Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hard Candy, Talking Bananas, Moby Dick, and the WSOP

Happy Halloween, all.

Had to make a quick run to the grocery store this afternoon to pick up candy for the trick-or-treaters, and unfortunately the shelves were nearly bare. Normally I am careful about buying candy that I like, anticipating the possibility that we won’t have enough visitors to deplete the supply. It’s a simple, clear cut, long-term EV strategy.

But this time I was stuck picking up a lot of suckers, hard candy, and sour-flavored varieties -- in other words, less chocolate -- so now I’m hoping we have more kids come around than usual so I can unload it all. But darkness is already starting to fall and there’s a big bowl full of the stuff sitting by the door.

The problem was in the planning, it’s clear. Kind of makes me think a little bit about a hand from Day 7 of the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event which I remembered from the summer and watched again on ESPN a couple of nights ago. It was the one that saw the Argentinian Fabian Ortiz get knocked out in 17th place, with J.C. Tran the one claiming the last of his stack.

Ortiz was a player I hadn’t necessarily known too much about this summer, but then I saw him again not too long after the WSOP when in Lima, Peru at the Latin American Poker Tour Main Event that took place there a couple of weeks later. In fact, I’d end up following him a bit while covering that event for the PokerStars blog, including writing a post in which I found myself making an elaborate reference Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. If you’re curious about how something like that happened, follow and read.

Ortiz is a good player and had a solid run to make it to 17th, although his bustout hand wasn’t necessarily his finest moment. Down to just 15 big blinds or so, he chose to make a small early-position raise with A-Q and got called by Tran playing from the big blind. Then the hand became one of those one-thing-led-to-another type situations that saw Ortiz making a suspect-looking shove all in on the river in an effort to win without having connected with the board, and Tran correctly reading the play to call him with second pair.

Aaron Hendrix wrote about the Ortiz hand and one other from Day 7 in a post today on Learn.PokerNews, breaking down it all more thoroughly while showing how the hand demonstrated a potential consequence of not thinking ahead with one’s play. Click and read if you’re curious.

Okay... during the time I’ve been writing we’ve had a few more callers, including a cowboy, a few princesses, and one large talking banana. I don’t want to be overconfident, but I might be able to get rid of all of this candy before we’re through.

Of course, I could just go all in with the next visitor, after which it would necessarily be lights out at chez Shamus.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No Need for Introductions

Listened in on the brief conference call today conducted by ESPN concerning next week’s WSOP Main Event final table. The call featured ESPN VP of Original Programming and Production Jamie Horowitz, commentators Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, and producer Dan Gotti of Poker PROductions fielding questions from what turned out to be just a small handful of reporters.

The call only lasted a little over 20 minutes, and really there wasn’t much in the way of news to come from it aside from a confirmation of the fact that the programs next week will again feature all Main Event final table hands shown on just a 15-minute delay. The procedure for showing hole cards will be the same as employed last year, with cards only shown after the hands conclude and only those players still involved at hand’s end having their cards revealed.

On Monday, November 4, the show will begin at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, which means cards are going in the air at 4:45 p.m. local time. They’ll play down from nine players to three and stop, then the last three players will return on Tuesday, November 5 with play resuming at 5:45 p.m. local time and the show getting underway at 6 p.m. Pacific/9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. Antonio Esfandiari will be providing analysis to assist McEachern and Chad, and Phil Hellmuth will be involved again, too, it sounds like.

That was about it, news-wise. There was some fun at the end of the call as reference was made to Chad’s WSOP final table from a year ago -- an event I had a chance to help cover -- as well as McEachern’s WSOP Circuit final table this week (he finished fourth in a WSOP-C prelim at Harveys Lake Tahoe).

“We’ve been trying to school the audience for years that it’s a game of skill,” complained Chad, joking that McEachern making a WSOP-C final table offered serious counter-evidence to that argument.

Earlier McEachern did make an interesting point about the effect of having a delayed final table and the whole “November Nine” format, something I’d been aware of but hadn’t thought too much about before.

He was responding to a question about players perhaps lacking personality and thus not being especially entertaining to watch. McEachern didn’t directly address that judgment, but did say that “a bonus” that has come from the delayed final table format is that it does, in fact, create conditions for the nine players to get to know one another during the intervening months, which can lead to more openness and interaction at the tables.

“The November Nine concept allows the players to spend a lot more time together,” said McEachern, noting how several who made it to the WSOP Europe in France were seen dining out or sight-seeing with each other. “So they get to know each other better, and I think that will help, as it were, ‘break the ice’ as we get to the final table.”

The shared experience of making the WSOP Main Event final table likely encourages a kind of bond, which in turn increases the chances that these guys are connecting during the nearly four-month delay. And while that may or may not translate into more table talk or entertaining-to-watch poker, I get what McEachern is saying.

For those of us for whom the poker will provide enough to keep us engaged, we aren’t worried so much about the players entertaining us in other ways. After all, if it goes nearly 400 hands like last year, it’s only reasonable to anticipate some down time.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Poker’s Past: Four-Plus Decades of the WSOP Main Event

Like the rest of the poker world, my interest is gradually turning back toward Las Vegas and the World Series of Poker Main Event final table, due to get started next Monday afternoon at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

We’re running a few different WSOP-related pieces this week over on Learn.PokerNews, including some concerning the history of the WSOP Main Event. I’ve posted two installments thus far, “Learning Poker History: WSOP Main Event, 1970-79” and “Learning Poker History: WSOP Main Event, 1980-89,” trying to give the broad history while also including a few nuggets that might not be so common to the usual rehearsals of WSOP history.

I was partly inspired to do something about the WSOP Main Event and its history after picking up on some folks expressing uncertainty about what exactly the “November Nine” really was.

I know for a fact that some following the weekly edited version of what happened back in July on ESPN aren’t entirely aware how the final table works -- or even if perhaps it has already been played and will be shown in the same fashion as play from Days 3 through 7 have been. Realizing this, I thought further about how some may not be familiar with the WSOP Main Event in its pre-November Nine iteration, and so thought I could help to spell that out somewhat.

On one level, the WSOP Main Event is wholly unlike other sporting events like the Super Bowl, baseball’s World Series, the Stanley Cup, the NBA playoffs, and so on, as well as other individual sports’ championships like the majors in tennis and golf and the like. While many of those who have won the WSOP ME are considered among poker’s greatest players, there is never a consensus regarding the winner being the best poker player in a given year, particularly these days.

That said, the WSOP has managed over the course of 44 years to create a sports-like tradition with its Main Event, and digging through the history and all of the names and stories does help further that impression. It’s kind of fun, too, for those who enjoy trivia and other interesting anecdotes having to do with our favorite card game.

So if you want to read along about the WSOP Main Event while watching the last part of Day 7 play out on ESPN tonight, check out those pieces on Learn.PokerNews. Also, let me know if there are any other subjects which you might like to see explored under that “Learning Poker History” heading.

(The photo above from the 1979 WSOP as well as the one to the left of Ken “What a Player!” Smith courtesy the UNLV Special Collections on the World Series of Poker.)

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed’s Poker Face

Like many was sad to hear of the passing of Lou Reed yesterday.

I was probably around 10 the first time I ever heard a Lou Reed song. As a kid I loved to tune in AM radio at night before going to sleep, picking up channels as far away as the Cincinnati (WLW) and Chicago (WLS), in many cases hearing early examples of talk radio or baseball games. WLS would play music, I recall, and that was how I first heard “Walk on the Wild Side.”

I thought it was a novelty song, like something off of Dr. Demento. Reed’s deadpan delivery didn’t resemble anything I recognized from the FM stations my parents played in the car. I thought it had to be some sort of joke, all this stuff about Sugar Plum Fairy, Little Joe, and Holly.

A few years later I began collecting records, and a few years after that began to develop some semblance of taste about what I liked and what I didn’t. I was reintroduced to Reed’s solo stuff, and thought still wasn’t old enough to understand it realized I liked certain elements.

Then came the whole Velvet Underground revival and all of those records found their way into my growing collection. And onto my turntable for hundreds and hundreds of spins. In the end I never did quite delve that deeply into the Reed solo oeuvre, although I do have Transformer and (strangely) Metal Machine Music on the iPod, the latter one of those I’m-gonna-really-sit-down-and-listen-to-this-one-day titles that exists almost entirely as a theoretical set of unlistened-to tracks.

But the Velvets have remained on permanent play for me, with the first LP with Nico and Warhol’s banana cover and the second with “White Light/White Heat,” “Sister Ray,” and John Cale reading a story about a doomed man who mailed himself to his girlfriend in a box the two I dial up most often.

To me those two records suggested much broader possibilities for what was possible when it came to rock and pop, eschewing pretty much all of the usual genre-defining restraints to do something new at every turn. The third self-titled LP without Cale was also innovative, though in a less obvious way, and while Loaded never quite worked for me as a coherent album -- almost more like a compilation of greatest hits, which it kind of is -- I still listen to it a lot, just like I do the live albums, as well as VU and Another View.

I preferred Reed in the band context, though appreciated his iconoclasm and experimental tangents when outside of it. Might have been because I felt more comfortable dealing with him when surrounded by others than when he was on his own.

Reading through some of the obits and remembrances today, I keep running into references to Reed’s “poker face,” such as this CNN encomium referring to his “poker-faced demeanor” in Honda ads during the 1980s, or this Village Voice piece about his once visiting a record store and buying a copy of Exile’s “Kiss You All Over” and when asked why he wanted a copy replied without a hint of any evident sarcasm “Because I like it.”

Clicking around on the Rolling Stone site, there are more similar references, such as one calling him “Ol’ Poker Face” in a review of his Magic and Loss LP, or a reference in a 1989 interview to the “poker-faced humanity with which he depicted drug addiction in ‘Heroin,’ errant sexual behavior in ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and, in the epic ‘Street Hassle,’ the fragility of hope and love among the ruins.”

Again I think back to that first, static-filled listen to a Lou Reed song as a child in bed and the confusion it inspired. I gradually became more comfortable with listening to his music, although I’ll admit it always continued to challenge. Even after I had finally made up my mind to be able to say -- like he once did to that record store clerk -- I like it.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

If You Never Go All In, You Cannot Lose

“Tournaments are like plus-EV lottery tickets... or in some cases, minus-EV lottery tickets.”

That was an idea tossed out by Phil Laak this week while helping with the commentary on the WSOP Europe live stream. Kind of an interesting observation, I thought, about tournament poker that highlighted how much luck is involved in winning a tourney while also noting that some players can via their skills and tourney know-how lessen that chance element -- or, with a lack of such know-how, increase it.

During some of the breaks this week on the WSOPE stream they’ve been showing clips from last year’s WSOPE Main Event final table won by Phil Hellmuth. Saw the finale again a little earlier today, including Hellmuth’s coming over to the rail after winning and saying something about having been all in and at risk only a single time throughout the entire tourney.

We take him at his word, I suppose, but in truth I think that is one statistic Hellmuth can be counted on to keep track of as he plays -- namely, the number of times he’s been all in and at risk in a tournament. He’s famously pronounced in the past with pride his ability to avoid such spots in tourneys. Of course it is an inarguable truism that if you never go all in versus a player with more chips, you cannot possibly be eliminated. (Easier said than done.)

Was kind of setting those two ideas beside each other today while watching what has turned out to be a long heads-up battle between Fabrice Soulier and Adrian Mateos, thinking about how that strategy of avoiding all-ins -- when employed in conjunction with a lot of other poker skills, of course -- can work to improve ones chances in the tourney “lottery.”

Especially in a relatively small field tourney like the WSOPE Main Event usually is -- Hellmuth topped a field of 420 last year; there were 375 entered this time -- the chances of making one’s way all of the way through it without being at risk more than once is better than is the case, say, in the WSOP Main Event where I have to imagine all nine of those who made this year’s final table were at risk somewhere along the way, perhaps more than once. Would be interesting to sort that out regarding this year’s November Nine (if possible).

In any event, it’s interesting to think how playing a tournament is on one level a willing acceptance of risk (especially from the perspective of a cash game player), a primary strategy of the tournament itself is to avoid risk.

Have a good weekend all. And whatever you do, manage your risk appropriately.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

From the Front Row

Kind of a crazy day filled with various tasks and obligations that carried me past the dinner bell without even having stopped to eat anything. Looking up and realizing night had fallen, I remembered having agreed to go see a Charlotte Bobcats’ preseason game with my friend, James, a season-ticket holder who had asked me earlier in the week about going.

I raced down the highway to arrive shortly after tip-off, then was pleasantly surprised to discover James had in fact scored us a ticket upgrade that put us courtside, right on the first row just a few feet from the baseline. Even better, the ticket got us into a buffet -- free through the first quarter! -- and before we got comfortable in our seats I’d had the chance to fill my empty belly with some good eats.

Like I say, the day had been filled taking care of a number of different tasks, all done while I had the WSOP Europe €25,600 High Roller final table streaming, eventually won by Daniel Negreanu who also clinched the WSOP Player of the Year for his finish. That’s two WSOP POYs for Negreanu after having one before in 2004, and caps a fairly remarkable year’s worth of tourney finishes dating back to his WSOP APAC Main Event win.

Was kind of interesting to hear it reported early on during that final table that those remaining had made a “gentleman’s agreement” not to collect any information from live stream which came with a half-hour delay and with hole cards shown after the hands had completed. (For more about the delay and players utilizing such info, see last week’s post “The Blessing and the Curse.”)

I think my favorite comment regarding that agreement came via Twitter from Mike “Tîmex” McDonald who tweeted “Just a headsup if I’m ever part of a gentleman’s agreement to not utilize hole card info from a live stream. My word is worth under €725,000.”

Actually I stayed away from Twitter for much of the day, especially once the final table got going in earnest, as I didn’t care to have results reported ahead of time. That delay starts to work on you after awhile, I think, so much so that once I finally tore myself away from work to go to the game it was a little disorienting suddenly to be back in “real time” so to speak.

Sitting so close to the action was a little jarring, too. I would say I felt like Haralabos Voulgaris, who whenever he sees an NBA game live he invariably sits courtside. But it was preseason, and the Bobcats and the Cavs, and, well, that ain’t exactly “high rolling.” But it was fun to pretend. The Bobcats won tonight, though it will probably be another long season.

Was also in very close proximity to lots of sideline reporting going on, and glancing over shoulders I saw people blogging and tweeting not unlike what I do when live reporting from poker tournaments. Indeed, it took me a few years to figure this out, but that sort of work resembles sports reporting more than anything else, and thus when people ask me what I do these days I find myself often quickly bringing up reporting on sports as the easiest way to explain writing about poker all the time.

Speaking of NBA ball, I’m contributing to a roundtable over on Ocelot Sports that will appear soon in which some of us are picking over/unders on all 30 teams, so check over there for that.

Now I’m back home and settling into some more sports-watching in real time, flipping back-and-forth between Game 2 of the World Series and my Panthers playing Tampa Bay. Will slide back into the delay again tomorrow, though, I imagine, to see that WSOPE final table play out, again taking a front row seat... on my couch.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

World Series Time

Sitting down to watch Game 1 of the World Series tonight between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Was joking a little last week about how baseball really doesn’t capture my attention so much anymore until the postseason rolls around, and with the playoffs now extending deeper into October the Series is probably the only time when I’ll sit down and watch every game, or at least most of every game.

If this year’s Series goes the full seven games it will be ending on Halloween, which means it will be over and done with when that other World Series -- the World Series of Poker -- finally cranks back up with the “November Nine” starting on Monday, November 4.

Thanks to the way ESPN now presents its coverage of the Main Event, most who watch probably think of the WSOP as only the Main Event. That is to say, there must be a decent number of casual viewers who are aware of the WSOP having a big tournament every year in which a world champion is crowned, but aren’t necessarily aware or concerned about all of the preliminary events, never mind what’s happening at WSOP Europe, WSOP Asia Pacific, or even all the other tours and tourneys filling up the calendar from January to December.

Interestingly enough, though, I feel like the actual final table of the WSOP Main Event has kind of receded relatively speaking when it comes to its imprint on the broader cultural memory. In fact, when I compare baseball’s World Series to the WSOP Main Event, it almost seems like for poker its the long lead-up -- the “regular season” or early playoff rounds, we might say -- that gets at least as much attention and/or review, ultimately, as does the final table.

Think about how often we saw the WSOP ME final table rerun on ESPN from 2003-2005, that seemingly incessant loop of showings that we all basically memorized by the time the next year rolled around. Then think about how little the 2006-2012 final tables have been shown -- or watched, I should probably say.

I watched every hand of the 2012 WSOP Main Event final table last year -- all 399 of them -- focusing on it quite closely when it was all playing out. But while I was aware of later edited showings of it on ESPN that followed, I never really paid that much attention to them nor was I that aware of others discussing those broadcasts or even hands in that much detail in the months that followed.

It’s certainly the case that the “almost live” coverage of the WSOP ME final tables is lessening interest in the later reruns, but even so, it feels like the “highlights” from Greg Merson’s win a year ago have already faded almost entirely.

Anyhow, what happens between the Cards and Red Sox over the next week will certainly be relived over and again until next spring, and I suppose that once the WSOP ME plays out November 4-5 we’ll spend at least a week or two talking to each other about that, too. But after that I wonder if we’ll think about it much at all, already having moved on to something else.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hellmuth Wants To Draw a Line in the Sand

Been continuing to follow the coverage of the 2013 World Series of Poker Europe on various sites, in particular of the Main Event which today played down to 24 players. A little drama at the end of today as Daniel Negreanu was finally ousted in 25th place for a cash worth €21,750. His knockout today means Matthew Ashton stays in front in the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year race as Negreanu needed to finish seventh or better in the ME to pass him.

Negreanu immediately hopped into Event No. 8, the High Roller event for which the buy-in of €25,600 was just a bit higher than his take-away from the ME. He could still pass Ashton in the POY race with a high finish in that one, I believe, as long as Ashton doesn’t do better. And while Ashton has the edge there are some other scenarios still in play, too, as Tim Fiorvanti broke down over on BLUFF today.

Negreanu, of course, got a head start in the 2013 WSOP POY race by winning the WSOP Asia Pacific Main Event back in April where he also final tabled another preliminary event. All of the open-bracelet events in the WSOP APAC, the WSOP in Las Vegas, and WSOP Europe count toward the WSOP Player of the Year race.

Speaking of whether or not certain events “count” when it comes to the WSOP, Phil Hellmuth offered some thoughts a few days ago to Thomas Keeling (a.k.a. “SrslySirius”) about whether or not bracelets won at WSOP APAC should “count” or not. Hellmuth, of course, has an obvious interest in that particular tally given that he leads all with 13 total bracelets, including one in the 2012 WSOP Europe Main Event.

In a video made at WSOP Europe, Keeling put the question to Hellmuth directly about the relative value of the WSOP APAC or WSOP Europe bracelets, and the Poker Brat responds initially by saying “There’s two bracelets that no one can argue with, you know... Daniel’s -- he won the Main Event in Australia -- and mine -- I won the Main Event [in Europe in 2012]. So those should count for sure as bracelets.”

Hellmuth is implying, of course, that it might be debatable whether to count bracelets won in preliminary events in Europe or Australia, so Keeling asks him if he thinks Phil Ivey’s ninth bracelet -- won in Event No. 2 at the 2013 WSOP APAC, a $2,200 buy-in (AUD) mixed event in which 81 players took part and Ivey won only a little over $50K -- doesn’t “count.”

In his response Hellmuth kind of talks himself into saying Ivey’s bracelet counts, although it’s pretty obvious he wants to say otherwise. “I mean it was in a field of 80 players, mixed game, small limit,” he begins, then realizing it "probably sounds like sour grapes because he chasing me for the bracelets," admits with some reluctance that Ivey’s bracelet does count.

But Hellmuth has some other thoughts, too.

“I don’t know if the ones in Australia next year should count or not,” he continues. From there he brings up the idea of a “players council” that would decide whether or not the WSOP APAC bracelets counted or not before 2014 rolls around.

“We have to draw a line in the sand somewhere... where bracelets count and don’t count,” insists Hellmuth, his finger extended as though he’s ready to be the one to do the drawing.

I like Keeling’s BLUFF videos, both these “straight” ones and the funny, “Srsly”-styled ones. In fact, I can’t help but view these more straighforward-seeming interview clips through the not-always-serious SrslySirius “lens” now and then, such as in this one when Keeling enthusiastically says “that’s a good idea” to Hellmuth as he gets him to elaborate about his idea for some sort of WSOP Bracelet-Line-Drawing Players Council.

Because, well, it’s a terrible idea, and for obvious reasons. Negreanu says as much in another Keeling video from today. And as for “drawing a line in the sand” about which tournaments award WSOP bracelets and which don’t, well, the WSOP already does that.

Sure, there might be some issues with how many bracelets are being awarded as well as when and where the WSOP is staging its events in which bracelets are the prize. But having the guy with the most be involved with deciding which ones “count” or not would be like letting the chip leader change the rules of the game.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Invitation to Learn

Had a lot of fun over the weekend playing golf again, something I hadn’t done a lot of for a long while until recently. Ended up writing something about it elsewhere and so thought I’d just use today’s post here to point you there.

The post appears over on Learn.PokerNews, sort of a spinoff site from PokerNews that I’ve recently begun to help manage. Learn.PokerNews is intended as a site for new poker players and those just getting interested in the game, and I’m contributing with some articles and in other ways including starting to get others involved.

The idea of the site is to bring new players into the game, so the articles are mostly geared toward newcomers or those with a little poker experience -- that is, people looking for a new challenge and thinking poker might be one worth trying.

There are a few contributors at Learn.PokerNews currently and we’ll be adding more soon. I’m also doing a lot of brainstorming with folks about the site and the idea of creating interesting content for those curious about poker and/or just picking up the game.

The whole project is making me think back to first getting hooked by poker -- I mean really hooked like so many others were about a decade ago. Since then there have been multiple waves of new “post-boom” poker players coming to the game for the first time from a variety of different avenues.

Just the other day I was sent a brand new poker strategy book and was kind of surprised to read one of the co-authors describe himself as having first gotten into the game by playing Zynga poker on Facebook... in 2009!

Reading that I realized how after several years of belonging to the same “generation” (so to speak) of players who began playing in earnest -- say, after seeing Rounders in the late 1990s/early 2000s or after watching Chris Moneymaker win the WSOP Main Event in 2003 -- that group has come and in some cases now gone. Meanwhile it’s probably in the interests of those of us who remain to try and get new players into the game both for reasons of self-preservation and for more altruistic purposes of sharing with others all of the good things we’ve enjoyed and gotten from poker since we were first introduced.

I may bring up Learn.PokerNews here from time to time in the form of pointing you to pieces or announcing new writers having gotten involved. I’d like also to ask for your suggestions as well regarding what kinds of content might be of interest on such a site, which like I say is geared toward the new player but should have items of interest to a wider audience, too.

Also, let me go ahead and put out a “call” (of sorts) to anyone who might be interested in contributing in some fashion to Learn.PokerNews to get in touch.

We’re just getting things started over there and so there’s a lot of building up to do with various plans for doing so already in the works. But I am already thinking of the site as hopefully becoming part of a community of people interested in poker and promoting the game, and so would like to do something not unlike what others did for me when I first got interested in the game -- i.e., provide interesting and useful content that helps that interest grow, as well as perhaps a place for folks to contribute as well.

Like I say, leave a comment or shoot me a note (email in the profile) with any suggestions about possible content or thoughts about perhaps participating yourself.

Meanwhile, that piece I mentioned in which I wrote a little about the weekend golfing excursion is called “Off the Green and On the Felt; or, The Object of the Game.” What will you learn from it? Well, for one thing, you’ll learn about what happened to make possible that picture to the left taken on the very first hole of my Saturday round.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

On What Is Possible; or, By Nearly Two Feet

Poker players are familiar with how the game often fools us with regard to our own abilities. The game’s not insignificant chance element can confuse even the most level-headed when it comes to understanding what we’ve accomplished (or failed to accomplish) when we play. Indeed, a big part of poker is the way it forces us to think about how we measure ourselves -- both what we’re capable of, and what we’ve ultimately done.

Yesterday I ended up spending some time thinking along these lines -- i.e., with regard to human psychology and ideas about what humans are capable of doing -- though the cause and context of these musings weren’t poker-related, but rather brought on by something else.

I ran across a reference to the fact that the 45th anniversary of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s “black power salute” on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City had come on Wednesday.

That got me reading around about the event and before long I was reading about a 2008 documentary titled Salute. The film tells the story of the event while also bringing to the foreground the role played by the other person standing on the podium, the Australian sprinter Peter Norman, who took silver while Smith won gold and Carlos bronze. Discovering the film streaming on Netflix, I took a look.

Having followed the battle over racial equality in the U.S. while also witnessing similar strife in his own country, Norman supported the American sprinters’ protest. Like Smith and Carlos, Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights button on the dais. The OPHR was an organization founded by the sociologist Harry Edwards in order to protest racial segregation in the U.S., and had even proposed and backed an ultimately unrealized plan for black athletes to boycott the ’68 games.

Norman’s wearing of the button was an unambiguous indication of his support for what many regarded as an outrageously defiant act made by the men standing behind him during the playing of the American national anthem. As the film shows, Norman’s support wasn’t idly given, but the product of his own well-nurtured beliefs in human rights and equality. Salute also explains how like Smith and Carlos, Norman suffered repercussions for action that day and for his statements afterwards in support of the Americans’ protest.

The film is fairly riveting, including lots of primary footage as well as lengthy contributions from all three runners. It was made by Norman’s nephew, and there might be a moment or two where that fact might enter into one’s thinking during the uninterrupted championing of the Australian runner.

But Peter Norman is so unassuming and modest in the film -- and especially persuasive when even-handedly explaining his unwavering humanitarian beliefs -- it’s hard not to come away liking him a lot, and perhaps even being inspired, too. (Norman died in 2006.)

After the film was over, I found myself going back to a favorite sports moment of mine, Bob Beamon’s electrifying world-record long jump at Mexico City that happened two days after the protest -- i.e., 45 years ago today. The protest during the 200-meter medals ceremony was shocking to many, for a variety of reasons. But Beamon leaping 29 feet, 2½ inches was just plain staggering.

I remember as a kid being fascinated with the picture of Beamon hanging in the air in The Guinness Book of World Records, knees up around his chest, arms extended like wings. I love watching YouTube clips of the jump, and don’t think I’ll ever tire of doing so. He bounds through space, lands and immediately springs back up out of the dirt and jumps again. And again. Then jogs around in a way that almost looks like he’s dancing a little.

He has no clue what he’s done.

Afterward Beamon explained “it felt like a regular jump,” although he knew it was good and perhaps even a record-breaker. But it was hardly a regular jump.

When Ralph Boston had broken the 25-year-old record in 1960, his 26’11” jump set a new standard by a couple of inches. The record had then literally inched upward over the next several years, with Boston and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan having each made it to 27’4½” by 1967.

Now Beamon had shattered the record... by nearly two feet!

It took several minutes to measure the jump, as Beamon had gone farther than the optical measuring equipment was set up to record. Then when a figure of “8.90” was finally posted on the scoreboard (representing meters), Beamon still didn’t know immediately what that meant as far as feet and inches went.

Boston -- the former record holder, 1960 long jump gold medalist, and now Beamon’s teammate and coach -- was the one who explained to him what he’d done.

“You really put it all together,” Boston said to him as he explained he’d gone 29’2½”.

I said the jump was staggering. On learning how far he’d gone, Beamon himself actually staggered, falling dramatically to the track as he was momentarily overcome with emotion.

Sure, there was wind and altitude in Mexico City. But Beamon still jumped two-and-a-half feet farther than anyone else would at those games. And even though his record was eventually topped in 1991 by Mike Powell (who went two inches farther), Beamon’s leap nonetheless remains atop most lists as the most stunning moment in sports history.

Watching Salute and thinking about how incredibly tense the world and the U.S. was during that incredible year of 1968, then moving over to the YouTube clips of Beamon, I couldn’t help but formulate a vague thesis that some of Beamon’s extra adrenaline had come from the charged atmosphere surrounding him as he leapt through the air.

I guess both the story of Smith, Carlos, and Norman as well as that of Beamon’s leap highlight ideas about human achievement and how it is possible for us to do things we might believe are beyond our capabilities.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Blessing and the Curse

Woke this morning to watch some of the WSOP Europe live stream on PokerListings, catching most of the final heads-up match of Event No. 3, the €5,300 no-limit hold’em Mixed-Max event in which Darko Stojanovic of France came back to beat Dan O’Brien of the U.S. to win the bracelet.

These live streams are so commonplace now, many of which come on a delay of some sort and feature hole cards. The ability to go back through the program and instantly click back to earlier moments also adds a lot to the experience when following along.

I believe the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure might have been the first, most prominent experiment with the format, which means we’re going on almost three years’ worth of having it around. One of the first questions that came with the delayed-with-hole-cards format was how it would affect the actual play of tournaments -- that is, when players found out later what their opponents had in hands in which they hadn’t shown, how might they use that additional knowledge going forward?

This Event No. 3 finale this morning presented an interesting moment during O’Brien and Stojanovic’s heads-up battle that brought that issue to the foreground again, a match-changing hand that saw a big bluff succeed.

The “mixed max” format has players carrying stacks forward through the tourney, which meant in this case O’Brien had a healthy 3-to-1 advantage to start the heads-up match with 1,594,000 to Stojanovic’s 507,000.

Stojanovic quickly evened the score, however, after the Parisian turned two pair on just the second hand between them. But a few hands after that O’Brien took back a big chunk to push back out in front, setting up Hand #12 which began with O’Brien at 1,337,000 and Stojanovic with 764,000.

The hand began with a 2x button raise to 20,000 by O’Brien who held Ah5h, then Stojanovic three-bet big to 70,000 with QsJh and O’Brien called.

The flop then came Kd9cAs, giving O’Brien top pair and Stojanovic a gutshot to Broadway. With 142,000 in the middle, Stojanovic led with a huge overbet of 160,000. O’Brien paused at that for a short while, then called, and the pair watch the turn bring a cliché of a “blank card,” the 2c.

This time Stojanovic shoved all in with his last 533,000, and O’Brien took about four minutes before folding.

The live stream commentary was provided by David Tuchman, Max Steinberg, and Jesse Sylvia, and during that lengthy tank Steinberg spoke about how strange Stojanovic’s line was ("That makes no sense") while also developing a convincing argument for why it was very difficult for O’Brien to call, even predicting (correctly) that he would fold.

O’Brien still had the lead after the hand with about 1.1 million while Stojanovic had climbed back to just under 1 million. A few hands more and they were even, then as Stojanovic nudged out into the lead the trio began speculating about what would happen when O’Brien eventually found out about Stojanovic’s bluff.

Steinberg referred to “the blessing and the curse of the 30-minute delay,” something he himself had some experience with after making a couple of final tables during the WSOP this summer. “It’s almost like you don’t want to find out” explained Steinberg with reference to such a hand and the possibility of learning definitively what your opponent had.

About 15 minutes after the hand took place, they explained on the live stream how O’Brien -- in real time -- had spoken to his rail and likely had learned that Stojanovic held Q-J in the most memorable hand of their duel thus far. “He looks sort of down on himself,” speculated Steinberg, and the discussion moved on to consider how (or whether) O’Brien might be affected going forward with the knowledge that had he called the bluff early in the match he very likely would have won the tournament.

The pair would ultimately play 53 hands before Stojanovic won, and so it was probably only for the last dozen or so that O’Brien would have known about the bluff. In truth, it wasn’t obvious on the live stream that he was especially affected by any extra knowledge of the earlier hand, no more so than he might have been by the doubts about it that probably were lingering in his mind anyway. Meanwhile, they were still breaking down the hand right up until the last few hands, with the consensus favoring O’Brien's fold. “It was a good fold with the information he had,” said Steinberg.

I tend to think O’Brien probably felt the same even after getting the additional information. Now I see O’Brien is tweeting that he’s about to jump on the live stream to do some commentary on the Event No. 4 final table and to talk about his match, so I’ll think I’ll jump off here to tune in.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

FTW

Following the lead of my friend and colleague Brad Willis on Twitter the other day, I admitted along with him that with the Major League Baseball playoffs having begun, I am only now giving the sport much attention.

Baseball was easily my favorite sport from early childhood through my mid-teens, and while I’ve continued to follow the game into adulthood it’s probably been more than two decades now since I can say I sincerely followed a season from beginning to end.

I used to be a Braves fan, and I remember that great worst-to-first turnaround back in 1991 as a wild ride from spring all of the way to Game 7 of the World Series. The 1992 season stands out, too, especially that three-run ninth inning to come back against Pittsburgh in the NLCS Game 7. I think when Sid Bream slid across home plate late that mid-October night, that might have been the last time I involuntarily rose up out of my seat while watching a baseball game on television, having been literally moved by what I was seeing.

Now, though, I’m much more passive with my playoff baseball watching, often doing other things -- like writing a blog post -- while a game is on. No longer feeling the pull of Braves fandom, I tend to root for entertaining games and can still be impressed by a particularly crafty pitcher, muscle-bound hitting feats, and those wild, split-second plays in the field to record improbable outs with zero margin error.

Since my close following of the game has been more or less reduced to a few weeks in the fall, I have to admit I’m not completely up on some of the more accepted “new” statistical measures like WHIP or WAR or OPS or BABIP and the like, neither to recognize their meaning or be able to understand readily what figures are good or bad.

That’s not to say I’m not interested in the games’ endless supply of numbers. Indeed, as a kid the box scores and stats were a big source of my fascination with baseball, something I’ve written about here before, including last summer when I wrote a couple of posts about Moneyball (here and here). But I’m only vaguely aware of baseball’s “new math” and its implications.

I am intrigued, though, by the debate over the value of wins when assessing a pitcher’s worth, an argument that seems to have gotten increasingly conspicuous over the last couple of years with some sabermetricians interested in “killing the win” as a much too arbitrary measure.

Wins are definitely assigned in ways that can sometimes confound common sense, such as when a pitcher throws eight shutout innings and departs with a 2-0 lead, a reliever comes in and gives up two runs to blow the save, then that reliever gets the victory when his team scores in the bottom of the ninth.

The win for pitchers is one of those stats that is probably unduly affected by chance elements. Above-average skilled pitchers (in particular starters) will tend to earn more wins than others, but the reliance on run support and lead-preserving bullpens obviously takes a lot out of the pitcher’s control. The obvious poker analogy would cite the player “getting it in good” then needing the cards to cooperate, with a similar emphasis on luck making it wrong on some level to be “results oriented” when it comes to pitchers and wins.

But I can’t imagine really and truly “killing the win” as some are suggesting should be done, even if we all know the team wins a game and not (just) the pitcher. So in this new age of baseball acronyms, I guess I remain stubbornly FTW.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wanna Buy Some Play Chips?

During the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games on PokerStars last Sunday, I drew attention to a new text link appearing up in the left-hand corner of the play money games on Stars. As pictured to the left, one can now actually purchase play chips -- for real money -- directly from Stars.

Being stuck here in the U.S. and still a great fan of the PokerStars client, I will jump on the site and join play money sit-n-gos every now and then, even apart from the HBP HGs. Playing for play chips is how I first got started with online poker, and indeed for many months played nothing but play chip games until finally making a first deposit and moving over to the micros.

Play money cash games are mostly tedious -- to me, anyway -- mainly because players are so understandably erratic and there isn’t a lot of genuine competitiveness on display. Sit-n-gos and multi-table tournaments also feature a healthy helping of goofiness, but they tend to be played more straightforwardly (even if not that skillfully) which thus makes them mildly interesting and even worthwhile to some extent (I’d argue) for new players.

When I first started with the play chips I managed to build up a “roll” (as it were) and in fact had a couple of million in there by the time I started playing the real money games. I remember at some point shortly afterwards becoming aware of the existence of a real-money-for-play-chips market and even looked into trying to sell my play chips for cash.

This was an actual phenomenon at the time -- I’m talking pre-UIGEA, say 2005 or so -- with play-chip purchasing websites and everything. No shinola. If you go back and search forums of the day, you’ll see a plenty of talk about such deals actually being made. You’ll also find people discussing getting scammed out of play money chips, which seems like a meaningless ploy unless the scammers were then able to turn the play chips into cash by some other means.

I never did look into it deeply enough to try to sell any play chips, although I kind of remember rates of something like $11 for 500k or a million (or thereabouts). I also recall stories of some folks starting their real money rolls this way. Microstakes master Nathan “Blackrain79” Williams -- whom I interviewed for Betfair Poker some time back -- is an example. Nathan tells the story on his blog about selling 5 million play chips for $60 back in ’05.

Clicking on the “PURCHASE PLAY MONEY CHIPS” link in the Stars client carries you to a “Play Money Cashier” page. There you’ll find options to buy 350,000 play chips (for $1.99) on up to 165 million play chips (for $199.99!). Again, no shinola!

Like I say, I brought the topic up during the Home Games on Sunday. Someone asked in response “Can you sell them?” Good question, I thought... it doesn’t appear you can. Not back to Stars, anyhow. (Not that we Yanks are part of any real-money-anything on the site, anyway.)

I guess stepping back this is one of those “nothing to lose” ventures from PokerStars’ perspective. Kind of an interesting experiment, I guess, which recalls other “conversion” strategies with free-to-play games (e.g., on Facebook) that have ended up becoming significant revenue-makers.

Meanwhile, I am noticing these days some 1 million play-chip buy-in SNGs -- something I don’t remember there being back in the day -- for which I guess one really should have 100-plus million play chips in the ol’ play money account to join.

You know, if one is practicing sound play bankroll management.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Bracelets and the Bucks

The 2013 World Series of Poker Europe is underway, kind of appearing suddenly and without too much fanfare amid all of the other tours already up and running all over the globe, not to mention the coming of the November Nine which is now just three weeks away.

I remember in 2008 when the WSOP first announced the whole delayed final table concept less than a month before the start of the Series that summer. One of the instant subplots created by the announcement was the fact that the WSOPE (which only began in 2007) would be playing out before the Main Event concluded, which meant a lot of curiosity about whether or not the WSOP ME final tablists would be turning up in London (where the WSOPE was then held) prior to their final table playing out in November.

After six years’ worth of delayed ME final tables, there doesn’t seem to be that much fuss about the current November Niners and the WSOPE. Nor is there quite as much of the “Are WSOPE Bracelets ‘Real’?” debate happening like there once was, although the conclusion of the first event over the weekend did stir up a few related discussions.

You’ve no doubt heard by now that Jackie Glazier, fresh off of finishing 31st in the WSOP Main Event in July (where she was the last woman eliminated), won the first of eight gold bracelets to be awarded in Paris this week when she took down the €1,100 Ladies Event. Glazier won €21,850 for topping a field of 65 players.

Obviously some want to debate whether non-open tourneys should be regarded as “real” bracelet events. The undersized field of 65 and/or the relatively small first prize can be cause for some also to build similarly-themed arguments.

That first prize of €21,850 is well under what the winner of every other bracelet event during the 2013 WSOP took away. In fact it’s almost five times less what the smallest first prize was this summer (David Chiu’s $145,520 for winning the $2,500 stud event), and that’s not counting the Casino Employees Event. Even there, Chad Holloway won a prize nearly three times as large ($84,915).

A couple of the bracelets won at the 2013 Asia Pacific back in April also featured five-figure first prizes, with Jim Collopy winning AU$69,992 ($1,650 PLO) and Phil Ivey AU$51,840 ($2,200 Mixed Event).

Such comparisons are diverting, but do they add up to a coherent argument about the worth of a WSOP bracelet? Ever since a bracelet came with a $18,346,673 first prize attached, any ideas of a “range” in which first place prizes ought to fall somehow seem less persuasive.

The same might be said for field sizes (which in the case of the “Big One for One Drop” in 2012 was smaller than Event No. 1 at the 2013 WSOPE), the relatively quality of fields, or other of the several distinctions that tend to make every tournament unique.

I’m of the mind that each WSOP bracelet event is different, anyway, and while it’s hard not to equate them on some level to do so always requires momentarily setting aside each event’s uniqueness in favor of indulging in a different kind of scorekeeping.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Comparing Cards, Brains

Am enjoying a quick vacation for a couple of days, spending time at the beach with family including my four-year old nephew. We arrived yesterday, and after discovering a pack of cards at the place we’re staying I had an idea to create a card game for the two of us to play.

I removed the face cards and aces, then dealt the rest of the deck to the two of us. We then would take one card off the top of our respective decks and turn it over, and whoever had the highest-ranking card would win and claim both cards. Basically we were playing “War,” although with a smaller deck and without the “battles” that would come if we both turned over equal-ranking cards (in which case we just kept our cards and moved on).

Soon, though, he wanted to include the face cards and aces, too, which we did, and he quickly figured how they rank, too. Then he had an idea that he would start with all of the black cards and I would start with the red ones, which of course meant we’d each be starting with equally-strong sets of cards as he had all of the clubs and spades and I had the hearts and diamonds.

We’d run through all 26 “hands,” then he showed me how high he can count by counting out how many he had when we were done. Woke up this morning and he had already found the deck and was asking me to play again. I think before the trip is done I’ll teach him “War” proper, as it’s obvious he’ll be up for it.

He’s pretty quick. He brought a trove of other toys and games with him, including this pretty cool learning game that involves answering all sorts of questions about the body and all its systems.

One question arose regarding which was bigger, the heart or the brain. He asked me and I said I thought the brain was bigger.

He had a studied look for a moment, and I thought perhaps he was looking behind me at something. Then he spoke.

“Maybe your brain,” he said.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nuke Commander Passes Fake Chips

You might have heard this decidedly strange-but-true story from a couple of weeks ago regarding a Navy Vice Admiral getting caught introducing fake chips into a poker game at the Horsheshoe Council Bluffs Casino in Iowa. Unreal!

It was late last month the news broke. A story about someone trying to pass counterfeit chips in a poker game might have been mildly interesting on its own. But the perpetrator here was the second-highest ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command, a guy in charge of watching over the country’s nuclear weaponry, missile defense systems, as well as “cyber warfare” operations.

Tim Giardina is the Vice Admiral’s name, and what we heard a couple of weeks ago was that Giardina was being suspended from his duties with the possibility of criminal charges coming (both state and federal). He had been the deputy commander of Strategic Command since late 2011.

The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) had been investigating the matter for a month, then officials at Offut Air Force Base were alerted in July and they started looking into things, too. The suspension came in early September, although wasn’t announced until the end of the month.

At that time there had been a recommendation from a higher-up to reassign Giardina. Today the news is he’s been fired. He’s also lost his three-star rank and indeed will be reassigned to Washington as a rear admiral.

General Richard Myers is quoted in a CBS News piece about the firing today kind of glossing over the legal question with regard to Giardina’s actions. (I believe I’ve read Giardina won’t face criminal charges on the state level.)

“He does not have to do something illegal,” explains Myers, referring to the decision to remove Giardina from Strategic Command. “He just has to lose the confidence of those above him.... Is this the kind of person that we want on the phone with national command authorities when there's a real crisis underway?”

I guess from the outside the most compelling question concerns the psychology of someone who would attempt something on the order of passing fake chips in a casino -- an action for which the risk is so much greater than the potential reward it’s hard to fathom a rational person ever taking it.

From there, of course, it’s hard not to let the mind wander over to the high-stakes context of nuclear warfare and imagine scenarios in which such an individual would be involved in either the decision-making or the execution of others’ decisions. (Shudder.)

The story also highlights how chips in a poker game can introduce an interesting disconnect from reality. Some consciously try to forget that chips represent money, while others do so without realizing it. I’d have to guess that Giardina would never try to pass a counterfeit bill, but that for him the idea of passing a fake poker chip didn’t seem an equivalent transgression.

But both are felonies. Consequences for both are real, too.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Heaps of Hands

Sort of curious about this new site called One Billion Hands that just went live about a week or so ago.

The site appears to be devoted to providing some interesting statistical analysis of hold’em hands, producing some street-by-street commentary by comparing individual hands to the numbers crunched from a database of more than 1,000,000,000 hands (hence the site’s name).

So far there are just a few posts on the site dealing with some hands featured on the 2013 WSOP Main Event broadcasts currently airing on ESPN.

There's one post about that Day 6 hand in which Carlos Mortensen folded his pocket kings (which I brought up yesterday). There’s another one about a three-way hand with eventual November Niner Jay Farber in which all three players were dealt premium starters, a hand that saw the short stack (Phil Mader) eliminated while Chris Lindh avoided losing too much with his pocket queens after Farber flopped top pair with A-K. And the latest post concerns that weird hand in which Bruno Kawauti folded a flush on the turn when the board paired.

If you click through you’ll see how in each post just about every action is considered in the context of the huge database of hands as a way to provide some ideas about the relative worth of players’ decisions.

One thought that struck me right away was the fact that the database wasn’t comprised of hands played by players late in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. According to the site, the exact source of the hands cannot be revealed, although they all came from the year 2011 and most assuredly were from online games of various limits (micro, low, medium, and high).

Thus in that Farber-Lindh-Mader hand in which the players had A-K, Q-Q, and A-Q-suited (respectively), the Q & A’s about what players usually do with such hands might apply more to cash games or other contexts than to deep in the Main Event when some players will be more ready (perhaps) to fold queens with a king on board or even fold a flush when the likelihood of being behind is very slim.

Anyway, that was just an initial thought I had while skimming these initial posts, which are all kind of intriguing in the way they come up with estimates of how much players saved or gained thanks to their decisions. It reminds me a little of the graphs and tables over on Advanced NFL Stats, a site I sometimes like to peruse and compare the findings there to impressions I formed after having watched the games.

I’m curious to see some more hands on the site, as well as more commentary either from readers or on the site itself regarding what ideas the large database of hands might provide regarding various strategic thinking.

Let me know if you happen to visit One Billion Hands and have any opinions.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Poker Shot Clock (Again)

I think I’m turning into a night blogger.

Long ago -- back when I worked a full-time job every weekday -- I’d get up an hour or two early each day to write here. Then writing became the full-time job, although I’d usually still post here during the morning hours or at least by noon. Now I’m finding my days are too full of other obligations for me to get over here until the late afternoon or evening.

I don’t suppose it matters too greatly as time here on the internet tends to be reduced down to a kind of perpetual present, anyway, with nothing much seeming to matter except for what is happening right now or perhaps only just recently happened, in which case right now is filled up with everyone repeating to each other what just was.

Speaking of time and the seeming lack thereof, I was skimming through Two Plus Two a couple of days ago and saw how a thread started almost exactly one year ago titled “Should there be a ‘shot clock’ in live tournaments?” had gotten bumped to the front page once again in response to some of the WSOP Main Event coverage currently being shown on ESPN.

One of the posters embedded a hand from Day 4 involving Yevginiy Timoshenko and Adam Friedman in which Timoshenko took a long time (about two minutes, we’re told) to make a decision, during which time Norman Chad brought up the shot clock idea.

Last week I watched some of the broadcast and saw another hand from Day 6, kind of a memorable one involving Carlos Mortensen and Jorn Walthaus in which Mortensen folded on the river after having the clock called on him.

I say the hand was memorable because Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum was there taking photos for BLUFF, and he snapped a very cool picture of Mortensen tossing away his hand that revealed he was folding pocket kings (see left, click to enlarge). For more about that hand, check out this Betfair piece I wrote a while back describing the situation.

Both of those hands happened at the feature table, and as it happened both saw players not involved in the hands being the ones to call the clock.

I know there are some who are very much in favor of having some sort of shot clock in poker, but to me the current system almost always seems to be satisfactory with only occasional exceptions. It reminds me a lot of the current situation in Major League Baseball, perhaps because with the playoffs underway I’ve been paying a little more attention to baseball than I normally do.

In fact just today I was listening to the latest B.S. Report with Bill Simmons in which he had Bob Costas as a guest and among the topics they covered was the one about baseball games being too long and often unnecessarily drawn out by batters stepping out frequently and pitchers taking more and more time between pitches.

There, too, people will sometime argue in favor of a “shot clock” (or the equivalent). While I’m mostly a purist when it comes to baseball (including still being anti-DH), I could imagine something like that being put in place without too much of an intrusion. I don’t think I’d like to see the same become the norm in poker, though, not because I’m a purist but just because I think it would change the game too radically.

Anyhow, thanks for your patience today as I took most of the day before posting. And I appreciate no one calling the clock on me.

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Chop Talk

Yesterday I spent part of the day looking in on the EPT Live coverage of the Super High Roller final table in London. There was a moment after it went to three-handed when play was halted and the remaining players discussed the possibility of chopping the remaining prize money, with the ensuing pause reminding me a bit of the final table of the Main Event in Barcelona where there was a long, similar discussion when that tournament got down to four-handed.

Like happened in Barcelona, no deal was made. (There was ultimately a deal struck heads-up in Spain.) However unlike in Barcelona the discussion yesterday seemed a lot less strife-ridden among the three remaining players, Martin Finger, Tobias Reinkemeier, and Christoph Vogelsang. Perhaps the fact that all are fellow countrymen helped make for a friendlier conversation. By the way, as happened in the WCOOP Main Event a week ago, the Germans grabbed all top three spots in this tourney, too.

Much later in the night -- really in the wee hours as I watched that late-night San Diego-Oakland game on television -- I was following the end of the Sunday Million that similarly saw play paused at the final table when the last five players opted to discuss a possible deal.

It used to be the case in these big PokerStars tourneys that only “chip chop” numbers were provided. Then occasionally one player would bring up the alternative ICM method and produce figures, and that would engender further debate. Eventually it became the norm for someone to bring ICM into the mix, and so at some point the moderators at PokerStars began also providing those figures in addition to the “chip chop” ones whenever the deal discussion was begun.

The “chip chop” method has all the remaining players receive the amount of prize money due the next player eliminated, with the remaining prize money then divided proportionally according to the remaining stacks. (In Stars’ tourneys, there’s usually some money set aside for which to play going forward, too.)

Meanwhile the ICM method also guarantees each player the next spot’s prize money, but then divides up the remaining prize money by using the ICM formula that takes into account the fact that short stacks can potentially double up. The ICM method thus doesn’t operate like the “chip chop” method and say each chip is worth the exact same amount of cash (and thus ignore whether that chip is sitting in a big or short stack).

When the five-handed deal talk began in the Sunday Million last night, two players had about 20 million chips each while the other three each had between 7-9 million. Both sets of deal numbers were produced, and the discussion went as predictably as one might imagine, with the big stacks saying they preferred the “chip chop” method (which gave them more cash) while the other three insisted they wanted to go with ICM (which gave them more). (The latter group ultimately prevailed.)

I remember once in one of the MicroMillions tourneys seeing a large number of players -- seven, I think -- manage to stop the tourney to talk about a deal, with one of the seven actually sitting with more than half the chips in play at the time. The “chip chop” numbers were produced, with the chip leader being guaranteed something like $15K or thereabouts. However, first-place prize money for the event was only $13K or so!

“Sounds good to me,” typed the leader at the sight of those numbers, and it only took the others a short while to figure out things needed to be negotiated further.

It seems to me like the possibility of actually guaranteeing a chip leader more than first-place prize money makes the “chip chop” method necessarily flawed in some fundamental way. However, I think I like the idea Stars has of supplying both sets of figures as a way to mark out some ranges for payouts from which players can begin their chop talk.

We also had fun playing the first tournaments of Season 5 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games last night (as I mentioned would be happening last week). There were no deals -- neither “chip chop” nor ICM -- at those final tables. No, in the HBP Home Games we fight for every last play money chip in the prize pool right to the very end.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games Return for Season 5

Just a quick post tonight to announce that I’m planning to fire back up the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games this Sunday, October 6 on PokerStars.

The HBPHGs have been on a hiatus of sorts over the last three months. For those who’ve played in them before, you know that the PokerStars Home Games are set up on a quarterly system, meaning each “season” lasts for three months. We’ve had four such seasons thus far, with the season champions being thejim2020 (Season 1), Kevmath (Season 2), RiVeRrAtaCe (Season 3), and linglemungo (Season 4).

When July rolled around and it was time to start a new season, I was in Las Vegas for the last few weeks of the WSOP. Had a few trips since then, too, and so I ended up deciding it better just to wait until October than to have a half-season.

Each of the last four seasons I’ve awarded prizes to the top three finishers, usually poker books, but sometimes DVDs as well. I’ll do so again this time, too. There will be three items to choose from, from which the top finisher in the league standings gets first choice, then the runner-up gets a pick, then the third item goes to the third-place finisher.

The games are all free -- that is, they only cost play money chips to play. If you aren’t a member of the HBPHGs, the ClubID is 530631 and the Invitation code is noshinola.

Right now I’m almost at the upper maximum for members. I’ve written PokerStars and unfortunately they won’t raise the maximum for me because we’re just a play money group.

However, if you try to join and receive a message saying the club is full, just send me a tweet @hardboiledpoker and I’ll make a space for you (there are members whom I know aren’t currently playing).

Here’s the schedule for Sunday:

  • Event No. 1, 20:00 ET -- No-Limit Hold’em
  • Event No. 2, 21:00 ET -- 8-game

    The tourneys usually both will wind up by around 22:00 ET (the earlier tourney has 5-minute levels and the later one 3-minute levels).

    I would be choosing Courchevel or 5-card Omaha, if they were listed among the Home Game tourneys. Still, there’s a lot to choose from and rest assured there will be a Badugi event among other exotic variants along the way. All seasons so far have lasted 20 tourneys, and I expect we’ll probably have the same number for Season 5.

    The games are fun -- and competitive -- so come on out and join us!

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  • Thursday, October 03, 2013

    Two-and-a-Half Years Later (Withdrawing from Full Tilt Poker)

    This week I submitted my petition to the Garden City Group, the Ohio-based claims administrator charged with facilitating U.S. players’ claims for the return of their funds from Full Tilt Poker. Finally, two-and-a-half years later, I’ve begun the process of withdrawing the funds I had left on the site back in April 2011 when “Black Friday” came along.

    Submitting my petition wasn’t too hard, although there were a couple of “WTF” moments along the way.

    The GCG has reported that it has delivered 1.4 million email notifications to FTP account holders in the U.S. I did receive such an email in mid-September, the generic one announcing that the Full Tilt Poker Claims website was finally ready to begin accepting petitions. I did not receive a notice containing a “Petition Number” and a “Control Number,” however, as some have (and many have not).

    Getting that second email apparently would have saved me a step as I could have then entered those two special numbers and gotten started right away with filing my petition. Without those, I had to create a new petition associated with my FTP account, which wasn’t that hard to figure out how to do.

    Once clearing that hurdle, I then had to enter some more information (including my Full Tilt Poker username) and soon was presented with a screen listing my current FTP balance -- $0.00.

    Oof. I’d heard many others have discovered something similar when reaching this page, and so after clicking around a little further realized I could enter what I thought was the correct balance on that page and proceed with my petition. I also figured out that in order to support my claim for a different balance than “$0.00,” I had to provide some supporting documentation. Here’s how that step is described on the GCG’s “FAQ” page:

    “If you agree with the FTP Account Balance displayed through the online filing process, you are not required to submit documentation. However, if you dispute the balance, you are required to submit supporting documentation, such as complete unaltered copies of cancelled checks, wire transfers records, bank or credit statements or similar official transaction records. This supporting documentation must show the account holder’s name, date, transaction descriptions, amount, and financial institution information.”

    Again, oof. Obviously I have no cancelled checks laying about, and while I could possibly go back into my bank records to find information about deposits I’d made after withdrawing from FTP, none of that really has anything at all to do with my current balance.

    However, I did find a solution (I hope). I searched around online a little further and realized that one can in fact request transaction records within the Full Tilt Poker client. And it turns out that while the process takes a few steps to complete, it is surprisingly easy (and quick).

    I actually found it necessary to download the FTP client again because the version I had on my laptop -- unopened for several months -- seemed to get stuck during the updating process. Once I did I was able to log in without a problem, then clicked the “Requests” tab up top and then “Account History (Web).” That opened a browser to an “Account History” page.

    Once there I was able to click a date range as well as whether I wanted to see just real money transactions or also tourney dollars/tickets. I went back in my own records and found the exact date I opened my Full Tilt Poker account (in 2006) and made that the start date, then made 4/15/11 the end date, and submitted my request.

    Doing that triggered an email to be sent to me which told me my account history was ready to be downloaded. To get to it I had to retrace my steps back through the FTP client -- i.e., hit the “Requests” tab, select “Account History (Web)” again, and be sent back to the web page. (I had to close the browser first, by the way, and let the page be reopened again.) This time there was a new “Download” tab which I clicked to get to a .zip file containing an Excel spreadsheet with my transaction history.

    I downloaded that file, unzipped it, and gave it a looksee. Was kind of interesting to see every single transaction for almost five years listed in full detail, ending with 4/15/11 and my final balance listed to the right.

    Now I had some supporting documentation to submit to go along with my claim that $0.00 isn’t in fact my balance. I am hopeful that this transaction history will be sufficient given how Full Tilt Poker was its source. Obviously I could doctor the Excel file, but such could be easily cross-referenced and I assume that will be done in every case as part of the petition-checking process. I uploaded the Excel file, went through a couple more steps including one last “are you sure?”-type page, then submitted my petition.

    Afterwards I realized I might have added my personal information to the Excel file, or perhaps done something further to associate myself more obviously with the username. So I called the toll-free number at GCG and spoke with a representative who explained to me that as part of the process to review every petition, each petitioner will be contacted to provide any additional, needed info or to update their claim in any way.

    I don’t know if my petition is sufficient as is or not, but I’m somewhat assured to know that I’ll have a chance to update it if there’s anything lacking. For those thinking about submitting their own petitions, know that it has to be done by November 16. Also be aware that once you submit a petition you cannot go back and add to it or revise any of your information, so it’s worth triple-checking things before you actually hit the button to submit (even though there will be that opportunity later on to submit further info or update anything).

    Am I confident that I’ll get my money back? Not so much, but a two-and-a-half-year waiting period to withdraw is probably a reasonable cause to make a person skeptical.

    Still, there’s obviously a better chance today that I will get my money than had been the case from April 2011 to late July 2012 when there was no clear solution to the problem of getting back money the jokers then running FTP had already squandered, or even during the year-plus since after PokerStars’ acquisition of FTP and the agreement was forged to help settle these debts.

    And at least I’m not trying to withdraw money from Lock Poker.

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    Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    The Cab is Parked

    Heard the sad news of Tom Sexton’s passing this week. Brother of Poker Hall of Famer Mike, Tom was also a lover of poker and eagerly promoted the game in various ways. As the outpouring of responses this week have reminded us, he was an especially well liked member of the poker community and will be missed by many.

    I pretty much entirely knew Tom only through his writings and occasional appearances on poker podcasts, his voice uncannily sounding like that of his brother. In a relatively small community of poker media types, we had tons of mutual acquaintances although our paths never quite crossed.

    Back in the summer when the seriousness of his health problems was first discovered, former PokerNews Editor-in-Chief John Caldwell shared with the site the story of Tom becoming a contributor at PN where he would ultimately file 60 columns under the heading of “Sexton’s Corner.”

    As Caldwell relates, back in 2007 (when PokerNews was first getting into the live reporting game), Sexton helped with the coverage of some of the stud and draw tourneys, and while doing so shared several “back in the day” tales that eventually inspired Caldwell to suggest he write them for the site.

    In his first column for PN, Tom began with the story of the windfall his brother had received from PartyPoker back when he was signed on to represent them, noting how Mike had told him then he could quit his job as a cab driver, thereby inspiring what would become Tom’s signature line throughout the series, “the cab is parked.” He also started that first column with lots of praise for his brother, something he was able to offer again when introducing him at the 2009 Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony (as pictured above by Casino City Times’ Vin Narayanan).

    The Sexton’s Corner columns ultimately ran from July 2007 through September 2008 and cover a variety of topics including many stories involving his brother, other tales of pros like Puggy Pearson, Dewey Tomko, Stu Ungar, Jennifer Harman, and Johnny Chan, plus additional sketches of various poker people Tom had met and events he had witnessed.

    A two-part treatment of Russ Hamilton's 1994 WSOP Main Event win and the shenanigans involved with the bonus prize (the winner's weight in silver) makes for an interesting read, especially in the light of Hamilton's later sad descent into the UltimateBet madness (Part 1, Part 2). And speaking of falls from grace, just a few days ago I had been dipping into Tom's 10-part series (starting here) about Archie Karas following the news of his being accused of marking cards in a blackjack game in a San Diego casino.

    As first-hand storytelling with a decidedly personal point of view, some of the Sexton’s Corner columns are probably more valuable than others when it comes to historical veracity and/or objective reporting. But most are interesting and obviously bear witness to the author’s interest in the game and its promotion as well as a few of the characters associated with it.

    Will leave to those who knew Tom the business of eulogizing him appropriately -- for example, this piece about him written by Nolan Dalla after his illness was disclosed gives a more detailed portrait of him and what he meant to others. I did, however, want to express condolences here to his family and the many folks I’ve come to know over the years whom I know this week are feeling his loss.

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    Tuesday, October 01, 2013

    Big Money

    Utterly fatigued today after sitting up until nearly dawn here on the east coast following the conclusion of the World Championship of Online Poker Main Event on PokerStars. Was a marathon final table lasting more than four hours and finally concluding with three German players -- PlayinWasted (who won), Daniel “Allanon85” Drescher, and SwissCantMis -- chopping at the end, all of whom took away more than a million dollars from the $5,200 buy-in event. Meawhile PokerStars Team Online member and blogger Shane “shaniac” Schleger took sixth in the event to earn a nifty $291K-plus payday.

    The WCOOP Main Event has genuinely become one of the most significant poker tourneys during the calendar year, if one considers the attention it receives, the prestige given to those who do well in it, and, of course, the money. The big, big money.

    This year 2,133 entered to create a prize pool of $10,665,000. The buy-in for the WCOOP ME has remained steady over the last few years, with the prize pool peaking back in the last pre-Black Friday year of 2010 at $12,215,000 when Tyson “POTTERPOKER” Marks won an incredible $2,278,097.50 first prize when there was no final table deal.

    In 2011 the WCOOP ME prize pool dipped to $8,135,000, then increased to $9,125,000 in 2012. This year it again topped the $10 milly mark, and like most other online tournament series on PokerStars the overall numbers are edging back toward (or even surpassing) the pre-2011 totals when Americans could play on the site.

    Over on Wikipedia one can find a list ranking the largest ever poker tournaments (by prize pool). The list looks reasonably well maintained (although I haven’t tried to verify its accuracy).

    Of the 30 tournaments listed, the last 10 World Series of Poker Main Events crowd the top part of the list. The 2003 WSOP ME won by Chris Moneymaker doesn’t make the list, as its total prize pool was “only” $7,802,700.

    Meanwhile the 2008-2010 WCOOP Main Events sneak into the bottom part of the list. This 2013 WCOOP Main Event should earn a spot on there as well just behind those earlier WCOOP MEs. That’ll make six online events among the top 30 of all time.

    How big can the WCOOP Main Event and/or other online tournaments get? It appears their potential for further growth is less limited than that of live events, although it doesn’t seem as though an online tourney could ever reach the heights of the biggest WSOP MEs with prize pools these days usually around $60 million. (The biggest ever in 2006 was $82,512,162.)

    Was reading David Schwartz's article a couple of days ago in which he looked back five years to “The Day Wall Street Went Bust” and snuck in a subtle allusion to a Rush song along the way. And so with Rush on the brain -- and big money -- I much more lazily titled this post. Hey... I said I was tired.

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