Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Non-Hold ’em TV Sighting

A Non-Hold 'em TV SightingLast night I happened to catch a few minutes of ESPN’s coverage of Event No. 7, the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha (w/rebuys) event from the 2007 WSOP. I’d somehow missed this one when it originally aired, and so decided to go back and watch the whole thing over on PokerTube. (All of the segments from this event are collected here.) In terms of interest and name recognition, this final table had an above-average cast, including Humberto Brenes (who finished 8th), John Juanda (7th), Minh Ly (5th), and Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott (3rd). The nervy Burt Boutin ended up winning his second WSOP bracelet after a brief, exciting heads-up battle with Erik Cajelais.

ESPN devoted two whole hours to this one, no doubt because of the presence of the foul-mouthed, highly entertaining Ulliott. Since I’ve been playing a lot of PLO over the last ten months or so, I was intrigued to see whether the players’ strategies at this final table would appear comprehensible to me. There were a few odd-looking plays here and there, but a lot of the moves -- e.g., preflop limping, betting big draws, exercising caution with weak made hands -- were fairly recognizable.

I know some aren’t big fans of Norman Chad’s jokes or ESPN’s occasionally deceptive manufacturing of heroes and villains. However, I usually like how they end up piecing these highlight reels together, and I did find these two hours particularly fun to watch. Helped a lot that Brenes and his “chark” went out on the fourth hand shown.

Did have one minor bone to pick, though. And I’m not referring to that tepid segment of “The Nuts” with Phil Hellmuth -- who wasn’t even at this final table -- tossing frisbees across a pool at Norman Chad. (Hellmuth had entered Event No. 7, but was bounced on Day 1 in around 70th place.)

No, I’m referring to some of Chad’s analyses. I’ll give an example from one particular hand. This one came up during the first hour of the coverage -- it was the fifth hand shown (Hand No. 17 of the final table, overall). The hand was preceded by a short clip featuring Devilfish, after which Chad emphasized Ulliott “loves being the table bully,” noting his previous experience as a boxer and nightclub bouncer. As we’ll see, a not-terribly-subtle foreshadowing of the hand.

Seven players remain when the hand begins. Ulliott is the leader with 1,400,000, barely outchipping Cajelais who has 1,350,000. The blinds are 20,000/40,000. Three players limp: Boutin from EP with A-10-9-9 single-suited (clubs); Ulliott from the cutoff with 6-6-4-4 (with a couple of hearts); and Cajelais from the button with A-5-3-2 double-suited (spades & clubs). Juanda -- the table’s short-stack -- checks his option from the big blind with the crummy K-8-6-4 single-suited (spades). We go to the flop:

The flop comes 2s 5d 4d“Cajelais flops the wheel to take the lead!” exclaims Lon McEachern. Chad adds, somewhat less enthusiastically, that Devilfish has made a set of fours.

It checks to Ulliott who bets pot -- 160,000. No one mentions it, but part of what emboldens Ulliott here is the fact that he holds two of the four sixes, making it less likely someone else has the nut straight.

This is where Chad makes what strikes me as a fairly weak read of the situation. “If I’m Erik Cajelais, I would pop this baby right now,” says Chad. “You’ll get rid of the shoe clerks and crumb bums.”

Sure, Cajelais made a wheel. But this ain’t high-low. Nor is it Hold ’em, and holding the less-than-nut-straight can be pretty dicey in PLO. All in all a tenuous situation for Cajelais, particularly after Ulliott -- the only player at the table who has him covered -- has bet pot. Ulliott might well have the 6-3, and if he doesn’t one of the other two players might. Cajelais elects just to call Ulliott’s bet.

“Man, I’m in the big blind . . . why couldn’t I have that?” says Juanda, essentially pointing out what Chad did not -- namely, that he could well have had Cajelais beat here. Boutin also folds. The pot is 480,000.

The turn brings the Jd -- the third diamond on board -- which Chad correctly describes as a scare card for both players. Both players check. The river is the Tc, giving Cajelais the “check mark.” Ulliott quickly pushes 400,000 into the middle, prompting Chad to say “I think Devilfish believes he has the best hand.”

Really? Let’s see.

Cajelais thinks for a moment and folds. Understandably, in my opinion. He doesn’t have the nut straight. A flush beats him. And Ulliott has him covered. Nevertheless, Chad expresses astonishment that Cajelais folded a winner.

Again, the players’ commentary proves much more enlightening than the commentators’. “Flop the wheel?” Devilfish asks Cajelais, proving he didn’t necessarily believe his set of fours was the best hand. Cajelais instinctively nods as if to say yes, then quickly covers, saying he had two pair (which he did, actually). Devilfish also partially fibs: “I had a flush draw and a set of fours.”

I like ESPN giving so much attention to a non-Hold ’em game here. Not sure, however, who they are thinking about in terms of audience. For non-PLO players, the commentary is entertaining, I guess, but often misleading. For PLO players? Well, the commentary is also fun at times. But in terms of real strategy assessment it is mostly just noise.



Blogger OhCaptain said...

I just keep wondering if there's anyone better than Gabe at doing the commentary. Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten are the only ones close. Ali Nejad isn't bad, but he's not that entertaining.

I'm actually quite bored with the guys on the WSOP. Mark Seif was terrible on the PPT. How's your voice?

1/09/2008 12:28 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

I agree, Gabe's the best by far.

1/09/2008 1:30 AM  

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