Friday, August 30, 2013

Barcelona Bound

Am packing once more here as I prepare to fly out this afternoon to join the PokerStars crew and help cover the European Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event for the PokerStars blog. This is the start of Season 10 of the EPT, and there’s a lot of excitement surrounding both the tour getting going again and the fact that Barcelona -- seemingly everyone’s favorite stop -- is the site of the coming week’s proceedings.

Will be an especially busy scene there. Besides the EPT Barcelona series (with 27 different tournaments), the Spain-based Estrellas Poker Tour is having its stop at Barcelona as well (with eight more events). The Estrellas events got going on Wednesday, and I believe all of these tournaments will be completed by next Saturday, September 7.

The EPT is thriving. Just looking at the turnouts for the EPT Barcelona Main Events for the last few years, they’ve been increasing at a rapid clip. Since they changed the buy-in to €5,000 + €300 for Season 7, the field sizes have been 758 entries (EPT7), 811 (EPT8), and 1,082 (EPT9). Talking to players both at the WSOP and afterwards and overhearing some of the table talk earlier this week in Florida, it definitely sounds like the ME will at least challenge last year’s total.

As I try to remember my passport, power converters, and other essentials, I’m currently tuning into the EPT Live stream on which they’re already showing action from the Casino de Barcelona at Hotel Arts where the €48,500 + €1,500 buy-in “Super High Roller” is already underway.

Kind of funny to see the same guys I was reporting on just a couple of days ago in the World Poker Tour Alpha8 Florida event sitting around the tables there in Barcelona, including that event’s winner Steven Silverman. Like the Alpha8, this EPT Super High Roller also features unlimited re-entries (up until the beginning of Day 2).

As I’ve mentioned here before, I lived in France for a whole year once but somehow never made it to Spain despite having thought about tripping down there on more than one occasion during that time. Am thus very excited about getting this opportunity.

Gonna have to cut things off here now. Talk to you again from the other side of the Atlantic.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Defending MyStack

On the way home from Florida yesterday I listened to the latest episode of the always interesting and entertaining Two Plus Two Pokercast (episode 283). Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz spent a lot of time at the beginning discussing this week’s tournaments down at the Seminole Hard Rock, focusing in particular on the $100K WPT Alpha8 Florida event I’d been there to cover and the $10 million guaranteed SHRPO Main Event that finished up yesterday.

During the discussion of the SHRPO ME the pair became very critical of the PokerNews MyStack App, kind of railing against it somewhat unfairly, I thought, although it seemed as though their comments were based on a misunderstanding about PokerNews’s coverage of the SHRPO ME. (By the way, I was not there for PN, but rather reporting on the Alpha8 for the World Poker Tour.)

Used to the usual full-blown live reporting, chip count updates, and reports of results that PokerNews generally provides for tournaments, I think Mike and Adam were expecting something similar when it came to this event, although in truth PokerNews didn’t send a full crew to Florida, instead only having Rich Ryan file some feature stories each day (which I thought did a pretty good job of updating readers about what was happening day-to-day). That is to say Rich wasn’t doing the typical live reporting of hands and action nor was he updating chip counts, although the PN site did enable the MyStack app to be used by players if they wished.

Rather, the SHRPO hired a team to do the live reporting which could be found on their own website. Included in that coverage was a feed that came via PokerNews included player-entered MyStack updates, which I think understandably caused some confusion for those who casually followed the coverage on the SHRPO site.

At a glance one saw a list of chip counts on the front page of the SHRPO site (with “MyStack App Chip Counts” noted above), but those were only the counts players had been entering with the app. In fact, even though the tournament ended yesterday, that list is still visible on the landing page, although now with no players listed as I assume the feed has been stopped.

So the same list of “MyStack” counts was being shown on the SHRPO site and over at PokerNews as the tournament played out, but that list was never a full one and was a little misleading insofar as it looked like a regular chip counts list but only included a small percentage of players in the tournament.

Meanwhile the SHRPO team was providing their own counts -- gathered by their reporting team -- which did not incorporate the MyStack counts. This is where some misunderstanding arose, I’m sure. If one poked around the SHRPO site one found two sets of counts, but only the reporter-created one was really representative of the tourney (i.e., had the leaders’ counts and most players’). I only casually followed the coverage on the SHRPO site while reading a lot of Rich’s articles on the Main Event along the way, but I saw enough of the set-up to understand why it could be confusing, and why Mike and Adam sounded a little frustrated about following the counts from the event.

Like I say, in Mike and Adam’s brief discussion about the chip count issue they spent most of the time dismissing the MyStack app as a worthless tool that hurt rather than helped tourney coverage. But in my view they arrived at that conclusion incorrectly, basing it on the probably not-so-great experiment with the app that was tried at SHRPO. The fact is, the app was used to great effect all through the WSOP (I thought), where the players’ chip counts updates were incorporated into those being entered by those of us reporting on the event. (I wrote about the app back in May when it was first introduced.)

In their discussion Mike and Adam seized on the example of Terrence Chan having entered his chip count at some point with the app, then later busting from the tournament and not bothering to update his count to reflect he was out of the tournament. Since the MyStack counts weren’t being incorporated into a larger, reporter-updated list of counts, his stack was never changed to “0” and thus gave the wrong impression that he was still in the tournament.

That was not a problem at the WSOP this summer, because if the same scenario occurred with Chan one of the reporters would bust him from the counts. Other issues with the app that Mike and Adam described -- e.g., players reporting themselves as having more chips than they actually had, players not reporting chip decreases and only increases, etc. -- weren’t really issues at all at the WSOP thanks to the fact that reporters were monitoring the players’ updates and ensuring there wasn’t anything out-of-the-ordinary happening with the counts.

That’s not to say the reporting of chip counts was flawlessly performed at the WSOP -- by players or reporters -- but it did seem to me the MyStack app worked fairly well as a significant supplement to the reporting, and probably shouldn’t be rejected as worthless (especially based on how it was used in connection with the SHRPO Main Event).

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 Florida, Day 2 -- Florida Finale

The second and last day of the $100,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Alpha8 Florida event played out in relatively rapid fashion, with play starting a little after noon yesterday and wrapping up around 11 p.m. or thereabouts. Steven Silverman ended up winning the sucker, outlasting current WSOP Main Event chip leader J.C. Tran to take the title after a brief heads-up battle.

That up above is a shot Joe Giron took yesterday for the WPT from up in the bleachers looking down on the playing area I was describing before. Kind of an uncanny-looking scene from that vantage point.

Josh and I arrived and set up late morning, then mostly were behind the laptops entering hands, our day broken up a couple of times by breaks. One came early on after Bill Perkins busted in ninth, at which point the crew took some time setting up to shoot the official eight-handed final table. Then another short dinner break came later after start-of-day leader Matt Glantz busted in fourth for a “min-cash” of $243,180.

During that first break Josh and I took a walk around the Seminole Hard Rock property, taking a look at the modest water fountain show play out (kind of a mini-version of the Bellagio’s) while noting the small lizards positioned in the greenery around the water’s perimeter. With temps in the 80s it’s definitely a pleasant time to be in south Florida, and I can imagine a trip to the Seminole might offer a lot to entertain visitors with its sights, shopping, shows, and of course, the casino.

Following that second break for dinner Jeff Gross went out in third for a $364,770 cash. Silverman led Tran slightly to start heads-up play, and Tran even grabbed an early lead before Silverman earned a big double-up and then finished off Tran shortly thereafter. Tran took away $526,890 while “Zugwat” won $891,660. (Hell of a year playing out for Tran, eh?)

Silverman also won a huge trophy shaped as the number “8” -- not sure what it is made of, but it looks silver, man.

None of the four cashers had re-entered the event, and none of the three players who bought in twice cashed. Isaac Haxton was one of those who’d fired twice, and he unfortunately finished fifth after leading with five to go then experiencing some misfortune to fall on the bubble.

As I was saying earlier in the week, more Alpha8 events are certainly in the works, so it’ll be curious to see how this “super high roller” tour fares and whether it ultimately manages to attract the participation of those who regularly play the six-figure events elsewhere during the year.

After all was done and the final interviews were shot, the whole “WPT family” assembled around the table for a final group picture and before too long we were packing up and heading back to the hotel. Got a reasonable night’s sleep, then this morning was able to meet an old student of mine who lives in the area and had contacted me not long ago. Kind of a highlight of the trip to reunite and catch up with him.

Overall it was a fun few days and I got a kick out of getting to know some of the WPT folks and seeing how a yet another group -- an especially well-seasoned and talented one in this case -- puts on and covers a poker tourney.

Looking forward now to getting home and resting up today and tomorrow before flying to Spain on Friday where I’ll again see a lot of the players and other media folks who were here in Florida this week. I guess this was sort of an end-of-summer bash for a lot of folks, with “school” (or the regular curriculum) about to be back in session starting with the always popular EPT Barcelona stop.

Then again, to paraphrase that Emerson, Lake and Palmer quote on the wall at the Seminole Hard Rock, the traveling circus that is the professional poker tourney circuit is kind of the show that never ends.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 Florida, Day 1 -- Lights, Camera, Action

Was a long one yesterday, starting well before noon and not ending until around 2:30 a.m. as the first day of the two-day, $100,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Alpha8 Florida event played out at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. Will probably be another lengthy day today as a winner will need to be found from the nine players who remain in the event.

The day started quietly with only seven players gathered around one of the secondary tables. Soon a couple more showed and they redrew for two tables, then several more trickled in to build a total field of 18 unique players. Three would end up re-entering the event, making 21 entries altogether and a prize pool of just over $2 million.

The final total might have been higher if not for the fact that a few players were still alive over in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 Million Guaranteed Main Event. For example, both Justin Bonomo and David “Doc” Sands might have played had they not continued their runs over there into yesterday evening (both are still among the 21 still fighting for the $1.7 million-plus first prize over there). In fact Matt Glantz who currently leads the Alpha8 might not have been able to play if he hadn’t been knocked out late in the afternoon in the SHRPO at which point he came over to late register.

The tourney is being held in the “Hard Rock Live” arena where concerts are staged. Posters of Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, and some others due to perform there in the coming weeks greet players and staff as they enter and walk past the box office. Once inside there are tall bleachers rising up all four sides of the large space, with the tournament housed inside curtained walls in the center of the floor. Within those walls are tables with the main feature table sitting in what almost resembles a high-end living room with a large area nearby for the show’s presenters to shoot their segments.

The small field and lavish set helped create a somewhat unusual atmosphere for a poker tournament. At one point Josh mentioned it reminded him of the high-stakes poker tourney in 2006’s Casino Royale. Later we ran over to visit the guys covering Day 3 of the SHRPO Main Event and I mentioned to B.J. Nemeth how the bright white chairs and spotless set seemed kind of like sterilized environment, resembling one in which surgery is performed.

The scene appeared quite relaxed especially early on when the stacks were all super deep (they started with an average of 250 big blinds). Even when players began getting short and eventually busting, there was little drama or theatrics from anyone with all being friendly and professional throughout as is often the case in these huge buy-in events.

Meanwhile the table talk came and went, and was often interesting to overhear.

Tom Hall -- a.k.a. “Hong Kong Tom” -- talked some about the big games in Macau, comparing notes with others who’ve made the trip and also contrasting those games with other big ones around the world.

Isaac Haxton shared an idea with his table for re-entry events that involved giving players who re-enter after the blinds have increased more than the original starting stack, something which seemed to intrigue the others.

Philipp Gruissem told Matt Glantz how they’d played against each other in Gruissem’s first ever “high roller”-type event, the $25K 6-max. at the World Series of Poker back in 2010.

The always entertaining Bill Perkins was there, too, surviving to today albeit as the short stack. He often had tablemates smiling and laughing with his banter, and indeed the general mood was reserved but upbeat throughout.

I haven’t even asked anybody specifically about that name -- “Alpha8” -- although watching the action yesterday it became somewhat apparent that besides the reference to eight-handed play, this was kind of an “alpha” group of players we were watching, both in terms of talent level and having the rolls with which to play in an event such as this one without being affected too greatly by the expense.

The reporting side of things went well, with lots of support from the very friendly and helpful World Poker Tour folks who have had many years of putting on tournaments. More than once I’ve had people referring to the “WPT family” as they welcomed me and offered whatever assistance I might need. Speaking of the WPT regulars, I saw and spoke briefly with tourney director Matt Savage who I’m very glad to report seems to be doing well following that scary water slide-related injury he suffered not long ago.

As mentioned nine made it through to today, although only the top four will be making the cash. At eight-handed they’ll begin the official final table, at which point the live stream will crank up over on the WPT website. They were shooting all day yesterday for the later Fox Sports 1 showing of the event, and that will continue in earnest again today, too.

Should make for another interesting day, I think, and as I say likely a long one, although not as long as had been originally anticipated had the field turned out to be twice the size it was. Joining Glantz and Perkins will be Haxton, Daniel Alaei, Steven Silverman, Jason Mercier, Joseph Cheong, Jeff Gross, and current WSOP Main Event chip leader and November Niner J.C. Tran.

If you’re curious to see how it plays out, click over today to the WPT site for both the live updates and the streaming video.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 Florida, Arrival -- High Rolling

A travel day yesterday as I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale for a quick trip to help cover the inaugural Alpha8 event at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood that starts today.

As you’ve probably heard, these Alpha8 events are all going to be “high roller” -- or, really, “super high roller” -- tourneys with big, big buy-ins. This one is for $100,000, with re-entries possible, too, until the start of the fifth 60-minute level (I believe). Other stops haven’t been announced yet, but I know there are more coming.

Got in early afternoon and after hanging out for a while at the nearby hotel where I’m staying finally got some dinner and went over to the SHR for a quick looksee. A very nice property, with a nifty outdoor pedestrian mall which was quite pleasant to walk through on a warm Florida evening. Looking up at the open sky I was reminded of the Venetian’s faux ceiling and couldn’t help making a joke to Eric and Josh, my partners in crime on this adventure.

“The sky looks so real! Uncanny!”

Our visit last night included stopping over at a party at Matarano’s to socialize a bit and watch Steve Matarano himself deliver a quick lesson how to make mozzarella (or “mooz-arella” as he calls it). We also ran by to see the now-completed, immaculate Alpha8 set. (That’s a teaser pic above tweeted out from the @WPT_Alpha8 account yesterday.)

The tourney will be televised on Fox Sports 1, and so there’s quite the set-up in place in order to capture all of the action. There will be live streaming over on the WPT site tomorrow for the final table as well, which will give those who are interested a chance to get a look at how everything has been staged.

The Alpha8 is actually positioned on the opposite side of the casino from that ongoing $10 million guaranteed Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open which did, in fact, successfully attract more than 2000 maniacs to play the $5K tourney and thus met its guarantee. We took a stroll over there, too, to visit with Mickey and Paul and some other familiar folks as that tourney played down to 100 players last night.

Our event will begin and end before the SHRPO completes on Wednesday, which means we’re definitely going to be having a couple of super long days both today and tomorrow in order to complete the Alpha8 on schedule. No idea how many entrants there will be. I’m hearing estimates ranging from 20 on up to 40, so it will definitely be an intimate gathering with many of the usual high-rolling suspects involved.

Kind of interesting to be here, and fun to reunite with lots of buds while meeting some new ones among the WPT crowd. Does feel like the great majority of the poker world has descended on the Seminole Hard Rock this week, as they’ve snuck these events in during a convenient gap between other events and tours, with that $10 milly guarantee having done the job getting players’ attention.

Click on over to the WPT site today for our live updates as Josh and I report and our friend Joe Giron snaps the pics.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Two Thousand Maniacs!

A half-century ago, a former English professor turned movie maker named Herschell Gordon Lewis collaborated with a carnival worker named David Friedman to make what at the time were some of the most popular and most vile films to receive wide distribution. They’d already collaborated on a few so-called “nudie cutie” films by then, but it was their launching of what would come to be known as the “gore” genre with 1963’s Blood Feast that ensured them a permanent, curious place in B-movie history.

Blood Feast presents a crazed food caterer named Fuad Ramses who butchers a lengthy series of victims in preparation for the feast of the film’s title, some sort of sacrificial meal designed to further his worship of an Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. The film stars June 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason whose acting ability is as severely limited as most of the others in the cast. The script is laughable, the direction incompetent, and the story only barely coherent.

It was an enormous hit. With a budget of $24,500, the film is said to have made about $4 million at the box office, mostly at the hundreds of drive-ins then in operation. All because of the film’s outrageously graphic gore effects and subsequent word-of-mouth that worked a lot more effectively in those pre-VCR days.

The pair would swiftly produce a second “gore” flick starring Mason, a kind of demented reworking of the famous musical Brigadoon in which some unwitting Northerners get themselves lost in the deep South, ultimately getting lured to a strange town called Pleasant Valley where some sort of centennial celebration is happening. Turns out the town is full of crazies seeking vengeance for a Civil War massacre that occurred at Pleasant Valley a hundred years before. Bad news for the Yankee tourists!

The film’s title you might have guessed -- Two Thousand Maniacs! It’s better made than Blood Feast, although so are most home movies. It’s also a more genuinely disturbing film, or at least it was when I first saw it as a teenager many years ago. Again with a miniscule budget (just $65K), they filmed it in two weeks down in St. Cloud, Florida. And once again the movie made a huge return at the box office, helping further establish a template for low-budgeted horror that has been followed repeatedly ever since.

Like Deliverance, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and countless other “hillbilly horrors” would later do, Two Thousand Maniacs! portrays the South as a nightmarish hell which those from the North should avoid at all costs. Ironically, the film was hugely popular in the South, especially around here in North Carolina where Charlotte and the surrounding towns were a kind of focal point for drive-ins during their heyday.

Speaking of people traveling south and taking risks, this Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open that got underway yesterday has interestingly grabbed the poker world’s attention, the tournament playing out about three-and-a-half hours south of St. Cloud. Most of the buzz stems from the fact that the $5,000+$300 buy-in event is sporting an eye-popping $10 million guarantee.

That means in order to make that guarantee they’ll need to attract exactly 2,000 entries. Madness incarnate!

Or is it? Yesterday saw 634 entrants all told, and it sounds like they’ve already got more than 500 during the first couple of hours today. There are three Day 1 flights. Players who bust the tournament are able to re-enter as many times as they wish, including re-entering on the same day if they’ve yet to reach the dinner break when late registration closes. Those ending one of the first two Day 1s with less than the starting stack can forfeit their stack and re-enter on a subsequent Day 1, too, with the full starting stack.

Will they make it 2,000 entries? Appears as though they might. In a piece yesterday for PokerNews, Rich Ryan sounds like he thinks they’ll get there, with one of the reasons being the significant growth of poker in Florida of late. Indeed, poker has been booming in the state over the last three years since the passage of legislation to allow for uncapped no-limit games.

I’ll be traveling down to the SHR this weekend to help report on the first ever Alpha8 tournament being staged there by the World Poker Tour, a $100,000 buy-in event that should attract a few of those maniacs already there for the $10 milly guaranteed. Looking forward to that as well as to get a glimpse of the other action and reunite with my many buds already there.

Will be on the lookout, though, for any sketchy-looking detour signs on the way down.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cards and Communism

My ongoing Nixon studies have led me to spend time lately reading about the “red scare” days of the late 1940s and 1950s, that period during which Tricky Dick launched his political career. Like many of the day, Nixon presented himself early on as a strident opponent of Communism thanks especially to his service as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee and his prominent role in the Alger Hiss case.

It was a popular and winning strategy then for many political candidates to portray themselves as fighters of Communism while casting their opponents as either soft on Communism or “reds” themselves. From this distance, it might be hard to appreciate both the rise in popularity of Communism in the U.S. during the years leading up to WWII, and also the hysteria associated with identifying and casting out those suspected of adhering to the ideology afterwards. But it’s impossible to think about U.S. politics of that era -- or, really, the culture in general -- without recognizing the importance of that issue.

In his memoirs, Nixon describes himself as having been basically ambivalent about Communism until 1946 and Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech (delivered after a somewhat famous poker game, incidentally). Then, of course, as happened with many, Nixon becomes fairly consumed by fighting this enemy within. The Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy would of course become the legislator most wholly defined by that fight, his identity being absorbed into a counter-ideology of its own, “McCarthyism.”

My interest in Nixon was first fueled by his poker playing, and as it happens McCarthy was also apparently an avid poker player. Around the time Nixon was attending law school at Duke during the 1930s, McCarthy was in law school at Marquette University and it was there he is said to have devoted a lot of time playing poker with his Delta Theta Phi fraternity brothers.

In When Even Angels Wept: The Senator Joseph McCarthy Affair (1973), historian Lately Thomas wrote about McCarthy’s competitiveness in school, with boxing and poker being a couple of the contexts in which he would often display the trait. Thomas writes of how McCarthy earned respect from others thanks to his intensely “demonic poker playing.”

“The game was no pastime to him, but every hand a life-and-death struggle,” writes Thomas. “He bluffed so outrageously it was impossible to outguess him, and consequently, when he won, he frequently won big.” He continued to play after graduating and during his first few months as a struggling lawyer “his poker playing managed to keep him going.”

Later on after McCarthy was elected to the senate in 1946 (the same year Nixon won his first seat in the House), it sounds like he experienced a kind of letdown after having accomplished the goal of becoming a senator. Thomas suggests “he kept up his addiction to roughhouse poker” in order to satisfy the urge to compete while feeling otherwise “boxed in.”

“Since achieving his goal, he had been without direction," writes Thomas, "flitting restlessly from the frivolous to the dubious... and finding the most congenial outlet for his fiercely competitive energy in marathon sessions of cutthroat poker.”

But as with Nixon, Churchill’s speech gave McCarthy a new focus and before too long a volatile kind of celebrity as he took up the anti-Communist cause with greater enthusiasm than anyone, being as “demonic” in that pursuit as he’d been with poker. Not only did his new campaign provide an outlet for what proved a dangerous, high stakes variety of competition, but also one in which he would engage in a lot of big-time bluffing, too.

There’s more to the story of McCarthy’s poker playing. If you’re curious, a column from Poker Player Newspaper about him from several years ago shares some more anecdotes from his card-playing career, including one revealing him to be a willing cheater, too.

One of the ways poker gets identified as an especially “American” game has to do with the way the game kind of mimics the system of free enterprise and other hallmarks of capitalism that were understood by many half a century ago to have been threatened by Communism. Not such a coincidence, I guess, to find vociferous opponents of Communism like McCarthy and Nixon to have been devoted poker players, too.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Making and Breaking Rules

The great crime fiction writer Elmore Leonard passed away yesterday at age 87.

I’m acquainted with a few Leonard titles, although wasn’t as huge a devotee as some. I remember reading several of his books long ago, well before I was old enough to appreciate either the writing or the genre, although I did enjoy them.

Later on one of his books, one with a card game-related title, 52 Pick-Up (1974), did provide some inspiration for my Same Difference both with its subject matter and ’70s setting. I suppose also Leonard’s famously “lean” style was something I tried to demonstrate in my novel, too, although I had other authors like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Charles Willeford, and Jim Thompson more consciously in mind as models.

Noticed a lot of people passing around Leonard’s 10 rules for writers yesterday, which contains a few good reminders not just for fiction writers but those attempting other kinds of writing, too.

Raymond Chandler was another favorite whom I tried to ape, a writer whose style is decidedly not-so-lean when compared to these others. One of Leonard’s rules is “Never open a book with weather” and another is to “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” Chandler breaks both rules in the opening paragraph of The Big Sleep, and to great effect, too.

Of the nine rules in Leonard’s list, four start with the word “never,” two with “avoid,” one with “don’t,” and the other two warn about keeping one practice “under control” while indulging in another “sparingly.”

I’m reminded of George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language” which also includes a lot of advice about trimming unwanted fat from one’s prose, including a similar catalogue of do’s and dont’s. Orwell ends his list with a final rule to “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous,” and I think it’s clear Leonard also at least indirectly qualifies all of his advice with the unstated disclaimer that rules can be broken in special circumstances.

In poker we often encounter strategy writers doing their best not to put forth rules that suggest one should “always” or “never” do this or that. But in truth, it is sometimes helpful -- in writing and in poker -- to start with an absolute as a kind of guide or default strategy, then permit yourself to do otherwise although with full awareness that you are breaking a rule.

So I might indulge in a detailed description of a character every now and then, just like I might occasionally call a raise from out of position. But I’ll do so consciously, knowing just like Philip Marlowe knows when he walks into General Sternwood’s place in the second paragraph of The Big Sleep that trouble might await.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Poker All Over As Tours Start Back

Taking note these days of the various tours all starting to crank back up now that the 2013 World Series of Poker is now just a speck in the rear view mirror.

The 2013-14 World Series of Poker Circuit is off and running with the first of 22 scheduled stops already completed. Like last year, each stop of the WSOP-C is following a similar format with 12 events highlighted by a $1,675 buy-in Main Event in which the winner earns a spot in the season-ending WSOP National Championship along with the first prize cash.

The Foxwoods Main Event completed yesterday with Jason Strasser topping a field of 591 to earn the ring and $186,600 first prize. Seems like I was just at Foxwoods for the last WSOP-C ME there, won by Kevin “BeL0WaB0Ve” Saul back in April, one of the last stops of the 2012-13 WSOP-C campaign. Saul beat a field of 615 to win $194,178.

Was perusing the WSOP’s live updates from the Foxwoods event today and saw the inclusion of a nifty replayer in which one can watch all 218 hands from the final table. That’s in addition to extensive reporting from all three days of the tournament as well. Seek that replayer out among the WSOP site’s live updates (I can't link directly to the replayer).

Here’s the full 2013-14 WSOP-C schedule:

  • Aug. 8-19, 2013 -- Foxwoods (CT)
  • Sept. 5-16, 2013 -- IP Casino Resort & Spa (Biloxi, MS)
  • Sept. 19-30, 2013 -- Horseshoe Cincinnati
  • Oct. 3-14, 2013 -- Horseshoe Southern Indiana
  • Oct. 17-28, 2013 -- Horseshoe Hammond (Chicago)
  • Oct. 24-Nov. 4, 2013 -- Harveys Lake Tahoe (Stateline, NV)
  • Oct. 28-Nov. 8, 2013 -- River Rock (Vancouver, Canada)
  • Nov. 7-18, 2013 -- Horseshoe Bossier City (Lousiana)
  • Nov. 13-24, 2013 -- Casino Montreal (Montreal, Canada)
  • Nov. 29-Dec. 9, 2013 -- Harrah’s Atlantic City
  • Dec. 5-16, 2013 -- Harrah’s Rincon (San Diego area)
  • Jan. 9-20, 2014 -- Choctaw Durant (Dallas/Oklahoma)
  • Jan. 23-Feb. 3 2014 -- Harrah’s Tunica (MS)
  • Feb. 6-17, 2014 -- Palm Beach Kennel Club (Florida)
  • Feb. 20-Mar. 3, 2014 -- Caesars Palace (Las Vegas)
  • Mar. 6-17, 2014 -- The Bicycle Casino (Los Angeles)
  • Mar. 20-31, 2014 -- Horseshoe Cleveland
  • Apr. 3-14, 2014 -- Harrah’s Cherokee (NC)
  • Apr. 10-21, 2014 -- Horseshoe Council Bluffs (Iowa/Omaha)
  • Apr. 17-28, 2014 -- Harrah’s Philadelphia
  • Apr. 24-May 5, 2014 -- The Lodge Casino, Black Hawk (Colo.)
  • May 8-19, 2014 -- Harrah’s New Orleans
  • May 2014 -- Caesars Atlantic City, National Championship

    Meanwhile, the World Poker Tour’s Season XII has already gotten underway with the bwin WPT Merit Cyprus Classic at the Merit Crystal Cove Hotel Casino in Kyrenia, Cyprus.

    Today they played down to a final six-handed table from a starting field of 262 in the $4,400 buy-in event with Alexey Rybin leading. Rybin led at the end of his Day 1 flight and at the end of Days 2 and 3 as well. First prize earns $258,000 in that one.

    From Cyprus the WPT hops over to the Bicycle Casino in California for the Legends of Poker then the WPT Foundation Ladies’ Night Invitational, then continues to hop around from continent to continent until the season ends with the $25K WPT World Championship at the Bellagio next May.

    Here’s the schedule for the first half of WPT Season XII:

  • Aug. 16-21, 2013 -- bwin WPT Merit Cyprus Classic
  • Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2013 -- WPT Legends of Poker (Bell Gardens, CA)
  • Sept. 5, 2013 -- WPT Foundation Ladies’ Night Invitational (Bell Gardens, CA)
  • Sept. 15-20, 2013 -- WPT Borgata Poker Open (Atlantic City, NJ)
  • Oct. 25-30, 2013 -- bwin WPT Grand Prix de Paris
  • Nov. 7-11, 2013 -- WPT Emperors Palace Poker Classic (Johannesburg, S. Africa)
  • Nov. 15-19, 2013 -- WPT bestbet Jacksonville Fall Poker Scramble
  • Nov. 19-24, 2013 -- WPT Caribbean (Maho Bay, St. Maarten)
  • Nov. 29-Dec. 5, 2013 -- PartyPoker WPT Montreal
  • Dec. 6-Dec. 11, 2013 -- WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Dec. 16-19, 2013 -- WPT South Korea
  • Dec. 15-21, 2013 -- bwin WPT Prague

    The WPT also has a pretty full “Regional & National Schedule” of events with a dozen stops all over the U.S. and in Morocco, Spain, France, and China. The WPT additionally has that new “Alpha8” schedule of high-roller tournaments with buy-ins of at least $100,000 that gets going next week down at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. I’ll be heading down to do some reporting for that one, actually, and like many am looking forward to seeing how that new series plays out.

    Finally, many in the poker world are excited about Season 10 of the European Poker Tour getting underway next week in Barcelona, Spain. All of the EPT 10 stops feature many events, with the Barcelona one including 27 different tournaments plus eight more Estrellas Poker Tour events going on as well.

    Highlights from the EPT Barcelona stop will include the €50,000 Super High Roller event, a €10,300 regular High Roller event, and the €5,300 Main Event. I’m actually getting a chance to go report on the EPT Barcelona Main Event as well, and so expect I’ll be sharing some observations from that trip here, too.

    Here’s the full EPT Season 10 schedule in which the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure gets included:

  • Aug. 26-Sept. 7, 2013 -- EPT Barcelona (Spain)
  • Oct. 2-12, 2013 -- EPT London (England)
  • Dec. 8-18, 2013 -- EPT Prague (Czech Republic)
  • Jan. 4-13, 2014 -- 2014 PCA (Bahamas)
  • Jan. 22-Feb. 1, 2014 -- EPT Deauville (France)
  • Mar. 12-22, 2014 -- EPT Berlin (Germany)
  • Apr. 6-16, 2014 -- EPT San Remo (Italy)
  • Apr. 23-May 2, 2014 -- EPT Monte Carlo (Monaco)

    A pretty packed calendar for tourney players, and that’s not even including the many other tours, including the the Latin American Poker Tour (Season 6), the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (Season 7), the United Kingdom & Ireland Poker Tour (Season 4), the Heartland Poker Tour (Season 9), and others already ongoing.

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  • Monday, August 19, 2013

    Links on the Links (Poker and Golf)

    Not too long ago I was writing about golf and how unlike poker it was a sport that readily appealed to spectators who weren’t necessarily players. I wrote mainly from experience -- or should I say, from non-experience -- seeing as how I’d only played golf a couple dozen times in my life and not for around 15 years.

    Well, last Friday I broke my lengthy streak of non-golfing by playing a full round with my father and brother, something the three of us had actually never done before. Like me, they’re both casual golfers although both have been playing now and then over recent years, with Pop having gotten back into the game a lot more since he retired a few years ago. (That’s him up above putting.) But we’d never had a golf outing together, and so besides being fun just spending time with them there was an added novelty to the day as we wound our way around the lengthy course one stroke at a time.

    The only time in my life I ever played golf regularly was in grad school at Indiana, joining some buds at a Par 3 many times and occasionally playing the regular course where students could play on the cheap. Lining up my first tee shot on Friday, I had little confidence I would remember how to swing and strike the ball, but kind of stunningly managed to hit it perfectly about 140 yards right down the middle of the first fairway.

    Of course, things became decidedly less simple as I struggled to recall how to use the irons and wedges, and indeed I can’t really say even after 18 holes that I’d figured out how to handle the middle game. But I did drive okay all day, even hitting a green on a par 3 (the highlight of the afternoon), and while my putting was erratic I at least didn’t feel incompetent once on the greens.

    We didn’t really keep score, and in fact on the back nine decided to play “Captain’s Choice” (a.k.a. “scramble golf”) in order to help speed things along. Again, we were playing my tee shot usually, but after that it was Pop getting us to the greens and then usually one of them getting us to the hole.

    I found myself thinking occasionally of various parallels between golf and poker, of which there are many. At one point I remembered a “Pop Poker” piece I wrote for PokerListings a while ago in which I talked with Tom Schneider about some of those connections as well as “Why Poker Pros Love Gambling on Golf.”

    It’s pretty easy to think of a single hole of golf as being like a poker hand, and when I say I was fairly comfortable with my tee shots but not so much afterwards it does feel a lot like saying I knew what to do preflop, but would get a little lost on the flop, turn, and/or river. (Indeed, I literally got lost in the river more than once -- that is, the small water hazards that dotted the course.)

    There are myriad other connections between the games, too, perhaps the most obvious being the way both incorporate skill and luck, with the more accomplished players being necessarily less affected by the games’ chance elements, and the novices being more needful to get lucky in order to succeed.

    Both games feature sometimes complicated rules and layers of etiquette. Both are usually played on a soft green surface. Oh, and of course, in both players occasionally need to be mindful of the rake. (Rimshot.)

    Not really seeing myself becoming a regular golfer any time soon, which perhaps evokes yet another personal poker parallel with my choice to remain a “recreational player.” But I definitely was reminded of both the game’s appeal as well as forced to appreciate how mentally and physically challenging the game can be.

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    Friday, August 16, 2013

    The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 21: Lucille Ball

    Years later, my podcast has returned! Episode 21 of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show has now been posted. If you click over to the show’s blog you can see the entry with my “show notes.” You can download the show there (or just listen to it online), or you can just click here. It ought to be turning up in iTunes as well before too long, I imagine. (All of the previous 20 episodes are still there.)

    This episode features the great Lucille Ball and includes some stories about her and Desi Arnaz, a full episode of an old time radio show in which she starred, as well as a couple of funny poker-related excerpts from I Love Lucy. There’s also a pretty humorous (and catchy) song from the Andrews Sisters in there, too, called “Strip Polka.”

    I started the podcast with great enthusiasm long ago, pumping out episodes every two weeks or so there at the beginning, then slowing down the pace but still getting all of the way to Episode 20 fairly quickly. Then a few months passed, I claimed the show was on “hiatus,” and before long it became clear I was drawing thin to ever revive the sucker.

    Not really sure what exactly inspired me finally to pull together a new episode this week, other than having a little bit of free time in between tourney trips and other obligations.

    I actually had ideas for new episodes on multiple occasions over that long period of procrastination, even recording segments and pursuing themes on a couple of occasions. Once my buddy the Poker Grump and I even recorded a conversation about A Streetcar Named Desire that I’d intended to use in an episode, but I never got around to bringing that idea to fruition.

    We’d both written posts about the movie, which in fact incorporates poker in fairly significant ways. Incidentally, here’s his post about the film, titled “Poker, ‘this party of apes,’” and here’s mine, “Men, Women, and Poker in A Streetcar Named Desire.” We both discuss how the film uses poker as a context for exploring the movie’s broader themes regarding men and women and cultural expectations or “gender roles” for each.

    That same topic actually comes up in the old time radio show I highlight in Episode 21, an episode of My Favorite Husband. As I explain on the podcast, the radio show which ran from 1948 to 1951 featured the same sort of situation that would later get picked up and used for the I Love Lucy show that premiered in 1951 -- that is, a domestic setting with Ball starring as a housewife and getting into funny situations with her working husband. In fact, the TV show even borrowed some of the plots from the radio show, including the one I play on the podcast.

    As you might have guessed, the episode finds Lucy -- on the radio show playing a character named Liz Cooper -- jumping into her husband’s poker game, a men-only sphere in which her presence creates some conflict. However, unlike in A Streetcar Named Desire, the result of the conflict are lots of laughs and no tense-filled drama.

    Anyhow, check out the show if you’re curious. Despite all the time passing, I basically made the episode without any significant change to the format and without even making too much of a deal of having let so much time go by between shows. The idea for the podcast all along has been to create shows that weren’t time-bound in any way, meaning you could listen to them at any time and they’d still make sense and be as interesting or entertaining as when they were first created.

    If you do happen to listen, I’d love feedback either here on this post, over on the post on the HBPRS blog, or via reviews in iTunes. Would also like suggestions, too, for future shows, if anyone’s got ’em.

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    Thursday, August 15, 2013

    Hellmuth and the Hoi Polloi

    Haven’t really been watching the WSOP broadcasts on ESPN that closely this summer. The Main Event coverage has been on for the last couple of weeks. I know this is becoming kind of an annual refrain from me, but with every passing year I’ve moved further and further from wanting to spend a couple of hours on a weeknight watching the WSOP ME.

    There are a few reasons for my edging away from being a regular viewer, one of which I was writing about last Friday -- namely, playing less poker (I believe) makes one less enthused to watch others play. With the WSOP ME, of course, I have a particular, personal reason to be a little less inspired to watch after having been there all summer reporting on the sucker. Sort of thing cuts into the suspense more than a little, although it’s still kind of fun occasionally to tune in and search backgrounds for familiar faces.

    I did happen to catch part of the first hour the other night, however, which found ESPN showing more from Day 3. Much of that hour was devoted to featuring Phil Hellmuth nursing a short stack, then finally getting eliminated.

    At one point we see Hellmuth play a hand versus Dennis Reyes. Both are sitting with below average stacks, and when they get to the turn on a nine-high board Reyes shoves with pocket jacks. Hellmuth -- with king-high and a flush draw -- takes a big bite of his sandwich, offers a short speech, then folds. Then he continues to talk to Reyes through a mouthful of food, delivering the usual low estimate of his opponent’s ability while chompingly championing his own.

    That’s when the show cuts to a one-minute long segment labeled “Side Action” in which Hellmuth and last year’s Main Event runner-up Jesse Sylvia are shown playing in a low stakes no-limit hold’em game over in the poker room on the other side of the Rio.

    Watching this segment caused me to remember having witnessed some discussion of this little idea last month. It was Day 6, I think, well after both Hellmuth and Sylvia had been eliminated from the ME. I recall overhearing folks in the Amazon Room talking about getting Hellmuth down into the poker room, including making sure it would be cool to shoot video there.

    I didn’t realize then that Sylvia was going to be recruited to appear in the segment as well. Anyhow, I know I’m not surprising anyone to report it having been somewhat plotted out ahead of time. In other words, I doubt anyone watching the segment would actually think Hellmuth and Sylvia had randomly decided to play in the game and the cameras just happened to be there to catch it.

    As shown in the segment, Hellmuth and Sylvia take a couple of seats at a $1/$3 NLHE table and appear to have fun playing with those who are gathered there. While we can’t really follow any hands, the pair are apparently losing. Eventually Hellmuth orders some Dom Pérignon for the table, then after saying “you guys are a little bit too tough for us” wishes everyone luck and they depart.

    It looked like those involved enjoyed the visit, which I’m going to guess probably didn’t last more than an orbit or two. I suppose it might seem a little patronizing -- the high rollers stooping to join the hoi polloi -- though I can imagine worse. Hard not to roll the eyes a little, though, when watching Hellmuth play-acting as the life-of-the-party, lovable loser in the $1/$3 game since that character contrasts so markedly with the sniping, unfriendly self he typically appears as when playing “real” poker.

    (Yeah, I know... “the hoi polloi” is redundant. But it makes a weird phrase sound even weirder to omit the article.)

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    Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    Bags of Dreams

    You might have heard something over the last few days about this strange eBay auction in which a seller has been attempting to find someone willing to purchase “FINAL TABLE 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event HEADS UP CHIP BAGS.” That’s right, the lot includes the two big plastic bags in which Peter Eastgate and Ivan Demidov collected their chips prior to their heads-up duel five years ago.

    The seller, a fellow named Scott Neuman, created an elaborate eBay listing that features a couple of pictures of the bags and about a dozen of himself. Also included is the story of how Neuman secured these precious commodities, having bid on the bags himself in an auction for charity conducted by the WSOP following the conclusion of the 2008 Main Event.

    Neuman’s auction probably wouldn’t have gotten much attention in the poker world if not for the fact that someone started a thread regarding it over in Two Plus Two. And that person probably wouldn’t have found the auction or started the thread if it weren’t for the fact that Neuman’s listing price for the two ripped open clear plastic bags was just a little higher than one might expect...

    $15,000! No shinola.

    Alas for Neuman, his auction concluded this morning without a sale. That is to say, he was left holding the bags.

    It looks like there were two offers, both declined. It’s been a number of years since I bought or sold anything on eBay and so I’m not up on how things work there these days, but I assume the offers probably came in a bit below the asking price.

    But wait... good news! He has relisted them! And still at the same bargain price!

    Actually, reading the auction listing more carefully shows that Neuman appears to be attempting to sell the bags as an indirect way of drumming up a kind of backing for his right-on-the-verge-of-finally-breaking-through poker career. Actually, the whole scheme isn’t just indirect, it’s pretty much transparent.

    You know, like the bags.

    As he explains, he intends to use the $15,000 to buy into unspecified poker tournaments. Again, I’m not up on eBay’s policies at the moment, but I’m guessing offering the bags as the nominal sale item is a kind of work-around to simply asking for money to pay for entry fees.

    Additionally, the person forking over the $15K not only gets the bags but the chance at scoring some percentage of Neuman’s winnings from those tourneys, too -- i.e., “a bonus that is completely up to me.” Of course, Neumann can’t specify the amount of that bonus. Nor can he even guarantee there would even be one. Indeed, as he says two times -- the second time using all caps for emphasis -- “I CAN NOT PROMISE I WILL CASH.”

    Caveat emptor, then. The bonus isn’t in the bag.

    Obviously there’s more to the story of this eccentric entrepreneur, and a few idle searches online make it sound like he’s been up to similar shenanigans for a number of years, with a couple of other weird-seeming sponsorship arrangements among his bag of tricks (and only a few modest results over that period).

    Not too interested, really, to discover anything more about this particular character. That is to say, I don’t really care one way or the other what his bag really is.

    Have to admit, though, it’s kind of inspired... this idea to try to sell bags full of nothing.

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    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    The Judges’ Game

    It was almost a year ago that a federal district court judge gave the “poker is a skill game” crowd a rare piece of good news by tossing out the conviction of someone for illegal gambling specifically because the game involved was poker and in the judge’s view poker “is not predominantly a game of chance.”

    The judge was U.S. federal judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York and the case concerned a defendant named Lawrence DiCristina who had been accused of running an illegal gambling club out of a Staten Island warehouse. DiCristina had been convicted a month earlier for violating the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA), but Weinstein’s ruling overturned the conviction while offering copious argument for poker’s skill component.

    The 120-page ruling was notable for a few reasons, one being the fact that it represented a first instance in a federal court of poker being distinguished as a skill game and thus different from certain other types of gambling. Within the ruling appeared discussion from economists arguing both sides of the skill-vs.-luck debate, with the Poker Players Alliance being involved as well as a supplier of briefs and testimony, playing “a central role in the case” (as they later pointed out in their press release).

    For nearly 12 months the case has been brought up repeatedly by the PPA and others who champion the cause of poker being a skill game and thus to be regarded differently from a legal standpoint than other types of gambling. Put together with that Department of Justice memo from late 2011 specifying that the Wire Act only covered sports betting, the DiCristina ruling has sometimes been alluded to amid forecasts for a possibly rosy future for online poker.

    Shortly after we learned of Weinstein’s ruling, our friend Grange95 wrote a thoughtful response over on his crAAKKer blog in which he considered its importance as far as precedents were concerned while also speculating about the likelihood of the ruling surviving appeal. He allowed there was a slim possibility it could be upheld, although ultimately had to conclude it probably would not. “If I were a betting man,” wrote Grange95, “I would wager that the decision is ultimately reversed on appeal” he decided.

    Last week came the news that in fact the appellate court had overturned the ruling, with the three-judge panel reading the IGBA as unambiguously covering the type of activity DiCristina engaged in with his underground poker games.

    Reading through the 23-page decision reversing the earlier ruling, the three judges point out how the IGBA “clearly outlines the activity that it proscribes,” listing its “three elements: (1) the gambling business violates the law of the state in which the business is conducted; (2) the business involves five or more persons who conduct, finance, manage, supervise, direct, or own all or part of such business; and (3) the business has been or remains in substantially continuous operation for a period in excess of thirty days or has a gross revenue of $2,000 in any single day.”

    That the latter two elements were illustrated by DiCristina’s operation were undisputed facts of his case, as the games involved enough people, had gone on long enough, and were of high enough stakes to satisfy each of those. Meanwhile, the first element of the IGBA points back to each state’s definition of illegal gambling, something the IGBA expressly avoids defining itself.

    From what I can tell, the judges weren’t too swayed by the idea put forth in the Weinstein ruling that poker -- or Texas hold’em in particular -- wasn’t to be considered gambling under New York state law, spending some space during the first half of the reversal to point to precedents suggesting otherwise. Ultimately, though, the judges pointed out the whole “skill-vs.-luck” issue was moot here, or “inapposite to this appeal” (to use their phrase).

    While making their case, the judges jump on that part of the Weinstein ruling that tried to say “Only ‘Games of Chance’ are Gambling Under IGBA.” The earlier ruling acknowledged that the “IGBA does not provide explicit criteria for what constitutes gambling,” then decided to do a little reading between the lines to say the various acts that are listed by the IGBA as examples of operating an “illegal gambling business” are unified into a “cohesive group” as “all of the enumerated games are ‘house-banked’ and that chance predominates over skill of the players in determining the outcome.”

    Incidentally those acts listed by the IGBA come in a subsection stating that “‘gambling’ includes but is not limited to pool-selling, bookmaking, maintaining slot machines, roulette wheels or dice tables, and conducting lotteries, policy, bolita, or numbers games, or selling chances therein.”

    The earlier ruling goes on to argue that all of those examples refer to chance-based games. (“Bolita,” by the way, is Spanish for “little ball” and refers to a kind of lottery once popular in Cuba and which was played illegally in Florida during the early-to-mid 20th century.) Coming after the lengthy argument that poker is not a chance-based game, it is concluded that the IGBA doesn’t apply to poker and thus DiCristina can’t be charged with violating the IGBA if poker was the game on offer in his warehouse (“Poker is Not Gambling Under IGBA”).

    But the appellate judges see this whole argument as irrelevant, and for a few reasons. For one, it stubbornly tries to make the IGBA define what gambling is when the IGBA expressly leaves that to the states to decide. It doesn’t matter if poker is gambling or not under the IGBA, the judges point out, because the IGBA leaves that up to the states.

    Secondly, that collection of gambling-related acts isn’t meant to be comprehensive, only offering a sampling of gambling-related activities that “includes but is not limited to” those appearing on the list.

    Furthermore (say the three-judge panel), the list enumerates “acts of running a gambling business,” not acts of gambling. Look back at the list -- it isn’t a list of games, but of examples of running games. “Had Congress intended to limit the reach of the IGBA to businesses operating games of chance,” explain the judges, “it could have done so by inserting that language in subsection.”

    Thus did the judges conclude “we do not need to decide whether poker -- or any other type of gambling -- is sufficiently like the enumerated games to fall within the IGBA. Rather, the gambling activity must only be prohibited by state law and meet the additional criteria set forth in the IGBA.”

    Grange95 pointed out a year ago that even if the DiCristina decision were reversed on appeal -- as has now happened -- “the portion of the decision analyzing the ‘skill game’ argument would potentially still have precedential value.” In other words, future lawyers could still bring it up and point out that the case in which the argument appeared was “reversed on other grounds,” although he points out, too, that in many states the whole skill-vs.-luck issue in poker has been made irrelevant with poker’s grouping with other forms of gambling already having been decided.

    Unlike Grange95 I’m no lawyer, and thus I necessarily feel a little at sea sometimes when trying to parse out meaning from court documents such as these. But I think I understand how this appellate court reversal of the DiCristina case highlights how little the “skill game” argument for poker matters, legally speaking. Right now, anyway.

    Meanwhile, the apparent ease with which Weinstein’s ruling was reversed sure makes what the judges are doing seem like a “skill game.” I mean despite a year’s worth of happy references to Weinstein’s ruling, was there ever really much chance of DiCristina getting lucky here?

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    Monday, August 12, 2013

    When Everything Seems Like Everything Else

    Last Friday I was writing in part about feeling a little distanced from poker at the moment, pointing out how not playing regularly has lessened my enthusiasm somewhat when it comes to watching others play. Yesterday I found myself again kind of in a position of sitting over to the side while others collectively enjoyed participating in a different sort of shared activity.

    It started early yesterday morning on my Twitter feed, countless references to the upcoming episode of Breaking Bad scheduled to premiere on AMC later in the evening. They continued throughout the day, then intensified during the airing of the show and afterwards, with nearly everyone (save a few outliers) in unanimous agreement that it was pretty much the greatest thing ever in the history of everything.

    My tone likely gives away the fact that I’m not a watcher of the show. The fact is, over the last couple of decades I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit of watching TV altogether, other than sports or news. Or, when Vera’s on the couch next to me, various programs about buying or renovating houses on HGTV.

    I can’t even remember the last non-sitcom I made it a point to watch regularly. The old Barry Levinson-produced Homicide: Life on the Street from the 1990s springs to mind as a possible candidate. I seem to remember watching almost all of that first season of Survivor back in 2000, but didn’t continue with it after that and never got into any of the myriad other “reality” shows that have come to dominate since. I always preferred less intense comedies, although even there I never did follow too many, and even fewer today. I’ll burn a half-hour with Family Guy or old eps of Seinfeld or Cheers when they run, but that’s about it.

    For me watching TV remains a non-immersive activity. I never made the transition over to the sort of “binge watching” of TV series that has become the most popular means by which viewers now tend to consume TV shows. We don’t even have DVR, so when we do turn on the tube we’re stuck watching whatever happens to be on at the time (and it has never seemed a burden). We do have a VCR, actually, still hooked up and ready to tape programs, if desired, although we almost never do.

    That said, this weekend I did in fact tape and watch that CNN Films presentation Our Nixon over the weekend, which was kind of intriguing in the way it was driven by Tricky Dick’s supporting cast (Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin) and the home movies each had taken during their years working for him. So it isn’t like I avoided TV altogether. In fact, I even sent a tweet yesterday about the documentary, commending the choice of Kirsty MacColl’s transporting “They Don’t Know” to accompany the opening credits.

    Like everyone else seemed to be doing for much of the rest of the day, I wanted to share with others something about what I was watching on television, I guess in part to see if anyone else was watching, too.

    But all of this about my own TV-consuming habits is really just a digression from the primary point I meant to make regarding all of those Breaking Bad tweets. Obviously they held less meaning for someone who doesn’t watch the show. But I realized something kind of interesting, nonetheless, about the tweets people were sending.

    All wanted to communicate to their followers that they were watching the show, with some going further to praise it within Twitter’s familiar constraints, the character limit presenting an obvious obstacle to more in-depth evaluations or analyses. All were further restricted as well by the need not to speak directly about the episode’s plot or be detailed enough to introduce any “spoilers” for other potential viewers.

    We’re all now well accustomed to the “Spoiler Alert” disclaimer borne from the new way of consuming cultural products like television shows, movies, video games, sports, and other varieties of entertainment. Since everything is more or less “on demand” -- aside from those rare instances when everyone is made to wait for a particular time before first being able to see an episode of their favorite show -- the collective experience of, say, a new show is accompanied by a lot of tiptoeing and whispering as individuals strive to avoid being too detailed about what it is they are experiencing.

    Eventually time passes and people begin to share thoughts and responses more openly with one another, but during that earlier moment in the life of the cultural product, the community’s response to it is marked by a couple of curious traits -- namely, that everyone seems to be talking about it while no one is actually saying anything specific about it.

    I suspect the catching up that happens later is also full of problems in communication, with the different methods of viewing and varying degrees of attention given to the show introducing various gaps when it comes to sharing ideas about it afterwards with others. Like a poker hand which every player at the table experiences from a different point of view, so, too, do these seemingly “shared” moments get fragmented into all sorts of experiences that are related but not identical.

    One of those I follow on Twitter who was not tweeting about Breaking Bad last night was the fiction writer Joyce Carol Oates. She’s an interesting follow, full of opinions and insights and seemingly quite comfortable with delivering pithy, maxim-like thoughts about culture, politics, literature, or anything else. I’m convinced some Ph.D. student has already come up with a dissertation topic focusing primarily on her tweets and using them as a lens through which to study her novels and stories.

    Anyhow, about a week ago Oates offered an observation that in part covers all of these online interactions passing through our consciousness such as occur on Twitter:

    “Perhaps it’s a superficial aesthetic but online everything looks, feels, behaves, ‘seems’ like everything else,” she wrote. “Print culture more diverse.”

    All of those tweets from yesterday certainly seemed alike, especially to this non-Breaking Bad viewer. But like I say, that was largely due to the fact that while everyone wanted to talk about the same thing, everyone couldn’t talk about it, too. Not really.

    I guess again watching those tweets go by was sort of like watching others play a poker game. Everyone looked pretty much the same and seemed to be doing pretty much the same sort of thing. And no one could really tell me what they were experiencing as it happened, either, because to do so would ruin the game.

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    Friday, August 09, 2013

    Falling Out of Sync

    Spent a little time this afternoon looking in on this live streaming cash game from the Turning Stone Resort Casino over on the Poker Night site involving Kristy Arnett, Tom Schneider, Mike Matusow, Greg Mueller, Shaun Deeb, David Levi, and some others. Or trying to, anyhow.

    As anyone who has taken a peek at the webcast knows, there have been some technical difficulties with the presentation. The audio has been about 15-20 minutes ahead of the video and the onscreen graphics describing the hands are not always matching up, either. I am sure they will get these issues resolved eventually, but for now these difficulties are making it hard to stick with the show for very long.

    The various elements of the webcast falling out of sync got me thinking momentarily about each of those elements individually, perhaps more so than I would have otherwise. I was thinking about the importance of seeing the hole cards and how that affects one’s enjoyment when watching others play poker. I also was considering separately the value of commentary, hearing table talk, and other aspects of the show.

    Meanwhile I had the PGA Championship playing on the television, too, which I also was following only in a vague way, looking up now and then to see a shot and learn how certain players were doing thus far today in the tournament’s second round. Obviously the production and presentation of that broadcast was much better handled for the TNT network, although like I say I was only really following it intermittently and without any serious concentration.

    I guess you could call my viewing of both events “passive” insofar as I was watching without any serious rooting interest or even curiosity about results. The coincidence of having both on at once reminded me a little of a post I wrote a little over a year ago about how golf somehow attracts my interest as a spectator even though I don’t play the game.

    That post was written while watching the Masters that spring and was titled “A Tradition That’s Totally Way, Way Different From All the Other Ones.” I contrasted golf’s success at attracting non-golfers to watch with the special challenge poker faces when it comes to getting non-poker players to find a reason to be interested in watching others play.

    In the end I concluded the two weren’t really so comparable -- not just “apples and oranges,” but “apples and orangutans” -- the main difference being, I decided, that when it comes to poker nearly everyone who finds the game interesting to watch plays the game in some fashion, whereas such is not the case for golf.

    Without online poker for the last two-plus years, I now most often speak of myself as someone who “used to play” poker. Sure, I played this summer in Vegas and will play again in the future when given the opportunity, but for the most part I’m not identifying myself as an active player these days. And I’m starting to recognize that because of that my interest in watching others play via a webcast or on television has been severely limited.

    It’s much different watching poker as a reporter, where I’m locked into what’s happening in a much more direct way. As a non-playing spectator -- or a non-active player who is watching -- I feel kind of “out of sync” with the game in a way that significantly affects my interest level. Perhaps it has something to do with not really identifying with or feeling invested in the players’ decisions or the outcomes, because I don’t really see myself playing hands and facing similar decisions myself anytime soon.

    In any case, as time goes by and I slide further and further “out of sync” from those who are playing the game, I’m sensing more and more how much harder it becomes to remained tuned in.

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    Thursday, August 08, 2013

    Radio Show Revival

    This week’s posts -- about Richard Nixon, then the one noting the 2,000th post milestone -- have had me spending time looking back into history, generally speaking, as well as the history of the blog.

    When perusing some of the old posts from years ago I was reminded yet again of my excursion into poker podcasting which ultimately saw me producing 20 episodes of something called The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. It’s been a good while since the last one. Indeed, over on the HBPRS website I’ve had a post promising a “Season Two” up for a long time now and still haven’t delivered.

    But for various reasons I’m starting to think it might be fun to revive the podcast, and even have a plan for Episode 21 which I might try to pull together in the next few days.

    Those who heard the show before will remember how it was primarily based around presenting programs from the so-called “Golden Age of Radio” that began way back in the 1920s and lasted into the 1950s until television came along. Each episode of the HBPRS would feature at least one of those old shows, picked because it featured poker and/or gambling in some fashion.

    There’s a pretty good variety represented in those 20 episodes with lots of mysteries, some comedies, a few westerns, and other types of old shows. In fact, if I’m remembering correctly I don’t think I even repeated any specific radio show along the way. Thus if you went through and listened to all of the HBPRS episodes you’d get a wide exposure to old time radio and its stars, generally speaking.

    The podcast also often featured poker-themed songs and some other examples of cultural productions in which poker figured in some fashion. I had guests occasionally contributing to the show as well, especially early on, although for the most part it was just me introducing and discussing the various segments.

    Like I say, I have an idea for a new episode and some enthusiasm to get the show up and running once again, perhaps to aim for producing at least a few more episodes of it and see where it goes. So as a further means to motivate myself I thought I’d post about this idea to revive the show here today, and ask for suggestions, too.

    I think I’d like to keep old time radio as part of the format going forward, although I’m open to incorporating other things, too, in order to keep the show interesting and also not be limited to a certain kind of show -- one of the reasons, really, why I “pod-faded” (as they say) and let the show fall into this extended hiatus.

    It would be fun, for instance, to feature segments that present and perhaps build on some of the topics I’ve written about in the past and for various outlets under the heading of “poker and pop culture.”

    For example, long ago I wrote a lengthy piece for PokerNews about poker’s prominence on Star Trek: The Next Generation, going through pretty much all of the episodes in which poker came up (and there were a lot of them). I’ve had a number of ST:TNG fans who play poker mention that piece to me over the years, and it could be fun to do an episode talking about the show and perhaps including some clips along the way.

    I can also definitely imagine venturing into other kinds of segments, such as one sharing some of this material about Nixon and his poker playing that I have been gathering of late.

    One other reason why I found it hard to keep doing the show was the fact that I was flying solo, and thus there wasn’t anyone else to motivate me to keep making the shows. I’m thinking if I do revive it I’d like to have more involvement from others, if possible, perhaps as guests coming on to talk about various topics or to contribute in other ways.

    For example, with this ST:TNG idea, I could have a devotee of that show come on to comment further on those poker-themed episodes while also maybe giving more context for them that I can as someone who didn’t necessarily follow the entire series as closely as some. Same for other topics in which others have a particular interest.

    Anyhow, like I say I am posting this as both a way to motivate myself to get going again and to ask for suggestions as well. And if you have an idea and perhaps want to contribute in some fashion to the HBPRS revival, too, by all means let me know either with a comment or by dropping me a note at shortstackedshamus at gmail dot com.

    Incidentally, if anyone who never heard the show before is curious, all 20 of the episodes are still there and downloadable. You can get to them through the HBPRS website and they are on iTunes, too. (The sound quality on some of the early ones is a little sketchy, so you might start with one of the later ones where the audio is definitely improved.)

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    Wednesday, August 07, 2013

    Two Thousand Posts Later

    The other day I was in what has become a very typical position for me these days, sitting on the couch in the living room writing on my laptop. I have an office and do work there some, but more often than not I’ll be in the other room, preferring not to be squirreled away and alone but out where I can interact with Vera more readily.

    Spotting me typing furiously, Vera jokingly began to deliver a kind of play-by-play commentary on what she saw, hyping up her description in a way that made it sound a little like a movie trailer.

    “He’s typing so fast,” she began. “He wants to stop... but... he can’t!”

    I started to grin. I did not, however, stop typing. She continued.

    “His eyes are tired. His hands are starting to cramp. But if he stops... he.. will... die!”

    At that I did stop. And no, I didn’t expire, but instead burst into laughter along with Vera.

    Today marks the 2,000th post on Hard-Boiled Poker. When I first started the blog in April 2006, I obviously had little thought about even reaching a hundred posts. When in early November of that year I did look up to see I was writing Post No. 100, I proudly marked the occasion in a post titled “Milestones.”

    By then I’d built up enough momentum to know for sure I’d be continuing for some time afterwards, although the prospect of reaching other milestones wasn’t really something I consciously considered. But I did recognize a kind of achievement in having stuck with something that long, something of which I’d already begun to realize had started to become important to me.

    Taking the occasion to reflect on the blog -- an indulgence I’d already allowed myself more than once within those first 100 posts -- I wrote about how observing such milestones in a way helped define the whole activity:

    Like record-keeping, the blog helps document certain stages in the life of a poker player. At times the blog even helps foster the sense that he might actually be getting somewhere and not simply “running in a circle.” Or endlessly pushing that stone up the mountain like Sisyphus, only to have it roll back down again. Albert Camus describes Sisyphus as one who has, despite evidence to the contrary, somehow managed to create meaning from his plight. Rather than believe the godless world is “sterile or futile,” he knows that “each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world.”

    Camus goes so far as to conclude we “must imagine Sisyphus as happy.” I think he’s right. As grave as such milestones might make us feel, they also go a long way toward helping us with the old problem of “meaning-making.” And that makes us happy for a while. And encourages us to keep going.

    And so I will.

    I’d continue to observe such milestones going forward such as in “Two Hundred Posts Later” (from May 2007) although with the next few milestones I was hit-or-miss with even catching them going by.

    The 500th post happened while I was at the 2008 World Series of Poker (my first), and I only barely mentioned it. I did mark other milestones more thoroughly, including the moment when I’d arrived at “Post No. 1,000” (in February 2010).

    Then I talked about how hard it was to sum up what the experience of writing the blog had meant to me at that point. “When you’ve written a thousand friggin’ posts, you’ve said and done a lot of things before,” I said, stating the obvious. I went on to mention how great it was to have become part of a larger community of writers and readers joined by a common interest in poker, then concluded by thanking all of those who’ve taken the time to stop by here over the years.

    I mean, really, there’s no way I get this far along without help. You can’t play poker by yourself. Not really. And while you can write for yourself, the meaning of what you write grows with every reader.

    A thousand thanks, everybody, for helping give all these words more meaning.

    The journey through these last thousand posts has seemed much shorter than the one through the first thousand. It took a few months less, I suppose, but the time has seemed to have raced by much, more more quickly. As we all recognize as we get older, time has a way of appearing to speed up, and when we stop to look around and happen to notice how much has passed, there’s always a little bit of misgiving as we’re made to acknowledge we’re closer to the end than we were before.

    While Vera was joking, there was certainly a small bit of truth tucked away inside of her play-by-play. I think knowing that made us laugh even longer. You know, that idea that as long as one continues to press forward, one continues to live.

    Looking back through the older posts a couple of thoughts occur to me. One is to marvel at the energy on display early on, and really through most of the first few years of the blog. Posts are longer, and even paragraphs go on and on sometimes, the writer keyed up to tackle whatever it is he has chosen to write about in comprehensive fashion, with extra context and research coming in frequently to flesh out the point being made or topic being explored.

    That energy still comes now and then, though I’ll admit after 2,000 posts it isn’t as frequent or consistent. I’m affected these days both by having written so much before -- thus leaving myself fewer and fewer untouched subjects -- and by other writing obligations having crowded the schedule as well as the jingle-brain of this scribbling sap.

    When I look back I also realize how not every post reflects my current thinking about poker (or other aspects of our existence), and there are plenty of instances where I see myself as having been a little too raw or naive about whatever it is I’ve decided to address. But I don’t mind that so much, as seeing such provides me evidence that I’ve indeed changed. Or maybe... possibly... that I’ve even learned something.

    There’s little about poker or the crazy, confused world surrounding the game that is without ambiguity. The detective-writer metaphor has always been especially apt, as mysteries abound. I think I’ve stumbled on some important clues here and there and even drawn some decent conclusions, but a lot of the investigations remain open, even if I might sound at times as though I’ve closed them.

    In other words, the old problem of meaning-making remains.

    Up top is a picture of my cat, Sweetie, that I took a couple of weeks ago, who can be more than a little mysterious, too, sometimes. And who can make me feel like Sisyphus every now and then, such as in that photo. Look closely, she’s there. (Click the pic to enlarge, if needed.)

    Here’s another one of Sweetie which Vera took shortly after I returned from Las Vegas after that long summer. I’m there, too, in my usual spot, having finally stopped typing for a while. (You can click and make this one bigger as well.)

    Do I have to keep writing? Do I want to? Yes and yes.

    Meanwhile, I know you don’t have to read, and so thanks once again for wanting to do so.

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