Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Search for a System

NFL football is distractingAm struggling thus far in my NFL pick’em pool. In three weeks I’ve sunk close to the bottom of the 40-plus entrants after a sad stretch of pedstrian prognosticatin’.

We are just picking winners (not versus the spread), and I was correct on 10 of 16 the first week, but then went a measly 8-8 both of the last two weeks.

Have been kidding around on Twitter some about employing various “systems” for picking the games. One was to go by the relative height of the teams’ mascots; e.g., Giants are obviously taller than Panthers, so pick New York over Carolina, etc.

Was just joking, of course. That is to say, I picked those first two weeks “straight” -- i.e., went by what I thought I knew about the 32 teams thus far in the young season and chose those I legitimately thought would win.

Still, got some funny responses, including this one from @AtlantaMJ:








As the weekend rolled around last week, I was looking over the games and realized I had little feel for picking them, other than simply to go with favorites. That’s essentially what I’d done for Week 2, and it didn’t do very well. So I threw out a line on Twitter about my struggles, and the Poker Grump responded with the suggestion to pick teams based on their overall weight.

He was kidding, too, but for fun I found a site that listed each team’s average weight per player, then checked to see how the picks would go. Realizing there was really only a couple of games where I’d probably have chosen differently, I decided to go with the system, which I eventually dubbed “LBS” (the Largest Behinds System).

In all 16 games, I picked the teams that had the higher average weight per player. Like I say, the picks actually came reasonably close to what I’d have done otherwise. In fact, there were only two games on the entire schedule that I know for certain I would have picked differently. I would not have picked Atlanta to beat New Orleans, nor would I have picked Dallas to beat Houston.

As it happened, using LBS helped me get both of those games correct.

After the 1 p.m. games I was 7-2 and feeling pretty smug. But I ended up being on the wrong side of most of those close games during the 4 p.m. slot, then missed both the night games on Sunday and Monday to end up 8-8 again.

This week the PokerGrump was suggesting picking teams according to the relative position of the cities; i.e., going with all of the teams whose cities are north of their opponents, or vice-versa. He determined that during Week 3 the northernmost teams went 10-6, while during Week 2 the southernmost teams went 11-5.

“So clearly the trick is going to be figuring out in advance which weeks are ‘north’ weeks and which are ‘south’ weeks,” the PokerGrump concluded, adding (with tongue still in cheek), “But other than that little glitch, it appears to be a foolproof system.”

My response was that all he needed to do was develop a system for determining that and he’d be set.

I think I’ll go back to trying my best to make “straight” picks this week, and hopefully will make up some ground on my fellow forecasters.

I like watching NFL regardless, and get an extra kick out of having a team to root for in every single game. But as I’ve said before here, I’d hate to have serious money riding on any of these games.

Am much more comfortable looking for good spots to get my money in during a poker hand, where I can know with great certainty whether I’m a favorite or not, than relying on, say, Sebastian Janikowski to make a 32-yard field goal with time running out to win.

The fact is, in poker one can rely on “systems” -- as long as they relate to the game, of course, and are not built upon silly superstitions and other extraneous factors that are not relevant. Simply knowing correct pot odds is a “system,” really, the knowledge of which can give one an edge over an opponent who is less familiar with such.

Sebastian JanikowskiIncidentally, Janikowski, the Oakland kicker who missed that potential game-winner versus Arizona last week, is the highest-paid kicker in the NFL, having just signed a contract in the offseason that netted him $16 million over the next four years. And I picked the Raiders, ’cause, well, they weigh a little more than Arizona.

Hmm... now that I think about it, I believe Janikowski is the heaviest place-kicker in the NFL at 250 lbs.

Oh, man... I wuz doomed!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are WSOPE Bracelets “Real”?

Are WSOPE Bracelets “Real”?The World Series of Poker Europe Main Event concluded yesterday, with James Bord of England besting an especially tough field of 346. Thus ends the five-event series, at which five WSOP gold bracelets were awarded.

Not coincidentally, there has been a lot of discussion of late over whether or not WSOPE bracelets are “real” World Series bracelets and/or should be counted in that “most bracelets, all-time” list currently led by Phil Hellmuth (with 11) and Doyle Brunson (10) and Johnny Chan (10).

The Entities over at Wicked Chops helped stir things up regarding this topic yesterday by drawing attention to a comment made by WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage last week on their excellent weekly show, This Week in Poker (the 9/21/10 episode). (If you’re not familiar with TWiP, click here for a quick overview.)

The question to Savage -- sent in by Jay “whojedi” Newnum -- was “How do you feel about bracelets being awarded outside of Vegas?” Savage answered without hesitation. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s like a real bracelet.”

Savage then alluded to how the WSOP could very well start applying its brand elsewhere (“they could have WSOP Asia, WSOP Latin America,” etc.), the implication being that doing so would further devalue the bracelets’ significance. “I mean, the WSOP was founded in Las Vegas,” added Savage. “That’s kind of what it’s about, so I don’t think those bracelets [i.e., the ones awarded in London at the WSOPE] are as valuable.”

The post over at Wicked Chops yesterday quickly drew a comment from Harrah’s/WSOP Vice President Ty Stewart, who strongly disagreed with Savage’s position while also foregrounding the competition that exists between the WPT and WSOP, especially in Europe. “It doesn’t take an investigative journalist to understand Mr. Savage’s parent company is motivated to be antagonistic to other activities in the European marketplace,” writes Stewart.

What Stewart suggests, of course, is that Savage’s devaluing of non-Vegas WSOP bracelets is connected to the WPT’s efforts to compete with the WSOP in places like London, and may or may not represent a sincere view to which Savage personally subscribes.

While I’m well aware that there indeed exists genuine competition between the WSOP and WPT -- being fought on several fronts at once -- I still think Savage’s comment was sincere and represents his personal opinion on the subject. And the fact is, there are many other folks (including players, media, and fans) who aren’t tied to the WPT or groups in competition with the WSOP who share Savage’s view that indeed the WSOPE bracelets aren’t as “real” or prestigious as the ones won in Vegas.

The Hardcore Poker ShowAnother person who doesn’t believe the WSOPE bracelets are equal to the ones won in Vegas is the fellow with the most bracelets of all, Phil Hellmuth. The Poker Brat was a guest on the most recent Hardcore Poker Show podcast (the 9/27/10 episode) where he was asked the same question Savage was about the relative significance of winning a WSOPE bracelet.

“Honestly, it’s not the same thing,” Hellmuth began. “I have a feeling that if I had won a bracelet over there [at WSOP Europe], there would have been a lot of people stepping up saying ‘It’s not the same thing,’ and it would’ve been hard for me to argue against that.”

The conversation continued for a few more minutes, with Hellmuth elaborating on some of the reasons why he believes the WSOPE bracelets can't really be considered on the same level as those won at the World Series in Vegas.

Hellmuth made some good points, actually -- kind of surprising how uncharacteristically balanced and aware he sounds here, really -- including drawing attention to the fact that when it comes to his race with the current leaders in all-time bracelets, neither Brunson nor Chan even made the trip to the WSOPE this year.

“Everybody knows that it’s not really a bracelet,” Hellmuth concludes, adding that when it comes to record-keeping, the WSOP should establish different categories for bracelets won outside of Vegas, thereby referring to someone as having one a certain number of each rather than compiling all together.

Click here to listen to the interview, if you’re curious. Hellmuth comes on about 17 minutes into the show, and the conversation about bracelets begins a little after the 23-minute mark.

As the comments on the Wicked Chops post further show, opinions over this issue are divided. Questions about the “legitimacy” or relative significance of the WSOPE bracelets have been asked since before the first WSOPE in 2007. I recounted some of that debate in a Betfair piece a couple of weeks ago which talks a little about the short history of the WSOPE, “London Calling: 2010 WSOP Europe Coming Soon.”

In that column I alluded to some of the early questioning, then added the comment that “by now that debate has subsided somewhat, thanks in large part to the high quality of player fields the WSOPE has attracted during its first three years.” (Perhaps I spoke to soon!)

So do I think WSOPE bracelets are “real”? Well, sure.

I think it is fine -- and perhaps inevitable -- for us all to debate whether, say, Gus Hansen’s victory in WSOPE Event No. 4, the £10,350 no-limit hold’em heads-up event, is as great an achievement as Ayaz Mahmood’s in WSOP Event No. 35, the $10,000 NLHE heads-up event in Vegas. The tourneys were the same in some ways, but different in many, many more.

Indeed, I think if one were to try to compare any two WSOP tournaments, the list of relevant factors making the two events different would be so long it would rapidly become evident that it is a little silly to try to claim any two tourneys are the “same thing.” In fact, one could argue differences between the 2010 WSOPE events and those played in Vegas at the 2010 WSOP are much less significant than the differences between the 2010 WSOP events and those played in the 1970s and 1980s at the WSOP.

So, yeah, I think WSOPE bracelets are “real” bracelets. I also think that for a variety of reasons they continue to carry less prestige, ultimately, than do the ones won in Vegas. But that’s true of bracelets won in Vegas, too, with some being more esteemed than others.

That said, I acknowledge that others can decide for themselves what is “real” and what isn’t. I am an existentialist, after all.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WCOOP 2010 Concludes

Was an intense 12 hours last-night-slash-this-morning watching and live blogging Day 2 of Event No. 62, the $5,200 buy-in, no-limit hold’em Main Event over at PokerStars. F-Train and I were on duty, and even with the short breaks we’re talking nonstop scribbling, editing, and publishing.

You can check out the live blog for a comprehensive account of how they went from 271 players down to just one, POTTERPOKER, who ended up taking a still-amazing-to-think-about $2,278,097.50 for winning the sucker. Took about 23 hours of playing time altogether over the two days, so that’s about a hundred grand per hour there.

Not a lot of energy left to write still more about what happened, but I will share a couple of quick thoughts. About the good and the not-so-good, I suppose. Will start with the latter.

It was pretty early yesterday -- within the first 45 minutes of play -- that we noticed one player suddenly break from the pack and surge into the chip lead. He’d already gotten close to the 1,000,000-chip mark, then won a big pot with pocket eights versus an opponent’s A-A to move up to almost 1.38 million, which at the time was a good bit ahead of the rest of the 185 players still in it. Indeed, he was the only one over a million at that point.

When reporting on these online tourneys, we operate similarly to the way we follow live events. In other words, with that many players still left, we track notables while also keeping an eye on the leaders. The logistics are different, of course, but the “storytelling” goals are not.

So I started tracking our new chip leader, and was fairly amazed to watch as it took less than hour for him to lose all of those chips and go out in 140th place.

There were three big hands I saw, all pretty darned reckless. The first came less than 15 minutes after having amassed that big stack, a hand in which he lost about 750,000 -- a lot of it on a pretty thin semi-bluff on the turn. He’d lose about 400,000 more on a similar hand shortly thereafter, jamming with two overs and a gutshot and getting called by a player with just second pair who obviously suspected he was light (and perhaps tilty).

He’d build back to over 400,000 -- which was still above average at the time -- but got all of that in the middle on the turn again, this time drawing as close to dead as might be possible. The board was 2-2-A-2, his opponent had an ace, and he had K-J, so I guess the case deuce would’ve brought him a chop.

When this player had gotten to 1.38 million or so, the blinds were 3,000/6,000 (with 30-minute levels). That’s about 230 big blinds. So that rapid exit was some not-so-good, I think it’s safe to say. Now for the good.

WCOOPOnce they were down to three tables or so, the quality of play appeared to increase considerably. I say “appeared” as a kind of double-disclaimer, as I don’t want to suggest I am the best judge of such things, nor can anyone know with 100% certainty how folks are playing without seeing hole cards, anyway. There were a couple of hands where players seemed to have made a misstep here and there, but for the most part, these guys all looked like they had a more-than-good idea of what the hell they were doing.

Probably the most interesting hand of the night came with 17 players left and involved the eventual winner, POTTERPOKER, Bryn Kenney, and two other players. (Kenney, incidentally, finished 28th at this year’s WSOP Main Event.) A good example, I thought, of the relatively more shrewd decision-making we were watching toward the end.

With the blinds up to 30,000/60,000, a player in early position raised to 123,113, and POTTERPOKER, sitting to that player’s left, called. A late position player also called, then Kenney reraised to 420,000 from the blinds. Looked like a squeeze, and it did force the original raiser to fold.

POTTERPOKER then reraised again, however, to 720,500. That forced out the other caller, and sent Kenney into the tank. Kenney finally made his decision and shoved all in for about 2.6 million. POTTERPOKER quickly called, showing pocket queens to Kenney’s pocket tens. The board didn’t help Kenney, and he was out. An intriguing hand all around, I thought.

That hand put POTTERPOKER close to the chip lead, I believe, and by the time they reached the final table he was well out in front. He’d been very aggressive at the final table bubble to extend his lead, then after running well for a short stretch once they got to nine had built what was essentially an insurmountable lead.

A lot of interesting poker, then. And for the highest stakes ever for an online tournament!

Speaking of high-stakes, interesting poker, I plan to look in today to see how that WSOPE Main Event plays out. Though perhaps it will be slightly less interesting now that both Phil Ivey and Viktor Blom (a.k.a., the man thought to be “Isildur1”) have been eliminated.

That delayed live stream (over on ESPN3) has proven to be a bit of a disappointment, insofar as it isn’t available to all (or most, seemingly). Might be just as well for me, though. I could probably stand to step away from the computer for a day or five.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Stop! Thief! Who, Me?

It's not what it looks likeHad a good weekend, a lot of it occupied with reporting on PokerStars’ WCOOP and following the World Series of Poker Europe coverage over on PokerNews. Both of those series are coming close to concluding, with the last two events of WCOOP ending today, and the WSOPE Main Event finishing up tomorrow.

Didn’t spend the entire weekend in front of the computer. I did get out and exercise some. Am back to running again, usually just 2-3 miles at a time. I also had one other item on my “to do list” for the weekend -- grocery shopping. So that got me out of the house, too.

I went to get groceries on Sunday afternoon, having finally given up on my miserable Carolina Panthers, who couldn’t even compete with the also pretty darned miserable Bengals yesterday. Ended up being a lengthy, cart-filling trip, as we were in need of just about everything. So I’d been there probably close to an hour when a humorous incident arose.

By then I had made it through all but a couple of aisles, and found myself there in the frozen foods section trying to decide what prepared lunches might serve Vera Valmore well during the coming week. A number of tables in the center of the aisle plus a couple of other shoppers made it a little difficult to negotiate the space, so I’d stepped away from cart for a moment to gather a couple of items. When I got back, I noticed a large, elderly woman with a cart blocking the end of the aisle, so I whipped it around and went back out in the other direction.

A couple of minutes later I was standing in front of the eggs, and had just grabbed a carton to place in my cart when I noticed a carton already sitting there atop the rest of the items. “Hello?” came a woman’s voice, and I looked up to see the lady from before heading in my direction, walking behind a full cart.

I instantly realized what had happened. We’d swapped carts, and in fact both of us had added a couple of items before noticing. We shared a laugh while sorting things out, and soon all was well again.

Something vaguely uncanny about that sort of mix-up. I’m sure you’ve been there, say, when you head back out into a poorly-lit parking lot and try your key in a vehicle with a similar shape and/or color to yours and realize it isn’t your car. You suddenly become aware of yourself in a different way, imagining how you might look to others.

“It’s not what it looks like!” you might think to yourself. “I’m not really a thief!”

No one is looking (hopefully). But you instinctively try with your body language to communicate the idea that it was an honest mistake. You’re a trustworthy person, not at all the sort who deliberately tries to take what doesn’t belong to you.

Since most of my waking hours have been taken up with poker lately, I couldn’t help but think how this sort of consciousness of how others perceive you comes and goes at the poker table. At least for me, anyway. The best players are always attuned to such, though I imagine for most of us (like me) thoughts about how others see our actions are only intermittent, coming and going in relation to the plays we’re making.

Sometimes this happens to me when I’ve made a bluff -- often on the river -- and I instantly realize only after placing the bet how unlikely it is that my “story” of the hand is going to be believed.

Usually the formula creating that situation begins with some preflop aggression from me, followed by some bit of faltering between preflop and the river -- say, a check on the turn that betrays the weakness of my hand. Then comes the river, and a circumstance in which the only way I can possibly win the pot is to bet my opponent off the hand.

Then I choose what feels like the wrong amount. Or perhaps I time my bet in such a way that makes it seem more obvious I don’t have the goods. In any event, it is usually only after I’ve made the bet that I’m saying to myself some variation of “ooh... bad,” and think there’s little chance that my desire not to be considered a “thief” is going to be believed.

It’s that “hand in the cookie jar” moment -- like looking down and realizing you’re standing behind someone else’s cart.

“It’s not what it looks like!” you think. But there you are.

We’ll see how many bluffs get picked off at today’s WSOPE Main Event, where they are playing down to the final table. I believe there will be some delayed coverage online both today and tomorrow -- check out the ESPN poker page for information on that.

Will also be following that WCOOP Main Event closely, too, as I’ll be live blogging the sucker with F-Train. Check in over at the PokerStars blog for that, if yr curious.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

For the To Do List

The To Do ListLooks like another busy weekend for your humble scribe. Hell, it’s been a busy week.

Among the various scribbling I’ve done lately is a review of a book called Peak Performance Poker by Travis Steffen which went up over on Betfair today.

I liked this book more than I thought I would, and can see myself going back to it again to reread some of its advice.

It’s really more of a sports psychology book than a poker book per se, but the advice readily applies to the situation faced by poker players, I think. All about improving the body and the mind, and how those two necessarily go together.

Funny, one bit of advice Steffen gives concerns making “to do” lists, something I already tended to do before but was encouraged to keep doing after reading his recommendation. Helps me a lot just to stay organized and get things done, not to mention the small but significant pleasure one gets from striking those items off the list one by one.

Anyhow, I did like the book, so if you are looking for something like this to read you might consider putting it on your list.

On the “to do” list for me this weekend are a few items, including a last bit of work with the PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker which finally comes to an end after three-plus weeks. The big one is Sunday -- Event No. 62, a.k.a. the “Main Event,” a $5,200 buy-in, two-day, no-limit hold’em tournament which not only comes with a jaw-dropping $10 million guarantee, but also a $2 million guarantee for first. That’s gonna be one decent ROI for someone, come Monday.

Last year 2,144 entered the big one at WCOOP, meaning it eclipsed the $10 million guarantee. Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko took it down, earning a little over $1.71 million. J.P. “djk123” Kelly made the final table, finishing fourth, as was Jamie “Xaston” Kaplan (whom I was writing about earlier this week), who took fifth.

I’ll also be continuing to follow the Main Event (Event No. 5, £10,350 NLHE) over at the World Series of Poker Europe this weekend. Looks like they ended up drawing 346 entrants this time around, which is up from last year (334) though not as high as the 362 who played in both 2007 and 2008.

And this afternoon I’ll definitely be checking in to see who wins the rubber match between Jim “Mr_BigQueso” Collopy and Gus Hansen in the finals of WSOPE Event No. 4, the £10,350 NLHE heads-up event.

(EDIT [added 9/25/10]: That third match was postponed, as both players were involved in Day 1b of the WSOPE Main Event on Friday. Again, as I wrote about earlier this week, the situation reminds me of what happened this summer at the WSOP at the Heads-Up event there. Also makes me wonder about the best way to handle structures in heads-up tourneys.)

You probably heard about Dwyte Pilgrim winning the World Poker Tour Borgata tourney last night. I have to say Pilgrim and Collopy might be two of the most entertaining players I’ve covered at events this year, so it is kind of fun to see both doing well this week. Hansen is always an interesting guy to watch, too -- definitely too bad the WSOPE heads-up event isn’t being televised anywhere.

Angry BirdsHeard over Twitter Hansen was playing Angry Birds earlier today. Have you played that game? I wouldn’t think Travis Steffen would recommend it as part of one’s “game day” preparation. Those damn green pigs! Puts me on tilt just thinking of ’em, sitting there staring at me with their dumb grins after I’ve failed to take ’em out.

Another thing for the “to do” list, I guess. Smash some green pigs.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gus Goes For Gold

Gus HansenThe World Series of Poker Europe continues to intrigue, with that “high roller” Event No. 4 -- the £10,350 no-limit hold’em heads-up event -- now down to just four from the starting field of 103.

In just a little while they’ll be starting the final day of that one. The always smiling Jim “Mr_BigQueso” Collopy will play Hendon Mobster Ram Vaswani in one semifinal match, while Andrew “Not the ESPN guy” Feldman goes against Gus Hansen. The winners will then play a best-of-three match to determine who gets the bracelet.

Incidentally, the structure for the WSOPE heads-up event is similar to that used this summer at the WSOP, only less one round. That is to say, players are taking chips won to subsequent matches, meaning the finalists today will start with nearly two million chips. (I wrote something about this format earlier this week.)

Both Collopy and Feldman are gunning for their first WSOP bracelets, while Vaswani is trying to land his second. Of course, all eyes will be on Hansen today to see if he can land his first bit of WSOP gold.

Hansen has been the focus of a lot of attention of late for his massive online losses. I wrote some about the subject not long ago. Apparently he dropped another $3 million on Full Tilt Poker in August alone!

Gloria Balding of PokerNews interviewed Hansen a couple of days ago just prior to the heads-up event. Pretty interesting stuff, actually, with Hansen not being shy at all about addressing his recent online woes.

Hansen recently suffered an injury to his Achilles’ tendon, and it sounds like his mobility has been limited somewhat as he must wear a walking cast for six weeks, then go through some rehab. “Good thing you play online poker,” said Balding in the interview. “No, right now it's actually a very bad thing that I play online poker,” said Hansen with a kind of weary-looking grin, alluding to how badly things have gone for him there of late.

A little later Hansen talked about dealing with losing and acknowledged that it “takes its toll,” sometimes causing one to play worse and thus extend the downswing. He also noted that he’s been gambling for 18 years -- including a lot of high-stakes action not just in poker, but in backgammon and a Russian game called “hachi-puri” also played on a backgammon board (not sure about the spelling of that) -- and so has become well acclimated to handling losses.

“In the beginning it was tough when you lost 50 bucks,” says Hansen. “Then it was tough when you lost 500 bucks. And so forth. So you kind of get used to it.”

Hansen goes on to draw an analogy with acting and how some may begin their careers being nervous to perform in front of crowds, but gradually grow accustomed to doing so. Like I say, an interesting interview -- check it out.

Gus Hansen explains the rules of backgammonHansen is, of course, a fairly well-renowned backgammon player who may well be offsetting some of these poker losses in those other games, even though they are less readily available for him to play, especially for high stakes.

(By the way, if you are yearning for more Hansen video, take a look at this absurdly dramatic introduction by Hansen to the rules of backgammon.)

After receiving a bye in the first round of the WSOPE heads-up event, Hansen has defeated Max Steinberg, Mark Everett, Phil Ivey, and Neil Channing to make it to the semifinals. Hansen was incredibly lucky in the match with Ivey, who had about a 4-to-1 chip advantage at one point and had Hansen all in and drawing to just two outs, one of which came to save the Great Dane.

Not necessarily rooting for Hansen today, but I do think his being there in the final four adds a lot of interest to the event. And of course if he does win, that’ll make a good story -- as would his subsequent return to the online high-stakes games which one assumes would inevitably follow.

The WSOPE Main Event (£10,350 NLHE, Event No. 5) gets started today, too -- in fact, it is already underway -- so I’ll probably once again be checking in frequently on those reports over at PokerNews. Will also be looking in over at the World Poker Tour live updates some today, where the final table of WPT Borgata kicks off a little later.

But as I imagine will be the case for most poker-watchin’ peoples, it’s gonna be Gus who’ll get most of the attention today.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anybody Here Ever Read...?

Anybody Here Ever Read...?Up ’til five in the morning or so, following the exploits of Jamie “Xaston” Kaplan in PokerStars’ WCOOP Event No. 47, the $500+$30 buy-in stud hi/low event. (Recap here.) Kaplan won his second bracelet of the series, having earlier taken down Event No. 6, the $200+$15 no-limit hold’em turbo tourney. (Dr. Pauly wrote that one up a couple of weeks ago here.)

There were a lot of familiar names in this particular event -- familiar to those of us who follow a lot of WCOOPs and SCOOPs, anyway. Kaplan outlasted Jon “PearlJammer” Turner heads-up, despite the fact that Turner had a more than 3-to-1 chip lead when heads-up play began. And finishing third was James “Andy McLEOD” Obst, who always seems to be there at the end of these things.

Had sort a mild bit of déjà vu last night while watching the tourney. With about three tables left, Kaplan piped up in the chat box, asking his opponents whether or not any of them had read the 2003 novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. No one had, but one opponent asked him about it and Kaplan recommended it. Kaplan would bring the book up again at the final table, where yet another opponent said he was adding it to his reading list.

I’ve never read the book, but had heard about it around the time it came out and was getting a lot of attention. It’s apparently somewhat based on the true story of the author, an Australian bank robber and drug addict who famously escaped from prison and was on the run for a decade (in the 1980s). Sounds pretty intriguing.

'Shantaram' (2003) by Gregory David RobertsWhen Kaplan brought up the novel in the chatbox, I had a “wait a minute” moment and realized that I’d covered a final table back in the spring involving Xaston where he’d also brought up the book. It was a SCOOP event (here’s that recap), and in the write-up for that one I’d reported the chat and even worked in a reference to the book, comparing its story to an attempt by Kaplan to “escape” a poker trap in a subsequent hand.

You might’ve heard Kaplan interviewed on last week’s TwoPlusTwo Pokercast (episode No. 140), the one with Kathy Liebert I mentioned on Friday. An interesting (and obviously talented) guy. Otis interviewed him, too, for a profile over on the PokerStars blog, in which the Roberts novel comes up -- check it out.

You can imagine how I like hearing a young poker player talking about a novel meaning a lot to him and recommending it to others. As a lifelong reader -- and someone whose thinking has been influenced by the many novels I’ve read -- I obviously subscribe to the notion that stories can shape us. And as I’ve expressed here many times before, I think that the written word can convey meaning in ways other kinds of storytelling never can.

Thus do I keep reading novels. (And writing them, too!) And, like Kaplan, recommending them to others.

Think I may just have to pick up a copy of that Shantaram, see what it’s all about.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Minding the Gaps in World Series of Poker History

Mind the GapExcitement continues over in London at the WSOPE. After Phil Laak’s victory in Event No. 1 (£2,500+£150 six-handed no-limit hold’em), Jeff Lisandro picked up his fifth WSOP bracelet in Event No. 2, the £5,000+£250 buy-in pot-limit Omaha event, coming from behind against Joe Serock heads up to win.

Today the final table for Event No. 3, the £1,000+£75 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, will play out. Indeed, it began just a few moments ago. You can follow the action online at PokerNews.

The big story today concerns English player J.P. Kelly, who won a WSOP bracelet in a $1,000 NLHE event last summer, then at the 2009 WSOPE won this same £1,000 event. J.P. Kelly is a PokerStars pro, incidentally, whom I was following over the weekend in that WCOOP heads-up event (No. 38) to which I referred yesterday. Kelly was the only PokerStars pro to make it to Day 2 of that one.

Kelly begins the final table third in chips, and thus has a chance to be the first player since Johnny Chan in 1987 and 1988 to “defend” a no-limit hold’em title in a WSOP bracelet event -- that is to say, to win the same NLHE event at the same buy-in in consecutive years.

At age 24, Kelly could also apparently become the youngest person ever to get to three bracelets. Nolan Dalla explains in his report from last night that if he wins Kelly would break Phil Ivey’s record for that (Ivey was 27 when he won his third bracelet in 2003).

Some of us were chatting on Twitter yesterday, trying to determine if yes, indeed, no one since Chan had defended a WSOP event in no-limit hold’em. Thang Luu went back-to-back in ’08 and ’09 in the $1,500 Omaha/8 event, and Phil Hellmuth won the $5,000 limit hold’em events in both ’92 and ’93. I scanned all of the multiple bracelet winners, checking who had won in consecutive years since 1988 to see if any had won their bracelets in the same NLHE events, and didn’t see any other examples of anyone winning the same no-limit hold’em event in back-to-back years during that stretch.

The Twitter conversation continued regarding the “youngest to three bracelets” question, and it occurred to me that while one can certainly find a lot of information rather quickly online to help one answer such questions, there isn’t a definitive “WSOP Records” site listing records like “youngest to three bracelets,” “title defenses,” and the like.

Later in the day the question arose whether or not a player from the continent of Africa had ever won a bracelet. Mehdi Senhaji of Morocco enters today’s Event No. 3 final table second in chips, and so the media was trying to figure out if that might be another bit of history, should Senhaji win. It doesn’t appear there has been, but there didn’t seem to be a simple way to look something like that up.

The official WSOP site has a ton of information, including info on just about every player who has ever played and cashed in a WSOP event, results for past WSOPs (all of the way back to 1970), and more. But there are gaps in the info there -- understandably, since it wasn’t until relatively recently people cared that much about any of this stuff and so record-keeping wasn’t always a priority.

The Hendon Mob site is another good one to consult for WSOP records, and in some cases has more complete info than the WSOP site does. But there is still a lot that is missing there, too.

Binion's HorseshoeIn fact, even just trying to find information about the final tables for the WSOP Main Event during the 1970s is a hit-or-miss affair. For example, who exactly was sitting at that first final table in 1971, the first year they held a tournament to decide a champion?


The WSOP site only gives us the winner, Johnny Moss.

Over at the UNLV Center for Gaming Research site, they don’t say who the six at the final table are, but list “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Brian “Sailor” Roberts, Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Crandall Addington, and Carl Cannon as “notable players,” and Moss as the winner.

In their book All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker, Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback say seven men played in the event -- Brunson, Moss, Pearson, Preston, Robert, Straus, and Jimmy Cassella -- but don’t identify the final six. “No one bothered to take notes or keep records,” they explain, conceding that “the details of what happened” during the two days of the event “have for the most part been lost to history.”

Over on Wikipedia, we find Moss, Pearson, and Bob Hooks at that final table, and the other three seats empty (“unknown”). At Hendon Mob, only Moss and Pearson (as runner-up) are listed.

Doyle Brunson writes about that event in his 2009 autobiography The Godfather of Poker. “There were only six players for this first tournament,” writes Brunson, “me, Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, Sailor Roberts, Jack Straus, and Jimmy Casella.”

I would be inclined to believe the first-hand witness, particularly his omission of Preston from the list of participants. Texas Dolly should remember if Amarillo Slim had played, I’d think. I mean, after all, Preston plays a pretty large role in Brunson’s story, having “faded the white line” with him and Roberts all those years.

Yet in Preston’s memoir, Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People (2005), he also refers to “six players each putting up the $5,000 to enter,” and includes himself as one of the six. In fact, Preston essentially takes credit for having come up with the idea of having a freeze-out tourney to determine a champ.

“I wouldn’t say I was a long shot,” writes Preston, “but very few people gave me much of a chance.” According to Preston, he finished third, with Straus runner-up to Moss.

Look elsewhere and you find still more variations, not just for the 1971 WSOP, but for others as well (especially for the 1970s). There’s probably a worthwhile historical project in there for someone. Even just an extended investigation of that 1971 final table could prove an interesting inquiry.

Those looking back at the 2010 WSOP and WSOPE won’t have these problems, of course, as every move is being watched and most every pertinent detail recorded many times over. And, like I say, I’ll be checking in over at PokerNews today to see how the history gets written.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

On Heads-Up Tourney Structures

Heads-UpOver the weekend I spent a lot of time focused on Event No. 38 of the World Championship of Online Poker over at PokerStars, the $500+$30 buy-in no-limit hold’em heads-up tournament. Was a two-day affair, lasting 10 rounds altogether before Fabrizio “SixthSenSe19” Gonzalez took it down last night. (Here’s the recap of yesterday’s action.)

There was another heads-up event yesterday, too -- a “high roller” one with a $25,000+$500 buy-in (Event No. 39), won by a player named “RaiseOnce” (suspected by some to be Phil Ivey). A lot of big names in that one. You can read F-Train’s recap by clicking here.

In the WCOOP heads-up tournaments, the structures and starting stacks remain the same from round to round. For example, in Event No. 38 saw players begin with 7,500 chips and play 20-minute levels with the same schedule of blind increases in each match, beginning to end. (No antes in HU play.)

Live heads-up tourneys -- such as the $10,000 “Championship” event at the WSOP this past summer (Event No. 35) -- sometimes operate a little differently. At the WSOP, for instance, players kept the chips they won in one match and played with them in their subsequent matches. In other words, the starting stacks doubled from round to round, and the structures changed, too.

I helped cover Event No. 35 this summer for PokerNews. It was originally scheduled as a three-day event, but it ended up taking four days to complete because the final round took so long. I wrote about that crazy Day 3 (which lasted until dawn) here in a post called “The Match Without End.”

The event was capped at 256 entrants, and that’s how many played. That made for an eight-round, single-elimination tournament, with the final match played best two-out-of-three. Players started with 30,000 chips in their first-round matches -- i.e., they had “triple stacks” in that one just like in other WSOP events. That meant the winners started with 60,000 in Round 2, 120,000 in Round 3, and so forth. By the finals, Ayaz Mahmood and Ernst Schmejkal each had enormous stacks of 3.84 million to start.

As I say, the schedule of increases for blinds (again, no antes) changed from round to round, too, although the changes weren’t perfectly uniform. That is, it wasn’t as though the blinds at each level were simply doubled from round to round, but there were some extra levels thrown in (or removed) and other subtle differences along the way. Here’s the structure sheet for Event No. 35, if you’re curious to examine further.

Also worth mentioning were a couple of other differences from round to round in the structure for the WSOP heads-up event.

Levels lasted 20 minutes for the first four rounds, then 30 minutes for the next two, then 40 minutes for the semifinals and finals. Also, the starting stacks, when translated into the number of big blinds players had, didn’t stay consistently “deep” from round to round. Players began with 150 big blinds in each of their first two matches; from the third round through the semifinals they began with 120 big blinds; then in the finals they started with 128 big blinds.

As noted, there were some subtle differences in the structures from round to round, too, which translated into slight differences in the relative “deepness” of stacks as the matches progressed. To give you an idea of the changes, here’s a look at what players faced after two hours of play for each match (if their matches lasted that long, of course):

Levels with 20-minute rounds:
Round 1, Level 7: 50 big blinds on the table (starting stacks 30,000 each; blinds 600/1,200)
Round 2, Level 7: 60 BBs on table (start 60,000 each; blinds 1,000/2,000)
Round 3, Level 7: 60 BBs on table (start 120,000 each; blinds 2,000/4,000)
Round 4, Level 7: 48 BBs on table (start 240,000 each; blinds 5,000/10,000)

Levels with 30-minute rounds:
Round 5, Level 5: 80 BBs on table (start 480,000 each; blinds 6,000/12,000)
Quarters, Level 5: 96 BBs on table (start 960,000 each; blinds 10,000/20,000)

Levels with 40-minute rounds:
Semis, Level 4: 128 BBs on table (start 1.92 million each; blinds 15,000/30,000)
Finals, Level 4: 128 BBs on table (start 3.84 million each; blinds 30,000/60,000)

You can see how the schedules were tweaked to ensure the possibility of more “play” in the later matches, although the progression isn’t uniform, with the stacks being relatively more “deep,” then less, then more again.

I don’t know which is better, to be honest -- having each round start with the same stacks and structures as in the WCOOP, or watching players begin with bigger and bigger stacks as they go deeper in the event as is the case at the WSOP. (I do know the scheduling of the heads-up event at the WSOP will probably need to be revisited, as this marked the second year in a row they couldn’t finish within the allotted three days.)

I can see the desire to introduce more “play” in later rounds -- especially since the payouts are so much greater (relatively) later on -- although I would think it would be desirable to keep that progression uniform. Of course, it’s possible to keep the same starting stacks throughout, but change the structure (longer levels, different blind increases) so as to ensure “deeper” stacks as they go. In fact, it might even make for a simpler math exercise to do it that way.

If you were tournament director for a heads-up event, how would you set up your tourney?

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Do What You Love

Do What You Love What You DoKeeping very busy at the moment. Almost too busy to post over here.

But you know I wouldn’t let that happen.

Yesterday I reported on a couple of WCOOP events for the PokerStars blog, the final table for Event No. 30, the $530 buy-in NLHE Triple Shootout, and Event No. 33, the $320 buy-in (with one re-buy & one add-on) six-handed pot-limit Omaha event.

Also had a piece go up over on Betfair poker, “Phil Laak, Poker’s Favorite Stunt Man,” in which I compile a number of anecdotes about the new WSOPE bracelet winner. And today there’s a new “He Said/She Said” entry on Woman Poker Player, the subject this time being the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. Click here for my writing partner Jen Newell’s take on that one, and click here for mine.

Meanwhile, I wanted to recommend one other item to you from this week -- not something of mine but rather an interview with Kathy Liebert on this week’s episode (No. 140) of the always good Two Plus Two Pokercast.

The interview goes for nearly 40 minutes, with a number of topics being covered. (It starts around the 1:05 mark.) Besides being a talented tournament player, Liebert is an especially well-spoken and interesting person.

I enjoyed hearing her thoughts on a wide range of topics, including the difficulty of making a living on the tournament circuit, the state of women in poker today, the WSOP ladies’ event, the sponsorship question, live versus online play and the emergence of online training sites, and more.

I particularly liked one comment Liebert made at the very beginning of the interview when the hosts Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz invited her to share the story of her first getting into poker. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I identified with it, in a way.

Liebert had a successful career in business before moving over into poker in the mid-1990s. Sounded like a difficult decision, in some ways, to leave the safe path and venture over into a less certain mode of existence.

“I had been working very hard, and I was doing a good job and doing well, but my mom had just read this book called Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. And it really got me thinking... ‘I don’t love this job. I’m a capable person. There must be something else I can find that I like, and I won’t really find it until I explore.’”

As someone who not long ago made a similar move -- leaving a full-time position in which I was working hard, doing a good job, but not loving what I was doing -- I liked hearing Liebert talk about her decision to pursue a more enjoyable and rewarding life.

Speaking of... that more enjoyable and rewarding life that I have chosen (of being a freelance writer) beckons once again.

Have a good weekend all!

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Have Books Lost Their Hook?

The EndHad exchanges with a couple of friends this week, both of whom happen to review poker books now and then. As I have done, on occasion, both here and elsewhere.

One was asking me if I could recommend any recent books of poker strategy. I had to admit I wasn’t aware of too many. Most of the poker books I’ve read and reviewed of late have been autobiographical narratives, books like Vicky Coren’s For Richer, For Poorer, Doyle Brunson’s The Godfather of Poker, or Dr. Pauly’s Lost Vegas.

I do know of a few strategy titles either in the works or currently being distributed as “e-books,” but when responding to the question, I couldn’t really put my finger on any recently published, “must-read” (print) books of poker strategy. No obvious ones, anyway. (I did receive a print copy of Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em by Ed Miller, Sunny Mehta, and Matt Flynn this week, but that’s not really a new title as the electronic version of that one was published last summer.)

In the other conversation, my other poker-book-reviewing friend was sharing with me something a friend of his -- a poker author, in fact -- had mentioned to him a week or so ago.

This fairly well-regarded author was saying that most of the poker strategy books that have been published over the last few years were essentially already out of date. I’m imagining he was probably referring especially to those many books put out during that brief explosion of titles that followed the Moneymaker “boom” in 2003.

Remember all of those books? Shelves and shelves of them at the bookstore. Seemed like for a while there we kept hearing about title after title of books we just had to read if we were at all serious about improving our games. There were those players, of course, who proudly noted they had never read a poker strategy text, but there were just as many others who said they did read them -- or who were writing books themselves.

Have Books Lost Their Hook?His reason for saying that the books had gone out of date was the game is changing so rapidly -- both online and live -- any print book of poker strategy is likely to contain advice that no longer applies. The process of book publishing has sped up immensely over the last few years, but it still takes time to get a book out there on the shelves and/or available for purchase online. And such a delay is necessarily harmful when the advice contained in those books is about something as ephemeral as poker and how it is currently being played.

I’m not remembering every detail of what the author was saying here in my second-hand report. But the gist seemed to be that perhaps now it can finally be said that we’ve moved beyond the era of “book learning” in poker, a proclamation my earlier struggle to recommend any new strategy titles seemed to confirm, in a way.

It has been the case for some time now that serious students of the game often seek instruction via coaching, online videos, participation in forums, or other means, with books appearing well down the list of sources for such guidance, if at all.

As someone who has always been a reader -- not to mention an inveterate collector of books -- I’m surprised to report that I do not especially lament the end of the era of poker strategy books (if it is even accurate to suggest that is where we are at present).

Although I’ve read and appreciated dozens of poker strategy books, I have to admit I’ve always been a tad uncertain about whether or not books are really the best delivery method when it comes to poker instruction.

I know for certain that books are an especially good way to tell a story -- such as those authors of the memoirs I mention above do -- and can do so in ways that are not only different from, but arguably better than other modes of storytelling (movies, plays, etc.).

But poker strategy books generally aren’t trying to tell stories. They are trying to teach us how to play a game successfully. We don’t read poker strategy books for the experience of reading them. (Not usually, anyway.) We read poker strategy books to affect our experience when we are not reading but elsewhere, playing. The fact is, there will always be a bit of a disconnect between sitting at the table playing and sitting in your favorite chair reading.

Some authors of poker strategy books are particularly good at helping readers bridge that divide. And some readers are especially talented, too, at applying at the tables what they’ve learned about from reading a book. But I do think it is the case that we’re seeing fewer and fewer of both -- authors and readers -- bothering to try.

But does that really mean we have reached the end of the story of poker strategy books?

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Round-the-Clock Poker

Round-the-Clock PokerAm back on the WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) beat again this week, helping cover the events for the PokerStars blog. Was up late last night with Event No. 26, the $320 mixed hold’em event (recap here), and I’ll be writing up other events over the next week as well.

Yesterday started with my dialing up PokerNews’ coverage of Event No. 1 of the World Series of Poker Europe, the £2,650 six-handed no-limit hold’em event. Looks like they attracted a healthy-sized field of 244 for that one, and this afternoon (or evening in London) they are down to nine players at the moment with Phil Laak, Chris Bjorin, John Tabatabai still with chips.

David Peters, whom I saw come heart-breakingly close to winning a bracelet this summer at the WSOP (in Event No. 54, a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event), is there, too, currently in second behind Andrew Pantling. They will play down to the final six today -- unless they get through 10 more levels first, which is unlikely -- with that bracelet being awarded tomorrow.

That event had begun by the time I woke up here on the east coast yesterday. Then I was up until about four in the morning with my WCOOP event. A long day-slash-night-slash-morning of poker.

My WCOOP event was the first to conclude last night, actually, with both of the other events lasting another hour or so. In one, Event No. 27 ($320 Badugi), John Monnette won the bracelet, outlasting (among others) Greg “Fossilman” Raymer who finished third.

This Week in Poker, 9/14/10 episodeOur buddy Dr. Pauly wrote up the story of that Badugi event early this morning (see here). He was a guest on yesterday’s episode of This Week in Poker, and if you happened to watch you might’ve noticed he had his laptop open and at one point mentioned he was covering the event.

Another good episode of TWiP, by the way, including some conversation in there about about Pauly’s book, Lost Vegas. Worth catching, if you missed it. Oh, and Lacey Jones is on there, too, in a bathrobe, if Pauly ain’t enough to get you over to watch.

I spent a couple of hours last night watching ESPN’s coverage of Day 4 of the WSOP Main Event as well. I was especially interested to watch last night as I was covering the two feature tables for PokerNews that day, and so had been there for a lot of the action that was shown last night. Even caught a number of glimpses of an out-of-focus Shamus last night, too -- mostly over Johnny Chan’s shoulder -- which Vera Valmore got a kick out of. (And maybe I did, too, a little.)

That Day 4 of the Main Event was one of my favorite days of the WSOP this summer, actually, the day the money bubble burst. I wrote at length about it back in July here in a post titled “Your Roving Reporter.”

By the time I packed it in early this morning, I found myself thinking about how full the day had been, poker-wise, taken up as it was with following all the tourneys and shows. Poker players and fans certainly have plenty to occupy themselves these days, never mind actually getting to the tables (online or live) and playing themselves.

Gonna rest up a little for another late night. Meanwhile, I send you over to PokerNews and the PokerStars blog for more pokery fun on these here intertubes.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Tradition (?) Continues: 2010 WSOPE Is Underway

World Series of Poker EuropeThis year’s version of the World Series of Poker Europe has begun, with Event No. 1 underway. Have been following coverage of over on PokerNews this morning, and it appears Phil Ivey has an early lead while Tom Dwan is already out.

This marks the fourth year for the WSOPE. Doesn’t take long in poker these days to build a “tradition,” given the rapid pace of things. Heck, anything in poker that lasts four years starts to take on the quality of a permanent institution, it seems.

I wrote something about the WSOPE over on Betfair poker a week-and-a-half ago, a kind of overview of its history during the first three years. And Marcus Bateman has posted a couple of preview articles over there for the 2010 WSOPE as well. Here he discusses Events Nos. 1-3, and here No. 4 & No. 5.

That’s right, five events this time, the most so far in WSOPE’s short history. There were three in 2007, and four in both 2008 and 2009. And remember, these are technically “bracelet” events, the only ones that have taken place outside of Las Vegas since the WSOP started in 1970. That means 62 WSOP gold bracelets are being awarded altogether in 2010.

Besides the addition of a fifth event, the other interesting change this time around (in my view) is the fact that four of the five tourneys are no-limit hold’em. That is to say, in the past at the WSOPE, hold’em was only part of the story, but this year it is most of the story.

Today’s Event No. 1 is a £2,650 buy-in, six-handed NLHE event. Event No. 3 is another low buy-in (£1,075) NLHE tourney. Event No. 4 is a “high roller” heads-up NLHE tournament with a £10,350 buy-in -- the same price, in fact, as the Main Event (No. 5), also no-limit hold’em, of course.

The only non-hold’em event this time around is Event No. 2, the £5,250 pot-limit Omaha event. There had been a H.O.R.S.E. event in both 2007 and 2008, but it was subsequently dropped. And the PLH/PLO event from last year is gone, too.

Makes sense, I guess, to be hold’em-centric when having a short series like this, as it does increase the likelihood of having more players make the trip to London (a relatively expensive tourney stop). Of course, there are a few folks who who already there for the WPT event that concluded last week, and others who plan to come for the EPT one that kicks off at the conclusion of the WSOPE, so that could help increase field sizes, too.

Having mostly hold’em events at the WSOPE does seem as though it alters the character of that series somewhat, making it seem even more distinct from the regular WSOP in Vegas.

Sure, about two-thirds of the WSOP bracelet events are some variation of hold’em, but there’s generally some non-hold’em happening every single day during those seven weeks in Vegas. Which to me kind of helps give the WSOP a different feel, linking it to earlier “traditions” and poker’s history, to the days when stud and draw games once enjoyed greater prominence, and making the WSOP different from just about every other tourney series out there.

Doesn’t prevent my being intrigued to see how things go over the next couple of weeks in London, though. So, as I say, I’ll be following along today over at PokerNews.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

2010 Poker Hall of Fame Ballot Has Arrived

2010 Poker Hall of Fame BallotLate Friday those of us who will be voting this year to determine who will be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame received our ballots. Time to put on the thinkin’ cap.

The ten names that appear on the ballot are the same ten who were earlier reported as being the most-nominated during the two months that polls were open this summer over on the WSOP site. In other words, no one was added or removed from the list, as happened last year when Tom Dwan’s name was removed.

The voting procedure isn’t exactly what I’d anticipated, but seems fair enough. We are only allowed to vote for three of the 10 nominees, and our votes are to be weighted according to how strongly we favor each candidate. The weighting is done via a “10-point must system,” sort of like what they use in boxing, I think.

Basically the system dictates that the voter must assign 10 points total when scoring. In this case, we can vote for zero, one, two, or three of the nominees. If we choose to vote for three, we then distribute 10 points among the three, giving more points to those we favor more. Get it?

In the end the “two individuals receiving the majority of votes” will be inducted. A little ambiguous, perhaps, but I think that what is intended there is that the two who receive the most points will get in, provided both get votes from at least half the 33 voters (16 living Poker Hall of Famers & 17 media).

Here, again, are the criteria by which nominees are to be judged: (1) a player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition; (2) played for high stakes; (3) played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers; (4) stood the test of time; or (5) for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.

I have an idea already which candidates I plan to vote for, though I haven’t decided yet how I want to distribute my 10 points. The deadline to submit ballots is October 1. How would you cast your vote?

To help you think about it, here’s a list of the 10 with a few details about each:

Chris FergusonAfter earning a Ph.D. in Computer Science at UCLA, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson won the WSOP Main Event in 2000, the first of five bracelets he earned at the Series from 2000-2003. He’s also won three WSOP Circuit events, and has somewhere around $8 million in lifetime career tourney winnings (dating back to 1993).

A fixture at the WSOP, where he enters dozens of events each summer, the 47-year-old Ferguson has a whopping 63 total WSOP cashes, which puts him third on the all-time list behind Phil Hellmuth and Men Nguyen. That includes an impressive 30 WSOP final tables.

Ferguson also has a NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship (2008) plus two runner-ups in that event (2005, 2006), as well as a WPT final table.

Thanks in large part to the fact that his WSOP successes came just before and as the poker “boom” was hitting, Ferguson has become one of a few iconic figures in poker over recent years thanks to frequent appearances on television, thus finding a place on many poker fans’ short list of favorite players.

Barry GreensteinLike Ferguson, Barry Greenstein studied computer science in college and graduate school, but stopped short of the Ph.D. Until his mid-30s he worked for the computer software company, Symantec, at which point he left that position to play poker full-time.

Greenstein has accumulated more than $7 million in tourney winnings since 1992. In addition to his three WSOP bracelets (2004, 2005, 2008) and two WPT titles (2004, 2006), the 55-year-old Greenstein has long been regarded a top high stakes cash game player, including being a prominent figure in the “Big Game” at Bobby’s Room in the Bellagio. Indeed, Greenstein has said he only got into tournament poker at the behest of his children who wanted to see him television.

For a time Greenstein donated his tourney winnings to charity, earning him the nickname “the Robin Hood of poker,” although he found the expense of the tournament circuit too great to continue doing so. That was one of the topics I asked Greenstein about when I had the chance to interview him -- in Bobby’s Room, actually -- in the spring of 2009 (Part 1 & Part 2).

Greenstein has also written a well-regarded “advanced poker guide,” titled Ace on the River (2005), in which he addresses a lot of issues and concerns faced by the professional poker player, including those beyond the table.

Jennifer Harman-TranielloJennifer Harman-Traniello also is known for being a long time participant in the “Big Game,” as well as being a proven player (like Greenstein) in many different games. At the WSOP she has 26 cashes (dating back to 1996) and two bracelets, both in open events.

The story goes that prior to winning her first bracelet in the $5,000 buy-in Deuce-to-Seven Lowball event in 2000, Harman-Traniello had never even played the game, having received a quick five-minute tutorial before the tourney began from Howard Lederer. Her other bracelet came in 2002 in a $5,000 limit hold’em event.

Harman-Traniello (aged 45) has a couple of WPT final tables to her credit as well, helping add to her more than $2.5 million lifetime tourney earnings. She also contributed the chapter on limit hold’em to Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2 (2004).

All serious conversations about the “best female poker player” include Harman-Traniello, with many arguing -- including fellow nominee Daniel Negreanu -- that Harman-Traniello deserves the honor.

Dan HarringtonOn a recent episode of ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 WSOP Main Event, Dan Harrington was at the feature table, and it was mentioned that “Action Dan” has made an incredible four final tables at the Main Event.

Harrington’s first ME final table was in 1987, when he finished sixth. He then won the ME in 1995, and got back to the final table in 2003 (finishing third) and 2004 (finishing fourth). A remarkable feat, really, considering the time span and the field sizes for those latter two (873 in 2003, and 2,576 in 2004).

A champion backgammon player and chess master, in poker Harrington (aged 64) has amassed over $6.5 million in career tourney earnings over the last 25 years. He has two WSOP bracelets (the other came in a $2,500 no-limit hold’em event the same year he won the ME, in 1995), and a WPT title (2007).

Harrington has also exerted enormous influence on tournament poker strategy thanks to the well-regarded Harrington on Hold’em series of books (published 2004-2006) he co-authored with Bill Robertie.

Phil IveyPhil Ivey is 34 years old. Most know the story of his having snuck into Atlantic City poker rooms when underage (with his “Jerome” fake I.D.). Thus might his “career” be described as having lasted about 15 years to this point, with his first tournament cashes coming about a decade ago.

Relatively speaking, then, it has been a brief career for Ivey, at least when compared to the careers preceding the induction of many of the other 38 players currently in the Poker Hall of Fame. But when it comes to just about any other measure of comparison with other players, Ivey’s superiority is hard to deny.

During that brief time, Ivey has earned more than $13.5 million in tournaments alone, a figure that puts him at the top of the Hendon Mob all-time money list. He has 40 WSOP cashes, including 22 final tables and eight bracelets (the first in 2000, the most recent in 2010). He’s also won a WPT title (2008), and has made nine WPT final tables.

In addition to his tourney successes, Ivey is universally acknowledged as one of the best cash game players -- of all variations of poker -- and like Greenstein and Harman has been a fixture in the “Big Game.” His online success is well-documented, too, with a recent report noting that he’d won over $19 million on Full Tilt Poker since 2007.

Linda JohnsonKnown for some time now as “The First Lady of Poker,” Linda Johnson has been a player three decades, although her accomplishments are easily the most modest of the 2010 nominees.

Johnson has earned around $320,000 in tourneys since her first cash in 1989. Johnson won one WSOP bracelet in 1997 in the $1,500 razz event. She has 10 cashes in the WSOP overall, including three in 2010.

Johnson (aged 57) has nonetheless contributed significantly to the growth and well being of poker in other ways, most conspicuously as the publisher of CardPlayer magazine for eight years during the 1990s. She’s also a guiding force behind the Tournament Directors Association, and last year founded PokerGives.org, a site that helps poker players more easily donate to charities.

Johnson holds a kind of “ambassador” position for poker not unlike that of 2009 inductee Mike Sexton, with many in the poker world especially appreciative of her many important contributions to the game’s welfare.

Tom McEvoyTom McEvoy is best known for having won the 1983 WSOP Main Event after having won his entry into the $10,000 tournament via a satellite, the first such player to do so. Incidentally, the idea for satellites is often credited to Eric Drache, another player/contributor to poker whom some believe belongs in the Poker Hall of Fame.

McEvoy (aged 65) won four WSOP bracelets altogether (the last in 1992), and by my count made 19 WSOP final tables (the last in 2002). He’s earned more than $2.9 million since his first cash back in 1982. He also won that “WSOP Champions Invitational” in 2009, besting a field of 20 former WSOP ME champs.

McEvoy is additionally known for his successful efforts to eliminate smoking in poker rooms as well as for having authored or co-authored a number of poker strategy books (including several with Poker Hall of Famer T.J. Cloutier).

Daniel NegreanuLike Ivey, 36-year-old Daniel Negreanu strikes most as being on the young side when it comes to discussions about the Poker Hall of Fame. Yet his accomplishments during what is also essentially a 15-year career are similarly impressive, and compare well to those who have played much longer.

Negreanu has won four WSOP bracelets (1998, 2003, 2004, and 2008) and two WPT titles (both in 2004). He’s racked up more than $12.5 million in career tourney earnings since his first recorded cash in 1997, and was sitting atop the all-time leaderboard until Ivey recently passed him.

Like Greenstein, Harrington, and McEvoy, Negreanu is a poker author, having published numerous columns and three books of strategy (two of which are compilations of his columns).

Negreanu is also a ubiquitous figure on television, having appeared on all of the most popular poker shows and even having had a show (“PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge”) built around him. Additional cameo spots in the occasional film (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), music video (Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas”), or commercial (Pepsi) have helped increase the profile of “Kid Poker” for non-poker audiences as well.

Scotty NguyenScotty Nguyen, a.k.a. the “Prince of Poker,” has earned over $11.5 million in tournament winnings over the last 20 years (fifth on the all-time list), highlighted by a victory in the 1998 WSOP Main Event.

His line during the final hand of that tournament -- “You call, it’s gonna be all over baby!” -- delivered to his opponent Kevin McBride just before McBride did call (and it was all over), helped provide one of the most memorable moments in WSOP history.

The 47-year-old has five WSOP bracelets altogether, plus a WPT title and eight WPT final tables. Nguyen’s most recent WSOP bracelet was won in 2008 in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event or “Player’s Championship.” His boorish, drunken behavior at that final table, presented in detail on ESPN’s coverage, has been the subject of much discussion, with some believing it might have hurt his chances for making the Poker Hall of Fame.

Nguyen nevertheless remains a huge fan favorite, something I witnessed again first-hand last summer when covering him in the latter stages of the 2010 WSOP Main Event (where he finished 209th).

Erik SeidelErik Seidel began his poker career back at the famed Mayfair Club in New York in the 1980s, where Harrington also played. A much-respected player with a long career of consistent success, the 50-year-old has collected over $10 million in tourney winnings over the last 22 years.

Seidel’s first tournament cash was perhaps his most famous. In what was reportedly the first major event he ever played, Seidel took runner-up in the 1988 WSOP Main Event to Poker Hall of Famer Johnny Chan, the final hand of which was immortalized in Rounders (1998).

Seidel has since won eight WSOP bracelets (from 1992 to 2007), cashing 60 times at the Series. Among those 60 WSOP cashes are 33 final tables -- including a couple this past summer -- putting him in the top five for both lists (most cashes, most FTs). He also has a WPT title and this year took second in the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.

There they are. Okay, so you have 10 points you can give to three (at most) of these nominees. How you gonna distribute ’em?

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Kicking Myself (Rather Than Letting Someone Else Kick)

Kicking Myself (Rather Than Letting Someone Else Kick It)NFL Football kicked off last night. You’re asking if I am I ready for some football? Yes, please. Lots.

As I did last year, I joined a pool again this time around in which we pick winners for all the games (straight up, not against the spread). No fantasy football stuff for me, I’m afraid. Never did get into that whole phenomenon, and I still can’t quite figure out how it can be enjoyable to watch games pulling for particular players to perform rather than teams to win or lose. But lots of people do.

I managed to pick New Orleans to beat Minnesota last night. The Saints won 14-9, meaning I begin my year of picking games 1-0. Just 255 games to go, I believe.

I did notice that the line for the game -- at least when I checked it yesterday -- had New Orleans favored by six points. And I also noticed how the N.O. kicker, Garrett Hartley, missed a couple of field goals, including a chip shot from 32 yards midway through the fourth quarter, meaning those who bet on the Saints versus the spread lost their bets. And those who took the Vikings and the points were winners.

The second missed field goal -- the one that would have pushed the lead beyond the point spread -- reminded me of that helpless feeling I tend to associate with betting on sports. You can educate yourself, studying trends and weighing probabilities with a careful eye before placing your wagers. But in the end, others are gonna decide your fate. Every single time.

In poker, we’re similarly subject to forces outside of our control, but we’re usually given lots of opportunities to decide how much or how little we want to subject ourselves to those forces. That’s one way of describing the difference, anyway.

For example, yesterday I jumped into an $8.80 satellite to one of the WCOOP events on PokerStars in which I came up short. As happens in these things, I made a key decision at the end that ultimately affected my result -- in this case, negatively. And while I fell victim to an unfortunate card falling, I still felt as though I had something to do with how things turned out.

100% First Deposit Bonus at PokerStarsThe satellite was for today’s Event No. 16, the $215 buy-in six-handed pot-limit Omaha event. (See the full WCOOP schedule here). The tourney was set up as a six-handed turbo (five-minute levels) and was actually a rebuy, too, although I managed to chip up enough during the rebuy period to avoid having to do so. I didn’t take the add on, either, meaning I was only in for the original $8.80. Forty players entered, and with the rebuys and addons that ended up meaning the top four finishers would get spots in the event, with fifth-place getting a decent payday (like $180 or something) as well.

I bobbed and weaved my way into the final nine with a below average stack, then won a couple of pots after that to sit with 15,885 chips -- fourth out of the remaining nine, I believe. At the time, I had the biggest stack at my four-handed table, with the others having 12,625, 6,500, and 3,400. Looking back, I’m thinking it might well have been time to put my head in the turtle shell and tighten up, but that isn’t what happened.

I picked up AsAh8d4d under the gun and raised pot to 1,750, half-anticipating a possible showdown with one of the shorties. The one with 3,400 was on the button and (strangely) just called the raise. The SB folded, but then the big blind -- with 12,625 to start -- decided to reraise to 7,250.

I could well have let go here. I am capable of folding aces preflop in PLO, which in some cases can be warranted, especially if they aren’t suited or have any other big cards to go with them. I did have that small diamond draw, but really this wasn’t such a great A-A-x-x hand. Right or wrong, I went for it, reraising and we ended up having a three-way, all-in situation. The short stack had AcKdTs9c and the larger stack in the BB had KsKhQs6d.

I glanced at all three hands and decided I liked mine best, and in fact, according to Two Dimes, I’m 51% to win here. But I was hardly feeling comfortable.

The flop was decent -- Jh8h6h. I was still ahead and still a slight favorite. But the turn was the Kc -- the case king! (ack!) -- giving my bigger-stacked opponent a set, and the 6c on the river sealed it. That knocked me back to just 3,200 or so, and it wasn’t long before I was all in against two players with a marginal hand and got bounced in seventh place.

Was kicking myself afterwards over it, but I can’t say I felt nearly as helpless about it as I would have if I’d lost a bundle thanks to a player missing a short field goal late in the game as happened last night. After all, I made the call, one of many decisions I made during the course of the tourney. Wasn’t like I just sat there and let it happen without me.

Betfair PokerGonna go study the Sunday schedule now to see if I can keep up my streak. Meanwhile, I have a new piece up over on Betfair called “A Game You Cannot Quit,” if you’re looking for more reading material. Am kind of curious to get feedback on that one, actually.

Enjoy your weekend, all!

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