Friday, February 28, 2014

Green Friday

Well, today was the day. Nearly three years after Black Friday -- and the subsequent discovery by all of us in the U.S. who played on Full Tilt Poker that not only could we not withdraw the funds from our accounts but there were no funds at all -- some American players have finally had their money returned to them.

If I’m following the story correctly, during this first wave around 30,000 players are getting around $82 million back. I believe that represents a little over half of the total U.S. players had in their accounts.

News that the Garden City Group was about to start shipping these payments came not too long ago, and indeed it sounds like from forum posts and tweets that many have already seen the “pending” notice of the wire transfers coming in, apparently designated as coming from “DOJ Poker Stars.”

A friend sent me a note a few days back letting me know he was one of these first 30,000. He’d gotten an email from the GCG telling him he was about to see the payment come in the next seven business days. “This payment represents the full amount of your Full Tilt Poker Account Balance, which you confirmed on the Full Tilt Poker administration online filing site,” he was told. I assume he’s seeing the pending transaction notice now or perhaps has already gotten his cabbage.

I filed my petition back in early October 2013. I wrote about doing so here, explaining how I had not received any email and thus had to create a new petition, then having seen my balance reading as “$0.00” I had to try to provide some supporting documentation to show that I indeed had a few hundy in there.

Anyhow, not to rehearse the whole process again, I had again failed to receive any emails from the GCG as this first round of payments was approaching, so my friend’s email prompted me to give them a call to check on the status of my petition.

Have to say I’ve been pleased the two or three times I’ve called the GCG, with the support being very friendly and communicative in every instance. We found my petition, then I was told that since I was designated an affiliate I wouldn’t be included in this initial wave of folks getting repaid but would be later on. I actually wasn’t an affiliate at FTP (i.e., I never made a dime there except by playing poker), but it’s possible I might have been designated one at some point -- I honestly can’t remember.

I also apparently am being given a new petition number (I’m not sure why), but I’m told I’ll be contacted soon regarding my status. I updated my contact info, including my mailing address and phone, and now sit tight hoping that indeed things start to move forward for me.

I’m not too worried about it all, both because of what I’m perceiving to be a process that appears to be functioning as it is supposed to and because of the relative small amount of funds I’m seeking. Am glad for others today, and like others feel good about PokerStars having stepped in here John Wayne-like to help make things happen for FTP players. I understand how doing so has served their own interests, too, but still it’s so easy to imagine a different, much less sanguine outcome here.

Can’t really see “Green Friday” sticking as a name for this particular day, nor people really remembering years from now when exactly U.S. players finally started getting their money back off the site. There’s some anticlimax, too, of course, but three years of waiting around will do that.

I’d hope people getting their money back won’t cause them to forget how egregious and fraudulent those who ran Full Tilt Poker 1.0 really were, although that may well be a side effect. After all, as much as we talk about not being “results oriented,” most of us are.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Egalitarian? Egad.

Like many of you who might have clicked through my tweet announcing a new blog post (@hardboiledpoker), you probably also had your timelines populated today with much back-and-forthing regarding the Global Poker Index and the pros and cons of ranking systems designed to indicate who might be the best of the best when it comes to tournament poker.

If you did, you noticed that Phil Hellmuth has kind of weirdly wandered into the conversation, making various claims and pronouncements that remind me of a tenured faculty member who has missed every meeting all semester suddenly showing up to share his thoughts on this particular agenda item.

Starting earlier this week, Hellmuth has tweeted about a half-dozen times on the matter, sort of firing randomly in ways that belie a lack of understanding of how the GPI works, what ranking systems actually represent, and perhaps a desire to be considered by his Twitter followers to be the kind of respected commentator on poker-related issues that other players actually are.

His first salvo was the most hilarious, although he’s come close a couple of times since. “The GPI is very flawed,” he began. “I cannot respect a points award system that counts $100,000 high rollers. Poker awards need to be egalitarian.”

I liked Dreyfus’s early response to the non-specific criticism of the first sentence. “Poker is flawed,” said Dreyfus.

Dreyfus also offered a more detailed response to the rest of Hellmuth’s tweet in a post over on the GPI site, including pointing out that the Poker Brat’s criticism of $100K events being included ignores how the GPI actually weighs high roller and super high roller events differently in order to prevent them from unduly affecting rankings.

The best part of it, though, is the line that “Poker awards need to be egalitarian.” Hellmuth might as well say that the ranking system is unfair because it penalizes poor players while rewarding the good ones.

Sure, he means to say something less obtuse about high-rolling players having an inherent advantage in such rankings, but that ain’t the words he’s chosen. (I see the latest episode of the PokerNews GPI podcast is titled “Hellmuth the Egalitarian,” which makes me want to listen.)

I suppose the only real “egalitarian” tourney rankings system would be one that accounted for buy-ins, too (something that came up during the long Twitter discussion today), but that obviously ain’t happening.

Now Hellmuth is ducking his head inside the door to say stuff about a “players council” being needed to establish criteria for ranking systems. We’ve heard this line before from him -- recently, in fact, such as last fall when he wanted to “draw a line in the sand” over which WSOP bracelets were supposed to “count.”

But like I say, it’s like the whole faculty has been working on this issue for weeks and he’s just bumbled into the room to remind everyone that even if he’s presently well outside the top 100 on the GPI, he can’t be fired!

Anyhow, sorry to those who like my buddy Remko were pointing out how there was an overload of GPI-related talk in his timeline today. “They should change the word ‘Timeline’ on my Twitter app to ‘Endless GPI Discussion with some sports news and pictures of cats,‘” he tweeted.

To which I felt like there was really only one correct response (click pic to enlarge).

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fallsview Postscript

Still somewhat in recovery mode after the quick trip to the Great White North. There were a couple of items I meant to share from the World Poker Tour Fallsview Poker Classic that occurred to me this afternoon as I returned to my barn duties here on the farm.

One was the fact that local gaming regulations not only forbid any photos or videos from being taken in the tournament area, but also dictated that players weren’t allowed to use their phones at all while at the tables. That meant players couldn’t really tweet out constant updates as has become a routine practice at most events.

It reminded me a little of when I first started reporting from tournaments, back when smart phones weren’t as ubiquitous. I know some players didn’t care for the restriction, and in fact on breaks when they did have a chance to use their phones a few would tweet out complaints about it. But most seemed not to be too bothered by it.

The other effect of that rule, of course, was that generally speaking almost all of the players seemed pretty engaged throughout -- that is, those who’d folded hands were focused more on watching the involved players and their actions than skimming through content on iPads or phones or messaging. I only became aware of that difference toward the latter part of the second day of play, but I imagine it created a somewhat altered dynamic at some tables than many tourney players were used to.

They played down to 10 players on Sunday night and stopped the tourney just a few minutes shy of the time the tourney was already scheduled to stop. It was a good decision, as there was a redraw necessary at that point and it made more sense to wait another day to play those first ten-handed hands.

A stage had been constructed with lights and good seating for spectators, and that’s where things played out on Monday as 10 played down to one. Even though the official six-handed final table wasn’t shot for television, it still retained a little bit of that “spectacle” feel the WPT final tables generally possess with the hands being announced over a PA and large screens showing the community cards and showdowns.

One other humorous detail to share. For much of that final day, whenever the announcer related that a player was all in, that would cue some music -- played relatively faintly, but plenty audible -- that I think was from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. You know what I mean, that familiar decision-making music with the “heartbeat” sounds…

Actually, now that I listen to this clip I’m not sure it is exactly what they were playing at Fallsview, but it was similar enough that everyone instantly associated it with the game show. People generally laughed, too, when hearing it the first few times. Remko and I had a phone at our table from which we were reporting, and one time during an all-in I picked it up saying “Regis, I’d like to phone a friend.”

Anyhow just wanted to add that little postscript before moving on to other things this week, and there are a lot of them, including a couple more chip-related scandals, the first Full Tilt Poker remission payments finally arriving, Phil Hellmuth’s lack of understanding of the Global Poker Index, among others.

So many topics out there now, in fact, I’m not sure which one to choose. Regis? I’d like to ask the audience.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Travel Report: Season XII WPT Fallsview Poker Classic, Day 3 -- Kick Your Heels

Airport blogging once again, presently awaiting first flight out of Buffalo as I’ll be winding my way back home after the conclusion last night of the World Poker Tour Fallsview Poker Classic in Niagara Falls.

We finished up around 10 or so last night, although the day felt a little longer after my blogging partner Remko and I reported every hand from the ten-handed final table on down to a winner (over 250 of them). Matthew Lapossie ended up winning the sucker after carrying a big chip lead into heads-up versus Dylan Wilkerson and then finishing the deal after a little over 20 hands.

One hand early on saw Lapossie turn a straight flush against Peter Labib’s ace-high flush to knock out the latter, easily the most remarkable hand of the day. There were several come-from-behind turn or river saves for short stacks, though, which made things interesting while prolonging the final table.

Chris Tessaro noted at one point how the table was a “short-stack shamble,” the phrase sounding enough like your humble scribbler’s moniker to wonder if I were to blame. He also tweeted the best line of the day about players’ managing to double up over and again:

“Not saying this fallsview ‪#wpt final table is taking too long,” he wrote, “but I just gave coffee shop my last 1.60 and she gave 3.20 change ‪#doubleup.”

Great working alongside Remko who always keeps people smiling. Walking back from a short dinner break yesterday, he turned to me and asked earnestly “Wanna see my favorite move?” “Whaddya mean, dance move?” I replied, but rather than answering he jogged two steps then leaped in the air, kicking his heels before landing, momentarily becoming a literal flying Dutchman. Soon Remko was encouraging one of the friendly Fallsview staff to try the move as well.

Speaking of, all of the Fallsview staff were especially accommodating throughout. Indeed, as is often pointed out by those traveling north of the border, there were nothing but friendly folks at every turn during my brief Canada sojourn.

Gonna cut it short as they’ll be boarding us soon. Looking forward to reuniting with Vera and the horses and barn cats later today. Return tomorrow for the farm report.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Travel Report: Season XII WPT Fallsview Poker Classic, Day 2 -- Roll Up the Rim to Win

In a bit of a rush (as usual) this morning as I get my act together for one more long day of tourney reporting. Yesterday’s second day of play here in Niagara Falls at the WPT Fallsview Poker Classic went well as 114 survivors from a starting field of 383 played down to just 10. That group will reassemble at noon today at an unofficial ten-handed final table, then play down to a winner tonight.

There were a few better known players left as the night edged towards the finish -- e.g., Mike Leah, Mike Watson, Peter Jetten, Shawn Cunix -- but all fell shy of the final ten and so the winner here will be a relative newcomer, although a few have had some nice scores before.

Matthew Lapossie final tabled the EPT6 Barcelona event back in 2009. Josue Sauvageau finished fifth in this same event a year ago. Dylan Wilkerson has 15 WSOP cashes and over $340,000 in career tourney winnings. And Jason James, who has a big chip lead to start the day, also has a number of cashes at the WSOP and elsewhere, although this should mark his biggest to date.

The day began with an enjoyable breakfast meeting with a family friend who happens to be based here in Niagara. Always nice to be able to connect with folks on these trips, and we enjoyed a nice visit before I headed to the tourney room.

I’d already had a couple of cups of coffee before breakfast, drank more there, then during the late afternoon Chris Tessaro introduced me to Tim Hortons coffee, in particular the popular “Roll Up the Rim to Win” promotion which encourages people to buy still more cups of the popular brand.

Chris bought me a cup -- and a chance at cash prizes or even a new car -- while also filling me in on the history behind the franchise first co-founded by the late NHL star after who it is named. The coffee was good (even if I didn’t exactly need yet another shot of caffeine) and while I didn’t win any prizes I did feel connected for a moment with the many other Canadians rolling up the rims of their coffee cups every day.

Speaking of hockey, there was a positive vibe in the room for much of the day as people shared stories about Canada’s gold medal victory in the morning, with the match being replayed on CBC on television screens in the afternoon. Big deal, that.

Must sign off as I have much left to do before play kicks off at noon. Join Remko Rinkema and myself for the hand-for-hand coverage over on the WPT site today. As Remko would say, it should be a barnburner.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Travel Report: Season XII WPT Fallsview Poker Classic, Day 1 -- Good View

I write from chilly Niagara Falls where the temps will be going down further over the course of my short visit for the three-day World Poker Tour Fallsview Poker Classic.

Didn’t get to start the trip until relatively late on Friday, meaning it was pushing midnight before I rolled in. But the hotel room is comfortable -- affording this fairly spectacular view of the falls -- and all’s gone well thus far.

The tournament is being played out in the Grand Hall here at the Fallsview Resort Casino, a spacious room that impressed my colleague Remko and I as nicely laid out with great lighting and lots of room between tables for us to mill about. A total of 383 ended up coming out for the $5,000 buy-in event (Canadian dollars), and after a full day of play there were just 114 left to return today.

Was impressed as well by the music selections early on, kind of laughing to hear tracks like “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” (Barrett’s Floyd), “Virginia Plain” (Roxy Music), and “Eight Miles High” (Byrds) playing overhead. However halfway through the day the mix gravitated away from psychedelia to nondescript contemporary dance stuff. Laughed a little, though, at Griffin Benger’s tweet early in the day that the music was “the devil’s anthem.”

Benger also didn’t care for the 10-handed play (which was the case for most of the early part of Day 1), which I know many tourney players aren’t crazy about. They eventually moved to nine-handed, though, once late registration closed.

Had fun working with Remko whose special fascination with barns I was able to satisfy with some pictures of the one Vera and I now own. Also was glad to meet Chris Tessaro of the Hardcore Poker Show. I remembered once doing a quick spot on there a long while back, and we had fun comparing our memories of that “Niagara Falls” bit I was writing about on Friday.

Chris pointed out that the Canadians remaining in the field are all going to be tired today after getting up early to watch the gold medal hockey match. I have it on (watching CBC) as I write this morning, with Canada trying to hold a 2-0 lead over Sweden as the third period begins. A lot of excitement about this match around here, as you might imagine.

Signing off to watch the finale and get some other business done before heading back to the tourney room. Check in over at the WPT site for our Day 2 live updates today.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Niagara Falls! Slowly I Turned, Step by Step, Inch by Inch...

I write today from the airport, awaiting the first of a couple of flights which will take me to Buffalo, from which I’ll travel to Niagara Falls to help cover the World Poker Tour Fallsview Classic stop. It’ll be a quick one, a three-day event that’ll begin tomorrow and end on Monday.

I’ve been to that part of the country several times, but never to Niagara Falls. Was telling my brother the other day about the trip, and he immediately responded in a way that might be familiar to many...

“Niagara Falls!” he said, interrupting me. Some of you might know instinctively what came next.

“Slo-o-o-wly I turned, step by step, inch by inch...”

I joined in before he finished and we both laughed. Do you recognize what he was saying?

There’s probably a cutoff age for folks to recognize the reference to what was originally a famous vaudeville sketch, much reprised by many performers during the first half of the 20th century and into the early era of television.

It’s kind of a goofy bit involving a couple of strangers (or in some variations more) meeting with one telling a sad story about an unfaithful lover. When he gets to the part of the story in which his beloved left him for another at Niagara Falls, the name of the place triggers a violent reaction with his innocent interlocutor the undeserving victim.

From there the skit continues, with every mention of “Niagara Falls” again igniting slapsticky violence. The bit is so famous there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to it.

Both Abbott and Costello and the Three Stooges did it during the mid-1940s, and I think it was the Stooges’ version my brother and I saw multiple times as impressionable young’uns. Here it is as it turns up in the Stooges’ 1944 short film Gents Without Cents in which the trio plays a group of performers with the sketch comprising their triumphant stage show:

There was a variation in an I Love Lucy episode, the show which was featured in the latest episode of my infrequent podcast, The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. I also seem to remember it coming up in a cartoon somewhere, which may well have been the version my brother and I remember, but I can’t put my finger on which one it might have been.

In any case, I know the two of us aren’t alone with this association deeply lodged in our brains. The WPT’s Vince Van Patten will be making the trip as well, and earlier this week he tweeted a reference to it (see left) which got lots of responses.

Good thing the memory of “Niagara Falls” makes us all grin and chuckle rather than start throwing punches at the nearest poor sap!

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Degrees of Defeat

Had both of those women’s hockey medal games on today as I worked. My attention was divided, but I was looking up frequently whenever play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick’s voice rose in response to a developing situation on the ice.

If you watched as well you know that both matches followed similar plotlines with a team roaring out to a lead while shutting out the opponent, carrying that lead into the final period before the team that was behind staged a stirring comeback to snatch victory away.

In the early tilt for the bronze Sweden was in control with a 2-0 lead through two, then Switzerland scored early in the third, then again, then again to grab the advantage with less than seven minutes to go. An empty-netter was added, then a too-little-too-late response near the close to make the final 4-3 in favor of the Swiss.

Then in the gold medal match the U.S. led Canada 2-0 in the third before the latter scored twice, the second goal coming in the final minute of regulation, then scoring again in overtime to win.

In both cases the heartbreak of the losers was plain to see, their anguish heightened by having come so close to winning and falling short.

The pattern reminded me of some of the conversation following Super Bowl XLVIII in which Seattle smoked Denver 43-8, the outcome essentially decided even before halftime. I’m remembering the sports talk shows afterward debating whether it were preferable to lose a close game -- say, like the previous Super Bowl won by the Ravens over the 49ers by a score of 34-31 -- than to get routed as Denver had been.

The run out of cards after a preflop all-in in hold’em uniquely mimics both scenarios all the time.

The player all in with QsQc against an opponent with AsKs watches a flop bring three spades and is like the Broncos. Or a flop comes Qd4h2c to put the queens way ahead, then a trey and a five bring a backdoor wheel and the all-in player is like Sweden and the U.S. today.

In poker the obvious psychological manipulation of the latter scenario probably makes the analogy less apt. It’s a simulated similarity, you could say, with the order of the community cards suggesting a winning-then-losing sequence when in fact the outcome is the same regardless of the order of the flop, turn, and river. Indeed, any five cards adding up to a loss is more or less equivalent when all of the poker decisions have already been made.

Still, the pain experienced by the loser is often greater after having been teased by the prospect of victory. I think in sports I’d rather my team fight hard and lose a tight one than get crushed. (The pessimist in me is presently imagining both possibilities for my UNC Tar Heels tonight versus Duke, not allowing me to indulge in envisioning a Carolina win.)

In poker, though, I’d rather not go through such runner-runner anguish. Nor would I prefer to play well for much of a hand or session or tourney only to lose focus at the end to lose over being card dead or busting early, if the amount of my loss were the same in both cases that is.

I guess poker teaches us how a loss is a loss, however it comes. The Swedish and U.S. teams would probably disagree tonight, though.

(Photo above tweeted by AP correspondent Oskar Garcia capturing the reaction of U.S. goalie Jessica Vetter as shown on the big scoreboard following Canada's winning overtime goal.)

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not Guilty

This morning was different. I was in court. No shinola!

Back in early January I was pulled over for having failed to renew my license plate. I was given a court date about six weeks later, and today was the day. I could have just paid the fine plus court costs, but the officer suggested I go in and as long as I had renewed in the meantime it was possible I might get it dismissed.

Turned out his advice was correct, and I felt like I began the day in the black after avoiding having to drop a couple of hundy for my mistake.

I was one of about three dozen who had shown up to be there when the door opened on traffic court. In fact I got there about 20 minutes early and so was among the first in line. Not really up on exactly how it would go, I spent the time letting my imagination wander through vague, ill-informed possibilities.

The theme of these musings was of course finding ways to mitigate my guilt. I had excuses for forgetting to renew my license plate, of course. I won’t rehearse them here -- just fill in the blanks with your own excuses for why you might forget something similar. And underpinning all of these explanations was my history of never having forgotten to renew my license plate on time before.

Even as I sat there working out this staggeringly long list of mitigating circumstances, I was laughing at myself at the futility of such thoughts. I was most certainly guilty of the violation described on the sheet of paper the officer had given to me. And while I didn’t know whether or not I’d be made to pay the amount listed at the bottom of it, I knew this vain checklist I was building as a kind of theoretical defense wasn’t going to matter one way or the other.

This instinct to defend oneself comes so naturally, it’s almost startling to become conscious of that fact in a setting such as the one I was in this morning. We are always thinking to ourselves variations of the same idea, over and over in different ways and with different applications...

I’m not guilty.

We’re all familiar with that reflex in poker, often coming after losing but sometimes after winning, too. I’m not guilty of making a bad play. I had to make that call or bet or raise or fold. My opponent played his hand badly, leading to the hand’s outcome. And so on.

Better players are able to prevent such self-defensive recasting of reality from affecting their play, or even to allow such thoughts to develop at all. Meanwhile I’d venture the great majority of us can’t help ourselves, and in truth we’d all like to believe no one can judge us -- can really judge us -- like we can ourselves.

Duly humbled by my court appearance, I drove home flawlessly, stopping at every sign and light, observing speed limits and maintaining safe distances from others, steering and signaling like the champion vehicle operator I am.

Guilty? Perhaps... of being awesome.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Two Cents (Not a Manifesto)

Lots of manifestos and visions and grand statements flying about the poker world these days.

There’s probably a reasonable explanation for everyone suddenly becoming inspired to deliver such sermons. Sort of like the way certain styles of play slowly begin to be popular, then suddenly it seems like everyone is four-betting light. I guess it’s like a lot of people are playing “long ball” right now when it comes to what they’re saying or writing, trying to articulate big-picture ideas rather than sweat the small stuff. (Although plenty are doing the latter, too.)

That’s not to say some of these grand opinions and the debates they’re engendering aren’t diverting -- even enlightening, in places. I’ve been following with interest Daniel Negreanu’s thread over on Two Plus Two over the last few days, the one occasioned by Joe Hachem’s “poker is dying” interview (discussed here a couple of weeks ago). Phil Galfond’s “old school-new school” post last week -- to which Negreanu was also responding -- contained a number of thoughtful points as well.

One theme that’s been reoccurring in these statements is the familiar one about the poker community benefiting from the civil treatment of individuals within it of one another. Among Negreanu’s points, for instance, is the one in which he says he wishes for “a world where the game is fun first and a competitive endeavor second.”

I’ve seen a couple of especially obtuse responses to that thought, also delivered in manifestos-like fashion arguing that poker is solely about “profit” and that any suggestion it isn’t is either (1) wrong or (2) deliberately misleading. “He’s only saying have ‘fun first’ to trick the fish into happily losing their money to him, thus increasing his profit” goes that argument, one that willfully ignores both the idea that Negreanu isn’t being cynical and that poker actually can mean something other than the bottom line.

I’ve written before here many times about the paradox of poker being a game that brings us together while also encouraging us to view each other as antagonists. I’m remembering writing a post titled “Poker, the Antisocial Social Game” that touched on the topic. It’s that tension that makes the game so intriguing -- the fact that our being able to compete against one another depends in part on our being able to get along with another.

Obviously I’m one who like Negreanu believes poker has the potential to provide a lot to those who play it beyond just a means to make money. I also think those who approach the game in that narrow way are missing out, big time.

I’m not saying profit isn’t important. (Nor is Negreanu.) For those who make a living at the game (or who try to), that obviously tops the list of reasons to play. But there have to be other reasons, too, to give meaning to one’s participation, with having fun or at least participating in a constructive way in a community of others with similar interests being a good start.

That’s just my two cents. Small change. All anyone can make on his or her own.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

What Am I Watching?

Like many on this globe, I’ve had the XXII Olympic Winter Games from Sochi on as a more or less uninterrupted accompaniment to household activities for the last week.

Most of the time I’m not fully focused on whichever of the 98 events in 15 different disciplines is on, although once in a while I’ll stop what I’m doing to watch in response to an excited announcer’s reaction or to catch the conclusion of whatever competition is playing out.

Curling strangely keeps my attention, the back-and-forth strategy somehow appealing to me (and reminding me of other two-player games). Hockey does, too, of course. While curling isn’t perhaps an obvious one to figure out for those unfamiliar with the sport, I understand it well enough to recognize what is happening at any given moment, and thus both of those sports require little extra explanation for me.

Last night I became engaged for a while by women’s snowboard cross, one of the events in the snowboarding discipline for which it also seemed immediately apparent what was going on. There were a series of races, with the winners winning and the losers losing. Fast and exciting, with little need to know who was who to get a kind of visceral enjoyment from viewing.

However, for many of the events it is much more difficult to know how performances are measured. As I write I have on something called “Men’s Aerials,” an event I thought at first was part of the “ski jumping” discipline but after looking it up I see it is part of “freestyle skiing.”

There are spectacular jumps with judges awarding points, but I have no idea what a good score is and what a bad score is, and only when a poor fellow crash lands do I know for certain his chances for medaling have decreased.

Sports like these make me think a little of poker’s constant struggle to attract non-poker audiences and the various experiments tried over the years to create “must see” television out of poker cash games or tournaments.

Those who televise the Olympics have established a complicated strategy for presenting unfamiliar sports, one that involves all sorts of editing choices that mix live and delayed programming, combinations of in-game commentary, event-related features, and interviews, and of course the profiles of athletes that have become a hallmark of Olympic narrative-creation. They aren’t always on target, but the programmers have a plan and it generally works for a lot of us.

On Friday I was referencing one recent poker-related debate on Twitter. Last week there was another one concerning whether or not people watch poker on television primarily to learn more about how to play or for other reasons. While a minority maintained education to be the biggest draw, most seemed to suggest that was less of a priority than simply to be entertained (by the competition, the players, the spectacle, and so on).

It’s difficult -- and unfair, really -- to compare the Olympics to other sports or types of programming. And while I might be learning a little bit about these various disciplines and the particular events, I know that primarily what I’m experiencing when I watch is a pleasurable form of distraction that is engaging in an ephemeral way.

When poker was at its most popular on television (nearly a decade ago), it provided similar, fleeting thrills that captured an audience of both players and non-players, watching -- and being compelled to watch -- for all sorts of reasons.

That’s hard to do anymore, I think (again for all sorts of reasons).

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Friday, February 14, 2014

On “‪#FlippingCoins #$250kaPop”

Another short writing window for your humble scribbler today after another long day of other duties to tend to, including some here on the now super-slushy farm. Thought I’d sign off the week with reference to a debate that arose a few days ago regarding these “high roller” events.

The conversation was occasioned by the two big buy-in tourneys that happend at the Aussie Millions last week and which I was writing about a week ago -- the A$100,000 Challenge won by Yevgeniy Timoshenko who earned A$2 million for topping a field of 76 entries, and that LK Boutique A$250,000 Challenge in which Phil Ivey won A$4 million after prevailing in a field that drew 46 entries.

Both were re-entry events, allowing players to buy back in as many times as they wished up until the start of the second day of play. That led to some eyebrow-raising examples of players spending a lot in Melbourne to play in the tourneys. Daniel Negreanu, for example, bought in five times to the $100K event and another three times to the $250K one. He managed to cash in both and in fact turned a profit overall.

The debate to which I am referring regarding the high roller events arose over Twitter and primarily involved Negreanu and Dan Shak. In his “Five Thoughts” column this week, Rich Ryan touches on one aspect of that dialogue, namely the one over whether or not these huge buy-in events have an effect on all players. (Do they or don’t they?) But in fact I was intrigued by another issue that arose between Shak and Negreanu during their Twitter exchange.

During the frenzy of re-entering the $250K, Negreanu at one point tweeted “Doubled up! K9 vs A8 I hit a 9 weee! This is so fun! ‪#FlippingCoins #$250kaPop.” Not long after Shak wrote a number of tweets about the $250K and high rollers, generally speaking.

Shak actually likes the high roller events (and has a record of doing well in them), but wasn’t crazy about the unlimited re-entry option being available so deep into them as was the case at the Aussie Millions. “Never thought I would say this but what is going on right now is a complete embarrassment to the game and what it means to the value of $,” Shak tweeted amid other comments.

A couple of days later he and Negreanu got into a conversation and Shak noted to Negreanu “the tweeting and referencing 250k flips is what I had issues with,” adding “you are a role model whether you like it or not and it's my opinion that [it is] not necessary to glorify it to the young.”

Negreanu of course defended his tweets about “flipping” for a quarter milly while arguing that delivering such messages wasn’t harmful in the way Shak suggested. You can search through the timelines of both for more, including going up and down the conversations emanating from the tweets linked to above.

Like Shak, I’m somewhat weary of the unlimited re-entry format, generally speaking. I’ll admit to being a bit awe-struck by players dropping so much into these high roller events such as happened in Melbourne. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what sort of effect a player like Negreanu tweeting excitedly about “‪#FlippingCoins #$250kaPop” has on younger, aspiring players, nor how such spectacles might affect broader perceptions about poker’s skill component. But I do get that there is something kind of out-of-whack about it all.

What do you think? What sort of effect do these six-figure tourneys really have on the larger poker community?

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Farming on the Moon

Snowed under here at the farm. Lost power for a few hours today, although it’s back now. Thankfully temps aren’t dropping too low tonight -- although it will be below freezing -- and it appears the warming will begin in earnest tomorrow and over the weekend.

Those few hours without power today weren’t all bad, as I was able to read and enjoy the postcard-like scene outside while being disconnected. As you might have guessed, we’ve taken a ton of pictures over the last couple of days, many of which will do nicely for Christmas cards. Doing chores today and Vera took that one of me -- looks like I'm farming on the moon. (Someone else added the animation.)

Now that we’re back online, I wanted to pass along a couple of items that went up today on the Learn.PokerNews site.

One is a new piece from Andrew Brokos (of Thinking Poker) which is actually the first of a two-parter on “Getting Started With Hand Reading.” In this one Andrew starts to distinguish the idea -- largely fanciful -- of putting a player on an exact hand from the more practical approach of narrowing an opponent down to a range of possible holdings.

Also up today is a neat interview Michelle Orpe conducted with the U.K. player Oliver Price. I had a chance to meet and talk to Price briefly not too long ago at EPT10 Deauville where he ended up finishing third. Nice, thoughtful guy, and he really took his time answering Michelle’s questions about how he got started and about advice for new players. Though primarily a cash game player, he’s emerging as “one to watch” on the tourney circuit after putting up some nice results over the last few months.

Gotta cut things short as there are various duties to attend to now that the power is back on, including making sure we’re prepared in case it goes out again.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Monster Stacks, Dealer’s Choice, and an Eight-Figure Prize

Snowgeddon is here. I mean hell... they canceled the Duke-UNC game, so it’s kind of a big deal.

Started coming down just after noon for us and hasn’t stopped since. The horses were mostly fine playing around in it today, although we gave them the option all afternoon to take cover if needed (which they did from time to time). They’re now in their stalls, though, where we’ll be checking in on them and our three barn cats as the night progresses and the temps dip.

Working at home I don’t really get to enjoy the same sort of “snow day” as used to be the case for me. Meanwhile Vera’s work shut down today and they’ve already announced they’ll be closed again tomorrow, so she’s liking having some time off.

My attention was taken up for part of the day by the release of the 2014 World Series of Poker schedule which puts me in mind of 100-plus degree days while sitting in the middle of this frozen snowscape. Haven’t given it a thorough look just yet, but am intrigued by what seem a number of changes from the status quo which should keep things interesting come summer.

That new $10 million guarantee for first prize in the Main Event is an interesting idea. My first impression of it is positive, although I’ve already heard some reacting with less favor to the idea.

That “Monster Stack” event (Event No. 51) is also an eybrow-raiser in which players participating in the $1,500 buy-in event will begin with 15,000 chips (instead of 4,500) with the blinds/antes starting at the same 25/25 level and increasing according to the same schedule as the regular $1,500 NLHE tourneys.

Finally, Event No. 41, the “Dealer’s Choice” tournament is another one that I’ve found myself thinking about more than others on the new schedule. I wrote a short item about it over on Learn.PokerNews today, kind of marveling at the menu of poker variants (16 of them!) from which players will be able to choose games.

That latter event would be especially interesting to cover, I think. Will players choose Badacy or Baducy? Five-card draw? Ace-to-five lowball? The final table in particular will be something to see, I think, with players’ game choices becoming a big part of the endgame strategy.

Setting all that aside for the moment, though, to go see how Sammy and Maggie are doing. Neither seem too fazed. Both have pretty solid poker faces, though.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On the Run

Spent much of the day working then went for a run this afternoon and now the day has already mostly slipped by. After going weeks without running at all, I’ve been five times in the last eight days thanks primarily to Eugene Katchalov.

While in Deauville last week I had a chance to talk with Katchalov a few times, including after his near-miss winning the Main Event as he finished second out of a field of 671. Besides being a talented tourney player, the Ukrainian is also an especially friendly, outgoing guy with lots of interesting ideas -- both about poker and other things -- and a willingness to share them.

On the very first day of the tournament I’d interviewed Katchalov at the first break and we talked about his newfound commitment to fitness and eating well over the last couple of years that had produced many good outcomes for him both physically and mentally. I wrote up a post for the PokerStars blog titled “Before and after Eugene” sharing what he’d said.

During the week I was talking with Vera who was back home following the coverage online. She’d mentioned how the Katchalov post was inspiring, and looking back at it I realized it was.

One point he’d made with regard to sticking to some sort of workout regimen was to have a partner or someone to help keep you going when your inspiration to do so started to waver. For him it was his friend Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier who served that role, with their hired trainer also helping a great deal of course.

“It’s always nice when you have a partner or friend to go through it with you,” explained Katchalov, referring to having Grospellier likewise working on his fitness with him. “So with ElkY if I’m working out it pushes him to work out and vice-versa. Even if you don’t work out together, just having someone to compare your progress with is important.”

I used to run regularly but over the couple of years had fallen out of the habit. Looking back on the blog, I see myself in early 2009 writing about starting to run every day. (I was also playing poker every day then, too.) I actually kept on running right up until I went out to the World Series of Poker that summer, and even while in Vegas I remember hitting the treadmill several times at the hotel where I was staying.

The frequency of the runs finally lessened, though, and like I say it had been several weeks since I’d run at all when I finally hit the pavement again after returning from France. People sometimes ask me about posting on the blog every day, and often I will bring up running as a kind of analogy -- that like a regular runner, I find myself in the habit of wanting to post each day just to keep exercising these writer “muscles.” But the comparison hadn’t really been applicable to me of late as I had found it much easier to skip running than not to write.

I say Katchalov was the main inspiration, but so, too, was PokerStars blogger Rick Dacey who began 2014 with a goal of running 365 miles during the calendar year. He’d only made it to nine miles by early February -- including an early morning seaside run in Deauville near the end of our week there -- and so I proposed to him that I’d join him in that 365-mile quest and we could push each other, a la Eugene and ElkY.

I’m only up to 7.5 miles now -- still about nine miles back of Rick -- but each time out is getting easier. Missing a month-plus of running means picking up the pace to get back that mile-a-day goal. But with Rick up ahead of me and Eugene and ElkY in mind I’m plenty motivated to keep at it.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Tournament Poker for Advanced Anglers

Over the weekend I had two different instances of people alerting me to references online to poker-related pieces I’d written, both of which had popped up in non-poker contexts.

That in and of itself was interesting -- both for vanity’s sake (who doesn’t find references to themselves noteworthy?) and because I’m always intrigued by talk of poker outside of our relatively cloistered community. But there was one other reason why the references intrigued me even further.

On Saturday Eric Ramsey let me know over Twitter that I’d been referenced on a fishing site, of all places, something called Advanced Angler. A short post discussing the rise of competitive fishing over recent years brings up poker as a parallel example, and the unnamed author makes reference to a Betfair poker post I’d written sharing what for us is common knowledge regarding the invention of the hole card camera.

Then yesterday Vera and I went out to dinner with another couple and the fellow told me he’d run across a reference to me appearing on what I believe is a somewhat popular physics blog called Preposterous Universe written by Sean Carroll, a physicist at Caltech.

The post -- “Poker is a Game of Skill” -- was written last fall and swiftly makes the case for the game’s skill component while referencing a sketchy academic study appearing in the Journal of Gambling Studies the year before. I’d written about the study here (pointing out its poor methodology), and Carroll had linked me up as he discussed it.

Like I say, who among us isn’t intrigued by others talking about us? And as I mention above, there’s always something to learn about poker when people who aren’t immersed in our subculture discuss it.

Sure, the non-poker people will make mistakes sometimes when discussing our favorite game, but in some cases they see things more clearly than we do, I think. For example, the Advanced Angler piece reiterates the importance of hole card cameras to those casually acquainted with poker (something we take for granted sometimes), and Carroll’s utter rejection of the idea that poker does not involve skill is refreshing in its clear-headedness.

But there’s another reason why I found these two references in particular interesting. I’ve mentioned before how my Dad is a physics professor, now retired. He also happens to be a lifelong fisherman, something else I remember writing about here once when discussing my friend Carlos Monti, the photographer on the LAPT.

I had to share both of these references with him, of course, suggesting that perhaps they proved some latent influence he’d had over me, as evidenced by fishermen and physicists being readers.

Or perhaps poker, fishing, and physics have some natural affinities I hadn’t previously appreciated? I guess all three groups do include people interested in angling.

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Huge Leap at Aussie Millions A$100,000 Challenge

The Aussie Millions A$100,000 Challenge, a quick-structured, two-day event with unlimited re-entries through the start of Day 2, had a remarkable 66 total entries yesterday, pushing the total prize pool up close to $6 milly USD. The second and final day kicks off in about two hours, and there’s a good chance a few more might jump in at this point to push the total up over 70 entries.

Donnie Peters summarizes yesterday’s action over on PokerNews, noting how both Daniel Negreanu and Isaac Haxton entered five times on Day 1, with Negreanu surviving on his fifth try while Haxton busted yet again. Mike “Tîmex” McDonald leads the 29 players still in the hunt, who along with the extra entrants will play down to a winner tonight.

The event was first introduced at the Aussie Millions in 2006. Look at the number of entries for the first eight times the A$100,000 took place (with winners in parentheses):

  • 2006 - 10 (John Juanda)
  • 2007 - 17 (Erick Lindgren)
  • 2008 - 25 (Howard Lederer)
  • 2009 - 23 (David Steicke)
  • 2010 - 24 (Dan Shak)
  • 2011 - 38 (Sam Trickett)
  • 2012 - 22 (Dan Smith)
  • 2013 - 22 (Andrew Robl)

    The A$250,000 Super High Roller was added in 2011, which was perhaps a reason for the drop off in the A$100,000 over the last couple of years. That event, incidentally, drew 20 entries in 2011 (Erik Seidel won), 16 entries in 2012 (Phil Ivey won), and 18 in 2013 (with Sam Trickett winning). This year’s version of that event starts this Sunday.

    Of course, the unlimited re-entry format is the biggest factor pumping up the total, something that hasn’t always been part of the tourney. In addition to Negreanu and Haxton firing five times each, Dan Shak and Paul Newey each entered three times yesterday, and Tom Dwan twice. (By the way, 100,000 Australian dollars currently equals about $90,000 USD.)

    The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure started having its $100,000 Super High Roller Event in 2011, and this year it reached a peak in entries with 46. Again, at the PCA the tourney is also now an unlimited re-entry format. Here are the totals and winners for the PCA $100,000 events:

  • 2011 - 38 (Eugene Katchalov)
  • 2012 - 30 (Viktor Blom)
  • 2013 - 43 (Scott Seiver)
  • 2014 - 46 (Fabian Quoss)

    There have been three World Poker Tour Alpha8 events thus far, another $100,000 tourney with re-entries. Those have drawn 21 entries (Florida), 20 (London), and 28 (St. Kitts). The next one happens in a week in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    So while this year’s Aussie Millions A$100,000 Challenge won’t come close to the prize pool of last summer’s $111,111 buy-in “One Drop High Rollers” event at the WSOP (not a re-entry) which drew 166 players total -- obviously a unique event -- it still represents a remarkable leap up from what’s been generally happening generally with these six-figure tourneys.

    I mean, come on... 70 entries?!? That’s Bob Beamon-esque.

    (EDIT [added 2/9/14]: The A$100,000 Challenge ultimately drew 76 entries; meanwhile the LK Boutique A$250,000 Challenge drew an incredible 46 entries.)

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  • Thursday, February 06, 2014

    Questioning the Poker Gods

    Have been kind of vaguely following this whole creationism “debate” a little bit over the last couple of days, reading a few articles and noticing all of the references whirring past to the big online event on Tuesday featuring Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") and Ken Ham, president of something called the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky where the event took place.

    Apparently around 3 million people tuned in to watch the pair square off over evolution and creationism, thus explaining all of the response. Here’s a link to the full program over on YouTube, if you’re curious. Sounds like many appreciated Nye’s defense of the scientific method, including several of those writing the articles I read.

    I’ve mentioned before here how my Dad is a physicist, which probably explains my own appreciation of science and reason as means to explain the world as well as to explore it further. But I also respect those who find that faith helps give their lives meaning, especially when that faith helps encourage them to treat others well.

    As I say, I didn’t watch the program and so am not going to try to comment on it. But I did want to share one item from a response I noticed today, something by Phil Plait, an astronomer who writes for Slate.

    He had written an initial response yesterday titled “The Creation of Debate” that raised some questions about the whole idea of “debating” evolution and creationism. Then today Plait followed that up with another article in which he took some time to answer 22 questions creationists have of Nye and those who share his views regarding how the world originated and evolved, questions that were posted over on Buzzfeed.

    One of the questions was “How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It’s amazing!!!”

    Plait agrees that the world is amazingly complex, but “that complexity can arise naturally through the laws of physics.” Again, I’ve been influenced by my Dad here, I know, to agree with that point of view. He then interestingly evokes poker to illustrate how “it doesn’t take very complex rules to create huge diversity.”

    “Look at poker,” writes Plait, “a simple set of rules creates a game that has so many combinations it’s essentially infinite to human experience.”

    It’s a point that to me seems more directly to prove human limitations than anything else, but the analogy is easy enough to follow. Just because something strikes us as overwhelmingly complicated or beautiful or awesome doesn’t necessarily mean it cannot be explained by science.

    I mean, poker is complicated, sure. But the fact that its complexity can exceed our capacity to comprehend it utterly doesn’t mean the game was created by some deity, does it?

    Of course, someone hitting a two-outer against you to win a pot after all the chips go in is another matter entirely.

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    Wednesday, February 05, 2014

    Hachem on the State of the Game

    2005 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Joe Hachem delivered an interesting interview at the Aussie Millions to BLUFF’s Thomas Keeling (SrslySirius) this week that is getting a decent amount of attention.

    Actually Keeling’s style is usually only to show his subjects talking -- i.e., not to interject himself asking the questions -- which works pretty well, especially when the interviewee has something interesting to say. Here Hachem is shown commenting for more than five minutes about the state of poker today, in particular addressing the role WSOP Main Event champions have as ambassadors of the game and how in his opinion those who came after him haven’t done as much in that effort as he would have liked.

    Hachem starts out saying he’s “very saddened,” then states fairly bluntly that “personally, if I'm going to be honest, I think that between Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang, they destroyed the legacy of the world champion.”

    He doesn’t go on to specify exactly how the 2006 and 2007 WSOP Main Event champions failed in his estimation. Instead he moves on to talk about the last half-dozen champs (from 2008-2013) all being under 25 and thus perhaps exempt for a couple of reasons from being targeted by his censure.

    One reason that Peter Eastgate, Joe Cada, Jonathan Duhamel, Pius Heinz, Greg Merson, and Ryan Riess are to be given some slack for not being as active when it comes to the ambassador role is their age and relative lack of experience outside of poker. “They haven't established themselves a family and maybe aren’t ready to be that ambassador that me, Greg Raymer, and Chris Moneymaker were,” says Hachem.

    The other reason -- not explicitly stated by Hachem, but understood from his opening -- that the latter group gets a pass is because after Gold and Yang failed in his view to continue the pattern established by the 2003-2005 champs, the responsibility to be that ambassador for the game wasn’t as apparent for those that came after. At least that seems to be an implied point Hachem is making.

    He goes on from there to talk about how honored he was -- and still is -- to have won in 2005 and subsequently to be in a position “to spread the word and reputation of the game [he] love[s].” He then circles back to the idea of being “saddened” and how in his view too many in poker are too focused on making money and not participating in (and thus helping to nurture) a larger community.

    “I think poker is dying, and the reason that it is dying is that it is no longer fun for people to play,” says Hachem.

    There is more, and rather than summarize it all I’d suggest you check out the clip yourself to hear the rest of Hachem’s argument. But the theme running through all of his comments -- at least as I hear them -- is the way poker has in his view been overrun by players whose self-interest too greatly outweighs any other concerns for the community as a whole.

    Hachem’s not all bleak, noting at the end how there are some players who are starting to exhibit what he thinks are appropriate attitudes towards the game and those who play it -- i.e., being more sociable and inviting and thus helping in small ways promote poker as an enjoyable and fun activity. (I know for some the occasionally ornery Hachem’s comments about civility read ironically, but I’m setting aside that aspect of his observations to respond to the points he makes in their own right.)

    There’s some extra drama in the clip, what with all the sadness and destroying and dying and all, but judging from some of the responses there’s probably some truth in what Hachem’s saying, too.

    As I’ve written about here before -- in fact, as far back as 2006 -- I’ve never thought the WSOP Main Event champ should be thought to owe anything to the community, although I understand the idea that the champ does have some influence, and thus probably can matter somewhat when it comes to shaping how the game comes to be perceived by the larger culture.

    The larger point about how everyone involved in poker bears some responsibility to help make the game fun and thus inviting to others is more persuasive to me -- that the community as a whole is necessarily going to thrive or suffer depending on how individuals within it treat one another. And thus while anyone who says “the money isn’t everything” in poker automatically sounds ingenuous, I get the point and don’t disagree with it.

    What do you think of the former champ’s speech on the state of the game?

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    Tuesday, February 04, 2014

    Transatlantic Triple Feature

    On my flight from France to Philly on Sunday I watched three different movies.

    The first was Gravity, a visual effects-laden spectacle of a film for which viewing on a small screen on the back of the seat in front of you isn’t necessarily ideal. But I had my noise-canceling headphones to help me enjoy the effective soundtrack and I was well engaged in from start to finish.

    Experimental in some ways, the film does many interesting things throughout both technically with regard to editing, framing, and so on as well as narratively with its limited cast and relatively narrow plot. Sandra Bullock is especially good and George Clooney likewise effective in a smaller role.

    It did feel at times like I was watching some sort of role-playing-slash-simulation video game, thereby causing some occasional emotional detachment, but there were some genuinely moving moments, too, that ably reinforced the various thematic suggestions made by the title. A satisfying hour-and-a-half.

    From there it was We’re the Millers, the R-rated comedy purposely chosen for the contrast it suggested as a much less intense trifle. Which it was. A few yuks here and there, but pretty forgettable. Both Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston are great comedians, but they’re kind of weirdly cast here.

    I was about to shut off the sucker when I scrolled through and saw Runner Runner among the choices, and so despite the preponderance of negative reviews I decided to dial it up to complete the triple feature. Sort of felt obligated to, given its poker connections and attempt to spin a thriller-type plot from the insider cheating scandals and other examples of fraud and corruption from online poker’s first decade.

    Not going to give a full-blown review of this one, either, but will make three quick observations about the film.

    1. Some effort has been made by proponents of regulated online poker to suggest Runner Runner provides a persuasive argument in favor of their cause. The film is set in what is essentially a pre-Black Friday, anything-goes environment, and thus some have suggested that it helps show the need for regulation as a means to prevent the shenanigans perpetrated by Ben Affleck’s character, the Costa Rica-based online gambling mogul Ivan Block.

    Having watched the film, such a reading seems incredibly blinkered. Any clear-headed observer not ensconced within our narrow little world of poker couldn’t possibly view Runner Runner as representing anything positive when it came to our favorite card game.

    From the opening montage it demonizes gambling of all kinds, with poker only barely distinguished as a game involving some form of decision-making by players. Sure, it starts out making a banal point that “everybody gambles,” but does nothing thereafter to suggest this truth about human nature is a good thing. To think the film actually supports any kind of gambling (including poker) seems like a crazily convoluted response.

    2. I refer to an “opening montage,” but in truth the entire film plays like one long montage with ridiculously short, television-like scenes that feel more like a sequence of YouTube clips than a coherent narrative.

    The Rounders guys, Brian Koppelman and David Levien, co-scripted the film, and I see Koppelman on Twitter sharing his “six-second screenwriting lessons.” I almost feel like the editor of this film was observing a similarly abbreviated limit throughout when it came to scene length -- not six seconds, but not much more.

    Characters are presented hastily and for the most part aren’t developed at all. Only the main protagonist, Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), experiences any kind of change in outlook over the course of the film, a change that is not just obvious but also tedious to watch play out.

    3. Justin Timberlake is a talented performer and definitely has some comic instincts that have served him well in other contexts (e.g., SNL, Bad Teacher). But he’s a huge deficit in a drama requiring any sort of real presence.

    It was the third movie in a row for me -- and something like 12-14 hours into my day of travel -- but I literally was struggling to keep my eyes open during the predictable, unsatisfying finale.

    In other words, kind of like the ending of the Super Bowl.

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    Monday, February 03, 2014

    Super Bowl XLVIII and Passive Tilt

    I mentioned when I signed off on the last of my travel reports from Deauville how I was eyeing a long travel day on Sunday with a schedule getting me home about an hour before Super Bowl XLVIII was set to kickoff. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the airport to the farm, and so if all went as planned I’d make it home just in time to watch the sucker get started.

    There were a number of odd little moments and weird delays going from Deauville to Paris to Philadelphia to Charlotte to the farm, plus one fun coincidence running into fellow tourney reporter Mo Nuwwarah in the Philly airport (also on his way home from a reporting gig, his being at the Borgata). But I ran well enough to stay mostly on pace and only a lengthy wait on the tarmac at CLT for an open gate made me late getting home. I walked in the door about halfway through the first quarter, glad to reunite with Vera and our cats and horses, and after 18-plus hours of traveling was almost giddy just to plop down on the couch and tune in.

    I’d listened to the start on the radio, and so knew about the safety and how things had begun less than ideally for Denver. It was 5-0 when I turned it on, then 8-0, then quickly 15-0 and 22-0, and I just had to laugh about having wanted to get home in a hurry to watch such a stinker.

    Had been so busy during the week I hadn’t really thought too much about how the game might go, but I can’t imagine any thought process that would have led me to suspect an outcome such as the one that occurred.

    Easy in retrospect to point back to the last time a top-rated offense clashed with a top-rated defense in Super Bowl XXXVII, to note how the defensive power (Tampa Bay) crushed the offensive one (Oakland) by 27 (forcing five turnovers along the way), and perhaps to use that to support a thesis that Seattle might do something similar, thereby proving the maxim about defense winning championships, regardless of the sport.

    But I doubt I’d have gotten around to that idea on my own, and I know most didn’t. Indeed, it sounds like the sportsbooks did well as the majority of bettors leaned Denver’s way -- two of every three, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

    I was vaguely rooting for Denver, although was reminded by my mother over the last week how as a kid I was a Seahawks fan, mostly because they were new, had cool colors and a menacing logo I could draw in my notebooks, and a quarterback whose first name started with a “Z” (Jim Zorn). Also, no one else liked them. But since the Panthers arrived that’s where my allegiance has been, and so wasn’t all that committed either way last night.

    And, of course, not too long after I got home, there wasn’t much to root about once the game had gotten out of hand. Was a little like watching a poker player take a hit early in a session and then start making bad play after bad play in a tilty effort to right the ship. Although John Fox’s conservative tendencies -- something that we Panthers fans well remember and which came up last year in that AFC Championship game versus the Ravens -- made Denver seem less like a player betting too much when he shouldn’t, but rather one who had tightened up too much after losing early.

    I like John Fox and was sorry to see him leave Carolina. And while coaching hardly decided yesterday’s game (as Bill Barnwell notes at the start of the “Thank You For Not Coaching” section of his column today), it definitely felt like Denver’s lack of readiness to take any risks at all yesterday made it essentially impossible for them to put up any sort of fight after getting knocked down early.

    Any doubt about the outcome was erased once Seattle returned the kickoff for a TD to start the second half and go up 29-0. But then Denver got the ball back, marched to the Seattle 38-yard-line, and on 3rd-and-10 called a draw. I flashed back to Fox’s Panthers days, when the 3rd-and-long draws routinely drove us insane. Then after losing a yard they punted down four scores, which definitely seemed the equivalent of a beaten-down poker player folding again, clearly not able anymore to give himself a chance even to get lucky.

    I liked Fox at Carolina and still pull for him, but talk about “passive tilt”...!

    Speaking of “passive tilt,” one of the great thinkers about tilt, Tommy Angelo, has a new contribution over a Learn.PokerNews today, another installment in his “Tilt for Beginners” series, this one titled “Writhing Over Rules” -- check it out.

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    Sunday, February 02, 2014

    Travel Report: EPT10 Deauville Main Event, Day 6: Two Years on the Bounce

    The week is done. Both the Main Event and High Roller concluded relatively early on Sunday in Deauville, with fairly interesting storylines emanating from both tournaments’ results.

    In the High Roller, the young PCA Main Event champion Dominik Panka from Poland topped the field of 115 entries to win the €272,000 first prize. Panka hadn’t had any live scores to speak up prior to winning $1.42 million in the Bahamas two-and-a-half weeks ago, but his strong play there coupled with last night’s win will ensure he’ll get a lot of attention moving forward on the EPT.

    Meanwhile Eugene Katchalov came as close as he could get to winning the Main Event yesterday, finishing runner-up to Sotirios Koutoupas after slipping to short-stacked status with five left and then battling back. (That’s the trophy presentation happening at the left.)

    Katchalov, of course, was going for poker’s “Triple Crown” (something I detailed a bit on the PokerStars blog during the afternoon), needing just the EPT win to go with a WPT title and WSOP bracelet. He’d come close before, finishing third at EPT8 Barcelona. When I talked to him after play ended yesterday he called the finish “bittersweet” but was in great spirits, clearly pleased with how well he managed to play the entire week.

    Koutoupas was known on the EPT for having finished runner-up himself at EPT9 Prague, so it was a tough opponent Katchalov was facing heads-up. Koutoupas had a 3-to-1 chip lead to start heads-up play and never lost the advantage, thus securing the first ever EPT win for a Greek player.

    Had a nice last dinner with Rick, Howard, and Neil, all terrific working alongside all week. Indeed, as I’ve said before, all of the band who travel throughout the EPT -- from the media to the staff, the EPT Live guys, and everyone else -- are not just good at what they do but helpful and kind, too, thus adding a lot to the experience of going on these journeys.

    Being around the Englishmen all week I’ve once again picked up a few new phrases, including the one I’ve used in the title. When Rick mentioned earlier in the week that Zimnan Ziyard was second in chips to start Day 3 for the second year on the bounce at EPT Deauville, I knew what he meant from the context but had to admit it was a new one for me.

    It was nice coming to Deauville two years on the bounce. It was a great experience, and while I’m greatly looking forward to getting back to life on the farm with Vera, I’ll look back fondly on another great week abroad watching and writing about people playing cards.

    My flights on Sunday are due to carry me home just about an hour before the Super Bowl kicks off, so I’m hoping for some run good to get home in time. Wish me luck, and talk to you on the other side.

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    Saturday, February 01, 2014

    Travel Report: EPT10 Deauville Main Event, Day 5: Les Manoirs and Loosey Dacey

    A quick note to report on what turned out to be an especially fast Day 5 -- something that has become routine when it comes to the penultimate days of EPT Main Events -- in which they played down to the final eight.

    Eugene Katchalov is among those left, sitting with a big stack that puts him in second position behind Sotirios Koutoupas who is looking to become the first Greek EPT Main Event champion. Meanwhile the High Roller ends today as well, where Albert Daher leads the final eight with Martin Schleich, Davidi Kitai, and WSOP Europe Main Event champion Adrian Mateos Diaz among those still in the hunt.

    I mentioned the interesting story of Bahram Choubineh yesterday. He busted first on Day 5, ending with a 16th-place finish, though was hardly disappointed when I spoke with him afterwards.

    When all was done yesterday Rick, Howard, and I took a drive over to one of the more highly recommended places in Deauville, Les Manoirs de Tourgéville, where we had yet another tremendous dinner.

    I started with some escargots en cocette lutée et champignons -- snails in a mushroom-based casserole with a kind of pastry on top -- which was absolutely delicious. Then came a main course of filet de bœuf au sautoir with potatoes, which was enough to encourage me to turn down another rich dessert.

    Afterwards the three of us played cards for a few euros, with Rick riding an insane rush to beat us first in a sit-n-go, then also become the winner in a cash game.

    In the SNG, Rick somehow knocked both myself and Howard out in preflop all-ins in which we flopped pairs to lead both times, then Rick drew out runner-runner Broadway straights. Then on the final hand of the cash game the two of them got it all in behind Howard’s pocket aces and Rick’s pocket kings, and a king fell on the river.

    No time to lament further about “Loosey Dacey” (a.k.a. “Runner-Runner Rick”) as there’s much to do to ready for the day ahead. Again, check the PokerStars blog to follow the reporting.

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