Friday, May 29, 2015

The Sun in June

Vera Valmore and I watched the Late Show with David Letterman last night (which I saw last week). She’d missed it the first time around and so I DVR’d it, and I have to say I laughed just as much the second time through watching it again with her.

There’s a joke Letterman makes at one point regarding future plans for himself and his longtime partner and musical director Paul Shaffer. He cracks how they’re going to soon “debut our new act at Caesars Palace with our white tigers.”

I’d missed it the first time around, but when setting up that line Letterman had one that was even funnier, especially to some of us.

“Next month... it’ll be June in Las Vegas. Which, by the way, is the time to go to Las Vegas.”

Had to grin at that one, thinking about how many Junes I spent in Vegas. It’s heating up here, too, on the farm, though there’s something a little more pleasant about being here than there.

Hoping all my friends out there are able to beat the heat well enough this summer.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Infinitesimal Uptick of Online Poker

The World Series of Poker is up and running, and it has been diverting over the last day following the various discussions of how things have started. Overall the amount of WSOP talk seems a bit lower than in years past, but that’ll likely change soon once the Colossus comes along tomorrow.

Noticed a few “mainstream” articles about the WSOP starting this week -- e.g., it turned up as a top story in the Associated Press app. Saw another one on ESPN yesterday titled “Rise of online poker at the WSOP” filed by Dave Tuley that struck me as a little bit odd, actually.

ESPN, of course, has covered poker and especially the WSOP more than any other “non-poker” outlet over the last decade-plus, although as far as the website goes they’ve kind of curbed back the poker a bit this year. There’s no longer a separate “Poker” section on the site (formerly to be found along with other less popular sports). Now the poker is folded into a larger section about gambling, sports betting, and I guess some fantasy stuff called “Chalk.”

Anyhow, to get to what is a little strange about this article, we could start with the title, which makes it sound as though online poker is something that hasn’t already been around for more than 15 years. I mean the rise of online poker (at the WSOP and elsewhere) happened long ago. Even the fall of online poker (in the U.S.) is old news.

The piece is about WSOP.com’s Nevada site, focusing on how there will be an online bracelet event and also on the invitation to players to fire up the site and play on it on their phones, iPads, and laptops at the tables. You’ve probably heard a little about this and how dealers and staff are supposed to be accommodating to players wanting to multi-task like this.

Tuley talked with Bill Rini (WSOP.com’s Head of Online Poker) and 2012 WSOP Main Event champion Greg Merson (who is helping promote the site), both of whom are predictably energetic about it all. Indeed, much of the article is made from quotes from those two.

But while the author starts out acknowledging Chris Moneymaker’s online entry into the 2003 WSOP ME and vaguely refers to how “online poker has forever altered the gaming landscape,” he seems less aware of the fact that online poker has been heavily influencing the live game ever since.

“The convergence of the real and online worlds will never be more apparent than at the this year’s WSOP,” writes Tuley. I suppose he’s speaking literally -- as in he’s picturing that scene of players playing online poker on devices at the tables -- but even that has been a pretty commonplace sight around the world for many years.

He can’t be speaking figuratively, because anyone who’s paid any attention at all to poker over the last 15 years well knows how the “real and online worlds” (1) converged long ago, and (2) have converged in ways that have been way more apparent than will be the case at the WSOP this year.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the online and live poker worlds work together,” he concludes, “but it’s clear they are intertwined and will continue to grow.” Again, the only way this empty observation even makes sense is on a literal level (e.g., will there be any hassle when players are waiting for the laptop player to act when it’s his turn?).

But even there just how “interesting” is that going to be? After all, even the author of “Rise of online poker at the WSOP” seems to be dozing a little with a sign-off like that.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Opening Day for the 2015 WSOP

As anyone stumbling over here well knows, the 2015 World Series of Poker begins today with the first couple of events on the 68-tournament calendar -- the two-day $565 Casino Employees (Event No. 1) that begins at 12 noon Vegas time, and a four-day $5K NLHE one (Event No. 2) that cranks up at 4 p.m.

Like last summer, it looks like I’ll probably be following things from afar again although I’ll be locked in fairly closely throughout. Was mentioning to a couple of different people this morning how this day in particular is one where I’m feeling just a touch nostalgic over not being there to see things get going. But after spending so many summers in the Rio over the years I can’t truthfully say I feel like I’m missing out too greatly.

The WSOP is unquestionably the live tournament highlight of the year for American players, and for many, many others who come to Vegas from around the world, too.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times here over recent months how it feels more and more like the WSOP is part of a more crowded landscape, poker-wise, with the European Poker Tour in particular (and other tours, too) having more than achieved rival status. That said, it’s hard not to be affected by the enthusiasm many are expressing regarding the WSOP getting underway.

In a general way it’s just nice to feel part of a group of people sharing their excitement about a game we all love to play, to follow, and simply to think about. It is not unlike what I remember feeling about Opening Day in baseball many years ago when I was a superfan of that sport. That’s the analogy I’d draw before the “Christmas morning for poker players” one, although I get that one, too.

Some reading this post might not realize PokerNews isn’t providing the live updates this year -- the first time since 2006 -- as the WSOP will be handling that on their own this time. There will be tons of WSOP coverage on PN, though, throughout the seven weeks.

Am a little wistful about PN not doing the updates, especially as I was involved in some capacity with those each of the last eight years. Looking forward to following along over on WSOP, though.

Should be a pretty steady hum of hype lasting through the weekend, what with the Colossus (Event No. 5) coming up soon. Am already thinking my predicted field size for that one is going to come up short, by the way. Curious to see how things proceed after this first blast, in all respects.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When Hoover Turned Down a Game of Poker With Harding

Of all the poker-playing presidents, Warren G. Harding was perhaps the most dedicated card player of the bunch, at least in terms of presidents who actually played poker while in office.

Harding is remembered mainly for the Teapot Dome scandal (the most notable of several examples of corruption during his presidency) and for having died halfway through his only term in office. Those who dig a little learn as well about the alcohol-fueled, twice-a-week poker games in the White House involving Harding and members of his Cabinet -- dubbed the “poker Cabinet” -- and others of the infamous “Ohio Gang” of Harding cronies responsible for many of the administration’s improprieties.

Probably the most often-told poker story having to do with Harding has to do with him allegedly losing a set of White House china in a poker game, with a woman named Louise Brooks -- soon to become Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s first wife -- being the one to win it. Apparently the china dated from the adminstration of Benjamin Harrison, president from 1889-93.

Was reading around a little about Harding this week when I stumbled on a poker-related story involving him and one member of his Cabinet who was not terribly enthused about all the card playing, Herbert Hoover. Hoover was Harding’s Secretary of Commerce and six years after Harding’s death would become president himself, serving one term from 1929-1933.

In fact, when looking at the list of U.S. presidents from Theodore Roosevelt through Richard Nixon, almost all of them were poker players. Woodrow Wilson apparently did not play, and John F. Kennedy preferred bridge. But TR, Taft, Harding, Calvin Coolidge, FDR, Truman, Ike, LBJ, and Tricky Dick were all card players, thus making Hoover a bit of an outlier.

The story I found was one describing Hoover and another Cabinet member being invited to the White House for dinner, then upon their arrival discovering a marathon poker game in progress. “I had lived too long on the frontiers of the world to have strong emotions against people playing poker for money if they liked it,” Hoover wrote in his memoirs, “but it irked me to see it in the White House.”

Hoover chose not to play that night, and apparently he wasn’t invited back again to any of Harding’s dinners-slash-poker games. Perhaps not coincidentally, Hoover would be one of the few to survive Harding’s adminstration not having been destroyed politically by its scandals.

While the historical fact of presidents playing poker is often highlighted as a point in the game’s favor, making it more legitimate to those who might object to it on moral grounds, the example of Harding -- like Nixon -- usually isn’t brought up by those making such arguments.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Colossus Counting and Other Poker Predictions

The 2015 World Series of Poker is just two days away from starting. Just saw this afternoon both BLUFF and PokerNews post predictions for the upcoming series, and I imagine the other sites are going to be following suit with similar posts posthaste.

As part of the PN squad I have my guesses included in there over on PokerNews, if you’re curious. I’ll admit that after hearing the buzz building over the last week or so regarding the “Colossus” -- the $565 buy-in Event No. 5 that begins this Friday -- I revised upwards my guess what the field size will be for that one.

According to the “Colossus Important Details” handout the WSOP has created, capacity for the four “Day 1” flights (taking place over two days) totals 24,200 (I’m adding up what they’ve listed for each of the four). They warn those playing the event “We do not have unlimited capacity and expect some if not all flights to fill to our limits.”

Guesses among both the PN and BLUFF guys range from 12,500 to 27,000. I guessed 17,819. More than 8,773 will represent the largest live tourney ever in terms of field size, of course, meaning that record is certainly going to be dust by the weekend.

Lots of other guesses about field sizes and players in the two articles -- see the PokerNews one here, the BLUFF one here.

How many do you think will play the Colossus?

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Remko’s Run

Last summer I remember listening to an episode of the Dope Stories Podcast, the one featuring Shane “Shaniac” Schleger and Dr. Pauly. It was their “last” episode, actually, titled “This Is The End,” although they’d get together for another reunion ep. after that one.

On the show Pauly tells a funny story about working at the World Series of Poker several years back, with one of the story’s highlights (for me) having to do with our Dutch friend Remko Rinkema. I must’ve first met Remko at the 2008 WSOP when he was there reporting for PokerNews’ “NL” site, and we’ve had the chance to work together many times since then including most recently at the EPT Grand Final in Monaco.

I won’t rehearse all of Pauly’s story, but I will say it has to do with him having noticed something special about Remko. As the good doctor explains, his powers of perception had been heightened pharmaceutically, thereby enabling him to see more clearly than the rest of us Remko’s unrelentingly bright and positive aura. I’m remembering Remko back then often dressed in the orange jersey of his native country’s football squad, which I suppose only heightened the sunshiny effect Pauly was witnessing.

You can take Pauly’s story however you like, but anyone who knows Remko would readily agree that it is almost impossible not to pick up on the positive vibrations he consistently gives off. There are many others with whom I’ve had the good fortune to work at poker tournaments over the years who have also made my life brighter and funnier, and I’ll bet a lot of them -- like me -- would include Remko in that category of colleagues, too.

Thus was it especially fun to see Remko not only go deep in yesterday’s PokerStars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker Event #35-M, the $215 8-game mix, but actually come close to winning the sucker. He finished second out of 548, and in fact took away the largest share of the prize pool ($18,195.21) thanks to making a deal heads-up when he had the chip lead.

Even wilder, he outlasted both fourth-place finisher Dzmitry "Colisea" Urbanovich (who finished fourth) and Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier (who finished third), even knocking both of them out. Urbanovich is just coming off a series of European Poker Tour victories and earning EPT Player of the Year for Season 11, while Mercier has won three SCOOP titles over the last week-and-a-half. Seriously, what a barnburner!

When he and the eventual winner, a player named “Toby Work” from Denmark, were heads-up and getting the deal done, Remko’s opponent asked “u r journalist?” Remko didn’t hesitate before answering.

“I’m a top poker pro, I just write about poker so that the others have a chance to win,” he typed.

Remko’s many friends who were railing -- including both players and other poker media -- all laughed wherever they were around the world, each imagining hearing Remko delivering that line. (“Imagine how much funnier I am in Dutch,” Remko once told me. I believe it.)

I was glad a lot of us Remko fans got a chance last night to enjoy seeing him shine.

(EDIT [added 5/23/15]: To hear Remko tell the story of his run, check out the newest PokerNews podcast.)

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Last Call for Late Night

Along with about 14 million others I watched David Letterman’s show last night, his last after more than three decades of being a fixture on late night television. Was laughing pretty hard from beginning to end thanks to a lot of well chosen and edited clips and other funny business.

I remember when Letterman was late, late night -- as in a 12:30 a.m. start. In fact I even dimly remember his stint with a morning show, too. I was barely a teen when Late Night with David Letterman first premiered in early 1982, at time which happened to coincide with that period in my life when I would be staying up late a lot, too.

Watched enough of him during those years to be as influenced as anyone else by what was then considered a somewhat alternative style of comedy and general TV spoofing. Like most of my generation I continued to pay fairly close attention to Letterman right up until those “late night wars” surrounding Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992.

Kept watching occasionally after the CBS show began airing in the summer of ’93, although by then whatever late nights I kept were school-related as for the next several years I’d be pursuing graduate degrees. Then came “real life” and full-time employment, and thus fewer late nights watching the tube.

After that came this second career writing about poker which again has me up all hours, although more often watching people play cards than crack jokes on the teevee. So while I occasionally would keep tuning in to watch the Late Show it would only be now and then, and rarely in the elective way I’d watched the NBC show.

I wasn’t paying attention, then, when Letterman had Chris Moneymaker on as a guest after he’d won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event -- in June, that is, before that year’s WSOP had aired on ESPN. That episode doesn’t seem to be online anywhere, although Moneymaker told me once how he was pretty sure he had a tape of it somewhere.

I do recall Joe Cada’s turn on Letterman’s show in 2009, where the youngest-ever WSOP ME champ appeared just a day or two before he turned 22. Earlier that same year I wrote something here after a Steve Martin appearance on Late Show which included a funny story about Martin playing online poker after taking Ambien.

I’ve found myself distracted some over the last couple of days reading others’ stories about Letterman’s show and its significance while also looking at various clips, mostly from that first decade or so he was on the air and I was watching practically every night. And I greatly enjoyed the finale, primarily because of how Letterman characteristically downplayed the significance of the event -- entirely expected, and fitting, of course, given the self-deprecating core around which most of his humor has always been based.

I liked the sweet yet not overly sentimental way he acknowledged his mother (whom we all remember fondly, too). And I also liked how he found a spot to include his wife and son (whom we hadn’t met before), saying to them “I love you both and really nothing else matters, does it?” without being at all maudlin about it, but rather just stating a fact.

Others have (and will continue to) assign significance to his contributions to television, comedy, and the culture in general. Like Letterman himself, though, I’m dissuaded from trying to articulate any profundities explaining what it all was about.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One More Week

The 2015 World Series of Poker begins a week from today, and like most in the poker world my attention will be mostly occupied by what happens in the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino over the following seven weeks or so. (That here-it-comes-ready-or-not photo from the Twitter feed of WSOP.com’s Bill Rini.)

Like like summer I’m likely sticking close to the farm, albeit still attuned to the proceedings happening around 1,900 miles west. Curious, too, to see how it all gets covered, including the WSOP handling the live updates itself this time rather than have PokerNews “power” those as has been done since 2007. (Was using that verb in yesterday’s post, too.)

To me the most interesting story will be how the numbers go. Every year since, well, the “boom,” it seems, predictions have been that fields will be smaller, although they’ve continued to hold steady each and every year. I suppose smart money would predict another relatively even year -- right at or a little above the last. But like watching another runout following an ace-king vs. queens all in, it’s still somehow interesting to watch what happens.

Particular events will be of interest, too, with that crazy “Colossus” (the $565 buy-in one coming a week from Friday) likely to set a tone of sorts for what comes thereafter. The WSOP as a whole is an incredible logistical puzzle each year, so for this one event with its multiple, overlapping starting flights and anticipated record-breaking field will be quite a feat to see.

With everyone else, am staying tuned.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

GPI, WSOP, POY, et al.

A little behind with other stuff this week. Saw one item over the past few days I might’ve written more extensively about in the past, but am only going to allude to briefly here today -- both because I don’t have time to sort through it fully, and I’m not sure how deeply I’d want to get into it even if I did.

It was announced last week that the Global Poker Index will be “powering” the World Series of Poker Player of the Year rankings this time around. (That’s a great, positive-sounding verb, by the way, to describe such a relationship, isn’t it?) In fact, the new name for the race/award will be the “GPI WSOP Player of the Year.”

BLUFF had previously been the one powering the WSOP POY, and their method seemed reasonably powerful enough although like any ranking system it was the subject of plenty of debate. I think over recent years more have objected to the WSOP Europe and/or the WSOP APAC events being included in the tabulations than have had any problems with the way the rankings were done.

Now the WSOP Player of the Year will be determined according to points players earned as determined by the current GPI model, which differs in a number of ways from what BLUFF had done. Like I say, I might’ve written at length about this before, but instead today I’ll point first to Jess Welman’s recent post over on her blog that highlights some of these differences, titled “POY Problems.”

Amid the Twitter discussion of the topic I was led to read another interesting post written a few months ago that like Jess’s takes issue with the GPI rankings while also comparing them to BLUFF’s method. That one is by poker player Michael Wang and is titled “A Critique of the GPI Ranking System.”

The WSOP POY race -- or should I say, the GPI WSOP POY race (which is hard to rattle off if you need to ASAP or PDQ) -- serves a few different purposes, including heightening interest in the events for fans of poker and in some cases providing encouragement to players to play more events. The winner gets a trophy, is pictured on a banner to be hung in the Rio hallways each summer (like Allen Cunningham’s above), and is honored in a special ceremony, but there aren’t any other tangible benefits (as far as I know).

Stepping back from the whole issue, it feels a lot like a different, more detailed version of the debate over WSOP bracelets and their relative worth. It also resembles other debates from major sports, too, having to do with the numbers games can create and how we interpret them.

I’ll just leave it all right there for now, though, and let you, reader, do your own interpreting.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Virtual Rail

Late last week I was railing a friend as he played a Spring Championship of Online Poker event on PokerStars.

He was on Twitch as well, and once I realized that I opened up his channel and heard him commenting about the heads-up match in which he was involved to a modest-sized audience of viewers, some of whom were chatting to him along the way.

Eventually someone in chat mentioned how his opponent in the heads-up match was also streaming the match on Twitch, something my friend found interesting but didn’t really give much attention. His viewers continued to discuss it, though, and eventually someone mentioned the fellow’s Twitch handle.

Soon enough I had his channel up as well, meaning I had the Stars client open and showing the match play out plus both players’ Twitch channels on which they were commenting about the hands as they went by (about five minutes behind for each, I think).

This wasn’t a couple of pros playing at the highest levels and breaking down every decision to the smallest possible minutiae, so it wasn’t quite what you might be used to hearing as far as live analysis goes. My friend was commenting on hands in a relatively low-key manner, occasionally speculating about his opponent’s thinking or intentions as a hand progressed. Occasional chat box criticisms from the other fellow also got my friend’s attention, leading him to wonder if perhaps the guy might be tilted.

The other fellow’s channel absolutely confirmed that he was indeed much more emotionally involved in the match, hurling frequent epithets at my buddy whom he’d judged some time before to be a less than skilled player. While he’d kept the chat box comments to a minimum, he was showing no restraint before his Twitch followers, and it was almost as good a show as any Hellmuthian “How does he always get there!?!” rants.

The contrast between the two players’ personalities couldn’t have been greater. The match concluded almost predictably with my friend winning -- sucking out on the last hand, actually, after getting it in a slight dog -- and noting in an understated way his good fortune to advance. Meanwhile the other fellow was angrily throwing headphones around and shouting “I’m done! I’m done!” before logging off.

It all added up to something a little out-of-the-ordinary as far as watching poker was concerned, although maybe down the road something like that won’t seem so novel. Was entertaining to be sure, and perhaps a little bit educational, although in truth it felt more voyeuristic than anything, as a lot of what falls under the heading of “social media” ultimately is -- i.e., us looking at what other people are doing.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Comedy, Poker, and the “Call Back”

Easily the most interesting hand from the final table of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final Main Event that finished up last Friday was the one in which eventual winner Adrian Mateos successfully bluffed Johnny Lodden when the tournament was down to just four players.

If you watched the final table or followed the coverage on PokerNews, you know the hand. It began as a family pot, then after both Mateos and Lodden missed the flop both players made plays to knock out the other two (one of whom had to fold what was then the best hand).

The gamesmanship continued to the river where Mateos -- then the chip leader -- pushed all in with jack-high and Lodden thought seriously about calling with pocket fives (with a couple of aces and a nine on board). Finally Lodden folded, though, and Mateos showed his bluff afterwards.

I wrote something about the hand today over on PokerNews, not necessarily trying to analyze it fully but rather just looking at hands preceding that one in which Mateos similarly just called preflop raises -- kind of guessing that might have been one (of a few) factors Lodden was considering when trying to decide about Mateos’s range of hands at the end.

In the article I also talk some about the sitcom Cheers -- a favorite of mine that I’ve written about here before -- connecting the idea of a comedy “call back” with what happens in poker when a player’s action in one hand recalls something from an earlier hand. You can check it out here: “The ‘Call Back’: On That Epic Adrian Mateos-Johnny Lodden EPT Grand Final Hand.”

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

On the WSOP Conference Call

With a little over two weeks to go before the start of this year’s World Series of Poker, the WSOP conducted its annual conference call for the media on Tuesday.

Ty Stewart (WSOP Executive Director), Jack Effel (WSOP Tournament Director), Bill Rini (WSOP.com Head of Online Poker), and Seth Palansky (VP of Corporate Communications for CIE) were on the call. As usual, each started out with statements covering various items, then the group fielded questions to round out the hour.

Here’s a full rundown of what was discussed, if you’re curious: “Highlights from the 2015 World Series of Poker Conference Call.”

The Q&A was a bit more interesting than were the statements which contained a few news items but mostly just reiterated schedule details and other information for players.

The first question was about the Colossus, the $565 buy-in event coming during the first weekend for which expectations are very high in terms of the turnout. The question asked about scheduling the Colossus early rather than later in the schedule, and while the answer to that was predictable (“we think we’re ready”), the WSOP’s unbridled optimism regarding the turnout will make it interesting to see just how many play.

It’ll also be interesting to see how well the WSOP meets the logistical challenge they’ve given themselves to stage a tournament that will surely draw more than 10,000 entries, and perhaps much, much more than that. “If it is not by a large margin the biggest event in the history of poker, it will be a disappointment,” said Stewart.

There were other questions about the Colossus, about betting on final tables, about patch restrictions, about making the November Nine a three-day affair (rather than two), about WSOP.com-related matters (including the online bracelet event), about satellites, and more. The most interesting question, I thought, was the one from Kevin Mathers (representing BLUFF) about final table deals and the WSOP’s long-held policy to prohibit them.

I noticed some discussion of that topic last week over Twitter, with Palansky dipping in with a few confusing comments before stepping out of the conversation. The answer this time came from Stewart who echoed what the WSOP has said in the past about how (in their view) those watching WSOP events would rather see them played out to a conclusion rather than have the climactic moment in which a winner is determined muted by a deal.

The policy (as stated in this way) has more to do with spectators than with players. “The general public really doesn’t want to see skill-based games played that way,” said Stewart. “I can tell you ESPN producers and viewers [also] don’t want to see poker played that way.”

This is a curious point of view, contrasting markedly with how the European Poker Tour (for instance) has handled the issue of both deal-making and audience expectations and/or desires. The reference to “skill-based games” is also interesting, given that a frequent motive for making a final table deal is to reduce the role luck plays in determining how remaining prize money gets divided.

Stewart described those supporting deal-making at the WSOP as “a small and vocal minority,” suggesting that for most players at the WSOP it would be a negative to allow deals. I’m not sure that’s really the case -- i.e., that only a minority support being able to make deals at the WSOP -- and thus I don’t think that issue is going to go away, especially as players continue to make deals on their own, anyway.

Just a couple of weeks to go.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Playing Games, Watching Sports

Saw someone refer in passing to this whole “sportifying” poker idea that has come up now and again over the last several months, usually in the context of the Global Poker Index and some of the ideas and stories related to their method of ranking tournament players and associated ventures.

It was an unsympathetic reference, insisting -- as I tend to do -- that poker is really a “game” not a “sport,” although not elaborating on the point much further.

This debate or conversation starter or whatever you want to call it comes up occasionally in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course, thanks largely to a reading I assign early on, the first chapter of Al Alvarez’s book Poker: Bets, Bluffs and Bad Beats titled “The American Game.”

In that chapter Alvarez makes a good case for why poker is, in his opinion, the “American national game.” In fact the first move he makes as he launches into the argument is explicitly to distinguish poker from baseball and football -- i.e., a couple of other games which might spring to mind as candidates for the title he’s bestowing on poker.

The difference, says Alvarez, is that “baseball and football are spectator sports, and, airtime and column inches notwithstanding, not many people go on playing them once they have left school and lost their physical edge. Poker, in comparison, is a game for life and a great equalizer -- what the young gain from stamina the old make up for with experience -- and it is played by at least sixty million Americans.”

The book was published in 2001, when about 285 million lived in the U.S. Today the population is edging toward 320 million. You continue to see estimates of the number of poker players ranging from 40-60 million, although that’s obviously a hard number to pinpoint.

In any case it’s probably safe to say there are more people playing poker in America than are playing baseball or football. According to one report, there were a little over one million football players in high school last year and a little under half a million playing baseball. You could extrapolate from that how many total players (older and younger) there might be in each sport, but I think the total would be well below the 40-60 million poker players.

A lifelong sport like golf might be a better comparison, actually. It sounds like there are about 25 million golfers in the country at present, a number that has held steady for the last three years or so according to another report.

Stepping back from all of this (and perhaps getting a little abstract as I do), it occurred to me that calling poker a “sport” rather than a “game” could make it seem more like something you watch than something you play.

Many of us love to play one sport or another, but don’t necessarily look upon all sports as providing opportunities for participation. Or any, even. Each sport requires some specific set of physical skills that can potentially limit involvement for those who lack them. Meanwhile playing a game of cards also requires some skills (more so mental than physical), and to play cards well requires even more, but the game of poker is nowhere near as exclusive as are sports like baseball and basketball.

I know the idea behind “sportifying” poker is to make the game more accessible (and acceptable), but could calling poker a sport and championing its most successful players as superior mental “athletes” actually make the game less inviting to new players? That is, could it make the game seem more exclusive as far as participating is concerned, though (perhaps) more inviting to spectators?

Another way of posing the same question: Today the International Federation of Poker (@IFPoker) tweeted “#Poker is a game where the best players think about the way hands are played at a level most people couldn't even imagine! #mindsport #skill.” That’s a view I imagine most of us who have studied poker and who take the game seriously can readily appreciate to be true.

But does that make poker a more inviting game to play? Or less?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gertrude Schimmel: First Female NYPD Chief, Poker Player

Saw a story earlier today over in The New York Times that Gertrude Schimmel, the first female chief with the New York Police Department, had died in Manhattan at the age of 96.

The NYT obituary for Schimmel details her fascinating life, focusing primarily on her lengthy career with the NYPD that lasted from her joining as officer in 1940 to her retiring in 1981. She’d been on the force for two decades when she and another policewoman took the city to court to challenge discriminatory promotional policies and won.

She was elevated to sergeant and then lieutenant in the 1960s, then eventually captain in the early 1970s. By her final years on the force she was a deputy chief.

Near the end of the article comes a reference to the fact that “Ms. Schimmel was an avid poker player who competed in professional events into her last years.”

I’d known that Schimmel had been an NYPD chief, although didn’t know all of the details of her story. I also knew already that she played poker during her decades of retirement, and in fact before she retired, too. How? Because I happened to have met her a couple of years ago when at age 94 she played in the Ladies Event at the World Series of Poker (from which comes the photo above, taken by Jayne Furman).

I had just told this story to some of my colleagues last week, in fact, during one of our dinner breaks from reporting on the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. Amid a field of 936 on the first day of the Ladies Event, I’d seen Schimmel sporting an NYPD baseball cap with someone at her side helping her. Eventually I was able to say hello to her and talk to her helper -- her niece -- who told me more about her story, which I then shared over on the PokerNews blog.

I learned then that Schimmel had been playing poker for more than 50 years, and that like many who took up the game during the middle of the last century, seven-card stud was her favored game. She’d played at the WSOP in the Ladies Event a few times before during the 1980s and 1990s -- when it was stud -- and in fact final tabled it in 1998 (at age 80) when she finished fourth.

It had been a while since she’d played at the WSOP, and I remember her niece explaining to me that she’d had the desire to play it again in 2012, and so they made a trip out of it.

Having written a novel set in the 1970s that in part tries to imagine the NYPD as it existed then, it would’ve been very interesting to talk more with Schimmel about her life. But I’m glad to have had met her even briefly, and (like many others, it is evident) to have drawn some inspiration from having done so.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Flight Time

Am back home safe and sound on the farm after two weeks in Monaco at the EPT Grand Final. Have already gotten busy mowing some of that grass that relentlessly has been growing on all sides of us for the last six weeks or so.

Wrote about the grass last spring, right about this same time, in fact. Sometimes I find myself looking out and imagining I’m actually seeing it growing. Think sometimes of that Stephen King short story “Weeds,” made into an episode in George Romero’s Creepshow anthology titled “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” (in which King starred).

Speaking of movies, I didn’t watch any on the way out and almost didn’t on the way back. Searching through the selections of mostly new titles, I had little desire to see anything, particularly on a small screen and in a cut version (as is the case with some of them).

It was a nine-hour flight home, and traveling back through six time zones I almost felt like I was getting some time back. But after frittering away the first half of it doing nothing much, I realized I could use some way to make the rest of it go by more quickly. I finally decided to dial up the almost three-hour (and not edited) Interstellar, the sci-fi one starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.

Was a little skeptical at first, although I was drawn in by the rural farm setting where the film begins. I’d been gone nearly two weeks and was feeling some serious longing to get back not just to Vera, our horses, and cats, but to the pastures, the sky, the barn, the fences, and yes, even that grass growing up all around.

I’ve written here before about being the son of a physicist who nurtured within me curiosity about various physical phenomena, as well as about space. Not enough to have made it an academic pursuit (beyond just a few classes), but enough to make me interested in some of the questions raised by some “hard SF.” Or by movies like Interstellar that take on some tough concepts and ideas and try to fit them into a plot most of us can follow with characters to whom we can relate.

I won’t get into the story too much other than to say after getting over those initial doubts it drew me in quite well. At one point characters having to negotiate passage near a supermassive black hole introduces the idea of gravitational time dilation -- i.e., some characters age just a few minutes while others age many years -- something that subsequently creates some very affecting pathos when a father realizes he’s suddenly missed 23 years of a daughter’s life.

I couldn’t help but think of being away from home for those two weeks and missing everything happening during that time I was gone. From there it isn’t hard to think as well of even longer gaps between meetings with friends and family.

Later on in the film comes a scene with an elderly woman in a hospital near the end of her life, and that, too, brought on some personal memories reminding me of how even though life seems so edge along so gradually, so slowly, it only seems that way because of our lack of attention to what’s happening.

In reality, it’s flying. Faster than we can imagine. Blink and two weeks are gone. Or two months or two years. Or a lifetime. I can’t really see the grass growing. But if I look away for long enough and then look back, it seems like it has.

I’m a complete sucker for time-lapse photography, partially because of the way it foregrounds that theme of time -- our lives -- slipping away from us. I become oddly moved by it, even emotional. I think how we haven’t got long. I think, worriedly... slow down!

Here’s an example of what I mean, an inspired video matched with a track from an album I’ve been listening to a lot lately, Robert Fripp’s A Blessing of Tears (a record expressly intended as a memorial for the artist’s late mother). The music isn’t unlike some of Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Interstellar, actually, at least in terms of the mood it evokes:

Slow down clouds, sky, grass. Slow down Earth.

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 10 -- Nice Finish

Coupla young guns took down the big ones during yesterday’s climactic conclusion of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final festival, the last EPT stop of Season 11.

Adrian Mateos won the Main and the €1,082,000 that went with it. Mateos won an Estrellas Poker Tour event at 18, the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event at 19, and now an EPT Main Event at 20. He turns 21 right before the WSOP Main Event this year. Charlie Carrel won the €25K High Roller, earning an even bigger prize of €1,114,000. Already an formidable online whiz, Carrel just turned 21 last November.

I spent the day riding out some of the last of the many side events helping making up the 78-tourney sked, including a fairly intriguing €10K Turbo. In that one both Scott Seiver and Dzmitry Urbanovich went deep (again), but Igor Yaroshevskyy ultimately took it down. Seiver placed fourth and Urbanovich third, with the latter sealing up the EPT Season 11 Player of the Year with that finish.

Meanwhile here this morning I finish up my travel reports from the Nice Côte d'Azur International Airport. During these last two weeks we crossed back and forth to Nice several times for dinners, that picture above being right around the border. We’d answer the question “Where are you going for dinner?” with “France.”

The Nice airport is, well, nice, although nearly everything is closed at this early hour. Birds chirp away in the rafters here in the terminal into which the rising sun, still low on the horizon, shines blindingly to make passengers shun the seats facing in that direction.

Speaking of horizons, the WSOP will be coming up soon and indeed a lot of the talk near the end of the festival was about expectations there. Going to both the PCA and EPT Grand Final this year might have affected my perspective somewhat, but I find myself thinking more and more of the EPTs as the “major league” of tournament poker (at least from a global perspective), while the WSOP -- though obviously still the “sun” of the tourney calendar around which all else revolves -- signifies differently.

The announcement this week of the WSOP Europe schedule -- happening in Berlin this time in October -- didn’t seem to be greeted with that much response, and I’ve already heard some talking about EPT Malta (with which it’ll run up against) being a preferred destination then. (I refer, of course, to those who actually have a choice between the two.)

Still, I am looking forward to seeing how things play out in LV. As I sit here amid the chirping birds and rattling of storefronts beginning to open, I miss my LAPT friends down in Panama where that Main Event just got going yesterday.

But I’ve been missing even more Vera and our four-legged friends, where I’m excited to be galloping in later today. Find myself thinking of this song for some reason, even if I’ve been in Monaco, not “Paree” -- and even though I can’t wait to get back on the farm:

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 9 -- Election Day

We’re careening toward the finish here, with just one more day to go in the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final. Was another interesting day of poker between the side events and seeing both the Main and High Roller play down to set up Friday’s final days for both.

Meanwhile one of my blogging colleagues, Stephen Bartley, was sweating a different competition happening about 800 miles northwest of here. As he’s been chronicling on his blog “Whitstable... not the West Wing” over the last few months, Stephen has been a candidate for councillor back in his home near Canterbury. As even those in the U.S. might well have heard, yesterday was Election Day in the U.K., so while Stephen was here with us people were at the polls all day voting either for or against him.

Calm for most of the day, the first outward sign Stephen was a candidate for office came shortly after 11 p.m. our time when those initial exit poll figures were announced, numbers which were quite different from what had been projected. My position as an outside observer both of the U.K. political process and of my friend who was personally involved in it kind of resembled where I stand when watching a poker tournament, save for my having much more of a rooting interest.

I left him and the various events still going on around midnight, going back to my hotel where I watched BBC 1 and followed more of the commentary about it all. Meanwhile Stephen was up all night following the returns gradually coming in, then a little bit before play started today he received the good news that he’d won his race.

Pursuing the poker analogy a little further, from what I gather regarding his campaign, there was probably some luck involved regarding the outcome of his race, by which I refer to anything outside of his control including regional and national trends and their affect on a local race such as the one in which he was involved. But clearly there was skill, too, under which heading we might include the management of his campaign (with which he had help from others) and the quality of the candidate, who clearly was running for all the right reasons.

Stephen’s helped me a lot during my turns working at the EPT and in other respects, and I know many others have benefited from his generosity, too. And I’m thrilled he’s now earned the chance to help still more people, which was clearly the reward for which he took this risk.

To see who else wins today besides Stephen, check over at the PokerStars blog.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 8 -- The Skies Open Up, and the Return of Boat Crane

Two moments stood out from the rest during this eighth day of 10 of my helping report on the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final festival for the PokerStars blog, both happening during the late afternoon, early evening -- just around the dinner hour.

One happened when a group of us walked outside for a little fresh air. As I’ve been noting here off and on, walking around Monte Carlo is especially pleasurable thanks both to the temperate weather and picturesque views in every direction.

We headed out toward the water in back of the Monte Carlo Bay Resort and Hotel, moving slowly when suddenly both Stephen Bartley and Howard Swains -- many-year vets of Monaco -- looked up and shouted out as one.

“Boat crane!”

Amid the usual run of cruise ships and other vessels criss-crossing just off the coast was the one being singled out by their cry, an odd-looking industrial vehicle floating just in front of us. A regular sight and thus frequent subject of conversation between them during previous visits, they were humorously delighted to see their old blue steel friend reappear again for the first time since we’ve been here. (Click to embiggen pics.)

The other moment occurred in the main tournament room when I just happened to be there when a decision was made to open the roof, something else the others have seen many times before.

Very uncanny feeling, having the somewhat overcast sky suddenly open up above us as the seagulls traced diagonals overhead. Instantly everyone was grinning as the room full of poker players and staff grew relatively quiet, almost solemn. The air being let in was brisk, too, cutting through the slightly stuffy darkness from before.

The contrast was remarkable. Like a spell being cast. Suddenly a comment by someone passing helped me ease back into reality.

“So... we can smoke now? Oui?”

For more from the EPT Grand Final, keep visiting the the PokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 7 -- Take Nothing Less Than the Second Best

Some might recognize that title from Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” -- kind of an odd line, actually, that I’ve never really contemplated too deeply thanks to the joyous sounds pulsating around it.

The line was stuck in my head somewhat last night while following one of the side events at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final, something called a “Second Best Hold’em” tournament that I believe has never been tried before.

As the name suggests, in this variation of regular NLHE the second best hand wins the pot at showdown. Or perhaps the name doesn’t immediately suggest that to everyone, as I’m pretty sure one player who sat at the start thought it referred to the player finishing second winning the most prize money or some sort of bonus.

The format perhaps translates into a quirky version of lowball when hands are heads-up, but with three or more players it becomes very hard to imagine how best to play. Or should I say, how to play second best.

Jennifer Shahade played the event and ultimately cashed, and spoke with her briefly about strategy during a break, if you’re curious. Here’s that post: “An event for those good at making second best hands.”

Like I say, it’s an odd line in the song (I’ve always thought), and it was an odd tournament as well. One of many side events, though, that are keeping things interesting.

The media event was last night also, where I struggled along before running pocket eights into pocket kings, and five cards later my hand was second best.

For more from the EPT Grand Final, keep visiting the the PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 6 -- Side Dishes

I’m mostly on side events here at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final festival -- and there are a ton of them.

The schedule has 78 events total packed into less than two weeks, although some of those numbered events are satellites and thus not ones I’m necessarily reporting on, except occasionally perhaps to note who is winning seats in the big ones to the two Super High Rollers and the High Roller.

As far as “trophy” events go, there are 56 altogether (I believe), with most being one- or two-day tournaments. It’s kind of like the WSOP, with nearly as many events -- and a decent variety of games and stakes -- but packed more tightly into a couple weeks rather than stretched out over nearly two months.

I find myself constantly distracted as I’m darting around from tournament to tournament, or when at the laptop gathering what I need to compile reports. There’s always something interesting happening, and the fact that so many “name” players are here and are jumping into practically any tournament, helps give add interest even to the smallest buy-in events.

While Monaco is obviously an expensive place, having all of these very affordable tournaments firing off all of the time has to be a lot of fun for many who commit to being here for most or all of the festival. The tourney booklet listing all of the events and satellites really is like one long menu, with something for practically any appetite.

Back at it today. Head to the PokerStars blog for reports on everything, and check the “Side event reports” page to taste from those side dishes in particular.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 5 -- The Day Supper Spoiled My Supper

Finished the first half of my 10-day stint here at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final with yesterday’s final table of the France Poker Series Main Event, a tournament that turned out to be quite enjoyable to cover with a kind of crazy finish to punctuate it.

I’d forgotten to mention a couple of days ago my post describing the bubble bursting in this event, one in which I described that happening without using the word “bubble.” Here’s that one: “On the thing that bursts after which everyone cashes.”

From 993 entrants, 143 made the money, and they were down to just seven for yesterday’s last day of play. One fellow, the Frenchman Gilles Silbernagel, was down to a half-dozen big blinds before doubling up three separate times to take the chip lead.

Then another, Sebastian Supper, was down to even fewer big blinds (about five) when he tripled up. A little later Supper won a huge all-in to double up into the chip lead when both he and Silbernagel turned straights, and after they were all in he drew a better one on the river. And he didn’t even realize he was freerolling!

Supper ended up going on to win, which provided an opportunity to caption a post “A finish satisfying Supper” in the recap. A student from Germany studying geography and chemistry, he was a very likable winner among a final table full of interesting, genial-seeming characters.

The tournament lasted too long for me to enjoy a proper evening meal. Indeed, it’s possible I once more had another of those twenty-Euro burgers mentioned previously in this space. Supper spoiled my supper, you could say.

Back today to focus on various side events while the Main Event continues to cruise along. Check the PokerStars blog for the full skinny from the EPT Grand Final.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 4 -- The Twenty-Euro Cheeseburger

Another late one last night as they played down to a final table (and then a little longer) in the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event here at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final festival.

That’s the tournament I’m covering, and thus for me that €100K Super High Roller final table (eventually won by Erik Seidel) existed mainly in the periphery as the night wore on. Even further distant were all of the other big sporting events playing out over night, including the Kentucky Derby, the NBA playoffs, and the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

The EPT’s Main Event also kicked off yesterday, which meant all of us were especially busy throughout the day and night. Didn’t have a chance to get away for a meal offsite this time, and so experienced that phenomenon everyone who has ever come here seems to mention afterwards -- the €20 cheeseburger.

There’s a bar close to the tournament area serving food that is really the only option for those without time to walk very far, at which the prices are exorbitant. Of course, that’s true of other parts of the city as well, although it’s possible to find restaurants with decently-priced meals if one is willing to look hard enough.

The line “I don’t want to say Monaco is expensive but...” is a much used set-up for various punchlines here. For a sample of what I’m talking about, check out Joe Stapleton’s Twitter feed from the the last few days for some of his lines and retweets of others’.

Gonna cut it short and try to walk in again today. I can’t afford to spend a whole cheeseburger on a cab ride.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 3 -- Monaco is a Maze

I mentioned before how I’ve been walking into work each morning, a trip that essentially carries me through the heart of Monte Carlo. It’s about a mile-and-a-half walk, I think, and takes exactly half an hour, giving me a chance to enjoy some fresh air and the beautiful view of the Mediterranean before spending the rest of my day inside the Monte Carlo Bay Resort and Hotel.

As anyone who has been here well knows, every single inch of space is being used in this small principality, with buildings crammed close together and none-too-wide streets winding snake-like in and out and up and down. The sidewalks are narrow, too, most not even allowing space enough for two people to walk side-by-side.

The city is built on levels as well, meaning as I wind my way eastward to my destination I’m also mostly going downhill, the grade being quite high. I’ve found myself taking different routes each time as previously unlocked gates will be closed or other obstacles arise forcing me to take a different angle. That hairpin turn I was writing about a couple of posts back is kind of a theme of the place, given how often everyone -- pedestrians and drivers -- have to turn back and then back again to get where they want to go.

That above is a picture of the steep stairwell I descended to get to the venue today, one dropping down about five levels. Went back up it later on to have a nice dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant located just across the border in France.

Once I get to the Monte Carlo Bay Resort and Hotel, I again have a long, winding path back to the tournament area located behind the main casino and hotel. That one also forces me to make several turns, with signs providing a guide that I relied on the first couple of times going over.

Then once I go to work I’m again doing a lot of walking from room to room through crowds of people, negotiating tight passages between ropes and tables that again makes me feel like I’m inside a maze. I counted the steps from the media room to the far corner of the main tournament room where the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event was playing out (the one I’m covering), and it added up to 150.

Definitely getting plenty of exercise here. Physically, sure. And mentally, too, as I try to anticipate the next turn while continuing to move forward.

Check the PokerStars blog today to see what all I happen to find amid my wandering around.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Travel Report: EPT11 Grand Final, Day 2 -- Racing Around

Another quick post today after another long night at the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino European Poker Tour Grand Final festival.

Was a monster second Day 1 flight for the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event, with 728 coming out to make a total field of 993 -- way over last year’s 837. The €100K Super High Roller had over 50 entries as well, making it a big one, too, with all of the usual big names taking part. (See the PokerStars blog for details.)

Amid my racing around covering the FPS Monaco event, I took a pit stop and did a different kind of racing in a faux Formula 1 car they have set up out in the lobby for passersby to try out. You crawl into that sucker in order to operate the gas and brake pedals and steer your way through a computer-simulated version of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix.

I did three laps. My time was poor for the first one when I cautiously negotiated the length of the course without ever really revving up my engine significantly. Then my times for the next two laps were even worse as I tried to go faster but kept crashing into walls all over Monte Carlo.

I mentioned my poor sense of direction last post. A couple of times after wrecking and having to back my way out of the imbroglio I’d caused, I even found it challenging to figure out which way I was then supposed to go. Luckily I don’t think the program allowed you to backtrack on the course, or I may still be trying.

I am glad to report, however, that I have now more or less memorized the walk from my hotel to the tournament venue, as I took that half-hour long promenade yesterday morning. Will probably continue to do that each day, weather permitting, as the walk there is downhill and much easier, not to mention it will be dark for the trips back (although everything is lighted well and pedestrian-friendly, even at night).

As I say, drive over to the PokerStars blog today for more.

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