Monday, January 31, 2011

Tourney Talk

For Being ThereHave played in a number of tournaments of late -- five in the last week, in fact. Would have to check my records to confirm, but that’s more than I had probably played during the previous couple of months.

I’ve written here several times about my preference for cash games over tourneys, the primary reason for which is my general lack of freedom time-wise when it comes to playing. As a recreational player, I rarely have more than a couple of hours at a time to commit, and so as a result do not find myself signing up for the large field, multi-table tournaments that often.

I’ve also noted here more than once how I ain’t so crazy about the way tourneys require one to get accustomed to losing, with even the best players generally only cashing some of the time and winning very rarely. For example, a few weeks back in “Stopped Short of the Goal Line” I described playing in that $1 Twitter tourney on PokerStars and making it all of the way to the top 20 (out of 1,200-plus) only to suffer a few unfortunate beats and hit the rail shy of any decent cabbage.

I fared reasonably well in my five tourneys this last week -- “cashing” (so to speak) in three. Something occurred to me, though, while playing yesterday regarding the attraction of tournaments. Anyone who has made a final table or won one of these suckers knows about the significant high that results from that obvious success. But there’s another pleasure, I think, associated with tourney play that also keeps folks coming back.

Three of my five tournaments were part of that World Blogger Championship of Online Poker promotion that PokerStars put on last week. I wasn’t able to play but a couple of the prelims, as the scheduling didn’t work well for me.

One of those was the no-limit hold’em event on Thursday. I got off to a good start and had an above-average stack when I picked up pocket queens in the small blind. It folded to the button who raised, I three-bet, the big blind folded, then the button shoved all in over the top. I had him covered (though not by a lot), but if I had thought more than a few seconds I might’ve realized the guy had barely played a hand in the last 50. Don’t know if that realization would’ve helped me find a fold, but in any event I called, he showed K-K, and shortly thereafter I was out of the tourney, shy of winning an entry into the Main Event on Sunday.

Things went better for me on Friday during the 8-game mix event (a.k.a., S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R.), despite one miserable blunder along the way in which I played a stud hand as if it were razz, thereby donating about a third of my stack at the time. Recovered enough to sneak into the “money” and land that ME ticket. Yesterday I also played in Kevmath’s home game tourney (busting early), as well that Twitter event again in which I finished 70th (again of about 1,200 or so) for a teeny cash.

I played okay in yesterday’s WBCOOP Main Event, landing a $22 SCOOP ticket for finishing just outside the top 100. It was after the bubble burst and players began hitting the rail at a rapid pace that I realized another kind of enjoyment to be associated with tourney play.

Once in the money -- especially in a large-field event in which players are being eliminated every hand as the tourney progresses -- there’s something gratifying in being able to sit there and know that the longer one survives with chips, the more one (theoretically) is earning. You can fold hand after hand, if you wish, but as long as you are still in your seat while others are being eliminated, your status relative to the payouts is necessarily improving.

One doesn’t really get that feeling in the cash games. I suppose you could argue that by accumulating FPPs or whatever other benefits a site or poker room offers players for putting in time, one is “benefiting” in small increments just for being there. But those rewards are not terribly significant, and usually more than countered by the rake or other costs for playing.

But in tourneys, once the money bubble has burst, that feeling that one is getting ahead even when just breaking even is quite palpable. And it increases, too -- the pleasure, or gratification, or whatever you want to call it -- the further along one gets.

The best tourney players manage this emotional response in such a way that they are able to prevent it from affecting their games. Still, I think even the most seasoned players probably continue to derive enjoyment from this aspect of tournaments, no matter how many times they’ve experienced it.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

“Do Those Who Teach Also Play Well?”

Class scheduleBusy week here at Hard-Boiled Poker.

My American Studies class, “Poker in American Film and Culture,” has now met a few times and I think we’re off to a good start.

I might have mentioned that we missed the first week thanks to inclement weather, and so have been playing from behind (so to speak) here during the first few meetings as we try to catch up with the syllabus. We’re back on schedule now, though, and soon I’ll be handing out the first essay assignment.

Wanted to share one quick anecdote from the first few classes. On the first day we met we spent time both talking about the course purposes -- the primary one being to try to learn more about American history and culture by examining many stories (both true and fictional) about poker -- and getting to know each other a bit, too.

One student when introducing himself mentioned his interest in gambling and poker -- shared by many (but not all) of the students -- adding something about how the class might perhaps help him learn how to win more. That gave me an opportunity to make a disclaimer I had thought about making earlier but had not yet made.

With a laugh I noted that while I did think everyone would get something beneficial from the class, I wasn’t going to pretend to promise to teach anyone how to become better poker players! We would be encountering some strategy advice in some of our readings, I explained, but the class was really more about studying American history and culture (and learning how to interpret stories and films) than learning how to play the game successfully.

Girolamo CardanoReminds a little of a chapter in a book I recently finished, one by a 16th-century Italian named Girolamo Cardano called Liber de Lude Aleae (Book on Games of Chance). James McManus mentions the book in one of the early chapters in Cowboys Full (which we’ve been discussing in class), and being curious about it I tracked down a copy.

The book discusses dice games, card games, and backgammon, and is thought by many to represent one of the earliest serious treatments of probability theory. Toward the end of the book Cardano has a chapter titled “Do Those Who Teach Also Play Well?” in which he admits (with some implied humility) that, no, teachers of the games he’s discussing don’t always make the best players. In fact, Cardano himself was apparently a pretty consistent loser as a gambler, even landed in debtor’s prison!

I ended up writing a bit about Cardano’s book today over on Betfair -- kind of a review, nearly 450 years late. Check it out, if you’re curious.

And while we’re on the whole “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach” subject, let me point you to my all-time favorite rejoinder to that bit of applesauce, as provided by Tommy Angelo. Click and be prepared to laugh.

Also this week Jen Newell and I weighed in on the relatively new PokerStars Women promotion over on Woman Poker Player with our monthly “He Said/She Said” column. We make different points, but both note how marketing to women only can present some challenges. Here’s what Jen said, and here’s my half of the discussion.

Gambling Tales PodcastFinally, I wanted to mention that I made another appearance on the Gambling Tales Podcast not too long ago -- Episode 22 (1/17/11). I chatted with Special K and Falstaff about that Rick Bennet novel, King of a Small World (1995), which I reviewed here a while back. A fun little discussion, which I hope might inspire a few more folks to check out Bennet’s nifty book.

That’s all for now. Have to go come up with some good questions for essay topics! Enjoy the weekend, folks.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hard to Relate: On the $250K Aussie Millions Super High Roller

Hard to Relate -- On the $250K Aussie Millions Super High RollerAfter the previous evening -- when I’d stayed up ’til past dawn following that Super Tuesday on PokerStars -- there was little chance of me remaining awake again last night to see how that $250,000 “Super High Roller” turbo-style event played out at the Aussie Millions.

The event was added to the schedule last week after the series had already begun. Ended up attracting 20 players all told, making for a perspective-obliterating $5 million prize pool. (Those are Australian dollars, which I understand are currently very close in value to the USD.) Heck, the total prize pool for the Main Event (still ongoing) that attracted 721 players is $7.2 million!

There was some chatter early on yesterday that this event -- the Super Duper High Roller, as I saw Kevmath refer to it last night -- might be made a winner-take-all affair. In fact, it appeared it might have even gotten underway before that was determined, although I can’t imagine players would put up a quarter million to play an event without a reasonably sure idea of what the payouts were going to be. (Then again, they might.)

In the end it was decided the top three spots would cash, with $2.5 million going to the winner, $1.4 million to second, and $1.1 million to third. Looks like it took eight hours or so for Erik Seidel to win, with Sam Trickett (who won the $100,000 Challenge there at Melbourne just a few days ago) taking second and David Benyamine third.

The event and Seidel’s win evoked a couple of recent posts here -- the one from a week-and-a-half ago “On the All-Time Money List” and another earlier this week about players double-dipping in this month’s $100K events, “Ordering Twice at the 100 Grand Bar.”

With that $2.5 million score, Seidel moves past Jamie Gold and into third place on that All-Time earnings lists with about $13.78 million, just $80,000 or so behind Ivey in second and less than half a million behind Negreanu in first.

And a quick check of the 20 entrants in the $250K event shows that 15 of them also played in the $100K Challenge, with Roland de Wolfe, Eugene Katchalov (who won the PCA $100,000 event), Annette Obrestad, Paul Phua, and Richard Yong joining the fun yesterday after not playing in the $100K one.

Also of note, two players played in all three of this month’s big, big buy-in events -- James “Andy McLEOD” Obst and Daniel “jungleman12” Cates. Cates cashed in none of the three, while Obst finished fourth in the $100K Challenge at the Aussie Millions to win $200,000.

The “All-Time Money List” was already a bit distorted before this month (for various reasons), but this spate of big buy-in events certainly further knocks it out of whack. And I think it’s likely we’ll see more of these $100,000 buy-in (or greater) events moving forward -- perhaps not right away, but relatively soon. Which will make it even more difficult to compare players’ relative success on the tourney circuit.

Aussie MillionsSetting aside the skewing of the rankings, though, it is interesting to think about how difficult it is for almost all of us to relate to what is going on with these mind-bogglingly huge buy-in events.

If you think about it, for just about all of the sports and games that people watch others play, spectators can themselves play the same sport or game, too. Sure, when I watch the Australian Open the pros who’ve made it to the semifinals there are certainly playing a much higher-level game than I could ever hope to play myself. But the rules are the same, much of the same strategy applies, and really the game “plays” similarly, even if I’m not hitting 110-mile-an-hour serves.

But poker is different. As my class and I have been discussing over the first few days of our “Poker in American Film and Culture” course (discussed here), a point being repeatedly made by all of the writers we’ve encountered thus far is that the money is what gives the game significance. As John Lukacs puts it in his essay “Poker and American Character,” what is important in poker is not so much “how [players] play their cards but how they bet their money.” He elaborates on this “reality” of the game as it is provided by money:

“Money is the basis of poker: whereas bridge can be played for fun without money, poker becomes utterly senseless if played without it. Note that I said money, not chips -- chips only when they represent money and money only because it represents the daring or cowardice of other people.”

The game of tennis is played at a higher level when cash prizes are awarded to the winners. And yeah, maybe a golfer standing over a crucial putt at the Master’s is going to think a little about the financial significance of making the shot before striking the ball. But in none of these other games does money have such fundamental influence on how the game is actually played.

For each of those 20 who played in the $250,000 event yesterday, that huge buy-in represented something -- i.e., it possessed some, specific meaning to each -- that was relevant to how each player subsequently played the tournament. For some, the money meant as much to them as the dimes and quarters mean to those of us playing the micros. For others, it meant a little more. But for all, such significances definitely mattered.

Thus is it doubly hard for most of us to relate to the game we’re watching being played for such stakes. Not only can we not imagine buying into such an event ourselves, but we cannot tell with precision what exactly the money represents to those who do.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Early Morning Grins at the Super Tuesday

Early Morning Grins at the Super TuesdayWas a late one last night for your humble gumshoe following the Super Tuesday on PokerStars.

That one always tends to challenge the regular sleep sked, given that it doesn’t begin ’til 8 p.m. ET and usually doesn’t end until eight or nine hours later. Last night was special, though, as the final table alone took nearly four hours, meaning the tourney didn’t finish until about 7:30 a.m.

One reason things took so long was how deep everyone was, with the average stack nearly 65 big blinds when the final table began. Another was the high quality of play at the final table, not unusual for the $1,050 buy-in Super Tuesday that generally attracts only top notch players. Check out the recap where I ended up referring to more than a dozen well-known online MTT grinders who cashed in the sucker.

Wanted to share one quick, humorous anecdote from the final table involving Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko who eventually finished fifth.

This happened relatively early at the final table, during the first hour, I believe. A few had gathered on the rail and were engaged in a dialogue in the chatbox. Often observer chat is no longer allowed at the final table at these big tourneys (e.g., the Sunday Million), but the Super Tuesday allows it. (I’m not sure, but I think one has to have in one’s account at least the buy-in in order to chime in as an observer.)

One of these observers -- a player named “The CooI” -- addressed Jovial Gent with what seemed a straightforward question whether or not he had played much before hitting the “jackpot.” The reference was to Timoshenko’s WCOOP Main Event title in 2009 for which he’d won over $1.7 million. (That name “The CooI” ends in a captial “I” incidentally -- thanks to Mickey Doft for helping me with that bit of detective work.)

Yevgeniy TimoshenkoBefore Timoshenko could answer, other observers hastily responded to point out that Mr CooI’s question was naïve, noting Timoshenko’s WPT Championship title from earlier in 2009 (among other scores). Timoshenko -- whose “Jovial Gent” name really does seem to describe his demeanor whenever I’ve seen him chat online -- answered sincerely, noting with understatement that yeah, he had played a lot before he won the WCOOP ME.

Soon it became clear that The CooI’s inquiry was in truth a set-up for a humorous bit of bragging. He went on to say how he’d gotten the best of Timoshenko a couple of times recently, including busting him in the first round of what I think must have been the $102 NLHE Heads-Up Hyper-Turbo on Stars the day before. With tongue pretty obviously in cheek, The CooI was indicating he’d asked the question because of his recent successes versus Jovial Gent -- kind of a jokey, needling suggestion that the WCOOP ME win had been a fluke.

Timoshenko responded appreciatively to The CooI’s ribbing in the chat box. Then The CooI offered to elaborate further on how he’d “completely bashed [Timoshenko] up” in their heads-up match, prefacing the story with a full revelation that yes, indeed, he knew exactly who “Jovial Gent” was.

The CooI [observer]: yeah, knew I needed to bring the skills out to beat the WPT champ, the WCOOP champ, THE APT MACAU champ, THE 1k monday champ and most importantly the 55th place finisher in this years $1500 limit holdem shootout

The CooI [observer]: so what I did was
The CooI [observer]: I said a prayer

The CooI [observer]: I got the Jacks

The CooI [observer]: I time banked perfectly so that he would think I would have K6
The CooI [observer]: so on the exact perfect mili second
The CooI [observer]: I shoved the jacks

The CooI [observer]: and he snapped my **** off with K7
The CooI [observer]: completely fooled him


Couldn’t help but smile at that little narrative, the pauses between the appearance of each line adding further to the comedic effect.

But then I laughed out loud when about a half-minute later Jovial Gent offered this rejoinder:

Jovial Gent: I put you on K4 actually

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fifty-Eight Bracelets, One WSOP: 2011 Schedule Is Here

Countdown to 2011 WSOPYou have probably heard -- the schedule for the 2011 World Series of Poker was revealed yesterday. They have snuck an extra event in there this time around, meaning a record 58 bracelets will be awarded at this year’s WSOP. Click here for a full list of events, or here for a colorful two-page .pdf of the sucker.

Buy-ins range from $500 for the Casino Employees event (that kicks things off on May 31) up to $50,000 for the “Poker Player’s Championship” (moved to the end of the schedule to start July 2). Here’s how the 58 events break down according to buy-ins:

$500 (1)
Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em (#1)

$1,000 (7)
five open No-Limit Hold’em tourneys (#8, #20, #34, #45, #54)
Seniors NLH Championship (#30)
Ladies NLH Championship (#53)

$1,500 (20)
seven No-Limit Hold’em tourneys (#18, #28, #32, #38, #43, #48, #56)
Omaha-8 (#3)
Stud (#5)
Limit Hold’em (#6)
2-7 Draw, No-Limit (#9)
No-Limit Hold’em, Six-Handed (#10)
No-Limit Hold’em, Triple Chance (#12)
No-Limit Hold’em Shootout (#13)
Pot-Limit Hold’em (#15)
H.O.R.S.E. (#17)
Pot-Limit Omaha (#22)
Stud-8 (#25)
Limit Hold’em Shootout (#41)
Pot-Limit Omaha-8 (#51)

$2,500 (10)
Limit Hold’em, Six-Handed (#19)
8-Game Mix (#23)
No-Limit Hold’em, Six-Handed (#26)
10-Game Mix, Six-Handed (#29)
No-Limit Hold’em (#36)
Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha (#39)
Razz (#44)
Omaha-8/Stud-8 (#47)
2-7 Triple Draw, Limit (#49)
Limit Hold’em/No-Limit Hold’em (#52)

$3,000 (2)
Limit Hold’em (#14)
Pot-Limit Omaha (#31)

$5,000 (6)
No-Limit Hold’em (#4)
No-Limit Hold’em Shootout (#24)
Pot-Limit Omaha, Six-Handed (#35)
No-Limit Hold’em, Six-Handed (#40)
No-Limit Hold’em, Triple Chance (#50)
Pot-Limit Omaha-8 (#57)

$10,000 (10)
Pot-Limit Hold’em (#7)
2-7 Draw, No-Limit (#16)
Stud (#21)
Limit Hold’em (#27)
Stud-8 (#33)
H.O.R.S.E. (#37)
Pot-Limit Omaha (#42)
No-Limit Hold’em, Six-Handed (#46)
No-Limit Hold’em (Main Event) (#58)

$25,000 (1)
No-Limit Hold’em, Heads-Up (#2)

$50,000 (1)
8-Game Mix (The Poker Player’s Championship) (#55)

Of the 58 events, 35 are hold’em only, with six other events including hold’em as part of a mix of games. One game -- Badugi -- will be dealt for the first time ever at the WSOP, coming as part of the 10-Game mix in Event #29. And entering all 58 events -- which I suppose would require you to be a 50-plus year-old female casino employee -- would set you back $273,500.

From the 2010 WSOP Main EventGlancing at the schedule, you might say the “class” divide between the lower and higher buy-in events has become fairly wide. As many have remarked, it really does now seem that we have two WSOPs running simultaneously -- one for the “high-rollers,” relatively speaking (played mostly by “name” pros and online ballers who’ve built up rolls), and one for everyone else (where most amateur players gravitate).

The stars still play the lower buy-in events, too -- even with so many events, the bracelet continues to hold a great deal of significance. But on any given day at the WSOP, there usually does seem to be one “featured” battle happening with several lesser, “undercard” events scattered here and there.

Since 1973, the Main Event has remained a $10,000 buy-in tournament every year. In the early years of the WSOP, some of the preliminary events here and there were also $10K to play, but from the late 1980s forward only the ME continued to have the $10K buy-in. Then in 2005 a second $10K event appeared on the schedule, a PLO event. Didn’t take very long after that for the schedule fill rather quickly with numerous high buy-in events.

In 2006 that $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event was introduced, won that year by the late Chip Reese and subsequently referred to (in its various forms) as the “Player’s Championship.” The $10K PLO event was continued that year as well. The next year again saw just two $10K events (the PLO one and the Main Event) plus the $50K H.O.R.S.E., but the number of $5,000 buy-in events was increased that year to 11. That was the year some of those high buy-in events began to be referred to as “Championship” events, too.

Then in 2008 most of those “Championship” events began sporting the $10,000 buy-ins they continue to have today. That year 16 of the 55 events had buy-ins of $5,000 or more. That’s about the same percentage we see this year, when 18 of 58 events will cost $5,000 or more to play. Meanwhile, almost half of the events on the schedule -- 28 -- have buy-ins of $1,500 or less.

2011 WSOP braceletI do like the fact that the WSOP remains accessible to many players, especially the small-timers. Even so, as fun as the WSOP circus can be, there really are way too many events. Goes along with that larger trend that Jon Katkin was writing about yesterday in his Pokerati Op-Ed, “Too Many Tourneys.”

Awarding 58 of them in a single year certainly does something to the overall value of a bracelet. And that big divide between low and high buy-ins further complicates matters when it comes to the business of trying to assess the significance of a WSOP bracelet.

Then again, such debates do add to the fun of it all. Come on summer!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Ordering Twice at the 100 Grand Bar

Lot of buzz emanating from the Aussie Millions this week.

Twenty different events going on this month, plus a “Million Dollar Cash Game” which looks like it was played yesterday as no-limit hold’em with $500/$1,000 blinds and a $100 ante. Kind of an ABC of some of poker’s biggest names in that one, including Antonius, Benyamine, Cates, Dwan, Elezra, and Feldman. (Oh, and Ivey and Juanda, too.)

Also highlighting the schedule at the Aussie Millions was that $100,000 Challenge, won by the red-hot Brit Sam Trickett. (Those dollars are AUD, by the way, which I believe are not too different from USD at the moment.)

Interestingly, the Aussie Millions $100,000 buy-in event attracted 38 players total, exactly the number who participated in the recent PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $100,000 Super High Roller event played a couple of weeks ago.

I remember noting how at the PCA Super High Roller the many members of Team Full Tilt seemed conspicuous by their absence. Ultimately David Benyamine (Team Full Tilt) and Andrew Lichtenberger (a Red Pro) did sign up for that one, but most of the big names -- i.e., the ones you’d expect to see play in one of the very few $100,000 events on the poker calendar -- were not there to participate in the PokerStars-sponsored tournament.

A lot of those guys did show up for the Aussie Millions high buy-in event, however. Indeed, if you scan the list of entrants, it appears more than half of the 38 who entered (about 20) were Full Tilters. Not too surprisingly, none of the half-dozen PokerStars pros who played in the PCA Super High Roller (Negreanu, Mercier, Grospellier, Brenes, Duhamel, Chen) also played in the $100,000 Aussie Millions $100,000 Challenge. Incidentally, there was one PokerStars guy in the Aussie field -- the country’s most famous poker player, Joe Hachem.

I was curious to see how many players signed up for both events. I could have missed someone, but a scan of both lists of entrants turned up six names appearing on both: David Benyamine, Daniel Cates, Masaaki Kagawa, Sorel Mizzi, James Obst, and Justin Smith.

We’ve all known Benyamine and Mizzi for a good while now. Both Cates (a.k.a. “jungleman12”) and Smith (a.k.a. “BoostedJ”) are fairly well known, too. Cates has become more familiar thanks to his involvement in the second “Durrrr challenge,” and Smith for a lot of recent live scores, including scoring the cover of the October 2010 issue of Bluff Magazine.

James Obst is also a name very familiar to those of us who follow big tourneys on PokerStars, including SCOOP and WCOOP events. Of course, there we know him better as “Andy McLEOD,” a name that appears at the top of the chip counts over and over and over in those big events. Guy is only 20, too, still another year away from playing in the WSOP.

The sixth of the bunch, Masaaki Kagawa, is certainly the least known of the double-dippers. A highly successful a Japanese businessman who routinely plays high-stakes cash games, Kagawa also frequently shows up for the big buy-in tournaments such as the ones this month. He didn’t fare so well in these two, finishing around 30th in both. But he has a few results over the past four years, including a third-place finish in the Aussie Millions $100,000 event in 2007.

Of these six players, it looks like only Obst managed a cash in either event, finishing fifth at the Aussie Millions, good enough to win $200,000. So he essentially broke even on the two events, while the other five ended $200K in the hole.

That’s a lot of candy bars.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Feeding the Need to Read

The Hard-Boiled Poker RSS feedHad a nice comment today via Twitter from a reader (@tracyfm) who mentioned having added the Hard-Boiled Poker feed over at Google Reader. As it happens, I, too, have been spending some time this week with Google Reader adding a number of my favorite poker blogs.

I used to use Bloglines, logging in just about every day to see what the 200-plus folks I was following over there were writing about. At some point last year Bloglines began requiring users to enter one of those “captcha”-type codes in order to log in, something I’ll admit I found a bit tedious to do. I suppose there were good reasons for the added security, but the extra keystrokes actually might’ve kept me from logging in as often, as lazy as that sounds.

Then in the fall came news that Bloglines was going to go offline completely, at which point I stopped visiting the site. I believe Bloglines was bought by someone and saved, but I’ve moved on to Google Reader, where, like I say, I’m now busily adding all the blogs I have listed over on my Blogroll page.

All of which is to say that over the last couple of months or so, my reading of blogs had fallen off a bit, which is not something I’m so happy about.

I’ve always believed that writers need to be readers, too. If you want to write a decent blog (about anything), it’s worth your while to read others’ blogs on a regular basis, both to see what sorts of conversations are going on as well as to learn what makes a good blog post and what doesn’t.

You’ll discover some blogs are better than others, and thus more useful to you as a blogger than others. But they all help give you insight on what people are saying about a given topic, always of use if you decide yourself to share some observations or opinions about it.

BlogrollI suppose what I’m saying relates in a way to the subject of my last post where I was thinking out loud about trying to study poker more in addition to my playing. Feeling as though I am in a bit of rut at the tables, I think I can stand to benefit from stepping away and spending some time studying strategy (via videos, I’m primarily thinking) before returning.

Similarly, I have always believed that reading others’ poker blogs has (for me) been a kind of “study” that has helped me write my own. Indeed, before I wrote my first post here I was already reading folks like Iggy (our erstwhile “Blogfather”) and Dr. Pauly and a number of others, folks from whom I got the idea that writing my own blog might be something fun to try.

Keeping up with others’ blogs also often helps you find still more good ones to follow. (Recall Iggy’s legendary “uber-posts” that would send us all over the intertubes for various pokery goodness?)

I know my current Blogroll includes a lot of the good ones, but there are still more out there I’m undoubtedly missing. So if you have some recommendations, send ’em along. ’Cos I’m always looking for another good read.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oh, Brother, Where Am I?

Oh, BrotherAn up-and-down start to 2011, poker-wise, for your humble gumshoe. Several winning PLO sessions early, followed by some losing ones, followed by some more o’ that “break-even poker” I’ve been writing about off-and-on (and playing) for some time now.

Am beginning to think about stepping back and studying a bit, including doing some serious video watching -- something I have never really done, to be honest -- as a means to improve. So many seem to have gotten themselves over the hump and into some real success that way. I’m thinking of folks like bellatrix, Change100, and of course that dude on the Two Plus Two Pokercast now living in a sick house in Thailand.

I’ve also pretty much abandoned using PokerTracker/HUDs anymore -- not for any particular reason other than laziness, really. Have been playing more and more on my Mac laptop, on which I have none of that stuff loaded. I was curious about getting Omaha Manager (the Omaha version of HEM), but can’t really explore that at the moment since the HEM products aren’t Mac-compatible yet.

I know that to become genuinely serious about improving -- and competing with others -- it would greatly behoove me to consider use tracking programs more seriously (especially since I know a lot of the video tutorials incorporate them into the instruction). Of course, lessons, tutorials, HUDs, notes, and so forth are only useful if you both understand them and are willing to act accordingly. As we all know, in poker it is not always easy to pull the trigger even if you know it is correct to do so.

Had a funny situation the other day which kind of illustrated this idea, I suppose. Was playing my usual six-handed, dime-and-a-quarter PLO when a new player -- I’ll call him DontTeaseMeBro -- arrived at the table. He sat out the first couple of hands, waiting for the big blind. Then, just before getting his first hand, he typed the following:

“what am i going to do when my brother finds out that i have been playing his ps account? i have to win 2500 back in three days from this”

I lol’d, too (for real). Various other responses occurred to me as well, but I resisted. As did everyone else.

Finally he posted the big blind. The UTG player limped in for a quarter, and the action was on me. I had AsAcTh7s and raised pot to $1.10. The button called, as did DontTeaseMeBro and the UTG limper.

There were four players still in, then, when the flop came Qd7hKs. Into this crowd the newcomer unhesitatingly bet the pot ($4.28). UTG folded, and I got out, too, but the button called. They got the rest in on the 3c turn, at which point I laughed again when I saw DontTeaseMeBro’s hand -- 2d8h4d2s. The button’s hand was a little amusing, too -- Tc3dJdQh -- just second pair and an open-ender on the flop, but the turn had given him two pair. Then came the river card which was simply a riot, the 2c, giving DontTeaseMeBro a set and a quick double-up.

We played a couple more orbits, and I watched as our new visitor settled into a more reasonable-appearing mode of play, seemingly content to protect his windfall. He’d added a couple of bucks to his total when the following hand arose.

DontTeaseMeBro began things by limping in from under the gun, and it folded to me on the button where I held 9c7h5s9h. Certainly so-so (if not trash), but with position I called, and both blinds came along, too. The flop came 9sJh4c, giving me middle set. It checked to me, I bet the pot ($0.95), and both the small blind and DontTeaseMeBro called.

The small blind, I should mention, was a fellow I’ve played with a lot. In fact, now that I look up his stats in PT I realize he’s a good example of why I really should study more.

My impression after playing ~1,500 hands with the guy was that he was not a dumb player, though not particularly difficult to deal with, either. Probably explains why I have kept sitting at tables with him. But looking at his numbers, I see he’s down nearly $120 in the hands we’ve played! I know I’ve seen him overplay big pairs a few times, but I hadn’t really suspected he was down like that.

Rightly or wrongly, I did not rule out top set as a possible hand for him here, though that was unlikely. Wasn’t convinced DontTeaseMeBro could have a set of jacks and be check-calling, either. Most likely I was looking at a couple of straight draws, I thought, and the 6d on the turn didn’t complete those. They both checked, and I decided to fire again, betting the pot ($3.66). The small blind quickly folded, and DontTeaseMeBro just as quickly made the call.

The river brought the Kd and before you could say “queen-ten” DontTeaseMeBro had instantly bet the pot ($10.63).

I only had a dozen hands with the guy. I’d read his confession like I read just everything in the chatbox or online -- with skepticism. And I’d seen him make such a bet (pot-sized, out of position) a couple of times on exactly one previous hand when he had nothing but a pair of deuces.

What to do? Pot-sized bets on the river are tough to call without the nuts in PLO. (Have a feeling my friend over in the small blind has perhaps done that more often than he should.) I weighed it all and finally convincing myself the chances were greater he didn’t have it than he did, I called.

It turned out I was right, as he had but QsAs8c7c for ace-high. A few hands later he dropped the few bucks I’d left him with on that hand and skedaddled, perhaps to go work further on the big problem he’d created with his brother’s Stars account.

Hey brotherHappened to hit that one, but to be completely truthful my moments of insight and confidence are only intermittent these days, punctuated by stretches where I genuinely feel at sea when it comes to taking my own lines and making reads of others.

I mean, I generally play better than DontTeaseMeBro seems to, but occasionally I feel like I’m just in there gambling it up like he was -- that maybe the kinship between our games is sometimes stronger than I’d like to admit. Some tutelage is definitely in order.

But first I think I’ll give my brother a call. You know, just to see what he’s been up to.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back to School

First day of classNot too much time to write this morning, as I’m readying for the first meeting of my class, “Poker in American Film and Culture.” Has become kind of a momentous day, given how long the course has been in the works, plus the extra delay we had thanks to inclement weather last week and the MLK holiday on Monday.

By the way, I had a chance to speak with Matt Showell of PokerListings some about the class, and yesterday he posted a nice article about it, “Poker: A Study in American Culture.”

You can also hear me gab about the class with Special K and Falstaff on Episode 20 of the Gambling Tales Podcast, if you’re curious. I also joined the fellas for their latest show, too, Episode 22, to chat about that Rick Bennet novel King of a Small World I reviewed here last month.

And let me mention one other item related to the class. Some of you might know Bellatrix, a blogger who has recently become a limit hold’em coach. She recently launched her own website where one can find information about her coaching, a link to her blog, a forums page, and more.

Over in the forums, Bellatrix has begun a discussion group for the class there, in case anyone wanted to talk about any of the readings or films I’ve assigned. I mentioned before that I didn’t really anticipate writing too often here on Hard-Boiled Poker about the class, although I imagine I will now and then. But I do plan to pop in over there frequently and would be very glad to talk to folks about the assignments. Would love suggestions and advice, too, if anyone has ’em.

Today’s first day of class will mainly be devoted to introducing the course and its goals. I mentioned before how it is an American Studies course, so a primary objective is going to be finding out how studying poker’s history and culture will help us learn more about America’s history and culture. We’ll go through the syllabus today (which I posted here a couple of weeks ago), and take a little bit of time to get to know each other, too.

I also plan to have us together read David Mamet’s 1982 essay “The Things Poker Teaches Us,” primarily to show the students an example of someone writing in a very studious (even “academic”) way about poker. The short piece will also allow us to sound a couple of early notes that we’ll be coming back to all semester, including what Mamet says about winners and losers, his point that “poker is about money,” and his conclusion that poker builds character.

Next week we’ll begin McManus’s book Cowboys Full and read that essay by John Lukacs called “Poker and American Character” (discussed here and here), thereby getting a little more specific about all the ways poker might perhaps be an especially American game that highlights various ideas and values such as individualism, self-reliance, the importance of work, the “frontier spirit,” the “pursuit of happiness,” and so forth.

Like I say, not too much time to prattle on here today. Kind of wanted to talk more about this new “pro-centric” poker league I wrote about yesterday, perhaps elaborating further on the point I was trying to make about how the league seems in a strange way to go against some of the fundamental truths -- including the fact that poker, while certainly a skill game, also necessarily involves luck/gambling, too.

Will have to leave that aside for now, though. School is about to start.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A League of Their Own

Pros and ProsLast night Vera and I watched a little of the Australian Open. We caught the end of a women’s singles first-round match between fifth-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia and the 17-year-old American Lauren Davis. Stosur easily defeated Davis (6-1, 6-1), for whom this was her first-ever Grand Slam event. Davis had won her way into the tournament after winning a junior tourney in December in order to earn a wildcard entry. A little like winning a satellite tourney in poker, I suppose.

Was kind of intriguing to see Davis do what she could against Stosur, the not insignificant skill divide between the two accentuated somewhat by their contrasting appearances. There was the pixie-like Davis (only 5’1”, I believe), battling gamely against the taller, more muscular Stosur who made the French Open final last year and who many think is a strong contender perhaps to win her first Grand Slam this month.

While Davis did manage to pick up a few points here and there, the outcome was never in doubt. Unlike in poker, where a fortunate card (or several) really can help an outmatched newcomer defeat a seasoned pro, there was no chance here for Davis to go “all in” and gamble for the win.

The possibility in poker for amateurs to compete directly against top pros has always been one of the most fascinating elements of the tournament circuit. Aside from a handful of invitation-only, often made-for-TV events, every single major tournament on the poker calendar is -- like the Australian Open -- technically an “open” event in which anyone (theoretically) can play.

That said, when it comes to the Australian Open one must demonstrate at least some ability to participate. All 128 players in the women’s draw, for instance, either received an invite because of their current WTA singles rankings or won a wild card spot like Davis did. Meanwhile, in poker, anyone with enough to cover an entry fee can play.

Found myself thinking about this difference again this morning when the news broke of the creation of a yet-to-be-named professional poker league.

The story is only a couple of hours old, though by now you’ve probably at least heard about it. According to an article from the Associated Press -- picked up by a number of outlets, including ESPN (who listed the story among its front page headlines today) -- Annie Duke will serve as the new league’s commissioner, with former WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack acting as its chairman. Pollack is also described in the AP story as one of the league’s co-founders, with a private company, Federated Sports & Gaming, Inc., listed as having created the league.

Among the other details shared in the article is a plan to stage four televised “regular-season events” as well as a “$1 million championship freeroll” that will take place at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. As was the case with the short-lived Professional Poker Tour -- the last attempt at something like a professional poker league (begun in mid-2005 and defunct a little over a year later) -- those who participate in this new league will do so by invitation only.

“About 200 players will be invited into the league based on a mathematical formula measuring finishes in major events, money earned, and recent success,” says the article. Notably, only live tourneys will be considered, with cash games and online events not factoring into the calculations. Also not unlike what was the case with the PPT, players will be granted memberships of differing lengths, lasting either two, three, or five years, with a few “lifetime cards” being given to certain elite players.

Quotes from Duke and Pollack in the article directly evoke this issue I’ve brought up of non-pros competing with the established veterans of the game, sort of making it sound as though it’s a problem that the game’s best players sometimes (or often, even) have to play against less talented players. “This is incredibly pro-centric,” says Duke. “This is the one piece that’s kind of missing from the poker landscape right now... something for the best players in the world to compete against the best players in the world.”

Will be interesting, no doubt, to follow the process as it unfolds over the next few months. (I believe the first event will not happen until August.) Debates over invitations and the “formula” for determining who gets in will no doubt be fierce. Indeed, just a couple of posts ago I was referring to how the “all-time” list of tourney winnings is most certainly an imperfect indicator of who might be the “best players in the world.” I’ll also be curious to see how well the new league manages to avoid the many problems that led to the PPT’s demise, although I imagine that example will likely serve as a kind of object lesson for the new league as it forges ahead.

Am wondering a little about the money, the securing of which will obviously prove crucial to the league’s survival. Am also wondering about how the new league will be viewed, specifically whether or not it will find an audience and earn a spot on “the poker landscape” (to use Duke’s term) that is not way over on the periphery somewhere.

It certainly sounds like the league’s founders are envisioning more than a curious, large-scale “home game,” but rather something much more ambitious.

The AP story begins with a comparison with professional golf, saying how “the new league is hoping to become the PGA of poker.” There Pollack also speaks of how membership in the new league “will signify standing as a true professional in poker.” And in another press release from the Federated Sports & Gaming, Erik Seidel is quoted saying he hopes the new league will be “on par with other professional sports,” adding that he is “looking forward to true excellence in the game being rewarded.”

I do hope the new league turns into something fun and good for poker. But these are some lofty goals. Indeed, might it go against the nature of the game itself -- of which luck is necessarily a part -- to insist on finding a way to reward “true excellence”? I mean, even with links on the front page of ESPN, poker can’t really be tennis, can it? In poker, a Lauren Davis will beat a Samantha Stosur now and then.

Of course, in this new league, they’ll never play.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Good News for Change

PCA 2011Enjoyed following the coverage of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event final table Saturday night on ESPN2. Was disappointed (again) that I couldn’t see any of action from the first few hours when the show was online only, given that my ISP is not an affiliate of ESPN3.com and the PokerStars.tv stream wasn’t watchable from the U.S. But once it finally made it to air on my teevee I was impressed.

It did very much resemble the EPT Live streaming of final tables we’ve seen in the past (especially with James Hartigan on the mic), although revealing the hole cards definitely made for a different experience. (The final table was shown on a one-hour delay, making it possible to show the players’ cards.)

And while hours and hours of hands -- including all of those over and done with a preflop raise -- being played on a relatively sterile-seeming, hushed set certainly doesn’t make for the most exciting viewing, the show probably did bring in at least few new folks. And might even make some curious to see more. In any event, it was an interesting experiment that I imagine will likely be tried again.

Of course, I’ll admit that while Galen Hall’s comeback to defeat Chris Oliver heads up in the PCA Main Event was fun to watch, I wasn’t nearly as riveted by them I was earlier in the evening when reading reports on the progress of my friend Change100 in the PCA Women’s Event.

A couple of weeks ago, Change wrote over on Pot Committed about how she had satellited her way into the event. Took her a few tries, and what sounded like maybe $100 (or even less) worth of buy-ins to win a seat in a $215 satellite which she then made it through in order to win her package. Included the $1,100 tourney buy-in, travel and lodging, some extra cabbage for expenses, and a ticket to a boot camp conducted by Vanessa Rousso, winner of last year’s PCA Women's event.

Was cool enough just to read about Change winning the trip. Discovering she was chip leader after the first day of play on Friday was pretty nifty, too. Was positively thrilling Saturday, though, to follow Dr. Pauly’s tweets reporting her surviving all of the way to win the sucker as Ricki Lake (of Hairspray fame), Victoria Coren (another great writer-slash-player), and Lauren Kling (a tough tourney pro) all fell short.

Change100In the end, Change managed to turn the $100 or whatever it was into $29,798! That’s a sweet ROI. You can read about the final day of play on the PokerStars blog, and here’s the neat video of her being interviewed by Gloria Balding afterwards.

I love Change’s laughing response to Glo’s question about turning pro. “No,” she smiles, “I like doing this for fun.” The winnings, she explains, will help give her some space to work further on a screenplay she began last fall.

Of course, the story of her trip to the Bahamas will also make for a pretty nifty feature. Change has already written a short note on her blog about her victory, though tells us a longer account is coming.

Looking forward to that, too. I knew Change was a great player, having played with her before. But you know how tourneys go. Being great doesn’t guarantee success.

However, I also know Change is a great writer. And that really is a skill game. So I know the story of her trip will be a winning one. As will the others she writes.

(EDIT [added 1/20/10]: As promised, Change100 has written an account of the tournament over on Pot Committed: “Beyond Fairy Tale: The 2011 PCA Ladies Event, Part 1 & Part 2”)

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