Monday, December 31, 2012

Hard-Boiled Poker 2012 Year in Review (1 of 3)

At the end of 2011, I was expressing uncertainty over whether or not I was going to continue with the same new-post-every-weekday schedule I’ve followed for quite a while now. I kept on thinking out loud about “scaling back” during the year, too. As I’d always been more of an online player than live, my poker playing had already been scaled back (by necessity) post-Black Friday. Made me wonder if I’d have reason to keep writing so frequently about poker going forward.

But the end of 2012 has arrived, and somehow I never did slow my posting pace. For the fifth year running, I continued to post each weekday, plus on the weekends, too, such as when away on various tourney reporting trips. Added up to 281 posts, including this one.

As I’ve said before, that’s a damn lot of scribbling. But as I’ve also said before, quantity ain’t necessarily quality. Always cringe a little at writers boasting of having written so many thousand words, as if they’re accumulating poker chips or something. Writing more words isn’t hard. Writing more words worth reading is.

All of which is to say, for those who’ve stuck with me over the years -- as well as the new readers who’ve only found the blog over the last 12 months -- thanks a ton for reading. And I hope that somewhere in all this scribbling there has been something worthwhile for you.

I had considered handling this “year in review” business in a single post today rather than divide it up as I have done in the past. But in the name of keeping things a manageable length, I’m scrapping that ideer and again presenting my recap of 2012 in three posts. Here’s January through April...

January

The year began with my being unable to resist sharing the news that I’d won Pauly’s Pub “Pigskin Pick’em” football pool, something I vainly discussed in the first post of 2012, “Page 2 of 366; or, Following the Crowd.” Came up short in the pool this year, by the way, ultimately finishing five games back after making a lot of chancy choices yesterday in an effort to close the gap. Ended up only picking 166 of 256 games correctly, with the two co-leaders getting 171. Looking back, I see I somehow got 180 of 256 a year ago to win the pool by three games, although I think the difference can probably be explained by there having been more “chalk” last year and more surprises in 2012.

Was soon after writing about “A Cure for Pokeritis (1912),” a 100-year-old poker movie. Actually in that post I was pointing to a column I’d written for the Epic Poker League blog about the film which just a few months later was scrubbed from the internet entirely (more on that below -- see March). Then came a post asking “New Jersey to Join the Online Poker Race?” (today that seems closer to happening), a topic that came up again a couple of weeks later in “Patchwork Poker.”

Along the way came a post comparing “The Hunger Games and Poker Tournaments,” then another one called “The Hangover’s Game of Chicken” in which I talked about a non sequitur from the film in poker terms. I wrote one of several 2012 posts about my noodling around with a small roll online in “Still About Even.” (I’m still noodling... and still about even.) And in “A Thousand Words (or So) About Bill Simmons,” a post that among other things addresses that issue of prolixity I bring up above.

As the month came to a close, I found myself posting more than once about my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. I reported on a conversation I had with another college teacher who’d also taught a poker-themed course (in probability) in “Teachers Talking Out of School.” And I shared a crazy “Stranger Than Fiction” story from my class in which we played a hand of poker that both defied probability and uncannily resembled a famous poker hand from the movies.

February

I began 2012 dropping various hints about a new novel on which I was working, also brought up in post titled “On Endings, Wished For and Otherwise.” Just to report back on that project, I did manage to finish an initial draft of the sucker during the year, and am now moving into the final edits and revising with an eye toward publication in the spring. This’ll be my second, following Same Difference. (And no, it isn’t a sequel.)

Of course, the sordid story of Full Tilt Poker (Version 1.0) continued to dominate headlines during the year. Still is, really. In fact just yesterday Matt Glantz was tweeting to an oblivious-seeming Phil Gordon regarding FTP’s implosion, and at one point Glantz referred to “the way u orangutans managed to drive that cash machine 6ft under.” An apt characterization of what happened, I’d say.

I couldn’t avoid writing about FTP a lot during 2012, including in February referring to a Glantz-authored post about the issue in “A Glantz-ing Blow: Making Noise About Full Tilt’s Silence.” In another post titled “Playing By a Different Set of Rules” I juxtaposed the FTP saga with an anecdote from an 1899 collection of poker-related tales titled Queer Luck. Later in the month I shared another story from the same collection in a post titled “Crossing the Boarder-Line of Dishonour” and in that instance let the reader draw the FTP connections. The topic also came up in a short one about Daniel Negreanu’s FTP-directed vitriol, “Kid Poker Not Kidding Around,” and another about Doyle Brunson with the self-explanatory title “Daniel Damns, Doyle Defends.”

Meanwhile the Super Bowl came along to distract us all, and I wrote about the wild ending of that game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots in “Logic and Emotion, Poker and the Super Bowl.”

Subject:Poker Signs Off” addressed the much-talked-about poker news blog and its decision to shut down after nine months of posting. Then in “Online Gaming in the U.S.: Reservations from the Reservations” I talked about a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in which the subject of online gambling was the focus. That post also refers to my having appeared on the podcast “Keep Flopping Aces,” co-hosted by Lou Krieger. Sadly Lou passed away earlier this month, one of several losses the poker community suffered in 2012, including that of the popular Russian player Nikolay Evdakov who died in February.

In “Recommended Reading for Poker Writers” I pointed readers to an interesting series of posts by Barry Carter. I addressed Jason Somerville’s courageous decision to make his sexual orientation public in “The Challenge to Look at Ourselves.” And the topic of online poker legislation came up again in “2013,” the title of which alludes to a target date many were then bringing up in that context.

March

On the last day of February -- leap day, in fact -- the Epic Poker League’s parent company, Federated Sports + Gaming, filed for bankruptcy. Soon it was revealed the EPL had accumulated over $8 million in debt in just over a year. At the time the filing was made public, FS+G Executive Chairman Jeffrey Pollack said the league would continue and still planned to stage its fourth Season 1 tourney and the $1 million freeroll “championship.” Thus did I title my March 1st post “Epic Limbo,” although as we soon learned this was no “limbo” -- it was the end.

Back in 2011, I’d been asked to contribute to the EPL blog. For about six months I wrote a weekly column about poker and popular culture, and when EPL went under they still owed me for a few of the last pieces, thereby making me one of the dozens of creditors included in their filing. The money I lost wasn’t that significant, but I was disappointed soon after when the entire EPL website -- including the 26 pieces I’d written -- was deleted. (See the August section of tomorrow’s post for more on that.)

More sour news followed with Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar offering a short, unenlightening interview that I discussed in “A Bitar Taste.” On 3/14 I wrote about Kate Bush and a mathematical constant in “Humble π.” In “Poker, the Antisocial Social Game” I talk about one of poker’s many paradoxes, then try to focus on another one in “What You See Is What You Get.” Erick “E-Dog” Lindgren’s gambling debts are addressed in “Hero Call.” And in “Sports Talk: Reality and Romance” I complain a little about how so much sports commentary favors talking about feelings rather than facts (something that happens a lot in poker, too).

Near the month’s conclusion an interesting poker documentary premiered, and I discussed it a couple of times in “All In: The Poker Movie Premieres Today” and “More Thoughts on All In: The Poker Movie: Building a Boom.” Meanwhile, I was writing about the lottery in “Mega Madness” and NCAA basketball pools in “Breaking Down My Broken Bracket” and “A Meteoric Rise, NCAA-Pool Wise,” further evidence that I was playing less poker and instead dabbling in other forms of low-stakes gambling.

April

Speaking of, I somehow staged a ridiculously lucky comeback in my NCAA pool to win the sucker, and so had to report on that in “Not Winning-the-Lottery Lucky, But Still...

Following the EPL fizzle, PokerListings invited me to carry my poker in popular culture column to them. It had been called “Community Cards” on the EPL blog, but we gave it a new name over on PL -- “Pop Poker.”

And while we’re on the subject of comparing poker to other parts of the culture, I wrote a post talking about the relative popularity of poker and golf, goofily titled “A Tradition That’s Totally Way, Way Different From All the Other Ones.” I also would talk more about two of my favorite poker movies in April in posts titled “Does the Kid Know Jack?” and “Selling Stories in California Split.”

The one-year anniversary of Black Friday came around, inspiring a lengthy reflection, “Black Friday Stories; or, Where Were You?” plus a second shorter one, “One Year Later.” I discussed more Epic Poker League fallout in “Epic URLs; or, Something Wicked That Way Went.” And on a happier note, a nifty video about an inventive kid and his games inspired “Take the Fun Pass.”

After a few months of silence over at Tao of Poker, our buddy Dr. Pauly popped up in April to tell us he was checking out from the poker-writing scene for a while. Readers of this blog know how much of a kindred spirit I consider the good doctor, and so I couldn’t let that occasion pass without some notice here -- “Positively Pauly” (published on 4/20, natch).

Sexton’s Scolding” addressed the WPT host’s opinions on poker player fashion. In “Developing: PokerStars to Buy Full Tilt Poker?” and “Seeing Stars, Tapie Taps Out,” I opined at length about the big story of the day. And in “Sources Are Reporting,” I opined some more about how that story was being reported.

Poker’s most popular forum went down for a couple of weeks, which caused me to exercise my own photoshop skills for a post titled “Someone Figured Out Two Plus Two.” And I offered my own thoughts regarding the passing of a controversial yet undeniably important figure in the history of poker in “‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston (1928-2012).”

Back tomorrow with May through August. Meanwhile, for those who’ve gotten all of the way to the end of this one, I’ll point you to the 2013 BLUFF Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards where you can vote for Hard-Boiled Poker for Favorite Poker Blog if you’re so inclined.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

More on Tricky Dick

I was talking about Garry Wills’s excellent Nixon Agonistes last month, a book written and published during Nixon’s first term as president (i.e., prior to Watergate). The book is about a lot more than Nixon, actually, providing a comprehensive examination of American history and politics as well as other aspects of the culture. It’s a dense, scholarly book, and I recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in the subject and/or era.

Have since picked up a few other Nixon-related titles, including a couple at a used bookstore this week. While I was there I saw taped to a bookcase that picture above featuring a creative use of a Nixon postage stamp (no shinola). Also have spent a few hours here and there listening to some of the Nixon tapes online and marveling at the wealth of other resources available regarding his presidency.

I’m not quite old enough to remember him as president, and so didn’t form any impressions of him until well after his fall. Such a complicated figure, endlessly fascinating yet almost never sympathetic (at least not to me).

In my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class we do discuss Nixon, primarily focusing on the much-repeated tale of his having been a successful poker player while serving in the Navy during World War II. James McManus frontloads his history of poker, Cowboys Full, with a catalogue of stories of U.S. presidents playing poker, and since we use McManus’s book as kind of a core text for the first part of the course, we focus a lot of energy early on thinking about some of those stories, a few of which come up again later on in the semester, too.

Earlier this week Bob Pajich pulled together a nice piece for Card Player in which he goes over the story of Nixon’s poker playing, titled “Men of Action -- Richard ‘The Big Bluffer’ Nixon.” Pajich draws on various sources including a 1983 interview in which Nixon addressed the idea that being a skillful poker player might be of special use to a president. Such is an argument advanced by McManus, too, at the start of Cowboys Full, and thus is one we consider as a class when we read and discuss that first chapter.

As Pajich points out, the place of poker in Nixon’s story is primarily confined to that early period prior to having begun his long, arduous ascent to the White House. It’s interesting, though, to overlay various poker-related strategies to his later political career, including the various ways he misplayed his “big stack” once he became president.

It was John Mitchell, Nixon’s first Attorney General who became part of the notorious Committee to Re-Elect the President (and who’d eventually serve prison time for his role in the Watergate cover-up), who characterized the many abuses of power during Nixon’s presidency as “the White House horrors.” And really, the more one reads and learns about all that was happening during that period, the more horrific it all seems. Talk about putting one’s “stamp” on the presidency (pun intended). It is amazing (and I guess, kind of heartening) to think how the U.S. government was able to survive a Nixon administration.

Like I say, though, the man himself is uncannily captivating. In his book, Wills characterizes Nixon as “the least ‘authentic’ man alive,” a “plastic man” who “does not exist outside his role, apart from politics.” “He lives in a cleared circle, an emotional DMZ, space razed and defoliated, so he cannot be ‘got to’ unexpectedly.” Referring to the ubiquitous Nixon masks that were already beginning to appear at the time of Nixon’s first inauguration (and would become especially popular during Watergate as a countercultural symbol), Wills describes the new president’s uneasy relationship with the youth of his day.

“At the 1969 inauguration,” Wills writes, “the streets were full of ashen Nixons. Kids in town to cause trouble wore crinkly white masks with that undeniable nose. But Nixon’s car sped past their jeering ranks, and, up on the reviewing stand, his face bunched in its instant toothed smile, so circumspect, so vulnerable.”

Then comes the devastating punchline: “He had this in common with the kids; he wears a Nixon mask.”

From the perspective of a poker player, being able to interact with others while existing within an “emotional DMZ” might seem favorable. Always being “circumspect” with regard to how others view you -- i.e., being cognizant of one’s own “image” and how others are responding to it -- is a much-needed ability at the tables, too. I’ve even heard poker players sometimes talk about playing as though they were wearing a “mask,” that is, kind of employing a bit of self-delusion as part of a strategy to prevent revealing too much to others.

But Nixon was “vulnerable,” too (surmises Wills), and while he may have consistently won in those stud games with fellow Naval officers -- and later on, as well, in the other “games” he played within the GOP establishment and the American voters -- there was a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt in his play, too, especially after he took office as president.

I was saying before how I might like to write some sort of short monograph about “Tricky Dick” that focused on his poker playing and perhaps tried to discuss some of these later episodes through the lens of poker. I may still do something along these lines, although now I’m thinking I’ll more likely try to create a kind of textbook for my class that looks at poker in American culture more broadly, perhaps with a Nixon chapter along the way. (Such a book would certainly attract a wider audience, I think.)

So I’ll add working that project to the growing list of goals for the new year. Sort of feeling like Nixon a little bit, who also tended to study and plan a lot before acting. Such was how he learned poker, working diligently away from the table to devise strategies he would then later employ. And as a politician, too, he studied and developed a complicated theory of leadership he then carried to his duties.

But there was a pretty severe disconnect between theory and practice in the latter case for Nixon, I think, wherein the application of his ideas failed. Hopefully I’ll avoid that misstep in the execution of my plans.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Talkin’ Teamwork

Still enjoying some down time here as the year comes to a close. Mostly lazing about reading some, writing some, and watching a lot of hoops on the teevee.

After indulging in that NBA marathon on Christmas day -- a quintuple-header’s worth of games of which I watch parts of all five -- I tuned in last night to watch my Charlotte Bobcats lose their 16th straight game, this one to the Miami Heat. The Boobcats (as Vera and I like to call them) did cut Miami’s lead to two about halfway through the fourth quarter, but in truth the outcome was never in doubt. Was sort of like watching a big brother playing against a little brother, only trying enough to ensure the victory.

Of course, last season Charlotte had a record-setting year for woefulness, going a miserable 7-59 to set a new standard for lowest winning percentage ever. This year began promisingly, with the ’Cats equaling that total of seven wins in the first dozen games, racing out to a 7-5 mark. But they’re now 7-21, and if they lose a few more talk will surface regarding whether or not they’ll exceed that 23-game losing streak with which they concluded the 2011-12 season.

Since I live in the Bobcats’ market, I end up getting to see a lot of their games and thus have probably spent more time than most contemplating the causes for their mediocrity. Talent-wise, they’re well obviously behind most other teams, lacking at pretty much every position. But while each player is often a step behind his counterpart in a given game, the Charlotte team often seems not to work together especially well either, which tends to make the whole feel that much less than the sum of the parts.

The inability to work together is most obvious on the offensive end, where plays are constantly breaking down prior to a decent shot being attempted. There was an article in the Charlotte Observer just a few days ago documenting how the “Shot clock has become Bobcats’ worst enemy.” They lead the league in shot-clock violations (by a lot), and Bobcats beat writer Rick Bonnell offers several theories for why the team has so much trouble working together to get a shot off.

Basketball is a game that often rewards players being able to work together effectively, whether by passing well, creating good spacing, or just understanding and fulfilling given roles in an effective way. It reminds me a little of a game like Omaha in which you want the four cards in your hand to “work together” (so to speak), complementing each other in a way that gives you the greatest chance for success. And having just one “dangler” or odd card that doesn’t really fit with the other three can significantly lessen the potential of the entire hand.

Part of me wants to single out Gerald Henderson as the Bobcats’ “dangler,” actually. Although he’s ostensibly one of the top three or so players on the squad, it seems like at times the team functions less well when he’s part of the mix. I suppose one could analyze various stats to help support or disprove the idea, but the fact is the ’Cats have done a lot worse overall when he’s played than when he hasn’t. This year they’re 6-8 with Henderson out of the line-up, and 1-13 when he plays. (They were also 1-7 in the preseason, when he played every game.)

Then again, it’s probably putting a little much on Henderson’s shoulders to pursue such a theory, as there’s a lot else to complain about when it comes to the team’s failure to function. Still, as a Bobcats fan, it would be nice to stop getting dealt crap hands like over and over again.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merge Move and Super Stretchy Screaming Monkeys

Had a great Christmas day watching the NBA marathon of games, eating off and on all day, exchanging more gifts, and hanging out with family. I especially enjoyed goofing around with my three-year-old nephew. We split time racing toy cars and tossing around Amazing Super Stretchy Screaming Monkeys that release hilarious-sounding howls when they land.

Around dinner time yesterday I noticed I’d received an email from Merge Gaming regarding my request to transfer the balance from my Hero Poker account over to Carbon Poker. I’d made the request five days ago, shortly after Hero went dark and instructed its players they’d have to choose from one of three different Merge skins as a destination for their funds.

The email was entirely generic (addressed to “Valued player”). It was also a little ambiguous (and grammatically suspect) when it stated that the “Accounting Department will credit the funds to your account at anytime [sic].



” I logged in over at Carbon to find no funds had been transferred as yet, but a little scouting around on relevant forum threads suggested that if I waited a few hours the money would soon appear. Sure enough, this morning I see my balance has indeed been shipped over to Carbon, and thus I’m able once more to play.

Traffic on Merge remains meager. In fact according to the current numbers over at PokerScout, Merge has dropped well behind both Revolution Gaming (where Lock Poker now highlights a list of about 70 skins) and Bodog among other online poker choices still available to U.S. players. Over the last few months (when playing via Hero), almost anything other than no-limit hold’em has been pretty much a wasteland, with only one or two tables going here and there for my preferred stakes/games, if that.

The forum threads suggest that players are still successfully cashing out from Carbon (with a few weeks’ wait), although as always the situation appears highly tenuous. Of course, that won’t be a concern for me unless I somehow manage to run up my modest roll.

A more likely future for me on Merge will be a few more months of low-limit, break-even nickel-and-diming, probably destined to end with some sort of mildly frustrating, faint echo of Black Friday when Carbon and/or the network as a whole suddenly becomes unavailable.

In other words, I’ll just be passing a few chips back and forth with a small group of others. Pretty much the equivalent of tossing the amazing super stretchy monkeys with my nephew, really. Only I have to make my own screaming sounds.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Season’s Greetings

In the midst of running around the moment, visiting family, exchanging gifts, and enjoying each other’s company. Had a great time yesterday seeing folks on my side of the tree, and today will be moving over to hang with those on Vera’s side.

One highlight yesterday was my brother giving lottery tickets out as gifts, and my Pop -- notoriously averse to the lottery as tax-on-the-dumb waste -- managing to win $50. I won $5, actually (the price of the ticket). Our successes failed to convince anyone that scratching is a skill game, though.

As always happens when we get to the bottom row of the calendar’s last page like this, I’m starting to think back on the last twelve months and the whole “So this is Christmas and what have you done?” question.

Seems like this year has simply flown by, really, which in one respect is probably a good thing as it means I’ve kept busy throughout. Am happy and grateful to still be writing about poker, for sure, even if I’d like to be playing it more than was the case even a year ago (never mind way back when I began the blog). And it does genuinely seem like prospects going forward are looking up for the industry as a whole, suggesting 2013 is going to be another busy one.

Have to cut it short here but did want to wish everyone a happy holiday and safe travels. And that your day is a winner.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Kevmath Adds Up Points to Become Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games Player of the Season (Season 2)

Was a fun Sunday, filled with football and poker.

The football went well, as I managed to have my best week of the year with my picks, going 14-2 to gain three full games on the leaders. Still leaves me four out with just one week to go, but I’m close enough to keep caring about how things turn out. Was most proud to see my two “hero picks” both come through yesterday (Minnesota and Baltimore). Also took Seattle in the late game, and so enjoyed watching their dominating romp over the 49ers.

Meanwhile, the last two events of Season 2 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games series on PokerStars played out last night. The first one, Event No. 19, was a “deep-stacked” no-limit hold’em event that Mickey won and I took second. I joked with Mickey once we reached heads-up, asking him if we could just split the play money and stop there (as we saw happen earlier in the week at Sands Bethlehem).

Mickey managed to win the second event last night as well, Event No. 20, a H.O.R.S.E. one. Despite that late surge, he didn’t quite crack the top three in the Season 2 standings to win a book.

In the end, Kevmath ended up taking the top spot, winning two of the 20 events along the way while finishing in the top three seven times. (Points were earned by finishing in the top third of a given event, which generally meant making the top 3-5 as the fields ranged from 10-15 players.)

Nasal_Drip took runner-up in Season 2, having won three events out of the 20, tying with Mickey for the most wins of anyone in Season 2. And Season 1 winner thejim2020 finished third, having won a couple of the tournaments this time around, too. (Click the pic to enlarge and see the full standings.)

I’ll be sending each of those three books for their finishes. (See this post for details.) ’Tis the season, after all. Thanks again to Mike Fasso and Zach Elwood for donating books for me to award as prizes. And thanks as well to everyone for playing in the HBP Home Games. Big fun all around.

Meanwhile, we’ll run a Season 3 starting in January. I’ll probably stick to a similar schedule (Sunday nights), which I know makes it hard for our European friends to play but I suppose I’m mainly trying to offer something for us poor Yanks to do while we wait for online poker to return for us. By the way, I mentioned on Friday how I’m trying to move my funds from the now-dormant Hero Poker over to Carbon, but I still await a response to my request. Have a feeling it’s going to take a while.

Finally, if anyone has any poker and/or gambling books (or DVDs or anything else) that might work as prizes and you’re willing to donate them, let me know. Anyone wanting to join up, the info for doing so is over in the right-hand sidebar.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

2013 and the Fall and Rise of Online Poker in the U.S.

So Hero Poker did indeed step aside yesterday. I played a little more on the site during the late afternoon just for kicks, but signed off before dinner time. Following advice delivered by Hero CEO David Jung in that 2+2 “player relations” thread, I converted my remaining VIP points to cash before I did as it sounded as though that probably wouldn’t be a possibility later on.

It was at some point a little after 6 p.m. Eastern time yesterday that the shutdown of Hero occurred, after which one was greeted with a software update and message when one tried to log in. The message gave a web address to visit for instructions regarding what to do next in order to have one’s balance transferred to one of three other Merge skins.

That page offers little more than a list of the three sites -- Carbon, Sportsbook.com, and Players Only -- and an email address (support@mergegaming.eu) to send a message with one’s choice. It isn’t at all clear what details are needed other than one’s usernames, although I believe one needs to send the message via the email addy associated with one’s account.

I went ahead and sent an email, choosing Carbon simply because I already have an account there. I vaguely recall Sportsbook.com having redirected its U.S. players to a different skin late last year, so that didn’t seem like a good choice. And I’d never even heard of Players Only. I’m guessing it will probably take several days, perhaps even longer, for my funds to surface over on Carbon.

On a day when jokes about the apocalypse and the “end of days” are reaching a crescendo, it is starting to feel a lot like the end has finally arrived as far as the Merge network and these last vestiges of the pre-Black Friday variety of sorta-legal-sorta-not online poker in the U.S. are concerned. Or at least the beginning of the end, anyway, as I suppose these last few Merge skins and other sites will limp along like short stacks for a while until they are finally all blinded out.

Coincidentally, yesterday saw other major developments occur as far as the resurrection of online poker in the U.S. is concerned, one of which was the New Jersey State Senate passing by a wide margin that long-discussed online gambling bill (A2578). Thirty-three NJ senators voted in favor of the bill while only three opposed, and now all that is needed is Governor Chris Christie's signature for the bill to become law.

The state reached a similar point back in the spring of 2011, with Christie actually vetoing the bill rather than sign it. But following that revised opinion from the Department of Justice regarding the Wire Act only applying to sports betting that surfaced almost exactly one year ago, Christie has been suggesting a different attitude toward the possibility of his state following the lead of both Nevada and Delaware and also getting involved with online gambling.

Should Christie sign the NJ bill into law, we’ll no doubt begin hearing more regarding that story from a couple of weeks ago concerning PokerStars’ interest in buying the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Meanwhile, Nevada continues to approve licenses to online poker businesses, and in fact yesterday saw Caesars Interactive Entertainment to the list of licensees. It sounds like Caesars will be partnering with 888 to launch a WSOP-branded online site early next year (once 888 gets their NV license approval). All of which means as these last “rogue” sites (or whatever you want to call them) fade into oblivion, a new world of online poker in the U.S. will likely be emerging in their wake.

I’m remembering writing a typically cynical post back in February of this year commenting on all of the speculation swirling regarding 2013 as a target date for online poker’s return to America. But as this year comes to a close, it certainly appears next year will be an especially interesting one with regard to online poker in the U.S., even if it doesn’t exactly bring a full-fledged reprise of the game so many of us enjoyed for so many years before.

Speaking of still enjoying online poker, the last two events of Season 2 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games series will happen this Sunday night at 20:00 & 21:00 ET. I’m making Event No. 19 a regular no-limit hold’em event with a little bit deeper starting stack than usual (5,000 instead of 3,000), and Event No. 20 will be a H.O.R.S.E. event.

Through 18 tournaments, our buddy Kevmath leads the Season 2 standings followed by Nasal Drip and Season 1 winner thejim2020. The top three finishers win books, with the first-place winner getting to choose between Roll the Bones by David Schwartz, Reading Poker Tells by Zach Elwood, and Think Like a Pro by Byron Jacobs. (See this post for more about the books.) The second-place finisher will then get to choose from the remaining two titles, with the third-place finisher getting the last book.

For those playing on Sunday, see you there, as I expect that’ll be the only place I’ll be playing any online poker (for play chips) over the next few days at least. Perhaps, though, next year will be offering at least some of us more opportunities.

(And meanwhile, if you’re looking for something else to do while waiting for the apocalypse not to happen, you can go vote in BLUFF Magazine’s 2013 Reader's Choice Awards where Hard-Boiled Poker is among the nominees for “Favorite Poker Blog.”)

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Hero-ic Effort (Hero Poker Steps Aside)

Yesterday evening I was relaxing at home with Vera, watching basketball while she wrapped presents. I say relaxing, although by night’s end I was making it difficult for myself to relax.

It was getting late when I had a cup of hot tea, and too eagerly drinking from it I managed to burn my tongue well enough that I can still taste a little tingle this morning.

Then later when getting in bed I was trying to pull the covers up over me and when my hand slipped I basically punched myself right above my left eye. It was a good, solid smack, and pretty comical, really. Lucky I didn’t give myself a black eye.

But I survived all of that to have a restful night of sleep. Then this morning I goofed around a little playing on Hero Poker, the usual fixed limit hold’em games (0.25/0.50 & 0.50/1). Made a couple of dumb plays on one table that put me in a hole early, but climbed back out of it to break even for the session.

By dumb plays I’m referring to the usual LHE mistakes -- cold-calling raises, chasing draws without proper odds, overplaying likely second-best hands, etc. Kind of reminded me of my slapsticky misadventures from the night before a little, and how a lot of times at the poker table our losses can usually be traced back to our own errors or lapses. It’s not always as dramatic or obvious as punching yourself in the face, but it often doesn’t require a lot of study to discover it probably wasn’t so much the cards as how you played them that affected your success or failure.

I checked my modest Hero balance -- still right around a hundy, where it’s essentially been for months as I piddle around in the micros -- and went to log off, but before doing so noticed an “alert” informing me that it sounds like I may not be playing on Hero much any longer.

“Dear Players,” read the alert. “Hero Poker will be transferring all players tonight to a new client on the Merge network.” There followed a promise that our funds were “completely secure” and we'll be getting info later about the new client.

The note is from David Jung, the CEO of Hero who has been especially communicative with players over on a dedicated “player relations” thread on Two Plus Two. I’ve actually been in touch with David personally a few times as well, and have appreciated being able to talk to him about various aspects of the site.

I knew from checking in on that thread that Hero might well be shutting down here soon, and another look over there this morning shows Dave providing further details regarding what is happening tonight. It sounds like Hero and the Merge network (of which Hero has been a part) have reached an impasse and that Hero has made a decision to step aside.

Dave’s note reflects the same sort of professionalism and honesty he’s demonstrated throughout the year-and-a-half I’ve been playing on Hero and have been either talking to him or reading his messages in the thread.

My sense from the outside is that Hero did the best they could in what was essentially an impossible environment in which to operate, and now they’re following a course that makes sense for them and hopefully provides for the Hero players adequately, too. That is to say, while they probably made some mistakes here and there, they weren’t punching themselves in the face (so to speak) like some online sites have done in the past.

I’m hoping whatever new client my balance gets forwarded to is functional and allows me to continue my low-limit piddling, although I’m not too optimistic. For more details about Hero’s decision to close (and some further context), Pokerfuse has just posted an article reporting about it.

I’m playing with money won on a freeroll, and since I haven’t been able to run it up significantly I’m not overly concerned about cashing out. Maybe such a relaxed attitude is just setting myself up to get burned or smacked again, but if so it’ll be my own fault.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holden On...

As I was mentioning over the last few days, the accommodations at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania were quite nice and overall the trip was a fun one. I didn’t really get to see the city so much while I was there -- indeed, I remained indoors the entire visit. But the driver of the cab I hired to take me back to the Allentown airport was generous enough to take me around the city for a quick tour of the old steel factories and the bustling downtown area on the way out, and I could see returning to the area for a vacation one day.

Even so, as nice as things were at the Sands, it was even better to wake up in my own bed this morning. And to think that I’ll be mostly sticking close to home here over the next few weeks with a few short trips to see family over the holidays mixed in along the way.

Been so busy over the last couple of weeks I didn’t get a chance to pass along that I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Holden, the great poker writer (and scholar of literature, opera, and other subjects) and current president of the International Federation of Poker.

The interview went up over on PokerListings just a few days ago, and in it Holden talks about the IFP and its mission, as well as about his favorite poker writers and poker in film.

I’ve been a Holden fan for quite some time, and like many include his 1990 title Big Deal on the short list of “must read” poker narratives. I have assigned excerpts from the book in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class, including his discussion of the final hand in The Cincinnati Kid which I have students read after they watch the film.

In the interview I invited Holden to talk about his favorite poker movies and poker writers/books, as well as to discuss the IFP and what it is all about. For more you can check out the IFP website that includes all sorts of info regarding the organization’s mission, publications, events, and more. Started in 2009, the organization not only serves as a kind of central hub that connects 44 different member nations on four continents, but it also provides an important voice in the effort to highlight poker’s skill component.

Anyhow, go check out the PokerListings interview for more from Holden. And if somehow you’re a fan of high-level poker writing and haven’t checked out Big Deal before, go get yourself an early Christmas present, why dontcha? That title chronicles Holden’s year-long adventure taking a shot at playing poker professionally, offering a fascinating glimpse of the poker world circa late-1980s plus a comprehensive discussion of both the psychology of the game and its rich history.

Holden’s other poker-related titles are worth checking out as well. His post-boom follow-up Bigger Deal (2007) I wrote about here when it first appeared, and I reviewed his strategy book Holden On Hold’em for PokerNews when it came out a year later.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Travel Report: Sands Bethlehem DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event, Day 3

We’re done in Bethlehem. Chris “SLOPPYKLOD” Klodnicki indeed won the event after having ended both Day 1a and Day 2 as the chip leader.

The ending was a little like what I saw in Macau last month at the Asia Championship of Poker Main Event insofar as the final two players decided against playing out a lengthy heads-up match, instead agreeing on a deal that allowed them simply to end the tourney with a non-competitive final hand.

It was a little surprising, though not nearly as much as had been the case in Macau where the two players involved had battled for six hours before making their deal, whereas here the decision was made prior to the start of heads-up play.

I mentioned yesterday how the final day of the tournament was scheduled to be relocated up in the Sands Poker Room in the casino after having played out in a conference room the first three days. That first location had been brightly lit and mostly quiet, aside from a bit of noise coming late in the evenings from the Vision Bar nightclub down the hall. The casino, however, was dim and quite loud, which made for a very different environment in which to work.

The poker room has 30 tables, and the remaining 16 players were seated at a couple in the back and thus comfortably away from cash games and the traffic surrounding them. We had a nice setup, too, at a nearby table, giving us easy access for reporting and a solid wi-fi connection to the internet. But we were right next to the circular bar situated in the center of the casino and near the slots and other table games, which wasn’t necessarily ideal as we were close enough to smokers to be affected.

There were slot machines ringing, money wheels clicking, people talking, televisions blaring, and music pumping throughout the night, all producing an unceasing cacophony around us as the tourney played out. The players didn’t seem to mind too greatly, and I don’t think the noise interfered too much with their being able to communicate at the table, although there was certainly less chit-chat along the way.

Once the short stacks were knocked out and the final table began to shrink down to the last few players, the pace slowed as everyone became especially deep. After playing 60-minute levels on Days 1a and 1b, then 75-minute levels on Day 2, they played 90-minute levels on the final day, which further slowed things down. By the time just three players remained, the average between them was more than 90 big blinds.

Three-handed play between Klodnicki, Edward Pham, and Richard Allen was highly competitive, with all three leading at one point along the way. Then Allen ran queens into Klodnicki’s aces to lose nearly all of his stack before soon being eliminated in third, thus setting up Klodnicki and Pham to make their choice to deal rather than duel.

Was a little anticlimactic, although as was the case in Macau those of us covering the event weren’t too disappointed not to see the final pair battle on for another few hours. We were already edging up toward 2 a.m., and with the stacks so deep they really could have gone on until dawn, as they might well have done if some set-aside money or a bracelet was on the line. But they decided otherwise. Such deals really are part of the game and could be regarded as a natural extension of the ongoing “negotiations” (advertising, selling, buying) that happens in every hand played.

I believe plans are in place to stage more events at the Sands Bethlehem. I hope there are more, as I think the destination is quite accommodating and players might well enjoy checking out the venue and participating, especially those who are based on the east coast and can’t always get out to Vegas and California on a regular basis.

Was great fun working with Mickey Doft and Joe Giron again reporting on the event for PokerNews. There they are to the left on either side of Klodnicki who is standing in between holding up the big comedy check at night’s end.

Also appreciated the support given us by David Urie (the Sands poker room manager), Mark Valentine (who handled marketing), and the entire staff who were especially helpful to us as well. Fun meeting all of those guys, too.

Turning my thoughts homeward now, though, and looking forward to a little rest from all the traveling. Back to the airport I go.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Travel Report: Sands Bethlehem DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event, Day 2

Yesterday’s Day 2 at the Sands Bethlehem DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event saw players push through eight 75-minute levels and the field cut down from 70 to 16. The money bubble burst at 18, and in fact the two most intriguing hands of the day came right on the bubble when 19 players were remaining, both of which involved chip leader Chris Klodnicki.

Klodnicki was one of a handful of familiar faces in the field at the start of the event. Eventually we have gotten to know nearly everyone, but he was among the few pros playing whom we regularly see elsewhere. He only bought in once, accumulated chips throughout Day 1a to end as the leader, then ended yesterday’s Day 2 on top of the final 16 as the only player with more than a million chips.

My blogging partner Mickey Doft was reminding me that Klodnicki made a deep run in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event, finishing 12th (for $591,869) and just missing the first November Nine. He was barely featured in the ESPN coverage that year, and so kind of flew under the radar as he accumulated more cashes over the next few months, including winning a couple of events in Atlantic City (one a WSOP Circuit one).

Klodnicki kept cashing and making deep runs, including finishing runner-up to Chris Bell in the WSOP-C Harrah’s Atlantic City $10K Regional Championship in 2010. In fact, Ketan Pandya and Micah Raskin were also at that final table, finishing third and fourth, respectively. Pandya was the last elimination in our event last night, finishing 17th, while Raskin returns today to a healthy stack.

By the 2011 WSOP (where he cashed six times), everyone definitely knew him. Then in December of last year he had a big win in the last event staged by the ill-fated Epic Poker League, earning over $800K for winning the Mix-Max event. This year was then highlighted by Klodnicki’s second-place finish to Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi in the $50K Poker Players Championship at the WSOP, earning him his largest career score of $896,935.

Klodnicki already had a big chip lead with 19 left last night, and he continued to add to it by leaning on others and pressuring them with his big stack during bubble play. One wild hand eventually developed in which Klodnicki managed to get Vince Baldassano to fold his ace-high flush on a paired board with a river shove, and afterwards revealed he only had two pair. Read about that one here in a post titled “Tricky Klodnicki.”

The other memorable moment yesterday came in what proved the hand that burst the bubble, when a short-stacked Abhinav Asija reraised his stack of just under 10 big blinds with pocket tens and Klodnicki thought a while before calling with A-Q-suited. A ten flopped, but Klodnicki rivered Broadway to eliminate his opponent.

The painful way the board ran out for Asija was interesting enough in that one, although Klodnicki’s subsequent explanation that he really would have preferred to keep the bubble going was also enlightening. He talked about it a little after the hand, then when play wrapped up for the night he continued to explain how he felt like he really should have folded in that spot. He was the chip leader by a wide margin at the time, in fact, with nearly 1.1 million when no one else had more than about half that amount.

I’d love to hear Klodnicki talk about those two hands, say, on the Two Plus Two Pokercast or the Thinking Poker podcast, as I think they illustrated a lot about the dynamics of bubble play and perhaps some factors that many players aren’t necessarily aware of or consider. They also helped further the impression we’d already developed early on Day 1a that Klodnicki had an edge over most of the players in the field when it came to tournament strategy.

Klodnicki’s clearly the favorite with 16 remaining, although there are several other savvy players left as well. The plan for today is to relocate up in the poker area of the casino for today’s final day, which will be a dramatic difference in terms of ambience (noisy and dark rather than quiet and light). Will be curious to see how that plays out and how players adjust.

Check over at PokerNews for live updates from today’s final day at Bethlehem, where Mickey and I will be chronicling it all and Joe Giron providing the great pictures (like the one above) to accompany our posts.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Travel Report: Sands Bethlehem DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event, Day 1b

As expected, the second Day 1 flight of the Sands Bethlehem DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event saw a larger turnout than did the first. In the end there were 188 entries total into the $2,500 buy-in event (including re-entries), which meant some overlay thanks to the $500,000 guarantee.

Ended up being a longer day for us than was the case on Friday, as things got started a little later and with more players there was a little more end-of-the-night tying up of loose ends needing to be done. The pace during the day also seemed to slow down at times, especially once we crossed out of the late registration period and into the portion of the night where re-entries were no longer an option. The blinds hadn’t quite gotten big enough for players to have to push, so a number of the short-to-medium stacks tightened up so as to try to make their tourney runs last a little longer.

I believe the event had around 50 or so players win their way in via satellites, and while we didn’t necessarily know which players had won their seats and which had not, there were instances during Day 1a and the first half of Day 1b -- when re-entering was still possible -- that the difference between the two categories of players would become apparent. While some were clearly ready and able to buy back into the event should they bust, others were not, and so sometimes that difference would appear to manifest itself in players’ styles. And in other ways, too.

I’m remembering one player, Jason Roth, kind of spelling out the distinction in concrete terms at one point on Friday. Roth is an amiable guy who ended up delivering a few good lines along the way during Day 1a, including a couple that made it into the live blog. He was playing at a table with Chris Klodnicki (who’d end Day 1a as chip leader) and a couple of other poker pros, and I’m assuming Roth was one of those who’d gotten in via a satellite.

“This is just another tournament for you guys,” he said. “But it’s like Christmas for us!”

I know those running the tourney would’ve liked to have had even more satellites and ultimately seen a larger turnout, but I believe the time to do so might have been limited in this case. Still, I think things so far have run well and hopefully this event will inspire more tourneys at what is a very nice and comfortable venue, perhaps helping make the Sands Bethlehem a better known destination for poker players outside of the area.

Speaking of making Bethlehem a destination, there was one interesting side story yesterday involving Andy Frankenberger who got a little misdirected on his way to coming to play Day 1b. As he tweeted about afterwards, he’d mistakenly set his GPS for Matt Glantz’s place in Bensalem, Pennsylvania rather than Bethlehem. That’s over an hour away, and so that detour necessarily made him later in arriving than he’d planned.

As someone with an especially bad sense of direction who relies heavily on GPS to point me in the right direction, I could totally identify with Frankenberger’s plight. I also felt bad for him when he busted fairly quickly after arriving to the event yesterday, although despite what had to be a frustrating day he was in good spirits nonetheless.

Glantz busted a short while after Frankenberger did, and in fact to go back to that distinction between the satellite winners (whom one might assume are mostly amateurs) and the pros, I noticed a lot of players talking afterwards about how friendly Glantz and Frankenberger were. That is to say, I think at least some of the amateurs enjoyed sitting alongside the pros, competing with them while getting to know them a little, too.

All of that helped contribute further to what I was suggesting yesterday regarding the overall atmosphere of the event being quite upbeat and even jovial. People are enjoying themselves so far, and as I’ve remarked before here, when the players are having fun at a tournament that always makes covering these suckers more fun, too.

From the first two Day 1 flights just 70 players will be coming back for today’s Day 2, and I imagine the mood will become increasingly serious as they reach the final 18 and the money, then work their way down to a final table. Check over at PokerNews’ live updates for details where Mickey Doft and I will be writing all about it while Joe Giron provides the pictures (as he did above).

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Travel Report: Sands Bethlehem DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event, Day 1a

On Thursday I was writing from an airport and talking about those spaces we sometimes occupy where we find ourselves momentarily isolated from our usual networks of connectivity. There I was referring to the couple of hours I had to wait for my plane, during which time I was mostly free to read or write or think whatever I liked without feeling obligated to do much at all beyond keeping track of what time my flight departed.

I made a comparison to sitting at a poker table and how that, too, can provide a similar kind of respite. A momentary escape, so to speak, from the so-called “real” world and into a separate sphere where there exists an option to shut out everything beyond poker’s all-consuming perpetuum mobile.

Covering a poker tournament can be similar, insofar as it will often happen that I’ll be engaged in the work of reporting from, say, noon to midnight -- as was the schedule for yesterday’s Day 1a here at the Sands DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania -- and be essentially shut off from whatever else might be going on in the world. Sometimes when at the World Series of Poker during the summer, days or even weeks will go by without my having watched television or heard the first thing about headlines or current events.

Such was obviously not the case yesterday, though, especially early on, as we passed back and forth whatever we’d heard regarding the horrific news of the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. Eventually the discussions stopped and we all -- players, staff, and those of us reporting -- focused our attention on the tournament. But I imagine most continued to feel a kind of vague dread regarding what had happened, and I know I could sense the sadness creeping in to affect me off and on during unguarded moments.

Yesterday’s events are causing people to point back to another shooting in April 2007 that occurred on a college campus and also left an unfathomable number dead. I wrote something here then, a post titled “Lament,” where I noted my grief at the senseless violence, and how the feeling was perhaps increased (for me) by its having occurred in a place of learning. That yesterday’s shooting happened at an elementary school and children were victims makes it all the more ghastly.

When play concluded last night and I got back to my room, I watched some of the coverage and read some more online to gather further details. Then I went to bed, had a somewhat restless sleep, and woke up again with thoughts directed toward the unimaginable suffering happening just a few hours up the road in Newtown.

To tell about the tourney, a relatively small group showed for Day 1a, with just 70 entries being bought (for $2,500 each). But those who came clearly seemed to appreciate the quiet atmosphere (we’re in a conference room far away from the noisy casino) and amenities (free snacks and drinks), and also appeared happy with the staff, dealers, and structure, too. We’ll definitely see more come out to play today’s Day 1b, although the prospect remains for a possible overlay given the event’s $500,000 guarantee.

There were several fun hands to report, and some personalities emerged as the day wore on, too, which made the chronicling all the more interesting. And having Joe Giron here taking pictures adds even more to the blog, with Joe several times grabbing action shots during hands that were used to illustrate the reports. Speaking of personalities, that shot to the left -- taken by Joe -- was of the player David Hill who had a supply of different-colored pipe-cleaner glasses he’d pull out and wear during hands.

The overall atmosphere was quite positive, actually, with compliments for good play, grins and even laughter shared, and wishes of good luck delivered by the defeated to those who remained. And working with Mickey and Joe is always a pleasure. All of which is to say, it was a good place to be, in a community (of sorts) and enjoying the company and mutual support of others.

Here’s hoping everyone else finds such community and support today, wherever you happen to be. And going forward as well.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

O Little Town

Have arrived safely and soundly in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to cover my second event of the week, this $500K guaranteed DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event here at the Sands Casino.

Yesterday’s journey was mostly pleasant, although I did find myself feeling just a little stranded in Allentown for a short while. The small airport was nearly surreal thanks to the fact that there were so few people there waiting for departing flights. When walking out of the terminal and past security, I noticed there was only a single passenger coming the other way.

“No rush,” said the guard to the passenger in response to some question or action. “This is a stress-free airport,” he added.

I walked out front and asked about a cab, and was a little surprised when one had to be called. I was then told I’d have to wait 20 minutes for it to arrive. Was not a problem, as I was in no rush.

A half-hour later I was asking again, they were calling again, then telling me it would be 20 more minutes. We decided to call a different service, and after nearly an hour of waiting around I finally had my ride to nearby Bethlehem, located about seven miles away.

Bethlehem is even smaller than Allentown, population-wise, although I guess it isn’t really a “little town” but rather a small city. In any case, the Sands Resort is enormous. It opened very recently (in 2009), with the hotel only opening up last year, and it definitely feels brand new.

The accommodations are quite nice. The casino is big with a fairly hopping poker area. In fact, Mickey and I last night sat in a game for about 15 minutes before our colleague Joe showed up and we went for dinner. (That is a model of the resort to the left, incidentally, looking down on the casino.)

The tournament will be staged in one of the conference rooms, and from the looks of things it will probably be on the small side. Today and tomorrow will be Days 1a and 1b, with players given option to play one flight or both whether or not they happen to bust today. That is to say, if a player ends Day 1a with a small stack, he or she will be able to buy in and play once more tomorrow, then if the player survives Day 1b as well he or she would continue on Day 2 with the larger of the two stacks accumulated.

Kind of a quirky option, one I don’t believe I’ve never encountered before when covering a tournament. Will be interesting to see if it comes into play in any significant way.

Check over at PokerNews’ live reporting page if you’re curious to see who shows up and how things play out here in Bethlehem. The event runs through Monday.

(By the way, for anyone wondering, there will be a couple of Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games tournaments this Sunday, whether or not I play in them. I’ll set those tourneys up either today or tomorrow and mention it on Twitter.)

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

No Hurries, No Worries

Am posting once again from an airport, where I’m sitting in a terminal and awaiting my flight to cover my next tournament. Have two different songs running through my head as I do, as I’m flying to Allentown, Pennsylvania, then cabbing it over to Bethlehem (a.k.a. “The Christmas City”) to the Sands Casino where from Friday through Monday I’ll be helping cover the $2,500 Main Event of the DeepStack Extravaganza series.

Billy Joel’s “Allentown,” of course, is the first song on his 1982 LP The Nylon Curtain, a record I actually wrote about once over on 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute blog. Kind of a standout track on a record full of great, Beatlesque hooks, one making it difficult even to hear the name of the town without thinking of that chorus and how it’s “getting very hard to stay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ayeyeayea.”

Meanwhile, with the holiday season upon us, I think I’ve already heard “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at least once or twice during the last couple of weeks, and so there’s another little carol bobbing up and down amid the brain waves as I contemplate my final destination this afternoon.

Since first starting to cover poker tourneys several years back, I’ve found myself making a few trips per year. Not nearly the nonstop jetsetting some of my colleagues undertake, but enough to have gotten extra familiar with the whole airport subculture and its various idiosyncrasies. Kind of an enclosed little world is the airport, once you’ve made it through security and are sitting or milling about among the shops and restaurants and endless announcements passing back and forth overhead.

It can be a stressful place, especially if you’re running late or looking after children or unable to reunite with a lost piece of luggage. But if you get to your flight a few hours ahead of time (as I have today), there’s something kind of serene about being enclosed within the airport bubble, kind of floating in limbo between one place and another.

I’m reminded of sitting down at a poker table late last week and having played a short session at the Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. And how a similar sense of detachment from (or disruption of) the quotidian takes place during the time one sits at a poker table.

Once you’ve bought your chips and start taking hands, you necessarily disconnect from the regular routines, having earned a momentary respite from all of life’s usual obligations while sitting at the table. You’re not entirely detached. Or rather, you don’t have to be. You have your phone and can check messages and so on. You can even get up and walk away anytime you like to rejoin the outside world for a moment before returning to your seat.

But you do have that option to shut it all out and involve yourself utterly within the confines of the separate world into which you’ve voluntarily entered, one of cards and chips and bets and folds, circling around orbit after orbit, where there will be stressors and anxiety, but also contentment and even pleasure. Talk becomes “table talk,” a special subset of communication relative to the location. And every action has a specific meaning, given such by the business at hand. Or of hands.

So, too, does everything inside the airport point to the departures and arrivals and various codes of conduct and procedure firmly in place and maintained by the variously uniformed personnel stationed throughout. Airports can be confusing to those who aren’t used to them (just like a poker table). But to those who travel frequently, it’s a relatively easy place to be.

I have a little while longer to wait amid the hum and chatter and announcements. And the occasional roar of another plane passing overhead. Talk to you again soon, once I’ve emerged from another airport cocoon to rejoin you all.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Eve of Reconstruction

I’m only home for a short stretch here between these two trips to Atlantic City (just completed) and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (where I head tomorrow). Have been busy enough not to have had time to pay all that much attention to various poker-related headlines over the last few days.

Skimming around this morning, I see Full Tilt Poker’s FTOPS XXI has been playing out over the last week-and-a-half, with a lot of familiar names among those winning or going deep in events thus far, including Dani Stern, Taylor Paur, Bill Gazes, Dylan Lynde, Luke Schwartz, Keven Stammen, and others.

Kind of interesting how in the reports one sees many players being identified by their real names, the identification of their online nicks now common knowledge. And what’s happening is a lot of those who made their “names” on FTP prior to Black Friday have come back to the site to find success again.

Speaking of FTP, there was also a big heads-up match between their pros Viktor Blom and Tom Dwan over the weekend, kind of patterned after the “All-Star Showdown” matches recently staged on PokerStars. Apparently Blom and Dwan were together down $3.3 million or so after one month of play on Full Tilt Poker 2.0., making the $100K that “Isildur1” won off of “durrrr” this weekend seem less notable by comparison.

Sort of weird to be reading about these things going on over at Full Tilt Poker, all of which perhaps give the impression that nothing strange at all happened with the site over the last couple of years.

When in AC these last few days, I overheard multiple conversations between U.S.-based players regarding their current, uncertain online poker careers. Players spoke about having buddies in Toronto with an extra room, and how they’d escape up there for a weekend or more to try to grind Sunday tourneys or just put in some hands. And how difficult it was to play well or consistently under such circumstances.

It reminded me a little of the other table talk I’d heard (when playing) about post-Sandy reconstruction and the various hardships people were having to endure. You know, like Black Friday had swept through online poker and wiped out everything, and now players were having to make do with less than ideal arrangements until things could be fixed.

It does sound like “repairs” (so to speak) to online poker in the U.S. are proceeding in some fashion, with next year seeming like a possible target for the return of games via Nevada licenses, other states’ offerings, or perhaps even (still) that federal online poker bill that keeps getting alluded to here and there as a faint possibility.

A little hard to imagine right now, but if it does happen and games for Americans resume at some point in the not-too-distant future, I suppose this little “interregnum” when online poker went dark in the U.S. might actually fade from people’s memories. Especially if PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker are allowed back in the States to rule online poker once again, thus making the post-BF environment resemble the pre-BF one even more.

We’ll then enter into what might be called a “reconstruction” era for online poker in the U.S., during which the forward-thinkers and those who are positioning themselves right now to be ready to act in the new market will benefit greatly.

Are we on the eve of such a return? Could be. Then again, I’m sitting here just contemplatin’... I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation... Handful of senators don’t pass legislation....

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Travel Report: 2012-13 WSOP-C Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Main Event, Day 3

Am sitting in Philadelphia International Airport, awaiting another flight home after having helped cover another poker tournament. The WSOP-C Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City Main Event wrapped up just before 2 a.m. last night, with Adam Teasdale ultimately winning after making a helluva call in a final hand when heads up versus Wade Woelfel.

The day had begun at noon, so by the time that last hand arrived we were nearly 14 hours into Day 3 (including breaks). And it appeared we might well be sticking around a lot longer given that even though Teasdale had edged out to a 2-to-1 chip lead, Woelfel still had about 60 big blinds. The levels get lengthened at the end of WSOP-C Main Events as well (to 75 minutes) -- we’d just started a new one -- and with two strong, careful players sitting behind those tall towers of chips, it definitely seemed like we’d be there for quite some time.

Speaking of those chips, you might be able to make out the stacks of pinks (10k) and grays (5k) sitting in front of the players in the picture above. The 10k chips are kind of strange, actually. I believe they are only used in Atlantic City and a few other spots, and I know I’ve rarely if ever had to count them when covering tourneys. Despite there being over 12 million chips in play, they continued to use just the 5k and 10k chips to the very end, never introducing any 25k ones.

All came to an end, however, in a hand that saw Teasdale float a flop with nothing, make a small pair on the turn, then call a bold all-in raise by Woelfel who had but ace-high himself. (Here’s the hand, if you’re curious.) Not quite the ending I saw at APPT Macau last month, when two players ended six hours’ worth of heads-up play by deciding to chop the prize pool evenly and go all in blind on the last hand. But a fairly abrupt conclusion nonetheless, involving some inspired play by both players.

This was the second WSOP Circuit event I’ve done, the first having also been in Atlantic City (at Caesars) about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s a neat tour, really, and has been around long enough by now -- since 2005 -- to have developed its own tradition. And with 20 stops in 2012-13, it’s pretty much a year-round affair, with many players hitting multiple stops to play in the low buy-in prelims and affordable Main Events.

For those of us reporting, it’s an intense, brief grind. Just three days of play, but each day saw us there working for about 15 hours, which didn’t leave a lot of time for anything else. Unlike the last AC trip, I didn’t step foot outside the venue at all during my stay. But the accommodations were fine, and the WSOP staff were especially helpful and fun to work alongside, so all in all it was a good trip. And it is always enjoyable to work with tourney reporter extraordinaire and master chip counter Mickey, too.

Have to cut it short as my flight will be boarding soon. As I mentioned last week, I’ll be heading right back out again for another quick event, this one in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania starting later in the week. Should be another interesting one, but I’ll admit I’m already looking forward to returning from that one and getting some real rest while visiting family over the holidays.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Travel Report: 2012-13 WSOP-C Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Main Event, Day 2

Was another super long one on Sunday as Day 2 of the WSOP Circuit Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City Main Event lasted from 12 noon all of the way to 2:30 a.m. And with another hour or so of post-game that meant bedtime didn’t come until about 4 o’clock.

It’ll be a long one again today for the final day of play, as we still have 26 players and will be playing down to a winner. In fact, we may well go up until just a few hours before I’ll be making my way back via train to Philadelphia and then eventually flying home.

That photo above is of one of several decorations here in the ballrooms on the third floor of the Harrah’s resort where the tourney is being played, a little display of a five-card poker hand. Notice anything weird about it?

You might have to look twice at it to notice, but there are two Jd’s in the hand. Just about all of the displays have this quirk in them, with duplicate cards (sometimes twice) among the five. Players have been puzzling over the signs repeatedly whenever they happen to look up to see the signs.

Speaking of noticing something being a little off, if you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me yesterday making some references to the prize pool here at the Main Event, responding a couple of times along the way to queries made by Allen Kessler (who is not here playing).

Kessler had noticed that the originally announced prize pool didn’t quite add up to the equivalent of $1,500 per entry (which has been the case at other WSOP-C Main Events), and was wondering why. As it happened, the ME structure sheet here had described the $1,675 buy-in as being “$1,565 prize pool + $110 entry fee,” with 5% of the prize pool reserved for the dealers.

That actually meant just $1,486.75 of every buy-in was going to the players, and once the discrepancy was noticed and the discussion began to filter around on Twitter and elsewhere, it got back to the folks here running the show and soon it was announced the prize pool would be amended to ensure there was $1,500 per entry going back to the players. (Additionally, the dealers are still getting the same 5% as before, too.)

To be honest, I’ve been too busy covering the event really to get involved in the details of this discussion. The players here didn’t seem too concerned when the announcement was made about the revised payouts, though I imagine all who are cashing will be glad to take home a little more for their efforts. And I’m glad as well that everything seemed to have turned out smoothly with regard to the issue.

Like I say, though, no time on my end to look into this much at all, as we’re about to kick things off once again. If you’re curious to follow along, click over to PokerNews’ live reporting page today. Also, check the @WSOP twitter feed for information about a live stream from tonight’s final table.

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