Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 33: Games People Play

Was off yesterday, and spent the day doing a lot of nothing. Slept off and on all day. Still feel a little tired this morning, but I know once I return to the Rio this afternoon, I’ll be fully charged and ready to go.

I mean, it is the World Series of Poker.

During my waking hours yesterday, I did check in on PokerNews’ live reporting now and then. Was in particular following that Event No. 47 (the $1,000 no-limit hold’em event), the final table for which I’ll be helping cover later today. Early reports were they were going to play that one all of the way through yesterday (in which case I might possibly have had a second day off), but by early evening they changed that plan.

Followed some of the silliness on Twitter yesterday, including Barry Greenstein’s accidental tweeting of direct messages in which he broadcasted to the world details of how much he’s stuck this summer and backing arrangements. (Dr. Pauly fills in a few details on that one, if yr curious.)

Speaking of Twitter, I also noticed that Daniel Negreanu had the day off yesterday, too, and that he spent some of his day firing off tweets about Rocky movies and (once again) chip counts.

Negreanu also found time to write a blog post yesterday, at the end of which he comments briefly about “the whole twitter thing.” He concludes by noting that “Drama Queens often use twitter to. . . well, create some drama!” and adds that some of the ways Twitter is used “can be destructive or just a plain waste of time.”

Kid Poker more insightful there than he realizes, I think.

I additionally had some time yesterday to catch up on some blog reading. Among the items I read was Bill Rini’s piece from a couple of weeks ago titled “What the World Series of Poker Means to Me” in which he criticizes how the Series is set up and covered.

Rini begins by characterizing the WSOP as a whole as “contrived” and suggesting those here reporting on it are “all trying to make something out of what is usually nothing.” “The vast majority of events during the WSOP are barely even newsworthy,” he continues, then fills out the rest of the piece with a catalogue of “predictable outcomes” (i.e., articles) one often finds coming out of the Rio this time of year.

Rini brings up some good points about how the Series has too many events and thus tends to yield a lot of redundant-seeming reporting that lacks true inspiration. I don’t perfectly agree with all of the gripes that appear in his catalogue, but I think I understand where he’s coming from with each.

The WSOP is too long. Punishingly so, for all involved. As Tom Schneider told me last year, “It's like flying to Australia every day. Only when you get there you're at the Rio. Again.” And sure, there’s a lot that is wrong with the “system” (as Rini puts it) in which those of us reporting on it find ourselves forced to operate.

But really, can’t we just enjoy it a little bit? Why must the WSOP constantly be surrounded by so much negativity and criticism -- about seemingly everything?

Today I will be watching and reporting on nine players who entered a $1,000 buy-in poker tournament. These nine survived a total field of 3,128, and now the winner will earn almost half a million dollars. A couple of the players are known by some in poker, but for the most part all are relatively obscure figures. In the grand scheme of things, anyway.

Will it be “newsworthy”? I happen to think so. But I realize many -- even those who love poker and invest a lot of time and energy thinking about what the WSOP means to them -- might not feel the same way.

But so what? It’s a game, and games are fun. And poker is especially fun, a kind of game that allows for the expression of personality, for narratives to develop, for surprise and suspense, for all sorts of outcomes that are anything but predictable.

So back I go. Yeah, I’ve seen other tourneys, other final tables. But I want to see how this one turns out.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 32: The Grand Games, Part 2

The DonkamentSo about a month ago -- right at the start of the World Series of Poker -- I made an attempt to discuss these $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em events. There are six of these on the schedule this year, essentially one per week. I had been assigned to help cover the first one (Event No. 3), which I did for the first two days when a massive field of 4,345 turned out.

In that earlier post, I noted how I tend not to refer to these events as “donkaments” (i.e., tournaments played by donkeys). Various reasons why, but probably the main one is I probably feel a relative kinship with a lot of the players for whom a $1,000 buy-in represents the most they want to lay out for an event. Maybe another way to look at it would be to say I’m a donkey, too.

So I proposed referring to them as “The Grand Games,” thus distinguishing them from the other bracelet events while perhaps offering a less pejorative-sounding appellation for them.

Now we are reaching the end of the 2010 WSOP. We’re less than a week away from the start of the Main Event, and my last couple of assignments are to cover the final two $1K events. I helped with Day 2 of Event No. 47 yesterday. I’ll also be helping cover Event No. 54 (the last $1K NLHE event) from beginning to end before moving over to help with the Main Event.

I’ll admit to feeling not exactly enamored with the $1K event early in the day. Didn’t really seem so grand at all, honestly.

There were 476 players left to start the Day 2 (out of 3,128 entrants). Among them were a few known entities, but no obvious storylines going in. Additionally, we were operating with a skeleton crew, having had one of our number call in sick. So as the first hands were dealt I wasn’t really feeling terribly encouraged about what the next 12 hours or so had in store.

The first 75 minutes went rather predictably, during which time 150 players hit the rail. We were scrambling to bust players from the counts and keep everything relatively in order on the accounting side of things, but it was hard going. The pace then screeched to a halt with the start of hand-for-hand play as the cash bubble had arrived.

And, I’ll admit, it all seemed a little less interesting or important than, say, the final table I’d recently helped cover in which Gavin Smith won his first bracelet. Or the WSOP Tournament of Champions that was going on the other side of Amazon.

Lol doncamentsOh, these “donkaments,” I found myself thinking ruefully. Who cares about ’em?

It took about a half-hour for the cash bubble to burst, then the carnage resumed. We would eventually make it all of the way down to just 33 players left by night’s end.

Funny thing, though. As the result of various encounters and some of the posts I got to write as the day wore on, I found myself getting more and more invested in the event, and even in the fortunes of some of the players, too. In other words, without even really realizing what was happening, I was starting to care about this here donkament. No shinola.

The fact is, at these “Grand Games” one finds a much different, more relaxed atmosphere than at pretty much any of the other WSOP events. Makes sense, since there does seem to be a correlation between the actual stakes of an event and the figurative “stakes” or significance attached to it. Also, since many of the players are amateurs who in some cases haven’t ever played a WSOP event before, they tend to approach it all much differently than do the seasoned vets.

One consequence of that different approach is that I tend to interact much more frequently with the players at these $1K events -- not because I try to, but because they start conversations with me (for various reasons) as I pass between the tables or on breaks. Some just want to be tracked in the counts, others have questions for me about how things go, and occasionally some even just want to talk about how their tourney is going.

Here are five quick anecdotes from yesterday that perhaps help illustrate this different “atmosphere” to which I’m referring:

1. Chip Count Challenge. When play reached hand-for-hand, there were something like 36 or 37 tables left. So a lot of waiting going on. I was passing between the tables when one of the dealers -- standing up so as to let the Tournament Director see his table had completed their hand -- asked me how I was doing. “Fine,” I said, then he surprised me by turning to the table and announcing “These guys will count your chips just like that! They’re like machines!”

I chuckled and immediately one of the players playfully challenged me to count his stack. He playfully covered his chips with his hands, exposed them for a couple of seconds, then covered them again. “How much?” he said. I’d gotten enough of a look to take a stab. “16?” I said. He counted. He had 15,400, and congratulated me on coming close.

2. Hands Across the Hemispheres. I was watching a hand when a player came up to me from a couple of tables over. He shook my hand and with a big grin told me he remembered me from LAPT Lima. He had played in the event, and recognized me from having covered it. I asked him his name. “Jacobo Bucaram,” he told me. “The only player from Ecuador,” he added. Subsequently, every time I passed by his table he caught my eye and gave me a big thumbs up.

3. A Shout out for the Ladies. Once the tourney had gotten down to about 100 players, one of them, Stacy Matuson-Taylor, came over to tell me how she was doing and also the status of the other remaining women in the event. “We need a shout out for the ladies!” she said, and I agreed. I remembered Matuson-Taylor from the Ladies event (where she finished 16th), she remembered me, too, and ended up touching base a few times before she finally was eliminated in 39th.

4. Mann, oh Mann. Yesterday we had two players with the exact same name -- Jason Mann. It took us a while to sort out the two Manns, but I was helped by the fact that one of them had come up to me to tell me who he was and how he knew there was a problem in the counts because of the coincidence. (The site doesn’t allow us to enter two players with the same name.) He wanted his family to be able to follow his progress online, but having two Jason Manns was making that difficult. I got his middle name and added it to his entry, and that was how we kept them distinguished for the rest of the night.

He really dug the idea of there being another player in the event with his same name, and told me he would love it if they made it to heads-up. “It would be a Mann on Mann battle,” I said, and he laughed. Alas, the other Jason Mann busted on the very last hand of the night, so the one I had spoken to ended up being the last Mann standing.

5. Am I Really the Leader? When play ended I was grabbing end-of-day counts as the players bagged their chips, and the one who turned out to be the end-of-day chip leader stopped me to ask me a couple of questions about the process, which having witnessed it enough times I was able to answer. He had one more question for me: “Does anybody have more?” He sounded a little tentative when asking, as if he were a little surprised he currently might be on top. I told him I hadn’t seen a bigger stack, something I could tell he was glad to hear.

There were other moments along the way, but perhaps those give some idea of how these “Grand Games” tend to go a little differently than the other events. They are definitely challenging to cover, but I have to say I very much like the personal interactions and being (hopefully) a positive part of the players’ experience playing in them.

I had been scheduled to cover the final table for this one tomorrow, but I’m hearing that they may just play the sucker through tonight. Will be checking in over at PokerNews to see.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 31: Break in the Routine

Break in the RoutineA rare day off yesterday, following seven straight days-nights-mornings reporting from the Rio. Indeed, since my return from LAPT Lima I’d been off exactly two days prior to yesterday. That’s 16 of 18 days of live bloggin’, and I actually went in the day before that stretch began and worked an unscheduled shift, too. Aside from one seven-hour day (the Ladies event final), the shortest days have all been around 12-13 hours, with a few stretching to 15-16.

One would think that working that much would make days off all the more coveted, but in fact it has a different effect. For me, anyway. Probably has something to do with the fact that we humans are such routine-seeking creatures. The fact is, I actually find the day off to be kind of uncomfortable -- a weird break from the familiar.

The way I usually phrase it to others is “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

That’s what I told Tommy Angelo yesterday morning when he let me know he was in town for the week. I first met Tommy last summer, after having exchanged emails for a few months previously following my reading and reviewing his excellent Elements of Poker. (Here’s that review.)

Tommy is a poker coach, and he’s in Vegas this week primarily to meet with some of his clients. He’s also a player, and so is taking the opportunity to join in the cash games at the Rio as well. That’s what he was doing yesterday, and in the early afternoon he took a break to have lunch with me and catch up.

We covered various topics during our hour together. I told him about my having recently moved over into full-time freelance writing. Being a writer himself, he liked the idea of making one’s living solely off of writing, although recognizes the challenge of trying to do so.

He told me about his plans for a second book, called Painless Poker, which will expand some of the ideas of Elements while also adding a lot of new material. Tommy’s enthusiasm for this new project was obvious (and inspiring). Such fervor I’d suggest is absolutely necessary for a writer to produce something worthwhile and of value. Put that with the achievement of Elements, and indications are this second book will be a good one, too.

I mentioned to Tommy how I’d just helped cover the final table at which Gavin Smith won his first WSOP bracelet, which led to our discussing Sam Chauhan, the “life coach” who has worked with Smith and other players recently. Tommy had read some of Chauhan’s articles as well as that recent Bluff cover story on him, and so is familiar with what Chauhan does and some of his ideas (more so than I am, I should add).

Tommy noted that he didn’t regard Chauhan as competition but rather as someone who perhaps helped legitimize the idea of having a poker coach. In other words, the attention Chauhan has received lately -- and the successes of his clients (e.g., Antonio Esfandiari’s deep run in last year’s WSOP Main Event, David Williams winning the WPT Championship this spring, Smith’s bracelet win, etc.) -- can only benefit people like Tommy who are able to offer similar guidance and advice to players. That made sense to me.

We parted, and as I did last summer following our meeting, I went to play a little afterwards. Checked in over at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon (where I’ve never played) and walked around the casino twice before finding the “poker room” -- actually just three tables or so -- where nothing was happening. So I ended up at the MGM for a brief session that lacked drama though I did book a modest win.

Wasn’t too long, though, before I realized I was really too tired to play and so took off. Soon I was back at the home away from home, falling into an involuntary slumber by early evening which stretched all of the way to this morning.

Prior to my lunch with Tommy yesterday, I did check in on the WSOP Tournament of Champions going on in a very sedate seeming Amazon Room. The three tables were going in separate corners of the spacious ballroom, there weren’t too many in the media box where I hung out briefly with Dr. Pauly and Pokerati Dan, and there didn’t seem to be many spectators around, either.

It was just the first day of the sucker, and I believe they only lost about five of the 27 players. Seemed a bit anticlimactic, though, on a first impression. (I think the original schedule had them playing down to nine yesterday, then coming back on July 4 to finish, but it appears they’ll be playing again today.)

I’ll be back at work today helping with Day 2 of Event No. 49, one of the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em events (a.k.a., the “donkaments” or “The Grand Games”). In fact, it looks like these $1K events are all I’ll be covering until the Main Event, as from this one I move to the last $1K NLHE, too (Event No. 54). We’ll see if I’m still calling them “grand” a week from now.

I believe I’ll be in the Amazon today, and so may be able to get a glimpse of how the TOC is going, too. You can follow both of those events, along with everything else WSOP, over at PokerNews’ live reporting page.

Then I’ll have another day off on Tuesday before facing another long stretch of consecutive work days. Can’t say I know what I’ll do with myself.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 30: “You’re winning this one”

Think Positive“You’re winning this one.”

So said Flipchip, the longtime WSOP photographer, to Gavin Smith near the end of Day 2 of Event No. 44, the $2,500 Mixed Hold’em event, when there were 11 players left. I’ve had the chance to work with Flipchip each of these last three summers, and was there letting him know who was left in the field as he came around to snap up some late night pics.

I don’t exactly remember Smith’s reply. Something self-deprecating like “I hope so” or “That’s the plan,” I think. But I do remember Flipchip’s response -- a wordless nod, eyes closed.

He’d already snapped a few of Smith before I’d arrived with the list of the other players and their seating assignments. While he needed others’ names, he obviously knew Smith already. Like most all of us.

And like I say, he seemed to know something else, too. It was like Flipchip had just spotted something a moment before through that camera he held at his side.

Smith is one of those players whom a lot of us who follow poker feel like we know even if we don’t. As a longtime poker podcast listener -- from really the very start of such things back about five years ago -- I’d spent many hours listening to “the Caveman” on shows like The Circuit, PokerWire, and PokerRoad Radio, where I always found Smith a funny, entertaining contributor who could be thoughtful at times, too, when required.

He’s also one of those pros who has always seemed willing to share opinions about issues others shy away from talking about, less concerned (than most) with some of the politicking that goes on, as well as the tiptoeing some are forced to do relative to their endorsement deals or the desire for such.

Put all that together with his frequent television appearances on the WPT, “Poker After Dark,” and other shows, and like I say one sort of feels like one knows the guy even if one doesn’t. And I think many probably were glad to see Smith finally break through last night and do just what FlipChip said he was going to do -- win his first WSOP bracelet.

Was quite the scene, in fact, with a crush of Smith’s friends and supporters surrounding the main feature table there in the Amazon when the final hand between Smith and Danny Hannawa played out. I was lucky enough to be on this event from start to finish, and so got to help with the chronicling of it all three days.

Was kind of a frantic event to cover, right through final table, with eliminations happening quickly throughout and a ton of action. Indeed, there was a moment somewhere in there last night when I looked up and saw reporters for other publications and sites -- people like B.J. Nemeth who spent most of the day and night circling the final table with his camera, shooting pics for the WSOP -- and kind of envied how they were able actually to watch the final table playing out, enjoying a broader perspective as they slowly pieced together their articles and other means of telling the “story” of the night.

I definitely would’ve liked to have spent more time relating various “color” from the final table, such as reporting on the shenanigans happening in the bleachers among Smith’s supporters, some of the table talk that arose, and even perhaps trying to relate something insightful in the blog about Smith’s appearance and demeanor.

Gavin SmithSmith has a bit of a party animal persona -- hence the “Caveman” tag from the podcasts – but during this event seemed to be playing a different role, with his suit jacket, eyeglasses, and fedora adding up to a more reserved, serious, sober Smith.

Would’ve liked to relate more along the way some of these other details from the evening (the kinds of things my fellow reporters likely wrote about in their articles), but I was too occupied getting down what the action was on the turn, etc.

Speaking of that changed look and deportment, I know Smith has gotten involved with this new poker “guru”-slash-life-coach Sam Chauhan with whom others have worked. I’m hoping actually to meet up this week with another poker coach -- my friend Tommy Angelo -- and might have to ask him about Chauhan.

Still, it was most certainly a fun final table to cover, and I was glad to be there to witness Smith’s triumph.

I was reminded more than once during the night of the very first final table I’d ever covered back at the start of the 2008 WSOP when Erick Lindgren won his first bracelet. That, too, was a mixed hold’em event, in fact. Lindgren, like Smith, definitely appeared to have an edge in the limit rounds over most at the final table. E-Dog also had a big rail there to support him, and there was the same festive atmosphere and celebration when he won.

When Flipchip uttered his statement of assurance to Smith night before last, I can’t say I paid much mind to it. Let’s not get carried away here, I probably would’ve said, if asked to respond. There are 11 left, Smith is in the middle of the pack, and a cooler or two in the limit rounds and he’s gonna miss the final table. That’s poker.

Then again, why not think positively, if given the choice? Imagining oneself succeeding generally does help one prepare for that eventuality. Or at least that’s what one often hears. Maybe I’ll ask Tommy about that, too.

Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt, either, to have someone who has seen three-plus decades’ worth of these things come around and tell you you’re winning this one.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 29: Fun and Games

Paper toss resultsDay 2 of Event No. 44, the $2,500 Mixed Limit/No-Limit Hold’em event, was shaping up to be an especially short second day yesterday. We began mid-afternoon with just 69 players, and well before midnight had already gotten down to just 11. But then came a two-and-a-half hour stretch during which there were no eliminations, and it ended up being about 2:30 a.m. before I’d made it back to the home away from home.

Lost both Eli Elezra and Jim Collopy yesterday, but we have a final table with Gavin Smith (looking for his first WSOP bracelet) and Dwyte Pilgrim -- both friendly, likable characters (in my opinion). There are others at this final table, too, who have some personality and aren’t hard to root for, so it ought to be a decent final table to follow.

You can check in on the coverage today over at PokerNews, but can also watch this one streaming sort-of-live over at ESPN3. After a month of back-and-forthing over various issues, we finally are going to have a few WSOP final tables available online, and this one for Event No. 44 just happens to be the first. Here’s the link for that (I think).

Like Thursday, yesterday was actually one of the more pleasant days working I’ve had this summer. A number of factors affect how the days go, obviously, but yesterday just seemed to be one in which most everything went the way it was supposed to go, and there were a lot of grins along the way, too.

With such a manageable field size -- just 69 to start -- it wasn’t hard to keep track of folks and know who everyone was pretty much from the start. The pace was quite rapid at times, thus creating a little bit of stress on the reporting side, perhaps. But it felt like we stayed on top of things reasonably well as the field shrunk down to three, two, and finally one table.

And like I say, there were some grins along the way, too, such as occurred during the last break of the evening, a little after midnight.

I had started that break counting chips and was entering the remaining players’ totals when I noticed little paper balls landing on either side of me there on the lower tier of the media press box. Looked up and saw that class clown Dr. Pauly leading others in an impromptu game of paper toss. They were aiming for a small plastic cup to my left, and no one was coming close.

My chip counts entered, I decided to do a little trash-talking -- “You guys are pathetic!” I chimed -- and made my way up to the upper tier to show ’em how it’s done. Alas, I wasn’t any more successful than they had been, and ended up providing Benjo an opportunity to deliver the line of the night:

“Shamus!” he cried. “Your balls are too small!”

After what seemed like hundreds of attempts from at least ten of us, Timothy of Bluff Magazine finally hit the target, earning the respect and admiration of all. (That’s a picture above of his winning shot -- and just a few of the many, many misses.)

Probably a “had-to-be-there” kind of scene, but as play resumed everyone had big grins on their faces and that feeling that it ain’t such a bad gig to be there reporting on people playing games. And to be working alongside others who love games, too.

Like I say, check out PokerNews today to follow our coverage of Event #44, and perhaps look in over at ESPN3, too.

Don’t expect to see me tossing paper balls at a cup in the background, though. Unless everyone else is doing it, that is.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 28: Lull

LullRelatively speaking, Day 28 of the 2010 World Series of Poker was a quiet one. Just four tourneys were played yesterday, with only a single final table.

Phil Hellmuth was at that final table -- for Event No. 41, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-low Split-8 or Better -- and had he finished higher than seventh there we might’ve had a bit more spectacle at the Rio than we did. But for the most part both the Amazon and Pavilion rooms were fairly subdued. Kind of like the WSOP as a whole was taking a bit of a collective breather, a chance to recharge before the last three-plus weeks of crazy.

To be honest, I was feeling a little subdued myself when the day began, having taken the lovely Vera Valmore back to McCarran Airport in the morning. Though I had to work too much while she was here, we had a fun week together. As I told a few people, life seemed a little more normal while she was here.

There was only one new event yesterday, Event No. 44, the $2,500 Mixed Limit/No-Limit Hold’em event, and that’s the one to which I was assigned. The sucker was scheduled to start at noon, and our first impression of the room was to say “Where the hell is everybody?” Seemed like most showed up at least 10 or 15 minutes late for this one -- a little unusual, especially for events with higher than $1,500 buy-ins. After four solid weeks of poker, it could be players aren’t quite as anxious as they were before to get out of bed and back into seats around a table.

Ultimately 507 players did find seats and the play went surprisingly fast, with only 69 bagging up chips after they had played ten one-hour levels (30 minutes of NLHE/30 minutes of LHE). We surmised that perhaps the no-limit guys were spewing in the limit rounds, and the limit experts were giving away more than they should in the no-limit hands.

Ended up being a very pleasant day work-wise, which brightened my mood considerably as the day wore on. One highlight of the day was hanging out with Dr. Pauly for part of the dinner break and discussing various topics including Hellmuth, Lost Vegas, the NBA draft, Phish setlists, freelance writing, and the current state of poker media in general and WSOP coverage in particular.

Probably spent most of our time on that latter subject, and I came away having benefited from Pauly’s insights. I benefited by having been there in the media box when Jessica Welman arrived with cupcakes, too.

Eli Elezra ended the day as our chip leader in Event No. 44. I wrote about one of his hands yesterday, kind of a funny one during which he delivered a lot of humorous table talk (which I toned down just a tad in the post). Elezra is a fun one to cover, as is Jim “Mr_BigQueso” Collopy who ended the day second in chips. Wouldn’t be bad at all to see either or both make it deep in this one.

Scott Montgomery receives his WSOP braceletOne other kind of interesting moment to share from yesterday. We were in the Pavilion, positioned close to the stage where the bracelet ceremonies take place. At the first break, they awarded two bracelets, one to Scott Montgomery (for Event No. 36, one of the $1,000 NLHE events) and the other to Steven Kelly, winner of Event No. 39 (the $1,500 NLHE Shootout).

I had covered the final table for Event No. 39 the night before, in which Kelly ultimately beat Jeffrey King heads-up to win. Interestingly, both Kelly and King -- runner-up in Event No. 39 -- were playing in Event No. 44, and King was seated at Table #1, right in front of the stage. I thought it a little poignant to consider his being in such close proximity to the awarding of the bracelet which he came so close to winning just hours before. In Event No. 44, King lasted until the final level last night before busting, but the 21-year-old Kelly is still there with an average stack when we return today.

This may actually be a rare event in which we get to the final nine on Day 2. Should be a little more noisy today at the Rio, with five events happening and a couple of final tables. Head over to PokerNews to follow it all.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 27: Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)

Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)Was reporting on the last day of Event No. 39, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout yesterday. Actually the event had turned into something other than a “shootout” since 14 players had made it through the first two rounds, so we were basically looking at a 14-person sit-n-go, eventually won by Steven Kelly around 2 a.m. this morning.

Event No. 39 was attracting a bit of attention during the first part of the day yesterday since both J.C. Tran and Annette Obrestad were part of the final day field. But both went out early -- boom, boom -- shy of the final table, and thus a lot of the potential drama for the event was eliminated with them.

Tran ran into some hard luck during the first couple of levels and went out in 13th. Meanwhile, Obrestad had the chip lead briefly early on, but doubled up a short stack twice in short succession, thereby becoming a short stack herself.

Then came a hand in which Derric Haynie opened from the button, Obrestad reraised all in from the small blind, then Michael Pesek reshoved from the big blind. Haynie thought a bit, then called (having both covered), turning over pocket tens. Pesek had AdQc, and Obrestad was in a tough spot with Ah7s. “Sevens!” was the yell from the rail, but none came and Haynie scored a double-knockout when his tens held.

We then scurried over to the main stage, where the remaining nine were quickly in their seats and awaiting a restart. As I got over there and began to set up, I heard the players laughing about something one of them had said a little while earlier. Soon I realized they were referring to a post I had written in which I’d reported some humorous table talk.

Michael Cooper, who ultimately finished eighth, had said something funny after surviving an all-in situation versus Dustin Dirksen, and I think Dirksen had read the post on his iPhone and shared it with the table. Here’s that post, if you are curious.

Last summer I wrote more than once about the whole Twitter-texting phenomenon in a post called “Land of a 1000 Reporters.” There I was remarking on how others -- namely the players themselves -- were also “reporting” on the event. Of course, once a tournament reaches the money players are made to put away those electronic devices, although they can pull them out during breaks and write or read to their heart’s content.

This was something a little different, though -- players reading and responding to what I had reported. Kind of uncanny, actually, to have the players on whom one is reporting almost immediately aware of what one writes about them. A little later in the evening we had a couple of final table spectators -- including the Hinkle brothers (Grant and Blair) -- let us know they were reading our reports, too.

Last summer I concluded that I didn’t mind all the Tweeting so much, regarding it more as a complement to the coverage we were trying to provide rather than competition. Feel the same way this year about it, and I also don’t mind so much that the players are themselves following the coverage as the tourney goes.

It is a little weird to think about, though. Compare any other sporting event and try to imagine those competing also directly interacting with the reporting on their event as it goes.

Our tourney eventually ended about 2 a.m., and as we were putting up the last post of the night the power unexpectedly went out in the Amazon Room. We heard it went out all over the Rio, and perhaps elsewhere on the strip, although those reports could have been exaggerated, I think.

Was a weird scene, having been suddenly plunged into total darkness. Not to mention a brief moment of total silence as the hum of all the machines had abruptly stopped. The quiet didn’t last long, however, as a loud roar soon went up, with someone loudly pleading “Cover your chips!” over the top.

The lights come back on at the RioAbout 15 seconds later some lights had come back on, and within about five minutes order seemed mostly restored, although for the tourneys still going they had to go on an unscheduled break to set things completely aright. That picture to the left is of WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla and Bluff Magazine’s Jessica Welman with our event’s winner, Kelly, just after the brief blackout. Their interviewing of Kelly had been interrupted momentarily, and there they are trying to get back on track.

Luckily for us, we were done already so I got back to the hotel in time to spend one last night with Vera before taking her to the airport this morning. Tough stuff, this being apart, and as I mentioned last week this will probably be the last summer I spend entirely out here in Vegas. More likely in the future I look for a way just to come for a couple of weeks, perhaps for the Main Event only.

No time off for your humble gumshoe, as I’m back in the Rio again today to help with another event, Event No. 44, the $2,500 Mixed Limit/No-Limit Hold’em event. Join the players and people on the rail and follow the coverage yourselves over at PokerNews.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 26: Observing Obrestad

Annette ObrestadThe last three days have been a bit disjointed for me. Have been trying to spend some quality time with Vera, although unfortunately I’ve had to work and so that’s been a bit of a challenge. But we’ve still managed to have some fun during the hours I’m not at the Rio.

When I have been at the Rio, I’ve been covering different events each of the last three days -- the $10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship on Sunday (Event No. 35), the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em-Pot-Limit Omaha on Monday (Event No. 38), and the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout yesterday (Event No. 39) -- which adds to the disjointed feeling. But I’m back on the final day of the Shootout today, which I’m looking forward to, as Annette Obrestad won her second straight table and will be there to play in the final.

Incidentally, the Shootout ended up attracting 1,397 players who played 140 (mostly) ten-handed tables the first day, then 14 ten-handed tables yesterday. Those 14 return today to play what is essentially a two-table sit-n-go in which each will start with the same starting stack (450,000 chips). Kind of messes up the Shootout format a little -- plus the payouts got a little screwy, too. But that’s how it is.

It took Obrestad until about 1 a.m. or so yesterday to win her table, so she was one of the last to move on to the final. As a result, I got the chance to watch her play a little more than I have thus far this summer.

I first saw Obrestad in an WSOP event a couple of weeks ago. It was just after I’d returned to Vegas from Peru, and I had gone in to help out on Event No. 17, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em event that had attracted most of the big names. I wasn’t scheduled to work that day, but had gone in primarily just to reacquaint myself with the site and some of its features, since during the days I had worked before I’d left things hadn’t been functioning so smoothly.

Eventually I’d end up taking over for a colleague who wasn’t feeling well, and so it turned into a regular day of live blogging. Before that, however, I was in a more passive mode, helping with entering chip counts or whatever else was needed, and not really going out onto the floor much to see what was going on.

Anyhow, it was during that earlier part of the day I did take a tour around to see the field, and I remember being a little startled to see Obrestad, standing out most consipicously from the other players at her table. I don’t believe she had played in many (or perhaps any) events prior to that one, as she had had some obligations that had prevented her joining the Series at its start.

I’ve long gotten past feeling at all starstruck around poker “celebrities.” I know during the first days of the WSOP a couple of years ago, there were a few moments here and there where I was marveling a little at seeing folks like Brunson, Hellmuth, or Ivey in such close proximity, but that went away pretty quickly.

For example, just a few days ago I was covering the $10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship, and was there to catch Tom Dwan’s bustout hand in Round 2. He and his opponent, Andrew Rosskamm, were one of the last matches to finish in that round, and so all of the surrounding tables were empty. It was just the dealer, Dwan, Rosskamm, and Erik Seidel, sitting at the other end of the table watching the match. And me, a few feet to the side, noting the action.

I recall thinking (fleetingly) then that some might find this an interesting spot in which to be. And it was -- Dwan is a pretty compelling figure to watch play. But then again, it was also just another hand. Like all those whom we see on television or who seem somehow “larger than life” to us, they’re just folks like you and me, and it perhaps becomes easier to appreciate that when dealing with them in person.

That said, I’ll admit to having that same sort of silly “OMG” feeling when first spotting Obrestad in that $5K event. It is really her? The one whom we’ve read and seen and heard so much about? I remember Dr. Pauly wrote something around that time about how seeing her play at her first WSOP like this was “like [seeing] a young Miles Davis perform at clubs in NYC in the early 1950s.” I knew what he meant. Something special going on here, I couldn’t help thinking. I should really pay attention.

In terms of her appearance and dress, Obrestad obviously stood out last night as one of the few women in the room, although watching her one soon gets the sense that she very much belongs. That is to say, of all 140 players I saw yesterday around the tables, she looked as comfortable (or more so) as anyone in the room.

She wore her familiar wrap-around shades, and had on a long-sleeved sweater to help combat the air-conditioned chill of the Amazon. Obrestad generally sits very still, her arms resting on the edge of the table, hands stopping the cards as they are pitched her way. She had the sleeves of her sweater pulled forward over her hands so that only her fingers, with painted nails, were exposed. When the action reached her she would carefully check her cards, then more often than not slowly pull a few chips off the top of her stack and toss them forward, following a similar motion each time.

Not unlike Dwan, actually, was Obrestad in the conservation of movement. That said, she was no robot at the table, and often between hands would chat with the other players -- about hands, but also about other things, too. Vera was there last night for a little while and watched Obrestad from the rail, and she noted how sometimes Obrestad would let out an infectious giggle that reminded one she was indeed still young.

But poker-wise, she’s seems anything but youthful. My sense was she was never seriously threatened in her match yesterday, although she did need a double-up late to survive. Perhaps it is her demeanor and successful hiding of tells that is affecting my impression of her, but it never seemed to me like she was unsure about what to do next (something I can’t always say of all players I watch play).

Like I say, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Obrestad does in today’s final. J.C. Tran also made it through. I had the chance to cover Tran when he won his first WSOP bracelet two years ago, and he’s another one I find fairly fascinating to watch. Would definitely make things interesting if those two made it to the final nine today and perhaps further.

You can’t watch, too, unfortunately. But you can follow our reports of what we see over at PokerNews starting a little later today.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 25: Ivey, Ivey, Ivey

Phil Ivey and Bill Chen play heads up in Event No. 37Another interesting day-slash-night-slash-early-morning at the Rio yesterday. The big story was Phil Ivey winning his eighth bracelet in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event (Event No. 37). I was working Day 2 of Event No. 38, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha event with Change100, but we had a good view of the H.O.R.S.E. final table as it played out.

And what a final table! Besides Ivey there were Chad Brown, Jeffrey Lisandro, John Juanda, Bill Chen, and Kenneth Aldridge (a bracelet winner from last year). Also there was Dave Baker -- not the David Baker who won the $10,000 Deuce-to-Seven Lowball Championship (Event No. 19), but the other David Baker who has been tearing up the WSOP this year.

A sizable crowd gathered around that final table, including for a little while the lovely Vera Valmore. I thought about getting Wicked Chops over to get a “Girls on the Rail” pic of her, but didn’t see ’em.

By the time our event had concluded (after 3 a.m.), Ivey and Chen were heads up with Chen enjoying a better than 3-to-1 advantage. (Above is a pic of Ivey and Chen playing heads up.) I considered sticking around to watch the conclusion, but realized at that point that I’d been at the Rio for something like 29-30 of the last 36 hours. And as it wasn’t clear how long heads up was going to go, I decided I’d read about who won in the morning.

You can read about it, too, over at PokerNews’ live blog, where F-Train and TassieDevil provided excellent coverage of Event No. 37 from beginning to end. Check it out.

Today I help cover yet another event -- my third different one in three days -- Event No. 39, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout. Annette Obrestad is one of 140 players looking to make it through one more ten-handed table and to the final day tomorrow. Check out the coverage over at PokerNews.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 24: The Match Without End

The Match Without EndYesterday I was assigned to help cover what was scheduled to be the final day of Event No. 35, the $10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship. That had been the plan, anyway.

Play began at 3 p.m. We came back to eight players sitting down to play quarterfinal matches. Three of the matches ended relatively quickly, with the Ernst Schmejkal-Vanessa Rousso match lasting a bit longer, taking about three-and-a-half hours. The two semifinal matches then saw one end within a half-hour (Schmejkal’s win over Alexander Kostritsyn), and the other lasting a couple of hours (Ayaz Mahmood’s win over Jason Somerville).

That set us up for the final, which would be played as a best-of-three. The first match started at 10:45 p.m.

Five hours later, the first match was still going, with Schmejkal holding a small advantage over Mahmood. The players started with insanely large chip stacks – 3.84 million apiece -- having carried all of the chips from their previous seven matches forward. Blinds began at 15,000/30,000 and levels lasted 40 minutes, so even after five hours the players still had medium stacks (avg. 32 big blinds).

And the way the pair were playing -- limping, checking, folding -- it didn’t appear there was any end in sight.

At some point during that match, the tournament director with which we began noted that the players could decide to finish the best-of-three tomorrow. When he proposed that to the players, they sounded like they might be leaning in that direction, but no decision was made then.

By the time we reached 3:45 a.m., I was starting to feel a little desperate about the whole situation. It wasn’t looking like this match was ending soon. And it wasn’t clear yet whether the players would choose to stop after that or continue on into the second match.

Our original TD/announcer had left us, replaced by another who couldn’t have been less enthused about the event. He rarely bothered to announce bet sizes (kind of essential to those of us trying to cover the event from media row). He’d even take entire hands off, sitting over in a chair by the side of the stage.

At one point the two dozen or so spectators still watching asked him why he wasn’t announcing hands, and he said he was waiting for something exciting to happen.

I couldn’t blame him too much. It became harder and harder to blog hands as the night wore on, especially given that the players were mostly folding preflop or on the flop, with very few raises. In fact, we’d gotten to that five-hour mark with only a single instance of a player being all in and at risk of losing.

I mentioned a couple of days ago being asked by someone about the most boring final table I’d ever worked. I had a little trouble coming up with an answer to the question then. But I think I probably have a ready answer now.

Somewhere after 4 a.m., the players seemed to hit a wall and the all-in bets finally started coming. But the all-in player kept surviving, and we made it to yet another break -- and the six-hour mark -- without the issue of the first match having being decided.

During the break, the tournament director asked Schmejkal if he wanted to keep playing after this first match concluded. “Me not,” said Schmejkal. “Hopefully him not, too,” he added with a smile, adding that he thought Mahmood was pretty exhausted.

The players returned from their break and as play resumed quickly agreed that they should come back tomorrow rather than try to play a second (or third) match tonight. Mahmood said he’d like to start back at 7 p.m. As the phone call was being made to see if that could work, he added what Tim (my blogging partner) and I thought to be ominous-sounding words.

“If seven is not possible, then I’d like to finish it now,” he said.

Thankfully, the word came back that 7 p.m. was possible, and so finally we really could imagine an end to this night. I'm going to let you read the PokerNews blog to find out how that end happened (if you are curious).

As for me, I'm going to bed.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 23: The Act You’ve Known for All These Years

Cheap Trick performed Sgt. PepperWas an especially fun day off from the WSOP for your humble gumshoe yesterday, spent entirely with Vera Valmore.

The day began with a pleasant visit with Poker Grump and Cardgrrl at the Hash House where we enjoyed a big brunch. Vera and I then drove over to the Stratosphere -- something we’d never done -- and went to the top. Didn’t partake in any of the rides or bungee jumping, satisfied just to look and wonder there some 1,100 feet above Sin City.

Kind of reminded me a little of Vera and I going to the top of the Eiffel Tower many years ago. It wasn’t long before we were in the shadow of the Vegas version of the Eiffel Tower as by dinner time we were driving over to the Paris for the Cheap Trick concert.

We got there early, picked up our tickets, and wandered around a bit before stopping at La Creperie where we had a light dinner and did a bit of people watching. The doors of the Paris Théâtre opened at seven, and we were in our seats not too long after that, watching the place gradually fill to capacity by the eight o’clock starting time.

The show began with a brief film featuring interviews with Cheap Trick about the show. The film interspersed some funny pop culture clips in which Cheap Trick comes up as well, e.g., Mike Damone scalping Cheap Trick tix in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Homer Simpson championing the band, and clip of Bob Dole (from “SNL”?) saying how “Bob Dole stands by his voting record” and also that “Bob Dole stands by his favorite record -- Cheap Trick Live at the Budakon.”

The curtain went up, revealing the Sgt. Pepper Orchestra (about 20 strong) situated on an upper tier above the stage, with a half-dozen singers over to the left, with the stage and lighting all reflecting that late-Beatles psychedelia style one would expect. The show began with a nifty rendition of “I Am the Walrus,” then Cheap Trick came out.

Cheap Trick performing 'Sgt. Pepper'Robin Zander (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) was outfitted in all white with a military-looking hat, Tom Petersson (bass, backing vocals) was in a lime green suit jacket, and Rick Nielsen (lead guitar, backing vocals) had a black baseball cap and wacky jacket. They were supported by a keyboardist and another guitarist, plus Daxx Nielsen (Rick’s son) on drums, filling in for Bun E. Carlos (still in band, but not touring).

They crashed into the opening title song, then swiftly and ably moved through “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” and “Fixing a Hole.” The covers were all quite faithful, though they opened up space occasionally to rock out, particularly in the latter two. These guys are all in their late 50s or early 60s, but you’d never guess they weren’t in their 20s given the energy they exert. Nielsen remains a blistering pop/rock guitarist, and there doesn’t seem to have been any dropping off for Zander’s voice. (Compare Roger Daltrey at the Super Bowl.)

An Indian ensemble helping with 'Within You Without You'Case in point was “She’s Leaving Home,” in which Zander hit all of those melancholy-producing high notes perfectly. For that one the band had left the stage, with only the orchestra supporting Zander. They returned for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” then an Indian ensemble was brought out for an especially cool, spot-on cover of “Within You Without You,” sung by Petersson.

Zander donned all black for the remainder of side two of the LP. Nielsen donned a series of loud jackets and guitars throughout the night. They moved through “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lovely Rita,” and “Good Morning, Good Morning,” with the band again incorporating a few jams along the way, especially in the latter song, although mainly keeping to the originals. They rocked the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise as well, then “A Day in the Life” followed, which made full use of the orchestra, of course.

The show was only half over at that point. There was a brief instrumental interlude with the orchestra playing “The Flame,” then the band returned to play about a half-dozen of their own hits, including “Dream Police,” “I Want You to Want Me,” and “Surrender.” Being a fan of the band for all these years, I was really pleased about that segment being included in the show.

The show concludesThe show ended with the final medley from Abbey Road (“Golden Slumbers” through “The End”), with an “All You Need Is Love” postscript replete with paper hearts falling from the ceiling.

We had excellent seats, about 10 rows from the stage, left of center a little and thus almost in range to catch one of Nielsen’s guitar picks, of which he tossed out probably 200 by night’s end. (I think the dude sitting in front of me got one.) A great show, and obviously one that fans of the Beatles and/or Cheap Trick should enjoy.

In a way, the Sgt. Pepper album was always kind of a put-on, that is, the Beatles pretending to be another band putting on a show. So conceptually speaking, it didn’t seem odd at all for another band to take a turn at playing the role. And they played the hell out of it, giving it their own personality. Everyone leaving the theater had big grins on their face. Guaranteed to raise a smile, indeed.

Today I resume my role as Shamus, helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews. I return to the $10,000 Heads-Up NLHE event (Event No. 35), which is now down to just eight players. The quarters and semis will be one and done today, then the finals will be a best-of-three affair. The round of eight match-ups are Jason Somerville vs. Kido Pham, Faraz Jaka vs. Ayaz Mahmood, Alexander Kostritsyn vs. Ludovic Lacay, and Ernst Schmejkal vs. Vanessa Rousso.

See who among them takes down the $625,682 first prize and bracelet over at PokerNews.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 22: Heads Up!

Heads Up!Fun day yesterday. First Vera arrived, which suddenly helped make life seem a lot more normal. Then I got to help report on the first two rounds of Event No. 35, the $10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship, an event that attracts a ton of big names and provides a high degree of entertainment for observers -- not too mention lots and lots to write about for those of us reporting.

Was paired with the endlessly clever and talented Snoopy for the first time this summer. If for some reason you aren’t familiar with Snoopy’s writing, check the Day 1 blog from yesterday for a sample. Also add his Black Belt Poker blog to your WSOP reading list, if it isn’t there already.

When we first arrived late yesterday afternoon, there was some confusion about where exactly the matches were going to take place. We were being told the Amazon room, but they needed 64 tables (with two matches played at each end of each table) to play the first round, and there weren’t even a dozen tables free in Amazon just a half-hour before start time.

Finally we saw they’d carved out some space in the Pavilion, and we got set up in a cramped space off to the side and were ready to go in time to begin reporting.

A bit of a whirlwind reporting on the first round, when 128 matches were happening at once, with bustouts beginning with the very first hands. I didn’t really look too closely at the structures beforehand, but the matches seemed to go especially fast. (Would be interesting to compare the structures for this event to, say, what they employ in the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.)

The levels were just 20 minutes long. We are used to hour-long levels in the other events, but, of course, in heads up hands can be dealt at a much faster clip than in nine-handed games. But like I say folks were busting out very quickly, and the first round was done in a little over three hours. The second round also went by swiftly, it seemed, with the last match finishing in three-and-a-half hours or so.

Safe to say Phil Ivey stole the show yesterday. He was simultaneously playing in the $2,500 pot-limit hold’em/pot-limit Omaha event (Event No. 33), and so when he sat down for his first round match with Michael Mizrachi, he raised, then four-bet all in with AdJh, and Mizrachi called with pocket nines. Ivey spiked an ace on the river, and was back over in the Amazon Room having advanced to the second round.

His opponent in Round 2 was Victor Ramdin, and Ramdin, too, was playing in the PLH/PLO event. So a table was set up over in the Amazon for the pair to play their match during the breaks of that event. However, the tourney clock ran for them, so the blinds rose accordingly. Ivey won that match, too, and comes back today for the round of 64.

Ivey also made it through to Day 3 of Event No. 33, where he sits ninth in chips with 14 remaining. So it appears he’ll probably once again be the focus of attention today.

(One other player was double-dipping as well, Justin “Boosted J” Smith, but his opponent wasn’t in Event No. 33. Not sure exactly how their match was conducted over in the Amazon, but Smith lost.)

I have the day off today to spend with Vera, but will be back over there with the Heads-Up event tomorrow to see it through to its conclusion. Have a feeling Sunday will be a much longer day, with three rounds’ worth of matches, including the final which is played best-of-three.

Meanwhile, check in over at PokerNews to see how they go from 64 to 8, as well as to monitor Phil Ivey’s quest for an eighth bracelet in the PLH/PLO.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 21: Crazy Rhythms

'Crazy Rhythms' by The Feelies (1980)Covered the final day of Event No. 28, the $2,500 pot-limit Omaha event yesterday. Had a ton of big names in that one early on, but by the final table we were watching a lot of players with only modest career winnings, many of whom were from various European countries.

Crazy rhythm to the day, with long sluggish stretches punctuated by breathless flurries of action.

We returned to 12 players, and it didn’t take long to lose a couple at which point we moved over to one of the feature tables where they played ten-handed. The next elimination came quickly, too, and we were thinking the night might continue to move along at the same rapid pace.

Then suddenly things slowed down considerably, and it seemed like we’d never lose another player. Took a couple of hours for the first to fall from the final table, and we went to dinner with eight left. Got back and Tommy Le -- who had been the chip leader for a short while at one point -- became real aggressive and as a result quickly lost most, then all of his chips to go out in eighth.

Then another big lull, then suddenly four eliminations within a single one-hour level. Took awhile to get to heads-up between L.J. Klein and Miguel Proulx, and when both players started out showing patience it looked once again like we were going to be there a good while.

Earlier in the evening my blogging partner, Chad, asked me what was the most boring final table I’d ever covered. I had to think a little, but was reminded of an event from 2008 -- the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event -- which wasn’t necessarily the most boring final table I’ve seen but was certainly one of the strangest.

In that one, the first four eliminations came very quickly (in less than 70 hands), then Joe Commisso and Richard Lyndaker ended up playing 209 hands -- something like six hours’ worth -- before Commisso finally won. I knew it was that many hands because we were reporting hand-for-hand at that one, and my mind was fairly fried by the end. “Kafkaesque, It Was” was how I titled the post here describing that night.

Was reminded of that again after Klein and Proulx had pushed back and forth for 45 minutes with the result being their stacks being relatively even. It was after 1 a.m., each player had about 70-75 big blinds, and as I say it looked like we might be there a while.

Then boom, it was over. The last hand began with an all-spade flop, and it really didn’t seem like these two patient players were going to get too crazy in this spot. Klein led on the flop, and Proulx just called. The turn was a blank, and this time Proulx bet out rather big, and Klein called. The river didn’t pair the board either, and when Proulx checked it really felt as though we’d see either Klein check back or perhaps make a small bet to take it.

But Klein surprisingly shoved -- the pot was big enough at this point for him to do so -- and Proulx instacalled, flipping over the nut flush. Klein only had two pair, and his losing hand was scooped up so quickly we only caught a quick glimpse of his cards (a little frustrating). Ended up talking to the dealer and tourney director/announcer afterwards just to confirm what we could of the hand before reporting it.

Still a very late night again, not getting to bed until 2:30 a.m. When you factor in the couple of hours of prep that go into these days (writing intros, player bios, handling various back-end things for the blog), we’re talking another 14-15 hour shift full of scribblin’.

But I’m up early today, excited because the lovely Vera Valmore at last arrives this morning for a week-long visit. Will get to spend most of the day with her today, then I’ll be working again tonight. Snoopy and I will be reporting from Day 1 of Event No. 35, the $10,000 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship, which doesn’t start until 5 p.m.

Then I’m off tomorrow. That pic above is the cover of the The Feelies’ great 1980 LP Crazy Rhythms. They do a Beatles cover on that one. Speaking of, Vera and I are going to be seeing Cheap Trick do their Sgt. Pepper show at the Paris tomorrow evening, which ought to be a good time. (Was writing about that show months ago, in fact.)

Couldn’t be more happy about Vera coming now. This summer has been more exhausting than in the past, I think, for various reasons. Folks are being stretched thin, plus there has been extra pressure on everyone this time around that isn’t necessarily making it easier to perform and/or endure. As was demonstrated by those guys at the final table yesterday, one can only operate at a high level of concentration for so long before something gives.

So I’m doubly glad that Vera will be here to help make things seem a little more normal for the next week. To help when it comes to these crazy rhythms.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 20: Which Event Is This?

Busy Busy BusyWas in the Amazon Room yesterday, parked in a very full Media Box from early afternoon ’til a little after 3 a.m. helping cover Day 2 of Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event. Was one of those days that goes on and on and ends up feeling like at least a couple of days.

Actually the way the day played out, it really did feel like two distinct sessions, pre- and post-dinner.

Before the break, it was just we reporters and our one event, so to speak. It often happens that one gets so involved in the particular event one is covering, the rest of the Series gets shut out of one’s awareness. Yeah, there’s other stuff going on here, but I have to get another round of counts right now. And who’s the guy in the gray hoodie in Seat 1 over at Table 374?

That’s how it was until dinner, during which time our event played down from 102 players to 53, with the cash bubble bursting just a couple of minutes before the break (at 54).

Then we came back and it seemed like the whole WSOP was happening right in our laps. There were six different events happening yesterday at the Rio, and so tables were being used everywhere, with at least four of those events sharing space there in the Amazon. Seemed like we heard that question “Which event is this?” over and over again yesterday as people wandered to and fro amid all of the action.

As our event played down to the final 12 players who will come back today, the final table for Event No. 27, the $1,500 stud/8 event, began and ended right in front of us, meaning that table and an often sizable rail stood in between where we sat and the tables where the PLO event was happening.

Not a huge problem, really, and in fact we had it better than our colleagues sitting beside us in the Media Box (FerricRamsium and Change100) who were covering Day 2 of Event No. 29, the $10,000 LHE Championship. They had both the stud/8 event and our tourney in between them and their action.

All the tourneys playing out in such close physical proximity did mean a lot of noise and other distractions, of course. Especially while Karina Jett enjoyed her chip lead at the stud/8 final table, since she attracted a large number of friends, fans, and family to root her on. She eventually finished fourth, another near-miss for women in open-bracelet events this summer.

Greg Mueller was among those who came around to watch Jett, and at one point we chatted with Mueller about the recently completed WSOP Tournament of Champions voting. Having one a couple of bracelets last summer, Mueller was eligible for the WSOP TOC.

About a month ago I wrote a post “Checking in on the 2010 WSOP Tournament of Champions Voting” in which I observed there hadn’t been much change at all in the top 50 over the first couple of months of voting. Nor was there much movement during the last weeks of voting either, it seems, as the 20 players who got voted in were the exact same top 20 vote-getters listed on April 16. You can see the full list of TOC participants here.

Mueller expressed some surprise to us that in the end it only took a little over 5,000 votes for Antonio Esfandiari to sneak into the top 20 and land a spot. He said if he’d have known that’s all it would take, he might have campaigned a bit more and tried harder to win a seat himself, then play the million-dollar freeroll for a charity.

Like I say, the stud/8 event ended before we were done -- kind of anticlimactically, really, as there didn’t seem to be anyone left to support the winner, David Warga, by the time he won the sucker. Quite a contrast from the ladies event final table (as I was mentioning a few posts back), where all nine players seemed to have significant rooting sections in attendance.

In the PLO, we had T.J. Cloutier and Chau Giang battling for the chip lead with 40 to go, but both suffered swift collapses to drop out well short of the final table (Cloutier in 38th and Giang in 20th).

Of our final 12, Joe Serock is probably the best known. I covered him at a final table last summer, the one in which he finished runner-up to Brock Parker. (Wrote quite a bit here about that one.) I remember on the bio sheet Serock filled out for that final table how he responded to the question about other interests and hobbies. “I just play poker,” was his answer. I wonder if he wrote anything different last night when filling out the sheet for today.

Tommy Le, (Nam's brother), is also among the final 12 players, which as might be expected in a PLO event include a lot of non-U.S. representation, with players from France, Germany, England, Bulgaria, and Canada among them.

Will be another busy day at the WSOP today, with six events going on once again. We’ll be honed in on our final table, though, and so I’m guessing won’t be as conscious of the other goings-on as we were yesterday. Of course, you don’t have to be as narrow in your focus, as you can follow all the events over at PokerNews’ live reporting.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 19: The Day One Debate

Day 1Yesterday I helped cover Day 1 of Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event for PokerNews. Started with 596 runners and ended the day with around 100. Ten one-hour levels were played, so the three of us covering the event -- Chad, my blogging partner, and Andy, our field reporter -- were watching about 50 players hit the rail per level.

Most of our time yesterday was spent identifying players, entering them into the chip counts, tracking their progress, and then, eventually, busting most of them from the counts. Andy, who has experience doing this sort of thing on the World Poker Tour, knows a ton of players and is an absolute maniac when it comes to counting chips. If you can believe it, we ended up tracking something like 220-240 players yesterday, entering all of those names and updating their counts a couple of times per hour.

I say “if you can believe it,” because if you check the Day 1 chip count page today -- the official end-of-day counts that come from Harrah’s -- only the survivors are listed. All of those players we entered and tracked no longer appear on the page. I cannot answer why this happens. I have some inkling of how the process works, but I have nothing to do with it.

Somehow Chad and I also managed to write 100-plus blog posts during the day as well in between all of the data entry, noting big hands (and some small ones) and as sharing a bit of color here and there, too. Examples of the latter included my reporting on T.J. Cloutier and Luc Greenwood discussing Cloutier’s career in the Canadian Football League (“From Blocking Backs to Blocking Bets”), Will “The Thrill” Failla cracking up his table with his hilarious description of his getting paid the minimum with quads (“Omahahahaha”), and an epic tank by Michael Binger in a hand that lasted more than 15 minutes (“Which Is More Difficult? Poker or a Ph.D.?”).

There’s a great debate going on currently among various parties about priorities when it comes to reporting on the first day of a three-day event like this. I’m not going to get into all of the applesauce about chip counts that has gotten folks into a frenzy here of late. Some who have never tried this sort of thing think they could be better kept and more accurate, but I know there is nothing more three people can do with a field of 600 (or 2,000 or what have you). Double the crew and we may have something to talk about here, but otherwise it is really a moot point.

Rather, I just present the situation and invite you, reader, to consider what is really important when it comes to reporting on Day 1 of a three-day WSOP event.

In 2009, we actually did not track chip counts at all on Day 1, and instead reported on hands and provided color throughout the day, passed along the eliminations of the notables, then at day’s end tried to identify all of the big stacks and give readers an idea who was in front heading into Day 2. (Incidentally, these events never reach the money on Day 1, and usually it takes a little while into Day 2 before the bubble bursts.) That represented one approach -- by no means necessarily the best, but just one way to do it.

This year the approach (as described above) has been a little different, and I think one result from the change is that it has opened up this debate about priorities when it comes to Day 1 reporting.

You know already I’m kind of a “word guy.” I obviously enjoy writing or I wouldn’t have kept this blog for so long. So I’m one who is predictably going to value hand reports and color, whether we’re talking about Day 1 or the final table.

But I am not adverse to numbers or statistics, either (a big reason why I think I find poker so fascinating, really). That is to say, I ain’t against counting chips at all. In fact, I’m probably one of those strange cats who kind of likes doing it. (Not so crazy about doing it all day and then seeing the results of my efforts vanish once the next day begins, but again that’s something out of my control and I’m not going to fret over it.)

So what do you think? What do you want to see when you check in on the first day of reporting from a WSOP event?

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 18: Beating 2-4

Beating Two-FourRelatively speaking, yesterday was one of the less hectic days at the WSOP in terms of number of events being played. Whereas on Saturday (say), there were six different events going on throughout the day, with two final tables, yesterday there were just four and one final table.

Of course, I ain’t gonna say anything remotely resembling that it was not a busy day at the WSOP too loudly around my buds F-Train and Donnie Peters. That is because those two were assigned to cover the one final table yesterday for Event No. 25, the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship. Which only ended like a half-hour ago. Looks like even the otherwise indefatigable Dr. Pauly had to give up and go to bed before the sucker finally concluded.

F-Train and Donnie knew the deal when things first got started for them mid-afternoon on Sunday. As F-Train’s Day 3 intro post notes, they had 23 players coming back yesterday, and so knew it was going to be a long, long day from the beginning. I haven’t checked the schedule, but I’m hoping for both those guys’ sakes they have today off, or at least aren’t to come in until later in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, I ran well yesterday -- in a couple of ways.

For one, I had the day off, and so for the first time since the WSOP started -- save that week-long Peru excursion for LAPT Lima -- I did not set foot in the Rio. Took care of some day-to-day stuff, including getting ready for Vera’s visit later in the week by renting a car (something I’ve held off doing until now).

Also got to visit with my friend the Poker Grump, having a delicious early dinner at Bachi Burger, an “Asian Inspired BBQ Burger restaurant.” I had the Banh-Mi burger, garlic salt & pepper french fries, and a strawberry Boba drink. Just awesome. Vera and I may be going back there when she comes. (Here’s a page full of photos of dishes and the menu, if you are curious.)

Then Bob and I went for a short session of low limit hold’em afterwards at the MGM, where I ran well again. Couple of full houses, a few other one-pair hands holding up, and even a hand in which I somehow -- incredibly -- beat Bob’s 2c4c.

Readers of the Grump are well aware of his long-time championing of the “Mighty Deuce-Four.” I explained to the Grump after that hand that as strong as the deuce-four is normally, in $2-$4 it gets cracked all the time.

Anyhow, things get busy again today, both for me personally and the WSOP in general. At least five or six events will be going on every day this week.

For the next three days, I’ll be helping report on Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event. I might have anticipated Sammy Farha -- the Omaha king -- perhaps to show up for this one, but he was up late last night, too, winning that Event No. 25 (his third Omaha bracelet). Also, Farha doesn’t tend to play the lower buy-in events, anyway.

We’ll see, though. Check in over at PokerNews’ live reporting for news from all five events happening today.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 17: Ladies Event Final Table

Red Bull cansHere’s a funny story.

I helped cover the final table of Event No. 22, the $1,000 buy-in Ladies Hold’em Championship yesterday for PokerNews. We were over on the main stage for this one, and our tournament director/announcer Robbie Thompson was managing the proceedings. All who’ve been around the WSOP know Robbie as one of the best at what he does. He’s also a very witty guy who keeps things fun for players, media, and the audience.

Those who’ve worked a lot of final tables there also know Robbie tends to down more Red Bulls than might seem humanly possible. I unthinkingly set a line at six early on yesterday, but he’d already passed that by the second hour.

Anyhow, we were near the end of a break yesterday and I was seated behind my laptop when Robbie cracked open another Red Bull. The can had been shaken apparently, and there was a huge slapsticky spray that instantly covered the table and me. As play was about to start, I had to endure a period of sticky, fragrant blogging for the next stretch. (In fact, just writing about it this morning I think I can still smell that sickly-sweet Red Bull just a little.)

Overall it was more funny than inconvenient, though. A few minutes later Robbie stopped over and commented that when he walked around the stage there was now a squishing noise.

There was a short break at the end of the next level -- just five minutes -- so I dashed to the restroom to wash my hands at least. I raced down the Rio hallway, and took a few steps inside the restroom when I looked up and saw someone washing her hands.

Women's RoomThat’s right. Her hands. I’d run into the women’s. No shinola.

Never made that mistake at the Rio before, so thought it a little uncanny I’d somehow manage to do it on the day I was covering the final table of the Ladies event.

I quickly put it in reverse, found my designated restroom, and all was well.

The final table itself went especially quickly yesterday, done not even six hours after it had begun. Vanessa Hellebuyck of France came out on top, with Sidsel Boesen of Denmark finishing second and Timmi Derosa of California finishing third.

Kami Chisholm -- who had the best nickname at the final table, “Dr. Kamikaze” -- roared out to a huge lead early on, taking a lot of chips from start-of-day chip leader Boesen in the process. But there were no eliminations during that stretch. We finally lost a super short stack (Loren Watterworth) right at the end of Level 21, about 90 minutes after we’d begun yesterday. Then once they moved to Level 22 things picked up considerably.

By then the average stack was just under 400,000, so with the blinds at 10,000/20,000 in Level 22, we were looking at an average of 20 BBs per player. So it wasn’t surprising to see a lot of eliminations in rapid order from that point.

There were two big “hands of the day” that really decided this one. One was a blind-vs.-blind hand between Chisholm and Boesen in which Chisholm picked a bad time to make a move, check raising all-in before the flop when Boesen had pocket rockets. (Kind of a “Kamikaze”-seeming hand, actually.) The other was a very interesting hand between Derosa and Hellebuyck once they’d gotten to three-handed.

Timmi Derosa is Lee Watkinson’s fiancée, a friendly person who tended to stand out even on Day 2 when she frequently engaged me or the reporters as we passed by.

Ladies Event final tableShe stood out fashion-wise, too, at yesterday’s final table. I don’t want to get too carried away with analyzing the women’s appearance and dress, as our culture tends to do in just about every situation. It was clear, though, that Derosa, made up and dressed to the nines in an ensemble topped by a fur (or faux fur) boa, looked differently than her opponents, many of whom wore baseball caps and hoodies -- what one might call typical “poker fashion.”

I probably wouldn’t even bring it up, but during one break Derosa came over to talk to me about a hand she had played and then brought it up herself, saying something about the final table being special occasion. I mostly just nodded, not really wanting to offer my own uncertain opinions on the matter. It was interesting, though, to notice how when it had gotten to five-handed, it just so happened Derosa was sitting on one end of the table, and her four opponents were all in seats 1-4 at the other end, thereby making the contrast in fashion even more evident.

Anyhow, to get back to the hand, Derosa and Hellebuyck had gotten to the turn on a nine-high board, and Derosa acting first pushed all in. Hellebuyck went deep into the tank, made the big call with middle pair and both flush and straight draws, and Derosa tabled a couple of overcards with Q-J. (You can read the full write-up of the hand here.) It was a big move by Derosa, and Hellebuyck had matched it with a big call.

As was the case on Day 2, there were a lot of supporters for just about all of the players in the full bleachers, and I found myself, too, pulling for each of the players as the night wore on. That tends to happen to me at most final tables, though perhaps I felt that way a little more last night -- not so much because the players were women, but because almost all were amateur players (only Chisholm and La Sengphet, I believe, could be called pros). In their bios most had full-time jobs listed or references to family, unlike often happens with the final table full of young male players who play poker 24-7.

Vanessa Hellebuyck with her supporters after winning Event No. 22All in all a fun evening in which the tone was primarily celebratory, in contrast to the controversy-filled hours of Day 1. (That is a pic of Hellebuyck and some of her supports following her victory.)

Indeed, the only reference to the controversies of Day 1 -- when some men played in the event as a protest of having ladies-only tourney -- came just prior to the start of yesterday’s final table. WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla came to say a few words of support for the nine women at the final table, and indicated -- quite adamantly -- that the WSOP would always have a Ladies Championship event.

A day off for me today, then it is on to Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event, starting Tuesday. Won’t be that long, really, before we’re talking about the Main Event. Something to look forward to, then.

However, what I’m really looking forward to is Vera coming later in the week. As was the case the last couple of summers, it has been hard to be away from home like this -- even more so, after that extra journey to Peru last week. Easily the worst part of the gig. Am looking at this being the last time I do this WSOP thing full-time. Seven weeks away is really too long.

Indeed, as I was just saying about those women’s bios from the final table, while some can make poker a top priority -- or even the only priority -- most of us have other things that are much, much more important. Hellebuyck, the winner of the event, listed on her sheet that she is selective with her tourney playing because she prefers to spend time with her two daughters.

SweetieI think most of us can identify with that. I know I can, which is why this will be the last summer I try to keep up with the other marathoners out here. I miss Vera too much.

And Sweetie, our brilliant cat.

Gonna go take a shower now. Maybe then I won’t be smelling Red Bull anymore.

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