Thursday, February 28, 2013

Family in Florida

About to take a quick trip down to Florida to see my Pop and hopefully relax a little. Has become an annual thing for Vera and me each spring to go down, as there is a dressage event she likes to go to near West Palm Beach.

I’ve played at the Palm Beach Kennel Club a few times in the past when we’ve gone, too. The trip is always timed, it seems, just after the WSOP-Circuit makes its stop down there, and indeed they just finished up again last weekend.

From there the WSOP-C moves up the east coast to Caesars Atlantic City, and I’ve made that trip once before in the past as well, writing about it here (Pregame, Arrival, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). And in fact I’ll be making that same trip again as well next weekend, which is another reason why I’m looking forward to seeing Pop and taking it easy a bit over the next few days.

Speaking of visiting family in Florida, I was just listening to the latest Thinking Poker podcast with Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis. The show continues to be a great one, with good strategy talk and a nifty line-up of guests since I made a visit on there back on Episode 4. The fellas are up to Episode 21 now, which means they’ve now managed to make it past the 20 Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Shows I did. (I continue to reserve the right to revive the HBPRS, by the way, so I could theoretically catch up with Andrew and Nate.)

Anyhow, this latest episode of Thinking Poker finds Andrew having visited and interviewed his grandmother in Florida. The subject of their talk was her brother, who happened to be a nightclub comedian and singer who performed back in the ’50s and ’60s as Tubby Boots. He also happened to be about 400 pounds and would sometimes wear ladies clothes during his act. As is mentioned on the show, “Uncle Tubby” additionally liked to gamble, and so that kind of ties his story in with the usual talk about poker.

I’m a fan of old comedy LPs and so had heard of Tubby Boots thanks to the fact that he made four or so albums way back in the day. I own none, but had heard him before, and thus can say he was laugh out loud funny (and also more than a little risque and not at all PC).

Anyhow, as I ready for my trip down to Florida to visit with family, let me recommend this latest Thinking Poker show to you where you can hear some of Andrew’s visit with his grandmother, Sylvia Brokos, and their talk about a highly interesting member of their family.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Jersey! (Is It True?)

I’ll admit it. Until early yesterday, I continued to imagine the possibility that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could execute some sort of massive slowroll. That's right... to imagine (crazily) that somehow Christie might not go along with the newly-submitted online gambling bill incorporating the recommended changes he’d made when conditionally vetoing an earlier version a few weeks back.

Was an absurd prospect to ponder, really. Most legislators in the state had already made clear that they were comfortable with the changes suggested by Christie. And in fact when it came to voting on the revised bill yesterday, both houses passed it by wide margins (68-5 in the Assembly and 35-1 in the Senate). Then Christie signed it immediately, unlike the previous two times he’d had a similar bill before him to sign and took a full 45 days before deciding how to play his hand.

So New Jersey follows Nevada and Delaware into the new, exciting but uncertain world of online gambling. Regulators in NJ will soon start to work sorting out the details of licensing and ultimately paving the way for sites to get up and running, a process that likely is going to take at least a year, perhaps even a couple.

Right now only the dozen casinos in Atlantic City will be able to go for licenses. Those who do will be able to offer all of the same games online that they have in their casinos. Thus like Delaware, New Jersey’s law covers a variety of online gambling games, while Nevada’s law is sticking with poker only.

New Jersey is also giving itself that option of entering into interstate compacts with other legally willing states, which obviously will mean a lot when it comes to poker and building big enough player pools to achieve liquidity.

Also of interest is the Rational Group’s bid to acquire the Atlantic Club casino which will be decided upon by NJ’s Casino Control Commission sometime this spring. The Rational Group, of course, is a collection of companies that includes PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, and thus should their application to purchase the Atlantic Club be approved, that’ll be a step toward PokerStars and Full Tilt essentially finding a way back into the U.S. via New Jersey.

(Have to say, I like the idea of an entity called the “Rational Group” coming in and helping remove all of these irrational thoughts I seem to have about online poker and its future in this country.)

There’s a lot that will need to fall in place, obviously, before anyone is playing online poker in New Jersey. Before that day we’ll probably see some games going live within the next few months in Nevada. And we’ll continue to hear more about other states considering their options for joining in as well.

Now I find myself experiencing a different sort of absurd, worst-case-type imagining. Again, I have no basis for it -- other than six-and-a-half years or so of upset expectations and disappointment, I suppose -- but I find myself dreading some unforeseen, federal-level swooping in to stop everything from going forward.

Unfounded applesauce, I know. Like a weak-tight player crazily fearing that his opponent is holding some huge hand, sitting there slow playing while holding the nuts. But I feel like I’ve been conditioned somehow to think this way. Gotta unlearn.

At least it will be a while before any online poker games will happen. Maybe by the time they do I’ll have gotten over such instinctive feelings of dread when it comes to legislation and the online poker in the U.S.

Maybe by then I’ll be thinking more about what it means actually to play poker.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Academic Study of Online Poker Forums

This morning I found myself trying to read a kind of thumbnail history of poker forums written by Wendeen Eolis for Poker Player Newspaper. I say “trying” because like other pieces by Eolis, her less-than-clear writing style can make reading her a bit of a challenge, I’m afraid. Indeed, the title of this one -- “Online Poker Forums: Winding Through The Maze” -- has kind of a double application, referring both to the complex world of the forums and to the piece itself.

The article is actually the first of two parts, and despite the unclear organization and occasional Faulkernesque unwillingness to end a sentence, the article does manage to remind us that poker forums have been around for a long time -- more than two decades, in fact, with the once-prominent rec.gambling.poker (RGP) site among the pioneers.

I only bring up Eolis’s piece, actually, because it made me think of another article by Killian O’Leary and Conor Carroll published late last year in the Journal of Gambling Studies called “The Online Poker Subculture: Dialogues, Interactions, and Networks.” I had meant to write something about this study some time ago, and so am glad to have an excuse today to share it.

The study does a good job of explaining not just how online poker has evolved into an important “eco-system” over the last 15 years, but also how poker forums have come to affect and shape the functioning of what the authors refer to as the Online Poker Subculture (OPS).

As the authors point out, poker forums constitute one category or “platform” for interaction within the world of online poker, along with news sites (PokerNews, BLUFF, etc.), reporting/tracking sites (PokerTableRatings, etc.), and the online poker sites themselves. The forums are their focus, however, and they end up uncovering some interesting findings as they develop their ideas regarding how people tend to interact within these forums and how those interactions follow certain expectations regarding subcultures, generally speaking.

The methodology employed by the researchers was to follow procedures of “netnography” which if I understand it applies techniques used by anthropologists or ethnographers when analyzing a web-based group or subculture. In other words, they were essentially “lurkers” looking in on the forums of Deuces Cracked, High Stakes Database, and most primarily 2+2 in order to learn more about them.

They share a lot of interesting ideas and ways of describing how, say, a site like 2+2 functions and the influence the forums have over the OPS and even the poker world at large. As a way to make my own post more readable and also avoid going through the entire study point by point, let me just list a few of the findings presented in the article and comment briefly on each.

Collaboration and Competition

It is common to hear poker forums characterized as an antagonistic, combative environments, but what the authors of this study have found is something different, namely, “an ethos of collaboration/co-operation” within the forums that involves “conforming to the norms of OPS etiquette.” In other words, people often genuinely communicate and work together on the forums, as evidenced by the individuals sharing information in order to uncover insider cheating scandals as well as small groups discussing how best to play a particular hand.

That said, there also exists “a competitive hierarchy of status” in the forums. “The more one engages and participates in online forums the higher [one is] elevated within the subculture[’]s hierarchy,” they observe, noting for example how things like join dates and post counts greatly affect one’s influence when it comes to posting. There’s also a pressure to “enact and adhere to the ideals and ethos of the OPS” since “members are and have been in the past ostracized for non-conformity.”

Thus, the forums in particular show how the online poker subculture “distinctively enacts a contradiction, in that within a context of individually driven selfish motives (i.e., everyone playing to win), collaboration and cooperation comes to the fore within the OPS.”

Identity Creation

The authors have much to say about how in the process of participating in the forums, individuals create identities that extend beyond the forums and into the OPS at large, or even beyond. “Online poker forums allow players to develop their own online persona,” explain the authors, “through interaction, participation and engagement with the subculture, thus reaffirming their reputation amongst their poker peers.”

They go on to address how “online poker celebrities” sometimes emerge from the poker forums. In fact, they point out how within the OPS it is often the case that “to become a highly successful online poker player and to receive accreditation, monetary results are not solely sufficient,” but some sort of meaningful, “intense interaction” on the forums is needed as well.

A Game-Changer

The authors also come away from their study concluding that their influence upon the way poker is played -- not just online, but live as well -- “has revolutionized the game.”

They go into some detail explaining in what strikes me as a knowledgeable way how forums have affected strategy, introduced new terminology, and sometimes even the behaviors exhibited in live poker (e.g., “the lack [of] social interaction/dialogue during physical game play”).

Two Plus Two’s “Sacred Status”

Having explored all of these areas, the authors are prepared to refer to 2+2 in particular as enjoying a so-called “sacred status amongst this online poker subculture.”

Such talk reminds me a little of some of the fuss that arose couple of years ago when 2+2 Grand Poobah Mason Malmuth once suggested that “2+2 is where the poker community is.” But truthfully the authors are not suggesting 2+2 is “the” poker community. (Neither was Malmuth, in my opinion.) Rather are they pointing out how the site and its forums possess special, extensive influence on the online poker subculture and its functioning.

I’m reminded here that BLUFF just released its “Power 20” last week and once again neither Malmuth nor any representative of Two Plus Two were listed. (I actually was asked to vote this time, and in fact I did include both Malmuth and Kevmath in the lower half of my 20.) I believe the last time any reference to 2+2 was made on the list was 2009.

Anyhow, if you’re at all curious to read a smart, studied analysis of poker forums, go read O’Leary and Carroll’s “The Online Poker Subculture: Dialogues, Interactions, and Networks.” They absolutely prove that the “OPS” exists, in my opinion, and also do a good job explaining the role forums play within that subculture.

The writing is dense, of course, following as it does the dictates of academic discourse (with lots of citation). But the argument is clear and the style still accessible, I think, particularly to readers of this blog who presumably already have an interest in online poker and the way those of us who play it (or used to play it) tend to interact.

(EDIT [added 2/27/13]: Thanks to @PokerScout1 for pointing out to me over Twitter that O’Leary and Carroll’s introduction actually contains a few glaring mistakes regarding online poker’s historical background, most coming in a single paragraph I have to confess to have only skimmed in my haste to get to the study. Also worth noting -- as @PokerScout1 reminded me -- is the fact that in referring to tracking sites the authors failed to mention Poker Scout [!]. I do think the study is insightful and highlights a need for similar kinds of inquiry, although have to acknowledge that as was the case for me with Eolis’s article, I can see how these errors might prevent some from wanting to delve further into what the authors have to say.)

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Imagining Poker, Imagining America

Yesterday some of you may have noticed an op-ed appearing in The New York Times by Charles Murray titled “Poker Is America.” It comes as part of a series of editorials written by various authors about “Games People Play,” and while the piece is kind of personal in nature it does ultimately provide a kind of defense of poker as a worthwhile pursuit.

I tweeted about Murray’s article yesterday, noting how some of the points he makes resonate with readings I assign in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. In fact I shared the op-ed with my class, too, inviting them to respond and think about how some of the ideas Murray advances might compare to things we’ve been reading about and discussing.

If you haven’t seen the article, you might click over and give it a look. It’s fairly brief (less than 1,000 words), and in truth there isn’t a whole lot that strikes me as particularly new among the points the author makes. Perhaps my coming at it from the perspective of my class affects my response somewhat, but there’s not too much Murray says about poker and its relationship to American culture that others haven’t pointed out repeatedly before.

Even so, Murray is writing in The New York Times. And since he’s defending poker, his article amounts to something notable for those of us here in the U.S. who also like to defend our game, particularly in the context of creating legislation to allow us to play it (including online).

Murray highlights a couple of points about poker that I’ve found myself thinking about a lot lately, mainly because I keep encountering the same ideas being made over and over in our course readings. One concerns what might be called the “egalitarian” nature of the game whereby it really is open to anyone regardless of his or her background -- provided, of course, he or she has the money with which to play.

Murray looks around the table at the West Virginia casino at which he likes to play and rejoices in the fact that the players represent a mix of men and women, different races and ethnicities, and different age groups, even going so far as to say the games there could “give lessons to the rest of the country about making the melting pot work.”

I actually think Murray is being a little overly romantic about how peacefully this variety of people get along at the poker table. (He seems to have encountered a remarkable lack of conflict in the games he’s played.) But I get what he’s saying, and like I say it echoes things we’re reading other authors talk about in my class when they describe poker as being a “democratic” game that brings together people from all sorts of backgrounds, much as the country as a whole might be said to have done so, too.

The other point about poker Murray highlights is the way it rewards skill, or, as he puts it, the way “poker tables are pure meritocracies.” Again, we might quibble with Murray some here, too, and point out that the luck component of the game makes it somewhat less than “pure” in the way it doles out rewards based on an individual’s “merit” as a skillful player. But he’s talking about how the poker table tends to be a place where people can’t get by merely on their backgrounds but have to perform in order to succeed -- i.e., a place where you’re much more likely to be measured by your worth, not your birth.

Thinking in terms of society as a whole, Americans often like to think of their country as both egalitarian and a meritocracy. Of course, in practice neither of those ideas necessarily play out as envisioned. We don’t all get equal chances at succeeding here in the U.S., nor are we all always rewarded on the basis of our merits. (That is to say, in some cases the “American dream” really is just a dream.) But we like to think those ideas apply to our experiences here, and as Murray points out, the poker table does tend to provide a context in which we can realize those ideals, if only for the duration of a session.

In other words, it sounds more like Murray is saying “poker is America” as we might like to imagine America to be, but not really as it is.

I’m a little unsure about Murray as a commentator, my bias having been firmly established nearly two decades ago by controversies surrounding The Bell Curve, the book he co-authored in which some claims about race and intelligence earned some pretty severe criticisms, particularly in academia. I was in grad school in the 1990s, and so found myself reading a lot of withering censures of that book when it appeared.

I’m also not quite certain about the conclusion of Murray’s op-ed where he seems to be delighting in something fairly odd, namely how he and a group of players from a variety of ethnic backgrounds can bond over a shared prejudice regarding another group (Italians) for which no representative is present. Sounds a little like an ironic “praise” of poker for reflecting U.S. culture in a less than admirable way, namely as a place where intolerance (or at least suspicion of foreigners) is common.

In any event, it’s an interesting piece and I think ultimately probably helps poker’s cause somewhat, even if the argument in favor of the game isn’t necessarily as persuasive as it could have been.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Taking Care of Business

The week has flown by and now Friday is nearly done. Most of the day today has been taken up with various tasks all of which go under the heading of “taking care of business.”

Among those tasks was a visit with our tax preparer. Used to do all that on our own, but as life became more complicated we’ve begun having someone offer some assistance, and it’s been a great time-saver. Also this time around I managed to spend a lot more effort during the year keeping careful track of income and expenses, documenting and categorizing everything so as to make today a lot easier.

I did, however, take some time last night going back over the year and kind of reliving some what I’d experienced, including those trips to Uruguay, Las Vegas, Macau, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Not the nonstop globetrotting that some of my colleagues engage in during the year, but a lot of running around, for sure.

Sometimes I talk to people about what I do, and how a lot of my work happens at home, and we talk about how being able to work from home is most certainly a good thing, if you can manage it. However (I point out), when I do leave for work, the commute is often pretty long. As in thousands of miles!

Anyway, all of this going back over the year and tallying the totals makes me think a little about how I’d do something similar with online poker, always looking back over the year and scrutinizing the graph and thinking about what it represented.

But I’m realizing today that 2012 was the year where that sort of work stopped for me. I still goof around a little online, pushing pennies back and forth with others over on Carbon now and then. But the fact is I’m not depositing, I’m not withdrawing, and I’m not really paying attention anymore to how that ledger looks.

This development occurred sometime during the latter half of last year. I’m seeing a post as recent as April 2012 where I was stubbornly attaching some sort of significance to the little black book in which I’d enter results of sessions over the years. But that’s stopped now. I keep track of lots of other stuff now, but not that.

Sometimes when having those conversations with people about what I do I’ll get asked if I play poker myself. I’ve caught myself using the past tense sometimes, particularly with regard to how “I used to play online.” I’m hopeful some of these developments in Nevada, New Jersey, and elsewhere might one day eventually evolve into some situation where I’m able to play again, but I’m obviously not holding my breath.

In a way I’m thankful now I never rose above the level of a dedicated recreational player -- i.e., someone who took poker seriously, learned a lot about the game, but never reached a point where it was anything close to becoming more than an important hobby.

Would’ve been hard, I think, if somehow playing had become more of a “business,” to have to admit all of that had been taken care of.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Road to Interstate Poker

Found myself spending time this morning trying to follow this joint meeting of the two judiciary committees of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate in which they discussed A.B. 114, a bill that would revise some of the provisions of the state’s law governing interactive gaming.

The live feed was a little choppy, often freezing up and resetting and thus making it tricky to follow every exchange. In fact, it was a little headachy at times, kind of resembling the whole stuttering, start-and-stop-and-start again nature of online gambling legislation in the U.S. over the last several years.

Nevada, of course, passed its own online gambling bill (for online poker only) back in June 2011, and about six months later the Nevada Gaming Control Board approved regulations to provide a framework for licensing and operating online gambling in NV. At the time a number of companies had already applied for licenses, and by now many more operators, technology providers, and service providers have applied with many having now been approved.

It was at the end of 2011 when that new opinion from the Department of Justice regarding the Wire Act first appeared, an opinion clarifying that the half-century old law about taking bets over the phone across state lines only applied to sports betting. That was taken by many to open the door to a new era of online gambling in the U.S. Following Nevada’s lead, Delaware passed an online gambling law last year, and several other states have had bills proposed. In fact it now appears that New Jersey is on the verge of passing its own online gambling law, with Governor Chris Christie perhaps about to sign a revised bill into law next week (after having earlier appeared poised to veto it).

So we have individual states passing laws and preparations being made to start allowing for certain kinds of online gambling in the U.S., with sites in Nevada sounding as though they’re ready to go live within the next few months. (In fact, I believe at least one might have already has gone online with play money games.)

A lot of the discussion to this point has focused on states offering “intrastate” online gambling -- i.e., for licensed sites to serve individuals within the state, including residents and visitors. However, that reinterpretation of the Wire Act did appear to allow for the possibility of a state offering online gambling to individuals not physically within its borders. Such a development would obviously be significant when it comes to online poker where having a sizable enough player pool to keep games going and achieve “liquidity” is crucial.

And so among the sections of A.B. 114 comes one specifically noting how “The Governor, on behalf of the state of Nevada, is authorized to: (1) Enter into agreements with other states, or authorized agencies thereof, to enable patrons in the signatory states to participate in interactive gaming offered by licensees in those signatory states; and (2) Take all necessary actions to ensure that any agreement entered into pursuant to this section becomes effective.”

A.B. 114 covers other ground, too, including further defining terms with regard to so-called “bad actors” (i.e., those who continued to serve U.S. customers post-UIGEA) and the time period they’d have to wait before applying for licenses as well as increasing the fees for the initial issuance of a license and for renewals. But for those of us living other states, it was that section about Nevada possibly trying to offer some interstate online poker that has pricked up our ears.

When my feed wasn’t cutting out, the discussion at today’s joint meeting seemed refreshingly informed and constructive, with Governor Sandoval and Gaming Control Board Chairman A.C. Burnett among the witnesses who testified.

There was some disagreement over the amount of the licensing fee ($500,000 or $1 million?), as well as some questions regarding how long the “bad actors” should have to wait before applying for a license (five or 10 years?). Ultimately those matters were resolved, and the meeting ended with a unanimous vote in favor of the bill.

Now A.B. 114 goes to the full Assembly for a vote, and it sounds as though things might move quickly with Sandoval perhaps signing it into law relatively soon (like today, even). Here’s an article just posted by the Las Vegas Sun detailing this morning’s meeting and its significance.

Getting back to that section regarding agreements with other states, or interstate “compacts” that would allow non-Nevada folks to play online poker on the NV sites, there were some questions about how that would work, including how exactly Nevada and the other states would be sharing revenue in such cases. Assembly Majority Leader William Horne also clarified that Nevada probably would not be entering into compacts with other states that had their own online gambling licensing regime in place.

That sounds a little like we might have certain states (e.g., Nevada and New Jersey) being kind of like central “hubs” offering online gambling to certain other states with which they establish these agreements, although to be honest I’m not completely sure how it would all work. (Or even if it ever will.)

In any case, those are among the many specifics that will eventually have to be hammered out by those drawing up the regulations (assuming A.B. 114 gets signed into law). As of now, looking into the future is kind of like that choppy feed, with visions of progress and actual change occurring interrupted by stasis and uncertainty.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Changes to the Summer Games (Olympics & WSOP)

Busy days mean I have fallen behind when it comes to listening to the Two Plus Two Pokercast, one of the few poker podcasts I check in on regularly these days (along with The Thinking Poker podcast a couple of others). Thus am I only now listening to their Episode 258 (2/13/13), the one with Dan Shak et al.

Was diverted a little by a conversation early in the show between co-hosts Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz regarding the news (now over a week old) that the International Olympic Committee had announced that starting in 2020, wrestling will no longer be contested at the summer Olympics.

Technically speaking the IOC has only recommended that wrestling be removed from the list of summer Olympic sports, although it sounds highly unlikely it will be voted back in when the IOC meets again in September to ratify its decision and also to decide whether the 2020 games will be hosted in Istanbul, Tokyo, or Madrid. In other words, after being part of the summer Olympics since 1896 and included at every Olympics since (aside from 1900), there will likely be no wrestling happening in 2020.

You’ve probably read or heard about the general dismay being voiced at the IOC’s recommendation to remove wrestling, a sport that besides being a major part of the modern Olympics also obviously connects the present-day games with the ancient Greek games from way back in the 8th century B.C. For a humorous take on the matter, see Charles P. Pierce’s Grantland piece on the matter in which he fears Zeus might seek some form of retribution.

Anyhow, what I found interesting in the discussion on the Two Plus Two Pokercast was the way Johnson and Schwartz drew an analogy between the traditional offerings at the WSOP each summer and Olympic sports. Not pursuing the idea that far, the pair talked about how the WSOP keeps certain games on the schedule -- razz being the example on which they focused -- more for the sake of tradition than for business reasons.

Indeed, business reasons apparently forced the IOC’s hand with regard to wrestling, as the committee apparently not only factors in a sport’s popularity, but also TV ratings and ticket sales.

That got me thinking again about what events were left out of the 2013 WSOP schedule which was announced a day after that episode of the Pokercast. And how the hosts might have discussed the analogy with the Olympics a lot more had the schedule been out by the time the show was recorded.

Comparing the 2012 and 2013 schedules reveals quite a lot of changes, including events dropped and added and a lot of moving around of events, much more so than has been the case in recent years.

There are 62 events this year, one more than last year. If you look through last year’s schedule, there are exactly 48 tournaments on this year’s schedule that are identical from a year ago (same game, same buy-in). In other words, 13 of the events on the 2012 WSOP schedule did not return, while there are 14 on the 2013 schedule that don’t have an exact parallel from last summer.

Here are the events that were on the 2012 schedule that didn’t come back in 2013 (arranged by buy-in):

2012

  • $1,500 Seven-Card Stud
  • $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em, Re-entry
  • $1,500 Limit Hold'em Shootout
  • $1,500 2-7 Draw (No-Limit)
  • $2,500 Mixed Hold'em (LHE/NLHE)
  • $3,000 Limit Hold'em
  • $3,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em/Pot-Limit Omaha
  • $5,000 Mixed Max
  • $5,000 Seven-Card Stud
  • $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em
  • $10,000 H.O.R.S.E.
  • $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em, 6-handed
  • $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop (NLHE)

    And here are the ones appearing on the 2013 schedule that represent additions to what the case last year:

    2013

  • $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em, Re-entry
  • $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em, Turbo
  • $1,111 The Little One for One Drop (NLHE)
  • $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em, "Millionaire Maker"
  • $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em
  • $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em, 6-handed
  • $2,500 Seven-Card Stud
  • $3,000 Mixed Max
  • $5,000 H.O.R.S.E.
  • $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em, 6-handed
  • $5,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em
  • $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em, 8-handed
  • $25,000 No-Limit Hold'em, 6-handed
  • $111,111 One Drop High Rollers (NLHE)

    On that latter list you see two $1,500 NLHE events -- those represent two additional ones over and above the total number of $1,500 NLHE events from 2012. I also haven’t included the Ladies event here with its new “differential pricing.”

    Comparing the two lists reveals a couple of small changes in buy-ins (e.g., the NLHE re-entry going from $1,500 to $1,000), the switch from $10K to $5K buy-ins for a few, and the removal of the Mixed Hold’em event and the Limit Hold’em Shootout.

    No single variant was utterly removed from the 2013 WSOP schedule à la wrestling being taken taken out of the list of summer Olympic sports, although one might look on the changes and say lowball games or even seven-card stud might be endangered, relatively speaking.

    My sense, though, is that unlike the IOC which imposes on itself a finite number of summer sports (26), the WSOP probably won’t be finding itself having to choose between variants anytime soon. That is to say, should it become desirable to add something new like an Open-Face Chinese bracelet event, I don’t think doing so will mean having to get rid of something else, given the tendency just to keep on adding more bracelet events.

    What do you think of the 2013 WSOP schedule? And do any of the changes stand out for you as particularly good or bad?

    (Illustration above by John Wray.)

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  • Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    Jerry Buss (1933-2013)

    Like everyone else I was disheartened by yesterday’s news that poker player and L.A. Lakers owner Jerry Buss had passed away. I tend to spend a lot of time perusing websites dedicated to either poker or sports, and it was remarkable yesterday to find so many well considered tributes penned about Buss and praise for the legacy he managed to leave in both spheres.

    On the poker side, Haley Hintze wrote about Buss yesterday for Flushdraw, discussing his WSOP cashes (and one final table), his popularity in L.A. cash games, and his having turned up on various poker shows over the last few years (including High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, and the NBC Heads-Up tourney).

    Meanwhile, Grantland’s Bill Simmons spent part of his Monday morning writing about Buss and his importance to the NBA in “The Lakers Lose Buss, the NBA Loses a Titan.” A frequent critic of other NBA owners’ decision-making, Simmons highlights Buss’s positive contributions both to the success of the Lakers (who won 10 titles for him while he was owner) and to the league as a whole.

    Both pieces help convey Buss’s character as a genuinely giving person who often put others’ welfare and interests ahead of his own. Both touch a little on the contrast between the “playboy” image sometimes applied to him (thanks largely to his poker-playing and frequent appearances with younger female companions) and the modest, friendly personality that won him many friends and fans.

    Buss was obviously an intelligent, creative thinker, earning a Ph.D. by age 24, realizing substantial success in real estate, and then as an NBA owner helping build a consistently-winning, wildly popular franchise. He was also highly competitive, a trait many former Laker players and high-stakes poker players have been talking about a lot for the last couple of days as well.

    I never met Buss and in truth my experience with him at the WSOP pretty much entirely consisted of reporting occasional hands he played and once in a while overhearing some interesting table talk. As others who played with him have been unanimously attesting to over the last 24 hours, he was certainly an amiable presence at the tables, never seeming to mind frequent questions from other players (or even from the rail) about the Lakers or questions an NBA owner.

    I remember once Buss being at the WSOP and playing in an event while the Lakers were making another NBA playoff run, and recall his telling someone how the team seemed to perform better without him being there, thus explaining his decision to be in Vegas rather than attending games. (Haley discusses that story as well in her piece.)

    I also recall covering a $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8 event in 2011 (the last year Buss came to the WSOP) and overhearing lots of questions to Buss from others asking for his thoughts about various NBA players. I also wrote a post here sharing some reflections on the relaxed atmosphere created by the players in that event, the sort of thing that often provides a ready context for fun table talk and characters to emerge.

    It sounds as though the WSOP might be considering renaming an event after Buss in recognition of his friendship and positive influence on the poker community. The NBA also will surely be focusing some effort toward remembering Buss and his important role during the league’s period of dramatic growth.

    All seems appropriate and deserving. And as a fan of poker, basketball, and friendly people who serve to build communities rather than break them down, I, too, wanted to commend Buss for his positive contributions and influence.

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    Monday, February 18, 2013

    Original Content

    There was a small flare-up over the weekend involving a gambling news website called iGaming Post being accused of various ethical transgressions regarding their peculiar manner of reporting news.

    Some had noticed previously how the site -- which bills itself as “The Internet Newspaper for the Gambling Industry” and appears under the International Gaming Awards aegis -- often lifts articles verbatim from other news sites, republishing them without attribution and sometimes even with different by-lines. In other words, the recent brouhaha isn’t really a new thing, although the latest round of accusations appear to have finally gotten the attention of a number of poker media types.

    For details, see John Mehaffey’s article from yesterday chronicling several examples of iGaming Post’s thievery. Mehaffey describes what the site has done as “plagiarism.” Others are using terms like “content theft” or “copyright infringement,” but it all amounts to the same offense. Stealing! With both hands!

    There are quite a few of these “portal”-type sites publishing pieces about poker and/or gambling that operate in a similar fashion. Some follow iGaming Post’s brazen cut-and-paste method. Others use “scraper” programs to lift material off sites and republish it on their own. And some involve a person performing a few minor edits such as changing a word or two here and there or reordering paragraphs in order to fool the Google gods into thinking the post is something new.

    As someone who has published lots of “original content” on the web, including here on my personal blog and on a number of other sites (most of which have been poker-related), stories such as this one obviously grab my attention. Having a background that has included teaching thousands of college students how to write essays further positions me to want to say something here as well.

    Do I have anything original to say? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But I feel reasonably comfortable claiming all of these words and ideas about the matter as having emanated from my own jingle-brain.

    In my composition classes I always considered learning how to incorporate other sources into one’s own writing as what distinguished “college writing” from whatever students might have studied before. Getting students to understand when to quote (or paraphrase or summarize), how to quote (and cite), and also how to sort out their own thoughts and words from others’ were always, to me, primary goals in such classes, lessons that had to be learned before writers could figure out how to communicate meaningfully with an audience.

    And, of course, understanding what plagiarism was and avoiding it at all costs was part of the instruction, too. No compromises, there. (And no points if you plagiarized.)

    The internet isn’t a college classroom, though. Notions of “originality” or “authorship” get complicated on the web. The stark distinctions a teacher might make on a college writing assignment about quoting and citing and penalties for failing to document properly are essentially out of place here.

    In fact, a lot of what passes for “original content” say, on a poker news site, tends to stretch the definition of “original,” with the great majority of articles and even features mostly consisting of material that has been rewritten in some fashion or another.

    Yesterday Barry Carter wrote another interesting post talking about the practice of “newsjacking” in poker media wherein someone might produce genuinely “original content” by writing a piece that responds to a current item of interest. An example he gave was writing a post last week sharing his initial thoughts about the new WSOP schedule, something I, too, did here at Hard-Boiled Poker.

    Despite the confrontational sound of the term (and hard-to-ignore connotations of theft it suggests), “newsjacking” is in fact a lot like writing a college essay in which one has been asked to use sources and respond with one’s own argument regarding an issue. The idea is to inject your own interpretation or analysis, referring to what others have said (and citing appropriately) while positioning your own self within a kind “conversation” about your chosen topic.

    But again, on the web, ideas of authorship and even the relationship between the self and others often get fuzzy. Thus does “newsjacking” often become more like carjacking with a writer aggressively taking someone else’s words and ideas and going for a joyride, heedless of the ethical responsibilities of “owning one’s writing.”

    I have to admit that after dwelling for so many years within the internet’s echo chamber, I find it difficult to get too animated when hearing about another lame site like iGaming Post distinguishing itself by its lack of originality. That said, I’m glad they’ve been called out, and hope perhaps it does a little to discourage others from being too easily tempted by the treacherous two-step of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V.

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    Friday, February 15, 2013

    The GPI’s Tinkering

    There are a few different topics floating about the poker world at the moment that seem worth discussing, one of which is that announcement this week by the Global Poker Index that they were “suspending” two players from their rankings thanks to allegations regarding their having cheated at the 2009 Partouche Poker Tour Main Event final table.

    You’ve heard about this already, I imagine, both about the cheating and the GPI’s action, and so I won’t needlessly delve too deeply into the particulars. The players concerned are Jean-Paul Pasqualini and Cedric Rossi who finished first and second, respectively, at that year’s PPT ME final table.

    A video compiled by the player and writer Nordine Bouya was posted a couple of weeks ago and presents what appears to be some fairly damning evidence of collusion occurring between the pair. For a rundown of the story of the video and what it shows, see Haley Hintze’s report over on PokerFuse “2009 Partouche Poker Tour Cheating Allegations Further Tarnish Tour’s Legacy.”

    Yesterday the GPI decided to make a formal announcement regarding their decision to remove Pasqualini and Rossi from their rankings. Actually the 2009 tourney happened outside of the 36-month period on which the current rankings are tabulated, but as Zokay Entertainment CEO Alex Dreyfus spells out in his article on the matter, the primary motivation here is to use the GPI as a mechanism to help discourage cheating and better conditions for players, generally speaking.

    Dreyfus acknowledges that by making such a decision regarding what is otherwise a stats-based ranking system the GPI perhaps puts itself in danger of sliding down a “slippery slope” when it comes to delivering judgments regarding particular players and their eligibility to be considered in the rankings. He also notes that the GPI isn’t even ready to commit to having been convinced that Pasqualini and Rossi did, in fact, cheat, saying that “we are not claiming that we know they cheated” and adding that such a finding is “up to the casinos and the overseeing regulatory bodies to decide.”

    In other words, it’s a somewhat awkward stance being taken here by the GPI to remove a couple of players from their rankings when neither were ever disqualified for cheating from the tourney in question, nor is it even clear there will be any sort of retrospective handling of the matter (e.g., a post-tourney DQ-ing of the players and/or attempt to recover winnings).

    Rich Ryan posted an op-ed over on PokerNews today in which he disagrees with the GPI’s decision to “suspend” Pasqualini and Rossi from the rankings. Rich draws analogies from other sports (baseball, cycling) to talk about how various forms of cheating have affected the record books in those contexts, concluding that he dislikes how making subjective decisions about players’ results being compromised ultimately lessens the overall strength of the GPI’s ability to assess and compare players’ tourney performances.

    I’m mostly with Rich, I think, regarding his stance on the issue. That is to say, I’m not really sure the GPI needs to worry too much about this sort of policing of its rankings, although I also understand where Dreyfus is coming from with his broader goal to use the GPI to help improve the game and the experiences of the players.

    That said, I’m less apt to agree with the assumption that the GPI rankings are in fact wholly objective. Even if the rankings are entirely based on players’ performances, a host of decisions have been made regarding the various criteria for weighing those performances that are, in fact, subjective. It’s a nifty measuring system, no doubt, that certainly works to provide a different and more thorough way of measuring players’ performances than comes from, say, a panel’s votes or by polling players. But as we all know, an entirely objective measure of performance in poker tournaments doesn’t really exist.

    Anyhow, check out Haley’s report and Ryan’s op-ed, and decide for yourself whether the GPI should or should not be “suspending” players from its rankings, or the degree to which the issue even should matter to the poker community.

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    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    The 2013 WSOP and the Ladies’ Discount

    Was just about to sit down to write something here today when I saw the 2013 World Series of Poker schedule has finally been released early this afternoon. Came a couple of weeks later than usual, but from a first glance it appears that perhaps some extra time was taken coming up with a few new ideas and sorting through various particulars.

    There are 62 events this time, one more than last year. There’s a “Millionaire Maker” event early on in which the buy-in is $1,500 and first place is guaranteed to be $1,000,000 (Event No. 6). (Most $1,500 NLHE events tend to yield a first prize of a bit more than half that much.) A “turbo”-formatted event comes up in mid-June (No. 34). There’s a four-max. tourney (No. 38), an ante-only one (No. 45), and a $111,111 buy-in One Drop-branded “high roller” affair, too (No. 47). And there is a non-bracelet open-face Chinese poker tourney scheduled in there as well.

    Among the other items grabbing one’s attention at a first glance is the Ladies event (No. 51) which weirdly sports a new $10,000 buy-in, but with a “Ladies Discount Price” of $1,000. That represents an interesting response to the issue of men entering the event, something that has become a kind of minor, irritating tradition since 2010.

    Funny this came out today. Kind of makes the “Ladies Discount Price” seem like a Valentine from the WSOP, even if it represents the same buy-in the tourney has been every year since 1992.

    I helped cover the Ladies Event last summer for PokerNews, and wrote a post here called “That’s a Bummer, Man” in which I talked a little about the relatively small fuss created by the 10 or 12 men who played the Ladies Event last year.

    Anti-discrimination laws made it impossible for the WSOP to prevent men from playing in the Ladies event when some started doing so three years ago. But a provision stating that businesses in Nevada are allowed “to offer differential pricing, discounted pricing or special offers based on sex to promote or market the place of public accommodation” opens the door for the WSOP to try this approach when it comes to discouraging men from participating in the Ladies event.

    Not knowing of Nevada law’s allowance for this sort of separate pricing, I’d never considered this option for the Ladies event, although to be honest even if I had known about the so-called “Ladies night” provision I don’t know if I’d have ever come around to considering staging a WSOP event in which the entry fees weren’t uniform.

    My first reaction was to appreciate the WSOP’s creativity in finding a way to address the situation while operating within Nevada law. Sure, if we step back and think about a law allowing for differential pricing based on sex it’s easy to understand why some would object to it as unfair. Because... well... it is. But that’s a separate argument and issue, really, as all the WSOP has to worry about is operating its events within what state laws and the Nevada Gaming Control Board allows.

    I don’t like men playing in ladies events. It happened at EPT Deauville last week, actually, with two men making the final table of the ladies event there. They ultimately finished third and fourth, and every single person I talked to about it seemed glad neither had won.

    I also helped cover the Ladies event at the 2010 WSOP, and wrote a post “On Covering the Ladies Event” in which I talked about what I felt about the issue of men playing and what I believed the Ladies Texas Hold’em Championship (No-Limit) brought to the WSOP and poker in general.

    I’ll have to think about it some more, but my first response is to say I guess I’m okay with men having to pay 10 times the buy-in for the Ladies event this year. But I’m wondering also, why was $10,000 chosen as the entry fee? Why not $100,000 or $1,000,000? Is there a law preventing that?

    Actually $10K was probably the right price to set as a first attempt here, although from some of the early responses it sounds like there may still be a few men for whom the high price won’t offset other ideas supporting playing (including notions of the tourney’s expected value). And I wonder, will those men get even more attention this year thanks to their having paid more to play?

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    Wednesday, February 13, 2013

    The ISPT, a Poker Cipher

    I just did a search of the blog to see if I had ever written a single word here about that long planned for International Stadiums Poker Tour event. I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it, although if you have it hasn’t been here on this blog as I couldn’t turn up a single reference.

    As a result, I can’t really say when exactly I first heard anything about the ISPT and its idea to stage some sort of massive poker tournament at Wembley Stadium in June 2013. Searching around I’m seeing others starting to refer to the Tapie group -- i.e., the same ones behind that failed bid to purchase the zombiefied Full Tilt Poker -- back in late 2011, so it had to have been around that time I began hearing about it, too.

    Those references describe a $30 million guaranteed poker tournament slated to happen in the fall of last year at the huge London stadium over the course of several days. Would start with players, perhaps 30,000 of them (?), sitting in the stands playing shootouts on laptops, apparently, reducing the field down to what would eventually be a final table right there on the pitch.

    There were lots of reasons why I paid little heed to the ISPT. Seemed super weird and foolhardy in those months following Black Friday for anyone to be cheerleading for some sort of ultra-mega-bigger-than-anyone-has-ever-witnessed type poker event. Whatever it was, it was not happening in my country, which probably further diminished my interest. And it seemed at first like a total fiction, a bit like some of the fanciful scenarios occasionally portrayed in advertisements by PokerStars and others showing poker being played in a stadium à la the Super Bowl or something.

    Over the next year-and-a-half, we’d continue to hear things about the ISPT and the big tournament, including announcements about the guarantee going down (to zero, now), the event being rescheduled to 2013, and occasional bursts here and there regarding the sponsorship of players. Pro-ISPT tweets would occasionally appear coming from this or that pro player, indicating he or she had been signed on to help promote the event.

    But again, no one really cared. The sponsorship thing in particular seemed mostly ornamental, with the transparently faux commitment of the tagged players helping further this sense that what we were really dealing with here was some sort of elaborate, expensive, interactive performance art piece involving the poker community.

    To draw a comparison, some have adopted a kind of mild cynicism regarding Ivey Poker’s frequent indications of “more to come” as well as its having brought something like 50 players into its fold by now (with the recent acquisition of Leggo Poker).

    That said, when Greg Merson won the WSOP Main Event last fall as one of the first to sign with Ivey Poker, people gave some attention to the patch he wore, much as they did when Dan Shak final tabled both the Aussie Millions Main Event and the $100 Grand Challenge last month and when Matt Giannetti won the WPT Lucky Hearts Open in Florida yesterday -- two more Ivey Poker pros registering some big scores. No one knows yet what being an Ivey Poker pro really signifies, but it still carries some sort of significance as observers remain interested in seeing what comes of the website.

    Meanwhile, when Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi won that WSOP Circuit-affiliated event down in South Africa last week, absolutely no one said “Hey, that’s really good for the ISPT.” Sure, he’s one of the pros who’s apparently been given a few bucks to allow the site to use his likeness and to sport a patch. But since practically no one understands or cares about what the ISPT is, it’s not coming up in the conversation at all.

    I did overhear some players at the EPT Deauville Main Event jokingly refer to the ISPT, kind of characterizing the whole thing as a big ruse to be avoided at all costs. It sounds like some sort of online qualifying has actually begun for the event, but almost no one is participating. Barry Carter yesterday posted an interesting update of the ISPT in the form of advice to other, would-be tourney promoters in an article for Poker Media Pro titled “Poker Marketing Lessons from the International Stadiums Poker Tour” -- worth a read, if you’re at all curious about where this sucker stands at present.

    The article helps confirm what I think most of us have been suspecting pretty much from the first time we heard of the International Stadiums Poker Tour. That is, that “ISPT” continues to seem more a cipher than an actual signifier of anything in particular. In other words, it probably represents nothing at all, sort of like someone shoving all in when the five community cards already form an unbeatable Broadway straight. Feels like its chances of success are about the same as someone failing to make the call there, too.

    See Carter’s article for more. He helps us perhaps consider drawing some sort of larger symbolism from whatever ISPT is doing, something indicative of the poker world as a whole and the seemingly constant presence of such “weird lines” in the way people try to find different, unusual ways to battle for what is really mostly a small pot.

    A cipher can signify nothing, an absence. Or it could unlock a secret message. Perhaps ultimately the ISPT will come to mean something about the poker world, although my guess is the meaning will either provide a momentary distraction or be ignored altogether.

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    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    On Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint

    While traveling to and from Deauville I took along a copy of Philip K. Dick’s 1959 novel Time Out of Joint. It’s a book I first read long, long ago, but have thought about a lot ever since. In fact, looking back through the blog I notice I mentioned it a few years ago as belong to a list of books that “for whatever reason, stand out in my mind.” I bought a copy at the Labyrinth Bookstore in Princeton prior to the France trip and took it along, and finished it on the way home.

    Like all of Dick’s novels and stories, the premise of Time Out of Joint is inventive and thought-provoking. In this case, a middle-aged ex-vet named Ragle Gumm finds himself living with his sister and brother-in-law in an ordinary ’50s neighborhood. Gumm has no job per se, but makes a decent amount of money each month by winning a daily puzzle-solving contest in the newspaper, something called “Where Will The Green Man Be Next?”

    The story proceeds in a fairly mundane, realistic fashion for the first third or so of the novel, then a few strange things occur that lead Ragle to believe either something is wrong with the world as he knows it or perhaps he is going insane. He finds what seems to be a current phonebook but all of the numbers are disconnected. He also reads a story in a magazine about a beautiful contemporary movie star named Marilyn Monroe, but neither he nor his sister and brother-in-law have ever heard of such a person.

    Ragle additionally starts to experience what he believes to be hallucinations in which objects disintegrate before his eyes and are replaced by strips of paper stating what they were (e.g., “door,” “drinking fountain,” etc.). All of which further fuels his anxiety about his own mental health and whether or not the strain of putting in hours and hours each day creating his contest entry is getting to him.

    As you might guess, there’s a lot more happening here than initially meets the eye. I won’t give away more about the plot than to say that eventually Ragle does come to confirm his suspicions that the contest he’s been working on is more than just a harmless bit of problem-solving, but has much larger implications. And that the mundane suburban setting in which he lives isn’t what it seems at all, either.

    I read a lot of Dick novels long ago, and I seem to remember most of them having these highly intriguing set-ups and then the execution sometimes feeling a little hasty. I think Time Out of Joint falls into this category, too, although ultimately the story is successful at making the reader think about the nature of reality and larger philosophical questions such Hamlet contemplates when he utters the line that gave Dick his book’s title.

    I don’t want to say too much more about the book, though, because I want to recommend it to anyone reading this blog. I think it’s a book that poker players should find especially interesting, and not just because there’s actually some poker played early on in the book (something I’d completely forgotten about).

    Rather, I’ll quickly list three reasons why I think the book might appeal to poker players, especially full-time players who sometimes find themselves stepping back and thinking about the significance of having found themselves playing a game for a living.

    One reason is the obvious parallel between Ragle’s “job” and that of, say, a full-time poker grinder, especially one who only plas online and thus finds him or herself kind of isolated from the world in much the same way Ragle is when working on his puzzles.

    Aggravating his wondering about his own sanity are Ragle’s self-doubts about the nature of his employment and whether or not his life has any real significance. In fact, there’s a small argument early in the book between Ragle and a neighbor in which the latter kind of chides him a little for not having a “real job.” Ragle thinks to himself about how even though he makes more money at his “job” than his brother-in-law does at the supermarket, his existence ultimately boils down to “puttering about with something in the daily newspaper... like a kid.”

    I know some poker players -- especially those who mainly make their living playing online -- have these same conversations with themselves and with others regarding how they earn their living. I’m thinking especially of these guys chasing Supernova on PokerStars or who pursue other endurance-test type promotions (or self-created goals) which assign a kind of tangible significance to their activity that perhaps gives it extra meaning beyond simply trying to earn money playing cards.

    A second idea that comes up in the book is the question of Ragle’s “skill” at solving the ““Where Will The Green Man Be Next?” puzzle. Years of working it have allowed him to accumulate data and charts he uses to help inform his predictions with each new puzzle, much like the grinders keep and review their stats and use it to increase their chances of winning.

    Ragle gets asked questions about his skill for the game sometimes, and it is clear there is at least some doubt among others about how much chance is involved in the contest’s outcomes. And in fact there are some suggestions made as well about cheating and/or the contest being “rigged,” in some fashion, all of which I think would prove intriguing to online players, too.

    Finally, a third reason I’ll recommend Time Out of Joint to poker players has to do with the way it invites readers to think about the difference between subjective experience and objective truth. You know, that big existential question of whether or not one person’s idea of the world is similar to what others think about it, and how our subjective experiences often diverge and force us to compromise when it comes to assigning meaning to the world around us.

    Poker is a game that highlights this idea that there is a difference between reality as such and what individuals think about it. I’ve written in the past about the John Lukacs essay “Poker and American Character” in which he makes a grand statement that “poker is the game closest to the Western conception of life... where free will prevails over philosophies of fate and chance, where men are considered free moral agents, and where -- at least in the short run -- the important thing is not what happens but what people think happens.”

    I take Lukacs as saying that poker provides a great context for demonstrating how humans can collectively experience something -- e.g., a hand or session -- and come away with entirely distinct ideas about what happened or what it meant. A bluff is a concentrated example of this sort of thing, wherein the significance of a given bet can obviously mean different things to different people. But I think the idea applies more broadly to the game and the seemingly endless ways people tend to approach it, define it, and define themselves and their actions when they play it.

    In any case, this invitation to think about the nature of reality (as we know it) that Time Out of Joint offers seems to be the kind of thing poker players might be interested in pursuing. Thus my recommendation.

    And if you do happen to read the book, come back here and tell me what you thought it meant and we’ll see how well our ideas match up.

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    Monday, February 11, 2013

    Looking Back (Deauville Footprints)

    Had some decent travel run good on Sunday with my shuttle to Paris and both flights sticking to schedule. Was great reuniting with Vera at the airport and getting home for a full night’s sleep. Slept a little late, in fact, and after taking care of various post-trip business I’ve now let most of the day get away from me. But I did want to share one last thought about the end of the EPT Deauville Main Event and the experience of spending the week in France.

    Now that I’m home, I’m catching up a little with the commentary regarding Super Bowl XLVII. I mentioned last week I was able to watch most of the game in my hotel room, but I didn’t really have time in the following days to see what people were saying about the game.

    Been thinking further about the whole crazy shift in momentum that happened pre- and post-blackout in the game. Remember how Baltimore was up 28-6 early in the third quarter when the power went out, then from that point forward the 49ers outscored the Ravens 25-6 to make the final score 34-31 with the Ravens prevailing.

    Indeed, if not for some clock mismanagement and weird play calls at the end of that late-game drive by San Francisco, the Niners really should have won the game, which would have led to years and years of talk about the power outage having unfairly stemmed the Ravens’ momentum and thus affected the outcome. But Baltimore won, so that angle will not be pursued.

    I was thinking today how the final table went in the PokerStars.fr EPT Deauville Main Event and how the end of the tournament kind of resembled the Super Bowl in some respects.

    During the next-to-last day of play, the Frenchman Remi Castaignon built an enormous lead by knocking out several players on the way to the final table. He began the last day with 9.9 million chips when the next-closest player (Walid Bou Habib of Lebanon) had but 3.835 million. Thus did play begin on Saturday with an assumption that Castaignon would very likely at least remain ahead for most of the day, and perhaps might just gobble up all the short stacks and cruise to the win.

    It was a little like the feeling after the Ravens returned the second-half kickoff to go ahead 28-6 insofar as the imbalance was now so great that it would take something very, very strange for the leader (i.e., Baltimore or Castaignon) not to remain in an advantageous position for much if not all of the remainder of the contest.

    In the Super Bowl, the lights went out, interrupting the game for 34 minutes, and when play resumed it was as though the Ravens and 49ers had switched uniforms. For anyone looking for proof that momentum matters in team sports, that game has provided some hard-to-refute evidence.

    The lights didn’t go out Deauville, but something strange did happen at the start of that final table. During the first orbit, Castaignon showed he wanted to get involved right away and use his big stack to pressure others, but got himself into a big mess early in a hand versus the young German, Enrico Rudelitz. Heck he probably felt like someone had pulled the plug on him, the way that hand went.

    After calling a raise from late position, Castaignon watched Rudelitz reraise from the blinds and called again. Then he called c-bets by Rudelitz on the flop and turn before the German pushed all in on the river with the board showing Qc6d3sTs4d.

    The pot had bloated to 6 million chips by then, and after tanking for more than five minutes Castaignon called and saw his opponent flip over Q-Q for top set. We were all then fairly amazed to see Castaignon’s hand -- 5-5. He’d made a “hero call” (as they say), and while one could kinda-sorta see how he’d talked himself into it (after the fact, anyway), it still seemed like a major, momentum-shifting misstep.

    Suddenly Castaignon was no longer in the lead, but like Baltimore he’d recover and ultimately played a solid endgame to win anyway. Thus, as with the Super Bowl, the story of the 2013 EPT Deauville Main Event won’t really linger over one surprising moment, in this case a first-orbit hand at the final table in which Castaignon surprisingly lost nearly half of his dominating stack.

    As I was saying in those brief bursts throughout the week, it was a great experience going back to France and getting to experience a little bit of the culture again, plus a lot of fun, rewarding collaboration with all of the other media folks who were there. As has been the case at the WSOP and these other tournies over the years, I’m grateful to have been part of the effort to share with the poker world what happened at Deauville over the last week, and to have contributed to the chronicling of it all.

    Speaking of leaving one’s mark, I’ll share one last funny nouvelle from the week.

    I mentioned how a highlight was finally getting to meet in person my longtime friend and colleague Matthew Pitt, a.k.a. “@YorkyPuds” or “Yorkshire Pud.” One morning the Pudster and I were making the short walk from the hotel to the casino, engaged and distracted by whatever conversation we were having.

    Suddenly we both looked up and realized the last couple of steps on the sidewalk had been qualitatively different from the previous ones. “Seemed kind of soft,” said Matt, and we looked back to see one newly paved square of sidewalk interrupting the usual pattern. There had been no signs or cones or anything warning pedestrians to avoid treading through, and so we’d plodded right over it, our prints amusingly gleaming there in the still-drying pavement to show what we’d done.

    We looked back, looked at each other, and then instinctively (and hilariously) put our heads down and kept walking, perhaps a tiny bit faster than before.

    As we walked the same path again and again the remainder of the week, we had to laugh each time to see our handiwork still there. Or footwork, I guess you’d say.

    “Look... I was here once,” they say. Kind of like these travel reports....

    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 1a
    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 1b
    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 2
    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 3
    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 4
    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 5
    2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 6

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    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    Travel Report: 2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 6

    Having to keep this post short and sweet, as I have a full travel day ahead of me and not much time for scribblin’. There to the left is the front of what has been my home-away-from-home this week, by the way, La Closerie on Avenue de la République here in Deauville. Has been a comfortable, accommodating spot to land each night.

    Speaking of short and sweet, such was the final day of play at the PokerStars.fr EPT Deauville Main Event, which finished in a blindingly fast five hours. The other EPT media vets were remarking on it being one of the quickest final tables they can remember, and indeed, as I was suggesting yesterday, it was somewhat expected given the chip imbalance and preponderance of shallow stacks to start the last day.

    The big leader to start the day, Remi Castaignon of France, actually lost his lead in dramatic fashion within the first orbit of the day after making a somewhat head-scratching hero call in a big-pot hand versus the German Enrico Rudelitz. But he recovered well enough, regained the top spot, and ultimately took care of business at the end to take the trophy and €770,000 first prize.

    I did manage to do a quick walking tour of the Deauville city center yesterday morning to see a few more sights and pick up a couple of gifts. Was another windy, gray day, with rain again necessitating my wearing a hat and breaking out the umbrella. Very reminiscent of that year in Lille again, during which it seemed like it was always overcast.

    I’ll probably do some more reflecting tomorrow once I’m back home, but did want to mention this morning how great it was to have this chance to return to France and even see a little of it while not working. And also to say how great the working part was, too. Was great fun all week working once again with Homer and “The Conv,” as well as finally to meet and work in person with YorkyPud. And Neil, Mantys, Adam, Sarah, Kristy, Stephen, Howard, Rick, Mad, Benjo, Frank, and all of the other smart, funny, and super supportive EPT folks who make working in such an environment so rewarding.

    Time to pack up and look a little further into all of this blizzard stuff I’ve been hearing about happening back home. Hopefully it won’t delay my return, but I won’t fret too much if it does. Travel variance. Part of the game.

    Talk to you soon. Au revoir!

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    Saturday, February 09, 2013

    Travel Report: 2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 5

    After the très rapide day on Thursday, yesterday’s Day 5 was a fairly long one again as it took more than 12 hours (including breaks) for the final 23 players to play down to the eight-handed final table.

    Remi Castaignon of France ran red-hot yesterday, knocking out eight of the 15 players who were eliminated including the last three to finish with almost 10 million chips. That’s nearly three times what second-position Walid Bou-Habib currently has, and about 42% of the total chips in play. And with many of the others starting play today at least short-stacked (if not in the danger zone), we could well have a relatively short final day of play today, especially if Castaignon continues to run well.

    Thursday’s long work day went well, though a highlight of the day came before when I had the chance to take a quick tour by car around Deauville and nearby Trouville with Howard Swains and Stephen Bartley of the PokerStars blog. They’d mentioned to me how they’d seen a few sites nearby that had been designated with the “Proust was here” markers, and so we went out to take a look at those and a few other things before play began at noon.

    Over in Trouville we saw Les Frémonts, a place where Marcel Proust spent a couple of summers in the 1890s and which served as a model for La Raspelière in À la recherche du temps perdu. While not that different from other, similarly attractive edifices surrounding the hillside, the view out over the coast was quite stunning, and one could imagine how looking upon it might help provide some literary inspiration.

    We saw another house, the Villa Strassburger, that had been inherited by Gustave Flaubert. We also saw one of the old pillboxes dug into a hill and pointed out toward the water, a small, squarish, concrete structure with small openings from which weapons could be fired. Stephen explained what the pillbox was to Howard and me and how they were used in WWII.

    Finally we drove around to the Hippodrome de Deauville to see the track and even some horses being ridden on the cool, brisk morning, yet another picturesque scene to take in as we imagined a summer’s day with stands full of people and races going off one after another.

    Am going to cut things short for now. Going to see if I can’t get back out before play begins today and perhaps explore the center of Deauville a little more as the opportunities for doing so are disappearing quickly. Meanwhile, check over at PokerNews today to see how the Main Event plays out. Also look in on the reports from the High Roller at PokerNews, as well as Howard and Stephen’s musings about it all on the PokerStars blog. There’s live streaming from Deauville happening, too, if you click over to PokerStars.tv.

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    Friday, February 08, 2013

    Travel Report: 2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 4

    Is it Friday already? The week is flying by here in Deauville, and now we’re suddenly down to two more days of reporting followed by the long journey back home on Sunday.

    It only took three 90-minute levels plus about a half-hour of a fourth for the Main Event to play down from 51 to 23 players. The top five spots in the counts are occupied by Frenchmen currently, with the last American (Jason Koon) having gone out in 39th.

    Meanwhile the High Roller (a €10,300 buy-in event, with one rebuy available) got underway yesterday as well, and by the time I left it had attracted more than 80 entries (better than last year’s 72). Chris (Homer) and I covered the Main Event yesterday, then stuck around a bit more to help Marc (MarcC) and Matt (YorkshirePud) with the HR before leaving by around 11.

    Sounds like that High Roller is going to last through Saturday as well, and so while I’ll be mostly sticking with the Main Event coverage, I may continue to hope over to help the fellows with the HR stuff, depending on how things play out.

    Has been a fun week for various reasons, not least of which getting to work with my English mates. Has also been fun chatting here and there with several pros this week, among them Zimnan Ziyard, Lex Veldhuis, Matthias de Meulder, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, and Max Heinzelmann.

    Heinzelmann is a two-time Main Event runner-up on the European Poker Tour, doing so back-to-back at EPT San Remo and Berlin back in April 2011 when just a 20-year-old. He’s perhaps best known by some, however, for that wild six-bet shove with A-6 versus Shaun Deeb’s A-A from the 2011 WSOP Main Event, a hand which Heinzelmann eventually won when two sixes landed among the community cards.

    I mentioned to him how I’d written up that one as a “Hand of the Day” over on Betfair poker, and he laughed saying how it certainly was that. He also noted how Deeb himself was perfectly capable of a similar play (and in fact had done something a lot like it at the WSOP before). (Incidentally, for those remembering “Max Rolfs” character from The Micros, he debuted just a bit before Heinzelmann came on the scene, I believe.)

    Anyhow, the wi-fi having failed in the hotel overnight, I’m having to cut things short today as play is about to resume. As always, you can check in over at PokerNews for our reports today.

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    Thursday, February 07, 2013

    Travel Report: 2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 3

    Yesterday’s Day 3 of the PokerStars.fr EPT Deauville Main Event played down to just 51 players, with the bubble bursting along the way. There to the left is another Neil Stoddart shot of a tense moment from the bubble with a player contemplating a big call to put his tournament life at risk.

    Sounds like they may actually work their way down to 16 today (instead of 24). In any case, while Homer (Chris) and I continue with the Main Event these next two days, we’ll likely be experiencing a short day either today or tomorrow. Meanwhile, Marc (MarcC) and Matt (YorkshirePud) will step over to report on the two-day High Roller starting today.

    The European Poker Tour has reached the middle of its ninth season. I’ve only really gotten to visit one previous EPT stop, and that was an unusual one for the tour, the one-off visit to Kyiv, Ukraine back in Season 6. But even after just a few days here in Deauville it’s easy to see how well-oiled the EPT machine has become, with the staff, media, and players all working together especially well to create an inviting environment for poker.

    There are several small things the EPT does that improves the tournament’s coverage, one of which includes giving players small laminated tracking numbers at the start of each day of play that they then carry with them throughout. The system is quite simple. If you’re at Table 4, seat 1, the number is 41. At Table 21, seat 8, the number is 218. The players are used to the practice and thus are used to carrying the numbers with them when moved during the day, and it does wonders for being able to identify them when reporting.

    PokerNews has implemented a similar system in the past at the WSOP, especially for the Main Event. But it’s only used occasionally and thus isn’t necessarily something players come to expect. Thus while it is useful there the system isn’t quite as reliable, mainly because it still hasn’t become an expected part of how events are run.

    There are several other small things done on the EPT that further improve the coverage. Another is how when the field gets down to a certain size, chip counts of everyone are performed at each break, with EPT Media Co-ordinator Mad Harper then sending that out to everyone for reporting. That, too, helps immensely.

    There are lots of media to coordinate, too, with reporters and photographers from several countries all here from start to finish. I kind of chuckled at one point yesterday when I noticed a German crew actually conducting a quick interview with one player while a hand was taking place involving a couple of others across the table. It might have seemed like an intrusion, but it was done somewhat discreetly and all seemed amenable.

    Like I say, I think it all runs well mainly because by now everyone -- players included -- are accustomed to the fact that the tournament is also an event designed to be promoted in various ways via live reporting, streaming of feature tables online, interviews throughout, and so on. I’d suggest the WSOP could probably still incorporate some of these ideas to help standardize (and improve) coverage of its events, especially the preliminary ones, although to be honest there’s much less media attention of WSOP prelims than these EPT Mains.

    The day went relatively quickly -- just five 90-minute levels with breaks in between each -- and we were out of the casino by about 10 o’clock. From there we made our way through the cold windy night to the small city center to enjoy a late dinner at Il Parasole, a nice Italian place where I enjoyed a three-course meal of fritto misto (calamari), penne pasta, and a delicious dessert of dôme glacé au chocolat.

    Got back by midnight or so and had a quick Skype chat with Vera while she was driving in a car in North Carolina. As someone who grew up in an age without cell phones or the internet, I remain in awe of how such things work.

    Back to it. Follow along both the Main Event and High Roller over at PokerNews.

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    Wednesday, February 06, 2013

    Travel Report: 2013 EPT Deauville Main Event, Day 2

    Was another gray, windy day in Deauville yesterday. A few drops of rain caused me to stick my umbrella in my bag for the short walk over to the Casino Barrière de Deauville yesterday morning, and it was still cool and brisk for the walk back around late last night.

    We had a somewhat shorter day of it yesterday at the PokerStars.fr EPT Deauville Main Event, as they played two fewer levels and skipped the dinner break. After we finished, Matt, Chris, and I again ate at the Le Plaza Café in the casino, where I enjoyed a tasty dish of cuisse de canard (duck leg) with potatoes and a salad. Have really only been able to have one meal each day, getting coffee in the mornings at the hotel’s buffet and snacking on sandwiches and such otherwise. But I have eaten relatively well here thus far.

    From 782 starters they are down to 154 already, which means the money bubble will burst sometime today (at 120). Also means we’ll probably have a relatively short day either today or tomorrow, as they’ll aim to play down to 24 by the end of Thursday, then down to eight on Friday to ready for Saturday’s final table.

    Nearly half of the entrants were French (385), with no other country even coming close to that percentage. The next closest is Russia (43), Germany (40), and the U.K. (36), while the U.S. only sent 10 players. Here’s a nifty pie chart from EPT Media Co-ordinator Mad Harper reflecting the nationalities of the players:



    Andrei Stoenescu of Romania leads currently. He made an EPT Main Event final table last year in Madrid, finishing third. And Zimnan “Zimmie” Ziyard, winner of EPT Loutraki in 2011, is in second position. Others with big stacks going into Day 3 include James Mitchell, Sam Grafton, Gordon Huntly, Jason Koon, and Pascal LeFrancois.

    Tons of Team PokerStars Pros here, as expected, though just three are still alive through Day 2: Matthias de Meulder, Sandra Naujoks, Vanessa Rousso. Both Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille played in this event, too, although both went out during play yesterday.

    A couple of our fearsome foursome of bloggers will be splitting off on Thursday and Friday to cover the High Roller event. That one has a €10,000 + €300 buy-in with a single rebuy, and will be played eight-handed. Last year saw 72 entries in the High Roller, with the Frenchman Eric Sfez coming out on top.

    Am hoping to get out here at some point to explore some of the shops and places we have been seeing on our walks to and from the casino. Also expect with an early night in here somewhere to get out to one of the several restaurants being recommended to me by the guys who have been here before.

    Back to the poker today, though. As always, you can follow along over at PokerNews and on the PokerStars blog.

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