it a little differently than expected.

Check out “A James Garner Poker Story.”

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Friday, July 18, 2014

WPT Alpha8 High Rolling into a Second Season

Among the poker news items here at week’s end is that the World Poker Tour’s Alpha8 is coming back for a second season, that “high roller” series which featured four stops during its first season in Florida, London, St. Kitts, and Johannesburg.

The new season will begin with a return trip to London in October, where the buy-in will be £60,000, roughly the equivalent of the usual $100K price tag for these tourneys. For the first go-round for the Alpha8 in London the buy-in was £100,000.

Then in December the tour goes to the Bellagio for a $100,000 event. That stop will coincide with a regular WPT stop, which may well help increase the overall turnout there.

With the first season done, I was curious to look through just who played those first four Alpha8 events, all of which featured small fields with many of the same players showing up to more than one of them.

The Florida stop (which I had a chance to cover) drew 18 players and 21 total entries. In London there were again 18 players, and with two re-entries a total of 20 buy-ins.

St. Kitts was the most popular Alpha8 stop during the first season, with 28 total entries and 23 individual players. Then only nine players made it to South Africa for the final stop, with one re-buying to make the total entries 10.

I’ve been watching some of the shows on Fox Sports 1 which have been entertaining, though very different in feel from most other poker programming thanks largely to the small fields -- more Poker After Dark or High Stakes Poker, I suppose, than the usual WPT shows or the WSOP broadcasts.

A total of 43 different players have taken part in WPT Alpha8 events thus far. Three have played all four of them -- Jeff Gross, Philipp Gruissem, and Erik Seidel. Gruissem won twice (London and St. Kitts), Gross finished third and in the money once (Florida), and Seidel went 0-for-4.

One other player has spent more than Seidel on Alpha8 buy-ins so far, with Antonio Esfandiari firing five times total in three events, including twice in London where the buy-in was £100,000. That adds up to about $640,000 total (with no cashes for the Magician).

A total of 14 of the 43 players who have participated in Alpha8 events have cashed in at least one, with Scott Seiver the only one besides Gruissem to make the money twice (finishing second in London and fifth in St. Kitts).

Here’s a table showing the entries and results for the 43 Alpha8 players (click to embiggen):

Will be interesting to see if the second season attracts different players and/or if fields grow or remain in the usual two-to-three table range.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

From Eugene Edwards' Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game (1900)

Published in 1900, Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game by Eugene Edwards collects numerous anecdotes about poker as it was played during the 19th century, all of which add up to a convincing testament to the game’s popularity as well as to its special relationship to American culture more than a century ago.

Before getting into the various stories of particular characters and notable hands that make up the historical narrative, Edwards uses the first chapter to explain “What Is Poker -- Its Origin, and Why We Like It.”

He begins with a general observation about Americans being especially eager when it comes to playing games, our fondness for baseball being a primary example and our readiness to import other games (golf from Scotland, lacrosse from India, etc.) further demonstrating such a predilection. Card-playing is special, though, says Edwards, because of its accessibility to all, no matter how old or young.

He then rattles through various card games of the day, dismissing each for various reasons as coming up short of representing “the Great American Game.” Euchre, for example -- “the ladies’ game” -- is too French. Seven-up is “the country boy’s game.” And whist is both too closely identified with England (even the Queen plays it) and requiring of “too much brain work.”

“When you shuffle up all the games, however, there is one that stands out before and beyond all the others,” Edwards continues, “like a lighthouse on the sea coast or a water tank on a prairie, and that is POKER.”

From there he offers a thumbnail sketch of the game’s origins, taking a few shots in passing at the European nations whose games were precursors to poker for their failure to embrace “the modern and perfected game” of poker (“we know how cordially Europeans detest innovations”). Such is probably the most dated of the sentiments in the chapter, given the game’s widespread popularity in Europe today.

“Therefore we may say with truth that America monopolizes the game of poker, and it certainly is the game that best fits our national character,” Edwards triumphantly concludes, speaking of how the game requires nerve, money, strength, and brains each of which (in his estimation) are areas where “we lead the world.”

Edwards edges closer to jingoism as he successively dismisses Germans, the French, and the English as not nearly as well suited for poker as are Americans. But despite the heavy-handed commentary, he does make several salient observations about the game itself, praising in particular its accessibility (being easy to learn) and its ongoing challenge (the learning never stops).

“It is such a simple game to learn,” writes Edwards, noting how a person with any familiarity at all with other card games “can be taught the game of poker in a half hour -- and then spend the rest of his life learning it.”

“That is the main beauty of the game,” he continues. “You think you know it all after you have played ten hands and then after a hundred seances you begin to realize there is something for you to learn. There is so much human nature in it, and human nature is so complex.”

By 1900, poker had well established itself in American culture, a pastime which could be referenced just a few years later by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in his “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings as an instantly recognizable aspect of modern American life. Edwards notes how by the time of his writing the game had already endured a period of demonization by opponents and survived, alluding to a time “thirty or forty years ago... when cards were held up to scorn as the invention of the devil, and all card players were placed but a shade above a forger or pickpocket.”

That time, Edwards insists, had by then passed. “We do not hear so much of that wild talk nowadays,” he reports.

Of course, such “wild talk” would never go away entirely, returning again and again throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

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