Saturday, June 30, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 34: That’s a Bummer, Man (Men in the Ladies Event)

That's a Bummer, Man.Yesterday I reported on the first day of Event No. 51, the $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship for PokerNews. For the most part I was going at it alone, save a few hours in the middle when Brett came over to help with some posts. So I say “I reported on it” rather than “I covered it,” because circumstances demanded a lot necessarily had to be left uncovered.

I’ve written here in the past about the huge challenge of trying to report on a large field tournament with few resources, and so am not going to go over all that again today. Was a little disheartening, I’ll admit, to pretend to do justice to the sucker with no one else around to help fill the huge gaps.

One aspect of this particular event I had hoped to give attention to were some of the stories players brought to it. The ladies event brings out interesting people, people who come to the tournament via many different paths. And their stories are often less common and thus more interesting than what one normally encounters at most poker tournaments.

But there just wasn’t enough me to do much of that. I was really only able to share a couple of those kinds of stories, the best being the one about the 94-year-old retired NYPD deputy inspector coming back to play the ladies event after having played at the WSOP a lot in the past, including making a final table in the ladies event at what had to have been around age 80.

Another aspect of the event I didn’t really care much about focusing on at all yesterday was the participation of men in the tournament. That story was big in 2010, the first time it happened. It was kind of big again last year, when a man made it all of the way to the final table before busting in ninth.

Not this time, though. Is already part of the deal. Doesn’t take long in poker or at the WSOP for the creating of “traditions.” And I suppose we can say a few men playing in the women’s event has by now become one.

Sure, when I first passed through the field searching for familiar faces and perking my ears up to catch table talk and perhaps find items of interest to share, I noticed the dudes. Couldn’t help it.

Each time I saw one, I was seized with a small pang of disappointment. And I guess a kind of pity, too -- for the guys for having somehow convinced themselves that playing in the ladies event was a sensible thing to do, and for the women, too, if any were at all bothered by the men playing.

I mean it was just a bummer, and that was it. And I didn’t want to write about it, because doing that would have been a bummer, too.

I found the topic so uninspiring I couldn’t even bring myself to mention the men in the live blog at all yesterday. The fact was, there were hundreds and hundreds of women playing in the event about whom I also was unable to write. So it didn’t make much sense to me to give any of the very limited time and energy I had to writing about the men.

In some cases the men were friendly and chatty, and I didn’t see women appearing especially bothered about their presence at the tables. Even by the couple who were wearing dresses hardy har.

It wasn’t all hunky dory, though. It may be a tradition, now, that a handful of men play in the ladies event. But not everyone is ready to accept that without asking some questions about how this new tradition came to be. And continues.

Victoria CorenIt was late in the day when Victoria Coren decided to ask the man sitting at her table why he had decided to enter the event. I’d passed by Coren’s table a time or two before, even reporting on a hand. By then the field had shrunk down to 25 tables or so, and thus I was able to make another circuit back when I heard her asking the man her question.

I lingered and listened. I was curious. Being a fan of Coren’s writing I wanted to be an audience to how she might choose to interrogate the man. I suppose in the back of my mind I thought I might share something of what I heard here, too.

Rather than retell it all, I can point you to Coren’s own account which she’s already published on her blog. There she describes the entire episode in detail, explaining what she and the young man said to each other, and then delivering a judgment upon him.

In asking her questions of the man she was not rude. Despite what some on Twitter who were not there might be inferring from Coren’s post or elsewhere, it wasn’t even close to verbal harassment. She was asking questions. As another player characterized Coren's questions when the floor came over, “It’s banter. It's part of the game.” She used wit which he didn’t seem to follow. And when he became uncomfortable he called the floor to request they make her stop saying things to him that made him feel uncomfortable.

Having heard most of it, I can say Coren’s account is accurate. I only recall hearing one thing that was said that she doesn’t mention. It was something the man said early on during her questioning, when she was still trying to get at the reason why he had decided to play.

Among his initial responses, I remember him saying “I want to buy a condo.” That was why he was playing, he explained. To try to make enough money from it to buy a condo.

Suddenly that feeling of disappointment I mentioned before multiplied tenfold. He either didn’t understand the purpose of the question, or didn’t care. What I was hearing was too dumb for words. Which again, was the real reason why I didn’t choose to put it into words last night.

If one of the two dudes who made it to Day 2 makes it further -- if he ends up becoming part of the tourney’s narrative in a way that demands his being included in the “coverage” -- I’ll write about him. If he emerges as a chip leader, or makes it to the last few tables, I’ll write about him. If he wins, I’ll write about him.

But let me tell you, if any of that happens, that would be a bummer. As would writing about it.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 33: Cruising Along

Cruising AlongFor me Day 33 of the 2012 World Series of Poker began a lot like the previous ten days with me rising early, doing some scribbling, then heading over to the Rio for another lengthy stay. Have worked seven of the last eight days, and am looking at another four days on before my next day of rest arrives.

Later in the morning I met up with my buddies Chris Cosenza and Scott Long of Ante Up (the magazine and podcast). I’ve met each of those guys more than once before at previous WSOPs, but I think this was the first time we were able to sit down for more than a few minutes to chat.

Long time readers know that when I first started writing the blog I would often talk about poker podcasts to which I was listening, with the weekly Ante Up show being one of only a few regular ones to discuss.

Since those early days, Chris and Scott launched a monthly magazine to go along with the podcast, and if you visit their website you’ll discover they have a lot more going on, too, including frequently hosting Ante Up cruises where folks can play poker and visit various destinations.

Ante UpSpeaking of the Ante Up cruises, I told them how yesterday I was helping cover the final table of Event No. 47, the $1,500 PLO8 event, and Scott mentioned how one of the players, Steven Loube (last name rhymes with “robe”), had been on a few with his wife. Loube was second in chips to start the day, having enjoyed a serious rush near the end of Day 2 to catapult to the top of the counts.

As it happened, Loube would win the event yesterday, a turn of events I think even he would admit was a bit improbable. After all, as he let us know during the course of the day, this was his first ever WSOP event! He also mentioned how the most he’d ever won before in a poker tournament was a $50 gift certificate (“good for food, but not for liquor”).

Loube mostly sat tight during the early going as the short stacks fell. He did get involved in a big three-way hand at one point in which he made a big fold on the flop in what was really a tricky spot. As it happened, if he’d stayed in he would have won the hand and a lot of chips, but it probably was prudent not to have taken the risk at that point.

Loube also had a hand in which he made a somewhat serious blunder, calling a big bet on the river thinking he had a flush when in fact he did not (he had misread the board). His reaction was great, though -- suitably self-effacing, maybe a little embarrassed, but you could tell it probably wasn’t going to send him spiraling into tilt mode.

Watching Event No. 47There was other evidence along the way that Loube was the least experienced at the table, especially once it got to four-handed (which lasted an especially long time, about five hours). He more than once noted how tired he was, suggesting he’d never played so much poker in three days before. He had Advil with him, too, and I believe popped a couple along the way to help ease the pain caused by having to concentrate so long and so intensely.

If I were to have bet on who would win with four left, I would’ve picked either of the other three players -- Timothy Finne, Roch Cousineau, or Cam McKinley -- over Loube. But the amateur hung in there, and once McKinley was eliminated and the blinds jumped up, the gambling began in earnest.

Three-handed didn’t last very long, not enough time for your humble scribbler to toss out a line about Loube being caught between a “Roch” and a hard place (as he most definitely was). Cousineau was soon ousted, and it was down to just Loube and Finne.

I wasn’t pulling for anyone in particular as I watched -- I really never do with these things -- and in fact like Finne a lot both as a player (this was his fifth WSOP final table) and a personality (lots of grinning, humorous and friendly comments). But it was kind of cool to witness the excitement of Loube and his supporters after he’d won.

The 34-year-old personal injury attorney was pretty humble about it all afterwards, too. When one of his buddies said something about him playing all of the rest of the events now, he immediately shook his head. “No way, this is way too tough,” he said, obviously worn out by the long tourney journey, an adventure as exotic as any cruise or other vacation he has ever taken, I’m sure.

Loube in Las VegasWhen watching and reporting on these suckers, it is definitely a lot easier to identify with guys like Loube than, say, those high rollers at the final table of Event No. 45, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship won by Michael Mizrachi yesterday. Just easier to relate to someone for whom the money is that much more meaningful, and the experience perhaps that much more special, too.

I like that picture Joe Giron took yesterday (see left) of Loube under the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that hangs above the stage in the Pavilion room, one of many cool ones Joe snapped. Kind of underscored the excitement of the day for Loube, as does that kind of anxious-seeming smile on his face.

I can relate to that fatigue Loube felt yesterday, too. “Every time I meet you, you always seem exhausted,” said Chris to me yesterday morning early on during our visit. Indeed, we’ve only ever met at the WSOP -- when I am in the middle of working these lengthy, uninterrupted stretches -- and so I understood what he was saying. It is a long, long journey.

Today it continues for me with Event No. 51, the $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship, which I’ll be covering from start-to-finish. Am looking forward to doing so. Two years ago I helped cover the second and third days of this event. I was not on it last year when once again more men played and one even made the final table.

I’m curious to experience the first-day vibe of this tourney, and perhaps enjoy some more of that feeling of poker being special and fun. Kind of thing keeps you cruising along, you know? Even if you’re a little tired, and the waters a little rough.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 32: In Which My Shoes Give Away Where I Have Been

Shamus shoesWas another packed day yesterday at the WSOP. Spent most of it helping cover Event No. 47, the $1,500 PLO8 event.

I covered this same event as well last year, and while jotting down all of those cards and keeping track of the highs and lows can be a bit headachy, it’s actually a very fun event to watch. Lots of action, of course, plus the players who have made it deep this year seem more inclined than most to engage in table talk -- often humorous -- which makes watching the action and reporting on it all the more entertaining.

Before the day began I met up with Tommy Angelo. It’s become kind of an annual date for us to have breakfast at least once during the Series.

Tommy impressed me with a Sherlock Holmes-like bit of deduction when we first met yesterday. As I was walking to our meeting, I’d noticed my black shoes looking especially dusty, almost like I had spilled a cup of flour on them. Feeling a little conspicuous, I pointed them out to him as soon as we met, planning to explain why they looked the way they did. But Tommy did so before I could.

“Did you go hiking?” he asked. Yes, I nodded. Then, before I could explain, he continued. “Red Rock Canyon?”

He’d nailed it, of course. Like a real shamus.

Was great fun catching up with him and hearing about his work on his next book project, Painless Poker.

Tommy AngeloAngelo has a couple of other excellent titles out already, both of which combine his talents for storytelling and poker instruction. His Elements of Poker (2007) remains a highly worthwhile book that I continue to recommend to those who haven’t read it before. (See a full review here.)

And his 2011 title A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales also includes much that is both entertaining and edifying. I reviewed that one as well for the Betfair Poker blog, if you’re curious. (By the way, don’t ask me who that picture is next to my byline on those older Betfair pieces -- some glitch has caused a person other than myself appear there, not that the “Shamus” pic is me, either.)

It sounds like the new book will include even more excursions into fiction, with Angelo creating characters and plots that allow him to tell some fun and interesting poker stories while also delivering advice about how to deal with tilt and other poker-related challenges.

I told Tommy a bit about the novel I have now finished and am currently having people read in order to get feedback about revising. We also discussed and compared our writing processes as well as ideas about marketing and promoting our work.

After an hour we parted, as Tommy had plans to engage in some more detective work at the cash tables in the Pavilion room.

Meanwhile I trudged back through the halls of the Rio to the Amazon room where I’d spend the rest of the day and night doing a lot more walking back and forth between my laptop and the tables, still carrying the dust of Red Rock Canyon to and fro.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 31: Hot Rocks

Red Rock Canyon entranceAfter five straight 12-14 hour days at the Rio helping cover WSOP events, I finally had a day off on Tuesday and so took the opportunity to steer clear of it all and try to recharge the mental batteries a little.

My buddy F-Train is in town this week, and he suggested taking a quick trip up to Red Rock Canyon to walk around and see the sights. Besides getting an opportunity to visit with him, I was also keen both to get out of the city (and off the grid) as well as to see Red Rock, which I’d never visited before.

Red Rock is about 15 miles west of Vegas, a large national conservation area taken up by huge rock formations. It is surrounded by a 13-mile loop that you drive around counterclockwise, with lots of stops along the way to see sights and/or get out and do some hiking on the various trails.

Take a look at these handsAs we drove the rocks stood out majestically, of course, although the sandy landscape was striking as well with the many tree stumps sticking up and looking not a little like hands reaching up out of the ground.

We ended up stopping at one of the first trails along the way, the one that takes you up to see the Calico Tanks, a natural tank which was dry this time of year.

From the roadThe hike up was described in the visitor guide as "moderate" (not "strenuous"), a characterization F-Train echoed as he's been to Red Rock many times before. We're talking about 2.5 miles or so round trip (perhaps more), taking about an hour to climb up and a bit less than than to get back down.

It was hot, and much of the walk found us in direct sunlight. I was definitely winded by the time we made it to the top, realizing that despite all the hours on my feet and running around the Rio I could probably be in better shape for such excursions. The hike wasn't exactly treacherous, although it was necessary to pay attention when seeking stable footing.

The view from the topWas well worth it, though, to enjoy the many striking sights along the way as well as the view of Vegas from the top.

Among the topics we discussed while up there was the obvious one -- just how weird a place Las Vegas really is, and the utter discontinuity between where we sat and what lay below.


Red rocksWill be moving back out of the warm, bright sun and into the cold, relatively dark Rio once again today to help cover Day 2 of Event No. 47, the $1,500 PLO/8 event where I imagine I’ll see lots of heaping pots, split down the middle. Kind of like those rocks we were climbing over yesterday.

Take a trip over today when you’re not seeing how Viktor “Isildur1” Blom is doing in the Poker Players Championship (currently leading with 26 left).

And please, watch your footing.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 30: Attempts at Time Travel at the WSOP

Attempts at Time Travel at the WSOPI’m not a huge science fiction fan, although I have a few favorite authors and novels. In grad school once I had the opportunity to help teach a history of SF class, and so became acquainted with some of the periods and subgenres like the early adventure/pulp stuff and the “space westerns,” “hard” and “soft” SF, alternate history SF, the variety focusing on satire/social commentary, cyberpunk, and so on.

Time travel stories represent another category of SF that always intrigued me, especially those stories that used the conceit of traveling through time to explore ideas about what might be natural to us as humans and what is learned behavior or thinking. You know, stories that use time travel to show how particular cultures shape us into being and acting a certain way, with the move to the past or future forcing characters to question assumptions about themselves or each other. (See Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.)

You could say any attempt to write factually about something that has happened in the past is a little like traveling through time. Even writing up a hand report at a poker tournament involves imagining for a moment what you experienced a few minutes before.

In that case there are usually certain tangible facts that overwhelm the story and its significance, namely, the cards that were dealt, the bets that were made, and the ultimate impact of the hand on the tournament as a whole. Other elements might be worth including, too, as part of the effort to give a reader a sense of what it was like to have been there, standing nearby, watching what happened. But at the heart of it is an attempt to go back, to relive.

Last night I was helping cover Event No. 44, a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event in one corner of the Amazon. Meanwhile, across the spacious ballroom on the other side of the science-fiction-y “mothership,” there arose a complicated situation in Event No. 45, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, surrounding a controversial pot-limit Omaha hand primarily involving Nikolai Yakovenko, Shaun Deeb, and Abe Mosseri. You’ve probably already heard something about this one, which came up last night right at the end of Day 2 of that five-day event.

Donnie Peters wrote up a detailed report of what happened (in two parts) for the PokerNews blog. In the first part, Donnie explains the complicated preflop betting that saw four players limp in, the small blind complete, then the big blind raise and the first three limpers call. Deeb then reraised with the rest of his chips from the button -- he had less than the amount needed to make a pot-sized raise, so he was all in. It folded to Yakovenko in the big blind who reraised over the top of Deeb’s raise, and only Mosseri called (after an especially long time in the tank).

The hands were tabled and the community cards dealt with Deeb winning the main pot and Mosseri the side pot. Then arose the real controversy over Yakovenko’s reraise over Deeb’s raise. According to Donnie, he’d said he was “all in” although he could only reraise the size of the pot. Which suggests he wasn’t really all in. And which also suggests Mosseri’s call wasn’t for all of his chips either (Yakovenko had Mosseri covered by a little), but for just whatever amounted to a pot-sized reraise. This despite the fact the players had played the hand as if it were an all-in shove and call.

At issue, then, was the side pot and how much Yakovenko really owed Mosseri after the hand. But the floor came over and apparently initially ruled that since Mosseri had only technically called a pot-sized reraise preflop, there should have been a betting round after the flop (there hadn’t been -- the five community cards were dealt out without any chances for post-flop betting), and thus “the turn and river would have to be rerun as the flop action hadn't been complete,” as Donnie reports.

Time-Travel HandIn other words, it appeared as though they were going to try to go back in time (so to speak) to deal the turn and river anew, this time giving Yakovenko and Mosseri an opportunity to bet, raise, or fold. Such a ruling also meant Deeb was no longer safe. He’d survived the hand by flopping a set of jacks, then rivering a flush to beat Mosseri’s A-A-x-x and Yakovenko’s K-K-x-x. (I like how PN photographer Joe Giron used the fish-eye on that pic, adding a bit further to the weirdness of it all.)

See Donnie’s post for all of the specifics. He uses that initial ruling -- and Deeb’s understandably incredulous response -- as a cliffhanger moment, then comes back with the second part of the story in which the ruling gets overturned. There would be no redealing of the turn and river, after all. Also, Yakovenko was made to pay off Mosseri as though it had been an all-in situation even though Yakovenko couldn’t have raised all in, because that was essentially how the players had played the hand. (Sounds like a correct ruling.)

By the way, B.J. Nemeth additionally reported the hand for PokerListings. And both Donnie and B.J. did especially well, I thought, relating what happened clearly and thoroughly.

The controversy then continued when Yakovenko (crippled in the big hand) busted shortly thereafter and Phil Ivey was moved to the table to fill the empty seat. Because Mosseri had tanked for so long (possibly as much as 15 minutes, according to Donnie) and the subsequent efforts to get a ruling on the hand took a lot more time, players were unhappy they’d missed most of the last level of the night while other tables played on.

They’d already reached the point where it had been announced the clock would be stopped and only four more hands would be played. That’s when the table apparently proposed playing the last four hands of the night with Ivey, then have Ivey leave the table and allow them to play 15-20 more minutes to make up for hands lost before.

Ali Eslami explained it all to Donnie, using what I consider the line of the night to explain the players’ thinking. It would be like "going back in time to fill the space," Eslami told Donnie. The floor wasn’t going for that, though, and after four hands with Ivey the day was done.

Love that line. Probably a very good thing they weren’t allowed to go back in time to fill the space. All of us in the Amazon Room might have gotten swept up into a black hole or something, jettisoned out into a different dimension entirely.

Man, it would’ve taken forever to get a decent ruling if something like that had happened.

In the end, then, there were a couple of moments in the story where people had seriously entertained the idea of “going back in time” to redo things. In the first, the floor actually ruled they’d be redealing a turn and river in the big hand, then changed their minds. In the second, it was the players coming up with the idea of going back and reliving a section of Level 10, but that plan didn’t materialize either.

Not that you really can go back in time. Not really. Still, the desire to do so more or less possesses us so frequently. Happens constantly in poker tournaments. And in poker tournament reporting, too.

Probably says something about human nature, this desire we have always to go back and “get it right” or at least do things differently.

But no, the present is where we must remain, spending much of our time thinking about what has happened. And what might have been.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 29: Adults Playing Games

Players take a break from the game to play another game“Pretty good deal, if you think about it,” I said to Jessica Welman late yesterday afternoon. “Adults playing games.”

Jessica, who this year has moved into a position as Managing Editor of WSOP.com, had stopped by the event I was helping cover, Event No. 42, the $2,500 Omaha/Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better event that had reached its final day. Was one of those scenes worth stopping for.

No, Jessica and I weren’t watching poker being played. It was another mulit-player game, Achtung, for the iPad.

They’d reached the first 20-minute break of the day, with 15 of the 22 players who’d started the day still with chips. I spent the first half of the break chatting and catching up with my friend Tom Schneider, one of the 15.

That’s when Bryan Devonshire, sporting a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, strolled over with his iPad. “C’mon,” he said to Schneider. “Yeah, yeah... I’m in,” said Schneider.

Soon Schneider and a couple of other players still alive in the tourney, Perry Friedman and Mike Krescanko, were huddled around the iPad with Devonshire, all playing Achtung, a game in which each directs a glowing line around the screen with arrows in the corner, trying to cut each other off to be the last one standing. Not unlike the goal of the tourney itself, although the reward for winning was a little different.

Achtung, for the iPadEventually others jumped in to take turns, including my blogging partner Rich, and I stepped back to snap a pic. Finally the break ended, and the other game -- the one with cards and chips -- resumed.

It was the kind of day that reminded one how despite all the drama and seriousness that necessarily will accompany any contest in which participants’ money is put at risk, we are, essentially, watching adults playing games.

Seemed like most of the players who’d made it to those last two tables in Event No. 42 were having a good time. Helped that a number of them are witty, personable guys, too, such as Devonshire, Schneider, and Friedman. Lots of fun table talk punctuated the play throughout the day and evening, with those guys involved a lot of the time.

At one point Devonshire strolled over to Schneider’s table between hands to ask him how things were going. “Want to go fishing?” he added, and Schneider laughed. “I’m kinda bored.”

Meanwhile Friedman had ’em chuckling back at Devo’s table with his self-deprecating (and tongue-in-cheek) analysis of his own play. After winning an Omaha/8 hand in which he’d defended his big blind with a subpar starter, then stubbornly called down to eek out half the pot with a weak high hand, he half-jokingly explained how it had been his experience as a Full Tilt Poker red pro that made him such a calling station.

“Players always tried to bluff me, so I got used to calling a lot,” explained Friedman, wearing a green t-shirt with “NO SOUP FOR YOU” in big white block letters on the front. “I should’ve gotten over that after more than a year, though,” he grinned.

None of those guys would make it to the final table, going out successively in 13th (Schneider), 12th (Friedman), and 11th (Devonshire). But another who also brought the funny did make it that far, long time poker commentator Norman Chad.

Chad actually began the final eight-handed table with a second-place stack, though ultimately saw his run end in sixth place (out of 393 entrants).

Chad wasn’t always cracking wise during play, and in fact was mostly quite serious. But once he got short stacked with six players left, the fun really began.

First came a Stud/8 hand in which a player completed, another called, and the action was on Chad. As he considered what to do, he fished out a fortune cookie, opened it, and began to eat as he read.

“Within the week you will receive an unexpected gift,” he said, sharing what the slip of paper said. “That’s kind of vague,” he decided, and then folded.

It was the Omaha/8 round when Chad finally decided to commit his last chips. I’d noticed a hand or two before Chad had his wallet out underneath the table, and so had a feeling he was planning something else mischievous.

Sure enough, when betting in his last chips, Chad additionally produced a VISA card as well as his AAA card and pushed them forward. “This one has a $50,000 limit,” he deadpanned, pointing to the VISA and suggesting he’d like to use some credit to increase his bet. (Those pictures above of Chad playing his last hand was snapped by always-on-the-spot Joe Giron for PokerNews.)

Fun stuff. And a final table, too. Gotta give the man some credit (rim shot).

After Chad’s elimination things did grow relatively more serious until the young Ukrainian Oleksii Kovalchuk finally took the last of George Danzer’s chips to give the 22-year-old his second WSOP bracelet in two years.

Hugs for Oleksii Kovalchuk, winner of Event No. 42 at the 2012 WSOPThere were probably 30 or so people there cheering Kovalchuk on, and when the final Omaha/8 card fell on the river, they came up to the table and surrounded him, all hugging and cheering.

Soon they were actually lifting him up and throwing him aloft -- no shinola -- something I don’t think I’ve ever seen happen at a tourney before. They weren’t too agile about it, actually dropping him on the floor which led to more laughter. But he was back on his feet in an instant to receive more hugs and congratulations.

It was a suitable conclusion to a day filled with grins from beginning to end. With reminders, too, that at the heart of it, we’re mostly a bunch of adults playing games here. And that really is a pretty good deal.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 28: The Future Is Now

The Pavilion RoomYesterday at the Rio I saw Event No. 40 ($2,500 short-handed limit hold’em) play out in exciting fashion.

Was sorry to see Terrence Chan come up short to finish in seventh yesterday (his eighth cash of the summer). Chan is an amazing player, great writer and thinker, and all-around good guy. But it was fun to see another good guy, Ronnie Bardah, somehow manage to comeback from 10th out of 10 to start the day to win the bracelet.

His heads-up opponent, Marco “Crazy Marco” Johnson also made a wild comeback yesterday, starting in ninth. The two of them had about 5-6 big bets each to start the day, and went off at 18-to-1 (Johnson) and 20-to-1 (Bardah) over in the Rio Sports Book.

The final table took place in the Pavilion Room, up on a stage positioned at one end. It was the first time I’d worked there so far this summer, and so got to experience the weird, almost uncanny feeling of sitting in such a large space (see above). They’ve removed a wall this year, I believe, thus and have fit a whopping 257 tables in the massive room.

Announcements of seats opening for players in the cash games echo back and forth above the players’ heads, sounding something like what you might hear in an airport terminal. Looking down on the scene from the stage, the set-up resembles some sort of huge disaster relief shelter or something. A very odd vibe (to evoke something I discussed earlier this week). Post-apocalyptic-like. The kind of scene you cannot help but survey and think of what the WSOP once was, and how different it has all become.

We actually began the day over in the Amazon Room, crammed next to a couple of other tournaments. We had several reporters sitting elbow-to-elbow at a single small table along the wall, with one of the tables for Event No. 42 ($2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8) mere inches away from us.

Alan BostonAmong those seated at the table were Andy Bloch, Alan Boston, and Cyndy Violette. Boston had us all cracking up with his various quips, including comments about the tableau we reporters formed sitting around the table. Someone else said it looked like the Last Supper.

“It’s only the last supper for him,” said Boston, pointing at me, the only one among us with gray hair on top and eyeglasses (both of which definitely tend to give away the fact I have a few years on my colleagues). I laughed, and he said he was jealous of my having hair at all. He then continued forward with one of those hilarious self-loathing monologues such as you might’ve heard him deliver in interviews on the Two Plus Two Pokercast and elsewhere.

“This is how f*cking pathetic my life is,” he explained, noting how coming to play in the event represented a special day out for him. He also had little optimism about his prospects in the tournament. “Hey,” he added with mock glee, “I’m going to the Rio tonight to get f*cked!”

The fun continued as Andy Bloch noted how close we were sitting behind him. Bloch was wearing a black t-shirt with one of those evolution-of-man sequences on the front showing white silhouettes of crawling cavemen becoming upright-walking humans becoming a robot.

“You guys comfy back there?” he asked. “You want to help me play my hands?” he then added with a grin.

You get the sense that guys like Bloch and Boston have experienced all sorts of craziness at the WSOP, and thus can take the perhaps-not-so-ideal conditions in stride. However, before my event moved away from that location and to the Pavilion, I did notice one example of players being less than happy with one particular element of how their tourney was being run.

A Blackberry Playbook tablet being used for the new 'ChipTic' tracking systemThat Event No. 42 utilized this new “ChipTic” tracking system that involves dealers using Blackberry Playbook tablets to note bustouts and report chip counts at breaks. I hadn’t seen the system in use before, and so got a dealer to show me her tablet during the first break.

In theory the idea seems like it could be a nifty addition that might help a lot with keeping track of who is left in events as well as keeping tabs on their counts. I did notice a problem, though, when I saw that during the breaks there were ChipTic folks counting players’ chips not by eyeballing them -- as we reporters always do -- but actually handling them to count them out.

A few players hung around during that break to complain, with Greg Raymer in particular pointing out how it was a very bad idea to allow anyone to handle players’ chips when they were away. In fact, he refused to leave during the break as he did not want to be gone while others touched his chips.

Raymer’s absolutely right, and as someone who has been counting chips for years without ever touching a single one, I know there is no reason whatsoever why the ChipTic guys need to be handling chips as they are. I have to imagine the WSOP will put a stop to it quickly and instruct everyone to start counting chips by sight.

There were also large screens displaying a scrolling list of bustouts for the event, all having been entered by the dealers as they occurred. Up-to-the-minute stuff, as you see the exact time the player was recorded as having been eliminated. I snapped a pic of one such screen just as Mickey Appleman had wandered over to take a look.

Mickey Appleman checks out who has busted in Event No. 42Seemed like a funny juxtaposition to see Appleman -- who has played at the WSOP for more than three decades -- standing there in front of the display checking out who has busted, like some sort of meeting between the past and the future. Kind of reminded me of Bloch’s t-shirt, actually.

Boston had some funny lines about ChipTic, too, suggesting they could start tracking players by their ethnicity, chosen faith, or other factors.

“You know they could enter the data and sort it... they could even have a column for the players’ IQs! You know... over on the right there have a little ‘null set’ sign!”

Will be back at the Rio today, helping out with the coverage of Day 3 of that Event No. 42. Neither Boston, Bloch, Violette, nor Appleman survived yesterday. But of the 22 who did make it to today there are a lot of interesting names at the top of the counts, including Jeff Lisandro, Norman Chad, Tom Schneider, and Bryan Devonshire (all in the top 10).

Should be a fun one. Skip over to PokerNews' live reporting today to see what the future brings.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 27: “WHATTTAREDBOOOOLLLL!”

WHATTTAREDBOOOOLLLL!I’m a coffee drinker, although only in the mornings. Am having a second cup right now, in fact. Part of the effort to reawaken the brain and try to focus on the day ahead. Writing a blog post helps with the waking up, too.

Not too big on taking in lots of caffeine late in the day or evening. Even in a case like last night, where after a morning’s full of work at the home-away-from-home, I was at the Rio until about 2:30 a.m. helping with the coverage of Event No. 40, the $2,500 Limit Hold’em event for PokerNews. An interesting field left in that one, with Terrence Chan, Sorel Mizzi, Chad Brown, and Rep Porter among the nine players chasing first-time WSOP casher Vincent Gironda who’s led at the end of both Day 1 and Day 2.

My blogging partner Brett had been working since dawn as well, meaning we were both talking about walls and hitting them by the time play concluded and we finally shut things down. Was a good day-slash-night overall, and I was glad to be working with Brett as well as Lee “chingster23” Davy who also helped us out for the middle stretch.

Brett had a Red Bull near the end to help with the final push. I tried a Red Bull once, but didn’t like the taste enough to finish it and thus truly experience its effects. Nor does the massive intake of the drink by a certain tournament director make me any more Red Bullish. (Bang!)

When covering a poker tournament, one grows accustomed to the rhythms of play as well as the improvised choreography of walking in between the tables. It’s an elaborate dance in which reporters, tournament staff members, cocktail waiters and waitresses, massage therapists, and players all participate.

The more you spend time in between the tables, the more you come to anticipate meetings at intersections and the instinctive etiquette involved in stepping aside to allow others to pass. You also become aware of other patterns as well, such as the constant requests from wait staff to players for drink orders.

“Water, Red Bull!” goes the refrain. Over and again. The pitch and intonation of the call punctuates the cricket-like riffling of chips and other ambient noise.

There’s one member of the Rio wait staff, a stout, middle-aged gentleman, whose distinctively gruff baritone always captures the attention of those of us inhabiting the space. Sort of a like a member of the supporting cast, passing in and out of scenes, uttering his one and only line over and again.

He tends to connect the words when he says them, creating a funny-sounding portmanteau that nearly obliterates the intended meaning.

“WHATTTAREDBOOOOLLLL!” he says. And then, a moment later, he says it again.

“WHATTTAREDBOOOOLLLL!”

It almost sounds like he’s marveling at the sight of a striking piece of pottery (“What a red bowl!”). Or a unique breed of cattle (“What a rare bull!”). But we all know what he’s saying. And for whatever reason, we like hearing him say it. Possibly because of the way the call wakes us up momentarily from what can become a somnambulent-like stupor caused by the repetition of hands, of passing between tables, of the dance.

We grin silently as he passes by. Or occasionally take him up on the offer, although like I say I’m more likely to go for the water than the Red Bull.

And the play continues.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 26: The Vibe

Stepping UpI’ve been asked a couple of times already this week to describe the atmosphere or “vibe” at this year’s WSOP.

Neither time did I feel as though I’d been around the Rio enough really to venture any sort of informed response. I only got to Vegas on Monday, and while I’d stopped by the Amazon Room each day since -- sticking around for much of the day on Wednesday -- I couldn’t really say I’d picked up on any cues to give me any special insight on the matter as of yet.

Yesterday, though, I finally worked a full shift helping cover the sucker for PokerNews, having been assigned to Day 1 of Event No. 40, the $2,500 short-handed limit hold’em event.

The turnout for that one was down a bit from the past few summers, with 302 players entering and 101 surviving to today’s Day 2. Was an event that attracted a lot of top players, with a ton of familiar faces among those competing.

Was kind of a pleasant one to cover given that there was a lot of interesting table talk and humorous moments. That kind of thing that helps considerably as far as live blogging the first day of an event goes, since the business of reporting actual hands and/or tracking fluctuations on the chip counts page have yet to become as vital as they will be during the later stages of the tournament.

Among the posts I was able to write was one about a genuinely intriguing hand that involved Richard Brodie, Millie Shue, and Jerrod Ankenman, delivered under the title “Four Bets, Three Pairs, One Winner.” Related part of a discussion of “transhumanism” between Justin Bonomo and Brian Meinders in “Cards and Contemplations.” And described another hand framed by Humberto Brenes’ sharing sticks of gum with his opponents in “A Humberto Hand to Chew On.”

Near the end of the night I came close to posting again about a conversation between Jeffrey Lisandro and his table regarding the 2006 WSOP Main Event. Lisandro was telling the table the story of the infamous addition of 2 million extra chips with just 21 players left in the ME. (Lisandro ultimately finished 17th.) If you aren’t familiar with that story, check out the series of investigative articles about it by Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli on the topic written a few months later.

Was very intriguing to hear Lisandro’s take on that situation, but I realized it seemed a little much to share in a live blog, given how complicated the situation was. Suffice it to say, Lisandro wasn’t happy about a couple of his opponents receiving big chip bonuses like that late in such a huge event, and believed it may well have cost him some considerable cabbage given how things played out.

So how was the “vibe” in the Amazon yesterday?

Well, for most of our event the final table of Event No. 36, the $3,000 NLHE Shootout, was happening nearby in the “mothership,” with the rowdy British fans crazily cheering on eventual winner Craig McCorkell for almost the entire duration of our event’s first day of play.

That said, the overall feeling didn’t strike me as nearly so boisterous or excited for those of us outside the “mothership.” My buddy F-Train visited at one point during the night, and he came away tweeting that the entire scene at the Rio struck him as “un-intense,” which seemed to me as good a made-up word as any to describe it.

I’ll refer again to something I mentioned yesterday regarding the lack of media presence, which I think is making things seem a little less urgent or exciting than at past WSOPs.

To be honest, I didn’t really see anyone other than myself and my blogging partner Mickey spending much time at all covering Event No. 40, which I took to indicate that the “scaled back” staffs of most outlets have forced them to let Day 1s go for the most part in favor of covering events once they reach the money and get to final tables. Makes sense. Such is the way of things at present.

Of course, there may be other factors involved, too, here. Like a general sense of fatigue among the so-called “poker economy” following an especially stressful year-plus. Something affecting players, media, staff... everybody.

We’ll see going forward if this apparent lack of intensity continues. I expect events like the $50K Poker Player’s Championship (Event No. 45) that starts Sunday, the $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop (Event No. 51) that goes off on July 1, and, of course, the Main Event beginning July 7 will bring out more media. And more hype.

To me, when it comes to the WSOP, a lowkey vibe doesn’t really jibe. But like I say, it probably won’t stay this way for long. Should enjoy the (relative) quiet while it lasts.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 25: Chasing Dreams

Laptop in flightWoke up this morning from a dream in which I was chasing a little boy around a large yard. He was tossing my laptop around like it was a frisbee. He’d gleefully throw it several yards, chase it down, pick it up, and throw it again. Meanwhile I couldn’t catch up to him, nor could I seem to shout loudly enough to get his attention.

Might be tempting to psychoanalyze this one. You know, to come up with theories about work-related anxiety, self-identity, the creative process, the inner child, what have you. But I think it came mainly from the background image on my desktop, a picture of me and my three-year-old nephew -- not the little demon in my dream -- tossing a ball in his back yard.

Then again, I can’t say for sure what caused the dream. Hey, I’m just a reporter.

Spent a lot of yesterday at the Rio, despite not being officially working. Got there around two o’clock, just as the final table of Event No. 35, the $2,500 mixed hold’em event, was starting. That was the one with Phil Ivey among the final nine, having made his fifth final table of the summer.

They were in the “mothership,” slightly modified from last summer although essentially the same arena-like structure positioned in the center of the Amazon Room. There were quite a few there to watch at the start. The Dutchman Joep van den Bijgaart began the day as chip leader, with Ivey coming in with a relative short stack in seventh position.

I was curious about the odds to bet on those making the final day, a new thing they’ve added over in the Rio Race and Sports Book this year. Here’s what they had for each of the final nine:

1. Joep van den Bijgaart (605,000) -- 3/2
2. Samuel Golbuff (526,000) -- 2/1
3. Michael Gathy (418,000) -- 5/2
4. Erik Cajelais (368,000) -- 3/1
5. Chris Tryba (347,000) - 7/2
6. Salman Behbahani (347,000) -- 5/1
7. Phil Ivey (169,000) -- 5/1
8. Brent Wheeler (158,000) -- 9/1
9. Michael Foti (105,000) -- 12/1

In the sports bookCan’t say any of those bets seemed especially appealing to me. Even as someone with a bit more knowledge than the average punter about some of the players not named Ivey -- e.g., I knew Gathy had won a bracelet this summer, that Cajelais was tough (and a bracelet holder), that van den Bijgaart had been a Team PokerStars Pro -- I didn’t feel like the reward for any of those bets came close to the risk. (What do you think?)

Tryba ended up winning, hitting a straight flush on the last hand versus Cajelais. Van den Bijgaart finished fourth. And Ivey was knocked out in eighth not long after a nutty hand with Golbuff in which the latter claimed most of Ivey’s stack.

It was a couple of hours in, during which stretch Golbuff had sunk down in the counts after having lost a lot in a limit hand versus Tryba. In that one Golbuff had raised preflop, bet the flop, then checked the turn as the board came J-4-4-8. A queen fell on the river, and when Tryba bet Golbuff raised. Tryba tanked, finally calling with K-Q, and Golbuff showed 5h2h.

The game had switched back to no-limit when Ivey -- still with about the same stack he’d started the day with (around 170,000) -- opened with a min-raise from the cutoff, then Golbuff shoved all in from the button for 159,000 or almost 16 big blinds. It folded back and Ivey quickly called, tabling pocket eights. Golbuff then sheepishly showed his 6h2s.

But the board ran out 5c3c2hKs4s, the river giving Golbuff a straight and leaving Ivey with just 11,000 and an open-mouthed look wordlessly indicating “WTF?” All in on the next hand against three opponents, Ivey was soon out the door. As were a lot of those in attendance.

Gonna venture to say my dream was a lot easier to figure out than that one.

Later in the evening I spent a little while over at Day 1 of Event No. 38, one of the $1,500 NLHE events before taking off. Got to assist Josh Bell for a couple of hours as he covered that one, mainly just to get myself reoriented a little before starting back today for real.

Kind of a scaled-back staff this year as far as PokerNews goes, which means the Day 1 coverage can’t be as thorough as in past years. In fact, most of the time only a single blogger is being assigned on these first days, which will be the case for me tonight with Event No. 40, the $2,500 6-max. limit hold’em event.

PokeratiThat same “scaling back” is true for most of the poker media this year, I think. Met up with Dan Michalski of Pokerati yesterday and among the things we chatted about was the relatively empty media box and how things have changed over the years with regard to WSOP coverage.

Dan pointed out how not long ago -- before Twitter, live streams, and so on -- those reporting on the WSOP were delivering information to an audience that couldn’t really receive it any other way.

But now everyone is kind of reporting on themselves (and each other), a phenomenon that is affecting what the media -- already needing to be judicious about resources -- chooses to do with its reporting. I wrote something about this trend three summers ago in a post titled “Land of 1000 Reporters,” well before everyone (it seems) was on Twitter.

Last year this same $2,500 LHE event attracted a relatively small group of 354 players -- a lot for one reporter, but not nearly as daunting as the big field of 2,500-plus Josh was tasked with covering yesterday.

Follow along over on PokerNews’ live reporting page, if you’re curious to see what I come up with as I chase back and forth, trying to catch hands and give an idea what is happening as some stacks go up and others disappear.

Don’t expect it to be too difficult. Unless of course that kid shows up and gets ahold of my laptop.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 24: Easing In

The temporary location for the MGM poker roomAs I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, Tuesday was a day of errands and trying to set up shop here at the home-away-from-home. Got some groceries. Unpacked (finally). Settled in.

I did swing by the Rio for a quick visit to say hello to folks and see what was happening. Phil Ivey was busy making another final table. He’s currently seventh in chips among the final nine in Event No. 35, the $2,500 mixed hold’em event.

That’s Ivey’s sixth cash so far this year, and fifth final table. At those other final tables he finished seventh, fifth, third, and second.

A little bit of buzz this morning about Ivey being more “aloof” than usual this year. See, for example, this CardPlayer article on the subject. Also note this interesting post about Ivey and Brian Hastings by Donnie Peters from the coverage yesterday, which Jessie May juxtaposed with the CP piece in a tweet late last night.

Keeping a low profile is tough when making so many deep runs. In fact, Ivey’s success this summer is adding to that impression that he’s not being as involved with the media or even other players as some would like -- after all, it’s seems like he’s been playing on the main stage in the “mothership” at a final table every other night.

I know with Ivey there’s this added sense that he somehow “owes” others something, especially after his declaration last summer that he wasn’t playing in the WSOP because other players had money still tied up on Full Tilt Poker, the site he had represented. (Still the case, of course.)

While I’m one to appreciate players making themselves available and doing what they can to support the game and the community surrounding it, I’ve never thought players should be made to feel as though they “owe” others anything along these lines.

I remember writing something way, way back in 2006 to that effect after Jamie Gold won the WSOP Main Event and everyone wondered whether he’d follow the “ambassador” model set by the most recent champs. “He needn’t feel it necessary to live up to the ‘standard’ established by Moneymaker, Raymer, and Hachem,” I said of Gold. “Nor should his actions over the next year be regarded as any ‘standard’ for future winners to follow.”

Phil Ivey in Event No. 32It would be different if this were a game (or “sport,” as some would have it) in which the players weren’t themselves providing the prize money. That is to say, it seems reasonable to me that -- for example -- the NBA makes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and others answer questions from the media following NBA finals games.

But for poker players, that sort of thing should be their own choice. Even the socializing and engaging with other players is optional. Like tipping dealers, the players can decide for themselves how much they want to give.

I did get a chance to play a little poker myself yesterday. Late in the afternoon I wandered over to the MGM where I had ideas I might play the weekly $120 H.O.R.S.E. tournament they have each Tuesday. Kevmath had arrived in Vegas earlier in the day and he and I had talked about playing it, although by the time I went over he was saying he might be late and/or might not make it at all.

I decided to kill time at a 2-4 LHE table while deciding whether or not to stick around for the evening tourney. I walked through the MGM to the spot where the poker room used to be to find the space emptied out. Signs pointing to another room across from the buffet led me around the slot machines and to the room’s current, temporary location. I’d ask later and was told the original space was being renovated, with plans to move back this fall.

The new location was just fine, I thought (that is a picture of it up above). In fact, the new spot was much quieter and more pleasant for playing. Before there had always been this loud cacophony erupting every half-hour near the poker room that I think involved some sort of Coyote Ugly-type dancing on a bar or something. Was never very pleasant given how it made hearing each other or anything else impossible for the few minutes it lasted.

It turned out to be a fun session in which I came away with what amounted to a modest hourly rate for a profit. A few grins per hour, too.

A woman sitting to my left lasted approximately 45 minutes, leaving $50 down and three vodka tonics up. A young Englishman from near Manchester, Ian, took her seat, and over the course of the next couple of hours he and I had enjoyable conversation, made more so by the fact that we were both steadily chipping up.

DocOne other character who’d initially sat on my left then moved to my right introduced himself to me as Doc. He’d moved in order to see the board better, claiming he was half-blind despite pulling out a paperback to read between hands and asking for the Red Sox game on one of the television screens.

Doc definitely had trouble seeing the board, though, as was proven to me early when he lost a hand to me after claiming to be chasing a flush draw that wasn’t there. Another hand developed shortly thereafter between Doc and Bob who sat across from us in which Doc made the same mistake, although that one ended a bit more dramatically.

I’m pretty sure Bob raised and got a few callers who all saw a flop come something like AdJc8s. Bob bet the flop and I believe only Doc called. The turn was the 4c, and when Bob bet this time Doc quickly raised and Bob called. The river was the 2d and Bob decided to lead out once more, with Doc again raising without much hesitation.

Bob called again, and Doc somewhat confusingly called out “all black” before tabling his 5c3c for a rivered wheel. Bob shook his head and with a wry grin turned over his AsAh. He’d flopped top set, but Doc had made runner-runner to make his straight.

As the dealer pushed him the chips, Doc took a closer look at the board and began apologizing -- he’d thought he flopped a club flush draw, then hit it on the turn, which explained his play.

Doc was kind of a character, it turned out, tossing out various one-liners here and there. “My wife calls me a prince among men,” he said. “Only she spells prince with a ‘k’. Might be missing a couple of other letters, too.”

On our end of the table we were calling the bad beat Doc had delivered to Bob “hand of the day” until another arose to challenge it, one which also involved a flopped set getting undermined by a runner-runner comeback.

MGM GrandIn that one a player straddled from UTG, and sitting a couple of seats over I looked down at KhKd. I made it three bets, a short-stacked elderly gentleman in the cutoff cold-called, the woman in the big blind called, and the straddler called as well.

There were four of us, then, to see the flop come KcJh8h. It checked to me and I bet, and the cutoff and big blind called. The turn was the 4h, I bet again and both called, putting the man in the cutoff seat all in. The river brought a fourth heart, the 2h, and when my lone remaining opponent checked to me I ventured one more bet which she called.

The woman in the big blind turned over her hole cards, one of which was the Qh. I showed my king-high flush to beat hers. Then the all-in player in the cutoff turned over his -- AcAh!

Was something like a $60 pot in the end, a little bit of which I did get back thanks to the fact that the winner had run out of chips on the turn. Afterwards I thought to myself how if I’d won the hand I’d have been approaching the buy-in for the $120 tourney (no shinola), not something I necessarily had anticipated being able to pull off at a 2-4 table. Also thought how on a hand with a straddle -- actually the only time anyone had done so the entire session -- pocket kings and pocket aces had been dealt.

I ended up bailing, another exchange of messages with Kevmath making it seem like he wasn’t going to make it. He did, ultimately, as did a few others I knew, which made me later wish I’d stuck around. But in truth I was feeling a little fatigued and had some other work to take care of. Besides, I liked leaving the poker room with more cabbage than I’d had when I entered.

Today it appears I’ll head back to the Rio, probably joining with the PokerNews coverage for a couple of hours before I start in earnest tomorrow with a full shift. You know, starting slow. Easing in.

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