Monday, June 23, 2014

Slow Response

The ending of the United States-Portugal match was remarkable, no question, with an improbable race up the field over the last half-minute of action culminating in that crossing pass from Cristiano Ronaldo to Silvestre Varela who headed in the tying goal on what was essentially the last play of the match.

It was almost disorienting, actually, as I think the delayed reaction of U.S. fans shown afterwards seemed to attest. So tightly wound up for a stress-releasing celebration, the initial reaction was disbelief, as though the their eyes deceived them.

Then came the weird, also slow-to-occur acceptance of the result, with a draw -- itself a foreign concept to fans of the “big three” North American sports -- only adding further to that confused, unsatisfied feeling.

The game well exemplified the rapid reversal of emotions that will happen in poker when an all-in player goes from winning to losing on fifth street. The now famous clip of Carter Gill’s bust from last summer’s WSOP Main Event provides a ready example:

I had actually been thinking of this clip just yesterday after watching Frank Op de Woerd at this year’s WSOP interviewing Gill -- and bringing it up.

I had a chance to talk to Gill as well back in the spring at the LAPT Chile -- friendly, engaging guy who was happy to talk about anything, including that unfortunate hand. “I still think about that a lot, actually,” he’d said to me almost wistfully, although some significant tourney success during the intervening months -- including a victory at the LAPT Grand Final last year -- had done a lot to soften the sting.

The ending of the match was similar in that there had to be at least a 93% chance of victory for the U.S. before that final mad dash by Portugal (if not greater). Also, that seemingly-imminent victory had been unexpected -- just like David Paredes’s call of Gill’s all-in on the turn seemed like a pleasant surprise to Gill. Gill’s slowness to react and leave his seat following the unlucky river was likewise mirrored by the stunned feeling following the Portugal equalizer.

But the ending was different in a couple of ways. The result was a tie, not a loss and elimination. And while the U.S. might have outplayed Portugal prior to those final frenzied seconds, there was nothing lucky about Ronaldo’s pass, Varela’s finish, and the Americans’ slow response to both.

Still didn’t make it any easier to believe at the time.

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