Monday, December 31, 2007

Hit Parade

Goodbye 2007Had threatened a few posts back to do another one of those end-of-the-year lists before we moved on to 2008. Can’t very well go around making threats then not following through, can I?

So I spent a little time poking around in Google Analytics and figured out how to identify the most-frequently hit posts of 2007. Here are the top 15:

1. “David ‘Chip’ Reese (1951-2007)” (December 4)
On the poker legend’s passing.

2. “Night of the Living Bots” (May 13)
Regarding the “NL Bots on Full Tilt” horror show.

3. “The Sunday Million Show (Now With Hole Cards)” (November 8)
On PokerStars’ new policy for the Sunday Million replays.

4. “The Idea of the IGREA” (May 22)
On Barney Frank’s H.R. 2046.

5. “Surveying the Poker Podcast Landscape (1 of 2)” (March 27)
The first part of a list of summaries/reviews of poker podcasts. (The “landscape” has changed a lot since March.)

6. “2007 WSOP, Day 25: The $50K H.O.R.S.E. Event -- More Bracelets Than Entrants” (June 25)
Previewing the H.O.R.S.E. event.

7. “2007 WSOP Final Table Hand No. 24: ‘The Action Man’” (September 13)
A look at an interesting, not-much-discussed hand from the Main Event final table.

8. “2007 WSOP Final Table Hand No. 9: ‘You Certainly Started Out Gambling’” (September 7)
A look at an interesting, very-much-discussed hand from the Main Event final table.

9. “A Hearing Impaired” (June 10)
Breaking down a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee on online gambling.

10. “The Caveman, Cub, and Donkey Are Back” (February 23)
Announcing the debut of the PokerWire podcast (destined to go off-air by September).

11. “Focus on Ethics” (March 1)
On some of Jamie Gold’s shenanigans at the 2006 WSOP as well as Paul Wasicka’s Bluff article regarding so-called “joint sessions.”

12. “Surveying the Poker Podcast Landscape (2 of 2)” (March 29)

13. “Poker Podcast “‘News and Notes’” (October 26)
Responding to a short miscellany of items, including the debut of Big Poker Sundays.

14. “Shamus in Vegas: Episode 9 – What Happens in Vegas Gets Spread All Over the Internet” (May 1)
Of the ten posts I wrote about my April trip to Vegas, this was the one with the most sex (by far).

15. “Stephan M. Kalhamer and Chad Brown’s Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker” (August 18)
A review of one of the year’s crummiest poker books.

Three other posts written in 2006 were actually among the leaders for most-hit in 2007. Well, four (if you wanna be technical).

People continue to find those “Doing the ‘What if?’ Shuffle” posts from July 2006 (both part one and the sequel). Some find it via the PokerDiagram link, but many are searching for info about the shuffling or “RCG” programs used by online sites and landing on those pages.

Another very short one from the spring of 2006 called “Hilarious Haralabos” is way up there in terms of hits as well. The post isn’t that special – just a brief reference to Haralabos Voulgaris’s gut-busting appearance on the old Circuit podcast back in May ’06. As far as I can tell, two factors have made that particular post a popular target of late: (1) Voulgaris’s return as a co-host on the new podcast Big Poker Sundays; and (2) the unlikely coincidence of both me and searchers’ having correctly spelled his name.

Finally, a post from July 2006 titled “169 Ways to Showdown” continues to be the single most popular entry on Hard-Boiled Poker. (In terms of unique hits, anyhow.) In the post I take a shot at analyzing some of my PokerTracker data, but I’m convinced a lot of people are finding the post after searching for charts with starting hand rankings for Hold ’em. They are finding a chart there, all right, but it ain’t a terribly useful one (in my view).

Onward to 2008! Happy New Year, all.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another PLO Set-Up

Don't get set up in PLOLike most everyone else, I’ve been spending the last few days reviewing stats from 2007 (and thinking about 2008). Plan to say something about all that in the next few days. After playing mostly no-limit Hold ’em in ’05, then almost nothing but limit Hold ’em in ’06, it looks as though I have been spending a good deal of ’07 trying to establish permanent residency in Omaha. Just eyeballin’ it, I’d estimate nearly three-fourths of the hands I played this year were at the pot limit Omaha tables (mostly $25 max; some $50). (Perhaps even more than that.)

I had played PLO quite a bit prior to this year, but never exclusively (as has been the case for lengthy stretches over the last few months). Which has meant I’ve tried to spend a lot more time this year thinking seriously about how to play the game well. Tried back in July to collect a few fairly basic ideas here in a post called “Plotting a PLO Strategy.” Nothing too deep. Just a few, mostly obvious reminders to self (e.g., try to avoid calling preflop raises from out of position, don’t play hands with “danglers,” etc.). Kind of stuff that ought to be second nature to anyone taking a shot at PLO, I’d imagine.

One of the tips listed there was to be wary when flopping middle or bottom sets. Hold ’em players (rightly) delight in flopping sets, since doing so often gives one a virtual lock on the hand. But PLO players know how vulnerable sets can be –- especially with two cards to come -- and thus usually proceed with caution.

The problem came up in an interesting hand from Event No. 50 of the 2007 WSOP -- the $10K buy-in PLO event –- which I wrote about here as well. In that hand, Phil Laak was holding two jacks (and a couple of baby rags), was looking at a board of K-J-5-4, and had to decide whether or not to call an all-in bet against two other players. Complicating matters further, the board showed two spades and two diamonds. (Laak did have two spades in his hand.) In other words, while Laak very likely held the best hand at the moment (unless someone had two kings), he probably would have to fade most of the deck if he made the call. (See the post to find out what happened.)

So flopping sets –- even top sets –- ain’t necessarily the bees’ knees in PLO. Fine. But what about flopping TWO sets? That’s got to better, yes?

There are many situations in PLO where flops appear terrific at first blush, but are anything but. This one –- where one is holding two pair and happens to flop sets with both –- is probably one of the more deceiving-looking flops I can think of in PLO. Gawd it looks pretty. And Gawd is it trouble.

Two pair ain’t a bad starting hand for PLO (especially suited or double-suited), though you’d like medium-to-high pairs. In Super/System 2, the mostly-conservative Lyle Berman actually goes so far as to recommend occasionally raising preflop with a hand like J-J-5-5, since if you do flop a set your opponents won’t necessarily suspect it (thinking you’re raising with aces or kings). Berman talks about the “25 percent rule” which states “you will flop a set one out of four times when you start with two pocket pair.” And indeed, now and then, that flop might even hit both of your pairs.

Awesome, right?

At first glance, it may appear that by flopping two sets you must have a stone-cold lock on the hand. How can anyone else have anything? Well, think about it. If indeed no one else has anything, yr probably not going to make very much on this hand. And if they do . . . well . . . yr probably cooked.

Had a hand not that long ago where I started with A-A-K-K double-suited – just about the best starting hand in PLO. (I think A-A-J-10 double-suited might beat it by a hair.) Flop came with both an ace and a king (though no flush draw for me). But there was a queen as well. An early position player made a pot-sized bet, pretty clearly signalling he’d flopped Broadway. What do I do?

Actually, in this hand, my opponent was short-stacked and so I ended up playing it out (and losing). But I damn well knew when I put my chips in I was essentially drawing dead. That’s because, as Bob Ciaffone talks about in Omaha Poker, this is one of those situations where I had myself “stopped” –- in other words, I had in my hand cards I needed to hit to improve. In fact, on the turn I only had five outs to win (the case ace, the case king, or the other three queens). Not so good for calling a pot-sized bet. I picked up three more outs on the turn, of course. But still, a pretty desperate scenario.

I had to screw this particular situation up a few times before I realized how bad it is in PLO to flop two sets. I’ve also witnessed others paying off big time when put in this situation. It’s hard not to be dazzled by flopping two sets, but it is probably more correct to regard this sort of flop as only average (or less than average), or even worse.

Maybe that’s a bit obscure, as far as how frequently that particular situation comes up is concerned. But anyone thinking of giving PLO a try definitely needs to spend a bit of effort thinking about similarly deceptive-looking starting hands and/or flops.

Yr opponents are tough enough. No need to keep setting yourself up.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

A H.O.R.S.E. With No Name

WSOP chipsWhen that schedule for the 2008 WSOP first appeared a few weeks ago, I was most intrigued by Event No. 8, the World Championship Mixed Event ($10,000 buy-in). That’s the one featuring no less than eight different varieties of poker -- limit Hold ’em, Omaha/8, Razz, Stud, Stud/8, no limit Hold ’em, pot limit Omaha, and 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball. Like most WSOP events this year, Harrah’s has scheduled this one as a three-day event.

WSOP officials have a couple of issues they need to take care of before the cards go in the air for Event No. 8 late in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 4th. One is crucially important, the other less so.

The more pressing issue concerns how Event No. 8 will be structured. I’m referring both to the ordering of the games and the scheduling of blinds, antes, and bring-ins.

As far as the order of the eight games goes, the schedule lists the five “H.O.R.S.E.” games first (in the usual order), followed by NLHE, PLO, and 2-7 Triple Draw. I imagine for simplicity’s sake that will probably be the order used for the tournament. Of course, they could muck around with this, if they wanted. There are four “flop” games (NLHE, LHE, PLO, and O/8), and four non-“flop” games (7CS, 7CS/8, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball). One could imagine a sequence alternating back-and-forth between games with a flop and games without. But, really, any ordering of the games is going to be challenging -- to the players and the dealers.

As far as the blinds, antes, and bring-ins go, organizers will definitely want to avoid spoiling this important event with a lousy, uneven schedule. I imagine the plan will be to have 30-minute levels, with each level change also signalling a game change (as was the case in the H.O.R.S.E. tourneys last year). I recall most players and observers mostly being fine with how the H.O.R.S.E. events were structured. There was some griping about things speeding up a bit too quickly at certain points, but such protests weren’t nearly as frequent or as loud as we saw with some of the other limit events.

However, the addition of no limit and pot limit games to the mix adds a serious challenge to those wanting to make the transitions from level to level less bumpy. I know that in the few events from 2007 that mixed no limit and limit games -- such as Event No. 1 (World Championship Mixed Hold ’em Limit/No Limit) -- many moaned about how the blinds for the limit games rose much too quickly, actually creating situations where the limit games played much “bigger” or “faster” than the no limit games.

2007 WSOP Player of the Year Tom SchneiderI’m not even going to try to tackle this one. I would suggest Harrah’s should probably call on that “advisory committee” of players they have for help in this regard.

I think 2007 WSOP POY Tom Schneider is on that committee this year -- I know he was invited to serve, anyhow. As someone who regularly plays all eight of these games, Schneider would certainly be an excellent person to ask about scheduling the blinds, antes, and bring-ins.

The second, much less pressing issue, of course, is what to call the damn thing. Event No. 8 needs some sort of catchy title, something more memorable and unique than “World Championship Mixed Event.” It would also be nice if it had a name that served to explain the event right away -- e.g., an acronym like “H.O.R.S.E.” that helped show what the event was about without someone having to go through the tedious explanation every time.

Gonna offer my help on this one. I believe that by showcasing a variety of games and demanding such an array of poker knowledge and skill, the World Championship Mixed Event will clearly serve to demonstrate poker in all of its SPLENDOR:
Stud (High)
Pot Limit Omaha
Limit Hold ‘em
Stud Eight-or-Better (High-Low)
No Limit Hold ‘em
Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball
Omaha Eight-or-Better (High-Low)
Razz
I know, I know. Sounds like an artificial sweetener. But the word does mean “something grand or magnificent” and is usually associated with ideas of fame and glory -- all desirable connotations here, yes? Pretty easy to remember, too. Look away from the list, think of the word, and see if you can’t rattle off all eight games. Not too hard, is it?

And just think how reporters will make us cringe with talk of the players being put through the “S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R. blender.” Or if a U.S.-born player wins, talk of “American S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R.” Or with headlines about “S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R. in the baize.”

So if someone could pass this here ideer along to WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack and/or those in charge of such things, I’d appreciate it.

Of course, they’ll probably only be able to use the name for 2008. Especially if they do consult Schneider, since he’ll probably have ’em throwing Badugi in there for ’09.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On Sklansky, Malmuth, and Allegations of Plagiarism

On Sklansky, Malmuth, and Allegations of PlagiarismBackground

Somewhere along the way David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth began inserting “A Note on the English” among the prefatory materials of their books. I know it appears at the beginning of Hold ’em Poker for Advanced Players and Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players -- it might turn up in other books as well. The note concerns the issue of style. After talking a little bit about how they compose their books (via tape recorded conversations later transcribed), Sklansky and Malmuth admit that what results may not read as smoothly as one would hope.

“But the purpose of this book is not to get an ‘A’ from our English teacher,” the note goes on to say (in Hold ’em Poker for Advanced Players). “Rather it is to show you how to make a lot of money in all but the toughest hold ’em games. So if we end a sentence with a preposition or use a few too many words or even introduce a new subject in a slightly inappropriate place, you can take solace from the fact that you can buy lots more books by Hemingway with the money we make you.”

I’ve never been a big fan of utterly dismissing the importance of style like this. Anyone who tries to communicate via the written word knows that how one says something oftentimes can be as important as what one says. Obviously Sklansky and Malmuth had been faulted by someone somewhere for their style and so decided to try to head off that particular criticism before it arose.

Frankly -- as someone who has read several books by either Sklansky, Malmuth, or both -- I’ve never been that bothered by their style. All of their books (to me) seem well organized and well written (if a little unexciting at times). In other words, not only do I tend to disagree with the disclaimer’s suggestion that style is unimportant, I wouldn’t think these two should feel obligated to say such a thing about their books.

In any event, I was reminded of the pair’s attempt to dismiss the importance of style earlier in the week when I read a post over at Kick Ass Poker reporting a recent flare-up over on 2+2 that involved something Malmuth and Sklansky wrote. Most specifically, how they wrote it.

Allegation and Response

For those who missed it, earlier this month a poster on 2+2 began a thread titled “plagiarism? looks like it to me” in which he quoted a passage from Malmuth and Sklansky’s Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players (first published in 1989, I believe) that closely resembles a passage in Chip Reese’s stud section of the original Super/System (first published in 1978). Don’t bother looking for the original thread anymore. It’s vanished.

Both of the passages in question concern the concept of raising with a so-so hand on fourth street when heads-up to try and get a free card on fifth while also anticipating the possiblity that you might get a big card on fifth and thus have to bet first (potentially nullifying the ploy to get checked to on fifth). The idea here is that you don’t want to have to bet first on fifth in this situation unless the card you catch is giving you some more hand-building possibilities (like making a big straight).

In Super/System, Reese writes “Suppose you have TsJs up and the TcQs in the hole. Your opponent started with a King-up and caught a Baby on Fourth St. Now, if you catch a King or an Ace, you’ll be high but it won’t wreck your play because you’ll have a chance to make a straight.”

In Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players, Sklansky and Malmuth write “Another example. You have (TsJs)TcQs and your opponent started with a king up and caught a baby on fourth street. Raise if he bets. Notice that if you catch an ace or a king, you have improved your hand since you now have straight potential.”

(Incidentally, what I’m showing you here is how the original poster quoted the two passages. I’m noticing in Super/System a couple of small, superficial differences in the quote. I don’t have a copy of Seven Card Stud here to compare.)

You get the idea. Same concept, expressed in nearly the same terms, and even using the same example. Coincidence? Probably not.

As Haley explains over on Kick Ass Poker, the initial response to the accusation from Malmuth was a flat denial. Additionally, the poster (and some others, apparently) were banned. As I mentioned, the original thread was removed, although a few others have popped up in which one can find the original post being quoted and discussed. Among those, you might start with this thread that discusses the original thread (in “Books and Publications”) being locked (and later removed).

Eventually Sklansky ended up addressing the matter, and in a Dec. 10th post admits that in fact the passage in question very likely resulted from the pair’s technique of recording conversations and then transcribing them. As Sklansky explains, he was giving Malmuth lessons about stud and the pair was tape recording them, not necessarily even thinking about writing a book until later. Sklansky admits one thing “I do remember well was that I had uncharacteristically learned something from someone else’s book,” namely Super/System, and that as “I was giving Mason lessons I made sure to include that concept.”

Somewhere along the way, Sklansky explains, giving credit to Reese for the idea/example was lost in the shuffle. “Perhaps I got the book and read Mason the example,” says Sklansky. “In any case by the time Mason got around to transcribing his tape he forgot or didn’t realize that this one example came straight from Doyle’s book. And when I checked the manuscript, I wouldn’t have remembered, since I only remember general concepts not details.”

All in all, a fairly innocent mistake, I’d say. Even so, the initial strategy of denial, removing and/or locking threads, and banning posters seems (on the surface) doesn’t seem all that reasonable of a response to the accusation. (There’s more to that part of the story. If you’re really curious, you might look back at this thread which includes a quote from Malmuth explaining why some of the posters were banned from the site.)

What is animating some 2+2ers is the fact that both Malmuth and Sklansky have always been exceedingly conspicuous about giving credit where credit is due whenever the two of them are concerned. (Note Sklansky saying he “uncharacteristically” learned something from someone else.) A brief search around 2+2 shows dozens of examples of one or the other claiming credit for ideas/concepts appearing in others’ books. In other words, some here are obviously energized by the irony of a situation in which the pair who so often claim themselves “original” having not only gotten an idea from someone else but failed to give proper credit.

Obviously in future editions the pair should add a citation acknowledging Reese as having come up with the idea/example. And like I say, I don’t think the offense here is nearly as egregious as, say, the one perpetrated by that website I found while writing this post that essentially transcribes all of Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players. I did want to add one last observation, though. One that goes back to that “Note on the English” with which I began.

The Significance of Style

Part of the defense against charges of plagiarism rests on the notion that style shouldn’t matter -- that how someone writes is not as a important as what someone is trying to say. Of course, the uncredited borrowing from Reese involves both form and content -- both the idea and the way it was presented. It appears that both the accusers and the accused are much more concerned here with form than with content -- with the lifting of exact words and phrases, not the claiming of another’s idea as one’s own. Not necessarily surprising as far as the accusers are concerned (the exact replication of words/phrases is what originally got their attention), but actually quite surprising with regard to the accused.

Look at how Sklansky concludes his defense (from the post alluded to above):

“But duh. Cmon. How easy would it have been for me to come up with a completely different example to perfectly describe the exact same concept? To ascribe this to anything other than an oversight is completely ridiculous. Chip’s chapter was very good but it was 50 pages. Our book has 300.”

As in the “Note on the English,” we are being encouraged not to be overly concerned with how something has been written. What we have here is a completely functional view of style, one implying that words and phrases can be infinitely altered and interchanged without affecting the underlying meaning (the “concept” being advanced). I could have come up with a different example, says Sklansky, and it wouldn’t have affected the communication of the idea. While we know (or should know) that form does affect content, we see what he’s saying. Sure, change around the exact cards and the wording -- we’ll still get what you’re trying to tell us about getting that free card on fifth.

But wait a minute. Is Sklansky suggesting it would have been just fine to borrow Reese’s idea and present it in a different form -- that doing so would make the idea somehow “original” to the authors of Seven Card Stud for Advanced Hold ’em Players? I cannot believe Sklansky really means to imply that, but that’s precisely what he has done.

I think a lot of the difficulty goes back to that functional view of style, which might also be regarded as an attempt to quantify what can’t really be quantified. (Sklansky’s reference to the number of pages in Reese’s chapter versus the pair’s book might be regarded as another example of this tendency.) I would argue that dismissing style as unimportant -- or purely functional -- creates conditions in which uncredited borrowing is more likely to occur. Indeed, the fact that carelessness about style often leads to carelessness about content might be said to prove a relationship between the two.

Writers simply have to care about style, or risk not knowing what exactly they are saying (or how they are being understood). Precisely where I think Sklansky finds himself at the end of that post -- namely, having adopted a paradoxical stance on the matter that fails to demonstrate the logical rigor for which he is often (rightly) celebrated.

Do you see why?1

[1] David Sklansky, passim.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Shamus the Scribbler

Shamus the ScribblerClearly the poker world has changed drastically since Al Alvarez went to visit John and Edna Luckman back in the early 1980s when researching his book The Biggest Game in Town. The Luckmans were the proprietors of the Gambler’s Book Shop in Vegas (now run by Howard Schwartz). Alvarez met Schwartz there as well, and in his book describes John Luckman and Schwartz as each having “the obsessed enthusiasm of a scholar for his subject.” He tells how both are also a bit dismayed, however, at how few locals (at that time) were coming in to see what they had to offer.

“‘I bet we don’t have six dealers who come here on a regular basis,’ Luckman says. ‘Players aren’t readers.’”

As I say, all that has changed, thanks in part to the efforts of the Luckmans and Schwartz. Players are readers now -- at least most of them are. And a lot of them are writers, too, it seems.

When I started playing poker, I also started reading about poker, picking up strategy books and other works like The Biggest Game in Town. Then, a few years later, I decided to start writing about the game as well and began Hard-Boiled Poker.

Like a lot of folks -- including the authors of the hundred or so blogs I’ve listed over on the right-hand column and to which I subscribe -- playing poker and writing about it are closely associated activities. Here I’ll quote Amy Calistri’s line where she says (on her blog Aimlessly Chasing Amy) “I started writing about poker the first time I played poker. For me, it was like the proverbial cigarette after sex; a way to savor one of life’s great moments.” Indeed, I can’t really imagine doing one without doing the other.

(By the way, I had no choice but to quote that because I fear Amy is going to notice someone hitting her blog after searching “calistri and cigarette and sex and poker.” I knew I’d read that over there somewhere, but couldn’t remember where.)

PokerSiftAnyhow, looks like I’ve found a few other places in addition to Hard-Boiled Poker to keep on with the scribbling, and I wanted to pass the news along. Most recently, I was added to the roster of “BigPoker Bloggers” over at PokerSift, a newly-launched site where about a dozen of us will be contributing. PokerSift was an idea conceived by the guys who do Rounders, the Poker Show, a terrific weekly poker podcast that will be changing its name to the “Two Plus Two Poker Podcast” (I believe) at the start of 2008. The show will also have a forum of its own over at 2+2, so do check that out.

I published my first PokerSift post yesterday, sort of an introductory “glad-to-be-here”-type entry. Am not sure as yet what exactly I plan to do over there. Those of us who keep personal blogs have been invited to “syndicate” ourselves over there (so to speak), and while I may do some cross-posting I’m leaning toward doing something a little different on PokerSift. We’ll see how it goes. (Any suggestions?)

PokeratiHave also recently been added to the group of posters over at Pokerati, where I’m putting up occasional posts introducing new episodes of Beyond the Table. Those posts are appearing over at the Beyond the Table website as well. Here’s the latest one describing the guys’ most recent show, “Live and Otherwise.”

Gambling Online MagazineFinally, a publication called Gambling Online Magazine has reprinted a couple of old HBP posts in recent issues. (Am still waiting for them to send me copies -- anyone out there happen to see them?) They reprinted one of my UIGEA recaps as well as another one about record-keeping. So, if you happen to pick up a recent issue, you might just see something in there by Short-Stacked Shamus.

So thanks, poker players, for also being readers. And writers. And if I don’t get back here in the next few days, have a good holiday.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Top 10 Online Poker Stories of 2007 (2 of 2)

Top 10 Online Poker Stories of 2007 (2 of 2)Mentioned last post how these silly lists seem to proliferate with higher than usual frequency once we near year’s end. For example, last night I caught a bit of a program called “VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s.” Ugh. What a miserable decade, music-wise. I doubt there are a hundred songs total from that period I could recommend without qualification. I guess I’ll take the Breeders’ “Cannonball” (#83) and maybe Beck’s “Loser” (#22) (although he’s done much better). You can have the rest.

I also mentioned previously how subjective this here list necessarily is. Besides reflecting my own personal interests, the stories that made it are more or less American-centric as well. Thus are legal concerns especially prominent here in the upper half of the list.

5. The Growth of the Poker Players Alliance

The Poker Players Alliance grew to over 840,000 members in 2007Most of us first started hearing about the Poker Players Alliance a year or so ago, shortly after the UIGEA passed. Some of us even joined up. At the start of 2007, the PPA boasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 135,000 members -- probably ten times the number they had in early 2006, but a far cry from what was needed to become a truly effective lobbying organization. As of the moment I published this post, the PPA claims its membership to stand at a grand total of 845,884. Still not NRA-type numbers (i.e., four million-plus), but definitely a number that has some chance of getting lawmakers’ attention.

In February the PPA appointed local “officers” in each state to help organize members. Then in March former Senator Alphonse D’Amato was brought aboard to serve as a spokesperson. I wrote a post around that time evaluating D’Amato’s effectiveness as someone charged with articulating the PPA’s various messages. (I wasn’t entirely laudatory.) I also wrote another post in April in which I speculated a bit about the PPA as a whole.

The emergence of various proposed legislation over the spring and summer served to focus the PPA’s efforts somewhat. Several PPA-sponsored visits to Capitol Hill took place during the course of the year, and the PPA’s presence was also felt at two different House hearings on internet gambling (in June and in November).

Not everyone in the poker community is equally convinced the non-profit organization (now led by Exective Director John Pappas) is itself entirely free from external political pressures as it pursues its mission to defend poker players’ rights. In any event, the PPA’s growth into a legitimate lobbying organization most certainly should be regarded as a significant development by Americans (and even non-Americans) who play online poker.

4. Barney Frank Introduces the IGREA

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the IGREA in April 2007As early as February, we were starting to hear that some House representative might be about to introduce legislation designed to counter the effects of the UIGEA. Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-MA) name was the one most often mentioned. Frank had already well established himself as an opponent of the UIGEA, and in fact had appeared on the Pocket Fives podcast during the spring of 2006 to speak out against ongoing efforts to make online gambling illegal. I wrote a post in February -- “The Frank Approach” -- in which I tried to anticipate what sort of legislative strategy might be used to combat the UIGEA. Wrote another in March inspired in part by Frank’s comments that he and others were still in the “thinking stage” as far as new legislation went. Finally, on April 26, 2007, Frank introduced his bill, called the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046).

Rather than repeal the UIGEA, the IGREA (if passed) would essentially supplant the UIGEA, rendering the former bill utterly ineffectual. Frank’s bill essentially outlines a licensing program whereby sites would apply for the right to offer online gambling, rights that would only be granted if those sites followed a number of specific provisions. I discussed the ins and outs of Frank’s bill at length in a post in May, titled “The Idea of IGREA.”

Soon after it was proposed, Frank’s bill only attracted a dozen or so co-signers. The latest count shows the bill having 45 co-signers, although that list includes the late Julia Carson (D-IN), who sadly passed away last week. That’s out of 435 members -- still a hell of a long way to go before it would be reasonable to bring the bill up for a vote in the House (and then go to the Senate, and then avoid a veto by the President). Even so -- as I’ve said here before -- whether or not the IGREA (or any of the other bills that have been proposed) gets anywhere, I do think the debates Frank’s bill has provoked have been considerably beneficial to those hoping to protect Americans’ rights to play online poker.

3. Neteller Suspends Services to U.S. Customers

Neteller stopped serving U.S. customers in mid-January 2007On October 19, 2006, Neteller -- at the time the single most popular means of transferring money to and from online poker sites for American players -- announced its intention to comply with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which had been signed into law the week before. In a press release Neteller noted that even though they are located outside the U.S. they would nevertheless “comply with the Act and its related regulations as if it were subject to the Act’s jurisdiction.”

All was more or less well for a couple of months, then on January 15, 2007, former Neteller executives and founders Steve Lawrence and John Lefebvre were arrested and charged with laundering conspiracy. The next day, shares of Neteller stock were suspended from trading on the London Stock Exchange. Then late the following day -- January 17th -- Neteller announced that “due to recent U.S. legislative changes and events, effective immediately, U.S. members are no longer able to transfer funds to or from any online gambling sites.”

While the arrests weren’t related to the UIGEA -- indeed, not a single arrest has been made yet for anyone violating the terms of that law -- it is clear the existence of the Act helped create conditions to pressure Neteller to withdraw from the U.S., just as it had with PartyPoker and all of the other online poker sites not subject to the Act’s jurisdiction. I wrote one post back in January, “Playing Without a (Net)eller” -- which discussed the situation and tried to anticipate a few of the consequences of not being able to fund online poker accounts. One consequence I didn’t foresee at the time was how long it would take Americans to get their frozen funds back -- about seven-and-a-half months, it turned out. Since January most Americans have found somewhat functional alternatives to Neteller, but online poker clearly hasn’t been the same since the financial transaction provider made its hasty exit.

2. Absolute Poker Cheating Scandal

Absolute Poker Cheating ScandalWas mid-September when we first started to hear the initial rumblings associated with this one. Some dude had won the 9/12/07 $100K Guarantee over on Absolute Poker having called a huge turn bet with just ten-high. Sounded like the winner had somehow been able to see the loser’s hole cards, although at the time that seemed too fantastic to be true. I wrote a post a couple of weeks after the event speculating perhaps the site had been hacked into from the outside. Still, even then, theories were beginning to be advanced regarding an “inside job.”

Then in October, thanks to the efforts of a number of shamus-types (and a mistakenly emailed Excel file from Absolute), the case broke wide open. It became clear that not only had cheating occurred, it had been very likely perpetrated by individuals managing the day-to-day operations of the site. Absolute’s piss-poor handling of the matter only exacerbated the situation. Their “announcements” came intermittently and via strange sources (e.g., Mark Seif’s personal Bluff blog, forum posts made by individuals not associated with AP, emails sent to select individuals). Absolute initially denied any cheating occurred, then admitted something had happened, then spoke of an audit being conducted by Gaming Associates on behalf of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

Wrote one lengthy post back on 10/19 -- “Absolute Crap” -- that provides more details, as do these three follow-ups, “Would You Like to Leave Absolute Poker?,” “World Upside Down,” and “Update on the Updates.”

Speaking of updates, findings from that audit were due on December 7th, although we’ve yet to hear anything about what the Gaming Commission found. Meanwhile, the KGC no longer lists Absolute Poker among its list of “gaming operations that hold a valid and subsisting permit issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.” Until very recently, AP had continued to list KGC as having licensed their operations; today, AP describes themselves as “undergoing a licensing process” with the KGC.

All of which means for the person currently playing on Absolute Poker, he or she is playing on a site with absolutely no third-party assurances that the games are “fair and honest to the player” and/or “all winners are paid.” Of course, given the current state of affairs in online poker (i.e., no regulation), no site is obligated to provide such assurances. A situation that is helped in no discernable way by . . .

1. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006Like mold creeping around an unkempt shower stall, the UIGEA spent 2007 slowly inching its way toward actually being enforced. Back in July we marked the passing of the much-cited “270 day period” that began the day the UIGEA was signed into law by President Bush back in October 2006. Wrote a post then to mark that occasion, then another one in October when the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System finally forwarded those regulations about three months after the original due date.

The so-called “commenting period” on the regulations ended last week, and now we find ourselves waiting through another period of reevaluation (likely to last another 180 days) until the finalization of the regs. Meaning that barring any other legislative happenings, the UIGEA may well begin to be enforced sometime next summer. Meanwhile, some banks might well go the “overblocking” route and start forbidding clients’ transactions with businesses that appear in violation of the UIGEA, whether or not those businesses really are, an issue I wrote a bit about back in November.

Some may regard the UIGEA a story from 2006, not 2007. Seems clear to me, though, that just about every other story on this here top ten came about either directly or indirectly because of the existence of this yet-to-be-enforced law. So atop the list it goes.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Top 10 Online Poker Stories of 2007 (1 of 2)

Top 10 Online Poker Stories of 2007 (1 of 2)Must be the holidays. Found myself watching part of the “Top 25 Most Memorable Swimsuit Moments” on E! last night -- shouldn’t Wicked Chops be all over that one? -- when I remembered ’tis the season for these sort of year-end countdown lists. Decided I would go ahead and add at least one of my own to the slag heap. (Yeah, that “at least” is a threat. Have an idea for one other list which I may or may not get to before the month is up. Depends on my energy level during the holidays. And whether I can manage to avoid further E! specials.)

Was looking back through some old posts and initially thought I might compile a “top poker stories of 2007”-type list. Decided instead to narrow the scope a bit and just talk about stories of particular interest to players of online poker. After a bit of fuss I finally was able to isolate ten such items about which I wrote at least one post this year, and so am presenting them in reverse order of significance -- the bottom five today, top five tomorrow.

Please note that the process of selection followed here was utterly arbitrary and thus should be understood accordingly. Among the criteria I used to determine which items made the list was that I had to have written a post about the subject. Since I didn’t write about every damn thing that happened in online poker, we’re looking at a necessarily subjective enterprise here. In other words, the stories making this particular top ten all caught the interest of yours truly, an average jingle-brained sap who plays online poker. Not only are the rankings disputable, then, but the list itself is incomplete (e.g., no mentions here of Annette Obrestad playing MTTs without seeing her hole cards, the United States’ multibillion-dollar-battle with the World Trade Organization, or Mark “TheVOid” Teltscher losing $1.2 million for multi-accounting in the WCOOP, etc.).

Beginning, then, at the end . . .

10. Humans Triumph in “First Man-Machine Poker Championship”

Phil Laak plays against Polaris in the First Man-Machine Poker ChampionshipBack in July, poker pros Phil Laak and Ali Eslami took on a limit hold ’em-playin’ computer program called Polaris that had been developed by a team of researchers at the University of Alberta. Laak and Eslami emerged from the battle as the victors, but only barely. Wrote a couple of posts about this event, one before & one after.

Relatively speaking, the story might well represent a smallish blip on the online poker landscape. But the research being conducted in the area of artificial intelligence will have its implications, perhaps sooner than later. As Jonathan Schaeffer, leader of the Computer Poker Research Group, stated in a PokerNews article about the match, “One of these days -- within 5 to 10 years -- two-person, limit Hold ’em will be solved.” Don’t believe it is overstating the case all that much to say the achievement of such a goal should have some affect on the online poker landscape.

9. Tony G Poker & Doyle’s Room Leave the U.S.

Tony G Poker & Doyle's Room Both left the US in early 2007After the initial avalanche in the fall of 2006 when a number of prominent (mostly publicly-traded) sites stopped taking U.S. bets, a few sites continued to hang on until the new year before finally pulling out in the wake of Neteller’s hasty exit from the U.S. in January. Wrote a post back in February -- “Good Guys Lose Two More” -- that discussed the departures of Tony G Poker and Doyle’s Room. Another site with a modestly-sized American clientele, Full Contact Poker, would leave as well in June.

Of course, Doyle’s Room made a somewhat surprising return to the U.S. back in October. One would hope a list like this twelve months from now would contain other stories of online sites returning to the U.S. market, but something tells me that probably ain’t gonna be the case.

8. Harrah’s Says No to WSOP Third-Party Registrations

Harrah's disallowed third-party registrations for the 2007 WSOPHarrah’s published its “Tournament Rules” for the 2007 World Series of Poker in February, making clear that “third-party registrations for players are not permitted unless submitted by Official WSOP sponsors.” The announcement was initially met with dire predictions of a sharp decline in the number of entrants in the WSOP Main Event (and other events as well). Such fears proved somewhat misplaced, although it is clear Harrah’s decision to bow to the pressure of the UIGEA here most certainly affected the number of online qualifiers finding their way to Vegas.

As we neared the start of this year’s WSOP, I wrote a post back in May about the rule in which I editorialized a bit about how fewer online qualifiers might affect the quality of play at the WSOP.

7. Chris Vaughn-Sorel Mizzi Account-Purchasing Scandal

Sorel Mizzi stepped in for Chris Vaughn at the final table of the Full Tilt $1 Million Guaranteed back in OctoberA relative novice when it came to big money online MTTs, Chris Vaughn, then Managing Editor of Bluff Magazine, garnered much attention back in October when he won the Full Tilt $1 Million Guaranteed and the PokerStars Sunday Million in back-to-back weeks. Vaughn was interviewed by PokerNews, and appeared as a guest on PokerRoad Radio’s Big Poker Sundays in mid-November. During the latter interview Vaughn was asked about whether perhaps one of his backers (a group including established online whiz Sorel Mizzi) might have “ghosted” one or both of the tourneys for him, something Vaughn flatly denied. Within a couple of weeks, Vaughn and Mizzi confessed (in a two-part PokerNews interview) that Mizzi had indeed completed the Full Tilt $1 Million Guaranteed for Vaughn, having purchased Vaughn’s account once play had reached the final three tables or so. Both players were subsequently banned from the site, and Vaughn eventually lost his position at Bluff.

First mentioned the story here, then ended up commenting on it again a couple more times -- once in response to a discussion on Beyond the Table about the scandal, then in another post written after hearing more talk about it on PokerRoad Radio. Speaking of poker podcasts, Tim Peters (of Literature and Poker) made a good point earlier this week in a post where he remarked on how the Pocket Fives podcast has somehow neglected (thus far) to mention this huge story for online poker.

6. Bots on Full Tilt Poker

Night of the Living BotsRumors regarding online poker bots had floated around before, but none had been quite as compelling as the one that began when a frequent 2+2 poster started a new thread -- “NL Bots on Full Tilt” -- in which he shared fairly-convincing evidence that he had encountered four different players at Full Tilt NL200 tables whose play had apparently been managed by a computer program of some sort. Adding further fuel to the paranoia fire was the fact that by the time the news was shared, Full Tilt had frozen the accounts in question, investigated the situation, unfrozen the accounts, and announced that the evidence presented had been “inconclusive.” I wrote a post at the time -- “Night of the Living Bots” -- likening the whole saga to various horror film plots.

Come back tomorrow for the top five.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Knowing How to Win

Brian Westbrook decides a touchdown is unneededPoker content emerges in the second-half of this post. Includes some semi-comical chatbox trash talk, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, what say we play a little Monday morning quarterback?

Happened to catch the concluding moments of the Eagles-Cowboys game yesterday, and near the end there occurred one of the most unusual plays I can ever recall witnessing in an NFL game. Leading 10-6 with about two-and-a-half-minutes to go, Philadelphia had a third-and-something on the Dallas 25. The Cowboys had used their final timeout, so stopping the Eagles here and limiting them to a field goal was their only remaining hope.

Philly handed the ball to running back Brian Westbrook who after making the first down found a seam and broke into the clear. At about the five-yard line Westbrook strangely appeared to slow down, turning his body to face the other players. Initially it looked like another one of those in-your-face, taunting-type plays we see so often nowadays, where the runner tiptoes into the endzone backwards, rubbing it in the faces of his opponents. But no! At the one-yard line Westbrook purposely dropped to the turf, allowing himself to be tackled just shy of the goal line.

What the hell? Player has an easy six and doesn’t take it?

As the clock wound down to the two-minute warning, it quickly became obvious just how inspired Westbrook’s play really was. A touchdown would have given the Eagles an 11-point lead, but also would have given the ball back to the Cowboys who could well have gotten a quick score, then attempted an onside kick. In other words, scoring a touchdown here meant Dallas still had a chance. Falling down at the one, however, ensured victory for Philadelphia, as all they had to do was kneel on the ball three times while the Cowboys -- out of timeouts -- helplessly watched the clock expire.

“Brilliant,” said Philly coach Andy Reid afterwards. Seems apparent that Reid hadn’t instructed Westbrook to make such a play. “He used that Villanova education and transferred it to the football field,” Reid added. It was brilliant -- the kind of play that probably wouldn’t even occur to most players or fans as an option. Not to mention utterly selfless.

What made the play especially intriguing to watch and contemplate afterwards was the irony of that first, false impression that Westbrook was about to mock the Cowboys defenders -- the sort of thick-headed, selfish move we tend to expect -- when, in fact, the move was both clever and classy.

Now, the poker. Had a fairly ordinary hand the other day at a six-handed PLO25 table on Stars made memorable by how one player handled himself with the endzone in sight. Kind of the opposite of Westbrook’s example, really.

I had just come to the table, buying in short (just ten bucks). Had played just a couple hands -- and so had $9-something in front of me -- when I got Kc9hTcJd in the small blind. The player in the cutoff -- 2FreakinEZ -- raised pot to $0.85, and I went ahead and called, as did the big blind. Incidentally, while I almost never use real names when recounting hands here, I’m making an exception in this case. (Keep reading -- you’ll see why.) Generally speaking, I’ve been mostly avoiding calling raises from out of position like this, but I had a decent starting hand and as I was short I was ready to gamble should the flop prove favorable.

Flop came 9c2s9d, giving me a decision. The pot had $2.55 in it. I bet out $1.50 to see if anyone else had the other nine, and both players called. When the Ac came on the turn, I might should have put on the brakes, but instead I stubbornly made a bet of $3.25, effectively committing myself to the hand as I only had about four bucks left. (I’ll admit as well to having had a couple of tables opened at the time, and thus probably wasn’t giving full concentration to what was happening here.) The big blind folded, but 2FreakinEZ called. The river -- 4s -- didn’t help me, but I went ahead and somewhat recklessly stuck my remaining chips in the middle.

2FreakinEZ did not act immediately. In fact, he requested more time, and we all sat and watched his name flash on and off while waiting for him to call or fold. Amid the time warnings in the chatbox, I notice my dawdling opponent has typed “2 freakin ez.” He waits until there’s less than five seconds to go, then calls, showing his AAxx for the boat.

“Slowroll?” I typed, adding a facetious “vn.” “Ouchies,” he replied. I conclude our dialogue with a “whatever” and rebuy.

It becomes apparent after a while that 2freakinEZ plays very few hands -- in fact, I notice he’s got four tables open and is mostly folding on every one. After a bit he turns quads on our table and pulls the exact same trick on another player, waiting for 30 seconds or more, then typing his little catch phrase before calling his opponent’s all-in bet.

“Wow that’s a real neat trick,” I type. He says nothing.

The fact is, taking the low road is too friggin’ easy. Meanwhile, good sportsmanship and/or selflessness usually requires some effort. But as Westbrook’s play yesterday demonstrates, it doesn’t have to be all that difficult. In some cases it can be as easy as falling down.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

“What . . . Would You Say . . . You Do Here?”

Smykowski answers the question 'What, would you say, you do here?' in 'Office Space' (1999)Talk about anticlimax. For the very brief time I was in the AIPS II Main Event, I played about as badly as I ever have, making at least three poor-to-horrific plays (including one involving me calling off a significant amount of chips with friggin’ king-high -- ack!). Only outlasted six other players, in fact, finishing a miserable 84th of 90 runners. Only the final nine got paid, so I knew it was going to be a longshot anyhow for me to make any scratch here.

Rather than start (and continue) in my usual supertight mode, I had some strange, otherworldly urge early on to mix it up. Wouldn’t have been a bad approach, actually, if I knew what I was doing. To be completely honest, my head just wasn’t in the game at all. When the virtual cards went in the air, I was only virtually there.

It’s no fun -- though certainly beneficial -- to assess one’s play after a poorly-managed tourney or session. Kind of ironic, actually, because one of the reasons why I think I was distracted yesterday had to do with the fact that I’ve been preoccupied the last few days by my having to complete some year-end assessment at work.

A lot of you working types know what I’m talking about. Most jobs involve some sort of annual review or self-evaluation-type activity where one is asked to explain just what the hell one has contributed toward the achievement of various aims, purposes, goals, and/or objectives set forth by one’s employer.

Sometimes (as in my case) such an exercise involves quantifying one’s activities in ways that make little practical sense, assigning percentages or “objective” measures to actions that simply cannot be described or valued in that way. Sort of thing tends to create an unhealthy mix of frustration (“What do these people know about it, really?”) and self-loathing (“What the hell am I doing here, really?”).

When it comes to self-assessment in poker, we’ve all got one, easy-to-read bottom line that describes what we’ve accomplished -- the amount of chips we take from the tables relative to what we brought. Not always an accurate measure, as oftentimes (in a given session) we take away more or less than we really deserved. But when it comes to annual reviews, it’s pretty easy to say whether you’ve been a credit or a deficit to your own personal “company.”

All of which is to say, in the ongoing battle between poker and non-poker, poker wins again. Will be nice to get this assessment applesauce out of the way and focus for a while on what really matters. Or at least makes sense.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Finish What You Started

Finish LineGonna be playing in the big bad AIPS II Main Event tomorrow -- a $24+$2 deep-stacked NLHE tourney for which I won me a token. What am I doing to prepare for the tourney? Playing pot limit Omaha, of course.

On Wednesday I entered one of those $8.00+$0.80 PLO freezeouts over on PokerStars. I don’t recall ever trying one of these before. There were 154 entrants, making for a prize pool of over $1,200 (first paid $350 or so). I ended up making a decent run, though came up a bit short and finished 11th. Won a meager $12.32 for my three hours or so of effort. Gawd are tourneys a heartbreak (sometimes)!

I want to talk a little about the tourney, but I also want to say another word or two about this “account-purchasing” issue that folks continue to debate following the recent Vaughn-Mizzi ruckus. Indeed, playing in the tourney caused me to think about the issue in a slightly different way, and I wanted to add those thoughts here.

If you find tourney narratives less than compelling -- this one is moderately interesting, perhaps more so if yr an Omaha player -- let me invite you to skip on down to the next section (“Playing It Out”). Won’t hurt my feelings none. (And that way you will have at least followed the directive there in the post’s title.)

PLO $8.00+$0.80 deep-stacked freezeout (11/154)

Played mostly tight early on. We began with 3,000 chips, and with 15-minute levels there was really no need to get too wild too soon. Didn’t prevent a third of the field from flaming out by before we’d even gotten to Level 3, though.

Somewhere early on I flopped the nut straight and ended up doubling through when it held up. Then came a hand where I turned quad queens, then somehow managed to get a player who’d rivered the nut flush to call my last chips. That hand propelled me up over 17,000, which at the time (Level 5) meant I was among the chip leaders with 70-80 or so left.

There began a long, mostly quiet stretch for me. Looking back, I should have taken more advantage of my big stack and seen a few more flops. Overall, I only saw around 25-30% of flops for the tourney -- a little over half what I’ll normally see in ring games. I’m convinced now that I missed an opportunity there during the middle portion of the tournament to pick up some more chips.

At the two-hour break I had 16,360 chips, putting me 13th out of 27 remaining. We were on the bubble (24 paid). Took about eight hands for us to get to the money, then another half-hour or so to get down to two tables. After another dry stretch I found myself down to 13,060 in chips, making me 14th of 15 players left, when the following hand took place.

The blinds were 400/800 (Level 10). I picked up 7hAhJsTh in late position, and when it folded around to me I put in a raise of 1,800. All folded except the big blind -- PBandJ -- who had a little over 14,000 when the hand began (he and I were the two short stacks at the table). The flop didn’t do much for me: Ts5c2c. The BB checked, and I went ahead and bet 2,200 (into the 4,000 pot). PBandJ called. I had about 9,000 left. The turn was the 3s, and we both checked. The river was the Qd and PBandJ again checked. I probably should have checked as well, but instead I bet 5,600 and my opponent thankfully folded. Pretty dicey play on my part, but I was still breathing.

Same guy ended up busting me a little later, though this time I think I played the hand okay. In fact, that earlier staredown hand might well have caused PBandJ to get a little reckless on this one -- and get lucky. Severely short-stacked (with 11K), I raised pot preflop from the SB with 9cQcJhQd and PBandJ called. The flop came Jd7hTs. Figuring I probably wasn’t going to see a much better opportunity, I bet my remaining 6,600 and PBandJ quickly called, showing AcTcKd8c.

Now I pushed with an overpair and an open-ended straight draw -- not great by PLO standards, but okay considering the circumstances (I think). He called with middle pair, overcards, and a double-gutshot. He’s hoping for a nine or queen, but as it happens I’ve got three of those in my hand. (An ace would also help him here if I don’t improve.) Sadly for me, one of the remaining nines popped out on the river, and I was on the virtual rail.

Playing It Out

As I say, I felt a bit unsure about my play during the middle portion of the tourney -- when I had the big stack -- and even toward the end when I know I’d become overly tentative just when it mattered most.

Finishing tourneys is a tricky business for those of us who don’t play them often. Unlike some of the bloggers whose exploits I like to follow -- am thinking of people like Hoyazo, Columbo, cmitch, Kajagugu, TripJax, Blinders, Irongirl, 23skidoo, among others -- I simply don’t have a lot of tourney chops. As a result, I’ll necessarily struggle with certain decisions along the way, decisions which have become something like second nature for more accomplished tourney players.

No way around it, really. Experience leads to familiarity leads to confidence leads to a meaningful edge over less-savvy opponents. The good, knowledgeable player senses the greenhorn’s uncertainty, further widening the gap between the skilled and the untutored.

Poker Road RadioAll of which leads me back to the sordid Vaughn-Mizzi saga. Was listening to Poker Road Radio yesterday (the 12/12 episode with Liz Lieu) and heard hosts Bart Hanson, Joe Sebok, and Gavin Smith each give his take on what happened. Sebok described account-purchasing as “rampant” -- something that has happened with great regularity in the past and (apparently) continues to occur today. Sebok maintained that whether or not an online site’s terms & conditions explicitly outlaw such a practice, one player taking over for another deep in a tourney is simply wrong. Hanson was less explicit, but appeared to agree with Sebok that the practice represents an ethical failure.

Gavin Smith, however, went against the grain somewhat by maintaining both (1) Vaughn and Mizzi didn’t deserve to be banned from Full Tilt for their transgression, and (2) he didn’t think one person taking over for another late in a tourney necessarily translated into a competitive edge.

Regarding the latter, Hanson posed what I considered to be a thoughtful question to Smith: “You’re telling me that you actually believe that if somebody who doesn’t have experience who has happened to get a little bit lucky throughout the course of a tournament, if he turns his account over to a guy that’s been in that position and has won major online tournaments -- thirty, forty, fifty times before -- when they have the chip lead with twenty people left, that that doesn’t give a competitive monetary advantage to those two . . . people . . . [over] that guy who is inexperienced [who is] try[ing] to finish out the tournament?”

Smith replied, “I think it could, yes, [but] I’m not saying that it’s automatically a huge edge.” To which Sebok interjected, “Either way, I don’t think it’s right.”

Have to say I’m with Sebok and Hanson here. When Hanson posed his question, I found myself thinking about my own lack of experience as a tourney player, and how I’d felt less than sure about some of my decisions as we moved through the middle and later stages of my PLO freezeout. I would hope that as I am battling through my own difficulties that my opponents are all doing the same -- that I am not suddenly now having to compete against the online phenoms I’m hearing about every week over on the Pocket Fives podcast.

Smith said he didn’t “feel bad” for the other players -- that is, those who had to compete against the Vaughn-Mizzi team. “I don’t really think they really got screwed all that bad,” he said, adding that he felt worse for Mizzi for being banned from Full Tilt. I’m a fan of Smith, but I do strongly disagree with him here. I feel much, much more empathy for the players who have to deal with an online pro taking over their opponent’s account than I do the pro who somehow thinks it’s okay to do such a thing.

Shamus getting ready to start the big tournamentSo I finished 11th. At least it was me. And for all my opponents in the AIPS II Main Event, please know I’ll be the only one controlling that stupid, grinning frog tomorrow.

I’ll be assuming the same of everyone else.

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