Friday, July 31, 2009

Seeking a Signal Amid the Noise

Seeking a Signal Amid the NoiseI am not a huge fan of science fiction, generally speaking, but I do have a few favorite authors to whom I return time and again. And I like very much what the best SF can do, namely, position itself as what the theorist Darko Suvin once called the “literature of cognitive estrangement.”

In Suvin’s definition -- outlined in his influential Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979) -- “cognitive” refers to the “science” half of science fiction, the half that concerns SF’s focus on logic and reason, while “estrangement” refers to the “fiction” making, that is, the creation of a new world that is different from the one in which the reader lives. That’s what defines the genre, says Suvin -- what makes a book “science fiction” and not something else. A work of SF presents us a new world, but does so in a way that still pays heed to rational, scientifically-sound explanations.

What happens then (Suvin goes on to explain) is that the reader does get to “escape” his or her world, in a way, while reading, but on finishing the fiction is then encouraged to return to his or her world with a questioning attitude. Thus you get SF books that function as cogent commentaries on various aspects of our reality. Some of these comment specifically on the pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding, but some also give us things to think about with regard to the many other disciplines by which we try to understand our reality such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, poltics, and so forth.

Like I say, I have a few favorite SF authors and books, and the ones I like always do more than simply provide an “escape” but force me to take that next step and think about the world in which I live in a different way.

A couple of days ago I was reading Otis filling out one of those “memes” which included listing “15 Books I’ve read that, for whatever reason, stand out in my mind.” Otis’ list has about three SF titles on it, and I think if I were to fill out such a list mine would also include a few SF books, though not the same ones.

My list would include Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979), a time-travel book about slavery that some (including Suvin, I’d guess) might argue isn’t technically SF but fantasy. It would also include Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s brilliant, witty satire on crass commercialism called The Space Merchants (1952).

'Time Out of Joint' by Philip K. Dick (1959)I’d additionally be tempted to include Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint (1959), which starts out as a very realistic -- even somewhat mundane -- narrative about a not-so-inspiring hero whose main talent is an uncanny ability to solve the daily puzzle in his local newspaper. Then, about halfway through the novel, we -- along with the hero -- come to realize nothing is what it seems. (I'll say no more, but think The Truman Show or other, similar stories that were undoubtedly influenced by this novel.) Simply an amazing book, really, that like the other two “for whatever reason” tends to “stand out in my mind.”

There’s a fourth SF book I’d definitely include on the list, one by the Polish author Stansilaw Lem titled His Master’s Voice (1968). Lem is best known for a book called Solaris (1961) from which a couple of films have been made. I also recommend that book, as well as the 1972 film by the Russian director, Andrei Tartovsky. But the Lem novel I keep going back to is His Master’s Voice.

I took His Master’s Voice to Vegas this summer, actually, and was rereading it beside the pool on those days off from helping cover the World Series of Poker for PokerNews. And, in fact, the point of this here post was to suggest at least one of the ways Lem’s book -- set in the Nevada desert, in fact -- might be said to relate to the experience of playing poker.

'His Master's Voice' by Stanislaw Lem (1968)His Master’s Voice is presented as an autobiography by a mathematician named Peter Hogarth, a person who becomes involved in a governmental program called “His Master’s Voice” (abbreviated as HMV), the object of which is to try to decipher what is thought to be a message from space, delivered in the form of a neutrino emission. The set-up perhaps calls to mind those various “SETI” (“Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”) projects in which people use computing power and other means to try to glean out some sort of communication coming to us via the skies.

It is the presence of what seems to be some sort of pattern in the emission that leads many to believe that some entity has sent it as a message -- “that behind the object of investigation there indeed stands a Someone” -- and the HMV project is created to figure out just what the message says. The novel takes some surprising twists, with the message alternatively being understood as instructions for the creation of a new, previously unknown life form as well as a recipe for a weapon of mass destruction. Ultimately, the book -- which is very academic in tone and almost reads like a philosophy text at times -- ends up making a lot of profound observations about the ways humans interact with one another, particularly the ways we “communicate” (or fail to).

I guess the aspect of His Master’s Voice that most directly makes me think of poker has to do with this effort to seek out patterns -- a “signal” amid the “noise” -- and interpret them in ways that make sense to us. At the poker table, we watch an opponent’s behaviors and actions, we make note of betting decisions and amounts, and we build some sort of understanding of what “message” that player is sending to us.

The fact is, though -- and Hogarth (the narrator) kind of insists on this point throughout the book -- any “message” is going to be imperfectly delivered and imperfectly understood. Hogarth often stops and points out how “one’s personal experience in life is fundamentally unconveyable. Nontransmittable.” He acknowledges repeatedly that his memoir is riddled with gaps and references to things that are “unconveyable.” And Hogarth also knows that even what he does manage to convey will likely be understood differently than he intends. Thus is the HMV project also doomed to fail, in Hogarth’s view.

So, too, are our efforts to read others’ messages at the poker table always imperfect, unfinished, taken from inadequate sample sizes. We may still profit from them, but we can’t ever really come away with an utterly absolute, unequivocal understanding of the meaning of others’ “messages.”

Indeed, I am aware that it is very likely you’ve arrived at the end of this post still searching for its “message.” Take from it what you will, but do at least take these book recommendations as part of whatever communication it is I’m trying to deliver.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

On the Odds (2009 WSOP Main Event Final Table)

On the Odds (2009 WSOP Main Event Final Table)Not being a gambler -- not really -- I ain’t planning on placing any bets on who’ll win the World Series of Poker Main Event final table once they restart that sucker in November. Am curious, nonetheless, about the odds folks have come up with for such wagers.

Today on the Betfair site, chip leader Darvin Moon is listed as a 3.3-to-1 favorite to win. On Bodog, Moon is likewise listed as the favorite, though the odds over there are 17/10 or 1.7-to-1. And over at Ladbrokes, Moon is currently a 2.5-to-1 fave.

Here are the current odds for all nine players from all three sites:

Betfair: Darvin Moon 3.3-to-1; Eric Buchman 4.6-to-1; Steven Begleiter 6-to-1; Phil Ivey 6.6-to-1; Jeff Shulman 7.2-to-1; Joseph Cada 15.5-to-1; Kevin Schaffel 16-to-1; Antoine Saout 19-to-1; James Akenhead 19-to-1.

Bodog: Darvin Moon 17-to-10; Eric Buchman 3-to-1; Steven Begleiter 4-to-1, Phil Ivey 4-to-1; Jeff Shulman 4-to-1; Joe Cada 10-to-1; Kevin Schaffel 12-to-1; Antoine Saout 12-to-1; James Akenhead 22-to-1.

Ladbrokes: Darvin Moon 2.5-to-1; Eric Buchman 4-to-1; Steven Begleiter 5.5-to-1; Phil Ivey 6-to-1; Jeff Shulman 7-to-1; Joe Cada 12-to-1; Kevin Schaffel 12-to-1; James Akenhead 16-to-1; Antoine Saout 18-to-1.

All three sites essentially have the nine players in the same order as far as the odds go, with a few differences here and there. Of course, the most striking aspect of all three sets of odds is the fact that while they pretty much order the players according to current chip counts from first to ninth, the glaring exception in all three cases is Phil Ivey -- seventh in chips currently, but rated fourth-most likely to win it by Betfair and Ladbrokes, and tied for third-most likely by Bodog.

As a reminder, here are the current chip counts:

1. Darvin Moon (seat 1) -- 58,930,000
2. Eric Buchman (seat 6) -- 34,800,000
3. Steven Begleiter (seat 5) -- 29,885,000
4. Jeff Shulman (seat 9) -- 19,580,00
5. Joseph Cada (seat 7) -- 13,215,000
6. Kevin Schaffel (seat 4) -- 12,390,000
7. Phil Ivey (seat 3) -- 9,765,000
8. Antoine Saout (seat 8) -- 9,500,000
9. James Akenhead (seat 2) -- 6,800,000

Like I say, I’m not planning to place any bets, although if I were I think I’d probably take Shulman. I’d be betting on experience there, plus his having enough starting chips to make things happen from the very beginning. (Then again, people who bet against Phil Ivey tend to regret it.)

On whom would you bet (or are you betting)?

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jokes and Poker

JokerI have this CD called Woody Allen on Comedy which consists of a lengthy interview of the comedian conducted by Larry Wilde for a book he was compiling, titled Great Comedians Talk About Comedy, published in 1968. The interview must have been done at least a couple of years before the book appeared, perhaps even earlier -- that is, prior to Allen’s having embarked in earnest on his film career, and during the time of his doing stand-up and writing for various television shows. (The disc first appeared in 2001, I think.)

The interview is quite interesting, with Allen providing what are often quite academic-sounding replies to Wilde’s questions about comedy and writing. Of course, there’s nothing less funny than someone explaining why something is funny, so if you ever happen to pick up this disc, don’t go expecting a lot of grins.

Early on, at the start of a track titled “Formats & Styles,” Wilde asks a question about whether or not there are “different kinds of jokes.” When asked for clarification, we learn that he’s essentially asking about the technical side of joke-writing -- that is, about the various categorical definitions or types (e.g., the “one-liner,” the “anecdote”).

Before getting too far into the discussion of the difference between form and content, Allen insists he wants to make one point understood -- namely, that when it comes to a knowledge of the various forms of jokes, “they are of no help or value to you when you are writing material.” He then speaks further about this idea of having an understanding of the “technique” of joke-writing:

'Woody Allen on Comedy'“There is a technique that you can learn if you are a person that has the ability to be funny or to write funny things. Then you can learn how to put them into different form. Then the technique comes in. You can learn how to construct the monologue, how to construct a sketch, and ultimately, hopefully, finally how to use those jokes to construct a play or something. Do you know what I mean? But you can’t learn beyond that. You can’t learn how to write funny things, how to write individual jokes.”

He explains further what he means, but the gist of it is that people either have the ability to be funny and write jokes, or they don’t, and in Allen’s view that ability cannot be learned the way the technical or formal aspects of joke-writing can be. And learning the latter is of no use, ultimately, if one isn’t already possessed of the former.

You hear this sort of thing about artists quite often -- that one either “has it” or doesn’t when it comes to being able to express oneself in ways that are remarkable, beautiful, entertaining, humorous, whatever. You sometimes hear a similar theory advanced in the context of poker, namely, that there are those who have a kind of innate “feel” for the game, something that exists separately from a strict technical knowledge of odds, etc. (the “math”). Indeed, those are the players who are often described as “artists” since their successes are sometimes difficult to explain in literal, unambiguous terms.

We’re all familiar with that analogy by which the playing of a poker hand is likened to telling a “story.” So it might be tempting to take Allen’s idea and apply it to one’s “storytelling” at the poker table. There are the formal aspects of play -- the machinations at the table (pauses, table talk, handling of cards and chips, etc.) and the “math” (understanding odds, outs, bet sizing, etc.) -- which one employs when telling one’s story, and one also looks for when listening to others’ stories.

Then there’s the “having something to say.” The intangibles. The understanding of how a story “works” (like how a joke “works”). The stuff many believe cannot be taught.

Kind of fun pursuing this comparison, even if it does cause us to get a little bit abstract. I will say that while Allen might be right when he says that a knowledge of the formal or technical aspects of joke-writing is “of no help or value to you” unless you’ve already got the ability to be funny, an understanding of the technical aspects of poker can help one considerably when trying to tell one’s “stories” at the table. I guess that’s because in a lot of ways the “content” of our stories is mostly already provided to us via the cards, chips, and other players acting out their roles.

So, good news and bad news. You can learn to be a poker player, even if you weren’t born with any particular talent in that direction.

But if you think you can learn to be a comedian, well, the joke’s on you.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ESPN’s Coverage of 2009 World Series of Poker Begins Tonight

Shamus settles in to enjoy ESPN's coverage of the 2009 WSOPTonight ESPN begins what will eventually be 16 consecutive Tuesday nights’ worth of coverage of the 2009 World Series of Poker.

I remember when the schedule was first announced in the spring, there was general disappointment (including around here at Hard-Boiled Poker) over the fact that almost none of the preliminary events, including the much-ballyhooed $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, were going to get any airplay this time around. Indeed, of the 32 scheduled hours, just two of them -- those airing tonight -- would have anything to do with a non-Main Event bracelet tourney.

I’m starting to come around, though, to understanding ESPN’s way of thinking. Actually, I always understood it -- ratings is all, and that’s that -- but part of me continued to be possessed by the notion that that WSOP is not simply one event, nor is it simply no-limit hold’em, and thus focusing almost exclusively on the Main Event seemed to ignore a bit too blatantly what it was ESPN was covering.

The creation of the November Nine last year, though, has really changed everything. The Main Event was always special, but delaying the final table four months has essentially segregated the ME from the rest of the Series as an event unto itself. And having been there again this summer for the first eight days of play, I’ll admit I’m genuinely intrigued to see how ESPN crafts their Main Event narrative this time around.

Three other quick thoughts in anticipation of the coverage:

1. With regard to the Main Event, I am curious to see what ESPN does with those wildly disparate Day Ones, with only 800-plus players having shown on Day 1B and nearly 3,000 on Day 1D. Of course, the bulk of the coverage always comes from the feature tables anyway, so the difference probably won’t be all that noticeable. I know from covering both of those days, though, that there was a heck of lot more of interest on 1D than on 1B.

2. I really want to see the WSOP Champions Invitational next week, which was going on while I was on Event No. 2 and thus I was unable to catch more than brief glimpses when it took place. That said, I have no interest whatsoever in watching the Ante Up for Africa Celebrity-Charity Event, though I understand how that one will get a few viewers who won’t otherwise be interested in the coverage.

3. Tonight’s Event No. 2 final table was, of course, the first of the Series I helped cover for PokerNews -- along with Change100, who rocked the hand-for-hand, and the intrepid Mickey on the hand replayer -- and so I’m familiar with the players and hands, perhaps more so than with any other FT from the WSOP this year. I know most readers of this blog followed online and thus know the outcome, but even if you know how things turn out there should be some fun viewing tonight, with some seriously dramatic back-and-forth type hands. I’m also interested to see some of Vitaly Lunkin’s holdings, as he basically wasn’t showing a thing for most of the first half of the night while steadily building up his stack.

Here’s ESPN’s complete schedule:
  • July 28, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Event No. 2, the “Special 40th Annual $40,000 No-Limit Hold’em Event”
  • August 4, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- WSOP Champions Invitational
  • August 11, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Ante Up for Africa Celebrity-Charity Event
  • August 18, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 1A
  • August 25, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 1B
  • September 1, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 1C
  • September 8, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 1D
  • September 15, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 2A
  • September 22, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 2B
  • September 29, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 3
  • October 6, 8:00-10:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 4
  • October 13, 9:00-11:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 5
  • October 20, 9:00-11:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 6
  • October 27, 9:00-11:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 7
  • November 3, 9:00-11:00 p.m. -- Main Event Day 8
  • November 10, 9:00-11:00 p.m. -- Main Event Final Table
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    Monday, July 27, 2009

    A Sporting Chance for Poker

    UkraineLast week was “National Poker Week” here in the United States. Lots of lobbying on Capitol Hill happening in an effort to try to get lawmakers to view poker not as an immoral, unsavory vice, but as a legitimate pursuit that rewards the skill of its participants and is thus undeserving of any sort of ill-founded governmental proscription.

    As far as I know, no one in Washington, D.C. last week was explicitly advancing arguments about poker being a “sport.” Probably just as well. Complicates things.

    Recently the Russian government officially revoked poker’s status as a sport, thereby making it illegal to operate any non-government-sanctioned poker rooms. The change also means that poker rooms are forbidden from operating within 1,000 kilometers of Moscow, with just a few remote locations (including in Siberia) now being allowed. Big news in Russia, a country whose gaming industry had grown significantly since the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reports are that “tens of thousands” already find themselves unemployed as a result of this change.

    To give you an idea of the scope, more than 520 casinos were operating in Moscow prior to the change in designation for poker, meaning more than 10,000 people in the Russian capital instantly lost their jobs. The Russian Association for Gaming Business Development has estimated that ultimately something like 350,000 people eventually will lose their jobs across Russia as a direct consequence of the change, and more than $2 billion of tax revenue will be lost. Not all agree with those numbers -- other estimates of lost jobs and tax revenue are considerably lower -- but you get the idea.

    Meanwhile, poker and other forms of gambling can only now take place in Siberia and other far-away spots.

    Something kind of uncanny in hearing those references to poker having been “exiled” to Siberia. That’s because Siberia was one of the places where the Soviet Union (up through the 1950s) had located hundreds of labor camps -- by order of the governmental agency known as the “Gulag” -- where prisoners were sent to work as punishment. The labor camps predated the U.S.S.R., actually, with Russia having similarly sent prisoners to Siberia to work back in the 19th century. Indeed, at the end of The Brothers Karamazov (published in 1880 and set a couple of decades before), when Dmitri is on trial for murdering his father, he’s facing the prospect of being shipped to Siberia for a life of hard labor should he be found guilty.

    Meaning the name “Siberia” automatically evokes for many ideas of exile, punishment, and the severe exertion of governmental authority.

    This anti-gambling law went into effect on July 1, and appears to have caught many off guard, including the European Poker Tour which had a scheduled a tour stop in Moscow next month. It shouldn’t have, though, as former Russian president Vladimir Putin had signed the bill -- called “About the State Regulation of Activities on Gambling” (a.k.a., the “Russian Gambling Bill”) -- into law way back in November 2006. Not like the EPT and others couldn’t have seen it coming. (EDIT [added 1:30 p.m.] -- See comments for clarification here; while the anti-gambling law went into effect 7/1/09, the change in poker's "sport" designation that forced the closure of poker rooms only came more recently.)

    Sounds like the whole “poker as a sport” thing was one of those peculiar idiosyncrasies that resulted from someone -- namely those running the Russian Physical Training and Sport Committee that made the list -- not really recognizing the government’s authority in such matters when they included poker on the list (back in 2004, apparently).

    Since all the casinos in Moscow have been closed, the EPT has moved its August event over to Kiev, the Ukraine capital.

    Kiev Sports PalaceWhere will the event take place? The Kiev Sports Palace (pictured at left). Where they host things like the Eurovision Song Contest, fairs and exhibitions, and other big public gatherings.

    And various sports, too. You know, like poker.

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    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 17: Jack of Clubs

    Jack of ClubsThe Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show is back, y’all. New episode up this mornin’.

    This one includes a few different items. Starts off with a song by Patsy Cline called “Turn the Cards Slowly.” Then I read some excerpts from a 1976 Sports Illustrated article about that year’s World Series of Poker, the first won by Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson. Finally comes the main feature, an episode of the old time radio show Pat Novak, For Hire called “Jack of Clubs.” Stars Jack Webb (of Dragnet fame) in the title role, and includes a lot of “hard-boiled”-type lingo and atmosphere.

    I also finally figured out how to start including the little enclosure whereby you can listen to an mp3 right there in the post (see below). I went back and inserted those for all of the posts over on the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show website. As a result, I’m noticing the dates for episodes over in iTunes have all changed once again. In fact, those dates seem to change on their own quite frequently -- some issue with Feedburner, I believe (again), but I haven’t any idea at present how to correct. Not that big of a deal, although I’d like for the dates in iTunes to correspond to when the episodes were originally posted.

    The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowAs always, any feedback on the show is welcome. So are suggestions for future shows -- I have a few things planned for the next couple of episodes, but am open to any ideers.

    You can comment here, or on the show’s blog, or send an email to shamus at hardboiledpoker dot com. You can also review the show over in iTunes, if you’d like (where you can subscribe, too).

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    Friday, July 24, 2009

    Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon! by John Fox

    'Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon!' by John Fox (1977)When in Vegas this summer I did get a chance one afternoon to visit the Gamblers Book Shop again. The store has a new location since my last visit, having moved from its previous spot over on 11th Street near Charleston Blvd. to a smallish strip mall over on E. Tropicana Ave. The new store has just about everything the old one did, although I missed the room full of old magazines and used books which didn’t make the trip.

    I bought one book while there, one with kind of a historical value as far as poker literature goes. The book is by John Fox and is called Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon! or The Complete Psychology, Mathematics and Tactics of Winning Poker.

    When one opens the cover, the title page looks like it might have been patterned after the title pages of 17th- or 18th-century British novels and satires, extending on and on down the page: Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon! or Play Poker With “The Fox,” or Poker for the Greedy Player, or The Complete Guide to Winning Poker, or Poker: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, or The Secrets of a Professional Poker Player, or The Mathematics Professor Plays Draw Poker, or How to Be the Best Poker Player on Your Block (or the World), or Draw Poker Tactics and the Science of Behavioral Deductions, or How You Can Make a Living Playing Casino Poker, or How to Win at Poker Without Being Really Lucky, or A Brief Outline of Some of the More Fundamental Aspects of Draw Poker (in 600 Pages).

    Fox’s book was first published in 1977, and as that long version of the title indicates the game on which it focuses is five-card draw. However, though much of the strategy discussed concerns that largely outmoded game, the majority of the book concerns psychological issues, with lots of specific pointers regarding tells, projecting an image, various strategems to elicit desired responses from opponents, and other advice not necessarily specific to draw poker.

    Title page of John Fox's 'Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon!'As that long version of the title also probably suggests, Fox is quite the humorist, and employs a witty, engaging style throughout, peppering his discussions with funny anecdotes (some of which are laugh-out-loud hilarious) and what he calls “stratefices,” a word he invented to refer to “a tricky, extremely useful, carefully selected, profound, and more than a little underhanded maxim, principle, or rule.” When introducing the word, he explains its etymology in detail, claiming it combines elements of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, “in keeping with the learned nature of this erudite tome.”

    The book was self-published, and has all the quirky, unexpected shifts in typeface, spacing, and sometimes erratic copy editing one might expect. Like I say, the book kind of reminds me of an old British satire, what with all of the digressions, the pseudo-academic apparatus, and other idiosyncracies -- including the author’s sort-of-crazy-sounding persona. For those who are familiar, think Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy or Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub.

    Fox’s book has a definite historical importance in poker literature, appearing a couple of years before Doyle Bruson’s Super/System and seven years before Mike Caro’s Book of Tells. Arnold Snyder, whose Poker Tournament Formula books I’ve recommended here before, speaks highly of Fox’s discussions of the psychology of poker and bluffing both in Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon! and in Fox’s second book, How to Hustle Home Poker (1981).

    Says Snyder, Fox’s discussions “are truly exceptional,” adding that Fox’s first book “truly is in a class by itself as poker books go.” Snyder also points out how some of the “old timers I’ve talked with told me when Fox’s book first came out in 1977, it was viewed by many of the top players as a groundbreaking book on the game that did for poker what Ed Thorp’s Beat the Dealer did for blackjack.”

    Snyder also commends Fox for the way he understands the relevance of mathematical probabilities in poker -- that is to say, knowing odds and frequencies are important, but not everything, and in some cases of no relevance whatsoever. Such a position provides fuel for Snyder in his ongoing fight with the “math heads” -- Mason Malmuth and David Sklansky. (I might come back to discussing this conflict in a post next week, actually.)

    John Fox (center) in a photo from Mike Caro's 'Book of Tells'Caro acknowledges Fox in his Book of Tells, and in fact Fox appears in one of the photographs in Caro’s book (see left) in which he’s shown doing a poor job concealing his hand from the player to his right.

    If you are interested in learning more about John Fox and his Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon!, the poker author John Vorhaus wrote a three-part series of columns for Card Player about the book last spring, titled “The Ageless Wisdom of John Fox.” The first two parts are available online (Part I, Part II), but I am not seeing the third installment, which appeared in the March 31, 2009 issue (Vol. 22, No. 6) -- apparently it didn’t make the cut for the online archive for that issue.

    Anyhow, like Snyder and Vorhaus, I recommend Fox’s book as both an entertaining and useful read -- if you can find it, that is. It has long been out of print, and I’m seeing copies online being offered for $100 or more. I know the Gamblers Book Shop had a couple more on their shelves for considerably less than that, if yr really interested.

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    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    An Application to Consider

    You can listen to the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show on your iPhoneBefore going to Vegas this summer Vera and I got new iPhones with unlimited everything. We’d had the same cell phones for four or five years -- they’d worked fine, but were becoming increasingly archaic in comparison to the whiz-bang communication devices all those around us were using. My main motive for getting one was to have the ability to send text messages both to Vera and to folks in LV, if necessary.

    Came in handy all summer. In fact, I’m remembering one preliminary event during which one of my reporters was texting me hands from the Miranda room to my location in the Amazon rather than walk the quarter mile or whatever it was to bring ’em to me. Probably helped us get a few more updates in there than we would have had otherwise.

    Also cool to be able to check email, surf the web, check the weather, take notes, snap photos, and play with all of the other bells and whistles on this sucker. I haven’t really explored all of the other applications and whatnot one can add to the iPhone, though I have added a few.

    I have TwitterFon on there for checking tweets. And a week ago I added Google Earth. Vera and I went for a walk at a nearby community park the other day, and after a half-hour of winding through the woods we’d gotten turned around and were a little unsure where the car was. So we looked at Google Earth which gave us the bird’s eye view of the scene, found where we were, and actually used it to reorient ourselves. They could’ve used something like that in The Blair Witch Project.

    I’ve also started listening to podcasts on the iPhone, which is simpler to do than to download the shows onto the computer then transfer them to the iPod. Here you can just click and listen. That picture above is a screen shot of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show page as it appears in the iTunes app. You can call it up on yr iPhone, click on a show title, and enjoy right now! (Have a new episode coming in the next day or two, by the way.)

    A couple of days ago I also added the free ESPN ScoreCenter application, a real time scoreboard that follows something like 500 different sports leagues which you can add and delete according to yr fancy. Have only really looked at the Major League Baseball page on here, for which you can click a game and follow it pitch by pitch. Was thinking how much I’d have dug this if I were twelve years old (when my interest in baseball was at its peak).

    Anyhow, I was showing Vera the ESPN ScoreCenter app and she wondered aloud about what sort of poker applications there were. I said I knew there were lots of games and such, but wasn't aware of anything analogous to what ESPN ScoreCenter provided -- i.e., an app that provided live updates and/or chip counts from poker tournaments.

    Would be a good idea, no? To create an application for providing exactly what one gets over on the PokerNews’ live reporting page or on other sites that report from live tourneys? Probably wouldn’t be that difficult to develop a simple program that feeds the updates and provides a flash-type view of the counts the reporters are writing and entering on site.

    I’m not familiar with the model by which folks make money via these apps, but I’d think one could make it a free download, then sell ads (such as appear on the free TwitterFon app) and it actually could turn into an additional source of revenue. And when it comes to sites like PokerNews that report on poker, any way to make a little extra cabbage is especially needed.

    What do you think, you poker-playin’ iPhoners? Would you like an app like that? Should I start teaching myself how to build such an application?

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    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    On Shulman’s Spite

    On Shulman's SpiteA week ago today the media corps had taken up various locations around the last three tables of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, the usual poker people who’d been there since late May having been joined by a number of other outlets who had arrived to follow the final days of play this summer. For my role as one of those helping cover the proceedings for PokerNews, I was stationed near the secondary feature table where I pretty much stayed put for the entire day and evening, reporting action from that table until the tourney played down to ten players, at which point all who were left then reassembled around the main feature table. (Along with a few hundred others.)

    Well before that wild finish to the night, it was mid-afternoon when we first got wind of the story about Jeff Shulman, publisher, president, and COO of Card Player magazine, and what sounded like some sort of junior-high-schoolish “I’ll Show Them!” kind of revenge he was plotting should he manage to win the Main Event.

    “He says if he wins he’s gonna throw the bracelet in the garbage,” one heard being repeated up and down media row. “He what?” was the usual response.

    As readers of this blog are probably already aware, the story first broke over on Wicked Chops that afternoon. Following up on a rumor, the Entities asked Shulman at the first break (a little after 2 p.m.) if what they were hearing were true, namely, that if he won the Main Event “he’d renounce the bracelet as he believes that Harrah’s has treated his magazine unfairly.” Shulman’s response was “if by renounce it you mean throw it in the garbage, then yes.”

    November Nine, 2009 editionAfter talking to Wicked Chops, Shulman then returned to his seat there at the secondary feature table where he spent most of Day 8. So, as we were covering his play, we were also reading the story and passing back and forth various responses to it. I recall posting one small item in the live blog mentioning which of the remaining players had WSOP bracelets (just Phil Ivey and Jordan Smith, at that point), and consciously avoiding saying anything in the post like “this is what they are all playing for,” since apparently one player wasn’t so enthralled by the prospect of eventually owning that bit of jewelry. (Note Flipchip’s pic, by the way, in which Shulman -- on the far left -- is the only one not reaching for the bracelet.)

    In the Wicked Chops article, the Entities connect Shulman’s dissatisfaction with Harrah’s to the “exclusive” media deals which impose certain limits on how Card Player and other outlets can cover the WSOP. As some may recall, Card Player was the “exclusive content provider” for the WSOP in 2005 and 2006; then in 2007 Bluff Magazine took over that role which it has occupied for the last three years. (Full disclosure: Bluff has contracted out live updates to PokerNews, for whom I’ve worked the last two summers.)

    In fact, Shulman’s gripe with Harrah’s apparently is not primarily connected to the issue of access, at least according to Shulman’s own statement on the matter that appeared on the Card Player website late last week. “Some people are reporting that I’m upset because the World Series canceled a media deal with Card Player,” says Shulman. “My comments have nothing to do with that, and everything to do with my disappointment in how the World Series is run.”

    The article goes on to list a number of complaints from Shulman, some very specific (e.g., the problems surrounding players getting shut out of the Main Event this year, the juice Harrah’s charges players entering the events), others less so (the “bad attitudes” and “inaccurate decisions” of those running the show). And, in fact, Shulman does go back to that issue of the WSOP having an “exclusive content provider,” something he sounds as though he objects to on principle even though Card Player has precisely that sort of deal with the World Poker Tour at present. (EDIT [added 4:15 p.m.]: Or did until recently. See B.J. Nemeth's comment below.)

    Interestingly, if you look back a couple of issues and read Card Player’s cover story on the history of the WSOP (the June 23, 2009 issue, Vol. 22, No. 12), you can see how the article (as well as the two sidebar pieces that accompany it) place an emphasis on the Binions and the pre-Harrah’s part of the story. The fact is, even many of those who think Harrah’s has done well by the WSOP over the last few years feel nostalgia for the old days, when the Series was decidedly more “family” than “corporate.”

    PokeratiThe post on Pokerati about Shulman includes some interesting responses in the comments. The discussion there lingers over the “exclusive content provider” issue a bit -- interesting in and of itself, but kind of tangential to the Shulman story -- but those who do comment specifically on Shulman’s “throw it in the garbage” plan appear mostly critical of it as demonstrating varying degrees of hypocrisy, pettiness, or short-sightedness.

    Probably the most salient of these comments comes from Tom Schneider (towards the end of the thread), who says the whole thing reminds him of someone entering a beauty pageant in order to win and then renounce the contest in order to make a political statement. Schneider also points out how it wouldn’t really serve Card Player’s interests to have its president/publisher/COO “throw away the most coveted prize in the sport his magazine is founded upon.”

    What do I think? Well, I have a couple of reactions.

    One is simply to view Shulman’s “revenge” plan as not having been thought through very well, and thus a bit too confusing to have much effect other than to draw attention to Shulman himself attempting to be some sort of iconoclast. There may well be a kernel of well-founded, sincere desire to help poker in there somewhere, actually. I was writing yesterday about having a love for the game, and Shulman himself says (in the Card Player article) that “I love poker and entered with the hopes of winning.... But, more importantly, I support making the industry stronger and better for the players.”

    I don’t doubt Shulman does love poker and has genuine motives to make the industry stronger. But I also think it isn’t clear how this weird act of defiance would work as either an expression of that love or a way of helping the industry he supports.

    My other reaction is even less judgmental. As silly as Shulman’s idea seems to be, it does make things interesting, doesn’t it? I’m not going to cast Shulman as the “villain” to Ivey’s “hero” just yet -- in fact, I think some of these other guys are going to make for pretty damned interesting cast members, too, in this little drama. But still, we’re gonna be watching Shulman extra closely, ain’t we? (He's got chips, too.) So part of me -- the poker fan part who especially enjoys the many intriguing storylines and characters poker can create -- is reaching for the popcorn and anxious to see how it all plays out.

    Last year I’ll admit that after being initially disappointed that the Main Event final table was going to be delayed -- meaning I was going to have to miss the big finish -- when I got back home in July I was basically ambivalent about not being there for the November Nine. Didn’t really have much interest or investment in any of the players, when it came down to it.

    But I’d love to be back in Vegas to see this final table. Doubtful that’s gonna be possible, I’m afraid, given that other life I have. But I’ll be watching intently, for sure. As will many.

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    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Love Poker? Me, Too

    ESPN's The Poker EdgeRight near the end of my sojourn at the World Series of Poker this summer, I got the chance to meet Andrew Feldman, host of ESPN’s The Poker Edge podcast and the editor, columnist, producer, and tourney director for the ESPN Poker Club.

    Basically Feldman manages everything that we see and hear over on the poker section of the ESPN page, where he does a terrific job providing all sorts of interesting content. A nice guy and definitely one of those folks who is doing a lot for those of us who love playing and following poker.

    Feldman produced podcasts every day throughout the two weeks of the Main Event. I’m still catching up on these -- I was a bit too busy during the Series to listen every day -- but I think I can safely go ahead and recommend them all to you if you haven’t heard ’em. In particular, let me recommend the very last one (dated 7/16/09), recorded during the couple of hours following the conclusion of play last Wednesday night.

    That 7/16 show includes some smart commentary from Feldman and Lance Bradley (of Bluff Magazine) regarding some of the play from the final day/night, as well as some interesting speculation about what might happen in November. Fun stuff, and for me kind of reawakens the adrenaline and excitement of being there that last night.

    The episode includes a number of short interviews with several of the players who made it to the November Nine, namely Phil Ivey, Kevin Schaffel, Steve Begleiter, Joseph Cada, and Eric Buchman. Additionally, Feldman talks to Mike Matusow about the play during the last days of the Main Event, Ivey’s ability to survive a tough Day 8, and Matusow’s friend Jeff Shulman. There’s also a brief conversation with WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack about various topics, including Shulman’s announcement that if he were to win the Main Event bracelet he plans to “throw it in the garbage.” (Will probably write something about that tomorrow, I think.)

    The interview with Ivey is especially intriguing, with lots of good questions and Ivey being particularly open and even quite funny with his responses. He talks about how he survived that last day, a little about the other players, and speculates that having to wait four months to play the sucker out is -- all things considered -- a disadvantage to him.

    He’s also asked about how he was running back over to the Bellagio to play in the “Big Game” every night after the Main Event had ended for the day -- indeed, he’d be back over there on Wednesday, too -- and his response was both succinct and highly revealing.

    “I love to play poker, you know?” said Ivey. “I got into a profession that I love to do. So after the night’s over I just rush over to Bobby’s Room and play some more.”

    You can hear a voice saying “that’s really cool” amid the noise as the next question is being asked. It is cool. I mean, we’re all certainly excited about the fact that one of the best players in the world has made it to the final table of the Main Event. But Ivey isn’t just a great player -- he also loves the game. And while most of us probably have a hard time “identifying” with Ivey as a player or gambler or perhaps in other ways, we can certainly all identify with that love for poker.

    Interestingly enough, a couple of the other players interviewed (Schaffel, Cada) actually talk about how they plan to play either very little or not at all as they wait for November to come. That’s understandable, too, given how exhausting and mentally taxing the previous two weeks had been for them.

    In any case, check out the episode and live (or relive) some of the excitement from that frenzied finish. And start getting hyped for November, too.

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    Monday, July 20, 2009

    The Big Rush (Afterthoughts on the WSOP’s Wild Windup)

    STOP rushingWas catching up some on poker podcasts over the weekend. (By the way, am hoping to revive the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show here with a new episode in the next few days.) Particularly enjoyed last week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast (the 7/14/09 episode), recorded near the end of the evening last Monday as the Main Event was playing down to 64 players.

    A lot of cool stuff in there in that show, including an entertaining interview with Brad “Otis” Willis (Rapid Eye Reality, the PokerStars blog, Up for Poker). There is also a discussion of a hand that happened right on the bubble during the Main Event in which a short-stacked player faced a dilemma having been dealt pocket aces but showing some reluctance to play them with just a couple of eliminations to go before the money. Found the latter extra interesting because the hand in question happened to have been one I reported.

    At the start of the show the hosts, Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz, spent the first five minutes or so puzzling over how quickly the Main Event seemed to be playing. What prompted them was a quote from Joe Hachem criticizing the “overaggressive style” many players seemed to be exhibiting in the tournament. What Hachem and others were seeing were many examples of players going ahead and committing their very deep stacks rather than demonstrating some patience and perhaps taking advantage of what Arnold Snyder refers to as their “chip utility.”

    It was the same phenomenon Joe Sebok was recognizing last week when he sent that tweet with 265 players left saying “People are dropping like flies...they're focused on the average and not their stack in relation to the blinds.” I wrote about that a little bit in a post then, and gave an example of players “Flipping for Four Million.” The fact was, this sort of thing was not an isolated phenomenon -- we were seeing this happen over and over again all across the Amazon Room.

    Johnson and Schwartz continued to talk about these hands wherein you’d see a raise, a reraise, a four-bet, a five-bet all in, and a call, then neither player would turn over pocket aces or pocket kings. Indeed, I recall reports of many hands like this. And this willingness of players to gamble it up with stacks of 50 or more big blinds was certainly a big reason why the tournament played so quickly.

    Heading into that final day of play, when the 27 returning players had average stacks of over 7.2 million or 72 big blinds to start the day, absolutely everyone was predicting a marathon day. “It’s gonna take eight or nine levels,” is what Phil Ivey had said the day before. Over/under lines were being set at 4 a.m., 5 a.m., even 7 a.m. I even brought my bags to the Rio, anticipating the possibility of leaving straight from there for the airport to catch my 8:15 a.m. flight home on Thursday morning.

    But it was all over before 11 p.m. They played not quite five levels on Day 8. Before the last hand of the night was dealt, the ten remaining players had average stacks of about 19.5 million, which at the time was over 80 big blinds. Of course, “average” doesn’t mean so much to the short stacks, but even the shortest stack -- James Akenhead -- had/has over 28 big blinds. So even as that last hand was being dealt, we still weren’t convinced it wasn’t going to be at least another full level or longer before the day was done.

    But then Jordan Smith got dealt pocket aces -- the second time within an orbit -- and Darvin Moon decided to call both a raise and a reraise with his pocket eights. And Moon flopped his set, and got Smith to push his last 13 million or so, and -- boom -- that was that.

    Of course, the hand that I keep thinking about from Wednesday night -- the one that sort of emblematizes the entire frenzied last day and indeed last few days of the Main Event -- was that one in which Billy Kopp went from second in chips with 12 remaining to the rail.

    Kopp had something close to 22 million when that hand began, and I think Moon was the only player in the tournament who had him covered with about 24 million. (He certainly was the only one at that six-handed table who did.) In other words, the players each had more than 80 big blinds -- in fact, probably 90-100 -- when the hand began. The Kd9d2d flop was destined to elicit some action for sure, as Moon held QdJd and Kopp 5d3d.

    But I remain dumbfounded at how far it went. And how quickly.

    If my arithmetic is correct, preflop action meant the pot was 1.62 million when that flop came out. Moon checked, Kopp bet 750,000, and Moon called. New pot size 3.12 million.

    The turn was the 2h, pairing the board. Neither player had the nuts to start with, and with the paired board their flushes -- even though it was six-handed -- had become all the more tenuous.

    As it happened, both players played it like they had at least big full houses, if not the nuts. Moon checked. Kopp bet 2 million. Moon check-raised to 6 million. Kopp pushed all in. And Moon called.

    Boom. I keep remembering Kopp’s pained reaction when he saw Moon’s cards -- he was drawing dead, and, really, it was his own doing that had gotten him there. Such a desperate feeling, there being one card to come, but it was already all over. I think Kopp might’ve waited long enough for that last card to be dealt, but he was out of there like a shot afterwards. Leaving us all behind. Wondering.

    Kopp was sporting an UltimateBet patch and cap, and I recall also there were three people on the rail supporting him, including a couple of very attractive women. I knew they were supporting him both because they were occasionally shouting out cheers for “Billy” and “BK” and also because they, too, had UltimateBet patches on. (UB wasn’t the only online site that slapped logos on railbirds this year.) In fact, I distinctly remember one of them shouting out “UltimateBet” after a hand -- no shinola. The trio vanished as quickly as Kopp did following that last fatal hand.

    I definitely feel empathy for Kopp -- can’t help it. Last week I described his expression afterwards as being one of “mute horror as though he was just then realizing he’d accidentally downed the glass with the poison in it and not the one without.” We’ve all made mistakes -- perhaps not multi-million dollar ones -- and experienced such oh-my-gosh-what-have-I-done moments in our lives, for sure.

    By the same token, I can’t quite grasp what it is that spurred so many players go for those huge gambles time and time again. We ought to be used to it by now, though, as it happens every year at the WSOP Main Event, including at the final table.

    On the Two Plus Two show, Johnson and Schwartz spoke a bit about how gambling it up is a way for amateur players to negate the skill advantage, but that really doesn’t explain a lot of these wild hands we saw go down. There’s something else going on in the Amazon Room when it gets down to 200, then 100, then 50, then 15 players. Something to do with the cameras, the lights, the crowd, the sponsorships, the prize money....

    Something most all of us have never experienced (and never will). Meaning our empathy can only go so far, I guess.

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    Friday, July 17, 2009

    2009 WSOP, A Reporter’s Notebook

    Home again, home again. Slept 13 straight hours last night/this morning. Probably could’ve slept 4-5 more. Flights yesterday were relatively smooth and it was more than nice to reunite with Vera Valmore once I’d finally touched down.

    A lot of new stuff to write about regarding the newest installment of the November Nine, including Darvin Moon’s big chip lead, Jeff Shulman’s gripes with the World Series of Poker, and, of course, Ivey the Incredible.

    And there’s my own poker playing, too, to which I’m anxious to return (and to write about). Feel somehow reinspired to learn, improve, progress, not least because of the fact that I had so many friends playing (and succeeding) in events at this year’s WSOP. Kind of thing makes it seem less out of reach.

    Will save all of that for next week, though, and instead today go ahead and compile links to all this scribblin’ I’ve done this summer. Here are all of the posts I wrote here, followed by links to the live blogs for the WSOP events I helped cover for PokerNews:

    Hard-Boiled Poker

    Short-Stacked Shamus2009 WSOP, Day 1: It Gets Real
    Here I’m mostly speculating about the size of the field for the about-to-start Event No. 2 , that much anticipated “Special 40th Annual No-Limit Hold’em” event everyone had been talking about for the previous few months.

    2009 WSOP, Day 2: The World Series of Poker, Where Fantasies Come True
    I started the summer entering one of those WSOP fantasy thingies, something I quickly forgot all about a few days in.

    2009 WSOP, Day 2: Back in the Saddle
    And away we go! Here I discuss helping cover the first day of Event No. 2 along with Change100 and tbostic.

    2009 WSOP, Day 3: Sleepers
    A few different reflections on some of the stories from Event No. 2, focusing on Doshi Suresh, Ted Forrest, and Chris Moneymaker.

    2009 WSOP, Day 4: Wave Upon Wave of Demented Avengers March Cheerfully Out of Obscurity Into the Dream
    Was listening to Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals a lot during the first part of the summer, and kept hearing allusions to poker as I did.

    2009 WSOP, Day 5: Taking Off
    On helping Change100 cover the final table of Event No. 2.

    2009 WSOP, Day 6: Shamus Swindles Poker Lesson for Price of Cheeseburger
    I had the chance to have dinner with Tommy Angelo, author of the terrific Elements of Poker, and write about our meeting here.

    2009 WSOP, Day 7: Arm Yourself, Bomb
    A week into the WSOP, and I’d only helped cover one event. But the crush was coming, with six and seven events playing simultaneously over the next couple of weeks. That’s a reference to the 1974 cult film Dark Star in the post title, to which I allude in the post a few times as well.

    2009 WSOP, Day 8: Isolation
    Some scattered thoughts here about covering the first day of Event No. 10, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot Limit Omaha.

    2009 WSOP, Day 9: Count On It
    This post contains one of my favorite pictures from the summer (taken by FerricRamsium), one of Mickey, crack field reporter for PokerNews, counting the chips in a picture of him counting chips.

    2009 WSOP, Day 10: Life Passing You By
    You can already see yr humble gumshoe starting to wonder about the meaning of all this not a week-and-a-half into helping cover his second WSOP.

    2009 WSOP, Day 11: A Hand Worth Remembering
    In which I share what might have been one of the funniest hands I saw all summer, one that came up during the second day of Event No. 13, $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em event in which a player tried to check-raise Carter “ckingusc” King’s button continuation bet without any cards.

    2009 WSOP, Day 12: Chips Go Flying at the Speed of Sound
    In this post I speculate a bit about why it is players seem to shove their chips so readily in the middle and latter stages of no-limit hold’em tournaments. This is an issue that I think ended up having particular relevance later on in the Main Event, wherein we saw a lot of wild moves that didn’t seem warranted given the deep stacks in play.

    2009 WSOP, Day 13: The Dollar Ain’t What It Used to Be
    I begin to look at how the numbers of player registrations for 2009 WSOP events are comparing to last year’s figures, a subject I would later revisit once we got to the end of the summer (in a post titled “By the Numbers”).

    2009 WSOP, Day 14: Insert Clever Post Title Here (Wordplay Optional)
    Here I kind of preview a subject covered in greater detail a couple of posts down (“Does Humor Belong in Poker Tournament Reporting?”). I also link out to some other cool places to read about the WSOP.

    2009 WSOP, Day 15: Live from the Rio
    A short preview of a longer post detailing my helping cover the final table of Event No. 19, the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event.

    2009 WSOP, Day 15: Live from the Rio, Part II (The Event No. 19 Final Table)
    A detailed look at covering that final table, where Brock Parker won his second WSOP bracelet of the summer.

    2009 WSOP, Day 16: Does Humor Belong in Poker Tournament Reporting?
    The question in the title refers to the relative degree of sobriety expected of the poker tourney reporter. I conclude that humor does belong -- it is a game, after all -- though shouldn’t obscure the primary goals of being accurate, clear, and interesting in one’s reports. Warning: Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson references.

    2009 WSOP, Day 17: It Was Fun
    I discuss covering the first day of Event No. 26, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em event. I remark on how more women seemed to have entered the event (percentage-wise) than other events, and also how that factor -- and perhaps others -- helped create a less tense atmosphere. I ended up sitting near Shannon Elizabeth’s table for much of the day, where everyone (men and women) seemed to be having a very good time.

    2009 WSOP, Day 18: Poker Is a Skill Game
    Multiple bracelet winners tend to reinforce the argument. People get lucky, sure. But skill is what gets players to the end of these tourneys more often than not.

    2009 WSOP, Day 19: The Meisner Technique
    Here I briefly compare an influential technique from the world of acting to what poker players do. Change100 helps me sort out what the “Meisner technique” is -- a method than primarily involves actors reacting to others -- and I try to apply that method to the strategies poker players employ.

    2009 WSOP, Day 20: Stranger in a Strange Land
    Relating some of the bizarre plays one tends to encounter when playing low limit hold’em.

    2009 WSOP, Day 21: Land of 1000 Reporters
    Talking about the Twitter phenomenon, wherein it seems like every player is constantly broadcasting his or her progress to the world.

    2009 WSOP, Day 22: The Name Game
    On the challenge of trying to report on a player who refuses to give us his name.

    2009 WSOP, Day 23: The WSOP Odyssey
    I finish my coverage of Event No. 34, one of the seven $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em events, and talk a little bit about the grind that is the WSOP, where one tournament ends, another begins, and sometimes its hard not to feel like Odysseus wandering about the sea, every now and then stopping at “one more island in the boundless main.”

    2009 WSOP, Day 24: Seeing Is Believing
    Here I talk a little bit about the challenge of reporting those “strange but true” hands that involve what appear to be unorthodox -- or simply bad -- play. You want to try to explain what the player might have been thinking, but that, of course, is both impossible and inappropriate.

    2009 WSOP, Day 25: Multiple Multiples
    Jeff Lisandro had just one his second WSOP bracelet, becoming the third player this summer to do so. Of course, Lisandro would go on to win a third, and Greg Mueller would pick up a second one as well. Here I speculate a little about the significance of winning multiple bracelets in 2009, comparing the feat to the accomplishments of those who did so in earlier years, most specifically 2003 (when six players did it).

    2009 WSOP, Day 26: Mixing It Up
    I begin covering Event No. 42, the $2,500 Mixed Game event. This post includes a couple of funny moments from Day 1 of the event, as well as more pictures of Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler than you’ll ever need.

    2009 WSOP, Day 27: Eight Arms to Hold You
    Continuing to cover Event No. 42, that mixed game tourney in which eight different games are played. Here I talk about a couple of wild hands, my anticipating the arrival of Vera for a week-long visit, and Gobboboy.

    2009 WSOP, Day 28: Intense
    I recap an unusually intense day at the Rio. Over in the Amazon Room, I helped cover the final table of Event No. 42, won by Jerrod Ankenman, while elsewhere Miami John Cernuto had collapsed while playing in a different event over in the Brasilia Room.

    2009 WSOP, Day 29: Mystère
    Vera was in town, and we caught the Cirque du Soleil show. Another spectacle, with a couple of aspects in common with the WSOP.

    2009 WSOP, Day 30: The Dealers
    When one covers the World Series of Poker, one gets to witness and interact with the dealers on a fairly regular basis. Here I make a few brief observations about their contribution to the WSOP -- not necessarily the same sort of observations a player would make.

    2009 WSOP, Day 31: Decline
    I cover the first day of Event No. 50, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout, an event for which the turnout was much below 2008.

    2009 WSOP, Day 32: A Long Flight
    “It’s like flying to Australia every day. Only when you get there you’re at the Rio. Again.” That’s how Tom Schneider described the long grind that is the World Series of Poker to me. In this post I talk a bit about covering Tom’s efforts versus Greg Mueller in the second round of Event No. 50.

    2009 WSOP, Day 33: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
    Talking about covering the final table of Event No. 50, won by Greg “FBT” Mueller. Also about how I wake up at night dreaming of reporting hands.

    2009 WSOP, Day 34: Shamus, the Movie
    People often say to me “Shamus, you live such an interesting life, being an undercover poker reporter and all. Someone should make a movie of it.” Well, one has already been made, starring Burt Reynolds. Check out the post to see posters and the trailer.

    2009 WSOP, Day 35: Being There
    Covering Event No. 56, $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event, and reporting on some wild play by Dario Minieri and Daniel Negreanu. Also tripping over to see Julie Schneider going deep in Event No. 55, the $2,500 2-7 Limit Triple Draw event.

    2009 WSOP, Day 36: Then Again, With the Name “Short-Stacked,” This Was Bound to Happen Sooner or Later
    I play in a charity tournament and none other than Dan Harrington comes to my table. No shinola. Oh, and my “M” is an embarrassing 2.

    2009 WSOP, Day 37: Did You Here? The Last Bracelet of the Summer Was Won
    On the conclusion of Event No. 56, won by Matt “Hoss_TBF” Hawrilenko. Hawrilenko actually took home over $1 million for this one, yet the final table -- played out in the far corner of the Amazon Room -- was mostly ignored in favor of the Ante Up for Africa Celebrity-Charity Poker Tournament.

    2009 WSOP, Day 38: The Big One
    The Main Event begins, and I am here speculating some about possible numbers and the day-by-day scheduling. Here I also chronicle my visit to “Poker Palooza” with the Poker Grump.

    2009 WSOP, Day 39: Fever
    I finally catch some of the “casino crud” to which everyone else seemed to fall victim at some point this summer. I also whimper here a little about how relatively uneventful of Day 1b of the Main Event turned out to be, a day when only 873 players showed.

    2009 WSOP, Day 40: By the Numbers
    A post that compares turnouts for all of the preliminary events with what we saw in 2008, as well as how the actual player registrations compared to Harrah’s projections for each event.

    2009 WSOP, Day 41: Whirlwind
    On that wild Day 1d of the Main Event, when 2,809 players were seated, and something like 800-1,000 more were turned away.

    2009 WSOP, Day 42: Interlude, Live Poker
    I played more live poker this summer than ever before in my life, and so here make a couple of observations about differences between live and online play. Points here perhaps a little better informed than some similar attempts at drawing contrasts in the past.

    2009 WSOP, Day 43: Anatomy of a Hand Report
    I go into a lot of detail regarding my reporting of a single hand from Day 2b of the WSOP Main Event. Was a particularly ideal situation for reporting the hand, and I rattle off a lot of the reasons why.

    2009 WSOP, Day 44: LOL Freerollaments
    A day off from the WSOP for everybody, and I get to play in a couple of freerolls, the Media Charity Poker Tournament and the PokerNews freeroll.

    2009 WSOP, Day 45: Theme (In Search Of)
    Talking about Day 3 of the Main Event, when all players were finally consolidated into one group, and when the field began to shrink to the point where tables were being removed from the Amazon Room. Being too far “inside,” I find it hard to step back and settle on any “big picture”-type claims about what it all means.

    2009 WSOP, Day 46: Go With the Flow
    On Day 4 of the Main Event, the day the cash bubble burst. Some talk here about the super deep stacks players were building. Also, click picture to watch groovy Queens of the Stone Age vid.

    2009 WSOP, Day 47: Deep Thoughts
    On Day 5, including more discussion of the deep stacks. Includes what I think is a prescient quote from Joe Sebok -- who would nurse his short stack all of the way to a 56th place finish -- about how a lot of players seemed “focused on the average and not their stack in relation to the blinds.”

    2009 WSOP, Day 48: The 64 Player Question
    Talking about Day 6, and how heading into Day 7 a lot of us were pulling for people like Joe Sebok, Tom Schneider, and Dennis Phillips.

    2009 WSOP, Day 49: The Long and the Short of It
    On Day 7, with thoughts about the possibility of Phil Ivey actually making it to the November Nine.

    2009 WSOP, Day 50: Boom, Boom, Boom
    On Day 8, the last day of the Main Event played this summer, and the sheer excitement of those adrenaline-fueled final three bustouts of the night.

    PokerNews

    I helped cover ten different events for PN this summer. Here are the live blogs for each:

    PokerNewsEvent No. 2, $40,000 No-Limit Hold’em
    Event No. 10, $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha
    Event No. 13, $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em
    Event No. 19, $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed
    Event No. 26, $1,500 Limit Hold’em
    Event No. 34, $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em
    Event No. 42, $2,500 Mixed Event
    Event No. 50, $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout
    Event No. 56, $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed
    Event No. 57, $10,000 World Championship No-Limit Hold’em

    Much thanks to everyone for following along this summer! Was a wild ride, for sure. Will go back to the usual weekday posting starting Monday. For now, I’m thinking a nap might be in order.

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    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    2009 WSOP, Day 50: Boom, Boom, Boom

    Quite the scene last night at the final day of the summer for the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. We’ll all be remembering it for a while, I think.

    Once again, play went much faster than any of us seemed to have anticipated. Players were readily shipping their below average but deep stacks left and right, and with just three levels done we were down from 27 to 14.

    Dinner break followed, and about a half-hour after we’d returned, Ben Lamb had gone out in 14th and James Calderaro in 13th, and suddenly we were looking at a couple of six-handed tables. But with a dozen players left, the average stack was 16.235 million -- over 67 big blinds. We still weren’t convinced the night was going to end any time soon.

    Then boom, boom, and boom. Probably three of the most exciting moments I can recall ever witnessing at a poker tournament. Two happened within minutes of one another, then about an hour later, the third -- the last three eliminations of the night.

    The first was a genuine what-the-hell-just-happened moment on the secondary table where F-Train and I were watching. It began as what seemed to be a not-so-extraordinary hand between Billy Kopp and Darvin Moon. There’d been some preflop action, the flop was single-suited -- Kd9d2d -- after which it had gone check-bet-call. The turn came the 2h and before we knew it there was something like 42 million chips in the middle, the cards had been turned over, and both players were standing up -- one expressing a kind of reserved elation, the other a kind of mute horror as though he was just then realizing he’d accidentally downed the glass with the poison in it and not the one without.

    Moon had checked, Kopp had bet 2 million, Moon had raised to 6 million, then Kopp had shoved his entire stack of 20 million in the middle and Moon had called. Kopp showed 5d3d and Moon QdJd. It took us all an extra beat to realize Kopp was drawing absolutely dead.

    We were still wondering aloud about the hand when we heard the noise from the main feature table, a response to another all in. Details of the hand actually weren’t clear from our vantage point, but we knew Ivey had someone (it turned out to be Jamie Robbins) all in and it was an A-10 versus K-Q situation. Ivey winning meant we were suddenly down to a single ten-handed table.

    The crowd was absolutely nuts. And I’ll admit I found myself feeling a little starstruck there watching Ivey and the others get their chips situated on the main feature table. I mean, not only had a so-called “name” pro made it this far, but this was Phil Ivey! Seemed to good to be true, that Ivey could still be in the mix here like this.

    The third electrifying moment came on the night’s final hand, when Jordan Smith got it all in on an 8-4-2 flop with pocket aces and was looking at Darvin Moon’s pocket eights.

    Again, from our position some distance away, it was hard to tell initially that Moon had pocket eights and not, say, 8-7 and a flush draw or something. Eventually it became clear what was happening, and when the turn and river bricked out for Smith, it was again kind of a “did it really happen?” sort of moment.

    Couldn’t believe the night was already over. Couldn’t believe the summer was over. Had been thinking all along this was going to be a much longer goodbye.

    But boom, it was over. And the crowd went wild.

    Robbie Thompson, the funny and engaging Tournament Director who was announcing the main feature table last night, began bellowing out the names of the new November Nine. Earlier in the evening, Nolan Dalla, the WSOP Media Director next to whom I sat for most of yesterday’s final day of play, had remarked to me how well Thompson handles the announcing, heightening the drama in a successful effort to get the audience involved. Thompson was perfect here, reading off one by one the names of the last nine players with chips, each followed by raucous, energetic cheers.

    About an hour later I shuffled out of the Rio, saying goodbyes to all of the terrific people with whom I got to spend my summer once again. Somewhat oddly, I had my bags with me, having brought them to the Rio in anticipation of possibly having to go straight to the airport after a super long night. But since we’d ended early I was heading back for one more night at the home-away-from-home to sleep a few hours first.

    Still, carrying the bags felt sort of symbolic, making my exit seem more momentous than just walking out of the Amazon Room with nothing but my laptop. As if it were most any other night from the previous seven weeks. Made it more final seeming, as if to emphasize the fact that I wouldn’t be coming back the next day.

    Next stop home. Vera. I’m ready.

    Thanks to everybody for reading these posts all summer and especially for all of the kind comments both on the blog and that have been delivered to me via other means.

    Time now for me to move back to the other coast. To the other life.

    Looking forward seeing you all on the other side.

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    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    2009 WSOP, Day 49: The Long and the Short of It

    The Rio at dawnWell, we lost some of those players whom many of us wanted to see carry on to today’s final day of play at the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, including Joe Sebok (out in 56th), Tom Schneider (52nd), and Dennis Phillips (45th). There are still some folks many are watching who made it, though.

    Leo Margets, the last woman with chips, is still in there at 26th of 27 players left. Antonio Esfandiari survived an all-in double-up during the final level of play yesterday to return in 20th place. Ludovic Lacay had an up and down day but returns in 15th. James Akenhead, the last Brit standing, is in 11th chip position.

    And, of course, there’s Phil Ivey coming back in fourth place. I don’t believe anybody -- other than the remaining 26 players, perhaps -- wants to see him fall short of making this year’s November Nine. Not only would that ensure added excitement over the long waiting period between now and the playing of the final table, but I think it’s safe to say everyone associated with poker, poker media, and other poker-related industries stand to benefit greatly should Ivey make it.

    For the most part yesterday was a fast-paced day from the reporting side of things, with lots of bustouts coming in rapid order during the first three two-hour levels. I said yesterday I thought we might get to 27 at the end of three levels yesterday. We were at 29 at that point, as it turned out, and it would take most of the fourth level of play to get to 27. So, again, another short day, relatively speaking.

    Phil IveyI got back from dinner break a few minutes early, and was sitting at my laptop when Ivey was chatting with some of the ESPN folks, including Lon McEachern, about the planned-for schedule. Ivey was asking whether or not they’d be playing two more levels or stopping at 27.

    Definitely stopping at 27 was the reply. That was going to make for a long Day 8, was Ivey’s answer. “It’s gonna take eight or nine levels,” he said.

    From where Change100 and I were stationed, we could overhear many conversations about the same subject among the ESPN crew and tourney officials. From ESPN’s perspective, there was no chance of negotiating the schedule yesterday, as they had their episodes planned already. There will be two one-hour “down to 27” episodes (to air on October 27th) and two more one-hour “down to 9” shows (to air on November 3), and to change things here at the end would monkey too much with their production schedule. There may also be some desire to preserve continuity in the shows, too, with their references to “Day 7” and “Day 8,” what the players are wearing (?), and so forth.

    Of course, everyone there covering the event -- and the players, too, it seemed -- recognized that by stopping at 27 we were ensuring a very long day today. Dunno if it will take eight or nine levels, as Ivey said (perhaps with some hyperbole), but who knows? Once again, as I’ve been talking about here for the last couple of days, the stacks are mighty deep and so if players don’t want to gamble it up, many of them will not be forced to do so.

    I don’t have much time to write about yesterday or today, although there is much to say about both. When we were done yesterday, I got to hang out some with a relaxed and relieved Tom Schneider and friends, even playing some poker, after which I dropped in on the Tao of Pokerati celebration of their Dream Team Poker victory over at the Gold Coast bowling alley. On my way out I actually had a brief, uncharacteristic gambling excursion -- witnessed by Sir AlCantHang (to whom I didn’t get the chance to explain that no, I’m not actually a degenerate!) -- in which for the first time in my life I played roulette, using money given to me for the specific purpose to gamble with it.

    Like I say, I want to write more about all of these things, but haven’t a lot of time this morning to write, so I’ll save these stories for a post-WSOP post. Right now I have to take care of some business in preparation for this potentially long day-night-morning of reporting from Day 8. In fact, I have a flight home scheduled to depart at 8:15 a.m. tomorrow morning, and so am planning for the possibility of going straight from the Rio to McCarran International airport, if it does turn out they play into the wee hours.

    Chris Moneymaker knocks out Phil Ivey in 10th in the 2003 WSOP Main EventShould be an exciting next 24 hours, though, until I am on the plane. A lot of it will be about Ivey, imagine. He’s come this far before in the Main Event. He finished 23rd in 2002. We all remember how he bubbled that final table in 2003 (finishing 10th) in a hard luck hand versus Chris Moneymaker. And he finished 20th in 2005, as well.

    Will Ivey make it to the final table this time? And who else will? Come stay up all night with the rest of us over at PokerNews’ live reporting page to find out.

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