Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Playing for Real Money: Haxton and Blom

Haxton vs. Blom for a half-millyPoker players talk a lot about finding the right stakes for one’s skill level. Usually the advice is to find limits where you can play comfortably, that is, where the amounts won’t influence you to the extent of negatively affecting your decision-making.

Meanwhile, there are certain types of gamblers who prefer playing limits where wins can produce tangible pleasure and losses genuine pain. You know, where what you are playing for is somehow most real, if that makes sense. I guess for a lot of players there’s a middle ground in there somewhere where the stakes are just right for them -- they can play without reservation, but winning or losing is gonna matter in the end.

Was thinking about all that a little this morning when reading about the heads-up match that took place between Viktor “Isildur1” Blom and Isaac “philivey2694” Haxton over the last three days on PokerStars. Wild stuff, that.

Recall how in early December 2010 Blom was signed as a Team PokerStars Pro, his identity still theoretically hidden although by then most everyone knew who the mysterious Swede was already. (Isildur1 would officially be revealed as Blom at the 2011 PCA a few weeks later.)

Soon after Isildur1 came on board at Stars, the “SuperStar Showdown” challenges involving Blom began, and Haxton was the first to take him on. Haxton would win that initial challenge by a relatively slim margin (not quite $42K).

Blom went on to play a dozen more SuperStar Showdowns over 2011 and early 2012, essentially winning them all save a rematch versus Haxton last month in which Ike beat him a second time by an even slimmer margin (just over $5K). Blom technically split two back-to-back matches versus Daniel Negreanu, although Blom was the overall winner, taking more than $123,000 off of Kid Poker during the almost 4,000 hands they played. (Here’s a page listing all of the Showdown results.)

Perhaps losing to Haxton twice inspired the ultra-competitive Blom to take him on again. Or maybe Haxton saw a chance to win more against an opponent against whom he’d built up some experience.

Viktor BlomWhatever their motives, this time the two decided to raise the stakes considerably from the usual SuperStar Showdown format (2,500 hands, with $150K the most a player could lose). Here the pair would each sit down with $500K and play $200/$400 heads-up no-limit hold’em across four tables with no limit on the number of hands played. They’d play four hours a day, continuing until one had all the money.

Gotta think for these two upping the stakes made it all a little more “real.” If that makes sense.

You’ve probably heard already how it all went down. If not, check out the PokerStars blog where Change100 and Otis recapped all of the action from each of the three days the duel lasted.

On Saturday, they played just over 1,900 hands with Blom leaving nearly $200K up (Day 1 recap here). On Sunday, Haxton closed the gap for a while before Blom pushed out ahead again, ending the day over $285K ahead overall (Day 2 recap here). Then yesterday they played almost four more hours, with Blom finally taking the last of Haxton’s money, having won $500K total over 5,030 hands (Day 3 recap here).

I can’t help but think back to when we first heard about Isildur in late 2009, back when we really didn’t know who he was and he was multi-tabling against all of the Full Tilt Pros, winning millions off some and losing back millions to others.

Isildur1 on Full Tilt PokerRemember the $1,356,946.50 pot Isildur1 lost to Patrik Antonius? Remember the subsequent data-mining controversy and Isildur1 indicating an intention to file a “formal complaint” to FTP presumably in an effort to recover millions won from him? (He never did.) Remember others marveling at the multi-million dollar swings, with some -- including Team Full Tilter Mike Matusow -- describing the games as “not real poker”?

Matusow’s comments came in an interview on the Two Plus Two Pokercast back in March 2010. His point was a little complicated and not entirely clear, although it seemed to boil down to the idea that since a lot of those involved in the biggest games were FTP pros using money they’d gotten as part of their endorsement deals, the money was therefore not “real” to them.

“They’re just numbers,” said Matusow, referring to the mind-boggling amounts of the pots being shipped back and forth. “And it’s not real money. If them guys had to use their real money -- like if they were playing in a live game with those kind of moneys -- you think they’d be throwing it in like that?”

Of course, today we look back on all of that talk a lot differently, knowing, in fact, that a lot of the money being shipped back and forth on FTP really would turn out to be just numbers, and not “real” -- if not then (late 2009-early 2010), then later on, for sure.

Anyhow, it seems much more likely the half million clams Blom managed to take off of Haxton over the last three days was real enough. To them, anyway.

To the rest of us, though, it still seems pretty unreal.

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Blogger MBG said...

I often discuss the issue of 'real money' with my son. In particular with respect to The Big Game (the one where there's a lose cannon). We're both of the opinion that the pros have deals and that they are not in effect playing with real money. If they lose, they still lose, just not the nose bleed amounts that the show claims.

I do suspect that the same is true in the case of Haxton Vs Blom. I might be wrong, but it is in Pokerstars (and all poker cos) interests to encourage people to play at higher stakes. After all, they make more money if we do.

Having said that, I don't doubt that there are gamblers who would play quite happily at these stakes. But very very few could actually afford to.

4/03/2012 4:19 PM  
Blogger NBShuffler71 said...

It' an interesting point about bankroll and playing at a level where you feel comfortable. I am only a recreational payer but have always felt better playing at levels higher than my bankroll should realy allow. I feel i play better and make better decisions because the money realy means something. A few nerves definately helps me focus better. Of course losing brings greater disappointment.

I played football (soccer) for many years and always played better if i was nervous before a game. Without those nerves i was often flat and off the pace.

Maybe it is a flaw but if i have a bankroll of e.g. $1000, it is hard for me to get excited about the early stages of a $10 or $20dollar MTT, whearas in a $100 dollar tourney i am switched on 100% from the start.

Furthermore a few years ago i won the first live 500pound tourney i ever played. This was miles above my bankroll but i beleive the nerves helped me focus and i made some huge laydowns before running great to make the FT and win.

I realise my lack of focus at lower levels is a weakness and it could be pure coincidence about my tourney win but some people react better under real pressure and i beleive that is my case in poker, particularly in tournaments.

Whatever your opinion on skill vs luck in poker, there is no doubt that it is still gambling to a greater or lesser degree. Is it really a gamble, and do you realy care if the money won or lost means nothing?

4/04/2012 11:17 AM  

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