Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon Play a Hand of Draw Poker

From 1956 to 1958, Chrysler produced in limited numbers a luxury sports car called the Dual-Ghia. The name came from Dual Motors in Michigan which bought chassis from Dodge then shipped them to the automobile design firm Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy where the cars were put together. Although the original plan was to create about 150 per year, only 117 Dual-Ghias were ever made.

The Dual-Ghia sported a hefty $7,600 price tag, making it more expensive than the highest-priced Cadillacs, and several celebrities owned them including Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Glenn Ford, and Desi Arnaz (who wrecked his). Then-Vice President Richard Nixon apparently had one. So, too, did Ronald Reagan.

At that time Reagan was about a decade away from becoming governor of California, but by then his acting career was already starting to slow down. He’d star with his wife Nancy in the WWII film Hellcats of the Navy in 1957, one of his very last films. His last role would be to play a gangster in The Killers (1964), then he would be elected governor a couple of years later.

Among all the stories of poker-playing presidents floating about, you don’t find too many involving Reagan. He played golf like all the presidents did. He also rode horses, enjoyed swimming and target shooting, and played football in college. He’s likely to have played cards from time to time -- as did practically all men of his generation, especially politicians -- but you don’t usually see him in the roll call of poker-playing presidents.

There is one story about Reagan playing poker, though, suggesting that he apparently lost his Dual-Ghia in a high-stakes poker game to none other than Lyndon B. Johnson. (No shinola.) Details of the game are scarce (and perhaps apocryphal), and you only really see the story come up in references to the Dual-Ghia and not to either Reagan or Johnson. Funny to think of it actually happening, though.

Hunting around for something more about the LBJ game led me to Rich Little’s comedy LP The First Family Rides Again which appeared in 1981, the first year of Reagan’s two-term presidency. The title of Little’s album refers back to Vaughn Meader’s best-selling album full of inspired skits showcasing his John F. Kennedy impersonation, The First Family (1962). Meader had a follow-up come out in the spring of 1963, The First Family Volume Two, which was also popular and sold well. In fact, Meader has a cameo on Little’s record.

Some of us remember Little very well as another prolific impersonator whose fame peaked back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s a cut on The First Family Rides Again called “The Big Game” which has Little doing all the voices for a poker game between Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Reagan.

I’ll admit to grinning a few times while listening, such as when Nixon is the first suspect when the pot is short, Carter tries to fold before the hand is dealt, and Ford thinks the game is “Go Fish.”

Click here to listen to “The Big Game.” (Picture above an inset from Andy Thomas’s 2007 painting “Grand Ol' Gang” which you can read more about here.)

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GG, Mike: Farewell Episode Up

Just saw that the new episode of the Two Plus Two Pokercast is now available, the final one featuring co-host Mike Johnson. Sucker’s more than three hours long, but it should be well worth listening to for a few reasons.

I know the show contains a ton of “call backs” to earlier episodes which ought to make it fun as a kind of mini-history lesson of the last decade of poker. Looks like our buddy Kevmath made a guest appearance, too, for a trivia challenge with Mike, which ought to be fun to hear. And lots of different people from the poker world appear live as guests as well as with recorded farewells, too. (There might even be one in there from this longtime fan.)

When I heard Mike was going to leave the show about a month ago, I wrote a post here. I mentioned how sorry I was to hear Mike was leaving the show, but how I also well understood the desire to step away from the constant grind of talking about poker after doing it for so many years.

The show will be continuing with Adam Schwartz who is going to be bringing in different folks to sit alongside him going forward, although there’ll be no replacing Mike.

I’m just starting up the episode, and I’m hearing they began it with the intro to the old Rounders, the Poker Show, the original show Mike and Adam began on the Vancouver sports talk station way back in 2005. Ah, I remember that. This should be fun.

Click here to listen.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dispensing With the Drama: Watching the “One Drop”

“They really should just dispense with the drama and get to the business of chopping this pot.”

So says Norman Chad during ESPN’s presentation of what was in fact one of the more dramatic hands from this summer’s “Big One for One Drop,” the one from Day 2 that saw Cary Katz eliminate Connor Drinan in a hand in which both players were dealt pocket aces, but Katz won after four hearts appeared among the community cards to give him a flush.

Here’s the hand, already posted on YouTube:

Chad is joking, trying in post-production to add to the surprise a little by suggesting to the audience that the hand would be ending in a split pot as happens almost 96% of the time in such situations.

But watching the hand tonight on ESPN’s “One Drop” coverage, I couldn’t help but think that in fact nearly all of the drama had been dispensed with, despite the unusual outcome of the hand.

Why do I say this? A lot of reasons.

Some drama is removed when we know the players’ hole cards beforehand. The suspense experienced at the time leading up to Drinan’s all-in five-bet and Katz’s instacall is not shared by the viewer whatsoever. We know as soon as we see both players’ hands how the preflop action will end.

Then, of course, for many of us watching, we know how the postflop action will end, too. For us there is no suspense at all about the hand, nor even about its place in the tournament as a whole, resulting in Drinan’s ouster and helping boost Katz somewhat toward what will be an eighth-place finish (just inside the money).

Haralabos Voulgaris opined back when the tournament was playing out that “nobody cares who wins,” which I said then I thought was not entirely untrue. That said, knowing who does win makes it that much harder to care to watch it play out again a month later.

There are other reasons why the drama is diminished for this particular hand, including the lack of backstory regarding either of the two players involved. But even if we had that backstory, that might not have helped add drama either.

Most of the players in the “One Drop” sold significant action, something alluded to in passing in the show. Drinan actually won his seat via a $25,300 satellite, then sold action afterwards to guarantee himself a profit from the tournament regardless of his finish. In other words, he certainly didn’t lose $1 million in the hand (although he did lose the chance to continue onward to play for the millions awaiting those making the final table).

And while Katz and Drinan both show some emotion, that, too, is pretty muted. “If I lose like this, whatever,” says Drinan after the flop brings two hearts to give Katz a freeroll. Then it happens, and even though there is a reaction from the crowd, both players, and observer Antonio Esfandiari saying it’s “so sick,” it’s all still kind of overwhelmingly “whatever.”

I mentioned back when the “One Drop” was playing out how lamentable it was that there was no live stream of the event. Recall how Kevmath fielded endless questions about it, then began referring followers to another Twitter account -- @NoOneDropStream -- with a single tweet delivering the bad news.

The WSOP Main Event coverage will crank up soon, and again the inherent problem of delayed coverage diminishing suspense will be evident. The live presentation of the final table should be compelling, I think, but really I can’t find myself wanting to bother with any of the edited shows in between.

We are more than a decade into this format for televised poker. It’s a format for which the drama was dispensed long, long ago.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 4 -- Manos: The Hands of Fate

The final day at the Latin American Poker Tour Panama Main Event was kind of a strange one. The final table zipped by quickly, finishing in less than five hours. That wasn’t so odd, as these LAPT final tables do tend to move along quickly. Also, in this case they’d gotten a little deeper in the structure than usually happens thanks to a very long final table bubble (about three hours), so there were tons of short stacks at the start.

But after almost a dozen hands passed yesterday, there were six eliminations within the space of about 15 minutes of poker, which was a little bit head-spinning. The all-ins just kept coming, and while there were a couple of small double-ups thrown in there, most ended with knockouts.

The Argentinian Fabian Ortiz who began the day with the chip lead was the one handling most of those bustouts. He actually lost the lead on the day’s first hand after triple-barreling in a blind-vs.-blind confrontation to drop about half his stack. But he got that back quickly, then began motoring through the others in short order.

Heads-up looked like it might end in a single hand, actually, as Guillermo Olvera of Mexico shoved all in on the river and Ortiz had to tank a while before calling. But Olvera had Ortiz beat and they continued on, in fact playing more than two hours more before Ortiz at last came away with the win.

It marked Ortiz’s second LAPT title after winning back in Season 2 in Chile. He became only the second player in the LAPT’s history to win two Main Events, the other being Team PokerStars Pro Nacho Barbero.

Interestingly, the final hand yesterday saw Ortiz winning with K-7-offsuit, managing to outrun Olvera’s A-7 when a king fell on the turn. King-seven was the exact hand with which he won the LAPT2 Chile event as well, suggesting the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference above. (Photo of Ortiz holding up the hand of fate by Carlos Monti.)

Gotta run as my shuttle to the airport is coming. Still promising that report on the trip to the Panama Canal on Saturday, which I’ll share later this week. It was a fun week, and again it was great to work alongside the LAPT folks, all of whom are excellent at what they do besides being a lot of fun to hang around with.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 3 -- Short Cuts

It was a memorable day yesterday that began with my getting up very early in order to take a tour into Panama City, highlighted by a visit to the Panama Canal.

The trip was arranged through LAPT travel, and they set me up with a terrific guide who took a couple of us throughout the city to visit various sites, learn about the country’s history, and of course check out the Canal where we were able to see a ship passing through.

The Panama Canal is such a marvel to consider. Such a complicated history regarding its conception and initial construction at the start of the 20th century, and of course its operation is also incredibly complex.

That turned out to be my foremost impression from my visit to the Canal -- simple awe at its being such a creative, ingenious solution to a difficult problem. I managed to write a little about the trip in a post for the PokerStars blog yesterday, titled “The world’s most famous short cut.”

I didn’t have time to give the subject the treatment it deserved as there was a lot of poker to report yesterday, too. The 47 players played down to a final table of eight, taking all of the way to midnight to finish up with the Argentinian Fabian Ortiz finishing as chip leader as he seeks his second career LAPT title.

Only Ortiz’s countryman Nacho Barbero has ever pulled off the double, and in fact my first ever LAPT trip was to Lima to cover Barbero’s second LAPT win.

The morning trip and long Day 3 added up to a more than an 18-hour day for me, and thanks to having to take care of other business this morning I also don’t have time here to give the Panama City trip enough time for a proper report. So I’m having to take a short cut here with today’s post. I’ll write more about it next week once I’m home, including sharing more pictures.

Meanwhile, to follow today’s last day at LAPT7 Panama, head over to the PokerStars blog. You can watch a live stream of the final table, too, by clicking here.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 2 -- Talking Towers

Was another busy day on the seventh floor of the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel as they continued the LAPT7 Panama Main Event, playing from 179 players down to just 47 (into the money). That sets up what I think ought to be a longish Day 3 today, although often whenever I anticipate such on the LAPT things rush along more quickly than I expect.

I’m writing in haste early Saturday morning, just before taking my trip and tour to the Panama Canal which I’m squeezing in prior to the start of play today. Will try to take some pictures and deliver a report here of that trip, if not this weekend perhaps after I get back home.

Just a couple of quick highlights from yesterday to share, both involving the great Carlos Monti, the photographer with whom I get to work each time I come to report on these LAPT events.

On the ride into Panama City from the airport on Tuesday, I’d noticed the skyline and all of the many high-rises filling the landscape. Then once the tournament got going in earnest and players began constructing towers of chips from their starting stacks, I had a post idea that I shared with Carlos.

He neatly realized the comparison I was imagining in a couple of photos, which made for a fun write-up yesterday called “Towers upon towers.”

Also, before play began yesterday Carlos showed other talents during the preparations before Day 2 began. Enjoy:

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 1b -- November Niners

Another long day yesterday for Day 1b of the LAPT7 Panama Main Event. A huge turnout actually ended up bringing the total number of entries to 550 for the event, just a little under the 570 from last fall and I think above expectations.

Had a couple of highlights along the way, one being a quick chat with Badih “Bob” Bounahra of Belize who traversed Central America to play. We talked just a little about his November Nine run from 2011, his WSOP this year (which included a third place in a $1K event), and his continued love of deuce-seven.

Sort of an interesting turn of events today as Bounahra got seated at the feature table with Scott Montgomery, who also of course made a November Nine back in 2008 (the first one). Most agreed it was certainly the first time two November Niners had been seated at the same table at an LAPT event, and possibly the first instance of two playing in the same tourney.

Looks like 179 made it through to Friday’s Day 2, which apparently will be a shorter day -- just eight one-hour levels without a dinner break. Then there will be a party at the pool afterwards, which should be a good chance to relax a little and possible get some good eats as well.

I’m most excited, though, about having booked a trip to see the Panama Canal on Saturday morning. Gonna have to get up early to make it there and back before the noon start of the tourney, but it’ll be worth it, I’m told. More on that when it happens.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 1a -- Veni, Vidi, Veneto

A full day yesterday for Day 1a of the LAPT Panama Main Event at the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel here on Vía Veneto y Av Eusebio Morales in Panama City.

As expected there was a relatively modest-sized field for the first Day 1 flight, although the 174 total entries I think might have been a little more than some were thinking might turn out.

Most (but not all) of the usual suspects were present, and while the first levels of any tournament generally don’t provide too much excitement in the way of poker, there were some intriguing hands and I also had a chance to meet some interesting players.

Early in the day I chatted with Joel Micka who arrived bright and early for the first hand at 12 noon after having stayed up late the night before making a deep run in the Super Tuesday, the weekly $1,050 no-limit hold’em tourney on PokerStars (he finished 10th). A friendly guy who has had a lot of online success plus some good live results, too, including a huge million dollar-plus score in early 2013 at the PCA when he took runner-up in the Main Event.

Also enjoyed talking to Angelina Rich, someone with whom I felt like I probably had a little more in common for a few reasons. A relatively new player, Rich has enjoyed some success during the past year winning the Women’s Sunday on Stars, also cashing in three events at EPT10 Sanremo including winning the Women’s Event a few months ago, plus winning her seat into the LAPT Panama tourney via FPPs.

Rich has a degree in fashion design and started a during the past year as well called Rich Street Fashion, and we had a chance to talk about her poker education as well as her blog yesterday.

I expect I’ll meet a few more new folks today. There will be some of the same faces back again, too, as the tournament allows reentries, meaning people like Humberto Brenes and Leo Fernandez of Team PokerStars Pro who busted last night will surely be returning.

Staying right here in the venue is extremely convenient, something I don’t always get to do on these trips, although I suspect it’s gonna keep me from seeing too much of Panama City this week. Perhaps later when we do get to some shorter days there will be a chance at least to walk around a little.

More mañana.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Arrival -- Between the Americas

I send along an update from Central America and the Republic of Panama, my home away from home for the rest of the week as I’m here to report on the LAPT Panama Main Event for the PokerStars blog.

The trip in was relatively easy, with no surprises along the way other than perhaps a little extra excitement on the ride from Tocumen International Airport to the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel where I’m staying and where the tournament is being played. Zipping along in the shuttle at 100 km per, we had a couple of close calls with others jockeying for position along the two-lane Corredor Sur, but made it in good shape. And good time, natch.

Riding in we were traveling west and did for a time duck out over the Gulf of Panama, before curving back inland. Could see the skyline, kind of a distinctive feature of Panama with its several tall buildings not bunched together but spread out along a lengthy swatch of the coastline. Am west of the canal, I believe, spanned by the Bridge of the Americas.

I checked in and hung out in the room just a short while before connecting with Sergio, my fellow blogger who handles PokerStars’ blog for Brazil. We relaxed in the bar area next to a large pool which was pretty popular when I first arrived, but soon the skies turned gray and opened up to send everyone under cover.

We shot the breeze for a good while, then eventually ventured out into have a nice dinner at a Peruvian restaurant a couple of blocks away called Machu Picchu where I filled up on seafood appetizers (calamari and parmesan shrimp) and a delicious sea bass entree.

As Sergio pointed out, we’ll be mostly confined to the hotel-casino for the next few days where it’ll be a lot of burgers and fast meals, although we’ll probably get out -- and likely back to the Machu Picchu -- once the weekend comes and the tourney days are shorter.

Not sure what kind of field size we’ll see tomorrow, although it sounds like with the WSOP having just ended and the Brazilian Series of Poker having their BSOP Brasilia event next week there will probably be a somewhat smaller group here than last fall when there were 570 total entries.

Gonna file this one now and get some rest. Probably will only have time for the short reports this week between all the other stuff I have to get done. More to come.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ain’t No Stopping Now... Panama!

In an airport again. Has been a while, after I stayed home on the farm all summer during the World Series of Poker. Am now about to take a quick post-WSOP trip down to Panama City for the LAPT Panama event that runs from Wednesday through Sunday.

The Main is a $1,500+$150 buy-in with a couple of starting days. It’s the third year the tour has made it to Panama. They drew 338 two years ago (with a $2,300+$200 buy-in), then last fall with the same price tag there were 570 total entries. It’s the third event of Season 7 for the tour, following Chile and Brazil.

This’ll be a first trip to Panama for me, one of a couple of LAPT stops I’ve yet to visit. I’ve never even been to Central America. Am curious to see the skyline and canal and whatever else I can this week, while I am also looking forward to reuniting with all the LAPT folks and players once more.

I think there might be a few making the trip from the U.S., perhaps more than is usually the case for these LAPT events. I say that both because this one falls in the middle of a relatively quiet period on the poker calendar and the trip down isn’t nearly as arduous as the ones down to the lower part of South America. Saw Chris Moneymaker tweet that he may make it, and I’ve heard a few other U.S. players may be going, too.

Indeed, I’m looking at about five hours’ flying time total, which seems like nothing compared to the two-day long voyages I’m often taking for the LAPT events. Will definitely be nice to be there by the afternoon and (hopefully) not be much fatigued from the travel.

Jump back... what’s that sound? Ah, the boarding announcement. Better cut this short. Back with reports from Central America this week.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

On James Garner, Who Portrayed a Poker Player and a P.I.

Actor James Garner passed away over the weekend at the age of 86. Much beloved for a variety of roles, Garner’s most famous ones actually covered special areas of interest for your humble scribbler -- one a poker player and the other a private investigator.

Those of my generation probably most remember Garner from The Rockford Files, the TV series in which he played a private investigator. It originally aired from 1974 to 1980 then stuck around a long while in syndication, and I remember watching it a lot with my Dad. The groovy theme song is pretty firmly etched in my memory.

Besides having engaging, problem-solver plots, the show also highlighted a father-and-son relationship between Jim Rockford (Garner) and his Dad, Rocky (played by Noah Beery, Jr.), and looking back I’m realizing how as a kid that aspect of the show was appealing to me as well.

For those of my Dad’s generation, though, most probably most readily associate Garner with the poker-playing Bret Maverick character he portrayed on TV from 1957 to 1962. I have no memory of watching that one, although I know I did see a few reruns as a kid. And in fact the bouncy theme song to that series describing the Old West hero “livin’ on jacks and queens” sits faintly tucked away in the back of my noggin, too:



I wrote about Bret Maverick once in a “Poker & Pop Culture” piece a while back, a fictional character uniquely associated with poker demonstrating the meaningful connection between the game and the Old West. I also wrote here several years ago about a reprint of a book I’d picked up called Maverick’s Guide to Poker which had been reissued following the 1994 film.

I’m of course familiar with the film adaptation starring Mel Gibson -- I often show a clip of the climactic poker scene in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class -- and while it’s thoroughly entertaining it isn’t necessarily my favorite “poker movie.” Garner does a turn there, too, getting introduced as a supporting character, Marshal Zane Cooper. (And now that I think about it, there is kind of a father-son thing going on there as well.)

By the way, Nolan Dalla shared a nice story yesterday about Garner dating from 2006 when he turned up to play in that year’s World Series of Poker Main Event and on one of the starting days agreed at the very last minute to deliver the traditional directive to “shuffle up and deal” -- only Garner handled it a little differently than expected.

Check out “A James Garner Poker Story.”

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Friday, July 18, 2014

WPT Alpha8 High Rolling into a Second Season

Among the poker news items here at week’s end is that the World Poker Tour’s Alpha8 is coming back for a second season, that “high roller” series which featured four stops during its first season in Florida, London, St. Kitts, and Johannesburg.

The new season will begin with a return trip to London in October, where the buy-in will be £60,000, roughly the equivalent of the usual $100K price tag for these tourneys. For the first go-round for the Alpha8 in London the buy-in was £100,000.

Then in December the tour goes to the Bellagio for a $100,000 event. That stop will coincide with a regular WPT stop, which may well help increase the overall turnout there.

With the first season done, I was curious to look through just who played those first four Alpha8 events, all of which featured small fields with many of the same players showing up to more than one of them.

The Florida stop (which I had a chance to cover) drew 18 players and 21 total entries. In London there were again 18 players, and with two re-entries a total of 20 buy-ins.

St. Kitts was the most popular Alpha8 stop during the first season, with 28 total entries and 23 individual players. Then only nine players made it to South Africa for the final stop, with one re-buying to make the total entries 10.

I’ve been watching some of the shows on Fox Sports 1 which have been entertaining, though very different in feel from most other poker programming thanks largely to the small fields -- more Poker After Dark or High Stakes Poker, I suppose, than the usual WPT shows or the WSOP broadcasts.

A total of 43 different players have taken part in WPT Alpha8 events thus far. Three have played all four of them -- Jeff Gross, Philipp Gruissem, and Erik Seidel. Gruissem won twice (London and St. Kitts), Gross finished third and in the money once (Florida), and Seidel went 0-for-4.

One other player has spent more than Seidel on Alpha8 buy-ins so far, with Antonio Esfandiari firing five times total in three events, including twice in London where the buy-in was £100,000. That adds up to about $640,000 total (with no cashes for the Magician).

A total of 14 of the 43 players who have participated in Alpha8 events have cashed in at least one, with Scott Seiver the only one besides Gruissem to make the money twice (finishing second in London and fifth in St. Kitts).

Here’s a table showing the entries and results for the 43 Alpha8 players (click to embiggen):

Will be interesting to see if the second season attracts different players and/or if fields grow or remain in the usual two-to-three table range.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

From Eugene Edwards' Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game (1900)

Published in 1900, Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game by Eugene Edwards collects numerous anecdotes about poker as it was played during the 19th century, all of which add up to a convincing testament to the game’s popularity as well as to its special relationship to American culture more than a century ago.

Before getting into the various stories of particular characters and notable hands that make up the historical narrative, Edwards uses the first chapter to explain “What Is Poker -- Its Origin, and Why We Like It.”

He begins with a general observation about Americans being especially eager when it comes to playing games, our fondness for baseball being a primary example and our readiness to import other games (golf from Scotland, lacrosse from India, etc.) further demonstrating such a predilection. Card-playing is special, though, says Edwards, because of its accessibility to all, no matter how old or young.

He then rattles through various card games of the day, dismissing each for various reasons as coming up short of representing “the Great American Game.” Euchre, for example -- “the ladies’ game” -- is too French. Seven-up is “the country boy’s game.” And whist is both too closely identified with England (even the Queen plays it) and requiring of “too much brain work.”

“When you shuffle up all the games, however, there is one that stands out before and beyond all the others,” Edwards continues, “like a lighthouse on the sea coast or a water tank on a prairie, and that is POKER.”

From there he offers a thumbnail sketch of the game’s origins, taking a few shots in passing at the European nations whose games were precursors to poker for their failure to embrace “the modern and perfected game” of poker (“we know how cordially Europeans detest innovations”). Such is probably the most dated of the sentiments in the chapter, given the game’s widespread popularity in Europe today.

“Therefore we may say with truth that America monopolizes the game of poker, and it certainly is the game that best fits our national character,” Edwards triumphantly concludes, speaking of how the game requires nerve, money, strength, and brains each of which (in his estimation) are areas where “we lead the world.”

Edwards edges closer to jingoism as he successively dismisses Germans, the French, and the English as not nearly as well suited for poker as are Americans. But despite the heavy-handed commentary, he does make several salient observations about the game itself, praising in particular its accessibility (being easy to learn) and its ongoing challenge (the learning never stops).

“It is such a simple game to learn,” writes Edwards, noting how a person with any familiarity at all with other card games “can be taught the game of poker in a half hour -- and then spend the rest of his life learning it.”

“That is the main beauty of the game,” he continues. “You think you know it all after you have played ten hands and then after a hundred seances you begin to realize there is something for you to learn. There is so much human nature in it, and human nature is so complex.”

By 1900, poker had well established itself in American culture, a pastime which could be referenced just a few years later by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in his “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings as an instantly recognizable aspect of modern American life. Edwards notes how by the time of his writing the game had already endured a period of demonization by opponents and survived, alluding to a time “thirty or forty years ago... when cards were held up to scorn as the invention of the devil, and all card players were placed but a shade above a forger or pickpocket.”

That time, Edwards insists, had by then passed. “We do not hear so much of that wild talk nowadays,” he reports.

Of course, such “wild talk” would never go away entirely, returning again and again throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fifteen Years of Multiple Bracelet Winners

In 1999, Eli Balas won his second of three career World Series of Poker bracelets in that year’s $5,000 limit hold’em event. Balas topped a field of 110 to win, including besting Annie Duke heads-up on Mother’s Day. In fact, according to Conjelco’s report on the event, Balas had at one point been down to just 500 chips at a time when that represented less than one big bet, but had come back to win.

That report says the finish represented Balas’s first bracelet win, although in fact the Israeli-born Las Vegas resident had won one seven years before in an Omaha Hi-Low event. It also says his best finish prior to that was a third-place showing, but earlier in that year’s WSOP he’d come runner-up in the $2,500 seven-card stud event to David Grey.

In other words, Balas just missed being a multiple-bracelet winner in 1999, something no player accomplished that spring when only 16 events were contested.

I was reading about Balas last night. I had been looking up when the last time there had been a WSOP without at least one player winning multiple bracelets, and I was kind of surprised to have to go all of the way back to 1999 to find the most recent instance.

Here are the multiple bracelet winners from 2000-onward:

  • 2000: Chris Ferguson (2)
  • 2001: Scotty Nguyen (2), Nani Dollison (2)
  • 2002: Phil Ivey (3), Layne Flack (2)
  • 2003: John Juanda (2), Johnny Chan (2), Layne Flack (2), Men Nguyen (2), Phil Hellmuth (2), Chris Ferguson (2)
  • 2004: Ted Forrest (2), Scott Fischman (2)
  • 2005: Mark Seif (2)
  • 2006: Bill Chen (2), Jeff Madsen (2)
  • 2007: Tom Schneider (2)
  • 2008: John Phan (2), Jesper Hougaard (2)
  • 2009: Jeffrey Lisandro (3), Brock Parker (2), Phil Ivey (2), Greg Mueller (2), J.P. Kelly (2)
  • 2010: Frank Kassela (2)
  • 2011: Brian Rast (2)
  • 2012: Antonio Esfandiari (2), Phil Hellmuth (2), Greg Merson (2)
  • 2013: Daniel Negreanu (2), Tom Schneider (2)
  • 2014: George Danzer (2), Dominik Nitsche (2)
  • I was just writing about that huge collection of multiple bracelet winners in 2003 a few weeks back after Joe Cada won his bracelet this summer, making him the first of the last 12 ME winners (going back to 2002) to follow the ME triumph with another bracelet win.

    Worth noting from this list is how Hougaard (2008), Kelly (2009), Esfandiari (2012), Hellmuth (2012), and Negreanu (2013) all won one bracelet at the WSOP in Las Vegas and another either at WSOP Europe or WSOP Asia Pacific. Also, I should say that after I initially compiled this list Kevmath reminded me about Dominik Nitsche being a multiple-bracelet winner this summer, too, after following his WSOP National Championship win (for which he earned a bracelet) with another victory in a $1K NLHE event.

    Even without counting those guys, though, there has been at least one player every year to pick up at least two bracelets in Vegas since 2000.

    Feels like kind of an improbable streak, doesn’t it? Fifteen straight years? Sure, there were 65 events this summer (64 of which have completed), but back in 2000 there were just 24 (albeit with much smaller fields, too). Seems remarkable, and not unrelated to that “same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year” discussion from yesterday.

    Wouldn’t really know how to begin to work out the probability of such a streak to occur -- if anyone is inspired to do so, I’d be curious to know.

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    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    November Nine Not New to Newhouse

    Before the bubble burst in the World Series of Poker Main Event when there were still 746 players left, I wrote a Day 4 preview in which I included a few “Regarding the Record Books” items collected in a short section near the end.

    The obvious item to include in that category was Ronnie Bardah going for his fifth straight year of cashing in the ME, something he’d manage to accomplish that day. Bardah broke a tie with a half-dozen other players to establish a new record all on his own.

    Allen Cunningham entered the day with 314,000 chips -- the average was a little under 269,000 -- and with only 53 eliminations to go until the money looked like he’d probably be picking up his seventh career ME cash and thus move into a tie for fifth on the all-time list. So Im mentioned that. He didn’t get it.

    Finally, I noted how Mark Newhouse was the sole remaining November Niner from a year ago still alive in the event, tossing in that if he somehow made it back to the final table it would be the first time in 10 years anyone ever pulled off the feat. Dan Harrington, of course, finished third in 2003 (when 839 played) and fourth in 2004 (when 2,576 did), marking the last time it had been done.

    Really, though, that was a stretch even to mention before Day 4. “There’s a long way to go,” I added by way of disclaimer, noting that Newhouse still had four days of poker to survive to make it there.

    The Chapel Hill, North Carolina native entered that Day 4 in 131st of 746 -- a bit better than Cunningham’s position, but by no means in an especially advantageous spot to assure a deep run. By day’s end there’d be 291 left and he was 27th in the counts. Then after Day 5 he’d pushed into the chip lead with 79 remaining, and the idea of a return trip to the final table began occurring to many.

    He would start Day 7 in 11th position of 27, which made referring to the possibility much more reasonable in yesterday’s preview. Then he did it, finishing last night third in chips of the final nine.

    So far in two consecutive Main Events Newhouse has outlasted 13,017 players -- a lot more than Harrington did during his back-to-back final tables, not to take away from the accomplishment of “Action Dan.” Was thinking at first that had to be a record, then I remembered Dennis Phillips took third in 2008 (out of 6,844) then 45th in 2009 (out of 6,494), meaning Phillips outran 13,290 others during those two years.

    Something kind of incredible, though, about final tabling this tourney in consecutive years.

    People on the forums are rightly bringing up Mike’s old line from Rounders, the one he says with agitation to Jo when defending poker as a skill game. “Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year?” he asks. “What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?”

    The line was more applicable in 1998 than today, although even then the fields for the WSOP Main Event were getting big enough that you weren’t seeing too many return trips to the final table by players. That’s why Harrington’s was so special, as was Mike Matusow’s in 2005 (after having gotten there in 2001) and the near-miss of 2001 champion Carlos Mortensen last year when he finished 10th.

    Those quoting the line with reference to Newhouse are doing so ironically. With so many playing, it’s absurd to think the same guys are going to get back to the WSOP ME final table “every year.”

    But somehow Newhouse is there again. Part of another November Nine. And another four-month delay during which he’ll be earning a lot more attention this time than he did last year.

    There are some stories in this final nine -- the foosball champion, the Dutch leader with some big online scores and stories, the first Brazilian ever to make a WSOP ME final table, a couple who’ve never cashed at the WSOP at all and a few others with only a few small scores in prelims before.

    But Newhouse’s return will be the main thread in the narrative from here to November, there’s no doubt. As it should be.

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    Monday, July 14, 2014

    The Last Day of the Summer in the Middle of July

    The best part of the summer ending at the World Series of Poker when it does is that there’s still half the summer to go.

    Today marks the final day of play at the 2014 WSOP until November as the Main Event will be playing down from 27 to a final table before once again -- as they’ve done every year since 2008 -- pausing the tournament for nearly four months before finishing things out.

    That “November Nine”-era exactly encompasses my own reporting on the WSOP, as 2008 was the first time I went out to Las Vegas to help PokerNews report on the Series. I continued going out every summer since until this one, this time instead staying close to the farm while I helped out the team with articles and in other ways from afar.

    Today, for example, I’ve written a preview of Day 7 mentioning all 27 of the players and highlighting a few of the more interesting storylines. Check it out: “WSOP What to Watch For: Main Event Day 7 Preview -- From 27 to the November Nine.”

    After doing essentially the same thing for six years, this year following the action and writing about it from home has been different, for sure. I was saying late last week that now’s the time I probably miss being out there the most, with this day -- the day they play down to nine -- has always been the “finale” (so to speak) for me when it comes to the WSOP.

    It does make for a fairly exciting finish, although still -- after seven years of it -- I still think the day is anticlimactic and the delay not preferable. But after writing thousands and thousands of words about the WSOP this summer, I suppose I’m more or less ready for the “end” -- of sorts -- to come.

    Last year we reported 633 hands total on Day 7 (i.e., all of them). Check the PokerNews live updates today for hand-for-hand reports all of the way from 27 players down to nine.

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    Friday, July 11, 2014

    Poker and “The Truth”

    Now’s the time -- probably the only time all summer -- that I’m genuinely missing being out in Las Vegas.

    The first days of the Main Event are always intriguing, in particular because they are often the only time all summer you see a certain category of recreational player well represented in the field -- amateurs taking big shots, the “bucket list” guys, and so on -- and as I was saying yesterday I think ESPN has dropped the ball somewhat by ignoring that part of the tournament (especially this year as they are skipping all of the way ahead to Day 4 in their coverage).

    That said, it’s true that when the money gets closer, the bubble bursts, and then the last few days play out that things get really fun, even for those of us just watching. Again, part of the enjoyment comes from the fact that some of those amateurs are still in the sucker, their lives being affected in significant ways with every hour that goes by. But the pros rise up, too, and the poker gets more and more intriguing to follow.

    And, of course, there’s that hard-to-explain feeling of coming to the end of a long journey with everyone involved -- players, staff, colleagues -- that makes the last days of the WSOP so special each summer. So I’m missing that.

    I am enjoying the coverage, though, and in particular got a big kick out of the interview Rich Ryan and Eric Danis got to do yesterday with NBA player Paul Pierce for PokerNews/GPI. Pierce would be an example of that sort of player I’m describing -- the amateur kind of taking a shot, even if for “The Truth” (Pierce’s nick) the bankroll pressure isn’t quite the same as it would be for most.

    I loved Pierce’s enthusiasm when talking about why he likes poker (the competitive aspect unsurprisingly is the game’s biggest draw for him). I wrote a little summary of the visit while embedding the video over on Learn.PokerNews -- it’s worth a look if you’re a basketball fan, or even if you just like seeing somebody who enjoys poker talk about why he does.

    Click over and watch it, if you are curious: “‘It’s a Beautiful Game’: NBA Star Paul Pierce Talks Poker at the WSOP.”

    I was saying something similar here last Friday. I enjoy hearing these positive messages about poker, but I think I also just enjoy watching/hearing people enjoy themselves, no matter what they are doing.

    Pierce would bust before the end of the night, but was smiling ear to ear even as he left. ’Cos the truth is, poker really is a beautiful game.

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    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Ivey in Front

    You’ve no doubt noticed how out of 1,864 players left in the World Series of Poker Main Event to begin Day 3, the one with the most chips of any of them is none other than Phil Ivey with 505,000.

    Amid my work this summer I’ve been writing up WSOP recaps and previews for PokerNews, and over the last couple of days for those I’ve been doing a little digging around regarding recent Main Event history.

    As I noted yesterday, Ivey has cashed four times before in the Main Event, and in fact when making the money has never finished lower than 23rd. His best finish was of course his seventh-place showing in 2009, the last time he made the money.

    Then today I spent a little time seeing how other start-of-Day-3 leaders have done in the WSOP over recent years, and doing so produced a kind of interesting list of players and results. Probably the most interesting Day 3 chip leader among the list (going back to 2000) was Sammy Farha who was on top after two days of the 2001 WSOP Main Event, then in fact didn’t last through Day 3 and missed the money altogether.

    Last year Mark Kroon was on top heading into Day 3, but he’d crash in 458th relatively early on Day 4. But the previous two years saw deep runs from those players, as Gaelle Baumann would finish 10th and Ben Lamb third. None of those start-of-day-3 leaders ever won the Main Event (since 2000, anyway), but Julian Gardner did finish second in 2002 after having led after the first two days.

    Ivey’s fast start certainly gives some focus to the early 2014 WSOP Main Event narratives. I heard that ESPN isn’t even going to pick up its coverage this year until Day 4, however, which is kind of a bummer. We’ll see if Ivey continues to be headlining once the event gets to that point.

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    Wednesday, July 09, 2014

    Stirring Things Up

    I’ve written here before -- although it’s been a while -- about Dashiel Hammett’s unnamed detective the Continental Op who appears in about two dozen stories and a couple of novels by the hard-boiled writer.

    Most of the stories follow a similar trajectory in which the Op is given some sort of assignment that often seems relatively simple, then discovers early on the particulars are more complicated than had been earlier suggested. From there, a favorite response by the Op is to introduce some further, often creative complication -- kind of like putting in a surprising check-raise -- to see how others will react and thus perhaps reveal their motives. Or crimes.

    The Op often benignly describes this strategy as “stirring things up.” For example, “The House in Turk Street” (1924) is a weird little story in which the Op finds himself accidentally holed up with a gang of bank robbers whom he notices gradually starting to turn on each other. Despite being their prisoner and tied to a chair, he nurtures their growing conflict himself at one point -- in fact, he uses a poker analogy when he refers to having “led my ace” with one false statement, something which he subsequently refers to as “my little lie that was meant to stir things up.”

    When I brought up the phrase here before, in was in the context of talking about poker strategy, referring to the choice “to stir things up” with a bet or raise or anything that takes one out of one’s typical style or approach. Doing so can sometimes be worthwhile, a means to improve one’s game and prevent falling into predictable patterns that others can exploit.

    Over the last week or so I have been thinking of the phrase in a different way, though, as there have been a lot of examples of people “stirring things up” in the poker world, with several different debates flying about concerning a host of topics.

    I’m thinking of course about the recent brouhaha following Daniel Colman’s victory in the “Big One for One Drop” and his subsequent decision not to go through the usual picture-taking and interviewing, with various op-eds popping up in response, then Colman’s own provoking “I don’t owe poker a single thing” explanation.

    Also from this week I’m thinking about the back-and-forthing instigated by Greg Merson regarding the World Poker Tour scheduling a low buy-in event at the Aria during the WSOP Main Event. Jeff Walsh summarizes that one at F5 Poker, covering most of the discussion except for a few WPT-directed blasts fired by WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart along the way.

    Then yesterday came another quasi-tempest when Earl Burton wrote an op-ed complaining about Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers of Bluff getting bought into the Main Event by some poker pros wishing to give something back to Kev after he’s given so much to the community for several years. Haley Hintze does a good job explaining that one and responding to it, too, over at Flushdraw.

    There are real issues at the heart of all of these conversations, involving poker as it played, organized, and reported upon and discussed. Not to be too elusive about my own positions on all of these matters, but I’m finding myself almost more interested to observe how others are responding to the “stirring up” that to be inspired to respond myself, with some in a few cases revealing themselves like characters in Hammett’s stories.

    To tip my hand a little... Colman certainly overlooks most of the positives about poker, while others have overlooked some of the negatives. Those running competing poker tours and series should feel free to compete with each other, but should also find ways to communicate and respect each other, too. And the indefatigable Kevmath more than deserves whatever the poker community wishes to give him by way of gratitude, while most discussions of “journalistic ethics” in poker reporting tend to forget that most of it doesn’t really qualify as journalism, anyway.

    It’s a funny world, the one surrounding poker. To be in it sometimes feels like sitting among a mob on the run, listening to them argue back and forth about what their next step will be.

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    Tuesday, July 08, 2014

    The Partial Information Game

    Was just following the coverage of the start of Day 2a/2b of the World Series of Poker Main Event and was distracted momentarily by all of the tweets reporting how WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart got things going with a request that all first-time Main Event players stand up to be recognized.

    I’m guessing it was a heart-in-the-right-place kind of request, one designed to highlight just how many new players came to participate in poker’s most prestigious event this year. But the rapid-fire responses highlighted a perhaps obvious consequence of the first-timers identifying themselves in such a way.

    “The @WSOP has all the first times stand up, all the pros be very thankful. #WillAllTheFishPleaseStandUp #WSOP” tweeted Remko Rinkema. “The fish actually tagged themselves this time,” said AlCantHang, while Chris Tessaro added “No word if they then applied bulls eyes.”

    A couple of pros chimed in amid my timeline. “Thank you @WSOP for getting all the first timers to stand up and identify themselves,” said Mizzi. “Now I know who to punish #3barrelbluffs.” Steve O’Dwyer, meanwhile, looked at the situation from the first-timers’ point of view. “How much equity did @wsopSUITd [Stewart] just cost the WSOP first timers by asking them to stand and identify themselves?” he wondered.

    As I read the tweets I began to think about the possibility of experienced players standing as a kind of early “bluff” suggesting to their opponents they were less savvy than they actually were. Then Bluff’s Lance Bradley articulated the same thought: “Wonder how many non-first timers, local regs stood up to purposely misidentify themselves as first timers. #LevelsOnLevels.”

    Another worthwhile point made by several was to note that just because a player was in the Main Event for the first time, that didn’t necessarily make the player a novice.

    Still, interesting to consider just how the players who remained seated interpreted the situation when watching their tablemates stand up before play began today.

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    Monday, July 07, 2014

    On Starting Flights; or, The Main Event Takes Off

    So the Main Event is on and it sounds like today’s final Day 1 flight is going to be huge. Like mechagodzilla huge.

    They’ve drawn 2,915 players so far through the first two of three Day 1 flights. The WSOP tweeted last night that the Day 1c field will be bigger than both Day 1a and 1b combined, while WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart earlier tweeted that they were preparing for “our biggest Main Event start ever.”

    The largest ever starting day for a Main Event was last year’s Day 1c when 3,467 players came out. If they top that today, that’ll carry the overall total field size over the 6,352 who played the 2013 Main Event. Before the WSOP started I was asked to predict the total for this year’s ME and guessed 7,039, thinking that added satellites, a few WSOP.com qualifiers, and that big $10 milly first prize might help boost the total. Will be kind of a reach to get there today, but we’ll see.

    All this about Day 1 flights and field sizes got me thinking about the last decade’s worth of WSOP Main Events and the history of the multiple Day 1s. There had always only been a single Day 1 until 2004, the year Binion’s Horseshoe was overrun with players wanting to follow Chris Moneymaker’s footsteps to fame and fortune.

    Some that year had been predicting an increase in the number of participants from the 839 who played the Main Event in 2003, although few were guessing the jump would be so dramatic. As the preliminary events played out in 2004, predictions of an increase were bandied about, but few it seemed had an idea what was about to happen.

    In their history of the WSOP, All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker, Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback talk about how Amarillo Slim Preston made a couple of $50K bets during the days leading up to the 2004 ME starting -- one that the field would break 1,000, then another that it would exceed 1,200.

    As they got closer to the first scheduled day of play, it became obvious Preston would be winning both of those bets easily. PokerPages’ Day 1 report from the 2004 WSOP Main Event talks about how “projections were raised upwards to ‘1800’ then ‘1900,’” then eventually “tournament executives and organizers began preparing for a near mythical number -- two thousand players.”

    Of course, they’d end up with a total field of 2,576, a number well above what Binion’s could reasonably accommodate, and so a decision was made on the fly to divide that group into two Day 1 flights. After a lot of digging around I couldn’t put my finger on the exact number of entrants on each of those two Day 1s, although anecdotal accounts suggest there were more seated on the second day than the first.

    Totals for the Day 1 starting flights from subsequent WSOP Main Events were a little easier to pinpoint, although some of the info is scattered pretty widely, especially when looking back more than five years ago. But I think I found the answers in all cases, and so decided to compile it all here to have it in one place.

    2004: 2,576 total entrants (1,108 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- approx. 1,200
    Day 1b -- approx. 1,350

    2005: 5,619 total entrants (1,864 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 1,885
    Day 1b -- 1,857
    Day 1c -- 1,877

    2006: 8,773 total entrants (3,373 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 2,138
    Day 1b -- 2,176
    Day 1c -- 2,160
    Day 1d -- 2,299

    2007: 6,358 total entrants (2,235 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 1,287
    Day 1b -- 1,545
    Day 1c -- 1,743
    Day 1d -- 1,783

    2008: 6,844 total entrants (3,629 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 1,297
    Day 1b -- 1,158
    Day 1c -- 1,928
    Day 1d -- 2,461

    2009: 6,494 total entrants (4,398 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 1,116
    Day 1b -- 873
    Day 1c -- 1,696
    Day 1d -- 2,809

    2010: 7,319 total entrants (5,146 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 1,125
    Day 1b -- 1,489
    Day 1c -- 2,314
    Day 1d -- 2,391

    2011: 6,865 total entrants (4,521 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 897
    Day 1b -- 978
    Day 1c -- 2,181
    Day 1d -- 2,809

    2012: 6,598 total entrants (4,344 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 1,066
    Day 1b -- 2,114
    Day 1c -- 3,418

    2013: 6,352 total entrants (4,186 made Day 2)
    Day 1a -- 943
    Day 1b -- 1,942
    Day 1c -- 3,467

    2014
    Day 1a -- 771
    Day 1b -- 2,144
    Day 1c -- ???
    I additionally tracked down the number of survivors from each individual Day 1 flight, although in a couple of cases I wasn’t too confident in the accuracy of the numbers and so decided not to include them here.

    Looking back over these totals, a couple of things stick out. One is how the fields for the Day 1 starting flights were approximately even back when the idea was first introduced. I seem to remember that players weren’t necessarily able to choose their starting days back then, which is how the WSOP was able to keep the fields roughly the same from flight to flight.

    Once players were able to select their preferred starting day, you see how the last starting day traditionally saw the largest field come out. Of those figures the 2,809 who played on Day 1d in 2009 stands out most starkly, as that was the year hundreds of players were actually turned away from the Main Event because of a lack of space.

    I remember that day well and the fallout afterwards, writing about it here at the time. (Day 1b that year fell on the Fourth of July, which helps explain the relatively small turnout that day.)

    It sounds possible they could run into a space issue today. During the small Day 1a, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel told BLUFF “I’m confident that I won’t shut anybody out” from a packed Day 1c today. But WSOP VP of Corporate Communications Seth Palansky added “I have some doubts that we can accommodate everyone.”

    So how many do you think will be playing Day 1c today?

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    Friday, July 04, 2014

    For the Fourth

    Not too much time today as Vera and I are off to a Fourth of July get-together tonight where I understand a certain, significant number of pounds’ worth of fireworks may be involved. I did, though, want to point you to a couple of posts over on Learn.PokerNews from today, one of which is mine.

    Was watching the WSOP live stream of the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud Championship final table last night where 90-year-old Henry Orenstein finished eighth, then spent about 20 minutes in the booth with David Tuchman to talk about his life, poker, and other things.

    Orenstein, of course, is a Poker Hall of Famer who was inducted in 2008 primarily for his having patented the hole card camera a few years before the “boom” hit and the popularity of televised poker helped expand the game considerably about a decade ago. He’s also a Holocaust survivor, toymaker, inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a WSOP bracelet holder (having won a stud event in 1996).

    I have to think his making the final table of the $10K Stud event has to represent a record for the oldest ever WSOP final tablist, although I haven’t seen that noted anywhere as yet. In any case, some of Orenstein’s comments on the live stream about having learned poker as a child and continuing to play it as a nonagenarian inspired the article “Ask Orenstein: Poker is a Great Game for Both Young and Old.”

    I like Orenstein’s positive message about poker, particularly during this week when there’s been so much talk -- some worthwhile, some frustratingly short-sighted -- about the “dark side” of the game.

    Also posted today on Learn is a neat one from Tommy Angelo titled “The World Series of Pain” in which he talks about playing in the cash games at the WSOP -- amid “the ocean of pain” that is the Rio at this time of year -- and finding a way to remain at peace. It’s another cool, funny story from Tommy with genuinely useful advice... check it out.

    Meanwhile, I’m off to enjoy a hot dog or two and appreciate loud noises and flashing colors. Have a good weekend, all.

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    Thursday, July 03, 2014

    Thirteen Bracelets, Thirteen Quotes

    I was skimming the updates this morning for Event No. 61, the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud Championship where just nine players remain for today’s final day.

    Todd Brunson has a big chip lead, while 90-year-old Henry Orenstein -- the Poker Hall of Famer who patented the hole card camera that subsequently became so important to televised poker -- is also still in there with one of the shorter stacks. Brunson has one bracelet (in Omaha/8), while Orenstein also won a stud bracelet before back in 1996.

    There are others left who should make today’s final table interesting to follow, including Ben Yu, James Obst, and Jesse Martin. But of course it’s Phil Hellmuth (pictured above via PokerNews) -- currently third in chips -- who’ll be the focus as long as he sticks around as to gun for his 14th career bracelet.

    The updates from last night are kind of hilarious to read through, given Hellmuth’s constant commentary, as usual demonstrating that familiar mix of witless hubris and comical petulance the Poker Brat has by now honed into a kind of performance art.

    For those who missed it, a sampling of Hellmuth’s late night stud table talk:

  • To the always well-attired Yu: “Why you so dressed up, kid?”

  • To chip leader Brunson: “The internet said you had over 700,000.”

  • To Brunson again: “I just hope when I have the ace burgers that you don’t get there with the king-jack-ten!”

  • To Obst, just before correctly identify his hand: “Give it up, kid”

  • To anyone who’ll listen: “Todd... he’s a genius. He just turns his hands into miracles!”

  • When having to fold a hand on third street: “F***!”

  • When that same hand ended with Obst showing a winner: “That’s legit.”

  • To the PokerNews reporters, in reference to himself: “No whining... it’s been six days! Six days! Report it!”

  • To Steve Landfish after folding to him on seventh: “You’re an interesting player.”

  • To Matt Grapenthien who’d forgotten to ante: “I see everything. Trust me, I see everything.”

  • To Yu after he mimicked Beth Shak’s infamous “I got ‘em” dance with aces: “Dang it, that’s just so good! You’re so clever.”

  • To Matt Grapenthien after he’d won a hand: “Buddy, you better not show up light again or they’ll barbecue you!”

  • After Brunson drew a flush to beat his straight: “I can’t f***ing believe it.”

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    Wednesday, July 02, 2014

    Chad Brown (1961-2014)

    It’s been a tough week. The death of German poker pro Johannes Strassmann at age 29 hit many hard, with stories of his generous personality and friendship signifying how much he’ll be missed. Then overnight came the news that Chad Brown, another much beloved figure in the poker community, had passed away at 52 after battling gamely against a rare form of cancer.

    While I didn’t ever get a chance to meet Strassmann, I did have the opportunity on many occasions to interact with Chad, especially over the last couple of years. I feel very fortunate to have done so.

    Before meeting him, I had always been kind of fascinated by Chad, primarily because of all the things he’d done before emerging about a decade ago as a “notable” in the poker world thanks to his deep runs in WSOP events. His introduction to most of us came when finishing runner-up in a seven-card stud event in 2004 that was part of ESPN’s comprehensive coverage of that year’s Series.

    But Chad had already been notable before that. He might have pursued a professional baseball career, in fact, but as a young man he took a different path to become a model and actor. During his 20s he landed various roles including a couple in low-grade horror flicks, neither of which I saw back then -- when as a teen my interest in low-grade horror flicks was at its zenith -- but did get to catch later on.

    He always played cards, too, though, and as he moved further into adulthood he became a serious poker player -- and seriously successful. At the WSOP alone he’d pick up nearly 40 cashes and over $1.2 million in winnings, including two more second-place finishes in 2005 and 2007. He’d become a Team PokerStars Pro, too, and in that role served as an able ambassador for the game.

    As I say, I got a chance to know Chad over the last couple of years, talking to him about a wide variety of subjects, including those horror movies, other stories from his acting and modeling days, baseball, and, of course, poker. We’d exchange emails occasionally, too, just to touch base.

    Last November I went down to Florida to help cover the WPT bestbet Jacksonville Fall Poker Scramble, and I remember him telling me to deliver well wishes to the folks at bestbet who had hosted a “Chad Brown event” there in the past. “We love Chad,” was the response I got, which as you’ve been reading over Twitter and elsewhere over the last several days is a common theme coming from just about anyone who ever interacted with him.

    Things took a troubling turn for Chad earlier this year, and he updated everyone about his health in a brave post for the PokerStars blog. There he spoke of viewing his situation as being like a poker hand and being content with the knowledge that he was playing the hand the best he way he knew how, not worrying too greatly about the results. It sounded very much like how I’d heard him talk about those three runner-ups in WSOP events, where in each case he’d done his best and played well, but in the end the cards just didn’t fall his way.

    My favorite part of that post comes when Chad explains how he was able to face a life-threatening illness without letting it get him down. “We all have a choice when it comes to how we want to feel about what's going on in our lives,” he explained. “If you want to feel like a victim, that’s your choice. I choose not to. I don’t feel like a victim. I feel very blessed with the life that I’ve had, regardless of what happens. I've never been depressed about this at all.”

    A little over a week ago after a flurry of Twitter messages indicating that things had become more grave for Chad, I sent him a note just to let him know I was thinking about him, and he wrote back right away to thank me and give a quick update.

    “I am doing fine spiritually,” he said. I already knew he was, but I was glad to hear it again.

    Then this week came the honorary bracelet from the WSOP and all of those premature announcements of his passing, all of which kind of helped steel a lot of us against the news we woke up to this morning that indeed he’d left us. As had his own resolve.

    Chad was definitely dealt some rough hands, but he was always quick to point out he’d had his share of “run good” as well, and in the end he was well prepared to accept the role chance plays in our lives. More than most.

    As I say -- speaking of luck -- I’m glad I had the good fortune to have known him.

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    Tuesday, July 01, 2014

    Eight Players Chasing Eight Figures

    Following them Big One for One Drop updates this evening, where Daniel Negreanu keeps knocking out players and looks as though he’s got a good chance of possibly winning the sucker. If he does -- or if he finishes runner-up, even -- he’ll zoom past Antonio Esfandiari on that mostly-out-of-whack all-time tournament earnings list.

    Poor Tom Hall busted right away today, leaving the final eight players to share the $37,333,338 prize pool and gun for the $15,306,668 up top.

    With all of the “high rollers” and “super high rollers,” as well as the One Drops and WSOP Main Events, that list has long become a difficult one to parse.

    The debates over what the list really signifies have always been around, with the observation that it shouldn’t be mistaken for some kind of unambiguous indicator of poker ability an obvious one. But now there’s a pretty stark division between those in the top two dozen spots or so and the rest, with all of the seven-figure scores (and eight-figure ones in the One Drops) creating a different tier of results.

    Kind of reminds me a little of how the statistics in baseball got all screwy during the height of the steriod era in the 1990s, especially with regard to home runs. Even now with the policing of PEDs being much more vigilant, it’s hard to take some of the numbers as seriously anymore or be tempted to pursue hard-to-make comparisons across eras.

    Still, I’ll admit to being a little fascinated by all of those millions, even if most of the players are only playing for a tenth of themselves.

    Was disappointed at the lack of a live stream for this event -- not the WSOP’s decision, but one dictated by ESPN -- as this event was probably the only one all summer that casual poker fans might have wanted to watch. And while I know ESPN will be packaging the event quickly to start airing an edited version in late July, I can say right now I won’t be all that intrigued to see it then after knowing the outcome.

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