Monday, September 30, 2013

Capitol Games

Last week I mentioned briefly that faux-filibuster perpetrated by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and made a passing reference to coverage of televised poker coverage by way of comparison. Over the weekend I read a piece about Cruz and his bit of political theater which noted how Cruz himself had used a poker analogy to describe his own strategy.

We’re seeing today how the crisis over passing a spending bill to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year (scheduled to begin tomorrow) is reaching a kind of climax, with a government shutdown now appearing a distinct possibility. The issue goes back to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- a.k.a. “Obamacare” -- and the efforts of some Republicans to have the new spending bill include amendments to it, something the Dems aren’t willing to accept.

Seeing references to this issue as a “bargaining chip” (again, evoking poker vocabulary). Although it doesn’t actually sound much like anyone’s in the mood to bargain.

Cruz’s 21-plus hour speech last week was motivated by his wish to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Responding to a question by his colleague Rand Paul (R-KY) about whether or not he could go along with any sort of middle-ground solution that didn’t involve defunding the new health care law, Cruz couched his negative response in the language of cards.

“In a game of poker,” explained Cruz, “if somebody makes a bet, and then says to you, ‘if you raise me, I’m going to fold,’ [he] will lose 100 percent of [his] poker games.”

In other words -- if I’m following correctly -- Cruz is choosing this way to express an unwillingness to compromise at all when it comes to Obamacare. Cruz (and the other non-negotiating Tea Partiers) is making a bet, he says, and is not going to give his opponent any indication that he might fold (give in) should his opponent respond with a raise, because to do so would be a losing strategy.

Brings to mind players who cannot bring themselves to fold after having put any chips at all in the middle. Of course, table talk can be misleading sometimes. A player could well say he’d fold to a raise, then do something else. That is to say, I’m not sure the analogy is as obvious as Cruz seems to think, and I can imagine several better ones to indicate more clearly an intention not to fold.

Anyhow, watching the news today and the deepening impasse on Capitol Hill, the only poker analogy that comes to mind would be one involving players stalling on the bubble. Or maybe something having to do with not playing with a full deck.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Who Would You Select Among the 2013 Poker Hall of Fame Nominees?

In a rush today and so just thought I’d post a quick one noting the announcement of the 10 finalists for this year’s Poker Hall of Fame. I’ve had the honor in the past of being one of those called upon to vote in this process, and as I look at the finalists for this year I’m again thinking about how difficult a task it will be when it comes to deciding between them.

As you’ve probably read elsewhere, the following players all made this year's list of finalists: Chris Björin, Humberto Brenes, David Chiu, Thor Hansen, Jennifer Harman, Mike Matusow, Tom McEvoy, Carlos Mortensen, Scotty Nguyen, and Huck Seed.

Of those, McEvoy and Nguyen have both been nominees for each of the past five years -- indeed for every year since they instituted this new process by which fans were able to nominate candidates over at WSOP.com and then the panel of living Hall of Famers and poker media then vote on finalists culled from those who were nominated. Harman has also been nominated each of the last four years.

Meanwhile four of this year’s nominees are back for a second go-round, with Björin, Chiu, and Hansen on the ballot for a second consecutive year while Seed is on for a second time after being a finalist once before in 2011. The other three candidates this year are all first-time nominees -- Brenes, Matusow, and Mortensen.

Matusow won his fourth WSOP bracelet this past summer and has the unique distinction of also having made a couple of WSOP Main Event final tables (in 2001 and 2005). Mortensen of course won the WSOP ME back in 2001 and very nearly made another final table this year before being ousted in 10th.

Brenes, meanwhile, might surprise some as a nominee, but I knew his nomination was a distinct possibility after learning about a groundswell of support for him when at LAPT Peru a couple of months ago, something I noted in one of my reports from Lima for the PokerStars blog. Brenes’s standing in that part of the world as an important ambassador of the game is not unlike that of Hansen in Norway where Hansen is viewed as the “Norwegian Godfather of Poker.”

Interestingly, six of the 10 nominees were born outside of the U.S. (Björin, Brenes, Chiu, Hansen, Mortensen, and Nguyen). Four won WSOP Main Event titles (McEvoy, Seed, Nguyen, Mortensen). And all 10 have won at least two WSOP bracelets.

Gotta think McEvoy, Nguyen, and Harman will have an edge when it comes to the voting, given their having been on ballots for several years running by this point, but like I say those voting will have a tough decision to make. Only two at most will be voted in to join the other 44 already inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame.

Say you could only pick two of these candidates... how would you cast your vote?

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

It Goes On and On and On

Was reading about this 21-plus hour “filibuster” by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) this week, with much of the commentary focused on reducing it to a peculiar kind of political performing with little practical consequence beyond the already controversial freshman senator alienating colleagues in both parties. And perhaps promoting his own star among a certain, small segment of the American voting public.

Some of the articles noted how “filibuster” was not really an accurate way of describing the performance, since Cruz knew even before starting that he had no way of achieving his ostensible goal of preventing the Senate from voting on a budget plan to keep the government open through a deadline coming up next Monday and thus maintain funding for the new “Obamacare” law. Thus was the speech and its inordinate length even more strange.

Like I say, Cruz began making enemies shortly after joining Congress this year -- even the iPhone-poker playing John McCain called him a “wacko bird” (along with a couple of others) back in the spring. And his speech contained a lot that appeared pretty wacko, especially out of context, including references to Duck Dynasty, White Castle burgers, the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street film franchises, The Little Engine That Could, Ashton Kutcher, Darth Vader, Toby Keith, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Setting aside the specific political context for Cruz’s marathon play, there’s something curious about the wildly out-of-proportion step of speaking for 21-plus hours in such a forum.

Cruz came a bit shy of the longest ever filibuster speech by Strom Thurmond lasting 24 hours and 18 minutes in which he spoke against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, one of many actions in the South Carolinian’s long career in which he established his lamentable opposition to racial equality. Like Cruz, Thurmond also peppered his speech with a lot of obscure, irrelevant matters, most famously a digression on his grandmother’s biscuit recipe.

I’m thinking yet again about the debates this week about televised poker, and how the long, uninterrupted and unedited broadcasts may be better for demonstrating the game’s skill component, but are much less likely to retain an audience. Thus is TV poker necessarily reduced to highlights and other unusual moments that in real time disrupted the monotony but in an edited package are made to seem representative.

Much as commentators on the crazy-long senatorial speeches focus on irrelevant or tangential biscuit recipes and Dr. Seuss readings, so, too, does an hour-long program condensing a day’s worth of poker focus on the unusual.

Speaking of long-winded politicians, I’ve been continuing my Nixon studies and am now in the middle of his 1,100-plus page post-presidency opus, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon.

I have to read it at home, as it’s too big to take anywhere. I mean, really, I’d need an extra suitcase to carry it on a tourney trip.

I could filibust open somebody’s head with this sucker.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Slowrolling Spot

Sounding a theme not too distant from the one contemplated in yesterday’s post, this week has come a teaser reel from that Poker Night in America show shot back in August.

You might remember some cash games were played at the Turning Stone Resort Casino involving a somewhat eclectic cast of poker players flown there from all over the country to participate.

They streamed some of the action online, although as I recall technical issues tended to mute the impact of the presentation somewhat. However, some edited programs were made from the games, and it’s from those that this short video showing a couple of hands was compiled.

Take a look:

I say the clip kind of highlights a theme explored yesterday. I say that not so much because the hands featured are of that same all-in-and-let’s-see-what-the-cards-bring variety that Salon contributor Argun M. Ulgen fretted over as having dominated a lot of ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker over the years, especially during those formative “boom” years starting with the 2003 Main Event and after.

Rather, I’m referring to the latter hand in the clip in which Shaun Deeb flops quad fives and then delivers a wicked slowroll to Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. Deeb and the other players at the table enjoy a great laugh, but Matusow responds with mood-killing venom.

The clip has already generated a lot of debate, with some responding to Deeb’s play in much the same way Ulgen was lamenting ESPN’s WSOP coverage, namely, by complaining that it misrepresents poker in some fashion, or perhaps portrays the game in way that is unfavorable (according to some).

Whereas Ulgen complained that ESPN’s version of poker minimized the game’s skill component and thus made it out to be more of a gambling game than deserved, some critics of this clip have suggested it advances a notion that poker is a game that somehow encourages the abandonment of sportsmanship, also thought by some to be a non-representative portrayal.

There have been a lot of other responses, too -- to Deeb, to Matusow, and to perceived ideas about what Poker Night in America is going to be all about. Rather than toss out my own, I thought I’d just share the clip, point out how it has gotten poker people talking, and invite you to consider what you think of it.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Poker Among the Ruins

There’s an interesting piece over on the Salon site today provocatively titled “Has ESPN ruined poker?” The article is by a freelancer named Argun M. Ulgen who provides a fairly well informed judgment on ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker over the last decade. As the title suggests, Ulgen is mostly censorious with regard to the network’s presentation of the game, and in fact he seems ready to blame the network for online poker’s legal woes in the U.S. (even if he doesn’t pursue that idea much beyond just suggesting it).

Going back to Chris Moneymaker’s big win and the much-repeated, seven-episode presentation of it by ESPN that many point to as having been a necessary component in the “boom” that followed, Ulgen recalls those early days of the hole card camera and what for many was a kind of revelation that it could actually be interesting -- even riveting -- to watch a bunch of people sitting around playing cards.

The article severely takes ESPN to task for what was always a somewhat obvious inner contradiction in the coverage of the WSOP during those first few post-Moneymaker years, really right up until the brink of Black Friday -- namely, the jarring juxtaposition of the “skill game” argument either explicitly made in the broadcasts or implied by the whole idea of showing poker on a sports network and programming seemingly highlighted by lucky hand after lucky hand with players constantly all in and powerless to affect their fate.

The coverage “routinely failed to provide by way of non-intrusive info graphics or quick commentary fundamental, skill-based pieces of information,” argues Ulgen. Noting a general lack of context surrounding the showing of all of those key preflop all-ins (not enough about stack sizes, blind levels, and so on), Ulgen laments how viewers were “mostly treated to showdown results, which, whether it is poker, basketball, or finance, is always heavily flavored with luck.”

Most of us deep within our little niche -- or “cultish game,” as Ulgen calls it -- recognized early on the wide divide between reality and romanticism in ESPN’s WSOP coverage, noting to each other at length how all of those “Degree All-In Moments” (remember those?) weren’t really poker, but added up to a kind of glorified, exaggerated version of the game that seemed to entertain not just us, but the masses, too.

From there Ulgen moves into a discussion of ESPN’s 2011 WSOP coverage from the first post-Black Friday Series, in particular its showing of uninterrupted play on a couple of Main Event tables for hours on end for several days in July, accompanied by fairly high level commentary by Olivier Busquet and Antonio Esfandiari. I remember writing a little here at the time about ESPN’s coverage that summer, including the weird feeling once of covering the tournament then going back to the hotel room early one night to watch the tourney continue on television.

Ulgen laments the rapid shift away from that type of coverage -- i.e., the sort that lended itself well to making a much more convincing and coherent “skill game” argument for poker -- that has taken place over the last two years. (He doesn’t mention or draw any conclusions from the fact that 2011 was the year Poker PROductions took over the WSOP coverage for ESPN, taking over from 411 Productions.)

He points out how the current coverage again fails to provide adequate context when showing hands. He’s a little harsh and not entirely accurate about ESPN not currently providing information about position, blind levels, and stack sizes (they usually do give all three, in fact, although not always). But he still makes a valid point about how the shows often tend to race around from highlight to highlight, having gotten far away (again) from the studied presentation of the game that briefly popped up a couple of years ago.

Ulgen’s title employs some obvious hyperbole as an attention grab. In truth, many might say that far from “ruining” poker, ESPN on the whole done has a lot more to revive poker, bringing in new players and expanding the game considerably, even if it has done so in a way that has corrupted (perhaps permanently) the mainstream’s understanding of the game in its failure to present a convincing case for poker’s skill component.

Ulgen’s article is worth a read, but for those of us who’ve been involved with poker over the last decade, the point he’s making is very familiar to us as something we all argued among ourselves at length all through those “boom” years and after. Of course, back then -- pre-UIGEA, pre-Black Friday -- we were so distracted with our multi-tabling most of us probably weren’t as invested in the argument as we might be today, as the fate of the game hardly then seemed threatened.

We were all like the guy who gets his chips in bad and then draws out anyway. Skill... luck... who cared? We were winning.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Pool Update: Drowning

Haven’t been talking much here so far this year about the NFL football pool, the one I enter each year that involves picking each and every NFL game. We just pick winners -- no spreads -- and over the last few years playing the pool has added a lot of enjoyment to watching football as I always have a rooting interest in every single game.

There’s a fairly obvious reason why I haven’t said much about pool so far this year, namely, my less-than-stellar results picking games thus far. Picked 10 of 16 correctly each of the first two weeks, but only managed eight of 15 winners here so far in Week 3 with the Monday Night tilt still to go. That might sound okay, but I’m already a full eight games behind the leaders.

In other words, it isn’t even October I’m already in what amounts to desperation mode going forward.

As a kind of emblem of how my season has gone so far, I took my team, the Carolina Panthers, in each of their first two games, while almost everyone else in the pool picked against them those first two weeks. The Panthers lost two heartbreakers -- both games they could easily have won -- and as a I result I fell two games behind the field.

Then yesterday I gave up on Carolina and like nearly everyone else took the New York Giants. The Panthers then smoked New York 38-0, a game I couldn’t even enjoy because (1) I’d picked incorrectly, and (2) the Giants were so godawful it was hard to feel like the win signified all that much for Carolina going forward (although it’s always good to remember how to win a game, even against an outmatched opponent).

Missing the pick on yesterday’s game reminded me of how last year Carolina and the Giants also played a game during Week 3. I picked Carolina in that game, and the Giants won 36-7. I feel like I completely mangled a poker hand, was given a second opportunity to play the exact same hand in a similar spot, and messed it up once again.

Looking back I’m seeing that I actually did worse during the first three weeks last year, hitting only 27 of the first 48 games. I ended up finishing tied for 10th in the pool (out of 50-ish), five games behind the two who tied for first. However, last year no one else was doing much better during the early part of the season, and I think I was only a couple of games out of first going into Week 4. I’m remembering we were all blaming replacement refs (in place for the first three weeks) for a lot of weird results to start off last year.

I did win this sucker once. But the memory of that is about as dim as the Panthers’ lone Super Bowl appearance a decade ago.

I was joking on Twitter yesterday that I blamed my poor start in the pool this year on having begun the season picking games in Spain as I was there for EPT Barcelona as Week 1 got underway.

A more honest assessment would involve confessing that I haven’t been too studious about my picks at all during these first three weeks, and have pretty consciously made some very gambly selections. Sort of like a player who has lost half his stack might start making some loose calls and chancy bluffs to get back even more quickly.

Will have to get back to fundamentals here for Week 4, I think. Thankfully Carolina has a bye.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Two Players at the Online Table (WSOP.com Takes a Seat)

There were eyes on WSOP.com yesterday with the official launch of the site for real money games. Not as much fanfare, it seemed, than was the case back in the spring when Ultimate Poker beat everyone to the table to deal the first hand of online poker 2.0, but still a notable moment.

Just peeking over at PokerScout, they’re reporting a 24-hour peak of 113 real money ring game players during the first day of operation at WSOP.com, with 46 on there on a Friday afternoon.

Will be curious to see where that WSOP.com graph settles once it rises over the near term, and how it will compare to the numbers over at Ultimate Poker. Over on UP it appears there are generally around 200 players at any given time, an average the site reached early on and at which it has remained for several months.

Unlike over at Ultimate Poker where it’s possible to rail all the games from outside of Nevada, there’s no looking in over at the real money games at WSOP.com (as far as I can tell). I have an account on the site and the play money client downloaded on my desktop, but that appears to be separate from the new real money games. I believe the software is similar, though, with hold’em, Omaha, and stud games available at a variety of stakes.

Over on Two Plus Two, a News, Views, and Gossip thread begun yesterday devoted to the launch is getting scant attention, with only three dozen posts thus far and a few thousand views although it is gamely keeping a spot on the front page.

As the WSOP.com player pool grows and the promotions get going in earnest, the site will gain more attention. There's already some WSOPE satellite stuff on there as well as some freerolls and guaranteed tourneys, and there will be this WSOP.com Online Championships starting in October that should get a lot of press -- nine tourneys comprising a first tourney series on the site. The press release that accompanied yesterday’s launch also outlines other marketing strategies in place including Total Rewards tie-ins and lots of television and other forms of advertising planned.

I’m curious about the site and kind of vaguely hopeful about it, and indeed I have more hope for WSOP.com growing into something relatively significant with its ready-made brand than I’ve had for start-from-scratch Ultimate Poker. Can’t help but think the latter’s prospects have dimmed just a tad with another player finally having taken a seat at the U.S. online poker table.

That said, the broader effect at the moment -- and for the near future -- is not unlike a new live poker room opening up in Vegas, one that those of us living elsewhere might perhaps visit one day, but which otherwise doesn’t mean a heck of a lot to us just yet.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Got caught in a weird sequence of click-throughs yesterday and ended up losing about a half-hour learning of this obscure story from 1987 from Chicago about a couple of television signal hijackings occurring one Sunday evening in late November.

That evening someone managed to interrupt broadcasts on two different Chicago television stations (WGN and WTTW) with brief, unsettling signal intrusions, causing a lot of consternation and in fact ultimately never being discovered or caught.

The first interruption came over on WGN during The Nine O’Clock News and lasted just a half-minute or so. The second came a couple of hours later during WTTW’s showing of a Dr. Who rerun. That one lasted a couple of minutes. In the first case, WGN was able to retake control of its signal and cut things off quickly, but WTTW couldn’t do anything when they were hacked and thus had to wait for the pirates to sign off themselves before getting their signal back.

The incidents came to be known as the “Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion” since both featured someone wearing a Max Headroom mask.

Some of us are old enough to remember the ubiquitous Max Headroom character pitching Coca-Cola products during the ’80s, in particular the doomed “New Coke.” Was kind of a goofy hybrid of an actual actor (Matt Frewer) and computer animation that was supposed to simulate an example of artificial intelligence. Started with a British TV movie, I believe, and there were other tie-ins all around involving the character who seemed to fit in well with the jittery MTV-influenced pop culture of the day.

The first signal interruption only featured distorted noise as a soundtrack as the person in the mask bobbed his head around before a rotating backdrop. By the time of the second, longer interruption the pirates had figured out how to include audio, too, and you can hear the dude uttering a lot of disconnected phrases (including Max Headroom’s “catch the wave” tagline), then eventually dropping his pants to receive a flyswatter spanking.

All of it reminded me a lot of the group Negativland who back in the 1980s pulled similar stunts that often were designed to satirize corporate culture and/or the media, sometimes engaging in hacking-type shenanigans (or “jamming”) as part of their modus operandi. In fact, the San Francisco-based outfit once made an entire CD full of tracks spoofing and commenting on the “Cola wars,” attacking Coke and Pepsi from just about every angle imaginable. That disc was called Dispepsi and necessarily included some Max Headroom samples, too.

There’s another weird connection between the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion and Negativland. At one point during the second break-in on WTTV when the fellow is tossing out all sorts of unconnected phrases and references, he hums the theme song to the short-lived syndicated cartoon show Clutch Cargo (1959-60), then says “I still see the X,” a line referring to one of the episodes of the show. Negativland had a track on an early disc (Points) titled “Clutch Cargo ’81,” an avant-garde mish-mash of piano, synth effects, and kitchen noises.

Although I don’t remember ever hearing anything about it, at the time the story of the twin signal intrusions earned a lot of attention, with even the CBS Evening News talking about it the next day. I guess it endures as a kind of touchstone moment among “culture jammers” and others interested in the history of hacking. As I mentioned, the pirates were never identified or caught, although the internet is now full of theories about the identity of the culprit(s).

I realized after reading through some of the stories and watching a couple of videos about it that I, too, had had my routine unexpectedly interrupted. In other words, some 25 years later the pirates had successfully knocked me “off the air” (so to speak) for a short while.

Thinking further, though, I realized that these days such interruptions are in fact the norm, not the exception. How many of us experience even a couple of hours’ worth of focused attention on anything anymore? How many of you even made it through the 2-3 minutes it took to get this far in this post without something popping up or clicking away at least once? (I know I didn’t write it without being interrupted several times, that’s for sure.)

How did I get to the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion? Let’s see. I’m pretty sure it started with my class, “Poker in American Film and Culture,” for which I have compiled a number of clips of poker scenes from movies. One is the short, funny scene from Stripes in which John Candy’s character delivers an expensive poker lesson to “Cruiser.” (“Dare me! Go on, bluff me!”)

Looking up the actor’s name who played Cruiser (John Diehl), I saw Bill Paxton listed in the credits. He apparently is in there somewhere in a non-speaking role as a soldier. Clicking through and reading about Paxton revealed that as an eight-year-old he was at the hotel in Fort Worth to wave at JFK as he left on November 22, 1963. (Coincidentally, the “Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion” occurred on November 22, 1987.)

Somehow avoiding the JFK assassination rabbit hole -- which like most of us I have gone down plenty of times before -- I instead noted how in 1979 Paxton had directed the short film made to accompany the Barnes and Barnes novelty hit “Fish Heads” which I soon was watching on YouTube.

I can’t recreate the sequence from there, but I believe it was a sidebar click or three from there that eventually got me to the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion story. One of the commentors on the “Fish Heads” video succinctly describes my experience: “I’m in that weird part of YouTube.”

And for some of you I’ve probably now led you to what seems a weird part of the internet, too. But really, it’s all weird, full of distractions and interruptions that tend to fill up our days.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

West No Longer Best for WPT World Championship

Last month I was making reference to all of the new tours getting cranked up once again, with the World Poker Tour -- now in its 12th season -- among them. Only the first half of this year’s WPT schedule (which will ultimately run from August 2012 through May 2013) has been announced as yet, although I imagine the second half is more or less fully in place already.

Already announced for the final months of 2013 are events in Paris, South Africa, South Korea, Prague, and a few in the U.S. including in Jacksonville and Las Vegas. The WPT will be going back to the Playground Poker club in Kahnawake, Quebec, too, in a few months, one of the Canadian poker sites that has now found its way into the regular tourney tour schedule along with other tours’ stops.

There was some news yesterday, though, regarding the season-ending WPT World Championship which has traditionally taken place at the Bellagio ever since the tour debuted. This year that event will instead take place at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, which is where the WPT not coincidentally happens to be at the moment for the WPT Borgata Open.

The move made me think of a post I wrote last May about the WPT World Championship, “The Shifting Place of the WPT World Championship,” the title of which today sounds like it has a different meaning than the one I had intended.

I was speaking figuratively, of course, referring to how the once prestigious tournament had receded in significance over recent years. In that post I noted in particular how the turnouts had declined dramatically since peaking in 2007 with 639 entries. Last year there were just 146 entries in the event, with 26 of those coming from players re-entering, thus meaning there were only 120 players involved. Meanwhile, the fields for many other big buy-in events have been growing over that same period.

Those shrinking numbers were no doubt a big part of the reason for the WPT making this move. In the announcement yesterday, WPT President Adam Pliska referred to the Borgata having been “home to four of the five biggest tournaments in WPT history,” and indeed it does seem relatively certain the event will have a better chance of thriving in its new location.

Initial response to the decision to move the season-ending eastward was met with what sounded like a lot of positive buzz from players over Twitter. Part of that positivity being expressed the Borgata was inspired by criticisms of the Bellagio, which has certainly fallen from favor over the last several years as a destination for both tourney types and cash game players.

Thinking beyond the relative merits of particular casinos and poker rooms, though, I wonder if the WPT moving its championship might prove a significant moment in the larger Nevada-versus-New Jersey discussion already ongoing thanks to online poker legislation and the concomitant launching of casino-affiliated sites. In other words, will there be more “shifting” to talk about occurring in the poker landscape, perhaps sooner than later?

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lehavot’s Leveraging

One of this year’s November Nine, Amir Lehavot (currently second in chips), yesterday announced that he was selling pieces of himself to interested buyers. He tweeted the news, linking to a Two Plus Two thread he’d begun outlining the details of his offer.

In the thread-starter Lehavot makes reference to past results (mostly online) and to the fact that going into the Main Event he had 80% of his action. Of that, he’s now offering up 30% (overall) while keeping 50%.

The price Lehavot is setting on shares he’s deriving from the value of his current stack as determined by the Independent Chip Model (ICM) such as is often used when negotiating final table chops. Subtracting the ninth-place money he and each of the other final tablists have already been given ($733,224) and then comparing his current stack to the remaining prize money still up for grabs, this makes his stack of 29.7 million chips “worth” $2,924,822 according to ICM.

Thus the price for 1% of Lehavot for potential buyers is $29,248, nearly three times the Main Event buy-in.

Lehavot will need to finish third or better in order for investors to make any profit at all. To finish third would mean earning a $3,727,023 payday for Lehavot. Take away the $733,224 he’s already gotten, that adds up to $2,993,799; thus, every 1% purchased for $29,248 would get back $29,938, or just a little less than $700.

If Lehavot finishes fourth, that will only yield $20,588 per 1% (a loss of more than $8K), and so on down to a ninth-place finish which would mean investors get zero return. If he finishes second, 1% would be worth $44,399 (about $15K profit), and if he wins, 1% would be worth $76,263 (about $47K).

From Lehavot’s perspective, if he were to sell all 30% he’s offering, that puts another $877,440 in his pocket before he plays a hand in November, which added to the ninth-place money is a little better than the total prize for finishing sixth.

While most responding in the thread are critical of the deal, a few are not. Meanwhile, responses to Lehavot’s original tweet are mostly characterizing it a less than attractive offer for buyers (“it’s only a good deal if your name is Amir Lehavot,” says one).

I think I belong to that latter, skeptical group when it comes to assessing the merits of Lehavot’s offer. But setting the actual deal aside, it seems to me that the whole idea of a November Niner selling pieces of himself at the delayed Main Event final table must be creating a headache for the WSOP.

The issue of deal making at the WSOP has always been complicated. Unlike on the European Poker Tour where everything is done out in the open -- such as was exemplified with a little bit of extra drama at the recent EPT Barcelona Main Event final table -- the WSOP doesn’t acknowledge or help broker deals. There have even been suggestions here and there that the WSOP doesn’t allow deals at all, although that isn’t really the case.

Back in 2010 in a $1,500 limit hold’em shootout event there was a notable instance of a player -- Yueqi Zhu -- being disqualified at the start of the tourney’s second round after having made a deal heads-up with his short-stacked opponent in the previous round to ensure he would advance. At the start of the next day Zhu was disqualified, with WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel at the time announcing “there is no deal making at the World Series of Poker.”

In truth, Zhu’s case wasn’t simply “deal making” but an instance of a player essentially giving up his chips to Zhu at the end of their match, an action considered as having violated the WSOP’s rule about “Ethical Play” which states “Poker is an individual game. Soft play will result in penalties that may include forfeiture of chips and/or disqualification. Chip dumping will result in disqualification.”

The WSOP has no specific rules (that I know of) forbidding final table deal making in the traditional sense, although like I say they don’t help players make the deals nor do they recognize them when it comes to payouts and tax documents. (Thus does Lehavot also add a note to his offer about needing SSNs from investors to handle potential tax issues later on.)

I have to guess the WSOP isn’t crazy about Lehavot selling shares of himself this way -- i.e., so publicly -- and thus foregrounding the whole idea of final table deal making. What would happen if all nine of the players were to make similar offers? What if they started buying pieces of each other? Or what if all nine arrived at a more traditional arrangement to flatten out the payouts prior to the start of play in November?

Four-plus months of down time obviously gives us lots of time to imagine such scenarios. Gives the players a lot of time to ponder them, too.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

News of the Day

Sort of an interesting confluence of online poker news here lately with announcements coming from both Full Tilt Poker regarding the process by which U.S. players may finally get to file a petition in an effort to recover their erstwhile balances as well as breaking news regarding the launch of WSOP’s online poker site in Nevada. You might say both announcements come under the “long-time-coming” category.

U.S. Full Tilters have been waiting nearly two-and-a-half years for their funds, with the new Full Tilt Poker Claims website having been launched by the Garden City Group way back in March. No time frame was suggested then, and I guess six months later seems about right for something finally to happen on that front.

Meanwhile the WSOP.com real money online poker site was first announced in a conference call in mid-May with a lot of indirect suggestion at the time that it could possibly go live at some point during this year’s Series. That didn’t happen, but today came another conference call with the news that the launch will occur this Thursday.

I’ll admit to feeling a little bit detached from both of these stories, for different reasons.

The FTP news comes a few days after that report of a leaked GCG email containing of list of persons ineligible for payment from the fund they have been charged with administering. That list includes folks like FTP affiliates, FTP pros and other employees of the old site and its myriad shell companies, and “a past or present vendor of FTP that received compensation through FTP players’ accounts.”

That last item has been taken by some perhaps to cover anyone who ever received any sort of transfer into their FTP account as payment such as often would happen back in the day for various purposes, including payment for writing gigs.

I personally don’t remember ever having been paid in this way for an assignment -- not via FTP, anyway. But I know many who have. I also never got into the affiliate game, and so think I might actually be okay as far as being eligible to petition to get back my tiny roll of just under three hundy is concerned. It has been so long, though, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by skepticism when finally being introduced to some process (of yet-to-be-determined length) by which to get back my cabbage.

My detached feeling from the other news of the WSOP.com real money launch is more obviously caused by it only pertaining to folks within the state of Nevada which is more than a couple thousands miles away from where I’m scribblin’. That said, my sense is this is a development that will eventually have some significance beyond the borders of the Silver State, and perhaps sooner than later.

I’ll be very curious to see how the new site fares in comparison with Ultimate Poker and whether or not UP’s four-and-a-half-month head start will really matter that much once the WSOP machine gets cranking in earnest.

For now, though, it’s as though I’m today reading stories about a distant past (the old, corrupt, doomed Full Tilt Poker) and a distant future (the new, full-of-potential, promise-filled WSOP.com site), both of which are far away from my current time and place.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

WCOOP Back in Action

The 2013 World Championship of Online Poker is well underway over at PokerStars, having begun last Sunday. This week in fact marked 12 years of real money games on the site, and this year’s series marks the 12th year of the WCOOP, with a record 66 tourneys on the schedule this time (up one from last year’s 65).

The WCOOP remains the biggest online tourney series around, and the prestige associated with winning WCOOP bracelets has increased considerably as well.

Over the last couple of years whenever the big series crank up at PokerStars I’ve found myself looking back to those pre-Black Friday days when the U.S. could participate and comparing figures. In 2010, for instance, Americans comprised about a third of the 141,126 entrants in the 62 events of that year’s WCOOP. With no U.S. players the next year there came a dip to 119,832 (again, in 62 events), then in 2012 there were 126,041 entrants (in 65).

I’d expect this year’s total either to hold steady or nudge up further to rival the pre-BF number. Indeed, the total prize pools for in the Spring Championship of Online Poker have gradually increased to the point that they now exceed the pre-Black Friday amounts (with a few extra tourneys added over the years).

The U.S. being on the rail for SCOOPs and WCOOPs also gets me curious about how countries whose players are able to participate are faring in the series, relatively speaking. I’ll resist slipping back into complaint mode about my country’s convoluted, often hypocritical attitude toward gambling in general and poker in particular, and instead look at Canada -- where a number of U.S. players have fled to play on PokerStars -- and see how that country is doing with regard to continuing its recent success in the COOPs.

The 2012 WCOOP was fairly dominated by Canada with the country claiming top honors for bracelets won (14), final tables (80), total cashes (2,166), and total winnings ($9,567,359.96). This year’s SCOOP also saw Canada crushing, finishing that 132-tournament series first in cash won ($12,016,956.34), first in final tables (133), and second in titles with 18, which was just one behind the U.K.’s 19 wins. Those stats were fresh in mind this summer, actually, when Canada jumped out to a quick start at the WSOP, ultimately collecting 10 bracelets before the summer was done.

Just looking at the first 10 events of this year’s WCOOP, the U.K. has gotten a headstart on Canada and everyone else, winning no less than four events. Toby “810ofclubs” Lewis was one of the Brits to win a title, just a few days removed from having won a piece of Tom Middleton’s victory at EPT Barcelona as I was mentioning earlier this week and as Rick Dacey writes about over on the PokerStars blog. Jonathan “OMGjonyctt” Concepción, Dave “CrabMaki” Shallow, and “Aduobe4” also have all earned WCOOP wins as U.K. players so far (although I believe technically speaking Concepción is from the Canary Islands).

Through the first 10 events the U.K. also led other categories, too, including “Money Won By Country” ($1,497,970.05) and “Final Tables by Country” (10). But Canada finally broke through to grab it’s first WCOOP title of the year in Event #11 (won by “Tha Giggy”) and ranks highly thus far in most categories along with Russia and Germany. Indeed those four -- U.K., Canada, Russia, and Germany -- have the most participation by a wide margin currently in PS series, and thus unsurprisingly produce the most success.

Of course, when looking over these results one also has to note how besides the U.S. being missing, so, too, are Italy, Spain, and France not part of the equation as Stars has separate licenses for each of those countries with segregated sites (.it, .es, and .fr) for each. There are a number of other countries for which Stars has players register on separate domains (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Poland, Romania), plus a handful of countries go through the .eu domain (Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia). But I think in all of those cases the player pools are shared with the .com and thus players in those countries can participate in WCOOP.

So again, while it’s not quite the entire world playing in the World Championship of Online Poker, it’s a lot of it. I’d tend to think Canada will probably forge a comeback here to challenge the U.K. Meanwhile, unscientific, occasional monitoring of the other big tourneys on Stars over the last year or so suggests Russia has moved ahead of everyone when it comes to supplying players -- and winners -- on the site. (Russia currently leads w/the most entrants in the WCOOP and will probably continue to do so.)

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

FCOTD

Have slipped back into almost-too-busy-to-post mode today, I’m afraid, and so I’m just going to share a short observation here before getting back to other duties. In fact, I’m finally just about committed to doing what I’ve suggested I might do several times over the past year or so, namely scaling back to a less intensive posting schedule whereby instead of publishing every weekday I’m going to adopt a three-post-a-week routine for the near term at least.

I might on those off-days indulge in tweeting links to some older posts which might be interesting or entertaining to some readers. With over 2,000 of them, there are a few that could be worth reprising I think, including some that relate to current poker news or ongoing debates.

Speaking of, I’m kind of amazed at the legs this whole “first card off the deck” discussion has had over the last week, an issue that had earned some scant attention prior to EPT Barcelona, then thanks to Daniel Negreanu’s FCOTD-related blow-up in the High Roller event suddenly became the hot topic for poker writers and players looking for op-ed topics.

“FCOTD” has definitely replaced “OFC” as the most popular poker acronym of late.

I said last week that I’m ambivalent about the “At Your Seat” rule which requires players to be seated (or “at” their seats, however that is interpreted) when the first card of a hand is dealt or have their hands declared dead. A different rule -- followed widely in the past -- had the “At Your Seat” requirement coincide with the last card of the hand being dealt, meaning players could loiter about, notice the hand starting to be dealt from a neighboring table, then rush back in time to avoid missing a hand. But now it’s FCOTD and everyone seems to be either A-OK or WTF.

I should say I am not indifferent about a rule requiring players actually to be at the table in order to play their hands. That is needed (as I think most would agree). Beyond that, though, I’m not really that concerned about when the decisive at-your-seat-or-lose-your-hand moment occurs, although I do think it whenever that moment is should be understood by all with the rule applied consistently.

For both an explanation of FCOTD and thorough “pro” and “con” takes on it, see the pieces on PokerNews by tournament director Matt Savage in favor of the rule and player Dan O’Brien who is against it. Both make some good points, and both seem fairly firm in their opposing positions.

Meanwhile, like I say, I’m not moved very much in either direction. If anything, I appreciate the point those in favor of the rule (like Savage) make about it preventing players catching a glimpse of opponents’ cards while walking around the table during a deal. That said, I also see what the objectors (like O’Brien) are saying about this issue not coming up often if at all.

I noted before how when I play, I’m usually so glad to be at the table I don’t want to miss a second of it. I never get up except during breaks, and rarely will pull out my phone to check messages. I want to be there, and fully there, from the first card off the deck right through to the point when all of the cards are delivered back to the dealer.

Of course, as a recreational player, I see the time at the table as recreation, and thus rarely if ever am looking for respite from that. From a certain perspective, arguing about when and how often to be able to leave the table almost sounds like players saying they don’t want to play (if that makes sense).

Alas, I haven’t any extra respite at the moment to think about it further. Probably just as well, as everyone else has provided plenty on the topic already.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

McCain Under the Gun

An item that popped up last week while I was in Barcelona was this story about former presidential candidate and U.S. senator John McCain getting caught playing a poker game on his iPhone during a Committee on Foreign Relations hearing. Not that any hearing of such a committee is unimportant, but in this case the topic was the possible use of force in Syria -- still being considered and the subject of President Obama’s prime time speech last night -- thus exposing McCain to some censure for having allowed his focus to drift.

When I saw a few tweets and then followed a link or two to read about the incident last week, I initially thought it was a Photoshop-fueled hoax. But soon it became clear that the photo above taken by Washington Post photographer Melina Mara was exactly what it appeared to be. McCain was playing a play money game, VIP Poker, and it looks like he was calling from under the gun with Q-2-offsuit (click to enlarge).

Almost unseemly to use that term in this particular context. “Under the gun,” I mean.

I immediately thought of the first chapter of James McManus’s Cowboys Full in which he focuses a lot on poker-playing presidents, and in fact draws a pretty sharp distinction between Obama and McCain.

Tipping his hand (pun intended) in terms of his political leanings, McManus favorably highlights Obama’s poker-playing background both by noting the many correspondences between political tactics and poker strategy while also linking Obama to a long list of U.S. presidents who played the game.

Meanwhile McCain is contrastingly drawn as a lesser candidate in part because of what seems a willful turning away from poker. McManus tells of McCain’s father, John S. McCain, Sr., once advising his children “Life is run by poker players, not systems analysts,” then notes how John III “turned out to prefer craps, a loud, mindless game in which the player never has a strategic advantage and must make impulse decisions and then rely on blind luck.”

Some might recall how in the run-up to the 2008 election both Obama’s poker background and McCain’s preference for craps were briefly highlighted, most particularly in a Time feature by Michael Weisskopf and Michael Scherer appearing in July and titled “Candidates’ Vices: Craps and Poker.” Going further than McManus does in his chapter, the article vigorously searches for all sorts of meaning in the two gambling games to discover ways they might reflect personality and indicators of leadership ability.

It was the memory of these stories about McCain and craps that probably added to my skepticism when first seeing the story last week. Wait, I thought... he was playing poker? But that’s not his game...?

Shortly after Mara’s photo whipped around the web, McCain deflected the incident with a jokey tweet that shruggingly tried to make light of its significance. “Scandal!” tweeted McCain. “Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing - worst of all I lost!”

Well, of course he lost. I mean really, limping queen-deuce UTG?

Op-eds since have mostly fallen into two categories -- Sheer Outrage and No Biggie. Late night comedians have all taken their shots, too. Jon Stewart on The Daily Show used more acid than others in his treatment:

David Letterman was relatively tame with his top ten:

And over on Conan O’Brien’s show came a sorta inspired clip from a newly imagined C-SPAN show, The Senatorial Hearing Poker Challenge:

However one responds to the story, it is safe to say “poker” doesn’t come off all that well here, once again playing the role of troublemaker.

I suppose the story wouldn’t have played too differently had McCain’s chosen game had been Words With Friends or Plants vs. Zombies. But there’s something about poker and the ready application of the game, its vocabulary, and its strategies to the world of politics that made the incident all the more enticing. And made it all the more likely to be passed around the web by the rest of us, similarly distracted by our phones.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Passive, Not Passing

My Carolina Panthers began their season Sunday with a game that greatly resembled many of those played during last year’s disappointing 7-9 campaign. Leading 7-6 to begin the fourth quarter versus the Seattle Seahawks, they gave up a long TD pass with about 10 minutes to go to relinquish the advantage, then were unable to score subsequently and lost.

Carolina had several games last year go similarly, wherein they enjoyed fourth quarter leads before ultimately losing, sometimes in excruciating fashion for their fans. Among those games was one against the Atlanta Falcons that featured what ultimately became one of the more scrutinized decisions of the year by embattled head coach Ron Rivera.

Ahead 28-27 with 1:45 left in the game, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-1 at the Falcons’ 45. Rather than go for it, Rivera chose to punt the ball. Atlanta then managed to fashion a quick drive during the last minute to kick the winning field goal and steal the win from Carolina.

Many focused on the decision by Rivera to punt the ball rather than go for the first down, arguing that a QB Cam Newton sneak had such a high chance of succeeding that it was worth attempting as a means to secure the win. The number-crunchers had great fun analyzing the decision, with the ESPN Stats & Information group coming up with a conclusion that just by punting the ball rather than running a play, the Panthers’ chance of winning the game instantly dropped from 83.5% to 57.4%.

From the perspective of a fan on the couch who doesn’t watch the game with a scientific calculator handy, we still understood what we were seeing. Rivera is a conservative coach, and the decision to punt was yet another example of his “playing it safe.” Such a mindset no doubt led to other instances of losing leads and ultimately games, with non-risky offensive play calling and the “prevent defense” often preventing the team from being able to put games away.

I didn’t get to see Sunday’s game versus Seattle, as I only got home from Barcelona after it had completed. But reading up on it afterwards, I learned the Panthers ran just 49 offensive plays the entire game, with caution being the rule throughout. In fact, Newton only threw three passes that went more than 10 yards in the air with the longest being 23 yards.

Carolina has a new offensive coordinator this year, Mike Shula, who replaces the much more wide-open and aggressive Rob Chudzinski who got hired as a head coach by the Cleveland Browns. Much of the fallout from Sunday’s loss is that Shula was much too conservative with the play calling, and coupled with Rivera’s already risk-averse mindset a formula was in place for yet another disappointing result.

By contrast, the Philadelphia Eagles with their new head coach Chip Kelly got a lot of attention last night with their fast-paced, no-huddle offense that incorporates a lot unique formations and higher-risk plays that go down the field. Thanks to some Washington turnovers, the Eagles actually ran an incredible 53 offensive plays in the first half last night -- more than the Panthers did for their entire game Sunday -- and finished with 77 plays run and a 33-27 victory.

The difference in approach between the Week 1 performances of the Panthers and Eagles reminds me a lot of the different between the passive poker player and his aggressive counterpart. For Panthers fans it has long felt as though our team holds itself back somehow, making it hard to earn much in the way of reward because the Panthers are so unwilling to take risks. This approach has characterized Rivera’s two-plus years thus far and was also often true of previous coach John Fox, although every now and then Fox would impress with the occasional out-of-the-box maneuver.

Like the predictable play of Mr. Tighty McTighterson in poker, the Panthers’ conservative style makes life easy for opponents who don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard by unconventional plays. Obviously in both poker and football there are times in which tight really is right, but such cannot be adopted as a permanent guideline if only because doing so allows one’s opponent to become much too comfortable when calling their own plays, and more often than not correct when guessing yours.

All of which is to say, once again it’s feeling like as far as Carolina is concerned, a min-cash (i.e., a wild card playoff berth and a first-round loss) is just about the absolute best we fans can hope for, unless the Panthers figure out how to add a little variety to their game.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 6 -- Catching Up on the Future

Writing my last “travel report” a day late here, although it somehow seems appropriate to monkey with the timing a little given the theme upon which I thought I would focus. Was much too tired when I got home yesterday afternoon to do much other than sleepily watch some Week 1 football then hit the sack early, so I am catching up here today.

Our final day at EPT10 Barcelona involved following both the High Roller and Main Event final tables. The High Roller ended first, and while it appeared Daniel Negreanu was going to complete a remarkable comeback after his early exit on Day 1 (following the whole “At Your Seat” blow-up), after taking a huge lead to heads-up versus Thomas Muhlocker, the Austrian hit a sequence of fortunate hands to snatch away the win.

Meanwhile Tom “hitthehole” Middleton managed to win the Main Event, the story of which was mostly highlighted by a lengthy, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make a deal four-handed. Really there were two deals being negotiated during the long period of talks (about 45 minutes, I think), with Middleton discussing terms with the other three players and also working out terms with his rail full of Brit buds who after offering guidance during the process ended up taking pieces of him at that point. Rick Dacey spelled it all out in a post on the PokerStars blog. (A deal was ultimately made heads-up.)

The whole deal-making sequence was shown on the EPTLive webcast, which while perhaps a little tedious was probably of great interest to some viewers not necessarily privy to how it often works (or doesn’t work, in some cases). I definitely agree with those who say it is better to have such deals allowed and made openly rather than try to enforce some rule against them and force them into secrecy (and thus increase the chance of angle-shooting or other kinds of bad faith).

Speaking of the webcast, as those who tuned in know, all of the action was shown on a one-hour delay in order to allow the showing of hole cards. (You can still watch the long heads-up portion of the Main Event final table here.) That meant also that those of us reporting on the event had to wait an hour, too, before sharing anything, which led to lots of funny (and sometimes confusing) time travel humor.

“I’m going into the future,” is what someone would say when leaving the press room -- where we were all watching the delayed feed, too -- to go get a look at the actual final tables playing out. The traveler would come back to tell us what he or she had seen, but obviously we couldn’t report any such new info until an hour had passed.

Once Middleton won, the next hour was strange to experience as we all prepared to report on the finish but held back until the final hand played out on the stream. Made me think a little of the whole “no spoiler culture” that marks how a lot of entertainment is consumed these days.

It also got me thinking a little about my reporting from the WPT Alpha8 event the previous week where following their style preferences we had to write in the present tense when reporting hands. Meanwhile, at the EPT we wrote in the past about present events that weren’t going to be viewed until the future. And yes, I, too, have a little throbbing knot right behind my eyes when trying to follow that last sentence.

Working with Rick and Stephen Bartley was a great experience all around from which I gained a lot. And again, it was awesome hanging out and working with all of the many smart, funny folks who form the fun, traveling EPT gang.

My flights home were fine. During the nine-hour flight from Frankfurt back to the U.S. I watched two films, both of which had me thinking again about confusing the past, present, and future.

One was Minority Report, that Spielberg-directed flick adapting a Philip K. Dick short story and starring Tom Cruise. Was better than I thought it would be, and of course the whole “precrime” premise wherein a method of predicting, preventing, and prosecuting future crimes uncannily echoed the scene back at the Casino Barcelona on the final day. Or was it the opposite? Heck, I don’t know.

The other was The Internship starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, which I only decided to watch because the two German men sitting next to me had chosen it and laughed like maniacs all of the way through their viewing. Turned out to be kind of a dud, really -- not unpleasant, but hardly as funny to me as my neighbors found it.

Early in the film there was an exchange between Vaughn’s character, Billy, and his girlfriend as they were breaking up in which they discussed never having gone to Barcelona before -- or “Barthelona,” as Vaughn’s character insists. Amusing to watch on a trip home after having been to Barcelona for the first time with Vera.

There’s another bit of dialogue a little later that stood out for me, coming when Billy tells Nick (Wilson) he’s hit on the idea for them to become interns at Google. Which I guess might have turned into some sort of clever twist on the “coming of age” formula but the idea never really matures into much of anything (pun intended).

“I’ve seen the future and it’s beautiful for us,” says Billy, sort of resembling what Stephen had said to us when he returned from having seen Middleton finish off the tournament on Saturday night.

“Can we talk about it later?” says Nick who is busy at work. “No,” says Billy. “The future doesn’t know ‘later.’”

“All the future is is later,” Nick responds. “That’s literally what the future is!”

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Saturday, September 07, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 5 -- Winding Down

One more day to go here in Barcelona, then a long travel day coming up tomorrow. Was another long one yesterday -- riding home my colleague Rick Dacey calculated we were wrapping up a 15-plus hour day of work -- and coming at the end of a week's worth of reporting everyone is starting to think about the soon-to-arrive conclusion of the festival and the trip back home.

For the third straight night, Tom Middleton of the U.K. ended with the chip lead in the EPT10 Barcelona Main Event yesterday after passing by the Dane Kresten Nielsen during the last hour of play. A few years back Nielsen picked up a nickname -- “Kresten the Killer” -- at an EPT, which was setting up a good end-of-night headline as play was winding down. But Middleton grabbed some pots near the end to claim the spotlight once again.

With a number of live scores and a whole lot of online success as “hitthehole,” Middleton is probably the most recognizable name at the final table among a certain small subset of poker players and fans. There are a couple of self-professed “recreational” players among the final eight with the others all serious players (i.e., “pros,” more or less). But none other than Middleton has achieved any serious fame as yet, and for all eight this final table will represent a career highlight by far.

That said, while there are no Spaniards among the group I’m hearing there might be a bit of the famed British rail developing in support of Middleton, so there may well be some excitement to witness today (apart from the poker, that is).

The High Roller reached its final table also yesterday, and that one will have a bit more star power as it plays out today and tonight, with Team PokerStars Pros Jonathan Duhamel and Daniel Negreanu (the latter coming back from that Day 1 “At Your Seat” rumpus), Ole Schemion, and Richard Yong among the group that’s left from the 180 total entries. November Niner David “Raptor” Benefield will be there, too, returning to a short stack and ninth of nine, just like his current situation in the WSOP Main Event.

Speaking of remaining in your seat, that was mostly the case for us yesterday as both tourneys moved toward their respective endgames, especially during the latter hours of play. Today likewise will find us mostly sticking behind the laptops as we follow and report on the action in both events.

Meanwhile, I have been following some of the buzz about the strange goings-on happening over at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, the tall, modern tower situated next to the Casino Barcelona where apparently a couple of pros have run into some security issues involving their laptops. In that pic to the left, the Hotel Arts is on the left, behind the huge Frank Gehry steel-lattice fish that sits atop the casino (also visible up top from another angle).

Before coming to Barcelona the two most frequent comments I’d heard from others who had been before was that (1) it was a beautiful city (and a favorite EPT stop) and (2) to be on the alert for pickpockets. Must have heard the latter warning a dozen times before my arrival.

As I was able to see earlier in the week on that boat excursion, Barcelona is most definitely a picturesque place, with striking architecture, accessible beaches, and a great deal to do as well (as Vera got to take advantage of when she was here). Have seen a few sketchy spots, too, including right around the casino. Indeed, last night as we left late even getting a cab required weaving through a dubious scene. It’s like any big city in certain respects, I suppose, with much to offer but reason to be wary, too.

I think I’ll sign off here and try perhaps to take in a few more of those sights before play begins today. The High Roller starts at noon CET and the Main Event an hour after that, with the EPTLive webcast cranking up on a one-hour delay at 2 p.m. Check in there as well as at the PokerStars blog to see how things play out.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 4 -- At Your Seat

Focusing more intently on poker here as the week progresses as the end draws near, with few (if any) opportunities left for sight-seeing and other extracurricular activity.

The €5,000+€300 European Poker Tour Main Event played down to 24 players, taking almost exactly five 90-minute levels to do so, with Tom “hitthehole” Middleton continuing to lead.

Meanwhile the three-day €10,000+€300 High Roller got rolling as well yesterday, a side event that might not have earned so much attention outside of Barcelona just yet if not for that brouhaha involving Daniel Negreanu and the so-called “first card rule” (or “At Your Seat” rule) to which he and some others object. (See Tournament Poker Rules, General Rules, Rule 32 in the European Poker Tour Rules and Regulations.)

I’m not going to tell the whole story of what happened yesterday here, as Josh did a fine job recounting the incident over in the PokerNews live updates. I, too, reported on it over on the PokerStars blog, although with a little less detail. Basically Negreanu had a hand killed when he wasn’t deemed to be “at” his seat when the first card of the hand was dealt, and he became incensed enough not only to argue about it for a while, but to push all in blind the next hand and bust from the event.

The all-in push came in the tourney’s second level, and in fact Negreanu had already slipped to less than half the starting stack when he did it. Also, the tourney allowed for one re-entry, and Negreanu did buy back in later in the day after dinner. Players can enter (or re-enter) up until the start of play today.

After expressing a lot of frustration both here in the hallways and online via Twitter and his Full Contact Poker forum, Negreanu did come back smooth things over again with the TDs. Later in the evening after he re-entered there was a funny moment when he was carrying his chair around on his shoulder in between hands as a joking interpretation of the “At Your Seat” provision.

While I didn’t spend time reading around too much yesterday, looking later on shows folks making a lot more of the whole incident (on poker sites, forums, Twitter, etc.) than was warranted. Looking for stories, many outlets took Josh’s report and Negreanu’s online comments and summarized the incident again with added commentary.

I guess it was kind of an interesting moment, even if in the larger scheme of things it was not all that significant here at the Casino Barcelona. While the situation provided an impetus for Negreanu and others to voice their displeasure with the new rule that players have to be at their seats when the first card is dealt (not the last) in order to avoid having their hand mucked, the issue of whether or not he was technically “at” his seat when standing behind it would have still been an issue regardless.

I haven’t written anything here about the rule or the discussions over it, mainly because I’m somewhat ambivalent about it. I personally like to stay in my seat and focus on poker when I play, so I have no problem at all being required to be there when the first card is dealt. Then again, I don’t play poker 12-plus hours a day every day, and perhaps I’d feel differently about the rule if I did.

As I mentioned before, the EPT Barcelona Main Event drew a record 1,234 players. The High Roller also attracted a very large field with 163 entries altogether yesterday (including 32 re-entries), 98 of whom made it through to today’s Day 2 with red hot Ole Schemion leading. Last year the same event only had 101 entries total, so I think it’s safe to say the EPT in general and Barcelona in particular is thriving, poker-wise.

Like I say, focusing more on poker now and the stories of how these two tourneys are ending. We did make it back out onto the boardwalk over at Port Olimpic for a late night dinner before heading back to the hotel last night. I then made myself stay up late enough to watch the kickoff of the NFL season, that Baltimore-Denver game being broadcast on one of the channels in my room.

Had a flashback to February when I stayed up all night to watch the Super Bowl while at EPT Deauville, especially during the weather delay that came at the start of the game (which I read was exactly as long -- 34 minutes -- as the power-related delay that happened at the start of the second half at SB XLVII). Heard French announcers then and Spanish ones last night, although I could only last through the first part of the first quarter.

Should be an interesting Day 5 at the Main Event today, during which we’ll likely get to know a little better some of the remaining players. Check over at the PokerStars blog for reports and of course you can dial up the EPTLive webcast all day, too, available in a variety of languages. (Photo of the TV table above via Neil Stoddart.)

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 3 -- La Rambla-in’ Along

Another fast-moving day yesterday at the Casino Barcelona as players in the EPT Barcelona Main Event played down from 235 to 79, taking five 90-minute levels to do so. The Englishman Tom “hitthehole” Middleton ended the night leading all as the only player to bag up over 1 million chips.

I imagine today’s Day 4 will likely follow a similar schedule with at most five levels as the target (usually) for these next-to-next-to-last days of EPTs is to get down to the final 24. It’s possible they may press forward to 16 today, but in any case I don’t think we’ll be going too late into the night.

One oddity that stood out yesterday was the fact that the player who ended up bubbling the event in 184th -- Nuno Da Camara -- never showed at all for Day 3. They reached hand-for-hand which went on for a while, and in fact several players survived all-ins while Da Camara’s stack was being blinded and anted down to a last couple of hands. Finally Da Camara was the one to be eliminated, and his empty chair became one of the most photographed pieces of furniture in a decade’s worth of EPTs.

Was kind of a long day, anyhow, yesterday as after play was done we had the media tournament. Your humble scribbler didn’t fare too well there, I’m afraid, and I believe I may have ended my non-U.S. undefeated record in tournaments after having won the EPT Kyiv media event a few years back.

Never could really get anything going, bungling a couple of hands and then losing a race with A-Q-suited versus jacks to end my run relatively early. Was for the best, though, as Vera was there waiting for me and had I gone deep she would have been forced to hang around the casino much longer.

We were able to enjoy one more nice dinner earlier yesterday, punctuating another great day of sightseeing and shopping for her. This time she made it over to La Rambla, kind of a long pedestrian mall with lots of shops and places to eat, and picked up various items including a cool FCB jersey for our little nephew.

She left this morning after having had a great vacation here, and in the end I was very pleased that we were able to spend as much time together as we did. We’ve talked about taking such trips many times before, and in fact practically every time I go on one of these tourney journeys we usually spend a little time considering whether or not she can come along, too, then decide “we’ll try the next one.” So it was great finally getting it to work this time, and we ended up picking an excellent place for it to happen.

Again going to sign off quickly here so as to ready for the day. Go on over to the PokerStars blog to read what Stephen, Rick, and I have been writing about the tournament thus far as well as to see the PokerNews guys’ updates, and don’t forget the EPTLive webcast goes on all day every day, which should become even more interesting to follow now that the tournament is approaching the latter stages.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 2 -- Poker, Plaça d'Espanya, and Paella

A shorter day yesterday at the European Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event, with just six 75-minute levels and no dinner break. That meant wrapping up before 9 p.m. as opposed to the 1:30 a.m. finishes of the previous two nights. The shorter day coincided nicely with the fact that yesterday happened to be Vera Valmore’s birthday, and so we were able to go out for a nice dinner to celebrate.

In the end a total of 1,234 players entered the event, crushing last year’s all-time high at EPT Barcelona of 1,082 and coming close to establishing a new standard for non-PCA EPT Main Events, just missing topping the 1,240 who played EPT6 Sanremo.

There were 697 left to start Day 2 (where the two Day 1 flights were combined), and from them 235 made it to today. From those 183 will make the cash, so the money bubble will be bursting early this afternoon. A whopping €1,067,000 awaits the winner up top.

Our day began with a late breakfast in the hotel, another cab ride over to Casino Barcelona, and following a rapid-fire series of posts throughout the day at the PokerStars blog we looked up and the day was done. Meanwhile Vera was out and about again, having mastered the metro by now enough to explore still more of Barcelona.

Her day was highlighted by a trip to the Fundació Joan Miró, a museum of modern art featuring the work of Joan Miró, an artist in whom Vera has always had an interest.

The museum is situated up on top of a hill called Montjuïc in Catalonia which requires a bit of a walk from the nearest metro stop at the striking Plaça d'Espanya. That is what is pictured to the left; up above is the museum itself with the fountains running before it.

When we reunited during the early evening, we took a walk along the boardwalk facing the Port Olimpic just outside the casino, enjoying the especially pleasant weather (mild temps, light wind) as we marveled at the dozens of boats packed like sardines. With dusk approaching, there were still a couple of beach volleyball games going and we lingered to watch them before sauntering up to the Moll del Gregal.

There we picked a restaurant from the several choices, La Fitora, where we adventurously selected a black rice paella dish with cuttlefish ink which was very tasty, causing us to smile through blackened teeth. We moved back toward the casino after that, stopping at Farggi for ice cream before making our way back to the hotel.

Vera has another full day here before leaving on Thursday. Meanwhile, at the casino we’ll be back on the reporting beat with the media tourney happening at some point during the proceedings. Once again, visit the PokerStars blog to read and watch more about the EPT Barcelona Main Event.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 1b -- Seeing the Sea

Another busy, long day yesterday at the Casino Barcelona as the second and last of the two Day 1 flights played out in the European Poker Tour Main Event. More than 700 players were there yesterday, added to the 518 who played Day 1a, which makes this year’s EPT Barcelona Main Event the biggest ever.

No one seems surprised at all at this development, as the tourney has seen increased numbers every year for the last several, eclipsing the 1,000-player mark for the first time last year. Now the focus turns toward whether or not the event will ultimately best the all-time EPT Main Event mark of 1,240 set at Sanremo in Season 6 (not counting the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, which otherwise get grouped in with the EPT events).

Players can actually register through the start of play today, and so we’ll learn definitely just after noon whether or not they make it to 1,240 total. I believe the official number at the moment is 1,228, so it’s still possible that record gets topped.

One big highlight yesterday came before the tournament started when I got to take Vera Valmore out for a speed boat tour of the Mediterranean for a couple of hours in the morning before going into the casino for the noon start. The EPT Concierge set up the trip, and in fact any of the players who are interested in it can book a seat to do the same absolutely free, one of the many extra perks around of which they can take advantage.

Vera and I were tagging along as Sarah Grant was shooting a video of the trip for PokerStars.tv (that’s a still from it above.) The video does a great job capturing the feel of the trip and all of the neat sights we were able to see as we made a wide circle next to the Barcelona coast. Check it out:

I wrote a post as well for the PokerStars blog -- “Mediterranean meditations” -- in which I tried to capture some of the details of our voyage.

Other fun Day 1b posts included one about chip stacks and the Sagrada Família (about which I was writing a little here yesterday) and another after I spoke with the Slovakian player Dag Palovic about his new detective thriller coming out next month.

Again going to keep things short here today in order once more to spend some of these morning hours with Vera. No boat trips today, but we may find a way to have a nice dinner somewhere this evening. She’s been able to do some exploring during the day, too, taking lots of pictures and doing lots of great shopping.

Check in again today over on the PokerStars blog for more from EPT Barcelona, and remember the EPTLive webcast is going all day everyday this week as well.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Travel Report: EPT10 Barcelona, Main Event: Day 1a -- Under Construction

Much too much to write about and way too little time. Over the last couple of days I’ve flown to Barcelona, Spain, settled in a hotel room a short way from the Casino Barcelona where the first stop of Season 10 of the European Poker Tour is underway, and have worked an initial day writing posts for the PokerStars blog about the EPT Barcelona Main Event.

An unusual treat for me for this trip -- Vera Valmore has accompanied me -- which means I doubt I’ll be spending too much time over the next few days posting here as I aim to use all the scant free time I do have with her.

I’ve mentioned before here how we’ve been to Europe together before, even living in France for a year. During that time we made several trips to neighboring countries and even once looked into a package to Barcelona (I dimly recall), but never did make it further south than Nice. Vera did visit here once before that, but it has been a while.

We flew over together and our flights were fine, the transfer in Frankfurt, Germany, successfully made without much bother. We arrived on Saturday around noon, and as we were unable to check into the hotel until 3 p.m. we went ahead and cabbed it over to the casino where we met up with my PokerStars blog colleagues Stephen Bartley and Rick Dacey for lunch.

On our own again after that, we finally got into our hotel room and then despite having missed a night of sleep mustered the energy to head back out. Some searching around neighboring blocks eventually got us to the metro and after taking the L4 northward for several stops and transferring to the L5 we got off at the famed Sagrada Família (partly pictured above), that wild, awe-inspiring, perpetually-under-construction church about which we’d heard from just about everyone we’d spoken to about the upcoming trip.

The line for the tour inside was too long and we were too tired to stand in it, but even just making the circuit around the huge basilica was enough to fire the imagination. First designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi (who died in 1926), construction started way back in the 1880s and was only about a quarter of the way done by the time of his death.

Work continued off and on throughout the 20th century and into the present, with numerous others taking on the task of completing and adding to Gaudi’s original vision. It sounds like a completion date has been set at 2028, although walking around it and reflecting on what seems dozens of different overlapping lines of inspiration gives the impression that it will never truly be finished.

From there we worked our way back to the hotel, napped a bit, then walked to the beach where we saw many others enjoying a pleasantly warm evening and picturesque sunset. We then enjoyed a light tapas meal at one of the shorefront restaurants, sitting outside and watching people walk, skate, and bicycle past, before finally getting some rest.

After breakfast yesterday we parted as I went in to help cover the first Day 1 flight of the EPT Barcelona Main Event while Vera did more exploring and shopping. We will get to spend some more time together this week before she departs on Thursday, and in fact have an excursion planned a little later this morning which I’ll likely write something about on the PokerStars blog today.

Speaking of, there were some fun posts yesterday, including one with a friendly Irishman named Tom Gallagher who qualified for his €5,300 seat online (spending next-to-nothing to do so) and another in which I evoked Don Quixote while commenting on the inherent romanticism (or non-realism) of poker tournaments.

Gonna cut it off here as more adventures await. Consider these posts unfinished, all part of a large, planned-for edifice of chronicling not unlike the Sagrada Família still under construction.

Meanwhile, head over to the PokerStars blog today to read more of our Main Event reports, and also take a look at the EPTLive webcast which goes on every day this week until the Main Event concludes on Saturday.

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