Friday, December 31, 2010

Hard-Boiled Poker 2010 Year in Review (3 of 3)

'Spicy Detective' magazine (October 1936)We’re almost there.

Like the rest of you (I’m guessing), I was also marveling yesterday at the buzz surrounding all of those announcements coming from UltimateBet. Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth are leaving. Joe Sebok is staying. And apparently Prahlad Friedman -- who’d once been gutted by the cheating on UB back in the day -- is apparently joining the team as a newly-sponsored pro (not confirmed, although UB.com did accidentally post Friedman’s name on Duke’s old bio page for a short while yesterday).

Having been caught up in this business of recapping the year at HBP, I realized I hadn’t written a heck of a lot here about UltimateBet in 2010. The fact is, while the departures of Hellmuth and Duke are certainly notable, some of us left UB long ago. And I mostly stopped thinking about the site this year, my last genuine comment about UB coming back in January when I spent only part of one post alluding to the ongoing troubles with the hand histories. Also wrote a little back in November about the speculation surrounding Hellmuth’s future with the site in a post titled “Signs of the Times: Hellmuth & UB.”

All of which is to say, while I understand how the sponsorship soap opera and the machinations of top pros are of great concern to many, I’m mostly ambivalent these days about who is a UB pro and who isn’t. As I noted in a post in the fall of 2009 -- after that hardly-final “final decision” on the UB insider cheating scandal was issued by the KGC -- my reaction to a lot of UB-related news tends to be that it’s “none of my business.”

Let’s get this sucker back on the road, then. On Wednesday we made it from January to April, then yesterday from May to August. That brings us to...

September

'2010 Poker Hall of Fame Ballot Has Arrived' (9/13/10)In September I was largely preoccupied with the World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars, writing a few times about the WCOOP in between reporting on it.

Think I’ll point to some posts on other topics from the month, however.

Speaking of Prahlad Friedman, early in September I wrote a post responding to that infamous “countdown hand” in which he was involved from the WSOP Main Event, the one in which Friedman appeared to have made a call prior to being timed out -- a call that would’ve ended his tourney run -- but benefited from a favorable ruling. The post, titled “Finding the Right Angle,” argues against the idea that Friedman was angle-shooting while also touching on that blown call from earlier in the summer which took away Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.

The connection? Humans screw up sometimes.

Football season started, which meant I’d once again joined a “pick’em” pool in which I was trying (and mostly failing) to pick NFL winners. Got me thinking again about the differences between sports betting/gambling and poker, and I ended up producing a couple of posts on the theme: “Kicking Myself (Rather Than Letting Someone Else Kick)” and “The Search for a System.”

Speaking of gambling, Rep. Barney Frank appeared on Jay Leno to talk about various topics, including legislating online gambling in the U.S. In “Online Gambling in the Mainstream Media; or, Getting Frank with Leno” I discuss their conversation, responding in particular to some curious comments by the comedian.

Mid-month I reported that the “2010 Poker Hall of Fame Ballot Has Arrived,” and discussed all 10 candidates at length as I contemplated my vote.

Had a couple of occasions to talk about the WSOP this month. In “Minding the Gaps in World Series of Poker History” I noted how even the most significant details of some of the early WSOP Main Events appear to have been lost. And in “Are WSOPE Bracelets ‘Real’?” I addressed that controversy over the WSOP Europe bracelets, revived again in September as the WSOPE played out.

I also found myself writing more than once about poker books, specifically how they seem to be fading from the culture (along with books, generally speaking) in “Have Books Lost Their Hook?” and “Anybody Here Ever Read...?

Let me also note one other, kind of funny post from this month -- “Stop! Thief! Who, Me?” -- in which I tell the story of my having mistakenly stolen a lady’s shopping cart, an act I compare to making a not-so-well-disguised bluff attempt.

October

'Stacks Get Big, Emotions Run High: ESPN’s Coverage of 2010 WSOP Main Event Continues Tonight' (10/5/10)Began the month fretting over having endured a long stretch of “Break-Even Poker.” Meanwhile, I was becoming distracted like everyone else by the ever-building WSOP Main Event “November Nine” hype. In “Stacks Get Big, Emotions Run High: ESPN’s Coverage of 2010 WSOP Main Event Continues Tonight” I comment in particular on having covered eventual fourth-place finisher Filippo Candio in the Main Event.

Poker & Pop Culture, Revisited” compiles a number of columns I’ve written over the last couple of years about poker turning up in non-pokery contexts. “Secret (and Not-So-Secret) Identities in Poker” talks from a reporter’s perspective about how so many players have a couple of different identities -- online and live. And “From the Mayfair Club to Poker’s Most Exclusive Club: Harrington, Seidel Newest Poker Hall of Famers” reflects a bit on how that HOF vote turned out.

I crossed another milestone this month, reaching the 1,200th post here on HBP. That occasioned some reflection about the blog in “The Urge to Keep Writing” and “The Urge to Keep Writing, Continued.”

Speaking of writing, I published a short story over on Dr. Pauly’s “Truckin’” site in October, a mean little hard-boiled tale titled “Burial Detail.” Wrote about it a little in a post titled “Tournaments Are Like Short Stories, Cash Games Like Novels.”

Other posts from October included one called “Robot Rights (and Wrongs)” that responded to the discovery of (a lot of) “poker bots” on Full Tilt Poker, another titled “Physicists & Poker” that draws some connections between the two disciplines, and a response to an episode of “The Big Game” titled “Robl, Negreanu & Tony G Play Poker (and Other Games) on TV.”

November

'2010 WSOP Main Event Final Table: Limping to the Finish' (11/9/10)Like many, I spent the first half of November mostly riveted by the exciting conclusion of the WSOP Main Event.

Early in November I talked about “Watching the Affleck-Duhamel Hand,” noting how incredibly well-staged that little human drama turned out to be when it was finally aired on ESPN.

In “Nine Lives: WSOP Main Event Resumes Tomorrow” I pegged Joseph Cheong as a final table favorite, then soon was writing about the hand that ultimately broke him in “2010 WSOP Main Event Final Table: Cheong Strong? Or Just Wrong?” I then talked about how heads-up saw the WSOP “Limping to the Finish” before running through all of the hands featured in “The Finale on ESPN.”

Speaking of the WSOP, you probably heard that 2008 WSOP ME champ Peter Eastgate sold his bracelet (for charity) on eBay. I considered the significance of his doing so in a post titled “On Eastgate and the Bracelet; or, Must WSOP Main Event Champs Do Our Bidding?

I spent a couple of posts -- under the heading “No Cannes Do: On the Disqualification at Partouche” -- discussing the cheating scandal that occurred at the Partouche Poker Tour Grand Finale, the one in which a German player named Ali Tekintamgac employed some pseudo-bloggers to help him unfairly maneuver his way to the final table. The first post shares details of the incident, primarily drawing on Benjo’s excellent reporting of it. The second post then adds some commentary, primarily concentrating on the ethics/responsibilities of reporters.

The end of November saw me travel to Marrakech, Morocco to help PokerNews with its coverage of the WPT event. Was another memorable adventure, for sure. My travel reports from that journey spilled over into December, but I’ll collect all them links right here: Arrival, Day 1a, Day 1b, Day 2, and Day 3.

December

'Adding to the Cacophony: More on the 'Reid Bill'' (12/9/10)December began with some good news for your humble scribe -- Hard-Boiled Poker had been “Nominated! Bluff Reader’s Choice Awards (Favorite Poker Blog).” No shinola!

Voting is still open for that through January 16, 2011, by the way. Click here to go cast a ballot.

I took a “shot in the dark” and wrote about “Audacity in Poker,” drawing upon James M. Cain’s great hard-boiled novel Double Indemnity to do so.

Then came the so-called “Reid Bill,” that failed piece of legislation to license and regulate online poker in the U.S. Offered a few commentaries on that, including “Getting a Reid on the Situation: On the ‘Prohibition of Internet Gaming, Internet Poker Regulation and UIGEA Enforcement Act’,” “Adding to the Cacophony: More on the ‘Reid Bill’,” and “Zombie Bill Dies, UIGEA Monster Lives.” Related discussions come up in “The Future... What Can We Bank On?”, “The Status Quo,” and “The Search for New Players (and Hats).”

Isildur1 recaptured our attention in December, as evidenced in “Stars Scoops Isildur1” and “Haxton Takes First SuperStar Showdown.”

I wrote about an NFL coach tripping a player running down the sideline and other forms of cheating (conscious or otherwise) in “Thoughts About Not Thinking,” a curious sequence on “The Big Game” in “The Not-So-Loose Cannon Folds Aces,” and a cool new web-based show in “Everybody’s Watching ‘The Micros’.”

Hey, it looks like we’ve made it! Just in time, too, as the tank was getting dangerously close to “E.”

Big thanks once again for riding along with me in 2010, and best of luck to you in your travels through 2011.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hard-Boiled Poker 2010 Year in Review (2 of 3)

'Spicy Detective' magazine, July 1937All right. Let’s get back on the road here, why don’t we? Time’s running out on 2010, and we’re not even halfway there.

Yesterday I recapped the first four months of the past year of Hard-Boiled Poker. Today we’ll drive through August, a trip that will carry us through Las Vegas and the World Series of Poker, as well as south of the equator for a week in Lima, Peru to join the Latin American Poker Tour.

If we make good time today, then tomorrow we should finally get where we’re going, I imagine. That’s barring any unforeseen detours.

Which’ll come up now and then, dontcha know.

May

'Iambic Pentameter Is Not As Easy As It Looks' (5/5/10)May began with me finally quitting the day job, an event noted in brief in “The Brain Kept a-Rollin’ All Night Long.” I reflected a bit further on the situation in “‘What do you do?’” -- the title of which alludes to that question we’re often asked, especially when first meeting someone.

The first part of the month my attention was mostly taken up with PokerStars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker series. Then the focus turned to the WSOP.

Had a number of SCOOP-related posts. “On Deal-Making; or, Everybody Wants a SCOOP” compares the relative smoothness of deals I saw being made at both a high-stakes buy-in event and a low-stakes one. “Iambic Pentamenter Is Not As Easy As It Looks” shows me translating one of the events’ final tables into couplets. And “Draw Poker Drama” shares the story of a nearly-monumental misclick by a player while heads-up.

Team PokerStars Pro Pat Pezzin went deep in a SCOOP draw event, and after watching Pat standing pat I wrote a post titled “Is Punning a Vice, or Vice-Versa?” Then in “Talkin’ Tourneys” I relate how I actually scored a seat in the “low” version of the SCOOP Main Event -- satelliting my way in for just three bucks! -- but didn’t manage to cash in the big one.

Moving into the latter half of May, the WSOP began to occupy us all. Prior to heading out to Vegas, I had an idea to host a “WSOP Bloggers Roundtable” over on Betfair Poker, inviting a dozen blogger/reporters who’d covered the WSOP in the past to discuss their experiences and talk about the upcoming series (details here).

Then came my trip out. Was given a nifty pair of noise-canceling headphones for the plane ride by Vera, her mom, and my mom, which inspired “Canceling Out the Noise.” Once established at the home-away-from-home I got an early “Wake-Up Call,” then got to enjoy some “Fun and Games” over at the Doyle Brunson Beer Pong Invitational III before work began in earnest.

In “Day 1: Exile on Hotel Rio Drive” I chat with Benjo about the Rolling Stones’ best album. In “Day 2: The Grand Games” I opine about all of those $1K buy-in, no-limit hold’em events. And in “Day 3: Groundhog Day” I discuss covering events with multiple Day Ones.

June

2010 WSOP, Day 17: Ladies Event Final Table (6/14/10)Speaking of detours, after just a few days at the WSOP I took a big one, traveling from Las Vegas to Lima, Peru where I spent a week helping Otis cover the LAPT event there for the PokerStars blog. Was a fantastic trip, chronicled here in travel reports: Arrival, Pregame, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Departure.

A coupla weird coincidences occurred there in Lima. One was the winner of the Main Event, Jose “Nacho” Barbero of Argentina, just happened to have won the previous LAPT event, too, in Punta del Este.

The other coincidence was decidedly more grim. Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the murder of U.S. teenager Natalee Hollaway in Aruba back in 2005, apparently killed another woman right there in Lima just a couple of days before we arrived -- on May 30th, in fact, the five-year anniversary of Hollaway’s disappearance. He fled to Chile, where he was promptly arrested.

Back in Vegas, I recapped my week away in “Days 4-11: Catching Up,” then began filing daily reports. I’ll just pick out a few of the posts to mention here, but if you click here you can see a compilation of all 44 of those posts (including summaries).

Day 12: Rejoining the Spectacle” tells how Shannon Elizabeth tweeted a picture of me. (Well, perhaps not of me, specifically....) “Day 13: The Real Tournament of Champions?” marvels at the field in the $10K 2-7 NL Draw Championship. And “Day 16: On Covering the Ladies Event” and “Day 17: Ladies Event Final Table” describe my experience covering Days 2 and 3 of the Ladies Event. I hadn’t been there for the first day of that event when a handful of men decided to play, causing a mighty ruckus. But I’d certainly heard a lot about it, and was very conscious of the many related issues being debated as a result.

In “Day 19: The Day One Debate” I discuss the relative merits of fussing over the reporting of chip counts on the first day of a multi-day event. In “Day 23: The Act You’ve Known For All These Years” I tell how Vera and I got to see Cheap Trick’s “Sgt. Pepper” show. And in “Day 26: Observing Obrestad” I talk about finally getting to cover the Norwegian phenom in a live event.

In “Day 29: Fun and Games,” an impromptu game of paper toss in the media box gives Benjo a chance to tell me my balls are too small. “Day 30: “‘You’re Winning This One’” tells of Gavin Smith’s bracelet win, foreseen a day earlier by FlipChip. And in “Day 32: The Grand Games, Part 2,” I revisit that discussion of the $1K events, lengthily reflecting on their significance as well as the many interesting stories that emerged in the one I was then covering (Event No. 47).

July

'2010 WSOP, Day : The Long Walk' (7/15/10)Continuing with the WSOP, “Day 35: In Person” tells about meeting and reporting on neat people like Kara Scott, Jena Delk, and Mike Johnson -- folks I’d known before but hadn’t met face-to-face. “Day 36: On the Schneid” recounts a dinner with 2007 WSOP Player of the Year Tom Schneider in which he shared some insights about the long grind that is the Series. And “Day 39: From Where I’m Sitting” gets into some of the issues regarding media access and restrictions on such, issues which were starting to heat up as the Main Event was getting under way.

Speaking of the Main Event, “Day 42: Day 1d Anecdotes” shares a handful of stories from early in the tourney. “Day 43: Following the Action” tells of a weird hand involving Chris Moneymaker and Bryan Pellegrino (with the latter commenting on the post). Then “Day 44: The Return of the World Poker Tour” reports from a press conference at the Bellagio where I got to meet Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, and a few other folks with whom you might be familiar.

Out of 130 entrants, I somehow made it all of the way to finishing third in the WSOP Media Event this year. I celebrated by going to see Snoop Dogg, ’cos that’s how I roll. Read about it in “Day 45: Tournies & Trophies, Gin & Juice.”

Day 46: The Odd Couple” talks about Robert Varkonyi and Vanessa Selbst, two very different players seated next to one another on Day 3 of the Main Event. “Day 48: The Long Walk” recalls that old Stephen King novel (written as Richard Bachman), drawing a comparison between its story and the WSOP Main Event. Then on Day 49 things really start to get “Intense,” on Day 50 we were “Almost There,” and on Day 51 we’d finally reached “The End.”

Back home again, I refocused on legislative issues in “Oh, Right... the UIGEA,” then again in “House Financial Services Committee Passes H.R. 2267.” I also took a couple of “shots in the dark” with a post about “Competence in Poker,” then another titled “Time Isn’t Holding Us, Time Isn’t After Us.”

That latter one -- evoking the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” -- is another self-reflective post about how we all make our meanings as we drive along through this life. Speaking of, let’s continue our ride through summer and into...

August

'The Hottest Band in the World (Sort of)' (8/16/10)Early in August came a post called “Dam Bluffers” in which I relate a funny story from the online tables, one that illustrates in another way how we each see the world a little differently. Actually I hadn’t been writing a lot of “on the street” posts about my own play, something I reflected on a little in “Hands & Happenings (In Search Of).”

Vera Valmore and I took a vacation mid-month, and quite unexpectedly ended up seeing a KISS cover band. In “The Hottest Band in the World (Sort of),” I wrote a little about the show, and also about the idea of “originality” as it applies to poker/poker strategy.

During ESPN’s coverage of this year’s Main Event, Mike Matusow threw out a hard-to-believe-sounding-claim that in the 2008 ME only one player in the top 100 of the chip counts after Day 1 went on to cash. I had to investigate that one, and shared my findings in “The True Story: Day 1 Chip Leaders at the WSOP Main Event.”

As the month drew to close I began “Thinking About the Poker Hall of Fame, Class of 2010,” primarily because this year I was asked to participate along with a handful of other poker media and cast a vote. Daniel Negreanu called Annie Duke a name, which I couldn’t help writing about in “Negreanu and Duke’s War of Word.” Then I spent the last two days of the month sharing several of the points appearing in an interesting article from 1963 by John Lukacs called “Poker and American Character.” Had to split that one into two parts -- Part 1 and Part 2.

Well, we’ve made it. Get out and stretch your legs. Still have a ways to go. See you back here tomorrow and we’ll take it the rest of the way.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hard-Boiled Poker 2010 Year in Review (1 of 3)

'Spicy Detective' magazine, February 1935Year’s almost up. Gotta get me a new calendar. For 2010, Vera Valmore bought me this cool one with pictures of covers from old issues of Spicy Detective and other 1930s hard-boiled pulp mags. Most featuring damsels in varying degrees of distress. And sometimes undress.

Might have to get something tamer this time around. Although now that I think about it, the past year definitely had a lot a spice for your humble gumshoe.

I made it back to the World Series of Poker for a third summer. Was in Vegas as well for the NAPT Venetian, then managed to hit a couple of other continents to help cover tourneys in Lima, Peru and Marrakech, Morocco. Continued to contribute also to various sites, including Betfair Poker, Woman Poker Player, the PokerStars blog, and PokerNews.

Add that to all the scribbling happening here at Hard-Boiled Poker, and it perhaps ain’t surprising that I took the leap to full-time freelancing, in mid-year finally leaving a full-time job I’d had for some time. Was not a simple step, though. As I was talking about at the end of yesterday’s post, poker players well know how sometimes the correct move is plain to see, but it is still hard to make it.

Before turning the final page on that 2010 calendar, I thought I’d take a trip back through the 12 months and point back to a few of the 284 posts from this year.

You say you wanna come along? All right, hop in. I’ll drive.

January

'On Poker and Driving' (1/27/10)One of the first posts of the year, “If at First You Do Succeed,” took a look an old gambling-themed episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Recalling the plot of that one makes me think of a line from Rick Bennet’s 1995 poker novel, King of a Small World (which I wrote about just last week) -- “if you win a jackpot the first time you pull a slot handle, you’ve got the devil on your shoulder, not an angel.”

Speaking of, this idea that somehow winning leads to losing came up again in another context later in the month. A serious study of online poker had appeared in the Journal of Gambling Studies, then got summarized poorly in USA Today. I wrote about both the study and the summary in a post titled “An Academic Approach to Poker (Gets Dumbed Down).” One of the mistakes the USA Today writer made was to misrepresent a point made in the study that “a high win percentage (i.e. the percentage of total hands won by a player) is negatively correlated with win rate.” That post elicited a lot of response, actually, including from the study’s author, Kyle Siler, and from poker pro Andy Bloch.

In January I finally became aware of the Poker Table Ratings site and considered some the effects of having one’s online play comprehensively chronicled and available to all in “Keeping Track of Those Keeping Track.” Came back to this issue later in the month in a post titled “‘My Observations Tell Me’” in which I recount an incident in which a player at my table read off another’s stats (from PTR) as we played.

The much liked and respected Amir Vahedi died in early 2010, and I noted his passing in “Live, Laugh, and Love: The Life of Amir Vahedi.” While I covered Vahedi in tourneys, I never met him personally. But many of my poker reporter colleagues did, and they uniformly spoke fondly of the cigar-chomping pro.

Rush Poker debuted on Full Tilt Poker in January. I tried it out. Wrote about it a couple of times -- “Riding the Rush” & “More Rush Poker....” Incidentally, I made out like a bandit during my first several sessions of Rush Poker (PLO25), then did not fare so well afterwards and have rarely played it over recent months. (I have heard a number of people had similar experiences with Rush Poker.)

The month ended with a response to an interesting New York Times Book Review piece by the Russian chess master Garry Kasparov in “Talking Chess, Poker, and AI,” some brooding “On Poker and Driving,” a reconsideration of “The Amateur vs. the Professional” debate, and a reflection on the life and death of the author of The Catcher in the Rye in “Salinger’s Game of Solitaire.”

February

'Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 5' (2/25/10)Poker pro and “Amazing Race” alum Tiffany Michelle appeared on MSNBC in late January to talk about health care reform. Yeah, I know, sounds odd. But there it is. The appearance predictably featured a ton of poker-related metaphors, giving me a chance to evoke George Orwell and write about “Poker and the English Language.”

Play the Game Existence to the End of the Beginning” is a “shot in the dark” post about this weird need we all feel sometimes to get even before quitting, and how the significance of such is often quite private -- a good example of existentialism in poker, actually.

I see a post early in the month about “A Mistake at Cake” in which I discuss an instance of the software malfunctioning at the site. Another foul-up happened there again a few weeks ago, by the way. In fact, Lee Jones has very recently left his position as the site’s Card Room Manager, saying that Cake’s “management has made some decisions with which I’m not comfortable.” Serge “Adanthar” Ravitch also left his spot as Cake’s tournament director. To say things could be going better at Cake right now is perhaps an understatement.

You remember the Super Bowl, don’t you? And how New Orleans decided to open the second half with an onside kick? Still marvel at that gutsy decision. Wrote about it then in a post titled “When the Saints Go Marching (All) In.” Talked about poker and sports in a different way later in the month in “The Olympics, A Chance to Contemplate the Significance of ‘Sport’” -- a post that features a picture of our buddy B.J. Nemeth and his famous friend and traveling companion, Rhapsody.

Talking ’Bout Women, Men, Poker, and Horses” tackles the issue of women and backing. “Who Has the Power?” responds to Bluff Magazine’s list of the most powerful people/entities in poker. And “The Flitcraft Parable” finds me discussing one of my favorite passages in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon -- with reference to poker, natch.

February ended with my trip to Vegas to help cover the NAPT Venetian Main Event and High Roller shootout for the PokerStars blog, an adventure chronicled here in travel reports: Arrival, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, and Postscript.

Probably my favorite moment among those posts is an exchange between myself and F-Train that occurred as we crossed paths between the tables on one of the later days.

“So, have you found the meaning yet?” asked F-Train of me. “I have,” I answered. “But it’s private and no one would really understand it.”

March

'Live Poker: Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach, FL' (3/9/10)I heard a talk by Gloria Steinem, and afterwards wrote a post about men and women called “Poker and Stereotyping.”

Was as shocked as everyone by the news of a robbery at the European Poker Tour stop in Berlin. I’d had the chance to help cover an earlier event on that season’s EPT tour (in Kyiv, Ukraine), and of course a lot of my friends and colleagues were there in Germany at the time of “An Unscheduled Break: Bedlam in Berlin.”

Vera Valmore and I took a fun trip down to West Palm Beach, Florida in early March. I had a chance to play a bit of poker (a few months before the limits were raised there this past summer). Wrote a lengthy report of my experience: “Live Poker: Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach, FL.” Speaking of the lovely Vera, in “Finding the Time” I contemplate how to respond to her question “If this were yesterday what time would it be now?” I also talk about why I prefer cash games to tourneys.

Over in the “high society” category (i.e., posts about professional poker players and tournaments), I remarked on “Something Noteworthy: Duke Wins NBC Heads-Up,” talked about the new TOC planned for the WSOP as well as the old ones in “The Tournament of Champions 3.0,” and noted “The Return of Isildur1.” Also under this heading, I reflected on a comment by Mike Matusow regarding those mind-bogglingly high stakes games on Full Tilt (such as those involving Isildur1) in a post titled “Not Real Poker.”

I made a couple of attempts in March to comment on the ever-changing legislative situation for online poker in the U.S. in “More Uncertainty: Legality and Online Poker” and “Thinking About June 1 (& the UIGEA).” And there is one “by the book” post from this month to note: “Webster’s Poker Book (1925)” shares the contents (and a lot of cool illustrations) from an old poker book sent to me by my friend Tim Peters.

April

'Detour: Four Years of Hard-Boiled Poker' (4/28/10)Played in some of those funny April Fool’s “novelty events” (with the screwy structures) on PokerStars on the first of the month. And I wrote about ’em, in “Fool Me Once, Twice, Three Times (Yes I’m Slow... Yr Point?)” and “Fooled Around and Fell (Into the Money).”

I am a UNC Tarheels fan. And therefore a Duke hater. Goes without saying, then, that last year’s college hoops season wasn’t the greatest from my perspective, what with UNC barely making it into the NIT and Duke winning the big one. Couldn’t let the latter go by without remarking on “Another Title for the Phil Hellmuth of College Hoops.” And there was more sports talk in “Baseball, Poker, and Taking Your Time,” where I wrote about the start of baseball season and complaints about the length of games. Talked some there about how the pace of poker sometimes resembles that of a baseball game.

Women and the WSOP” offers an historical overview of women who have succeeded in open-field bracelet events. “Hooray for Boeree, Remembering Richmond,” occasioned by Liv Boeree’s EPT San Remo win, explores similar territory.

I get etymological in “Picking Out a Bluff,” trying to seek the origin of that poker term. And in “The Skill of the Players, The Skill of the Game” I tackle the old “skill-vs.-luck” debate again, this time trying to address the issue of whether a game can be regarded as “skill-based” or not according to the abilities of the players who play it. Perhaps sounds a bit abstract, but the post is more grounded than that summary sounds, I think.

Speaking of abstract thinking, in “A Metaphysical Check-Up” I have some fun responding to a post by Dr. Pauly titled “Mental Mazes” in which he catalogues some character types often found in poker.

Finally, near month’s end I marked an anniversary in “Detour: Four Years of Hard-Boiled Poker,” a post which reflects on the blog’s beginnings, talks some about the low-budgeted, hard-boiled noir film from which “Shamus” got his look, and talks a little about the future -- including that aforementioned decision to leave my full-time job and take this life detour to write full-time.

What’s that? You say you need to make a pit stop? No problem. Take your time... we can continue down this road later.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Remembering to Remember

Memory LaneStarting tomorrow, I’ll spend the last three days of 2010 posting “year in review” posts in which I revisit the last 12 months of Hard-Boiled Poker. A ritual I’ve performed the last couple of years, ever since I decided to start trying to post (at least) every weekday in January 2008.

I happen to like this sort of looking back. While I usually remember if I’ve written before about a certain topic or issue, I obviously cannot recall all of the specifics. I mean, I’m no Marilu Henner -- i.e., possessed with superior autobiographical memory (a condition called “hyperthymesia” or “hyperthymestic syndrome”). So going through old posts tends to bring back a lot. And while I’ll cringe every now and then at this or that turn of phrase or point that could’ve been better made, for the most part it’s fun to revisit and even relive.

Now is the time of year when a lot of poker players are also starting to look back at how the year has gone, with their final sessions this week perhaps helping to determine how ultimately they’ll be evaluating their 2010. I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post how I had begun to do just that myself. And how as I look over my graph for the year I’m starting to realize (and accept) that the upward slope ain’t necessarily what I’d like to see.

Indeed, if I’m going to be honest, I have to admit the line looks a lot more sloppy than slope-y.

In truth, the sucker only starts to perk up above the break-even line here near the year’s conclusion. Wrote a post a few months ago about playing “break-even poker” in which I tried a bit of self-diagnosis, hoping perhaps to identify a leak or three in order to alter the trend. Have been somewhat successful in doing so since then, but much work remains -- work that involves doing more than simply noting results while engaged in this business of looking back.

It’s hard, though, not to be selective with our memories, highlighting the good and downplaying the bad. Even when staring full on at the hand histories, the stats... the unemotional, unambiguous facts.

I wonder what it would be like for a professional poker player to have hyperthymesia -- to be able to recall everything from one’s own experience, including details of all the hands one has ever played?

One would think such a condition would be immensely beneficial, given how the ability to remember players’ styles, particular sequences of action in given hands, and even cards (in stud games, for instance) can directly translate into better decision-making at the tables.

That said, we’ve all experienced in poker the difference between knowing what to do and following through. I might remember that dude has never, ever check-raised the minimum on the river without the nuts. But I might call him, anyway....

Could be great, I guess, in poker to be possessed with superior autobiographical memory. Then again, it could be maddening.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Everybody’s Watching “The Micros”

'The Micros' (2010)Up late last night-slash-this morning following the Sunday Million on PokerStars. Nearly 9,000 played, a bit more than usually come out for the sucker. There was a deal struck with three players left, and the chip leader at the time ended up taking it down for $249,054.88. Not a bad final entry into the spreadsheet for 2010, that. (Recap here.)

With six players left one of them began having some recurring connectivity problems, prompting the other players to start chatting while they waited. One asked if anyone could recommend any YouTube videos, and immediately “The Micros” was suggested.

I’m guessing most readers of this blog have seen this clever web series that debuted about a month ago. The vids are mostly culled together using that Xtranormal website, the one that allows for the creation of animated videos by entering text and giving characters various traits, although that is supplemented with other audio and video post-production to make a slick-looking, highly watchable little program.

The series was created by Jay “KRANTZ” Rosenkrantz and John “JimmyLegs” Wray. The first “pilot” episode introduces us to a micro stakes regular -- Chase Berger -- who unexpectedly finds himself going deep in the “Sunday MegaMillions” while being rooted on by his friends Tommy and Rose. If you’ve somehow missed it by now, here it is:



Lots of funny “inside baseball”-type touches throughout, starting from the very beginning with the “RIP DOYLE” comment in the chat box by “D0uch3b@g” (a much-repeated, poor-taste raibird gag), the naming of our hero’s opponent “G1LD3NSTRN” (referring to Guildenstern, Rosencrantz’ ill-fated partner in Hamlet), Berger’s lifetime earnings to that point adding up to “’bout tree-fiddy” (a Two Plus Two catch phrase/meme), and so forth.

Chase Berger's graphThat “tree-fiddy” is actually $3.50, Chase’s total profit after more than 850,000 hands of micro stakes poker. That’s his profile/graph at left -- a portrait of the hopeless nit unable to take the chances necessary to nudge that stubborn line upwards.

Chase’s friends illustrate much different player types. Tommy is a consistent winner who plays high volume (he 20-tables to cool down) but is “too chicken to move out of the micros.” Meanwhile Rose plays under the username “BALLS!” and is a loose-aggro maniac with no problem handling monumental swings -- someone Chase considers “one of the craziest degenerates ever to play the game of poker.” Both Tommy and Rose appear to represent player types Chase envies in certain ways, but he somehow hasn’t been able to do anything to break out of being (as he puts it) “a break-even donk stuck in the micros.”

Fun, satisfying stuff, especially for those of us who primarily toil in the so-called “micro” or low stakes. Some might quibble with the plot of this first episode being too accelerated (or in some ways unrealistic), and those outside of the loop of the many Two Plus Two references might not laugh as much as those in the know. All in all, though, there’s a lot of entertainment here. Some genuine insight, too, I’d say.

It will be interesting to see where the show goes from here. There’s a second, shorter vid -- a funny “Holiday Special” that sort of advances the story a little while producing a few more grins. Will be looking forward to more, for sure. Lots of potential -- for the characters and creators both.

Amusing to think about the guys going deep in the real Sunday Millions taking time out to enjoy the fictional story of Chase going deep in the "MegaMillions." Perhaps the episode was inspiring to watch in some way.

Am starting to look at my graph for 2010, which I have to confess resembles Chase’s a little more than I’d like it to. Might have to rewatch Episode 1 to draw some inspiration, too.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Search for New Players (and Hats)

Santa ShamusHappy Xmas eve, peoples. Somehow I have misplaced my fedora and thus have had to wear this silly cap to keep from freezing. Have been getting a few strange looks here and there, but I suppose I’m fitting in for the most part.

Wanted to share a couple of items today. One was something I heard on Jesse May’s nifty poker podcast, The Poker Show, now sponsored by PartyPoker.

May, of course, is the author of the great poker novel Shut Up and Deal and has been writing and reporting on poker for over a decade now. I first met him at the WSOP this summer, then had a chance to catch up with him again a few weeks ago when he visited Marrakech during the WPT event I was helping cover.

If you have never heard it, The Poker Show is a fun and informative podcast, often filled out with lots of well-executed interviews. Like Gary Wise, May doesn’t shy away from asking not-so-easy questions, and thus often gets his guests to talk in meaningful ways about issues of genuine interest. On the 12/6/10 one May interviewed some folks there in Morocco, including tournament director Matt Savage and PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Matthew Parvis. (May actually mentions me on that episode, saying some nice things about the blog.)

The show I wanted to refer to, though, was the following one, the 12/14/10 episode, which features an interview with Joe Sebok, sponsored player and “media and operations consultant” for UltimateBet.

May started the interview asking Sebok about the now-cancelled “Poker2Nite,” the magazine-style poker news show he’d co-hosted with Scott Huff. You might recall that “Poker2Nite” debuted on the Fox Sports Network in late 2009, soon moved over to the smaller VS network in February, then was shelved in the late spring. May had been watching some of the old episodes online and complimented Sebok on the show, asking him why it was it had been cancelled.

Sebok noted that “whenever the online sites do a show, they want it to turn into acquisitions,” alluding to the show’s sponsor -- UltimateBet -- and how UB had hoped the show would cause new players to sign up to the site. Sebok speculated that “Poker2Nite” “was a show that really wasn’t built for that” -- namely, the direct promotion of the sponsoring site. I believe Sebok is right on that point. Although I didn’t watch every episode, I never felt like the show was unduly biased toward UB or even let its pitching of the site to intrude that much on the presentation of the show’s content.

Sebok went on to say that since the show didn’t deliver players, “it was a little disappointing” for UB despite the fact that “the poker community received it really, really well.” He added how the show was also a lot of fun to do and that all involved were sad when the plug was pulled.

The Poker Show with Jesse MaySebok’s response inspired May to make a comment that I found fairly intriguing. It was a point about poker media that we’re all more or less aware of, I think, especially those of us who are involved on the writing and reporting side of things. But for some reason I was hearing it a little differently this time.

“There’s this big disconnect right now,” said May, “between the need [for...] the sponsors to show a return on their money, and the fact that the poker community wants something different than what they are getting these days.” In other words, when it comes to shows like “Poker2Nite” or really just about all poker media, what is being “sold” isn’t really the product at all -- that is, the reporting or content produced -- but the sponsoring online sites who cannot realize any sort of return unless new players sign up and their player pools increase.

“It’s exactly that,” said Sebok. “Everything is ROI and how many acquisitions [are secured]... everything is driven by [the targeting of] these new players,” he explained.

Others -- Bill Rini springs to mind -- have written before about this subject and with more insight than I can bring to it. I’m talking about this model by which online sites need to keep acquiring new players to thrive and the various problems such a model creates.

Like I say, though, the exchange between Sebok and May got me thinking a little bit differently about the issue, perhaps because of the recent “Reid bill” which caused us all to think for a couple of weeks about how the current online poker model could suddenly be fundamentally changed.

Obviously the stream of new sign-ups has dried up considerably. The UIGEA has had something to do with that, but is not the sole cause preventing new players from joining the games. And I think in the case of a site like UB -- where a major cheating scandal remains a big part of the site’s legacy -- there might well be other reasons why new players aren’t rushing to deposit money and play.

The fact is, even without the Reid bill coming in and taking it all away, the “affiliate model” relied upon by both the poker news sites and the online sites for so long is becoming less and less viable, anyway. Sebok said his TV show “really wasn’t built for that,” i.e., the bringing in of new players. But really, even sites and shows that are “built” according to that type of promotional strategy probably aren’t going to function very well for very long. (Never mind May’s additional point about how some of these shows/sites may consequently be failing to produce content the poker community really wants.)

The other item I wanted to share was a new piece over on Betfair poker running through the “Top Poker Stories of 2010.” I listed 10 big stories, then added a quick rundown of 20 other items of note. Am sure even with that long list I probably left out something, but hopefully I managed to cover things well enough.

Okay, gotta go look for that hat. Maybe Santa will bring me a new one.

’Cos, you know, Santa rocks.

Santa rocks

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011 WSOP Dates Announced

2011 WSOP, May 31-July 19The World Series of Poker yesterday announced the start and end dates for the 2011 WSOP summer schedule. Despite all the rumors, they’ll be back at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino once again. No information as yet, though, about particular events or how many there will be.

The press release everyone has been cut-and-pasting says the sucker will kick off on Tuesday, May 31, a few days later than has been the case the last few years. There we also learn that the Main Event will begin on Thursday, July 7 (with four Day Ones, as usual) with the plan being to have played down to the final nine by Tuesday, July 19.

The only other bit of news in the presser is a note about “hard stop times” -- i.e., a new rule for all events requiring that no more than 10 levels can be played in a single day. (Have to assume this rule refers to events with one-hour levels, and not events like last summer’s “Player’s Championship” which featured 90-minute levels.)

The full schedule will be released in January. In both 2008 and 2010 it was mid-December of the previous year when we learned what all the events would be. For the 2009 WSOP, though, it wasn’t until January of that year that the full slate of events was announced.

In addition to those whispers about the possibility of the WSOP changing locations, I had heard some additional rumbling about the Series possibly getting moved around on the calendar, too. But those rumors have also proven unfounded, as the powers that be have decided to go back to the same June-July slot the Series has basically occupied since 2005.

Wasn’t always that way. Prior to 2005, the WSOP had always been a springtime event. From 1992-2004 it always started in mid-to-late April and concluded in early May. Prior to that (when only a relative handful of events were being played), the entire Series was generally taken care of during the first week or two of May. The move on the calendar in 2005 coincided with the WSOP’s move from Binion’s to the Rio following Harrah’s having taken over.

Things change so rapidly in the poker world that anything recurring for more than a couple of years instantly becomes regarded as “tradition.” The “November Nine,” for instance, will be back again in 2011 for the fourth year running, and is now therefore considered by many as kind of a tradition.

So, too, has the WSOP become firmly associated with the sweltering Vegas summer. Not too fun to be stuck outside for very long there during June or July, but the timing has suited me -- and, I imagine, most others -- fairly well.

In any case, I suppose thoughts of those triple-digit days in the Nevada desert can serve to keep us warm here as winter begins.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Poker Book Review: Rick Bennet’s King of a Small World

'King of a Small World' (1995) by Rick BennetHave another poker-themed title to share with you today -- and to recommend -- this time a work of fiction, Rick Bennet’s King of a Small World: A Poker Novel, first published in 1995. Bennet’s first novel is a great read that I imagine would prove especially satisfying to poker players, although there’s enough plot and character here to engage even those without a special interest in the game.

King of a Small World presents a smart, gritty, coming-of-age story that centers on a wiser-than-his-years young gun named Joey Moore, a successful player in his mid-twenties. Joey mostly sticks to the underground games and (so-called) “charity” casinos in his native Maryland -- where he does, at times, perhaps reign as a kind of “king” -- although additionally will take his game to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and elsewhere in search of further challenges.

The game of poker fuels both the plot of the book and contributes heavily to its various themes, with Bennet drawing various connections between poker and Joey’s complicated life full of conflicts and relationships. We quickly discover how poker has put him in touch with a wide assortment of friends, foes, and few who could go either way. And we also eventually learn how poker and gambling have aggressively shaped the value systems of both Joey and others, as demonstrated in their interactions -- sometimes cautious, other times dangerously reckless.

Early on Joey is offered a chance to be the poker boss at a newly-opening charity casino being run by some of his African-American poker buddies. (“Need your white ass,” he’s told, to “help balance our appeal.”) Joey hesitates at first. After all, as someone making his living playing cards, he’s already “free and happy” operating outside the mostly grim, work-a-day world populated by “normal people.” “What a bunch of losers people are,” he says at one point. “Working like dogs so they can have things.”

But finally “the prospect of a great-paying, easy-as-can-be, two-day-a-week job” becomes a kind of “freeroll” in his mind, and he takes the job. Bennet does well filling out details of the technically-legal-but-highly-sketchy world of the charity casino, where the rapid influx of money soon engenders a number of conflicts among those running the show.

Additional complications in Joey’s world include the pregnancy of an ex-girlfriend, Laura, plus relationships with a couple of other women, including one with the daughter of a poker-playing acquaintance (who, in fact, also had a brief relationship with Laura and could also possibly be the father of Laura’s child).

The plot is a more than a little twisty, also involving a missing father who abandoned Joey as a child, an ex-con living with his mother, various (and possibly nefarious) connections involving the casino owners, and more than a dozen characters with names like Mikey the Cop, K.C., Essay, Nug, Larry Red, Freddy, Boulder, and Kenny constantly coming and going. Bennet does a good job having his narrator Joey guide us through the story, however, keeping everything straight for us while also maintaining some suspense along the way.

King of a Small World' (1995) by Rick BennetAs mentioned there are a number of instances in which Joey draws comparisons between poker and the many other games people play away from the tables, most of which strike me as quite appropriate and well applied. That is to say, I think Bennet does manage (for the most part) to avoid the many obvious and/or clichéd observations that tend to make these “poker is like life” moments seem at best not-so-special, at worst banal. (For more on that complaint, see here.)

As it happens, some of my favorite passages in the book involve Joey offering such poker-themed commentaries about human behavior, the always-shifting meaning of our existence, and the like. Indeed, many strike me as quite original, too, a praise I can’t really make about a lot of the poker fiction I’ve read.

I’ll share but one such passage to give you an idea, coming from later in the story when Joey makes a trip to Vegas (at WSOP time) and shares his impression of the urgent and unceasing human drama he sees being played out around him in the casinos.

“This is how gambling works -- it fills the senses,” Joey explains. “Close your eyes and listen. In a casino, you’ll hear the sounds of jingling, clinking, clanging, clicking. Open your eyes and you’ll see the myriad colors of lighting and carpeting and walls and uniforms, shining and bright. Taste? Free drinks and meals to any decent-sized bettor. Free drinks and cheap meals to everyone. Touch, too, is thought of. Plush carpeting, brass rails, leather chairs, polished wood. And maybe in the air, with the smoke, is sweat.”

Fine description, although if the commentary had ended there I wouldn’t necessarily say it contains anything especially unique. There’s more, though.

“But it is the sixth sense that casinos most seek to arouse,” Joey continues. “The sense of life itself. Of drama. Of story. Of passion. Of love and fear. Of power and sex. Of a moment frozen, of existence beyond the mundane, of escape from all other problems because right now your attention is focused on the money you have on the line. If time is money and life is time, then money is life. And you’re gambling for it.”

If all this sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry. The book does a good job balancing the deeper digressions with lighter fare, offering a pleasing mix of dialogue and description throughout. There’s also an impressive array of character types here, with believable men and women of various races, both old and young, filling out the cast. And the plot -- which I’ve purposely avoided summarizing in too much detail so as to preserve its surprises -- definitely keeps you turning the pages.

Like I say, I certainly recommend King of a Small World, especially for those with an interest in poker and/or gambling. Although the book appears to be out of print currently, copies are easy enough to come by via Amazon and elsewhere.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Status Quo

'Going to the Match' by L.S. Lowry (1928)Your name is called. You sit down. You wait just a little longer for the blinds to come around. Finally, you’re dealt cards. You’re playing poker.

There’s a raise and a reraise, so you give up your big blind. Next hand you’re dealt rags in the small, and the dude opening with a raise from late position makes it easy to give that up, too. On the third hand, the table folds to you on the button and now it’s your turn to raise. You toss out chips, and both blinds quickly release their hands. The dealer collects the cards and reshuffles, readying for the next hand. You drop a couple of chips atop your stack, now back to where you started.

Of course, everything is different. That’s how poker works. Nothing ever stays the same. Not really.

You’ve started to see your opponents in action. They’ve started to see you. The fellow who opened the first hand is now sitting with most of that other guy’s chips, the one who reraised him. Meanwhile, the pair on your left are still talking about a hand from before your arrival when one stacked the other. And so forth. Change is constant.

Been hearing a lot of references to the idea of the “status quo” with regard to online poker lately, particularly with regard to the so-called “Reid bill,” the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, and the current situation faced by U.S. players trying to get funds on and off sites. A refrain emerging over recent weeks is that “the status quo is not sustainable” (or some variation thereof) -- referring, that is, to the fact that without some means, probably legislative, to stop the UIGEA monster, we online poker players here in America ain’t gonna be able to keep doing what we’re doing for very long.

Can’t dispute that. However, I can’t help but wonder whenever I hear that phrase whether there ever really was such a thing as the “status quo” when it comes to online poker in the United States. The more I hear that point being made, the more I realize the situation has been in constant flux ever since I first opened an account many years ago.

Like the game of poker itself, the experience of playing online poker never remains the same for very long for the U.S. player. Even the final implementation of the UIGEA (on June 1, 2010) failed to stabilize much, thanks in large part to the law’s ambiguities and inconsistencies in the way banks and financial transaction providers are choosing to comply with it.

Mike Johnson made this observation on the most recent Two Plus Two Pokercast (Episode 152, 12/15/10), articulating what I’d been thinking every time I heard such references to the “status quo.” Amid a discussion of the Reid bill (just a few hours after ESPN’s Andrew Feldman had reported it “dead” for the current Congress), Johnson found himself talking about the “status quo,” but quickly qualified his use of the phrase.

“I guess ‘status quo’ can never be ‘status quo’,” said Johnson, “because the industry is always evolving and things are changing with seizures of the DOJ, [changes to] payment processors’ capabilities, [and] states like Washington opting out. So there’s no such thing in the online poker world as ‘status quo’....”

Of course, when folks like B.J. Nemeth, F-Train, and others say “the status quo is unsustainable” or that “the status quo is NOT fine and cannot continue indefinitely,” they are in fact making that very point -- namely, that we cannot lull ourselves into thinking things aren’t going to change.

Because they will. Again. Perhaps quickly. And probably for the worse, unless some other change comes along to alter the current direction of things.

In other words, the “status quo” is a phantom, a dangerous idea. Such is the case when you play poker. Such is also the case whenever Americans decide to play online. Don’t get too comfortable. Always be aware the situation could change -- fundamentally, even -- and if you aren’t paying attention, you are setting yourself up to lose.

One other thing the phrase makes me think about. Pictures of matchstick men.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Haxton Takes First SuperStar Showdown

Haxton wins first 'SuperStar Showdown'Ended up following that “SuperStar Showdown” match between Isildur1 and Isaac “philivey2694” Haxton over on PokerStars fairly closely last night. Wasn’t sure it would keep my attention beyond the start, but I found myself checking in throughout the four-and-a-half hours or so it took to complete.

It was a fairly close match, with both players leading for stretches during the 2,500 hands of heads-up no-limit hold’em ($50/$100 blinds). About two-thirds of the way through it appeared the mysterious Swede was going to win as he held nearly a $30K advantage. But Haxton snatched the lead away, hitting a few hands while also making some big calls versus Isildur1’s bluffs.

They were still close to even with just 300 hands to go, then came the biggest pot of the night -- over $44,000. On that key hand, both players flopped top pair of nines on a 9-5-3 board, but Haxton had a king kicker while Isildur1’s other card was a jack. Isildur1 led the betting on all three streets after the flop, jamming all in on fifth street after the turn and river brought a couple of deuces. Haxton called the big river shove (a pot-sized bet of $15,000-plus) with the better hand, and was on his way to victory.

In the end, Haxton finished exactly $41,701 ahead -- a figure that represents his total winnings for the match, by the way. That is to say, there was no additional reward to the victor (as in the “Durrrr challenge”). Not officially, anyway. For an overview of the entire match, including details of all the key hands, check out Change100’s recap over on the PokerStars blog.

Like I say, I didn’t necessarily expect to keep following the sucker to its conclusion, but it successfully held my interest. Then again, I might have a slightly higher tolerance for watching people play online poker, given that I do it so much.

As I was saying yesterday, I think it’s likely we’ll be seeing a lot more of these Showdowns, perhaps involving other PokerStars pros. Wouldn’t be that surprised, actually, to see the stakes go up a bit as well in some cases, should the participants desire such. Kind of funny to consider how Haxton’s overall win compares to some of the pots that were being played by Isildur1 on Full Tilt Poker around this time last year. Or the stakes of the “Durrrr challenge,” in which Dwan wins an additional $500,000 if he comes out ahead, while his opponents could earn $1.5 million for doing so.

Something cool, though, about getting to see such a match play all of the way to its conclusion like this. I imagine Stars might come up with on-screen “scoreboard” or the like to keep a running tally for the railbirds, too, so as to make it easier to jump in and out and know instantly where things stand. Heck, they could even turn this into some sort of ongoing “season” or tourney or something, with cumulative standings and so forth.

It ain’t Johnny Moss versus Nick “the Greek,” of course. Or the “Corporation” versus Andy Beal. Still, fun stuff.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

PokerStars’ SuperStar Showdown Debuts Tonight

PokerStars SuperStar ShowdownIt was not quite two weeks ago that PokerStars announced they had signed the mysterious “Isildur1” as a Team Pro.

Won’t be long, of course, before we will all start omitting that “mysterious” adjective when referring to young Swede. Word is he’ll be playing in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, scheduled for January 6-16, 2011, where he’ll be taking a seat in the $10,000+$300 main event. Who knows... perhaps he’s going to be one of the few to play in that $100,000 buy-in “Super High Roller” event as well. In any case, he’ll be there at the Atlantis Resort and Casino, all patched up, confirming his real identity once and for all.

When PokerStars first announced the signing, a new “SuperStar Showdown” series involving Isildur1 was announced as well. The series will consist of heads-up matches in which Isildur1 will be taking on challengers in 2,500-hand sessions. The combatants will play four tables at once, with the game being either no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, or some combination of the two, and blinds will be $50/$100 at minimum.

Read the full “SuperStar Showdown” rules here. Additionally, there is a chance for players to qualify to participate in a lower-stakes “Showdown” versus Isildur1 as well (see here).

Although the stakes probably won’t be rivaling those we saw Isildur1 playing on Full Tilt Poker around this time last year -- when he was regularly engaging in $500/$1,000 PLO matches versus Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, and others -- I have to say I’m still intrigued to see what will happen in these “Showdowns.” Four-tabling 2,500 hands should only take a few hours, as well, so unlike what has happened in those long, drawn-out “Durrrr challenges,” a “winner” and “loser” should be determined in relatively short order.

I put those words in scare quotes -- “winner” and “loser” -- because 2,500 hands is obviously much too small of a sample size to determine definitively who is the better player. Still, I think the format is set up in such a way that the matches will surely create a lot of buzz, with players perhaps coming back for rematches down the road, depending on how these first few go.

Isildur1The first “Superstar Showdown” takes place this evening over on PokerStars with Isaac “philivey2694” Haxton being the first to take on Isildur1. I believe the pair is going to be playing no-limit hold’em only tonight, which given both players’ reputations probably suggests Haxton has the edge. But obviously anything can happen.

Pretty savvy, I think, for PokerStars to line up these “Showdowns” -- sort of like little heavyweight poker fights. If these first few involving Isildur1 are at all successful, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other Team Pros perhaps getting involved in something similar, too, by hosting their own matches on the site.

The match gets underway at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. Gonna have to take a peek later, I think, at least for the start of the sucker. I have a feeling there will be a number of others there on the virtual rail with me when it does.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Future... What Can We Bank On?

The Future... What Can We Bank On?Wanted to add a quick addendum to yesterday’s post in which I meditated a bit over the “UIGEA Monster.” There I basically whimpered about the apparent failure to tame the beast by legislative means (thus far, anyway), then wondered aloud about whether the law would ultimately have to be challenged in the courts for it to be stopped.

Grange95 -- keeper of the excellent crAAKKer blog -- correctly chastised me for throwing the “unconstitutional” adjective around (with reference to the UIGEA), and I realized afterwards that my use of the word betrayed my layman’s status when it comes to discussing both the legislative and judicial processes. I also thought a little further about how it’s wrong to abandon hope with regard to further attempts by lawmakers to help us fight the sucker. Even if the prospects for such are bleak, the legislative approach probably does remain the most likely path to doing something about the UIEGA.

It’s such a frustrating law. The way the “final rule” instructs banks and financial institutions to comply leaves them enough wiggle room to allow quite a bit of freedom with regard to making judgments about what constitutes a prohibited transaction. If you look at the “Frequently Asked Questions” about UIGEA compliance that the American Banking Association has provided the banks, it’s clear that the likelihood of one actually being found in violation of the law appears pretty darned slim.

Nonetheless, they are most certainly blocking transactions. Depositing is growing increasingly problematic. And even withdrawing has become a less simple matter for some, despite the fact that (as those final regulations stated) “[u]nder the final rule, the term ‘restricted transaction’ would not include funds going to a gambler, and would only include funds going to an Internet gambling business.” Check out Joe Tall’s problems getting funds from Full Tilt Poker, and PokerGrump’s recent adventure with Bodog for examples.

(Incidentally, I did manage a successful cashout from PokerStars not long ago -- not necessarily a seamless transaction, though much smoother than what Tall and the Grump experienced.)

Yesterday F-Train offered some cogent commentary about where all of this might be headed as we watch the UIGEA continue to gather momentum, discussing both the “continuing deterioration of payment processing” (very likely) and the possibility that U.S.-facing sites could eventually abandon the U.S. market as too difficult to deal with (less likely, though possible).

Whether or not sites abandon the U.S., I’d imagine a certain percentage of U.S. players probably will remove themselves from the online game -- in some cases out of necessity, and in others because the hassles simply become too great to endure.

If they haven’t already, that is.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zombie Bill Dies, UIGEA Monster Lives

Now What?A running joke over the last week-and-a-half among some observers has been that the “online poker bill” proposed by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) -- prematurely pronounced dead several times -- somehow possesses “zombie”-like qualities in its refusal once and for all to meet its end.

In truth, though, it is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 that is the real monster here. And unlike Reid’s bill, which apparently has finally been cast aside as far as the current Congress is concerned, the UIGEA really won’t die, despite our most earnest wishes for it to do so.

Last night Andrew Feldman posted an article over on the ESPN Poker page announcing that “multiple sources” had confirmed there would be no more attempts made to attach Sen. Harry Reid’s “Prohibition of Internet Gaming, Internet Poker Regulation and UIGEA Enforcement Act” to any of the legislation being considered during this current “lame-duck” session of Congress.

One of Feldman’s sources for the news was Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas, who expressed disappointment that the bill would not be presently pushed through, referring to the bill’s opponents as having “their heads fully in the sand” when it came to the need for and significant benefits to be had from licensing and regulating online poker in the U.S.

Looking ahead, then, to the 112th Congress which will begin its work on January 3, 2011, prospects for this particular bill appear quite dim. So does the likelihood of any other legislation designed to promote online gambling in the U.S. (such as the failed Barney Frank-sponsored bills of the past few years). Nor should one expect from the upcoming Congress any serious legislative attempts to curb or repeal the UIGEA, either.

The Capitol BuildingThat’s because when the new Congress takes the Hill, Republicans will enjoy a majority in the House of Representatives, which in turn means that Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) will be taking over as the chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, assuming the seat previously occupied by Rep. Frank (D-MA). This is the committee from which one should expect bills like Frank’s previous ones to come -- that is, bills designed either to stop the UIGEA or to introduce licensing and regulatory schemes for online gambling in the U.S. which would render the UIGEA insignificant.

Bachus, most certainly part of the group of politicians Pappas was referencing with his “heads fully in the sand” remark, staunchly opposes all forms of gambling, online or elsewhere. I think it is safe to assume he will therefore make it difficult if not impossible for his committee to consider with any seriousness any bills that might be viewed as promoting gambling, poker included.

When I first wrote here about the “Reid bill” last Monday (12/6/10), I concluded that I was neither all that excited about its particular vision for online poker in the U.S., nor did I think much about its chances to become law.

Over the last 10 days I began to understand and appreciate some of the arguments being made by those who supported the Reid bill. But really, the greatest argument for the Reid bill always seemed to me to have had little to do with what it was actually proposing, but rather the fact that if it were to become law we online poker players would no longer have to worry as much about the UIGEA.

That is to say, I understand the idea that we’ll basically take anything other than what we’ve got, this horrendous (probably unconstitutional) law, a law which is starting to have greater effect since its full implementation on June 1, 2010, and which will mostly likely continue to do so going forward.

As Andrew “Foucault” Brokos wrote on his Thinking Poker blog last week, the Reid bill was “far from ideal for the professional player, but there [was] no reason to think that we [were] in a position to hold out for something better.” This is true -- in fact, in terms of political bargaining power for such a bill, I never thought Reid had much from which to draw right now, despite being the Senate Majority Leader, let alone what’ll be the case next year.

UIGEA steamrolls alongConsidering the prospects of the Reid bill failing to pass, Brokos predicted “things will get very bad in the not-too-distant future.” I’ve no reason to think he’s wrong there, either. The UIGEA, that law that blocks U.S. banks and financial transaction providers from allowing transactions with online gambling sites (even if they are non-U.S.), remains free to continue with its destructive ways.

And now we are in a situation where there is no legislative response imminent. So what can we U.S. players hope for?

Seems to me all that’s left to look forward to at the moment would be a successful challenge to the UIGEA in the courts -- that is, the overturning of the law as indeed unconstitutional, something that obviously would be long, long time coming, if it were ever to happen at all.

Such has been tried. The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) took a shot, taking the angle that the UIGEA not only should be made “void for vagueness,” but violated things like individuals’ privacy rights and the First Amendment. They received an unfavorable ruling in the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court, though, and lost their appeal, too.

One so-called “silver lining” in that appeals ruling was the court saying that states had priority over the federal government when it came to the business of regulating gambling, including online. So I suppose court battles vs. the UIGEA could be waged on the state level (i.e., rulings that said the federal law couldn’t apply in a particular state because of its stand on online gambling). I’m not entirely sure about that, though.

In any event, I can’t just now envision other ways to prevent the UIGEA from affecting us as we Americans try to make deposits and continue playing on PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and other U.S.-facing online poker sites. Not for the next couple of years, anyway.

In other words, it doesn’t look like we are going to sneak the UIGEA out the backdoor via any law-makin’ legerdemain anytime soon. Somebody’s gonna have to fight this sucker heads-up.

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