Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One Decision After Another

Kind of back in spectator mode at the moment while following the tourneys currently in action.

As usually happens when I’m home and a European Poker Tour event is playing out, I’ve had the EPTLive stream on without interruption the last few days as EPT Prague has now worked its way down to a final table with just seven left to return for tomorrow’s last day of play.

The Frenchman Remi Castaignon is one of those still in the hunt, although he is now the short stack among the players who are left. He won EPT Deauville back in Season 9 (when I was there), and so aims to join Victoria Coren Mitchell in the two-time champs’ club -- a club in which she is currently the only member.

I’m also now dipping in occasionally to follow the updates over at the World Poker Tour site as the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio is now underway. Am thinking about last December when I was there for that one, always a big event which looks like it’s going to even bigger this time around.

Meanwhile today I clicked over to read an interview with Erik Seidel in which he discusses similarities between the challenges faced by poker pros and startups. Most of the points covered are pretty familiar, although I liked how Seidel mentions the performance of Martin Jacobson when winning this year’s WSOP Main Event.

“You could watch at home on ESPN and see how Martin Jacobson made one great decision after another and eventually that all added up to him taking home the world championship and $10 million,” explains Seidel.

That reminded me of Darrel Plant’s PokerNews article from a few weeks back in which he went through all 19 instances of Jacobson going all in at the final table in “Pushing His Way to a WSOP Main Event Title: A Look at Martin Jacobson’s All-Ins.” Even if Jacobson had to enjoy some good fortune to survive all of those all-ins to win, the article nonetheless illustrates just what Seidel is saying about how Jacobson proved himself as a great “manager” of his “business” at that final table.

It’s that constant stream of decisions -- many familiar, but all in fact unique -- players are forced to make that keeps poker interesting for me, both to play and to watch.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

On the Importance of the The

I was thinking this morning about a Wallace Stevens poem and a class in modern American poetry I had as an undergraduate.

Like a lot of what we read in that course, the poem was especially challenging for someone barely 20 years old to appreciate. The professor was fantastic, however, and successfully convinced me over and over why the problems these poets were exploring -- linguistic, artistic, historical, psychological, philosophical -- were worth considering. And were, in fact, often fascinating.

The poem I thought of is called “The Man on the Dump” and like a lot of the poetry we read in that course features a great deal of physical description, in this case of seemingly scattered shards of items in a trash heap. Besides a fairly constant feeling of befuddlement, the main, decades-later impression I retain from that course was the unending stream of stuff in those poems -- all of the descriptions of things like Eliot’s yellow smoke or Williams’s red wheelbarrow or Frost’s wall with a frozen-ground-swell erupting at its base.

I’m not going to pretend to possess any special insight about these poems. After being sincerely intrigued for a semester by Pound’s puzzles, Larkin’s larks, and Plath’s plight, I made a hasty retreat back to the 18th century in grad school to study long novels and satire instead. But as I say, a few of them stand out starkly for me, mostly because of those images like the withered flowers strewn among the dirt and tin cans and old mattresses in Stevens’s poem.

The real reason I thought of Stevens’s poem was because of the way it finishes. It ends with one of those weird poetic punch lines -- you know, like a question about telling the difference between the dancer and the dance. Coming at the end of a series of rhetorical questions, the speaker asks “Where was it one first heard the truth?” He then concludes with a two-word sentence that either answers the question or perhaps clarifies it somehow: “The the.”

No, that’s not a typo. The first “the” is a definite article, and the second “the” is (seemingly) a noun. That explains the grammar of the sentence, anyway. Meanwhile, to pinpoint what the the is referring to -- a physical location? a point of origin? objective truth? -- is hardly as simple a matter. As I recall we took the better part of an hour working on that problem in class.

Later I’d think back fondly on that discussion. The particulars of it have long faded, but I still get a kick out of the sheer audacity of spending that much time talking about a single word -- and perhaps the most mundane, pedestrian word in the English language at that.

The poem and the class rushed back to mind today after having had a quick back-and-forth with someone about whether or not to include the word “the” in something he had written. I liked that exchange. It proved something I already knew about both of us, namely, that we both cared about language and thought a word like “the” to be worth discussing.

After all, deciding to use the “the” takes a stand, to give a different, more particular status to the noun coming after the article. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made casually.

It’s an all-in push. It’s the the.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Field Report; or, I Shinola You Not

Here on the farm we have a decent amount of land, including what are essentially three separate pastures in which our horses can roam and graze.

Two of the three already have adequate fencing, but the one in back -- the “back forty,” we jokingly call it -- needs some work on a couple of the sides. We’re going to do that over the next couple of weeks, getting some help putting wooden posts in to make that happen.

Meanwhile, we’ve been sectioning off part of the “back forty” with some temporary fencing and letting Sammy and Maggie hang out in part of that pasture. That’s me above wielding a couple of the plastic posts used to put up the temporary fence.

I tweeted that picture a few weeks ago, adding “I AM THE LORD OF TEMPORARY FENCING,” then following to say “WITH MY STEP-IN POSTS AND BRAIDED POLY-ROPE I SHAPE WORLDS.”

One response shared a warning about putting an eye out should I fail to temper my excitement adquately, to which I responded “GOOD POINT. PUN INTENDED.”

Speaking of puns, I was back out in the “back forty” today collecting some of the many prizes Sammy and Maggie had been leaving up there over the last week or so. If they were in a larger space it wouldn’t be so big of a deal, but in that makeshift paddock it’s good to clear things out now and then so as to ensure they don’t cover the whole sucker over with their land mines.

After filling a couple of carts’ worth, I found it hard not to think my task of collecting in poker terms. “Spending afternoon gathering lots of small piles into one big one,” I tweeted. “It’s basically a poker tournament.”

“I’m seeing lots of flops,” I continued. “Mostly having to muck. Actually glad to have a big rake.”

A little later I reported I “just scooped several more in this horse event. I have heaps! Gonna keep watching my step, though.”

Eventually the task was done, as was my punning. Afterwards the PokerGrump chimed in to remind me of a relevant piece of wisdom from one of our favorite poker writers:

“Remember Tommy Angelo’s advice,” he wrote. “Don’t play POOP (passively out of position).”

Good point. (And pun intended.)

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Browsing the Global Poker Index

During the World Series of Poker this summer one of my PokerNews assignments was to compile the weekly column reporting on the updated Global Poker Index rankings. I picked that duty back up back in September and have been delivering that news each week for the last several months.

Has been kind of interesting to pay a little closer attention both to the 2014 Player of the Year race and the overall GPI rankings.

The current standings show Daniel Colman leading in the 2014 POY race, a spot he’s held for six weeks running. Ole Schemion -- who won the 2013 GPI POY -- picked up a couple of big finishes at the Master Classics of Poker in Amsterdam recently to surge up to second behind Colman. With EPT Prague and the WPT Five Diamond Poker Classic still left to go, there ought to be more movement in that race before the calendar reaches December 31.

Meanwhile in the overall rankings Dan Smith has led the way for 16 straight weeks. He just lost some points, though, after his victory in last year’s WPT Five Diamond Main Event (which I helped cover) became more than 12 months old and thus now counts less for him points-wise. Schemion is number two in those rankings as well, now just a small cash or so away from surpassing Smith.

The GPI has been around since the start of 2011, and some may not even remember it was created along with the ill-fated Epic Poker League as a means to decide which players would qualify for EPL events. From the ashes of that dumpster fire arose the GPI, surviving as not only an interesting discussion-starter but also as an increasingly relevant part of the poker tournament circuit.

I was thinking today how the GPI should perhaps go back into the past and apply its formula -- or a modified version of it -- to pre-2011 tournament poker. Records are fairly complete for a lot of the tours going back at least into the early 2000s, making it possible perhaps to perform a kind of retroactive ranking of players and naming of POYs.

Obviously there are pros and cons to the ranking system as far as its worth as an indicator of players’ ability. I also understand well the cynicism of those who are not on board for the whole campaign to “sportify" poker (as the GPI rankings could be said to attempt to do). But the lists are still quite diverting and if anything help bring some publicity to a lot of players -- and the game, generally -- that might not otherwise happen.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Railbirding RAWA

A few months after I started this blog -- more than eight-and-a-half years ago, if you can believe that -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed into law. Suddenly I found myself writing about a host of other topics besides simply playing poker, among them legal matters affecting my ability to play the game online.

As we’ve been reminding each other over and over again since the UIGEA was passed -- kind of like repeatedly relieving a bad beat -- that bill was snuck onto another one in the dead of night just before that Congress adjourned for the final push of campaigning prior to the ’06 elections. Thus did it become law without going through what many would rate a legitimate process of thoughtful debate and decision-making -- that is to say, via a process other than one in which our elected representatives would appear unequivocally to be representing the wishes of those who voted them into office (not that such an ideal is so often realized).

From there followed several years of mixing in posts in which I’d write about various legal developments that followed the UIGEA, including the long, drawn-out process of the regulations getting finalized by late 2008, as well as the many rival federal bills introduced by Barney Frank and others hoping to legalize and regulate online gambling in the U.S.

Then came Black Friday, which I might call a game-changer but in truth more or less stopped the game altogether, at least for most online poker players in the U.S. Before then, though, I remember somewhere along the way finding an analogy between poker and legal machinations surrounding the online game, the parallel having to do with both involving a combination of luck and skill.

That’s a generalization, but the point was that when it came to legislation regarding online poker, the process was in some respects controlled by the “players” (i.e., legislators, judges, lobbying groups, plaintiffs and defendants and those representing them, and so on) and also -- seemingly -- by what often appeared “chance” elements insofar as the combination of individuals and circumstances would result in lots of unpredictable outcomes.

Some “players” in the legislative game -- like in poker -- have a lot more influence than others, with money often making the difference in both contexts. Such is what we’ve been seeing happening over the last couple of years with Sheldon Adelson’s ongoing efforts to curb online gambling of all kinds. The CEO of Las Vegas Sands (parent company of the Venetian Macao Limited) is purportedly the 10th richest person in the world (as of this past summer), thus it hasn’t been difficult at all for him to toss chips various legislators’ way in order to lean on them to play his way.

The most recent orbit of this game has involved Adelson backing this new Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) first introduced in both houses back in March of this year. This federal law would rewrite the Federal Wire Act of 1961 (which the DOJ opined in late 2011 only applied to sports betting) to prohibit most forms of online gambling in the U.S., including making current state-regulated online gambling (in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware) illegal. (Horse racing and fantasy sports would still get a pass.)

RAWA has gotten some co-sponsors but not huge traction this year, but during this “lame duck” session some surmised it could be tossed into this huge $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, with a lot of talk about how the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) was being goaded by Adelson (and his money) into sneaking it in there in UIGEA-like fashion. You’ll recall how during an earlier lame duck session (in 2010), Reid was introducing a federal bill to license and regulate online poker while curbing other forms of online gambling. Well, now he apparently is sitting behind someone else’s stack.

During the day yesterday I noticed Rich Muny, Vice President of Player Relations for the Poker Players Alliance, noting how on his most recent webcast a former member of the House, Jon Porter, said it was “50-50” the RAWA would get added to the spending bill. The bill finally dropped last night without RAWA, and as one commentator in a Two Plus Two thread about the situation noted, “we went from about a 50% chance of being safe, to about... 85%.”

Again, just following the story makes it hard not to think of poker analogies. In this latest hand, those not wanting to see a federal bill outlawing online gambling across the U.S. were all in preflop with Q-Q versus an opponent’s A-K-suited, and now have faded both the flop and turn to have a big edge with one card to come.

The problem with those analogies, though, is that most who oppose RAWA aren’t even sitting at the table, never mind making decisions about pushing their stack in behind a premium hand. They’re on the rail, watching others with big stacks keep buying back in and playing the game on their own.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Crashing Carbon

In the post-Black Friday era, I was still playing online for a couple of years thanks to winning some cabbage in a freeroll over on Hero Poker. Those funds I had transferred over to Carbon Poker once Hero decided to step aside in December 2012, where I played a few months longer although sadly saw my small roll dwindle down to next-to-nothing.

I believe the last hand I played over there was probably sometime in the spring or summer of 2013, which now that I think about it had to have been the last hand of real money online poker I’ve played.

In any event, my memory of briefly goofing around on Carbon for a few months isn’t especially enduring. That said, I found myself trying to remember the games when hearing about this recent story of the site experiencing frequent crashes and disconnections, including some weirdness involving players subsequently logging back on and having access to other players’ accounts, having hole cards change on them in the middle of hands, and other oddities occurring.

It sounds like the site might have fallen victim to a hacker who figured out a way to crash the site (like a “distributed denial-of-service” or DDOS attack). You can read more about what’s known and what’s being speculated about it all in this article by Steve Ruddock for PokerUpdate.

Ruddock uses the story as an occasion to argue again for legalized, regulated online poker in the U.S. He’s right that in a regulated environment players are theoretically going to be protected from fraud, theft of funds, or other consequences of site-hacking, even if the regulated sites aren’t necessarily going to be immune to such attacks.

Meanwhile... that business of the hole cards changing mid-hand -- how many of you have had that bad dream before?

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Everything In Its Right Place: Watching Open-Face Chinese

Vera and I made it home in reasonably good shape, finally pulling up to the farm around midnight last night. Liked getting up today to feeds the horses and barn cats and see all were doing well. Felt like everything was where it was supposed to be again.

Spent some time this afternoon watching the livestream of this TonyBet Poker-sponsored €10K High Roller Open-Face Chinese Poker tournament playing out today in Prague in advance of the upcoming European Poker Tour stop. They are playing the Pineapple variant of OFC. That’s a screenshot from earlier today above, when Jason Mercier -- fresh off winning the WPT Alpha8 in St. Kitts -- was at the feature table. Pretty cool, and very fun to follow with the commentary by David Vanderheyden.

My appetite for all things OFC has been whetted somewhat over the last few weeks by some recent PokerNews articles by Nikolai Yakovenko. Yakovenko is a poker pro who was involved with creating the popular ABC Open-Face Chinese Poker app, and he’s been contributing strategy articles about OFC to PN for a while now.

A few weeks ago Yakovenko wrote a two-parter on the current state of OFC, then last week he both introduced how to play 2-7 Pineapple then offered some strategy for that variant.

It’s perhaps a narrow niche as far as topics go, but Yakovenko is a very good writer who explains everything well and keeps it interesting, too. If you’re at all curious about where open-face Chinese poker is (or is heading) at the moment or the “Deuce Pineapple” variant, check out those links.

Meanwhile, I dipped back into that High Roller live stream a short while ago to see Jennifer Shahade and Ilya Bulychev now heads-up for the title. Sounds like they’re working out a deal to end things fairly soon, so I’m gonna sign off and head back over. There will be another two-day €1K OFC Main Event starting tomorrow with the final table again being streamed on Wednesday, so that’ll be another chance to watch some live OFC.

Something surprisingly pleasing about watching players set their hands -- like they are putting everything where it belongs, sort of like the feeling we had when coming home.

(EDIT [added 12/9/14]: Jennifer Shahade won the €1OK OFC High Roller -- story here.)

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts 2, Day 2 -- Come Open! Up Here!

Am sitting in the small St. Kitts airport with Vera Valmore as we wait to board the first of two flights that will take us back home. Looks like our first one is delayed a bit, but we’re hopeful of making the connection in time to get home late tonight.

Yesterday saw the World Poker Tour Alpha8 St. Kitts event finish up with Jason Mercier ultimately taking away the trophy and $727,500 first prize. He outlasted a couple of non-pros at the end who claimed the other two cashing spots, Kathy Lehne who finished second (for $436,500) and Tony Guglietti who took third (for $291,000).

I know Lehne is the president and CEO of Sun Coast Resources, one of the nation’s biggest petroleum marketing companies that operates out of Houston. The first woman ever to play in a WPT Alpha8, I think Lehne has a home at St. Kitts not far from where the tournament was played at Christophe Harbour. Don’t know as much about Guglietti’s background, other than he played Alpha8 at St. Kitts when they first went there a year ago and didn’t make it past the first day.

There were some dramatic hands that led to that threesome occupying the final spots. Lehne spiked a four-outer against Olivier Busquet (who’d later bubble in fourth) once to survive, then in hand against Antonio Esfandiari won with A-K versus his pocket queens after a tantalizing 4-3-J-5-2 runout gave her a wheel.

Once Guglietti went out in third, Lehne battled with Mercier for a short while before they took a dinner break, with Mercier chipping up to increase his lead without too much resistance. Then after the break Lehne had a more aggressive approach and in fact had rattled off a streak of hands won before finally losing the last of her stack to the pro.

The weather was glorious for much of the day, with blue skies and warm temps all around. That increased the mosquito count a bit, although we all endured. Later came an afternoon shower, then the weather cleared as night fell. That’s when the whistling tree frogs came out, their squeaky chorus having by the third night become quite familiar to hear.

Got back to the hotel to reunite with Vera who spent the day at the pool, the beach, and exploring elsewhere as well where among the sights she saw was the warm invitation at left for a “Monkey Donkey and Horse Tour.” Despite the enticing exhortations (“Come Open,” “Up Here”), Vera didn’t take the tour, although we did spot a couple of monkeys during our stay, which I heard someone say outnumber the humans by about two-to-one on the island.

With our late flight out today we had a chance to hang out at the pool a bit, which is where Vera snapped the pic of me up top. Was a nice, relaxing finish to a busy, fun few days, made even more so by the friendly folks everywhere we turned while here. A great time, but we’re both anxious now to get back to our four-legged friends on the farm.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts 2, Day 1 -- Pants on the Ground

More rapid-fire posting this morning as we’re only about a half-hour away from the start of Day 2 of the WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts here at Christophe Harbour.

It rained fairly heavily yesterday, which scattered the mosquitos but dampened the view a little all around the resort. The tournament provided a lot of fun and interesting moments, though.

There were 11 players total, with a couple re-entering once and Antonio Esfandiari ultimate buying in three times after he was knocked out twice before the cutoff point. Esfandiari’s last re-entry made for an interesting twist as they had gone to a single nine-handed table, then when he returned they had to redraw and go back to two five-handed tables -- as though the tourney was running in reverse.

Esfandiari also provided some grins by going pantsless for most of the day, shedding them early on thanks to the heat. The five non-pros in the field -- Bill Perkins, Talal Shakerchi, Kathy Lehne, Michael Singh, and Tony Guglietti -- additionally made for some fun hands and a lot of enjoyable banter about the tables as the discussions ranged all over the place.

It was fun, too, to witness the large crew of WPT folks pulling together the show again as the tournament progresses. So much creativity all around, and you get the sense that everyone is constantly coming up with new ideas as it goes for ways to shape the program that will later be aired on Fox Sports.

Today the skies are a deep, rich blue and the forecast calls for sun all day, which is making for a nifty view from our perch here as we’ll watch them play down to a winner. Come over to the WPT live updates today to see Joe Giron’s photos of what we’re seeing and to follow the reports as they play down to a winner.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts 2, Arrival -- Cruising to the Caribbean

The flights down to St. Kitts were on schedule and without hassle, and Vera and I made it through customs and to our hotel in time to meet a group from the WPT heading out for a scheduled “sunset cruise.”

The drive took us over to Christophe Harbour, where the tournament is scheduled to play out, a long, winding voyage through the green hills and overlooking the lapping ocean waves. Alas by the time we got there the gathering clouds had conspired to produce some precipitation, and after a short while it was decided to scrap the cruise.

All was not lost, however, as we were able to enjoy some finger food and good conversation among those who had come along. Vera and I had fun chatting with Alec Torelli and his wife, with Vera and Alec finding a lot of common ground between dressage and poker. Both have a keen interest in sports psychology, and Vera was able to recommend several titles she’s enjoyed.

We got back to the hotel and after a short rest made it downstairs for a little get-together for the players and staff, eventually getting back to the room for what turned out to be a full night’s rest.

I write today from Christophe Harbour where the set is being constructed and we’re in the middle of getting everything together to report on the first day of action from the WPT Alpha8.

Stunning views all around here (see above), and it’s definitely a different vibe to be covering a tourney in shorts with a warm wind wafting through rather than in a cold casino. Sun’s coming out today, too, making for an even more picturesque setting.

Check over at the WPT site for live updates today to see who ends up participating and how they fare.

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