Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Isildur1 Intrigues

Isildur1Last Sunday I found my attention once more divided between college basketball and happenings on PokerStars.

As far as the b-ball went, my UNC Tarheels came back valiantly versus Kentucky only to lose in the end, their season ending one step shy of the Final Four. Kind of how the day went for me in that massive Sunday Storm tournament, actually, the one in which a whopping 113,770 players entered the $10+$1 event, thus creating a $1.13-plus million prize pool.

Got off to a good start, then stumbled a little after a couple of short stacks doubled through me after winning flips. Then a late setback saw me suddenly cut down to just a couple of big blinds as the cash bubble approached. Like the Heels I came up short, hitting the rail in 15,000th or so to finish a couple of hundred spots outside the money.

The ball game and my tourney run both ended, I turned my attention to the latest installment of the SuperStar Showdown, a “March Madness”-style buzzer-beater of a match between Viktor “Isildur1” Blom and Daniel Negreanu. After getting wiped out by Blom last week, Negreanu eeked out a win this time, having to make a huge comeback himself in order to do so.

These SuperStar Showdowns have been running for three months now, and I have to say a couple of things about them have surprised me somewhat.

One is the way the matches have remained interesting, something I can’t say I thought would be the case early on, especially after all the drama of the farce-slash-tragedy that was the Tony G match (the second one). After all, how could the sucker possibly remain intriguing after that?

But then came the wild one-blind win over the qualifier Attila “DodgyFish72” Gulcsik. And the two matches with Negreanu were both quite riveting, too.

Here are the results, by the way, of all seven SuperStar Showdown matches thus far (with links to Change100’s recaps):
1. Lost to Isaac Haxton, -$41,701, all NLHE (12/19/10)
2. Beat Tony G, +$44,820, half NLHE/half PLO (1/2/11)
3. Beat Daniel Cates, +$51,196, all NLHE (1/30/11)
4. Beat Eugene Katchalov, +$111,750, all NLHE (2/13/11)
5. Beat Attila “DodgyFish72” Gulcsik, +$10, all NLHE (2/27/11)
6. Beat Daniel Negreanu, +$150,000 (1,439 hands), all NLHE (3/20/11)
7. Lost to Daniel Negreanu, -$26,500, all NLHE (3/27/11)
One other aspect of the Showdowns that has surprised me a little is the way they appear to have affected Blom’s reputation and/or image, both among his opponents and (by extension) among those of us watching from the rail. At least it seems as though something along those lines is occurring as a result of these matches.

SuperStar ShowdownPlayers who have participated in these SuperStar Showdowns have consistently praised Blom as a crafty, difficult opponent. However, more often than not the respect they convey is delivered in terms that make the so-called “King of Swing” seem a lot more “human” (for want of a better word) than he perhaps appeared even just a few months before.

Prior to the first Showdown -- and especially back when the mysterious Swede first arrived on the scene in late 2009 -- Isildur1 existed as kind of a prototypical ramblin’ gamblin’ force of nature, reckless with his bankroll, willing to take on all comers, anytime, anywhere. And his anonymity only added further to his mythical-like stature.

I remember hearing Patrik Antonius talk about Isildur1 to Phil Gordon in a video from December 2009. “He’s a very interesting opponent,” Antonius said, noting how he considered Isildur1 “very dangerous” because of his unrelenting aggression and willingness to gamble. He “wants to make big decisions all the time,” added Antonius, a penchant that necessarily meant his opponents frequently were being forced to do the same, like it or not.

While somewhat specific in his analysis of Isildur1's play, the unknown opponent who “came out of nowhere” (as Gordon noted) still seemed hard to picture as a living, breathing member of the species to which you and I belong. Now, more than a year later, everything is different with regard to Isildur1/Blom, with these SuperStar Showdowns having a lot to do with the change.

Isaac Haxton set the tone for this different way of talking about Blom in his comments following that first match. Haxton, a highly-experienced, no-limit hold’em heads-up specialist, admitted that while Blom wasn’t necessarily the best opponent he’d ever faced, “no one has ever more consistently made me miserable when playing against them.”

“Isildur’s brand of over the top -- but carefully balanced -- aggression is unlike anything I’ve played against,” added Haxton, saying that Blom’s game successfully took him out of his “comfort zone in a lot of situations.”

Other of Blom’s opponents -- with the exception of the ever-hyperbolic Tony G who ended his match proclaiming “isildur1 is hte legend” (sic) -- have spoken of him in similar fashion, right up to Negreanu who following their second match similarly said of Isildur1 that he wasn’t nearly as “wild” or “crazy” a player as his reputation perhaps might lead one to believe -- in no-limit hold’em, anyway (not PLO), where Negreanu’s estimation was that his game was anything but reckless, and in fact “solid.”

When a hand reaches showdown, that’s when players’ cards are finally exposed. I guess that’s kind of what is happening in these SuperStar Showdowns, too, with the gradual exposure of Isildur1/Blom, one match at a time.

But even the more “human”-seeming version of the young Swede continues to fascinates many, which is why I think the SuperStar Showdown will keep capturing interest going forward. As will Blom, especially once he finally turns 21 (which doesn’t happen until August or September, I believe).

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