Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Live and Learn

A busy Wednesday has already almost gotten away from me. I’d wanted today to write something here about this story of yet another U.S.-facing “rogue” online poker operator embarking on a dubious strategy for survivng in a mostly desperate marketplace. I’m referring to the Equity Poker Network apparently closing accounts of so-called “aggressive” players -- that is, winning players who put in lots of volume. You can read more about it over at pokerfuse.

Seems like there is some kind of symbolism worth teasing out of the story, one showing how an online poker network that can only serve U.S. customers by not allowing winning players to remain among the player pool is itself emblematic of online poker’s current status in the U.S. -- i.e., it’s a “loser’s game.”

Kind of a downer proclamation to make on this, the one-year anniversary of legal, regulated online poker’s introduction into the U.S. (Ultimate Poker debuted in Nevada one year ago today.) So rather than pursue that topic further I’m instead going to point you to a cool series of articles by Carlos Welch over on Learn.PokerNews which he’s dubbed “Cash Catastrophes.”

Carlos is writing articles about hands from his home game in which he’s made what he deems mistakes that have cost him money (hence the series title). All four of the articles illustrate situations that are familiar and have caused me to recall decisions with which I myself have struggled.

Here are the four “Cash Catastrophes” Carlos has shared thus far, the titles of which give an indication of the dilemma being faced in each:

  • Out of Position and Out of Ideas
  • Folding Aces Leads to Paranoia
  • Missing Value With the Nuts
  • Hero-Calling Unexpected River Bets
  • I appreciate Carlos’s willingness to share his missteps. It’s hard sometimes even to look into one’s own play and acknowledge to oneself mistakes made, never mind share them with an audience as he is doing. But doing so is obviously helpful all around.

    Of course, if you aren’t interested in working on improving your game, apparently there’s an online poker network that is built just for you!

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    Tuesday, April 29, 2014

    A High Roller in the Family

    Had a couple of people draw my attention to an article in The New York Times Magazine from over the weekend written by PokerStars’ Team Online member Isaac Haxton’s father, Brooks Haxton, titled “Playing the Cards.” It’s an interesting article, kind of pointing out a familiar lesson regarding poker in a different way.

    The piece begins with Haxton telling the story of he and his wife discovering just a year ago that Isaac was playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars online. We don’t get the full context and I think can probably assume the parents knew all about Isaac’s profession and that he played for significant sums, but it sounds like they hadn’t known before that point that he was playing for quite so much.

    In any case, Haxton immediately relates the circumstance of his son’s tolerance for mega-swings and high-stakes risk and reward to a very difficult decision he and his wife had to make regarding Isaac’s health shortly after his birth. I won’t rehearse all of the details, but it was literally a life-or-death situation, and while Isaac survived in good health, the parents came away having learned something important about risk-taking, “play[ing] the cards as they were dealt,” and also getting lucky.

    This experience in turn appears to help Haxton understand both his son’s special skill set and what it means to face risk and make decisions logically and under pressure. It’s an interesting twist on a somewhat familiar idea that poker can teach us about decision-making away from the tables -- in this case, it was a non-poker experience that appears to help the elder Haxton understand poker (and poker players).

    I’d seen the piece even before people drew my attention to it in part because Isaac had tweeted about it while also letting his followers know that his dad has written a memoir that appears as though it is concentrated largely on his son’s poker playing. The book is called Fading Hearts on the River: A Life in High-Stakes Poker and is due out next month.

    Isaac is a thoughtful guy -- and great, of course, in the commentary booth, as we heard him today on the EPTLive stream from the Grand Final. The profile done by Ryan Firpo and the 918 Films crew is a good one (that is a still from it up top), and adds further to our understanding of why he such a talent at the tables. (It also includes that awesome reraise-shove on the river with 3-high from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure from way back in 2007 when we were all first introduced to Haxton, then looking like Joey Ramone.)

    His dad seems pretty thoughtful, too, making me look forward to reading his book once it hits the shelves. And perhaps by doing so learning still more about poker and poker players.

    By the way, that photo at the bottom (click to enlarge), is of Haxton checking the payouts at the final table of Event No. 2 of the 2009 World Series of Poker, the $40,000 “40th Annual” No-Limit Hold’em event in which he’d eventually finish runner-up to Vitaly Lunkin. I believe B.J. Nemeth was the one who snapped it (perhaps he remembers).

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    Monday, April 28, 2014

    What’s Four Plus Four?

    Had a terrific weekend here on the farm as we had another family visit, this time hosting Vera’s mom, sister, and our five-year-old nephew for a couple of nights. It was their first visit since we moved here at the start of the year, and we all had a ton of fun.

    It was especially cool to introduce our young nephew to Sammy (pictured) and Maggie, our horses. He was fascinated -- riveted, even, while watching Vera ride.

    Such was one of several highlights of a weekend that included playing lots of War, flying kites, playing putt-putt on the back deck, goofing around in the riding arena (a.k.a. the world’s largest sandbox), sitting on the tractor, playing with the barn cats, playing in the creek, enjoying “the best spaghetti ever,” and lying on our backs outside to look at the stars.

    My nephew has his own iPhone, and we actually played War on an app that lets two players play via connected devices. He’d run into the next room while we played, and cried out either with glee when winning or with consernation when losing.

    “I looove kings, Unca Martin,” he declared during a post-game analysis of our play. Then after thinking for a moment, he had an addendum to add.

    “But I love aces better.”

    Kid’s got starting hand selection down. Needs to learn more about handling variance, though.

    At one point my nephew got caught up in one of those cycles into which five-year-olds sometimes successfully trap older relatives, asking a series of addition questions that proved difficult to avoid answering.

    “What’s one plus one?” he’d ask. “Two,” I’d say. “What’s two plus two?” “Four.” “What’s four plus four?”

    And so on. That sequence would end shortly thereafter, only to be followed by another.

    “What’s one hundred plus one hundred?” he’d ask, eyes wide. "Two hundred,” I’d say. “What’s one hundred plus one hundred plus one hundred?” he’d counter. “Three hundred.” “What’s one hundred plus one hundred plus one hundred plus one hundred?”

    And so on. We’d get up to about 1,600 before we both would lose track. Then a half-hour later -- just when I thought he’d finally dropped the subject altogether -- he’d circle back around to his earlier line of questioning.

    “What’s one hundred plus one hundred?”

    Speaking of precocious youngsters -- and things that go on and on and count into the many hundreds -- the blog turns eight years old today. Actually I remember a couple of years ago someone telling me that “six is like a hundred in blog years,” so it’s probably better to think of Hard-Boiled Poker as by now more senior citizen than elementary schooler.

    While other projects -- the management of the farm being one -- have begun to crowd in on my time, I’m still motivated to continue this sucker. I see my nephew doggedly continue with something well beyond what seems an appropriate length of time for a given pursuit, and can’t help but think we’ve got something in common.

    So I’ll keep on running, and thus keep this thing flying. Thanks again, everyone, for looking in.

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    Friday, April 25, 2014

    More On Victoria’s Victory (for Poker)

    In a hurry today and so just wanted to take today’s post to point you over to something else to read, an article in The Guardian penned by my friend and colleague Chris Hall, a.k.a. “Homer” with whom I’ve worked reporting on various events over the last few years.

    Following Victoria Coren Mitchell’s big win last weekend at Sanremo to claim her second European Poker Tour Main Event title -- the only player ever to do so -- Chris picks up one of many threads resulting from her win in “Poker has been dealt the right cards for a female-based boom.”

    Chris spends the first part of the article noting how most often mainstream news about poker -- especially over recent years -- has been of the negative variety, thus making the story of Coren Mitchell’s triumph contrast sharply.

    He then spends a few paragraphs sharing other reasons why “this card game of skill and temperament” has much more to offer than might be suggested by such negative press before concluding with some speculation about how Coren Mitchell’s win might well encourage more women to play.

    It sounds like from Chris’s tweets today that there was more to his piece, including further discussion of women in poker, but the editor -- as editors will do -- had to trim it back. In any event, the article still does a nice job presenting the game to a wider audience while promoting poker in a reasoned, convincing way.

    So click through and give it a read. And if you do let me know if you see any puns in there... I’m not, and knowing Chris, I’m having to guess those must’ve gotten cut, too.

    (Pic above from EPT Sanremo via PokerNews.)

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    Thursday, April 24, 2014

    The Crowded Calendar

    As has become traditional for the European Poker Tour, its season is ending with two stops coming in close succession at Sanremo, Italy then just over the border in Monaco (about an hour’s drive away, I believe). This is the seventh straight year the EPT has done it that way, in fact, ending its season with those two stops with only a few days off in between. Many tourney pros arrange their plans to play both stops, taking advantage of the convenience.

    Was writing a couple of days ago about the World Poker Tour’s season-ending WPT World Championship also happening at the Borgata right now. Looking back through the ten seasons of the EPT, this is the first time such a conflict has arisen between the two tours’ finales. There were a few years when the WPT’s last event started just a day or two after the EPT Grand Final had ended, but never have they overlapped. (The WPT World Championship final table comes this Saturday, also Day 1a for the EPT’s Main Event.)

    While the dates are such that players could play at Sanremo then fly over to Atlantic City, or play and bust the WPT and get to Monaco, the overlapping of the schedule makes it tricky to do so. Thus many are choosing one or the other, either taking part in the conclusion of the EPT’s Season 10 or the conclusion of the WPT’s Season XII.

    Speaking of conflicts, yesterday the European Poker Tour its preliminary Season 11 schedule, with a return to London coming October 8-18 of this year. The World Series of Poker also yesterday announced dates for the WSOP Asia Pacific series, with 10 bracelet events coming this time around. Dates for the 2014 WSOP APAC are October 2-18, meaning an overlap with EPT London with the Main Events of both happening just about concurrently.

    A few players complained today about having to choose between the EPT and the WSOP APAC this fall. Made me think a little about my own often busy schedule and how as a freelancer I’m forced sometimes to make choices, having occasionally to pass on opportunities because of conflicts. Indeed, this summer is starting to shape up a little differently than past summers for your humble scribbler, with the additional obligations of farm living adding a wrinkle to the usual plan (more to come on that).

    Some of the chatter today focused on the different tours needing to coordinate so as to avoid the overlaps, although I know the factors affecting all of them are inordinately complicated, thus making it a lot easier said than done when it comes to picking and choosing among available dates for particular venues.

    In any event, a calendar so packed with tourneys all over does further prove the undying popularity of tournament poker. And the likelihood of still more conflicts to come.

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    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    The 2,170-Player Chop

    Spent a short while today finally taking some time to read about the resolution of the Borgata brouhaha from January. As you’ll recall, the first event of the 2014 Borgata Winter Open was canceled with 27 players remaining thanks to allegations of cheating committed by one player, Christian Lusardi, by means of introducing counterfeit chips into the event.

    Have to use that word “resolution” tentatively, I suppose, as it seems like there will be more to come from this one, namely potential lawsuits filed by unsatisified players. In any event, about 10 days ago the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement released its “Final Order” directing the Borgata how to distribute both the $1,433,145 in prize money that had yet to be won in the tournament (i.e., the total of the prizes scheduled to go to the top 27 finishers) as well as $288,720 more in revenue the Borgata had collected from entrants.

    That adds up to $1,721,805 total. Somewhat surprisingly, the DGE decided not just to award money to the final 27, but also to refund $560 entry fees to 2,143 other players “who may have been impaced by the alleged criminal conduct who were eliminated from the event” without cashing.

    The refunds to eliminated players total just over $1.2 million, leaving about $521K for the final 27. The DGE directed the Borgata to distribute that money “in equal amounts of approximately $19,323 to each of the 27 entrants” who still were alive in the event at the moment it was canceled. The Borgata also issued a statement reiterating the DGE’s directive and making known its intention to comply.

    Many have been critical of such a “resolution,” in particular pointing out how the final 27 players, otherwise due to play for over $1.43 million, together came away with just over a third of that total.

    Today I listened to respected Tournament Director Matt Savage (not the TD at the Borgata) on the latest Two Plus Two Pokercast explaining why he found the resolution unsatisfactory and also troubling in terms of how it might affect tournament poker going forward. Savage’s point was that given such a resolution, players aware of cheating in future tournaments may well become reluctant to make their awareness known to tournament officials out of fear that they may themselves lose potential winnings should the tournament be canceled.

    I said back in January that there didn’t seem to me any wholly satisfactory way to resolve the situation that would prove satisfying to all concerned, but it does seem as though there were several different ways it might have been resolved that would have been preferable to the one chosen. And as Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz pointed out on the Pokercast, of all the possible scenarios imagined by both players and observers prior to the DGE’s order, few (none?) ever considered the possibility that nearly two-thirds of the unawarded prize money would not only not go to the players still alive in the event (and due to divide it up), but would go to eliminated players instead.

    Anyhow, for more on the “Final Order” and what it lacks, check out Savage on the Two Plus Two Pokercast (he appears during the first hour) as well as Haley Hintze’s discussion over on Flushdraw.

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    Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Following the WPT Finale

    Been kind of wandering in and out of the live updates this afternoon from Day 1b of the WPT World Championship at the Borgata, both on the WPT site and over at PokerNews. (Photo from PN.)

    Culminating Season XII of the tour, the World Championship made a big move away from the Bellagio this year following several years’ worth of declining entries and prize pools for the tour’s signature event. Here’s how the tournament -- which had been a $25K event for the first 11 seasons -- grew and shrunk over that period (with winners and first prizes noted):

  • Season I (2003): 111 entries (Alan Goehring, $1,011,886)
  • Season II (2004): 343 (Martin De Knijff, $2,728,356)
  • Season III (2005): 453 (Tuan Le, $2,856,150)
  • Season IV (2006): 605 (Joe Bartholdi, $3,760,165)
  • Season V (2007): 639 (Carlos Mortensen, $3,970,415)
  • Season VI (2008): 545 (David Chiu, $3,389,140)
  • Season VII (2009): 338 (Yevgeniy Timoshenko, $2,143,655)
  • Season VIII (2010): 195 (David Williams, $1,530,537)
  • Season IX (2011): 220 (Scott Seiver, $1,618,344)
  • Season X (2012): 152 (Marvin Rettenmeier, $1,196,858)
  • Season XI (2013): 146 (Chino Rheem, $1,150,279)
  • Wrote something here last May about that trend, then another post in September following the announcement that this year’s finale would play out in Atlantic City rather than Las Vegas.

    Just like those first prizes listed above, the total prize pools went up and then back down in the WPT World Championships during those first 11 years, too, with last year’s total of $3,540,500 marking the lowest for the tourney since Season I’s $2,691,750. It peaked in Season V with a mind-boggling $15,495,750 prize pool.

    Besides moving to the Borgata, this year’s tourney also sports a lowered $15,000+$400 buy-in. Also, as has been the case in recent years, re-entry is an option for players, with one re-entry allowed today for those who busted on Day 1a.

    They set a $5 million guarantee on this year’s WPT World Championship, and while yesterday’s modest turnout of 105 players for Day 1a led some to think that mark wouldn’t be hit today, a bigger field for today’s Day 1b has brought the total up to 318 with a couple more levels’ worth of late registration still available. They are still therefore a few away from hitting the guarantee and may miss it -- in any event, they’ll certainly be close.

    There was a little bit of debate today on Twitter comparing the WPT World Championship with the recently finished Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in Florida, a $3,500 buy-in event that also had a $5 million guarantee. With three Day 1 flights and re-entries allowed (with “best stack forward” an option, too), that one drew 1,795 total entries to make a prize pool of $5,788,875 with the Canadian Eric Afriat winning to claim a $1,081,184 first prize.

    The two events seem fairly different and hard to compare, although both did draw lots of big names and as happened at the Seminole Hard Rock, this week’s WPT World Championship will almost assuredly feature well known players at its final table.

    The WPT generally speaking and its World Championship in particular still carry a little extra prestige that distinguishes this week’s tourney from the one in Florida, too. That said, the last couple of EPT stops bookending it -- Sanremo finished Sunday, the Grand Final in Monaco starts Saturday -- reminds us how EPT titles are now probably just as coveted if not more.

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    Monday, April 21, 2014

    Queen Victoria!

    Was simply a terrific day here on the farm yesterday where Vera and I hosted family for an Easter meal and a very relaxing time amid perfect spring weather.

    Would eventually turn on NBA playoff basketball to watch my Bobcats play their first playoff game in several years, hanging tough for two-and-a-half quarters before fading versus the Miami Heat. Charlotte’s a huge underdog, obviously, even to take a game off the defending champs. And speaking of pulling for underdogs, like a lot of you I followed closely the delayed online stream of the final table at EPT Sanremo, enjoying watching Victoria Coren Mitchell’s come-from-behind win to grab the title (photo by Danny Maxwell for PokerNews).

    Coren Mitchell had begun the penultimate day of play 16th of 16 in chips on Saturday, then managed to squeak into yesterday’s final table still on the short side and in fact eighth of the remaining eight to start play. Thus did it seem reasonable to think she probably wouldn’t be getting too much further. Even she consistently downplayed her prospects pretty much the whole way this weekend, demonstrating what Rick Dacey on the PokerStars blog styled “the power of positive pessimism.”

    She didn’t really begin to build a stack, either, until after there had been a few eliminations, then took the lead with three left after a hand in which both she and start-of-day chip leader Jordan Westmorland flopped trip tens, but she had him outkicked.

    That hand saw Coren Mitchell having to call a Westmorland river shove after having led out, a call that had to be made but was nonetheless still difficult. And while she’d been dealt some good cards in that hand as well as in the final one in which she flopped two pair with Q-J to crack runner-up Giacomo Fundaro’s pocket aces, she also made some good decisions and savvy plays throughout the final table.

    Today on Learn.PokerNews Nate Meyvis talks about one small hand from early on that showed Coren Mitchell playing smartly postflop. There were other good hands for her, too -- including an inspired four-bet from the hijack seat at seven-handed when she was holding 7c5h after Fundaro had defended his small blind with a reraise (and happened only to have had 10d2h).

    So because of the chip situation for much of the last couple of days, her winning was unexpected. Also the fact that the EPT had gone 97 tournaments and nearly 10 full seasons without having a two-time Main Event winner (!) made the prospect of it actually happening this weekend with Coren Mitchell seem all the more unlikely to occur.

    It had become a running gag of sorts with the PokerStars bloggers who have been more or less obligated to trot out each EPT over the last several years the fact that no one had won the sucker twice. As every Main Event wound down to the last couple of days, if there were a former champ around in the field notice had to be given regarding the “streak” and the prospects for it finally ending.

    I’ve written here before on several occasions about Coren Mitchell. She’s been a prominent presence on the poker scene for more than a decade now.

    She was a participant during Season Two of Late Night Poker back in 2000, the popular U.K. show about which we recently ran a three-part history by one of the show’s creators, Nick Szeremeta, over on Learn.PokerNews. She then took a turn as a commentator on the show with Jesse May during the show’s third season.

    It was at EPT London during Season 3 that she won her first Main Event title back in 2006, becoming the first woman to win an EPT. She’d join Team PokerStars soon after, then in early 2010 her excellent “poker memoir” appeared, For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker, a book I continue to recommend to anyone looking for interesting (and sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny) nonfiction poker writing.

    I reviewed For Richer, For Poorer for Betfair Poker when it first appeared (here, too), then interviewed the author as well. Among my questions for her was one about the book’s title, an obvious allusion to marriage and the wedding vows.

    “Well, poker is not a job for me (I enjoy it too much) and it’s not a hobby (I devote too much time to it),” she answered. “It's a way of life; I have embraced a life. In that sense, it’s like a marriage -- or like a marriage should be. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, poker and I are together for the long haul. I might kick against it sometimes, it might annoy me, I might hate it, but deep down I will love it for ever and I never plan to say goodbye. If I ever get married, I hope I’ll feel the same way about my unlucky groom.”

    Of course, she would get married in November 2012 to the actor and comedian David Mitchell who is probably best known for his role on the British show Peep Show where he stars with his comedy partner Robert Webb (one of several hilarious productions with which Mitchell has been involved). Meanwhile Coren Mitchell has an especially large following of non-poker people in the U.K. thanks to her weekly columns in The Observer and The Guardian and her co-hosting of the popular quiz show Only Connect.

    The mainstream press across the pond have already been trumpeting Coren Mitchell’s win loudly, encouraging some to whisper about another “boom” of sorts for British poker perhaps being a consequence of her win yesterday. And as often happens when women win big tourneys -- no longer as great a rarity as back in 2006, although still noteworthy especially given the disproportionate number of women who play big buy-in events versus men -- that, too, won’t hurt going forward when it comes to promoting the game and getting women interested in poker.

    Of course, as even just that quote above suggests (I think), Coren Mitchell is a tremendous ambassador for poker, not just because of her mainstream connections and celebrity but also because she’s great at explaining why the game is both fun and worthwhile, especially to newcomers. “Queen Victoria!” tweeted a few following her win yesterday, a title she’s earned not just for having beaten the other 97 EPT Main Event champs to two-time-champ status but for her already-established position as an influential promoter of the game.

    Lots of reasons, then, why her win yesterday should rightly be considered “good for poker” (in the general sense). Inspiring, too, for those of us who like to write about poker, and who like her have a great enough love for poker and the endless stories and characters it can produce that it has become more than just a hobby but a “a way of life.”

    There are a lot of us who thanks to that love of the game are in poker “for the long haul.” It’s fun, then, to see someone else who is as dedicated to our favorite game and who does well describing what’s so good about it do well.

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    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Tanks for Nothing

    Was watching a lot of the EPTLive coverage today from Sanremo as the Main Event played down to just 16 players. Lot of big names in there, including Victoria Coren Mitchell who is short-stacked but the only one left with a chance to break the decade-long streak of no double-EPT winners ever.

    The EPTLive shows are terrific in my estimation, with James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton always entertaining. I like hearing Marc Convey and the PokerStars bloggers on there, too, as well as the players they recruit to come do commentary. Very easy to get locked in when watching and not want to turn away, especially as the tourneys wind down toward the latter stages.

    There was one small hand early in the day on the TV table this afternoon involving Dinesh Alt (who eventually went out in 25th place) and Raul Mestre (who survived and is second in chips overnight). Not at all a remarkable hand, but on the turn Alt tanked for nearly two minutes before folding, during which time Hartigan and Stapleton eventually had to fill the space by talking about the length of time he was taking to act -- not just on that hand, but generally.

    A little later I clicked over to the High Roller updates on PokerNews and noticed a hand reported involving Davidi Kitai and Jonathan Duhamel in which Kitai apparently spent more than 10 minutes making a river decision before folding and showing he’d had a strong hand with trip aces on a board with no flush and only one unlikely-looking straight possible. The pre-river action wasn’t described and it looked like a legitimately difficult decision, but that’s still a lot of time.

    There’s much talk these days about tanking and players taking inordinate time to make decisions, with that “shot clock” idea continuing to get kicked around with varying degrees of seriousness.

    As I was watching the Alt-Mestre hand, I realized that I actually like the way the pace of poker will alternate between fast and slow. Sure, I get impatient as the next guy when at the table. Even when reporting sometimes I dread those hands with super-long tanks that end with anticlimactic folds and therefore (occasionally) a page full of scribbles that aren’t necessarily even worth reporting.

    I’ve mentioned before here how I’m no fan of the shot clock idea in poker, and I think one other reason why I don’t like it would be the way it would eliminate this variety in the pacing of the game, which adds a kind of unpredictability to it that makes it more enjoyable to follow.

    All things considered, then, I don’t mind the tanks. I also like Stapes’s jokes during the long wait for a player to act.

    (So who couldn’t read that post title without thinking about Caddyshack?)

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    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    The New Frontier and the Bay of Pigs

    This morning I was up early feeding and taking care of barn business, and entirely at random dialed up an old Mort Sahl LP, one of about a half-dozen on my iPod -- The New Frontier (1961). I mentioned getting into these records a while back as part of one of the detours I’ve found myself going down with these Nixon studies in which I’ve been engaged.

    Like pretty much all of Sahl’s records, I believe, this one is recorded live and captures a single performance, in this case at “the hungry i” nightclub in San Francisco where Sahl frequently performed.

    “Here we are on the new frontier,” Sahl opens, getting a chuckle as he pauses afterwards. “Cuba,” he continues, and gets a bigger laugh.

    The “new frontier” of course referred to John F. Kennedy’s administration, then only a few months old, and the ambitious goals and “vigah” (as JFK would say) characterizing it. Kennedy first used the phrase when accepting the Democratic party’s nomination for president in July 1960 where he spoke of “a new frontier -- the frontier of the 1960s -- a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.”

    That same speech finds Kennedy characterizing his Republican counterpart Nixon as an unworthy successor to Eisenhower, and in fact Kennedy employs a poker reference during that section of his speech that also evokes domestic programs of the most recent Democratic presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

    “We know that it will not be easy to campaign against a man who has spoken or voted on every known side of every known issue,” says JFK of Tricky Dick. “Mr. Nixon may feel it is his turn now, after the New Deal and the Fair Deal -- but before he deals, someone had better cut the cards.”

    Getting back to Sahl, his cynical reapplication of the “new frontier” idea to Cuba refers to the volatile climate then present in the spring of 1961 and the U.S.’s perception of the danger posed by the Fidel Castro-led Communist country located about 90 miles off the shore of Florida.

    Just a little later, Sahl expresses that cynicism again when he jokingly speaks of being in Florida and residents there telling him “he’s a real threat, Castro, because you can see the island.” “I used to look and I’d say ‘Well, I still can’t see it.’ And they’d say, ‘Well, it’s right behind that aircraft carrier.’” That line gets a big laugh, too.

    Sahl also refers at the very start of the record to the Academy Awards taking place the night of his show. That got me curious to look up when exactly that might have been, and it just so happens today is the anniversary -- April 17, 1961 -- kind of a weird coincidence. Then I realized that today is also the anniversary of the start of the Bay of Pigs, the failed attempt to overthrow the Castro regime that marked a major early misstep by Kennedy.

    “The invasion of Cuba is on,” says Sahl, referring to the news of that very day. Still early, it’s clear from the way he speaks of it that the American public isn’t yet aware of what exactly is happening.

    Sahl mentions as well a speech given that afternoon by former presidential candidate and newly-appointed U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson in which Stevenson declared there was no U.S. involvement in the invasion. In the speech, Stevenson -- who lost presidential elections twice to Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 -- is essentially repeating a CIA cover story that the Cuban exiles leading the invasion were rebels operating on their own and with no U.S. help.

    “He said that Castro can look to our government for help if he’s been rejected by his own people,” says Sahl, paraphrasing from Stevenson’s speech of that day. “And uh... Stevenson should know.” (About such rejection, that is.)

    It wouldn’t be long before the invasion would fail and Kennedy would own up to the involvement of the U.S. in the plot just a few days later (on April 21). Thus was Stevenson made to look especially bad for his claim that afternoon, and in fact would consider resigning his position though was eventually encouraged to stay on. And, of course, Kennedy and his administration would take a big hit, too.

    The Bay of Pigs would set the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis that took place about a year-and-a-half later, a historical event that we discuss in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class thanks to its frequent comparison to a poker hand full of bluffs and re-bluffs between Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.

    Anyhow, just wanted to share that weird coincidence of having dialed up Sahl’s record on the anniversary of it having been recorded. Here is that opening to Sahl’s The New Frontier, if you’re curious to hear it yourself:

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    Various Views

    With Vera out of town for a couple of days, I’ve been in charge of the farm, which means feeding the horses (and our trio of barn cats), cleaning stalls, and various other daily maintenance that always seems to come up.

    I was due for a turn taking over the chores after having left Vera to handle them during my recent tourney trips. Makes for a long day since the early morning feeding comes before sunrise. That picture is from this morning, after the feeding was over and I’d let Sammy and Maggie out to spend their day grazing.

    I’ve only fired up the tractor once during the last couple of days. Last weekend I finally attached the bush hog and mowed a big section of our land.

    We have some spectacular views of the sky here, a nice side benefit from working outdoors. Unfortunately there were thick clouds the night of the lunar eclipse and “blood moon” earlier in the week, scrubbing out everything above for the entire evening. But the nights since have revealed a big round moon peeping its head up on the horizon some time after nine o’clock and tracing a splendid path overhead.

    We can see all of the stars, too, and have gotten into identifying them with the help of a handy app (Pocket Universe). Can pick out where the various planets are as well -- Saturn is right by the moon tonight -- and am starting to think a telescope would be a good item to acquire.

    Spent a little time today watching EPTLive and the action from Sanremo, as well as the live updates over on the WPT site from that stacked final table at the Seminole Hard Rock.

    But have had to give attention as well to these views all around, too. All of us here on the farm have.

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    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Three Years On

    Three years on. A few found ways to adapt, while others moved away altogether. But for many in the United States, it has been enough time to disengage entirely from what had been a daily activity -- playing poker online.

    For various reasons I have been thinking more and more about poker’s history and particularly its connection to the United States. One reason, of course, is my class. Another has to do with some reading I’ve been doing of late, including perusing a number of poker-related texts from the 1800s. A third is a big project for which I’m currently gathering various ingredients and hope to start cooking up soon.

    Poker was introduced here during the first couple of decades of the 19th century, having evolved from various other gambling games involving playing cards, most of which originated in Europe.

    Most who have investigated the matter with any real scrutiny have concluded the French game poque (itself linked to a few games played in other European countries) is the most likely candidate as poker’s immediate precursor. In any event, it is safe to characterize poker as an “American game” in much the same way other aspects of the culture -- and the people, too -- have roots that come from elsewhere, then grew and developed here.

    Indeed poker grew up right along with the country itself, and even before the 19th century was over had begun to be carried back out into the world as a kind of American “export.” Such became even more the case later on, especially during the latter part of the 20th century and of course during the recent “boom” years and after when all of the various tours were introduced and began picking up steam.

    I’ve had a lot of nice opportunities to visit those tours, including lately. Already this year I’ve had the chance to travel abroad on three different occasions -- to France for EPT Deauville, to Chile for the LAPT in Viña del Mar, and to Montreal for the WPT National event there.

    On each of these trips I was reminded of what an “online poker culture” was like, with players constantly engaged with the various tournaments and cash games available to them -- talking about online events, playing at the tables, and so on.

    Live poker continues to thrive here in the U.S., and is in fact as popular as it has ever been, especially on the various “mid-level” tours that continue to draw ever-increasing fields for their tourney series. And the game is obviously still played frequently in homes and among private groups, with interest in poker, generally speaking, remaining high even if the game isn’t necessarily attracting new players at such a high clip.

    But three years on, it’s hard sometimes not to think of poker as not just an “export” but another “ex-pat” like those who’ve moved out of the U.S. in order to play. As though the game -- “our” game -- is out there, traveling the world, growing on its own.

    And perhaps to return some day. Hope we’ll recognize it when it does.

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    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Rankings and Recency

    Been scribbling nonstop all day today and thus have little left in my scrambled brain to give over here, I’m afraid.

    I’ve seen the tweets today reacting to the news from the Borgata regarding the resolution of “chipgate” -- i.e., the counterfeit chip scandal from the 2014 Borgata Winter Open that saw the tournament halted with 27 players remaining. I haven’t looked closely as yet at the terms of the resolution, but from the impassioned responses I’ve seen it obviously has produced a lot of reaction. Then again, as I mentioned here earlier, it was hard to imagine any resolution that wasn’t going to be problematic.

    I’ll look more closely at it when I’ve got more mental fuel to give it more proper consideration. Speaking of being low on mental fuel, I did run an errand today and heard a little sports radio, including some commentary by John Feinstein on the conclusion of yesterday’s Masters won by Bubba Watson.

    I probably have an unreasonable prejudice against Feinstein that stems from his being a Duke grad, so take this observation for what it’s worth. He was all hot and bothered today on his radio show over the PGA’s World Golf Rankings which currently have Tiger Woods in the top spot and Watson fourth.

    Feinstein was complaining how recent winners of golf’s majors -- e.g., Jason Dufner, Justin Rose -- weren’t in the current top 10, while Henrik Stenson was ranked third without ever having won a major. And, of course, Tiger hasn’t won one since the U.S. Open in 2008.

    He went on to whine about how the PGA’s rankings are calculated, complaining how they draw from golfers’ performances over a two-year period. “They should just start from zero,” he went on, blithely ignoring the whole idea of a ranking system that didn’t overvalue what happened most recently but recognized achievement over a more significant sample size (if you will).

    The little rant recalled to me the Global Poker Index system which similarly uses not just the most recent and biggest tournaments but tries to incorporate a more comprehensive view of performance (in the GPI’s case over a three-year span).

    Not saying either system is without flaw, but it just seemed to me like Feinstein was willingly ignoring what a ranking system actually was in favor of an instinctively simple bit of airtime filler designed to sound like a thoughtful position on debatable issue.

    But what do you expect, really. I mean look at Duke... they just lost to Mercer.

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    Friday, April 11, 2014

    Ivey on the Edge

    The breaking story this afternoon in poker revolves around this new lawsuit brought by the Borgata versus Phil Ivey. Says PokerNews, the casino is suing Ivey for a whopping $9.6 million -- that is, more than the WSOP Main Event winners have been taking down over the last several years (although not this year with the new $10 million guarantee for first) -- an amount representing money won by Ivey at baccarat.

    “The Borgata lawsuit alleges that Ivey exploited manufacturing flaws in playing cards during four sessions” of the gambling game that took place back in 2012. The claim is that Ivey used a method called “edge sorting” to exploit flaws in the cards used in the game.

    Thus the Borgata is suing him, his “partner” who accompanied him during the sessions (Cheng Yin Sun), and the card manufacturers, too, with the charges including racketeering, fraud, breach of contract, civil conspiracy, and something called unjust enrichment.

    If it all sounds familiar, that’s because we all already learned about “edge sorting” thanks to a similar dispute involving Ivey and the Crockfords Casino in London involving some sessions of Punto Banco (another baccarat variant) also taking place in 2012. Only there it is Ivey suing the casino who decided to withhold £7.8 million of his winnings after they suspected him of something similar. (Of note, Ivey admitted to “edge sorting” there, but still wants his winnings.)

    I wrote about that situation here last spring, talking a little about this funny little 1966 Bond-ripoff called Kaleidoscope starring Warren Beatty with which the story seemed to evoke some parallels.

    The immediate reaction to the Borgata lawsuit is very similar to how many were responding to the earlier story regarding Ivey’s suing Crockfords, namely, folks pointing out how it seems the casino’s responsibility to protect themselves against something like “edge sorting” by ensuring the integrity of their games.

    Of course, the pattern suggested here is intriguing as well. What had seemed like a unique situation happening at Crockfords involving some poorly manufactured cards reads a little differently now that it appears the same sort of problem happened elsewhere. I suppose there’s another pattern lurking as well suggested by another “cheating” incident (this one alleged) involving the materials with which games at the Borgata are played (the earlier one involving chips, of course).

    The Crockfords case has yet to be decided, and this one assuredly will take some time in the “sorting” too (pun intended). Will be curious to see where both end up, as well as whether or not Ivey comes out ahead in both of these legal games.

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    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Teeing Off

    The Masters began today. Like happens with the Olympics I find myself keeping it on as a kind of ambient soundtrack to my work, with occasional glances up to see a shot or check who is leading.

    While the absence of Tiger Woods from Augusta was the most frequently reported story over the last couple of weeks, other articles catching my eye included several emphasizing how open the field is this year thus making it difficult to predict a winner.

    I read one pointing out how the last 24 majors had been won by 21 different players. Another noted how during the 2013-14 PGA season there have been 18 different winners in 21 total events. Rory McIlroy was quoted saying he thought up to 70 different players among the 97-player field were capable of winning. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson said he thought about half the field had a chance (although if the greens were fast he’d reduce that number to under a dozen).

    Indeed, these stories are all kind of related to the one about Woods, as those looking to predict a winner in Tiger’s absence found themselves hard-pressed to latch onto a favorite. I’ve been noticing as well several in my Twitter timeline sharing their bets on various players to win, with all standing to earn big returns given the fact that the odds are long on everyone.

    The situation isn’t perfectly analogous to poker tournaments, but it is similar insofar as the likelihood of any single player winning is always fairly slim, and there’s also usually going to be great variety in the winners over the course of a large enough sample size.

    For example, entire summers go by at the World Series of Poker with perhaps only a single double-winner -- or even none -- among the 60-plus events. The European Poker Tour is about to mark its 100th Main Event this fall when it returns to Barcelona, and they’ve actually yet to have anyone win more than one title.

    That said, those playing in the Masters this week all represent the sport’s elite -- a marked difference from the field of pretty much any poker tournament which invariably includes a number of amateurs and part-timers with varying skill levels represented throughout.

    I think it’s probably the case with most golf tournaments and with any poker tournament that there are usually a handful who participate who have essentially zero chance of winning. But while there’s little likelihood for someone without any experience or ability to have earned a spot in the 97-player field at this week’s Masters, such can always happen with poker tourneys where anyone with enough to buy in with can play.

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    Wednesday, April 09, 2014

    Dealing with KISS

    So I’m clicking around today, as we all tend to do, and see Chuck Klosterman has written something like 10,000 words about KISS today for Grantland. It’s kind of a funny divide we have going here online these days -- everything is either over in an instant or designed to take up your whole afternoon.

    Klosterman’s “definitive guide” to KISS has been occasioned by the fact that the four-plus-decade-old group is slated to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week. After a lengthy preamble, the piece covers every single studio album, live album, compilation, solo work, and other ephemera. I skimmed through the first half, then mostly just scrolled through the remainder once the story hit the mid-1980s -- just a little past the time the makeup came off.

    I was just having a conversation with my buddy Sergio Prado a couple of weeks ago down at Viña del Mar about KISS. We’re close to the same age, and were both preteens when we first became aware of the band -- in other words, right smack in the middle of what I’d guess to have been the band’s prime demographic at the time. As I told Sergio, the second album I ever bought was a KISS record, albeit one of their less notable offerings, Dynasty (with their “disco” hit “I Was Made for Loving You”).

    Sergio and I both remembered adults warning us against KISS -- obviously an important part of their allure. I recalled an elementary school teacher actually insisting to me that old line about the band being “Knights In Satan’s Service” and thus to be avoided at all costs.

    I still will spin Destroyer and Rock and Roll Over now and then, and I have an LP copy of the first Alive record which I haven’t pulled out in ages. I wrote here a few years back about delightfully stumbling upon a KISS cover band once and being more or less spellbound for the next hour-plus. But I never did develop any sort of lifelong fascination with KISS along the lines that Klosterman appears to have done.

    At one point near the end of the piece, Klosterman makes kind of a curious assertion. It might be the most interesting point of the whole dissertation, although I can’t really claim that as I didn’t read the entire massive tome.

    “I own Kiss,” he claims, then clarifies that he means “I have complete intellectual autonomy over my interaction with Kiss, as does every other person immersed in the Kiss Lifestyle.” The claim is primarily supported by his understanding of the band as an entirely commercial entity, one consequence of which is the necessary introduction of a kind of critical distance between producer and consumer. Fans adore KISS when they perform, says Klosterman, but “the moment they exit the arena, that same fan base views them skeptically and objectively.”

    I get the cynicism and even kind of identify with the position he’s describing. That is to say, I “like” KISS all right, but I tend to keep ’em at arm’s length. But I’m not sure I buy the “intellectual autonomy” line or the idea that as a critic Klosterman has some sort of mastery over the complicated “text” of KISS. Something tells me devoting this much time and effort to working out ideas about KISS more likely betrays a lack of control over one’s relationship with the subject of one’s criticism than it does “autonomy.”

    There’s one other bit of trivia Klosterman includes (since he’s including everything) -- the old story of Ace Frehley having skipped out during part of the recording of Destroyer to play in a poker game. Thus was Dick Wagner (of Alice Cooper’s band) brought in to play the solo on one track (“Sweet Pain”).

    When including that reference, Klosterman links to Frehley’s solo track “Five Card Stud” from his 1989 solo album Trouble Walkin’, easily one of the most banal poker songs ever penned, although I guess it rocks well enough when compared to other less-than-inspired pop-metal of the era.

    Anyhow, if you’re a KISS fan -- and whatever you believe to be your level of “intellectual autonomy” in your relationship with the group -- you might give Klosterman’s piece a skim.

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    Tuesday, April 08, 2014

    The Thompson Street Poker Club

    Not long after Life magazine first debuted in 1883, a series of comic stories began to appear in the weekly publication describing happenings of a fictional group of poker players called the Thompson Street Poker Club.

    The series belongs to a familiar category of poker-related storytelling that marks the late 19th and early 20th centuries, namely, collections of linked tales presenting a kind of historical account or chronicle of a poker club’s regular games, sort of resembling colorful versions of the minutes of a committee’s meetings. I wrote about another such collection here a while back called Queer Luck by David A. Curtis (published in 1899).

    Life‘s associate editor Henry Guy Carleton wrote the Thompson Street Poker Club stories. The son of a famous Union general, Carleton was also a playwright who would later have a few of his plays performed on Broadway. He was additionally an inventor who is credited with early versions of smoke detectors and fire alarms.

    Thirteen of the stories were collected in a slim volume published in 1884. Interestingly, the book is dedicated to Robert C. Schenck, described as “that noble expounder of the game.” Schenck was the U.S. congressman who happened to write an early draw poker primer that was published in England and then reprinted in the U.S. in 1880.

    A sequel appeared five years later, titled Lectures Before the Thompson Street Poker Club, again penned by Carleton, containing six longer stories featuring the same cast of characters. This one even more closely mimics the committee-meeting conceit, with each story starting with references to a speaker and those in attendance and even a point to note how the “minutes” of the previous meeting were read at the start of each new one. The lectures sometimes recall incidents from the first volume, with the club’s members revisiting earlier conflicts while debating the club’s various rules and procedures.

    The Thompson Street stories are notable for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that they are illustrated with drawings by E.W. Kimble, best known for having illustrated Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). In fact, it was after seeing Kimble’s work in Life that Twain got in touch with Kemble and eventually got him signed on to illustrate Huck Finn.

    The other is that the players in the Thompson Street Poker Club are African American, and thus the stories are sometimes referred to as the first ever poker books to feature African Americans. They are also sometimes considered along with other late 19th-century examples of “black humor” or “slice of life” representations of urban blacks (even though they were written and illustrated by whites).

    Reading through the collections, the initial 1884 title contains several grins, as well as some very familiar scenarios from poker fiction. For example, one story titled “The Scraped Tray” reaches a climax with a draw-poker hand being bet and raised with all the two players possess, then ends with a showdown of four kings versus four aces, perhaps recalling the climactic hand of Mark Twain’s story “The Professor’s Yarn” written just a few years before.

    A twist here is the manner of the cheating involved to produce such a showdown -- one player has used a razor to scrape a three of diamonds to appear to be an ace.

    Indeed, the “razzer” is the favored weapon used to settle disputes in the games, unlike the pistol Backus draws in Twain’s story. In fact, the first story in the collection -- “Two Jacks an’ a Razzer” -- might be read as a variation on the old Wild Bill Hickok story in which the lawman claims to have a full house with three aces and one six, then produces his pistol and announces “Here is the other six.”

    Of course, anyone who reads The Thompson Street Poker Club today is immediately struck by the sometimes-hard-to-parse patois devised by Carleton to represent his characters’ speech and heavily employed throughout (again mimicking Twain). Such is evidenced in story titles like “Triflin’ Wif Prov’dence,” “Dar’s No Suckahs in Hoboken,” and “Dat’s Gamblin.’” (It goes without saying the n-word is frequently and casually employed as well.)

    The characters aren’t too deeply developed although are suggestive of more thorough comic types, with Kemble’s drawings adding a great deal to the reader’s ability to imagine them. Most are given inspired names like Professor Brick, Mr. Cyanide Whiffles, Mr. Tooter Williams, Elder Jubilee Anderson, and the like.

    The Rev. Thankful Smith is also a frequent participant, one of several churchmen who participate in the game and who in one story gets involved in a humorous exchange about the relationship between poker and religion (or lack thereof).

    “I rises hit,” announces the Rev. Thankful amid the play of a hand, who then “put up such a stack of blue chips that Mr. Whiffles nearly fainted.”

    “‘What yo’ go do dat for, Brer Thankful?’ inquired the Deacon, in wild remonstrance. ‘Dat’s not de speret ob de Gospil.’”

    “‘Whar -- whar yo’ fin’ draw-poker in de Gospil?’ testily rejoined Mr. Smith. ‘Does yo’ tink do Possles ’n de ’Vangelists writ de Scripter after rasslin’ wid a two-cyard draw agin a flush?’ he sarcastically inquired,” later adding “‘Dis ain’t no prar meetin’.’”

    Both titles are readily available online, if you’re curious (I find the first collection of the two more engaging). There’s much more to say about them, as well as about their status as representations of blacks by whites (and more or less for whites) which appears mostly sympathetic, although I’m hesitant to say more without looking further into the texts and their reception.

    Incidentally, the Thompson Street titles would later get sold along with another collection from 1888 titled The Mott Street Poker Club written by Alfred Trumble in which the activities of a group of Asian poker players in Chinatown are described (with markedly less racial sensitivity).

    Another footnote to add is that the song “The Darktown Poker Club” -- a hit for Bert Williams way back in 1914 -- was apparently inspired by the Thompson Street stories. And speaking of things from way back, I included that song in the first episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show.

    Click the titles below to read:

  • The Thompson Street Poker Club (1884)
  • Lectures Before the Thompson Street Poker Club (1889)

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    Monday, April 07, 2014

    Delving into Dealer’s Choice

    I mentioned during those reports from Montreal last week how I’d gotten to meet a couple of the guys from the Canada PokerNews site. They were there at the partypoker.net World Poker Tour National: Canadian Spring Championship covering the tournament for the site, and they’ll be covering more tournaments above the border in the near future.

    I got a chance to talk with Anthony and Lane about some other ideas they’ve been working on over at the site. One cool one I wanted to pass along was a new series they’ve started called “Out of the Kitchen and into the Spotlight” in which a Toronto-based player and writer, Ken Lo, is writing articles focusing on the many different variants that will be played in the new “Dealer’s Choice” event at the World Series of Poker this summer.

    If you recall, the new WSOP schedule’s Event No. 41 is a $1,500 buy-in bracelet tourney in which the players will get to choose between 16 different poker variants. Here’s the structure sheet listing all of the different games.

    It has been clarified since the new event was announced that players will be taking turns calling games for an entire six-handed orbit (and not just for one hand). Not strictly “dealer’s choice,” then, but the spirit of the idea remains in place.

    Anyhow, Ken Lo is working his way through strategy discussions of all the different variants from which players will be allowed to choose for Event No. 41, and he’s starting with lesser known games like Badugi (and its offshoots). Here are links to the first four articles in the series.

  • Dealer’s Choice (Introduction)
  • Badugi
  • Triple Draw
  • Badeucy and Badacey
  • Click through and check out the articles. A neat idea, I think.

    Have to say I am very curious about this event and whether or not players will indeed choose some of the less played games like Badugi, Badeucy, Badacey, five-card draw, and ace-to-five draw. (Kind of wishing they had snuck five-card stud in there, too!)

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    Friday, April 04, 2014

    Before the Boom: Remembering Late Night Poker

    During my travels over the last couple of weeks there have been some interesting items posted over on Learn.PokerNews. I’d been meaning to point out a few of them here, and now that I’m back I finally have some time to highlight one recent series of articles in particular.

    We’re now more than a decade on from the start of the televised poker “boom” that was ignited by the debut of the World Poker Tour in late March 2003 and then fueled even more dramatically by ESPN’s showing of the World Series of Poker Main Event a few months after that.

    Both of those shows featured so-called “hole card cameras,” of course, which distinguished them from earlier WSOP broadcasts. When coupled with commentary and other bits of post-production, the shows proved immensely successful, with the rise of online poker (and, importantly, the sponsorship of sites) helping to create a genuine cultural phenomenon for the next few years.

    Before all that, though, was Late Night Poker, the U.K. poker show that debuted in 1999 and created a kind of mini-boom mostly confined to the other side of the Atlantic. The influence of Late Night Poker is significant in many ways, including its use of under-the-table cameras to show hole cards. Many mistakenly think the idea originated with the WPT later, but it was LNP that pioneered the technique.

    About three years ago I had the chance to talk at length with Jesse May about the creation of the show for a two-part interview over on Betfair Poker, and he provided a lot of interesting back story for how the show came about and was received.

    Anyhow, getting back to Learn.PokerNews... one of the creators of the show, Nic Szeremeta, recently shared a lengthy, three-part history of the making of Late Night Poker with Learn that begins here. The history had been published before in Poker Europa magazine and Szeremeta kindly offered it to be reproduced over at Learn. He then did an interview with Michelle Orpe in which he adds a few other thoughts about the show and his life in poker.

    Coincidentally, Howard Swains found reason to write about Late Night Poker over on the PokerStars blog just a little over a week ago (right before we ran Szeremeta’s series) thanks to the fact that Jin Cai Lin, one of those playing in Vienna, had been a regular on the original show. Read what Howard had to say both about the show and Lin by clicking here.

    Meanwhile, back over on Learn.PokerNews there have been other, cool strategy entries of late and features, too, by a variety of contributors, with new content going up each day, so get clicking.

    With all of these trips and my travel reports, today marks 19 straight days of scribblin’ over here. Thanks as always for stopping by, and enjoy the weekend. I know I will!

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    Thursday, April 03, 2014

    Coincidences, Patterns, and Poker in Delillo’s Libra

    On my most recent round of tourney trippin’ I carried along a copy of Don Delillo’s 1988 novel Libra, the one in which he imagines a fictional version of the JFK assassination.

    Delillo works from the assumption that the CIA-led plot that many have explored (and which many subscribe to) was indeed in place and from that point of view fleshes out many of the characters involved, including, of course, the “patsy” Lee Harvey Oswald. He adds some twists, however, to the idea, thereby creating what could be considered a unique, speculative investigation into what happened in Dallas.

    I first read Libra not long after it came out in 1988, the 25th anniversary of the assassination. I don’t think I reread it since, so about 25 more years have passed between my readings.

    I enjoyed it then as I did this time, perhaps finding the book all the more compelling now that I’m more knowledgeable about the contextual history and even many of the real-life equivalents of the characters who come up in the story. It’s much more engaging (to me) than, say, Oliver Stone’s JFK which I never liked very much -- not because of the film’s controversial entertaining of conspiracies (and spotlighting of Jim Garrison), but because (to me) it’s just a boring, talky movie.

    Anyhow, this time through I came across one minor poker reference in Libra I thought I’d share.

    Amid some backstory involving a couple of the conspirators, including the notorious David Ferrie, one shares a story about having a dream about someone -- Jack Ruby -- and then weirdly running into him the next day. Ferrie responds with a quickly-delivered thesis about “coincidence.”

    “We don’t know what to call it, so we say coincidence,” he begins, but adds “It goes deeper.”

    “You’re a gambler. You get a feeling about a horse, a poker hand. There’s a hidden principle. Every process contains its own outcome. Sometimes we tap in. We see it, we know.”

    It’s a digression from the subject of their meeting, but it sounds an obvious theme of the entire book, namely, that human existence is so complicated that patterns, coincidences, and other things we don’t know what to call but which seem to hint at some sort of hidden meaning or coherence to our scrambled lives are bound to occur. And a dramatic event like the assassination -- “the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century” (as it is referred to a few pages later) -- helps bring that truth to the surface.

    Libra addresses other existential questions in satisfying ways as well, giving the reader a lot to take away from it. A lot to count on, you might say, which is ironic as the story it tells is all about uncertainty.

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    Wednesday, April 02, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XII WPT National: Canadian Spring Championship, Day 4 -- Canadian Comebacks

    Was a good last day at the Playground Poker Club. Kind of a weird one, poker-wise, actually. The two short stacks entering the final table both survived double-ups within the first eight hands, then eventually outlasted everyone to make it to heads-up.

    Then Jason Comtois won yet another double-up to take the lead away from John Paul Tabago, and eventually Comtois -- who began sixth out of six -- won the sucker. As he won, I recalled Comtois saying on Day 3 how he’d survived 10 all-ins that day alone and had never had an average stack for the entire tourney. That’s Comtois enjoying a raucous celebration with his friends after all was done, the pic again from Rob Gracie for the WPT.

    The poker was bookended by a couple of meals, the first coming early on when I met my blogging colleague B.J. Nemeth, Chris Tessaro, and Kara Scott for crepes at a place called Bagel Expressions just a few minutes’ walk away from the hotel. Had the strawberry and banana crepes, along with a couple of cups of coffee, which along with the interesting conversation made for a good start to the day. Was a lot fun hanging and chatting about various poker-related topics with those three, and we also learned some details about Kara’s wedding coming up in May in Italy.

    Play ran from noon until late afternoon, then once the last hand was dealt and all the loose ends were tied most of us repaired back to the Rail one last time (the restaurant/bar in the Playground), including Tony Dunst and Mike Sexton who came over once they’d completed the commentary they had been delivering on a half-hour delay.

    I had a burger and a piece of cheesecake, then we hung around a bit longer while meals were finished. One player, Alexander Wong, stopped by to thank Dunst and Sexton for their kind words about his play on the commentary, and it was cool to hear them discuss some of his hands with him. A few other folks asked to have their pictures taken with Mike, who was obliging in every instance.

    All in all a very fun week in snowy Montreal. Big thanks to the Playground Poker Club for being so helpful all week, and thanks as well to the WPT crew who were great fun to hang with again.

    Looking forward now, though, to getting back to Vera and the farm and all of our four-legged friends.

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    Tuesday, April 01, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XII WPT National: Canadian Spring Championship, Day 3 -- Chip Math

    The snow is melting, the bridge is open, and the end of another week of tourney trippin’ is almost here.

    Was one of those strangely long tourney days yesterday for Day 3 of the partypoker.net World Poker Tour National: Canadian Spring Championship, a day stretched out further and further and further into the evening by a series of improbable double-ups that had everyone scratching their heads over whether or not it would ever end.

    There were 39 players to start the day and with one-hour levels and already big blinds, the usually reliable “chip math” suggested an early evening finish as the plan was to play down to a six-handed final table. But play lasted well beyond that point and ultimately we didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight or a little after following a late dinner.

    Was mentioning yesterday the relatively fast structure of the tournament. By the last hour the average stack was 30 big blinds with seven players left, and will be a little higher than that to start play today although the blinds will be jumping up in a hurry and soon everyone will be short. So, again, “chip math” is suggesting the day will have to be a short one, likely done by late afternoon following a noon start.

    All six of those making the final table hail from Canada, although a couple were originally from elsewhere. No real names, although Mario Lim did make a deep run in that WPT Fallsview Poker Classic in Niagara Falls I covered not long ago (finishing 21st), which was in fact his first ever WPT (and this is his second). Two players -- Alexander Wong and Daniel Gagne -- seem strong players and they do carry the two biggest stacks to today’s final table, and so would stand to be the favorites.

    That said, with stacks as shallow as they will soon be, anything can happen.

    Gonna run as Chris Tessaro (here again for a WPT stop in Canada) has invited me and some others out for crepes for breakfast, and I’d like a chance to socialize a bit as well as to eat a meal somewhere besides the Playground Poker Club (although the eats there at the Rail restaurant are quite good).

    Follow over at the WPT site to see how it plays out. There will be a live stream as well (on a half-hour delay with hole cards), with commentary by Tony Dunst and Mike Sexton, both of whom cashed in the sucker (finishing 44th and 74th, respectively). (Photo above by Rob Gracie for the WPT.)

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