Monday, March 30, 2015

Regional Finals, Final Tables, and the Coming Final Four

Not unexpectedly, both my Heels and my NCAA bracket crumbled, and now I semi-dread the inevitable happening a week from today, namely a Kentucky-Duke final. (Others feel similarly?) Some exciting games, though, particularly in the regional finals.

Meanwhile I watched some poker on the computer this weekend, too. On Saturday I frequently dipped in and out of the EPT Live stream of the final table over at EPT Malta, including some of the seven-hour long heads-up battle between the two Frenchmen, Valentin Messina and Jean Montury that Montury ultimately won.

They ended up playing 148 hands total against one another, with the lead swinging back and forth in what turned out to be a hard-fought duel. What stood out the most, however, was the emotion Messina showed during his all-ins in the latter stages (such as pictured above in a screenshot from the stream).

Was hard not to be affected just a little watching him, something mentioned both in the commentary and in the PokerStars blog recap of the final table. The latter includes a nice picture of Montury consoling Messina after the final hand, as well as a good description of the scene by Howard Swains -- check it out.

Then on Sunday I followed a random tweet alerting me to the fact that Barry Greenstein had found his way over onto Twitch, and once on his channel I discovered him playing what turned out to be the priciest play money tournament ever on PokerStars, a 1 billion-play chip tournament that attracted 31 players.

Interestingly, Greenstein’s fellow Team PokerStars Pro Chris Moneymaker also took part, and the two of them ended up making it all of the way to heads-up against one another. Decidedly less emotion was on display for that heads-up match, although it was clear both were battling just as earnestly until Greenstein ultimately emerged the victor, winning 13.95 billion play-chip first prize while Moneymaker picked up 9.3 billion.

Obviously the kitty there was not as significant as what Montury and Messina were playing for (Montury won €687,400 while Messina took away €615,000 following a heads-up deal). Even so, from the rail both were interesting finishes to follow. And I guess the parallels help point up how poker can be meaningful at a wide variety of stakes, high to low.

I guess in both cases I wasn’t necessarily rooting for either player to win, but rather just to see a well-competed contest, which turned out to be so in both cases. Meanwhile we’ll see if that NCAA tournament comes down to the predictable heads-up next Monday, too, where (if does turn out to be the Wildcats and Blue Devils) I guess I’ll also lack any specific rooting interest.

Go Michigan State! Go Wisconsin!

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Four for Urbanovich

Have mentioned here before how once a week I compile a report on the latest Global Poker Index rankings -- both overall and Player of the Year -- for PokerNews.

Since the overall rankings reflects results going back as much as two years, there usually isn’t too much dramatic movement at the top. A player winning a tournament earns a decent number of points and can move up even hundreds of spots down below, but among the top 10, anyway, the players are pretty dug in. Indeed, this week the top 10 players are the same as from a week ago, with Ole Schemion in the top spot for a 14th straight week.

Meanwhile the POY race is a bit more volatile, especially as we’re still early in the year and players are just starting to gather points. Those doing well at the first big festivals of 2015 -- the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, EPT Deauville and EPT Malta, the WPT stops and WSOP-C stops, and others -- are the ones populating that list right now.

Thus it wasn’t too much of a surprise this week to be reporting a new POY leader, Poland’s Dzmitry Urbanovich, although it was notable to see he’d jumped all the way from No. 17 to No. 1 this week. And that he’d leapfrogged way ahead of the chase pack, suddenly turning up with a little over 2,380 points, more than 600 ahead of nearest challenger Joe Kuether.

Knew Urbanovich had been winning side events in Malta, and at the time of that report and the latest rankings he’d in fact won three different ones.

The €25,500 High Roller had gotten some news earlier in the week, with Urbanovich topping a tough field of 68 entries to win a €572,300 first prize. A few days later he bested a 156-entry field in the €1,100 NLHE Turbo to win another trophy and €35,200. Then the day after that he won a third event, the €5,200 NLHE Turbo that drew 55 entries to claim a €110,000 first prize.

At the time Urbanovich had additionally cashed in two other events -- final tabling both including finishing runner-up in a stud event. Then today came the news that he’d won a fourth side event in Malta, the €220 Crazy Pineapple Turbo tournament that drew a field of 56 to earn Urbanovich a modest €3,260 first prize.

Even with the small fields in a couple of the events, winning four tournaments in a single series is remarkable. Indeed, Chris Hall reports it represents a record for the EPT.

Some feat, and again suggests something about how winning begets winning in poker.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Heart vs. Head: Top Seeds Collide

Gearing up to watch some more basketball this evening, further energized to do so because (1) my UNC Tar Heels are still in action, playing a Sweet Sixteen game tonight against the West region’s top seed, Wisconsin, and (2) I’m still alive (I think) to cash in the tourney pool.

Of course, if I’m going to be at all realistic regarding both of those points, I’d have to admit that the prospects for Carolina aren’t so sanguine (they are six-point dogs) and my prospects for getting into the money in the pool aren’t so bright, either. That’s because I have Dook losing this weekend, undefeated Kentucky getting knocked out in the semis, and Arizona winning the sucker.

That is to say, I have a chance not unlike the player with nothing but an inside straight draw with one card to come can still win versus an opponent’s two pair.

If I could redo my bracket I would have Kentucky beating Dook in the finals. They are the two strongest-seeming teams right now (by a lot), and in truth if I hadn’t been more governed by my heart than my head when filling it out originally, I’d have done it that way in the first place.

But I don’t want to see Kentucky run the table. And it goes without saying what my feelings are about the Blue Devils.

I used to enter a pool each year with a lot of fellow UNC grads, most of whom every single year would pick UNC to win it all and Dook to lose in the first round. It was a fun pool to play because of the huge edge many who played automatically gave the rest by picking according to what they wanted to see happen as opposed to what they thought might actually play out.

If you think about it, though, all NCAA pools are probably affected similarly -- if not so severely -- by participants’ being overly influenced when picking games by their desire to see a certain outcome in the actual tournament than by the desire to win the pool.

Incidentally, I picked the Heels to lose last round, but since I have Wisconsin winning tonight, it’ll be a win-win!

Says my heart, anyway. My head insists it’s a lose-lose.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Will Someone Please Give Me Back My Freedom Not to Gamble!

Like some who read this blog, I dialed into that House hearing that took place during the late afternoon and early evening today, the one held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations to discuss that proposed Restoration of America’s Wire Act.

The hearing had been scheduled earlier in the month then delayed. I wrote something here at the time about it, in particular regarding the rumored list of witnesses almost all of whom were virulently anti-gambling in pretty much all forms, with the online version considered especially grievous. (Also wrote about RAWA during last December’s lame duck session when its proponents were hoping it might sneak through.)

Had the sucker on while working in the kitchen preparing dinner, an Irish pot pie with lentils, carrots, and turnips that turned out nicely. Thankfully the hearing ended before we sat down to eat, as much of the testimony and answers from the witnesses was sadly stomach-turning.

The hearing -- like most on the Hill -- was obviously primarily a bit of theater that allowed most involved to pretend to engage in a “dialogue” about the idea represented by RAWA, namely, to prohibit all forms of online gambling in the United States. It’s a truly radical idea, the consequences of which would not be insignificant should the bill become law. And so John Kindt (a business prof. with a long history of raving testimony comparing gambling to drugs), Les Bernal (director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation), and Michael Fagan (not the guy who broke into Buckingham Palace back in the 1980s, but an adjunct law prof. with experience prosecuting money-launderers and racketeers) were there voicing fairly radical views about the widespread harms of gambling and the need for government to protect us from ourselves.

The testimony of these three was often so out-to-lunch it was hard not to crack wise in response. Bernal in particular went on a rant about “government-sponsored internet gambling” (even pounding the desk and repeating phrases as he did) that seemed to want to suggest that by not prohibiting gambling, governments were somehow requiring people to gamble.

For example, Bernal characterizes those who argue in favor of “states rights” on the issue of online gambling as adopting a position that “state governments should be allowed to force casino gambling and lottery games into every bedroom, dorm room and smart phone in their communities, even though a strong majority of individuals in states don’t want it.” Such is part of his larger characterization of a “predatory” government looking for ways to exploit its citizens.

Of course, what Bernal is saying is patently absurd. States that have passed laws allowing their citizens to gamble online in a regulated environment (as in a licensed casino) are obviously not “forcing” these games into citizens’ lives.

At one point Bernal tossed out a statistic that 5% of the population has had their lives “turned upside down by gambling,” a stat gleaned, incidentally, from an NIH study speculating (without supporting data) that both “pathological and problem gambling may affect up to 5% of Americans” (italics added). But of course he turns the idea of prohibition upside down when he weirdly suggests that government should enact a law to take away a freedom in order to give citizens the freedom not to do something.

Kindt meanwhile maintained regulation to be simply an entirely impossible goal, utterly ignoring the evidence of states having successfully managed to do just that and instead citing sources dating back to the 1990s as support. Fagan likewise looked not at regulated online gambling but unregulated examples as providing evidence of online gambling having financed terrorism.

Not everyone testifying was as crazed-sounding or illogical as these three often were. Parry Aftab of Wired Safety was again a balanced witness who suggested regulation a much preferable alternative to prohibition, while the R Street Institute’s Andrew Moylan pointed out how federal bill like RAWA would wrongly usurp states’ rights.

Most distasteful was the bill’s sponsor, Jason Chaffetz (pictured above), appearing to ignore what everyone was saying while maintaining it to be a “fiction for anyone to believe” states can in fact keep citizens from gambling online on sites maintained outside the state’s borders. Chaffetz delivered that point hastily, then left the hearing before it was over. Didn’t see him drop a mic before leaving, although it felt like he should have.

I trust some members of the subcommittee did learn something yesterday, although like I say, the hearing itself often seemed more about deception than instruction. If you’re curious, check out others’ more detailed rundowns of the hearing, among them Matthew Kredell’s for PokerNews and Steve Ruddock’s for BLUFF. If you can stomach them, that is.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Joining Team Moneymaker

Had great fun last night playing a poker tournament. Feel like I haven’t been able to say that much lately.

If you happen to follow Chris Moneymaker on Twitter, you might have seen him yesterday inviting people to join his new PokerStars Home Game. He has a new website -- Team Moneymaker -- which is part of a few new projects he’s developing, among them the PS Home Game. And the good news for those of us in the U.S. who aren’t able to play real money games, his Home Game is for play chips.

I signed up during the afternoon and then participated in the first of a few tournaments Moneymaker scheduled during the evening. Eventually he got his Twitch channel up and running as well, and provided commentary and feedback as we played.

I have to say I got a big kick out of Moneymaker’s stream, especially one time when I mistyped an opening raise with pocket jacks from UTG -- making it nearly 5x the big blind when I had been aiming for just under 3x -- and a couple of minutes later Moneymaker was commenting and making a note on me about my oversized open.

There were only 17 in this first tournament (including “Money800”). I stumbled early on, with none of my steal attempts or c-bets seeming to accomplish anything other than my dribbling away chips. But then I managed to pick up some decent hands and get paid for them, and eventually made it all of the way to having a chip lead with three players left.

Ran into some hard luck at that point -- if I were tweeting my progress, my followers would’ve gotten an “Out. QQ < AQ, then AJ < A8” note like those we’re all always seeing in our timelines -- and went out in third. The buy-in was exactly 1 play chip, my prize for finishing third was exactly 3, but the entertainment derived from those two hours was considerable.

So was the instruction, as I found myself genuinely challenged by certain decisions along the way and appreciating Moneymaker’s advice to players as he talked about bet-sizing and other decisions made by others (and himself) on Twitch.

I believe his plan will be to host Home Games each Monday night at 8 p.m. Eastern time, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of hundred at least taking part -- maybe more -- by the time word gets around and some momentum is built up. If you’re curious, you can join Team Moneymaker here, then join his Home Game using the Club ID 1954662 and Invitation Code TeamMoneymaker2015.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

GPM Afterthoughts

On Friday I was noting how that Global Poker Masters event was coming up over the weekend, and indeed I ended up having the show -- streamed via Twitch -- up and running for most of Saturday and Sunday while my attention was divided somewhat by the NCAA basketball tournament.

Both events took up the majority of waking hours on both days, although the basketball featured multiple contests starting and ending (with clear winners and losers) while the team-style poker tournament was a lengthy, multi-stage competition that eventually whittled down to just two teams with Italy defeating Russia in the end.

I gave kind of a hasty summary of the GPM format here on Friday, although by the time things got going Saturday they might have tinkered further with it a bit, or at least that’s what commentators Joe Stapleton and Jesse May indicated at one point when talking about the players having made suggestions at the drawing party in Malta Friday night.

In any case, while Saturday’s sit-n-gos were easy enough to follow, I’ll admit I got a little lost on Sunday with what was happening, no doubt due in part to that aforemention division of my attention between the cards and hoops. Checking in over at PokerNews’ live reporting helped a lot, actually, when it came to sorting out how the teams were doing relative to one another as well as how the entire event was progressing toward its conclusion.

I did notice a couple of very interesting hands along the way. For example early on Saturday there was a hand that saw Dario Sammartino open with a raise with two red aces and Igor Yaroshevsky call from position with A-K. The flop then brought the case ace and what appeared the set-up for an inescapable knockout of Yaroshevsky, but the Ukrainian managed only to call a flop bet, check behind on the turn, then fold quickly to a decent-sized river bet by Sammartino.

In any tournament or session, a single hand is only a small part of the larger narrative of conflict involving many combatants. However, in this case the significance of this one hand was obscured even further by the complicated format. In other words, while in a regular tournament it would be easy enough to see how the hand might have affected the subsequent fortunes of the two players involved, here it didn’t seem all that meaningful occurring amid the early levels of one of 25 eight-player sit-n-gos played as the initial stage of a two-day, multi-stage event.

I guess what I’m saying by this observation is that while there were obviously some highly-skilled players participating and there were occasions as well for that skill to be displayed, I’m not so sure the format necessarily provided a consistent test of skill, nor too much chance to demonstrate that skill in ways that viewers could readily appreciate. (The fact that on Saturday the “hard stop” rule for the SNGs ended up encouraging a lot of gambly all-ins to conclude each of them didn’t help, either.) Contrast, if you like, those NCAA tournament games where individuals’ contributions to team goals were unambiguous, as were the results of those efforts during and at the conclusion of each contest.

There’s a lot else to say about both the event and its presentation to an audience, to which this is really just a very specific response alluding to just one small part of it. I thought it was interesting to hear GPI’s Alex Dreyfus on the stream discussing how one purpose for the Global Poker Masters event was to create a poker event that could attract non-poker coverage, thereby bringing poker to a wider audience. I’ll let others decide how well that goal was realized over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the first GPM did give us a number of things to think about, among them the idea of “team poker,” the efficacy of Twitch and other media for covering poker events, to what extent poker can hope to attract audiences (and new players) not already involved in the game, and what exactly is meant by attempts to “sportify” the game and/or its presentation.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Global Poker Masters Plays Out This Weekend

The two-day Global Poker Masters kicks off tomorrow in Malta. The European Poker Tour is there now, too, the first visit for the EPT to the island just south of Italy. They’ve got a huge series going there, with 69 events total (I believe) and the Main Event getting started tomorrow.

As far as the GPM is concerned -- a.k.a., poker’s “World Cup” (as the GPI is dubbing it) -- on Saturday there will be five rounds of play scheduled starting at 12 noon Malta time (GMT+1, or five hours ahead of me in the ET zone). Then on Sunday comes the quarterfinals, semis, and finals, again starting at 12 noon.

Each of the five rounds on Saturday is comprised of eight-handed sit-n-gos with one representative from each of the eight national teams -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States -- at each table. The structures will be fast, with every SNG due to finish within two-and-a-half hours. There will be a 30-second “shot clock,” too, to speed things up.

The players’ finishes for the day (with points given for each place) will all be tabulated with the eight teams being ranked accordingly, then the eighth-place team will be eliminated from the competition -- kind of an interesting idea which at a glance appears to make the Saturday SNGs more meaningful since not everyone automatically gets through to the “tournament” on Sunday.

But even though they start out Sunday playing something called the “quarterfinals,” it isn’t really that.

Teams are seeded according to their finishes on Saturday, then on Sunday will start with the five-person teams playing heads-up matches against each other. The top-ranked team gets a bye in the quarterfinals, with the other six remaining teams playing No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6, and No. 4 vs. No. 5.

Rather than just have the team winning the most heads-up matches advance from each of those three contests, they’ll again tally points, rank the six teams, then eliminate the one with the lowest points. That means six teams survive the “quarterfinals” to go on to the “semifinals.”

The six teams then pick one player from each to play a relatively deeper-stacked SNG (as the “semis”). Sounds like they can “tag” players in and out, too, if desired. I believe the starting stacks will be different, too, for this SNG, corresponding to how the six teams fared in the “quarterfinals.” (Not sure how the stack of the team with a bye will be determined.)

Once this SNG gets to heads-up, the five players from the two players’ teams then all sit down to play heads-up matches, with each match starting with stacks that equal the stacks of the two players in the SNG. Think of the heads-up match suddenly being cloned four times over. The five matches are then played out, with the team winning three or more winning the title.

It resembles in part the “Americas Cup of Poker” I had a chance to cover at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure this year (for the PokerStars blog here and here), although throws in some extra twists on the second day to divert from that formula. The whole sucker will be streamed over on Twitch, and it’ll be hard to resist dipping in over there this weekend from time to time just to see what it’s all about (while I have the NCAA on the teevee, of course).

I’m wondering what kind of stories might be produced by the GPM, aside from who wins (which I think isn’t necessarily the most compelling part of it). The number viewing the Twitch channel will be of interest, probably. So, too, might some especially compelling hands, if they arise. There could be other, unexpected stories, perhaps even including some related to this whole campaign to “sportify” poker the event is intended to highlight.

Anyhow, even if there will be a more compelling team game to keep my attention this weekend (for me, anyway), I am nonetheless curious to see what happens with the GPM the next couple of days.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short-Stacked Again

Enjoying March Madness this afternoon, despite the fact that one of my Final Four picks has already been thrown over the side before the tournament was even three hours old.

Of course, with the two big upsets this afternoon -- UAB over Iowa State (my Final Four team) and Georgia State over Baylor -- “busted bracket” is already the theme all over. Saw a stat a short while ago that after the first three of 63 games were done, just 86,737 of the 11.57 million entries in the ESPN Tournament Challenge had picked all three winners.

The analogy between the NCAA tournament and a poker tournament doesn’t really work, unless, of course, we’re talking about a heads-up event. But those of us in NCAA pools are very much like competitors in a poker tournament, with the “stacks” (or possible points) all starting out even and then instantly beginning to differentiate with the completion of each game.

A few years ago I remember coming on here and whimpering a little about having dropped to the bottom of the “counts” after the first two rounds. But with all four of my Final Four teams still intact and seven Elite Eight teams still alive, I was short-stacked but still competitive -- kind of like being below the average in chips but still okay in terms of big blinds.

Meanwhile, just like in a poker tournament, those leading after the first rounds (or “levels”) are hardly guaranteed to win or even make the money. Picking later round games correctly earns more points as well, just like the pots later on are bigger and the significance of winning or losing has a greater impact on ultimate results.

And while my poor start doesn’t make me want to consider it that closely, it’s certainly possible to bust altogether early on if one has played (or picked) badly enough -- or suffers enough bad fortune.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Before BF

Was watching the live stream of the World Poker Tour Rolling Thunder final table some tonight being shown via the WPT’s Twitch channel -- another use of that platform in poker, incidentally, with that Global Poker Masters event happening this weekend and also being shown on Twitch coming soon as well.

It’s late and they’re still at it, with Taylor Paur (who just won the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Stars title less than two weeks ago), Jesse Rockowitz, and Ravee Mathi Sundar having been battling three-handed for quite some time.

The commentary is being provided by Kane Kalas and Tony Dunst. Earlier tonight I caught part of something Dunst said about having played online pre-Black Friday -- I think he might have been talking about playing against Paur, who has long been a successful online player. He still is, in fact, having just won the Super Tuesday back in November.

Dunst was noting how a lot has changed in poker over these last almost-four years, and thus memories of having played certain players then (such as Paur) were only of limited relevance when assessing those players’ styles today.

Reminded me a little of Dunst’s appearance in BET RAISE FOLD and the story he shared there of his life as an online grinder coming to an abrupt halt on April 15, 2011. It also reminded me of how that generation of online players -- I’m thinking mainly of the American ones, of course -- kind of split into a couple of camps post-BF, with some moving out of the U.S. and continuing online and others essentially becoming live players almost exclusively (if they stayed in the game, that is).

I suppose it’s more accurate to say that group fragmented into dozens of different directions, as in truth I’m only really referring to a small percentage of the whole. In any case, that era “before BF” continues to exert its influence, and probably will for a while longer, too.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Considering the Colossus

Got that note along with everyone else this week from the World Series of Poker about the $565 buy-in “Colossus” event that will help kick off this year’s WSOP in late May.

That’s the one featuring a big $5 million guaranteed prize pool, which means in order to meet the guarantee at least 10,000 will be playing. Which means, in turn, if that guarantee is met it’ll be the biggest field for a live tournament ever, topping the 8,773 that played the Main Event in 2006.

From this distance of two-plus months out, that total of 10,000 seems not unlikely. But it sounds like the WSOP is expecting well over that -- like 15,000 or even 20,000 -- or at least that’s what WSOP VP of Corporate Communications Seth Palansky is saying.

Just skimming through the “basics” (as well as the structure sheet) and other tips to would-be players regarding registration is a little bit head-spinning. There will be four Day 1 flights total occurring during two days of play, with flights starting at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day and each racing through ten 40-minute levels (meaning they’ll last a little less than eight hours apiece).

There is a reentry option, although players can only enter one time per flight, and aren’t allowed to reenter if they bag a stack at the end of a flight. They can, if they wish, forfeit a stack at night’s end (say a super-short one) and play a subsequent Day 1 flight, but they have to make that choice prior to bagging. After all of those Day 1s are done, they have three more days’ of poker scheduled to complete the sucker, although in the “FYI” list of items is a note that it could well extend one extra day.

Players are advised to preregister, but there are plans in place to seat a couple of “Late Waves” in each of the four Day 1 flights. I’m not even going to start to try to summarize it all -- you can read through the explanation yourself over at Suffice it to say, when Palansky refers to the event as “a big operational challenge,” that sounds like understatement.

If only there were another word for “big.”

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