Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More Multi-Accounting

Last week one of the bigger stories in poker news concerned another scandal of sorts in online poker, this one involving a relatively well known pro, Nick “Stoxtrader” Grudzien.

According to his bio page on Two Plus Two, Nick’s nick comes from his former career on Wall Street. His poker career began in earnest in 2003, with an initial focus on limit hold’em. There’s talk in the bio of his careful bankroll management as he moved up limits (“he has always had 1,000 big bets in his poker designated bankroll for any limit hold’em game in which he has played”). The bio also mentions that 2+2 book he co-authored with Geoff “Zobags” Herzog titled Winning in Tough Hold’em Games: Short-Handed and High Stakes Concepts and Theory for Limit Hold’em, first published in 2007.

'Winning in Tough Hold'em Games' (2007)I haven’t read that one, but consistently hear good things about it as one of the few high quality, high-stakes LHE books out there. The book was published by Two Plus Two where Grudzien has been a longtime poster and participant in the forums, and until recently was a moderator, too.

In 2006 (I believe), Grudzien helped launch the StoxPoker coaching site which included instructional videos, a forum, and soon became a popular landing place for players looking to improve their games. In 2008 a rival coaching site, CardRunners, acquired StoxPoker and the companies merged although continued to maintain separate sites.

Such a background thus made Grudzien’s recent admission to multi-accounting on PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker -- where doing so is not allowed by either site’s terms of service -- all the more notable.

I haven’t been able to follow every detail of how the scandal broke and eventually led to Grudzien’s confirmation that he had been playing on multiple accounts on a couple of different sites, but here is a thumbnail sketch of what has happened as far as I understand it. (Those already familiar with all of this might skip down for “a few thoughts” about it all.)

It was almost exactly a year ago that there was some discussion on Two Plus Two about possible collusion on Full Tilt Poker between two players -- “Kinetica” and “40putts” -- who always seemed to log on and off at the same times while playing (mostly) short-handed no-limit hold’em games using similar styles.

That furor eventually died down, but “40putts” attracted some attention again in January 2010 when he suddenly disappeared from Full Tilt on the same day another high-volume player named “knockstiff” stopped playing on PokerStars. A little over a week later two new accounts appeared -- “bulltf0rdtuff” on FTP and “gr3atvlewbr0” on Stars -- both of whom began playing the same games (and in the same styles) as had “40putts” and “knockstiff.”

Then three weeks ago an unknown poster -- apparently someone who had been previously banned from the site but who created a new account -- started a thread in the High Stakes No Limit forum at 2+2 with a post accusing Grudzien of multi-accounting using some of the aformentioned accounts. The post also reprised the earlier colluding accusation. The thread got deleted (and the poster banned again, I suppose), but the accusations soon reappeared in a post by the well known pro David “Viffer” Peat and thereby received renewed attention.

Nick 'Stoxtrader' GrudzienAs I mentioned before, Grudzien has long been a frequent contributor and a moderator at 2+2. Additionally, StoxPoker had its own sponsored forum on 2+2. So when a couple of days passed without a response from Grudzien, folks began to get increasingly agitated. Finally he did post a response on March 14 (a couple of days after Peat’s post) which addressed the situation but didn’t really deny that he’d multi-accounted.

In fact, it sort-of-kind-of confirmed that he had.

Grudzien’s post included a fairly impressive catalogue of the ways someone might benefit from creating multiple accounts -- presented in the context of a denial that he’d benefited in these ways. Here’s what he said:
“There are online poker players who have used 2nd screenames for the purpose of deceiving others into giving them action, evading taxes, collusion, entering multiple times into the same tournament, ghosting, to obscure previous results and stats, to clear extra bonuses, to circumvent affiliate CPA or rakeback rules, to bypass the pokersites shortstack buy-in time limitation, to teamplay, to share action with others at the same table, to chip dump or otherwise engage in underhanded actions I do not know about. I have never done any of these things. Beyond that I cannot and will not comment on the screename issue, nor can I say why I cannot elaborate further other than to say that my reasons for that are serious and personal.”
Fuel on the fire, that.

Three days later (March 17), Grudzien resurfaced to suggest he felt “a number of competitors and enemies” of CardRunners/StoxPoker were “seizing on this opportunity to discredit myself and our company,” and that an “official statement” would be forthcoming. He soon followed that with a post admitting to the multi-accounting, though denying ever colluding. He added that since he was admitting he’d violated the TOS of FTP of Stars, he would not be playing on either site until they gave him permission to do so.

StoxpokerOne day later, Grudzien said he was resigning from StoxPoker. A week after that, StoxPoker announced it would be merging its site with CardRunners altogether (starting May 1, 2010).

A few thoughts come to mind here.

There’s the obvious disappointment at hearing about yet another high profile player -- indeed, one to whom many regard as a coach/mentor -- having failed to abide by the rules most of us don’t think twice about following. I was also intrigued by that list Grudzien provides of the many ways one might benefit from multi-accounting, a list which includes some obvious items but also a few which I hadn’t even considered previously.

Also interesting were the complaints by some (including Peat) about Grudzien having apparently short-stacked while playing under the other accounts -- not a violation of sites’ TOS, of course, but a strategic approach that offends some players greatly. Besides exciting the general detestation toward short-stacking, some believed Grudzien’s doing so was somehow hypocritical given the fact that it ran counter to his coaching. Kind of missing the big picture there (it seems), but a curious reaction nonetheless.

The other part of this story I wanted to mention concerned Two Plus Two’s involvement. Again, we’re seeing how the sites can’t really enforce rules against multi-accounting on their own, and that 2+2 plays an especially significant role when it comes to ensuring some semblance of fairness in online poker. The deletion of the original thread about Grudzien earlier this month (the one started by the banned poster) understandably raised some eyebrows -- was 2+2 attempting to suppress the story exposing a mod, author, and sponsor? -- though I think ultimately the site has handled it all sufficiently thus far.

Mason Malmuth appeared on the 2+2 Pokercast last week (the 3/23 episode, No. 114) to address how the site had decided to suspend (temporarily) its relationship with Grudzien and CardRunners/StoxPoker. Having been somewhat critical of some of Malmuth’s positions before, I was prepared to be a little cynical when he came on, but in fact found his assessment of the situation fairly reasonable and balanced. And even (uncharacteristically) modest, although he did slip in there that the site is currently receiving approximately 30,000 posts a day. That’s a ton of content to try to moderate!

The online sites have a similar issue with which to contend -- i.e., a ton to moderate. I suppose while there is a lot about this story that gets my attention, that is really the only part of it that has direct relevance to a small-timer like me.

When an instructor/expert is willing to violate sites’ rules about multi-accounting, it’s clear they aren’t being enforced well enough (or cannot be enforced well enough) to discourage others from doing so, too. And I guess that’s a bit unsettling, given that long list of ways Grudzien provides explaining how others’ multi-accounting could negatively affect me.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tournaments, Where Your Business is My Business (And Vice-Versa)

Tournaments, Where Your Business is My Business (And Vice-Versa)Was playing on PokerStars yesterday and after sitting at the cash tables for a short while decided to jump into a small SCOOP (Spring Championship of Online Poker) satellite -- just a $5.00+$0.50 limit hold’em tourney that awarded tickets to a “low” level (i.e., $22) event. Sometime last year I’d won an FPP sit-n-go and had exactly $5.50 worth of $T in my account, and so used that to enter.

LHE tourneys aren’t too popular -- only 17 registered for this satellite, meaning just three tickets would be punched, with the next three finishers getting $5.50 back and $2.50 going to the player ending in seventh.

I played okay, I guess. I mismanaged a couple of hands along the way -- and got very lucky once (Q-Q vs. A-A and flopping a queen), saving my tourney life. Eventually made it to the final table, then the cash, and then, ultimately, landed a ticket (to Event No. 18-L).

I don’t play tourneys often. Indeed, when first starting out the tourney yesterday I screwed up a hand early on, then realized I’d played it as if it were a cash game, thereby causing my mistake. Got acclimated quickly, though, and by the time we reached the final table was more comfortable with my decisions. Was feeling better about judging the relative abilities of my opponents when it came to decision-making, too.

With six players left, there was one player in particular -- I’ll call him Butterfingers -- who had accumulated some chips but who had made several missteps. For instance, there was a player on his left sitting out who had nearly run out of chips, and one time the table folded around to him in the small blind and he instantly folded to the absent player. I was getting low at the time, and so was slightly bothered he’d given the player sitting out another round of hands while we were on the (tiny) cash bubble.

Got me thinking a little about how in tournaments -- a “zero sum” game where there are finite number of chips for which all are fighting equally -- other players’ mistakes can affect you as much as your own. This fact became even more glaringly obvious a little later when we were down to four players and I watched this same player play a hand not-too-cleverly against an opponent in a way that looked like it might sink my chances at landing a ticket.

Blinds were 250/500, stakes 500/1,000. The chip leader had 9,885, Butterfingers had 7,905, I had 4,045, and the fourth player -- I’ll call him Snickers -- had 3,665. The hand began with Butterfingers limping in for 500 from UTG/cutoff. I folded my Td2c on the button, and the chip leader completed from the small blind. Snickers then raised to 1,000, Butterfingers called, and the chip leader folded.

The flop looked like it might evoke some action, coming AcQcKh. Snickers checked, Butterfingers quickly bet (500), and Snickers made the call. The rapidity of Butterfingers’ bet -- coupled with the fact that he tended to play very straightforwardly (betting with something, calling/folding without) -- made me think the tourney could be ending on this hand.

The turn was the 8h, and again Snickers check-called Butterfingers’ bet (1,000). The river brought the 8d, pairing the board. Snickers, who now had just 1,165 left, thought a moment before checking. Butterfingers also paused before acting. It occurred to me he could perhaps have K-Q and was worried he’d been counterfeited here when the second eight arrived. Finally, he checked.

Snickers surprised me a little by showing ThTs. Butterfingers surprised me even more with his hand -- 3s3d.

Now I was in fourth, Butterfingers in third, and Snickers had new life, climbing with that one all of the way to second. The break came right after that hand, giving me time to think about how Snickers might well have folded to save his small stack had Butterfingers again bet the river. In any event, all eventually worked out, and in fact Butterfingers would ultimately be the one to eliminate Snickers a couple dozen hands later.

As I say, it is interesting to consider how in tourneys others’ play can so directly affect your own fortunes or misfortunes. Happens in cash games, too, of course, though not in quite the same way.

When two of my opponents square off against one another in a cash game and one donks off a bunch of chips to the other, their new stack sizes may potentially affect me in a future hand (esp. in NL or PL games). But in a tourney, where we are all playing with the same, finite number of chips, every hand could be said to affect everybody in some way. Worth thinking about when talking about the variance of tourneys (and the skill and/or luck needed to succeed in them), and comparing such elements to cash games.

Got over a month before SCOOP happens. Probably try to play some more tourneys. I think I will stick to LHE, and probably need to start thinking more specifically about LHE tourney strategy. Any tips?

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Cleaning House

Books, books, booksThis here house has a lot of storage space. Can be both a good and bad thing. Mostly good, I guess.

Having the space makes it easy to keep the main living area clear, as one can always momentarily hide an unneeded item behind a closed door. Then again, always being able to squirrel away this or that tends to lessen the likelihood of tossing unneeded possessions out, even when it is probably best to do so. Eventually those roomy storage spaces become crowded enough to inspire a purge, which is what I found myself doing this weekend.

I had a goal in mind. There was an old futon frame and mattress tucked way in the back, behind all of the boxes and neglected bric-a-brac. Had thoughts of pulling that sucker out and perhaps selling it, but in order to do that everything else had to come out of there first.

Aside from various outdated electronics (CD players, a couple of old small TVs, a busted turntable), the great majority of the space was filled with two items -- books and papers.

I noticed this morning that Amy Calistri was doing some spring cleaning herself recently which involved making some decisions about which of her books to take down to the used bookstore to sell. Like Amy, I have considerable difficulty parting with books once I’ve obtained them. (I’ve written here before about the fairly ridiculous number of poker books I have on my shelves.)

To summarize the problem: if I’ve read the book, I know I don’t want to get rid of it; if I haven’t, well, maybe one day I will.

All of which means there is an entire bookshelf stacked with books in the storage space (see the photo above), plus probably a dozen more boxes’ worth with which to deal, too. Rather than thinking of what to take to the used bookstore (like Amy), I’m plotting a strategy to include a couple more bookcases in the home office and thus bring some of these back from their dark, dank exile.

Meanwhile the papers, barely tamed within overstuffed boxes held together with duct tape, consist of various scribblings, class notes, old columns, juvenilia, and whatnot of limited sentimental value and even less practical worth. But while I don’t anticipate being able to trash or sell the books, I might well be able to toss some of this stuff, the great majority of which is of little interest (even to the author).

I have current writing projects in mind, including plans for a second novel, another mystery in the hard-boiled manner. Am not anticipating continuing the detective character who narrates Same Difference and create a series (as a couple who’ve read it have asked). Rather I am contemplating something new, with a different set of characters. Also am thinking of having the new one set during more recent times, as opposed to SD which is set in the 1970s. By the way, the novel can be purchased via Amazon now, and can even be included in orders for free shipping, I believe.

None of this stuff up in storage is going to be of use, though, for these new projects. So into the dumpster some (most?) will go.

Kind of amazing the psychological effect this purging business can have -- how removing clutter of the past can help one think more clearly about the future. I imagine it is a process most poker players, at least the ones who continue to work on their games, tend to go through every now and then as well.

When you first start playing, the mind is open, ready to receive whatever information and knowledge can be boxed up and stored away via the experience of playing those initial hands.

The more you play, though, the more you learn, including the fact that some what you were saving from before -- maybe most of it -- isn’t really relevant anymore. Those notes you took earlier on might have been helpful at the time, but now they are superfluous. Or perhaps just plain wrong. Time to chuck ’em.

A couple of reasons, then, that it’s good to have some storage space. Nice to have somewhere to put stuff. And also nice to be able to clear it out.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

The Return of Isildur1

Phil Galfond vs. Isildur1Little time (or energy) available for posting today, I’m afraid. Too much to do and too little time to do it. It’s not like I have the seemingly limitless stamina of, say, Isildur1, the man who can play nearly 10,000 hands in less than 24 hours at the highest stakes and against the top pros.

I began this week here sharing some of Mike “The Mouth” Matusow’s comments about those super-stacked, “nosebleed” games over on Full Tilt Poker in which Isildur1 has been a primary participant of late. That got me interested in checking out how Isildur1 had been doing over these 6-7 weeks since his return.

Some big, big wins for the mystery Swede in there. And, once again, some devastating losses. Or, I should say, losses that would prove devastating for most of us mortals, but for Isildur1 seem business as usual.

I ended up compiling a summary of Isildur1’s activities since his return in early February. If you’re curious to catch up on the story, you can read that summary over at Betfair here: “The Isildur1 Saga, the Sequel.”

One part of the story I found especially interesting was that huge losing session Isildur1 suffered against Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond. Talk about suspect game selection. Amid his battles with the other top pros -- and during the latter part of that one insane, nearly 10,000-hand session that took place in less than 24 hours -- Isildur1 took on Galfond at the $300/$600 and $500/$1,000 pot-limit Omaha tables, and Galfond took around $1.87 million from the Swede.

Galfond wrote a short blog post about their battle over at his site, Blue Fire Poker, which included links to several hands as well as a couple of very interesting, 7-8 minute videos from the session (with Galfond’s commentary). If you’re interested, check out that post here.

So signing off early today. Hope everyone has a relatively calm, non-swingy weekend. I’m going to try. I think staying away from the $500/$1,000 PLO heads-up tables will help.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oh, Baby... Quads Again

Has been an okay month, pokerwise, thus far. Lately I’ve been shuttling back and forth between the pot-limit Omaha games and limit hold’em, rediscovering my fondness for LHE as I do.

I think it was that trip to the Palm Beach Kennel Club a couple of weeks ago where I played LHE that spurred me back into that game online. I mentioned in that trip report how I’d had the good fortune once to flop quad treys. Not only that, I managed to get paid, having a table full with me for the flop, a few more stick around for the turn, two go to the river, and one call me on the end.

Soon after returning I happened to have a hand online where I again improbably flopped quads. Not only that, it was treys again. And again I got some action.

In fact, it was kind of a perfect storm with this one. Check it out (RSS readers might need to click through to the post in order to view these hands):



Then a couple of days ago I made quads once again, this time on the turn. I don’t always three-bet with little pairs like this, but ihaveahand had been raising more than half his hands and I was thinking I could get him heads-up. That didn’t work out, but just about everything after that did.



Finally, yesterday I had yet another hand in which I managed to flop four of a kind -- and once again made a few berries, largely thanks to the reckless opponent who followed me to the river:



Yes, I know. By posting these hands I realize I am essentially guaranteeing that I will not be seeing quads again for, oh, years and years. Ah, well. At least I’ll be able to come back to this post and remember those days when it seemed to happen all the time.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Webster’s Poker Book (1925)

'Webster's Poker Book (1925)Sometime last year my friend Tim Peters sent me a very thoughtful gift -- an original edition of Webster’s Poker Book (published in 1925).

The condition of the book is not mint by a long shot, with the worn edges, broken spine, and yellowing pages attesting to the book’s age. Still, a rarity of sorts, and I get a kick out of pulling it out now and then and mulling over its various advice and illustrations.

The book could be regarded as a primer of sorts for poker -- one does learn rules, some strategy, odds, and other information of value to players. Mostly, though, it seems aimed at entertaining readers, a goal which it achieves throughout.

A short note at the front of the book explains that “IF YOU HAVE NEVER PLAYED POKER... This book will doubtless stimulate you to learn America’s favorite game.” Five-card draw is the game of choice here, with just about all of the discussion centering around that variant.

In addition to the instruction, there are also numerous anecdotes, funny stories, a history of poker, and other ephemera scattered throughout, the most famous of which being the illustrations by the famous American cartoonist Harold Tucker Webster, better known as “H.T.” Indeed, you have probably seen some of these before reprinted in other poker books -- a total of fifty different one-page cartoons, many of which graphically depict common and/or humorous situations discussed in the text.

Above is the cover, and here is the title page which lists all of Webster’s collaborators, too:



You see reference there to “a compartment containing a set of poker chips and a pad of I.O.U. forms embellished by Webster, ready for instant use.” The book actually does contain a little shelf inside the back cover which can be pulled out. The chips were long gone, but there are still some of the I.O.U. forms, designed for use at the end of the night at the home game. Here’s one of those:



There were also some postcards in there, the front of which featured advertisements for the book and the back a form which could be filled out before sending to your poker buddies. That picture at the bottom of the front side gives you an idea how the little shelf that slides out of the back cover works.





By the way, if you look back at that title page you might notice around the border images of the four suits plus what appear to be swastikas. Webster’s Poker Book appeared right about when the Nazi Party had first adopted the swastika (the first volume of Mein Kampf was also published in 1925, actually), a time when the symbol had yet to take on the connotations which we instantly associate with it. Indeed, before its appropriation by the Nazis, it was often considered a symbol of good luck, which I’m guessing had to be the reason why it was included here.

As I say, the cartoons are the main reason why this book is remembered, and so I wanted to share a few of them with you. All of them evoke ideas and concepts that are familiar to just about anybody who has played poker. A lot of grins to be found among ’em, too.

Here’s one that evokes a common theme in the book -- the eternal struggle between husbands and wives over poker playing:



Here’s another that reminds us of something we’ve all felt after starting a session badly, then finding ourselves vainly trying to dig out of the hole:



And here’s one more suggesting one of the benefits of buying in for the maximum:



H.T. Webster (1885-1952)You can read more about H.T. Webster over on Wikipedia as well as in this sketch about him on the American Heritage site. And here’s another blog with a post about Webster that features a small sampling of the 16,000-plus cartoons he drew.

Thanks again, Tim, for a neat collector’s item!

By the way, I’m working on creating complete archive pages for the five sections of the blog -- “On the Street,” “The Rumble,” “Shots in the Dark,” “High Society,” and “By the Book.” I’ve only finished one so far -- “By the Book,” the section where I talk about poker books as well as hard-boiled fiction (though always try to relate things back to poker). So if you are interested in reading other book talk, check out that page and click around.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thinking About June 1 (& the UIGEA)

Last week we heard the news that with regard to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, House Rep. Barney Frank does not believe there will be any further delays of the implementation of the final regulations. In other words, come June 1st -- less than ten weeks away -- it appears likely that Americans who play online poker will encounter additional difficulty getting money onto sites.

Yeah, I know. Everybody has that other bill on their minds -- the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 -- which has now been passed by both houses and is about to be signed into law. But while reading around yesterday I was reminded by Gadzooks64 of the UIGEA and that fast approaching deadline. And also the possible consequences.

According to those UIGEA final regs, U.S. banks and other financial institutions are being instructed to block transactions between their customers and online gambling sites (no matter if they are located outside the U.S.). Like the original UIGEA, the “Final Rule” does not define what “unlawful gambling” is. Indeed, it makes explicit that the law does not, in fact, provide that definition, noting that “The Act does not spell out which activities are legal and which are illegal, but rather relies on the underlying substantive Federal and State laws” to make those distinctions. (Of course, in many cases, those “underlying” federal and state laws are themselves full of ambiguity.)

The regulations acknowledge that the banks will likely find it difficult “to prevent restricted transactions without unduly burdening their processing of lawful transactions.” Nonetheless, the regs express hope that the banks will practice “due diligence” when it comes to identifying and stopping those transactions from occurring. Many have suggested that such “due diligence” will involve “overblocking” all suspect transactions rather than risk allowing a restricted one to go through.

One other important note -- the banks and other institutions are not obligated to block transactions which involve a customer taking money off of an online gambling site. Rather, “[u]nder the final rule, the term ‘restricted transaction’ would not include funds going to a gambler, and would only include funds going to an Internet gambling business.” Meaning one is (theoretically) supposed to be able to cash out without hassle, but depositing money will be prohibited.

I think it is possible banks could block cash outs, too -- that is to say, they aren’t obligated to do so, but it could happen that some do so, anyway. In fact, I’d say it is probably likely that will happen here and there, given the uncertain position the banks are in with regard to enforcing the UIGEA. Also, even though compliance with the finalized regulations is not mandatory until June 1, banks can already block transactions if they wish.

Gadzooks64 notes how “there is already a dearth of really bad players” such as were easy to find just a couple of years ago, and believes it will only get worse come June 1. Her post made me think of an observation made by Tom Schneider a long time ago -- early 2007 -- on the old Beyond the Table podcast regarding how the UIGEA could potentially affect the relative value of the money one has on poker sites. (I wrote a little about his comment here.)

Responding to the fact that a lot of U.S. players were pulling their money off of online poker sites then -- and with Neteller having just pulled out we were facing additional trouble reloading -- Schneider opined that the money on poker sites could become worth “more than cash.” He speculated that in some cases players could be ready to play “a premium” (a fee of some sort) to a third party to help them get money moved into their online accounts.

He was talking mainly about the higher stakes games, I believe, but I noted at the time what he was saying could apply to us small-timers, too. In any event, if, indeed, it becomes too arduous or even impossible for some of us Americans to deposit anymore, that should affect the player base considerably. It’ll also affect how some of us practice our bankroll management, too. Come June 1, a lot of us may suddenly be playing with our “case money” (so to speak) -- that is, our last remaining funds with which to play.

In her post Gadzooks64 mentions that rather than play that way, she might just take her money out prior to June 1 and stick to them freerolls, avoiding the hassles altogether. I would bet others are probably thinking along the same lines.

I’m not going to use the money in any of my online poker accounts to make that bet, though.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Not Real Poker

What do you mean he's not real?Have noted before how I consistently enjoy the Two Plus Two Pokercast, hosted by Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz. Last week’s episode again featured a number of good segments, including a discussion with Andrew “LuckyChewy” Lichtenberger of that great “High Stakes Poker” hand from last week between Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey (mentioned here).

The featured guest last week was Mike Matusow, and as is often the case Johnson and Schwartz asked all of the questions of their guest that we’d like to hear answered -- including some attempts at getting further details regarding provocative anecdotes from Matusow’s autobiography, Check-Raising the Devil (co-authored with Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli). They also got Matusow to talk again about Russ Hamilton and UltimateBet, an exchange that also provided some interesting moments.

I wanted to focus a bit on one part of the conversation -- the part where the hosts asked Matusow to comment on the whole “Isidur1 saga.” As most probably know, after that wild ride late last year, Isildur1 has recently resurfaced over on Full Tilt Poker with a replenished bankroll, seeking still more action.

“Everybody wanted us to ask this,” begins Schwartz, who then asks Matusow to comment on Isidur1’s apparent “death wish” or desire to keep playing the top players for the highest stakes, ostensibly until he loses all he possibly can.

Matusow’s response reflected some of the same cynicism about online poker we’ve heard him advance many times before, though I thought it was kind of intriguing to consider what he was saying in the context of discussing these super-high, “nosebleed”-stakes games. After confidently predicting Isildur1 will be going busto soon (again), Matusow went on to address the following topics...

On the Object of the Game

They are just 'trying to see who’s going to go broke first'“Don’t you understand those games?” asked Matusow. “Those games are not real poker games,” he clarified, noting that those who play at those stakes are “degens” playing for a “ridiculous amount of money that are [primarily] trying to see who’s going to go broke first.”

Part of Matusow’s assessment of the games, then, seems to concern the approach the players take towards them -- an approach seemingly guided by that “death wish” idea Schwartz had mentioned. “All it is... it’s no real money,” said Matusow. “The only reason why it looks like real money is because you got people... [playing in the games] like Ivey and them that have uncountable amounts of money that don’t care. The people that play are people that, you know, they don’t care until they go broke.”

Matusow then spent some time talking about a specific live hand Tom Dwan played versus Phil Ivey in which Matusow believed Dwan played much too loosely when calling a check-raise from Ivey with nothing but an inside-straight draw.

The hand was from that Full Tilt Poker Million Dollar Cash Game, and I’m assuming it was one where Matusow himself was present. I haven’t seen that hand and thus am not sure what the context was or whether Dwan may have been planning a later-street bluff. In any case, for Matusow the hand exemplified the “don’t care”-attitude toward money he says Isildur1 and his opponents are demonstrating.

On Endorsements and Their Effect

Full Tilt Poker patchSchwartz then asked Matusow “How much do the Full Tilt disbursements kind of drive these games and turn it into this sort of circus?”

Matusow had no concrete answer to this question. In fact, he started off saying “no comment,” but then added “you think it [i.e., the fact that some of the players are FTP pros and thus are being compensated in some way for playing in these games] kind of has something to do with it.”

A good question, actually. Kind of reminded me of a discussion that came up in the comments to a post over on Pokerati from last December. One commenter asked “is there any possible way these players actually are not playing for that much and it is merely b.s. so the poker site can get more traffic...?”

The subsequent discussion suggested most thought it was a bit outlandish to think Full Tilt would “invent” a player like Isildur1 and have its pros play him for what appeared to be real high stakes but what in actuality was not -- all for the sake of attracting some publicity and (potentially) some more action on the site.

Schwartz isn’t suggesting that the money isn’t “real,” of course (I don’t think). But he is implying that some -- perhaps a significant percentage -- of it isn’t really coming out of the players’ pockets, and that the site itself is the reason why this is the case. If you think about it, the idea isn’t that different from that of the commenter who wondered if “these players actually are not playing for that much.”

On the Difference Between Live Money and Online Money

The virtual world of online pokerLater in the show, Matusow comes back to this issue of online poker not being “real poker” -- and I think ultimately adds yet another idea or theory to (try to) support that thesis.

Matusow is asked about his current business venture, Deep Stacks University (an online training site). After discussing Deep Stacks a bit, Matusow noted that for him a primary motive for getting involved with the business was simply to get out of the house and stop playing online poker.

We’ve heard Matusow talk before about the negative influence online poker has on him. As he told the hosts, “it takes over my life, it destroys my life... it totally consumes me.” He quickly moved on from talking about Deep Stacks, though, and instead mentioned how he recently had a very successful three-week period of live play at the Commerce Casino. That then led him back into the subject of online poker not being “real.”

“It’s a video game,” said Matusow. “If you watch those big games... where is the skill? They’re just shipping in $200,000 on 60/40s over and over and over. I mean, it’s an absolute joke. It’s comical. I mean, people look at it as real money, but it’s really not. They’re just numbers. And it’s not real money. If them guys had to use their real money -- like if they were playing in a live game with those kind of moneys -- you think they’d be throwing it in like that?”

Of course, earlier in the conversation Matusow had referred to a live hand in which Dwan had done just that, but no matter. I think we can now list at least three reasons why Matusow (or others) might regard the super-high, “nosebleed”-stakes games as not “real poker”:
1. The object of the game is different from that of “real poker.” (That is, the object is primarily to see who can avoid going broke first, not necessarily to make as much money as possible).

2. Site endorsements (and/or other staking arrangements) make it less likely players are playing with their own money, thereby making the game less “real” in a relative sense.

3. The nature of online play -- where real money can be so easily be regarded as “just numbers” -- makes the game different from “real” (i.e., live) poker.
All three of these reasons have to do with money and its significance. That is to say, for Matusow the online game -- especially the highest-stakes variety played by Isildur1 et al. -- introduces way too many mitigating factors that upset the meaning of the money involved to allow it to be considered “real poker.”

All of which I found intriguing, if not entirely convincing. It all depends on how you look at it, yes? While I’m sure Matusow is not the only one thinking these thoughts about those games on Full Tilt, I can readily imagine rational responses to each of his theories that would constitute hard-to-refute defenses of the “reality” of the poker being played.

Is it “real” poker being played by Isildur1 and his opponents? Who can say for sure?

Is real interesting, though. Both the games and what people say about them.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

More Uncertainty: Legality and Online Poker

When it comes to “legal stuff” and online poker, I never feel entirely comfortable offering my opinions. Or even simply reporting what the hell is going on. I mean, I think I am a decent reader and even once in a while stumble on a good ideer or response to this or that. But when it comes to commenting confidently on this particular subject, my first instinct is usually to try to change it.

The fact is, current state and federal laws regarding online poker/gambling here in the U.S. are ambiguous at best, and the process by which new laws and regulations come to be is often also mysterious for most of us. Rarely does anything seem perfectly clear, and when it does, such moments of clarity are often frustratingly fleeting. There’s always an appeal, it seems. And an appeal of the appeal. And so forth. Never mind “running it twice.” These guys appear willing and able to run it a hundred times if they have to, with the rules changing each time along the way.

This week came a couple of stories regarding some of many ongoing legal machinations, neither of which necessarily offered any further clarity for us on this subject. Or comfort. One was a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court on the Commonwealth’s efforts to seize 141 domains hosting online gambling sites. Sounds like that one has turned the other way once again. For now, that is. (It’s always “for now.”)

If you recall, it was back in September 2008 that we first heard that a Circuit Court judge had granted Governor Steve Beshear’s order to “seize” the domains which hosted sites allowing Kentucky residents to gamble online. Seemed like a pretty obvious usurpation of authority, as though somehow Kentucky could rule the entire interwebs and take control of sites according to its own predilections.

Welcome to KentuckyA hearing was held the following month, and the Circuit Court ruled in favor of Beshear et al. If the offending domains didn’t start blocking Kentucky from accessing the sites they were hosting within 30 days, the domains would be forfeited to Kentucky. A “forfeiture hearing” was then scheduled, then delayed. Then the case wound up in the court of appeals, where it was determined Kentucky wasn’t king of the internet after all.

The sucker then went to the state’s Supreme Court -- an appeal of the appeal -- where it has been for the last long while. Finally, this week the Supreme Court ruled that, in fact, the ruling in the Court of Appeals didn’t hold “due to the incapacity of domain names to contest their own seizure.”

In other words, the owners of the domains -- who remained “anonymous registrants” and were represented by others -- have to come forward and defend themselves (says the Ky. Supreme Court). So the decision in the Court of Appeals has been reversed. (Full decision here.)

The Poker Players Alliance has commented, saying it “understands the technical nature of the decision” made by the Supreme Court, and that it “remains confident that, once that issue is cured, the Supreme Court” will see the light and uphold the previous decision of the Court of Appeals to deny Kentucky the right to seize the domains. I like the choice of metaphor there -- what we are looking at here is in fact an illness than needs to be “cured” before we can go forward.

Is this incurable, though? Who knows?

UIGEAThe other item of special note this week concerned House Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) telling PokerNews that he did not anticipate another delay would be granted for implementation of the final regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

Another story that sounds, well, a little sick-making.

If you recall, those final regs were set to go into effect on December 1, 2009, but the feds granted six more months to consider other legislation, meaning the current deadline for U.S. banks and financial institutions to start blocking transactions with online gambling sites is now June 1, 2010.

Earlier this year, Rep. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) -- one of the first authors of the legislation that ultimately became the UIGEA -- decided to use his standing in the Senate to start blocking the President’s nominees to fill positions in the Treasury Department. Frank told PokerNews that Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner has said he wouldn’t allow any further delays specifically because of Kyl’s tactics.

Frank remains confident, however, that even after compliance with the UIGEA becomes mandatory in June, its standing will be tenuous. “Once it goes into effect, banks are going to raise hell,” he told PN, anticipating the banks’ subsequent complaints will lead to the UIGEA’s repeal.

As I have written about numerous times here, even if the UIGEA is an ambiguous, murky law that probably couldn’t hold up to any court challenges, its going into effect is nevertheless going to have consequences on U.S. players of online poker, knocking many out of the game due to increased difficulties getting money onto the sites.

When I appeared on Lou Krieger’s “Keep Flopping Aces” podcast last month, he asked me what I thought would happen with regard to the UIGEA during 2010. I told him my sense was that I did not feel very confident that it would be repealed this year, nor did I think any other legislation would likely be passed.

By way of explanation, I said hoping for either a repeal or the passage of new legislation was sort of like pulling for a poor player in a poker tourney to win. He’d need a lot of breaks just to reach the final table, then still more examples of good timing and fortuitous cards to win in the end.

Of course, using that analogy served a particular purpose for me -- it enabled me to avoid speaking more particularly about things about which I have little clue.

In fact, I suspect most of us are essentially short-stacked when challenged to understand “legal stuff” and online poker.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Raising the Stakes for Poker on TV: “High Stakes Poker”

All New High Stakes PokerFound time yesterday to catch up on the first five episodes of “High Stakes Poker” of 2010. These mark the start of the sixth season of the Game Show Network series which first aired in January 2006. The format of the show has remained essentially the same from past seasons, although with a couple of changes this time around.

The show returns to the Golden Nugget where it began in Season 1 and had returned for Season 5. One big difference is the removal of A.J. Benza who had previously joined Gabe Kaplan in the commentary booth. With Benza gone, Kara Scott has joined the show to host short segments and interview players.

The removal of Benza from the show garnered a lot of reaction on the forums, including a still-ongoing “Online Petition to bring Back AJ Benza for HSP” thread on Two Plus Two. For those joining that cause, the thinking is the “HSP” hosting/commentating formula had worked well for the first five seasons, so there was no reason to muck with it.

I, too, liked Benza’s contribution to the show. Despite being a funny guy himself -- Benza’s initial appearance on the Ante Up! show (in June 2008) was one of the funniest episodes of that podcast I can recall -- Benza mostly played the straight man to Kaplan on “HSP.” The pair (both Brooklyn natives, actually) seemed to have great chemistry and added a lot of flavor to the proceedings, both with the poker commentary and the humor.

So I wasn’t necessarily happy either when I’d heard Benza wouldn’t be returning, although that doesn’t mean I’m not glad to see Kara Scott on the show. When I first saw Scott at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event, I’d known she’d been a presenter or host on a couple of different poker shows in Europe, having worked on “Poker Night Live” and with the European Poker Tour. Scott made a deep run in that year’s WSOP ME, finishing 104th. I remember writing a little about her in a recap about one of the Day Twos here and having written a post about her late in the day over on PokerNews.

Kara Scott interviewing Antonio Esfandiari on 'High Stakes Poker'Scott does well, I think, in her somewhat limited role on “High Stakes.” I was surprised, actually, at how little screen time the producers give her, though in the short interviews both her poker knowledge and ease before the camera serve her well. This week, Jennifer Newell and I wrote a new “He Said/She Said” column for Woman Poker Player in which we discussed the subject of women and poker shows, and we both ended up remarking on how we thought Scott was underused on “HSP.” You can read those pieces here: He Said / She Said.

Meanwhile, Kaplan still gets to crack wise often enough. There do seem to be a few more quiet stretches with Benza gone, but Kaplan carries it well enough, and I remain a big fan of his humor and his poker commentary.

There are a couple of other small format changes to note. I’m noticing the frequent use of a graphic now and then to update us on stack sizes at the table -- a plus. (The minimum buy-in for the game is $200,000, with two players, Phil Ivey and Tom “durrrr” Dwan, having bought in for $500,000.) Also, Daniel Negreanu is hosting a brief “Did You Know” segment that is interesting enough, I guess.

What remains most interesting -- and the biggest reason why the show tops my list of faves on teevee -- is the poker. Many fascinating hands already on these first five episodes. I’m not gonna rehearse them here, both because I’d rather not spoil ’em for those who haven’t watched and intend to, and because I can’t hope to provide real analysis, but just share the reactions of a poker player/fan.

The first episode was dominated by Phil Hellmuth’s swift downfall, a rapid sequence that kicked off the season with a delicious sampling of schadenfreude. Although Kaplan says something about prop bets being forbidden this season, there have been several discussed already, including that big one involving Phil Ivey going vegetarian for a year. Meanwhile, Ivey once again shows his incredible acumen at the table, Negreanu struggles once again on the show, and other players come and go.

This most recent episode (the fifth one) was probably the most entertaining to watch so far. There were several all-in hands, though with a couple of exceptions most were not caused by the stacks being short but rather were consequent to a series of postflop decisions. One especially interesting hand took place between Jason Mercier and Ivey, a hand which Mercier recounts in an article from yesterday over on PokerListings.

Of course, the big highlight was the hand between Phil Ivey and Tom “durrrr” Dwan that concluded the fifth episode -- kind of a jawdropping hand on the order of the one from last year involving Dwan, Barry Greenstein, and Peter Eastgate. Ivey starts the hand with over $1 million, and Dwan with around $750,000. Watch and enjoy yourself:



I was saying last week how I hadn’t had a lot of time for watching poker on teevee. But if I’m only going to watch one show, this has got to be the one, yes?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 WSOP Schedule Stuff

2010 WSOP Schedule pageThe news of that WSOP Tournament of Champions got me looking at the schedule for this summer once again, something I hadn’t really done much since it was first announced back in December. You can check out the 2010 WSOP schedule in full here.

A few items of note here as I look over the sucker once more.

No Main Event on Fourth of July. This year Sunday, July 4 has been scheduled as an off-day for the WSOP -- the Main Event this year begins on July 5. If you recall, in 2009 the Fourth of July (a Saturday) was one of the four Day Ones for the Main Event (Day 1b), and drew only 873 players, the lowest of any of the Day Ones. That helped create the fiasco that was Day 1d, when 2,809 players ended up playing while hundreds more were turned away.

Then again, it isn’t quite right to call July 4 “off-day” for the WSOP this year, as it looks as though two other events -- Event No. 54, the last of the six open-field $1,000 no-limit hold’em tourneys & Event No. 56, a $2,500 NLH event -- will be playing their final tables that day. And the TOC final table (also scheduled for July 4) will make three. Am glad, though, that the schedule-makers saw the problem with trying to get folks out to start a new tourney -- esp. the Main Event -- on the Fourth of July.

Everyone who wants to gets to play the Main Event this year. Preregistration is open for all 57 bracelet events, and those registering to play in the Main Event will find a section of the form noting how “you may request which First Day you prefer to start.” All four days are listed (7/5, 7/6, 7/7, and 7/8), and one is directed to rank the four days according to preference. “Placement in the event is not guaranteed and will be based on availability,” explains the form, meaning you don't necessarily get your first choice. Also, if you don't indicate a preference, “you will automatically be placed based on availability.”

Seems like not too much to ask, and a simple solution to last year’s problem. There will be those who complain about having not their first choice come July, but those complaints won’t be nearly as loud or significant as what we heard last year from those who were shut out of the Main Event.

The juice. Glancing at the structure sheets for this year’s events, the “juice” -- that is, the amount taken out of the prize pool as “entry fees” and “for tournament staff” -- appears to be the same for most of the events with just a couple of exceptions. For the $1,500 and $2,000 buy-in events, a total of 10% will be withheld this year as opposed to 9% last year.

Of course, those $1,000 events (eight total this year) also have 10% taken out, as will the Casino Employees Event No. 1 ($500 buy-in). The larger the buy-in, the lower the percentages, e.g., the $50,000 “Poker Player’s Championship” (Event No. 2) will have just 4% taken out, just like the $40K event last year. A total of 6% is taken from the prize pool for the $10,000 buy-in events, including the Main Event.

All those $1,000 events. The addition of those extra $1,000 buy-in NLH events attracted a lot of attention when the schedule was first announced. If you recall, there was one -- called a “Stimulus Special” -- last time around, while this time there are six. The Ladies Event (No. 22) and the Seniors Event (No. 34) also remain $1,000 buy-in events.

One might think that adding all of those low buy-in events -- while still keeping the same overall total of 57 events -- might have altered the WSOP landscape, class-wise. That is, are the low buy-in events taking over the schedule? Actually, no. In 2009, there were 38 events with buy-ins $2,500 or lower. In 2010, there are 37. And we’re looking at the same number of $10,000 buy-in events (10), too, plus once again a couple of biggies (the $25,000 six-handed NLH Event No. 52 & the $50K “Player’s Championship).

WSOP Countdown ClockThe clock is ticking. The other thing that TOC announcement has done is made me more aware that we’re only a little over ten weeks away from the thing kicking off, thanks to that Jack Link’s Beef Jerky countdown clock staring you right in the face on the WSOP home page.

Won’t be long. Jeez, I can almost smell the beef, water, sugar, salt, dried soy sauce, maltodextrin, fructose, monosodium glutamate, flavorings, hydrolyzed corn protein, sodium erythorbate, paprika extract, and sodium nitrate now.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Tournament of Champions 3.0

2010 WSOPYesterday it was announced that there will be a “Tournament of Champions” at this summer’s World Series of Poker, reviving an event that last officially took place in 2006. The new TOC will be a 27-player freeroll tournament with a $1 million prize pool, $500,000 of which will go to the champions’ champion.

The field will include 20 players voted on via an internet poll. Only “living WSOP bracelet winners” are eligible as candidates. (No dead guys!) In his article about the event, Stephen A. Murphy notes there are currently 521 living bracelet holders.

Only one vote per email address, so ballot-box stuffing will only work to the extent that a person uses multiple emails. Voting is now open and will remain so through June 15. One can track how the voting is going by checking the current “Top 50” vote-getters (presented in random order) on the WSOP site. Should be interesting to watch that list over the next three months to see which players prove most popular.

Five more spots will be filled by the TOC winners from its last incarnation (2004-2006), Annie Duke, Mike Matusow, and Mike Sexton, plus last year’s WSOP Main Event winner Joe Cada and WSOPE Main Event winner Barry Shulman. The last two seats are being reserved for “wild card exceptions” -- no word as yet what that means, although Harrah’s VP Ty Stewart has said it could be that those spots will be taken by winners of online tourneys.

Sounds like the TOC, like the Main Event, will have its own delay (of sorts) insofar as the tourney is set to begin on Sunday, June 27 and then conclude on the following Sunday, July 4 (an off-day for the WSOP -- the Main Event begins the following day). The TOC will be a televised event, too (on ESPN, natch).

I’m referring to this as TOC 3.0 because the “original” TOC -- the one envisioned by Mike Sexton in the late 1990s and run from 1999-2001 at the Orleans Casino -- while not specifically connected with the WSOP, not only shared the same name but had a couple of features not completely unrelated to those of the new TOC.

1999 Tournament of ChampionsThat original Tournament of Champions lasted for three years (1999-2001). There was an entry fee ($1,500 the first year, and $2,000 the next two), but it was not an open tournament. Rather, one earned the right to enter by various means, including winning a WSOP bracelet, winning a TOC-sanctioned event, winning the TOC itself, or being a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.

Reading about the original TOC online, I’ve encountered conflicting reports on those qualifications, but you get the picture. The idea was to create a “champions” event involving the best of the best -- sort of like the “Tour Championship” that comes at the end of the year in golf to which only the top money winners for the year are invited.

One other nifty aspect of the original TOC -- it was a mixed-game event that featured different games throughout. The first two days players rotated between limit hold’em, Omaha eight-or-better, and seven-card stud. Then on the final day, the last 27 players played no-limit hold’em.

That first year, 1999, there were 664 entrants, and David Chiu was the winner, with Louis Asmo finishing second and Doyle Brunson third. There was a somewhat famous hand between Chiu and Asmo at the final table, one in which following some preflop action Chiu folded pocket kings face up, and Asmo revealed he held pocket aces. Click here to read Lee Munzer’s description of that hand, along with an interview with Asmo.

In 2000, 440 players entered the event, with a computer programmer named Spencer Sun taking the title. The great poker reporter Andy Glazer participated that year (as he did in ’99, I believe), and finished a respectable 35th. Glazer reported on the event for PokerPages, and you can read what he had to say here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

In 2001, there were 402 entries, and Brian Saltus won, defeating T.J. Cloutier heads up. Scotty Nguyen finished third, and Miami John Cernuto fourth. Lee Munzer wrote up the first day of action for PokerPages here (giving Andy Glazer a chance to concentrate on playing), then Glazer wrote up Day 2 and Day 3.

2004 Tournament of ChampionsThe TOC was discontinued, then the name was used again for that one-table, ten-player event won by Annie Duke in 2004. I mentioned this one last week -- no entry fee, $2 million prize pool, winner-take-all. Harrah’s had recently acquired the WSOP, and as they donated the prize pool, the TOC became associated with the WSOP.

In 2005, 111 players earned their way into the event by winning either WSOP bracelets or WSOP Circuit events. A bit of a hubbub that year also as three additional players -- Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan -- were allowed to play as “sponsor exemptions,” and in fact all three did well, finishing 13th (Chan), 10th (Brunson), and third (Hellmuth). Mike Matusow won the event and the $1,000,000 first prize. The rest of the prize pool -- another $1 million -- was divided among the other eight players who made the final table.

In 2006, the TOC was reduced to a 27-player invitational tourney, with the nine WSOP Main Event final tablists and 11 WSOP Circuit event winners all playing along with seven other “exemptions.” Mike Sexton won that year, defeating Daniel Negreanu heads-up. Again, the prize pool -- donated by Harrah’s -- totaled $2 million, with half of that going to Sexton for winning.

Now, after a four-year hiatus, the TOC is back. Already seeing debates on Twitter and in the forums about the new format. Kind of a popularity contest, really, as far as who will primarily make up the field. But it should prove interesting nonetheless -- another good buzz-creator.

I see Dr. Pauly has already shared his voting guide. Who is getting my vote? Billy Baxter FTW!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding the Time

Finding the Time“If this were yesterday what time would it be now?”

Asked Vera of me late last evening. By then most of the clocks in the house had already been readjusted to account for Daylight Savings Time. But still, certain questions remained.

Somehow the day the clocks change always sneaks up on us. In the fall, it’s a pleasant surprise. (A-ha, extra hour of weekend to enjoy!) In the spring, though, when we lose that hour, it always feels like an especially rude theft from our rightfully allotted period of leisure.

And now it’s Monday morning already. Work to do.

Speaking of leisure time, I did get a chance over the last couple of days to sit at the online tables briefly. After a spell of nothing but Rush Poker (pot-limit Omaha) for a few weeks, I’ve moved back over to the ring games for the most part, splitting time between PLO and limit hold’em. I will every now and then jump back into the Rush Poker pool once in a while for a few quick laps, though.

Going back and forth like this highlights a couple of key differences between the formats. One, obviously, is all that rushing that goes on in Rush Poker. No time for nothin’. You do end up logging right about three times as many hands than in the ring games. I say “logging” rather than “playing,” because, well, you aren’t really “playing” a lot of those hands that are whizzing by. You’re folding them and letting others play them. Or quick folding them.

The other big difference is obvious, too -- the whole “table image” game-within-the-game that gets mostly lost in Rush Poker, but which is essential in the regular ring games.

I realize going back to the ring games how much I enjoy this aspect of poker. The collecting of clues. The telling of tales. The stuff that happens when we slow down, take a look around the table, and start figgerin’ what it is all these people are up to with their checks and bets and raises. And what it is we are up to, too.

I wish I had more time to reflect on these things. If this were yesterday, there’d be time to do so. But the weekend’s gone and I’ve got to get to work.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

PTI on the EPT

Pardon the Interruption“And now to a little Texas hold’em up!”

That’s how Tony Kornheiser introduced a short segment on Monday’s “Pardon the Interruption” regarding the heist that occurred at the European Poker Tour Berlin Main Event last Saturday. After a brief summary of what happened, Kornheiser then opened up what would amount to a 90-second discussion of the story with his co-host Michael Wilbon by posing the following question:

“Wilbon, do you see this as a serious breach of the law, or an exciting new twist to televised poker coverage?!”

Kornheiser’s tone (and grin) made it clear he was being sarcastic, but bringing up the topic this way seemed to indicate the somewhat cynical view the hosts and other sports journalists have about poker butting its way onto ESPN and the sports section. And, as it turned out, Wilbon’s answer made it sound as though he understood the question somewhat seriously.

After starting with a joke asking about Norman Chad’s whereabouts at the time of the robbery, Wilbon described his thoughts when watching the video clip from EPT Live showing the tourney suddenly getting interrupted.

EPT Live at the EPT Berlin Main Event“Watching from afar, I’m like... this is like a wrestling promotion!” said Wilbon. “This was like a set-up to get more attention -- to get goofballs like you and me talking about this stuff -- and it seems like an exciting new development. Like a car chase on CNN!”

Kornheiser agreed it was exciting stuff, suggesting that the incident “will be a movie within a year.” The conversation quickly concluded after a couple of incredulous reactions at the level of security that allowed the theft to occur. (By the way, a tip of the fedora to Gary Wise for mentioning the PTI segment earlier this week in his ESPN column.)

I guess I can’t really blame Kornheiser or Wilbon for reacting this way. For those who have never participated in, covered, or attended a real live high-stakes poker tournament, there’s a lot of mystery about what goes on. In other words, I guess I am saying I am inclined to pardon “Pardon the Interruption” here. Though I ain’t necessarily congratulating them for any special insight, either.

Given poker’s storied history in the U.S. -- a history filled with cheats and thieves and other “hold’em up”-style scenes -- I can see how some hearing of the EPT Berlin robbery wouldn’t necessarily appreciate how uncommon an event it really was. (Heck, I remember the first time I went out to cover the WSOP getting asked about how I’d handle being around gangsters. No shinola!)

Obviously the robbery was not “a set-up” or some sort of promotional gimmick. (And, really, to think it was would require a heckuva lot of cynicism.) Not that the EPT or any of the other professional poker tours would even desire this sort of attention, or expect it to help stimulate their growth.

I had the chance to talk with one of the players who was still in the Main Event at the time of the robbery on Saturday -- Ilya Gorodetsky. In fact, he was seated at the feature table when the interruption occurred. In my interview with the Russian player, he told me how some initially thought it might have been some sort of joke. But it soon became clear it was not.

Betfair BlogYou can read the full interview over on Betfair, where it was posted this morning: “Fright at the Feature Table: EPT Berlin.” Big thanks again to Ilya for taking the time to talk with me.

Here’s to a less exciting weekend this time, eh?

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

TV or Not TV

TV or Not TVAs a child, I watched lots of television. Didn’t distinguish me much. We all did it, just about. Except for that new kid with the fussy parents who wouldn’t let you come in past the foyer when you went over to see if he could play. Word was they didn’t allow TV, for whatever reason. Or maybe it was just one hour a day. The rest of us, though, we watched and watched and watched.

I remember coming home from school and watching “All in the Family” and “Match Game” back-to-back. Both shows were filled with adult-themed references my elementary-school-sized brain couldn’t hope to follow. But I watched nonetheless. ’Cos, well, it was what was on. Then I watched the next show and the one that came after that. Did homework in there somewhere. Ate dinner. And somehow I became a reader, too, despite all the hours in front of the tube.

It really wasn’t until I got to college that I finally turned the TV off. Much, much more interesting things to do, it turned out. Gradually over the years since then I began watching again, but in the last couple of years or so TV has once more begun to fade away from the day-to-day. Vera and I have two sets, but weeks go by without the one upstairs being turned on. The downstairs set gets played a few times a week, though usually it is sports (my choice), home shows (hers), or “30 Rock” (both). And that’s about it.

All of which is to say, I’m almost never watching poker on TV anymore, despite the preponderance of shows available to watch. Sometimes I’ll go online to see an episode or three of “Poker After Dark” or “High Stakes Poker,” or perhaps to catch the latest “Poker2Nite,” but usually doing so is an afterthought -- i.e., not something I’m actively seeking out or for which I’m scheduling time.

2009 Caesars Cup at WSOPEI did happen to see some of the WSOP Europe coverage on ESPN (or ESPN2) the other day. Caught some of that “Caesars Cup” won by the Europeans against the Americans (and Canadian). The show was somewhat interesting to follow, although the poker was hardly compelling since the crazy-fast structure meant it was all-in-all-the-time. The “doubles” matches -- especially those “alternate bet” ones that had teammates taking turns street by street -- presented a couple of curious moments, but again the big, big blinds tended to mute whatever novel strategic questions might have been suggested by the format.

High Stakes PokerI also caught the first episode of the new season of “High Stakes Poker” a couple of days ago, which remains a very entertaining and engaging show, I think. I had been prepared to come away with some sort of opinion about the decision to remove A.J. Benza as co-host and Gabe Kaplan’s straight man, and to introduce Kara Scott in a different role (not commentating but interviewing players). But I was too distracted by Phil Ivey and the others gobbling up Phil Hellmuth’s $200,000 stack of chips within the first half-hour. (I’ll try to watch a few more episodes, then come back down the road with some sort of review of the current season.)

I remember hearing the guys on the 2+2 Pokercast talk about how they almost felt sorry for Hellmuth there. I guess I understood what they meant -- was a pretty desperate stretch of hands for the Poker Brat -- though I can’t say I shared the sentiment.

No need to feel sorry for Hellmuth today, of course, as he is currently the chip leader with 27 players left at the World Poker Tour Bay 101 Shooting Star event. Close behind are Hassan Habib (2nd) and Andy Seth (3rd), with Matt Keikoan (5th), Faraz Jaka (7th), and Chau Giang (9th) lurking. Jonathan Little and Scotty Nguyen still have chips, too.

Could make for a good TV final table down the road, I guess. I’ll watch, if there isn’t something else to do.

(Post title via the 1973 comedy LP by Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman, one of those Firesign Theatre side projects. “Give Up This Day” still cracks me up. “Good bless you, and God night, and please don't touch that dial...”)

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