Friday, October 30, 2015

Ryan In, But Don’t Get Hoppe Up

There’s a new Speaker of the House, the 45-year-old Paul Ryan who was Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012. He takes over for John Boehner who held the position for nearly five years before recently announcing his decision to step down.

Boehner made his announcement in late September, engendering a few weeks’ worth of speculation and a bit of jockeying among the Republicans over who would be the successor. For a few days in there young Jason Chaffetz of Utah was expressing his desire to be the new Speaker, but his mini-campaign didn’t gain a lot of momentum and eventually Ryan became the chosen one.

Those of us with an interest in online poker recognize Chaffetz as one of the members of Congress responsible for advancing that draconian bill misleadingly called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (or RAWA). I say “misleadingly” because RAWA isn’t really “restoring” the 1961 federal law but rather rewriting it altogether, this time to prohibit nearly all forms of online gambling.

Chaffetz sponsored the current version of RAWA in the House (Lindsey Graham of SC sponsored it in the Senate). I’ve written about the bill some here, including after a hearing back in March where Chaffetz made an obnoxious (and brief) appearance in which he dismissed out of hand the idea that geolocation could enable a state to restrict those outside of its borders to gamble on an online site (i.e., technology that has already been shown to work reasonably well).

By sponsoring RAWA, both Graham and Chaffetz are working directly for Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who has been campaigning against online gambling ever since his own attempts to get in the game for several years during the 2000s failed. Indeed, The Hill has said an Adelson lobbyist authored an early draft of RAWA.

But Chaffetz is out and Ryan is in. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean good news for those who would oppose RAWA or anything else Adelson might get his big bucks behind.

That’s because earlier this week Ryan hired J. David Hoppe to be his chief of staff. In the past Hoppe has served as an adviser to various Republican congressmen while also working as a lobbyist in D.C. Also from Wisconsin, Hoppe has been friends with Ryan for more than two decades as he’s lobbied for a number of different conservative groups.

Among those Hoppe has been lobbying for lately is the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling -- that’s right, the group launched by Adelson in early 2014. ThinkProgress reports that Hoppe has received $180,000 from the coaltion since July.

All of which is not to say RAWA necessarily has any greater chance of gaining momentum thanks to Ryan’s new position and his connection with Hoppe. But it seems safe to assume Ryan isn’t necessarily any better than Chaffetz would have been for those harboring hope for the online gambling cause, federally-speaking.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Remember a Day, Before the UIGEA

Fantasy sports actually came up as a topic during last night’s debate among Republican presidential candidates, although only long enough for one candidate (Jeb Bush) to make a weak joke about his own fantasy football team then add a generic reference to the need for regulation, and another (Chris Christie) to complain about it being a trivial issue then add a generic reference to the need for the federal government to leave fantasy sports alone.

It reminded me a little of people in poker back in the day sometimes wondering -- usually in a humorous way -- if online poker was going to come up in debates or speeches. Of course the topic never would, being so tangential, so it was kind of remarkable to think that daily fantasy sports (DFS) had made its way far enough into the cultural center to get that mention last night.

Of course, it took a few weeks worth of drama including lots of legislators on both the state and federal level wanting to examine DFS for that to happen. Against that backdrop, ESPN shared an interesting article yesterday titled “The true Congressional origin of daily fantasy sports” that provides some historical perspective on the legality of fantasy sports, in particular looking at the years preceding the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 which some have argued made the DFS industry possible, even if the bill’s authors never quite envisioned what that industry has become.

After looking into that history for several weeks, ESPN points out how the inclusion of fantasy sports as a so-called “carve out” in the UIGEA wasn’t actually the result of lobbying by the NFL or other sports leagues (as many have stated). About a month back I posted a list of UIGEA-related items here without comment that perhaps suggested as much, but according to ESPN this really wasn’t the case.

In that post I quoted the line from the UIGEA stating how “the term ‘bet or wager’... does not include... participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization.” Remember the UIGEA prohibits businesses from facilitating the funding of “unlawful Internet gambling” which refers to placing, receiving, or transmitting a “bet or wager” online, so saying fantasy sports doesn’t involve bets or wagers means funding online fantasy sports is not prohibited.

The whole idea for what eventually became the UIGEA arose in response to the growth of the internet in the 1990s and the initial appearance of gambling sites, including both poker and sports betting sites. But as the ESPN article points out -- and as many others have been explaining, too, especially over recent weeks -- the “fantasy sports” being exempted back in the late 1990s when legislators first began sharing early versions of online gambling-related legislation wasn’t at all like DFS.

There are references in the article from various folks (including legislators) characterizing those earlier fantasy leagues as being similar to friendly home games in poker -- that is, mostly between friends and for small stakes. There’s also a distinction made between longer (e.g., season-long) fantasy sports contests and shorter ones such as what has become the daily or weekly games. Only one brief exchange between former Arizona senator Jon Kyl (one of those often called an orginal “architect” of the UIGEA) and an attorney alludes to the possibility of shorter-interval fantasy sports contests, and that’s only in passing (and without any subsequent effect on how the law was ultimately worded).

Interestingly, the Department of Justice offered an opinion in 1999 that there should be no fantasy sports exemption in any federal legislation regarding online gambling. Then the topic wasn’t revisited at all over the next several years, making it seem as though the language relating to fantasy sports just kind of lingered there to be quietly included in the final version of the bill that was passed into law.

“There was no evidence in the Congressional Record that the final version of the UIGEA was openly debated in the lead-up to the Sept. 29, 2006 vote,” reports ESPN (a vote that technically didn’t finish until after midnight that night, thus 9/30/06). A lot of us well remember that part of the story. After it passed some legislators complained about the carve outs (including for fantasy sports), and of course there followed the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of Barney Frank and others to pass new legislation regarding online gambling. But the UIGEA remains the law of the land as far as federal legislation focused on online gambling goes, despite its abundant ambiguities.

The article concludes with some forward-looking thoughts about how things might proceed from here when it comes to this reconsideration of DFS’s legal standing. Included are quotes from current major sports leagues commissioners on the subject.

It’s obvious that DFS is almost entirely different from what “fantasy sports” was intended to signify in the UIGEA, which I suppose will be a central part of the debate among legislators going forward. In any event, today I’m lamenting we didn’t think to start calling online poker a “simulation sports game” at some point prior to October 2006.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Extra Innings, Everyone is Short-Stacked

Like most sports fans, I spent much of the early and later part of last night flipping back and forth between the NBA games kicking off the 2015-16 regular season and the first game of the World Series between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals.

Eventually my attention was exclusively on baseball, thanks to the fact that Game 1 lasted a marathon 14 innings. That tied the record for the World Series with games only ever having previously lasted that many innings twice before (in 1916 and 2005).

The game started with an ultra rare inside-the-park home run in the first inning, and crazily the 14-inning game back in 1916 also had a 1st-inning inside-the-parker, one of several examples of weirdness from the game. It finally ended around 1:30 a.m. my time, having lasted just over five hours.

Near the end, I tweeted that if the game went much longer both teams would be in “shove-or-fold” mode. Was a joking reference to increasing blinds at the end of a poker tournament, of course, but afterwards I realized that in a way the amount of “gamble” in the game truly was increasing the longer it went on, thereby also increasing the effect luck could potentially have on the outcome.

As a baseball game proceeds through multiple extra innings, options for managers lessen as fewer and fewer players are available for pitching or pinch-hitting. The fact that this was the first game of a best-of-seven series also meant neither team necessarily wanted to exhaust their entire pitching staffs if they could help it, although the Mets did end up using six pitchers and the Royals seven.

The same goes for other sports in which the games are close as the clock winds down, in particular when they enter into overtime, sudden death, penalty shots/kicks, and the like.

Poker players complain sometimes about tournament structures that force players to gamble more at the final table, increasing the chances that luck will have more to do with the outcome than skill. The lament goes that it is unfortunate for the game to be reduced to that “shove-or-fold” decision at a time when the stakes (the payouts) are literally highest.

But that’s how most other sports play out, too, if you think about it. If the game is close, each play or decision takes on added importance disproportionate to the many other decisions made prior to the endgame, thereby necessarily increasing the potential significance of a bad bounce, a judgment call, or any other possibly outcome-determining event.

In extra innings or during the final minutes of a close game, everyone really is short-stacked, relatively speaking.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

WSOPE Fast Fade

I realized today that the World Series of Poker Europe played down to its conclusion over the weekend, and it never even crossed my mind to write a thing about it here yesterday. This is due to a couple of factors.

The relative lack of fanfare regarding the series from the WSOP, most poker news sites, and over Twitter meant it was hard ever to get into the sucker from afar. The time difference mattered somewhat, but in truth that never lessens my interest in the European Poker Tour events. Heck I was already tuning in today for a short while to watch coverage from Malta on EPT Live.

Another factor was that neither the WSOPE Main Event final table nor the WSOPE High Roller final table were streamed at all, the Twitching from Berlin having stopped last Thursday. In other words, just when most of us might have gotten interested, the shows stopped. (I believe that choice was made in order to facilitate shooting those final tables to be aired in edited versions later on.)

I was aware that Kevin MacPhee managed to win the Main Event, topping a field of 313 (down from the 375 who played the WSOPE ME in 2013). And Jonathan Duhamel’s victory in the High Roller -- his third career bracelet -- got more of my attention thanks to Twitter where the congratulations were coming frequently thereafter. Duhamel joins Phil Hellmuth as the only players to win both the WSOP Main Event and the WSOPE Main Event.

Like I say, though, Malta is already front-and-center for now, while the November Nine is now less than two weeks away. Meanwhile the WSOPE fade out happened fast, or at least it seemed that way from here.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Hall Picks Up Another Pair

Results from this year’s Poker Hall of Fame voting were announced today, with John Juanda and Jennifer Harman the newest two members named.

I’ve written here before about how I had the privilege of being involved with the PHOF voting for a few years. I was one of the “poker media” picked to vote alongside the living Hall of Famers (always tend to want scare quotes around those two words, for a variety of reasons). We were all given 10 names (finalists) from which we could pick up to three to whom we doled out our allotment of 10 total points, then the top two points-getters would make it through.

I’ll point out again that having a PHOF vote only meant being able to pick from the 10 names the panel was given. I never could suggest nominees myself, although I believe the living PHOF members were able to do just that (which is how Brian “Sailor” Roberts got on the ballot, I believe).

That said, during the years I voted (2010-2013), I was essentially okay with the individuals who made it through to be named PHOFers. While I sometimes gave points to players who didn’t ultimately get inducted, I didn’t disagree too greatly with what the final results were.

Back in early September when this year’s finalists were announced, I guessed Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott would get picked with either Carlos Mortensen or Juanda getting the other spot. Was mainly just trying to predict what the current voters would do, and not suggesting who I thought should get in out of the 10 nominees.

I don’t disagree with either Juanda or Harman getting in, although Mortensen is certainly one that seems like he should get the nod sooner than later. In fact if I were to predict again I’d say next year it will probably be Mortensen and Phil Ivey, as Ivey turns 40 in February and so cannot be denied one of the two spots, unless they manage to change the process around somehow between now and then.

Which I suppose could happen, given some of the clamor that appears to have resulted from this year’s vote. It’s necessarily always going to be a flawed process, ultimately unsatisfactory to some if not the majority of those who care a lick about it.

For more on the topic, including some discussion of the lack of non-Americans in the PHOF, see Chris Tessaro's piece over at All In titled “Did the Poker Hall of Fame Pick the Right Inductees?

(EDIT [added 10/29/15]: Yesterday European Poker Tour founder John Duthie added another op-ed regarding problems with the current nomination/voting process and the glaring lack of non-Americans in the Hall over at PokerNews -- check it out.)

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Go Feed on These Good Reads

Today I wanted to sign off for the week by pointing you to a few interesting articles that recently turned up in the strategy section over at PokerNews. All three are genuinely interesting and present evidence of some impressive brain work by the authors, I think.

The first is from Monday, another one by our friend Robert Woolley, a.k.a. the “Poker Grump.” It is titled “‘Gut Feelings’ in Poker -- What Do They Mean?” and explains how there is actually a meaningful link between that tightness you sometimes get in your stomach at the poker tables and what’s happening in your head as you try to make a decision. It’s kind of a fascinating observation Robert is sharing.

A second article I very much liked came from Gareth Chantler, one called “Obsessed With Your ‘All-in EV’? It’s a Negative Freeroll.” Gareth talks about that stat available in tracking programs showing your “all-in expected value” that allows players to see whether they’ve been “running good” or “running bad” in all-in situations. It’s is an irresistible stat for many, but as Gareth points out it’s hardly helpful and in fact can be potentially harmful.

Finally, today Nikolai Yakovenko shared the first of what will be a three-part discussion of artificial intelligence systems and “bots” in poker titled “Artificial Intelligence and Hold’em, Part 1: Counter-Factual Regret Minimization.” He brings us up-to-date on how far researchers have gotten with their efforts to “solve” limit hold’em and start working on the much more difficult case of NLHE. It’s lengthy, but very readable and gives a great overview of where things stand at present. (Looking forward to the rest next week.)

If your stomach for interesting poker content is rumbling and you’re hungry for some food for thought, go feast on those links.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fake Chips, Fake Dollars

Saw headlines today about that fellow Christian Lusardi, the one who introduced all of the fake chips into a preliminary event at the 2014 Borgata Winter Open that caused the tournament to be stopped with 27 players.

You might remember how Lusardi had added the phony chips to his stack, enabling him to make it all of the way into the money before he punted, then skedaddled. I remember a funny-in-retrospect live update from Day 2 of that event describing Lusardi's growing stack and how he had been “quietly adding another wing to his expansive chip castle.”

Ha! He’d done it so quietly, not only did others not remember him having to go to showdown, it was hard to recall him even playing a hand!

After busting the tourney, Lusardi then tried to flush around 500 of the fake discs down the toilet at the nearby Harrah’s where he was staying in AC. That led to the plumbing getting clogged, which in turn led to the discovery of the chips and their being linked to Lusardi. By then it was already known that the tournament had been compromised, and so it didn’t take long to nab the cheater.

Sounds like he’s getting five years for this one, plus has to repay the Borgata nearly half a milly (what it lost on the tourney), plus has to play Harrah’s another nine grand or so for damages to the plumbing! All that goes along with another five-year sentence Lusardi received back in the spring for having counterfeited and sold a bunch of DVDs.

That’s right. The dude has a thing about making fakes of round things. Probably has an apartment full of plastic cheese wheels, bogus clocks, and rubber pizzas.

Anyhow, I clicked through to read a few different articles about the sentencing. Like most poker players, I had to wince at repeated references to the “$800,000 in counterfeit chips” put into play in the tournament, as well as the “$2.7 million” worth of chips found in Harrah’s plumbing. Saw a couple of examples of this in the stories I read -- here’s one over at the Press of Atlantic City.

Obviously the tourney chips weren’t worth the millions in cash such articles suggest. It’s an easy mistake to make -- indeed, many non-players who casually tune into poker tournaments on television believe a player “raising to 1 million” to be betting actual dollars, not just tourney chips. Still, in articles reporting fine amounts and including other real-money references, it’s a little careless not to get this right.

Makes me think of the first time I played a play money tournament on PokerStars. I wondered why there was a dollar sign in front of the number designating how many chips I had in my stack. I think somewhere along the way the site stopped doing that, although in real money tournaments they still do put the dollar signs in front of chip amounts.

I decided it was there to add a little bit of excitement, even if the “$” really didn’t mean anything at all. You know, not the real excitement of vying for actual cash. Like, uh... a counterfeit.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reporting from the “Anybody But the Cubs” Camp

I feel like I’ve said something here on the blog before about my uncle Wally, the baseball fan, although a quick search doesn’t turn up the post I am remembering.

Wally is nearly 80 now. He grew up in Downer’s Grove, still lives in Illinois on a farm in the southern part of the state, and hates hates hates the Chicago Cubs. I believe he was originally a White Sox fan, and at some point became a St. Louis Cardinals supporter (I’m not sure of all the details). But he always disliked the Cubs, a feeling that dates all of the way back to when he was nine years old -- the last time the Cubbies won the National League pennant (in 1945).

That means while most of those following the Major League Baseball playoffs without a specific rooting interest are pulling for the Cubs finally to break through this year and make it to the fall classic, Wally is most definitely not. He’s pulling for the Mets, and as they are up 3-0 and have already taken a big lead early in game 4 tonight, it’s looking pretty good for Wally. (I say he’s pulling for the Mets, but in truth he could care less who is playing against the Cubs -- that’s the team he’d be supporting.)

There is also that whole Back to the Future Part II thing with the Cubs and this particular date (October 21, 2015). That might have been worrisome a few days ago for Wally, but not so much right now.

As a UNC-Chapel Hill grad with a similarly irrational dislike of Duke, I fully understand Wally’s position. Last year’s NCAA playoffs were miserable, not because the Heels lost, but because the Devils won.

I talked with Wally before the NLCS began, and we again laughed over his unflinching anti-Cub position. He made a good point about it, actually -- one I hadn’t necessarily thought about before.

“When your team loses, you can always say ‘we’ll get ‘em next year,’” he explained. “But this thing with the Cubs, if they win... it’s all over!”

He’s right. It’s a little like the difference between losing hands early in a tournament but still having chips with which to continue the fight and losing that one where you’re all in and at risk. There’s no “next time” then.

Like I say, it’s 6-0 Mets right now and looking pretty good for Wally and others like him in the A-B-C camp (Anybody But the Cubs). Chicago has a lot of long-suffering fans, some even older than Wally. But they also have a young team.

They can try again next year.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Watching the 2015 WSOP: Those “In Between” Hands

Am continuing to follow the coverage on ESPN of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event, spending another two-and-a-half hours with it this week as they showed the latter part of Day 6 when they played down from 45 players to 27.

That makes six weeks’ worth of Main Event shows totaling 13-and-a-half hours so far, all of which have focused on Days 5 and 6 (which in reality lasted a little over 19 hours of actual poker). Looking at what’s to come, there will be two more weeks of shows, again in two-and-a-half-hour blocks, all of which will be about Day 7 when they played from 27 to 9. Obviously the drama surrounding the last bustouts -- in particular Daniel Negreanu’s in 11th -- will highlight those episodes.

Then for three straight nights (Nov. 8-10) there will come the “live” coverage (with a delay) of the entire final table.

As I was mentioning here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been watching with an eye toward selecting interesting hands to highlight in strategy articles over on PokerNews. In other words, preflop all-ins aren’t really registering with me very much, as those hands often feature only a couple of relatively simple decisions that aren’t so interesting to explore in any detail. Meanwhile longer hands that involve more postflop play -- especially those that make it all of the way to a showdown -- stand out as more engaging.

As it turns out, very few of these hands actually end in eliminations. Those who have played a lot of tournament poker know that shouldn’t be too surprising. The hand you go out on is typically not the one in which you made your most important decision of the tournament. In fact sometimes it isn’t even in the top five or ten... or for a tournament like the WSOP Main Event, the top 100.

Watching televised poker this way is a little like the inverse of NFL’s RedZone channel where they constantly race back and forth between live games to show touchdowns, turnovers, and other “action” plays affecting scores and outcomes. Instead I’m looking more intently what’s happening in between. Like plays affecting field position and down-and-distance (that set up the “action” plays), I’m scrutinizing the ones in which chips stacks changed, table images were sharpened, and circumstances evolved to influence subsequent shoves and knockouts.

There were 40 hands shown during the two-and-a-half hours this week (which in truth translates to a bit less than two hours, subtracting the commercials). Exactly half of them -- 20 -- were double-ups, knockouts, or uncalled all-ins.

Some of those 20 were not uninteresting, strategy-wise. For example Neil Blumenfield (who made the Nov. Nine) was shown pushing his short stack in multiple times after the flop and not getting called, sometimes in what appeared dicey spots to do so. And some of the other 20 weren’t that compelling either, but provided more exposure to the Nov. Niners and/or some interesting table talk.

All in all, though, I continue to find the shows enjoyable -- perhaps in part because for the first time in years I didn’t read every single live update as things were happening.

(EDIT [added 10/21/15]: If you’re curious about the hands I highlighted for this week’s “what would you do?”-style article, click here.)

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Monday, October 19, 2015

DFS Now Listed as DTD

It was only three months ago that we learned Amaya Gaming had acquired the small but established fantasy sports site Victiv, which they then rebranded as StarsDraft.

StarsDraft quickly showed up in the PokerStars client, and we U.S. players were able to play on the site right away. I’ll admit I got a kick out of seeing that, reminding me faintly of how things used to be some four-and-a-half years ago.

I never deposited any money on StarsDraft, only playing a few freerolls and one of the free “Bankroll Builders” games they offered. (Indeed, I’ve never deposited on any DFS sites, having only played with money won in freerolls on a few of them.)

All of which is to say, if being able to play something for real money on PokerStars (even if I weren’t doing so) represented a dim echo of my experience playing on the site before, receiving the news of suddenly not being able to do so (again) wasn’t similar at all.

Amaya sent out a presser today saying they were choosing to limit their DFS games to just four U.S. states for now -- New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Maryland -- meaning my state (NC) is now on the no-play list.

Those four states are ones described in the release as having “favorable existing daily fantasy sports guidance.” In other words, they’ve either passed legislation or otherwise made explicit that legally speaking things are relatively hunky dory for DFS within their borders.

Last week we were hearing about Florida becoming an uninviting place for DFS sites, then late Thursday the Nevada Gaming Commission made its announcement declaring DFS to be gambling and thus subject to licensure, a move which likewise drove the sites out. This amid reports of legislators’ calls for inquiries, the FBI taking an interest, and other clamoring about the sites’ business models and legal status.

While federal regulation may well come for DFS (and possibly sooner than later), it could go the other way. The whole thing feels at present like a player listed as “DTD” (day-to-day) -- i.e., making him a less-than-recommended play.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

2015 WSOP Europe So Far

The 2015 World Series of Poker Europe festival has been rolling along at the Spielbank Casino in Berlin for more than a week -- no shinola. They are now eight events into the 10-event schedule, with only the €10,450 Main Event and the €25,600 High Roller left to get going.

Aside from the €550 buy-in “Oktoberfest” tournament (Event No. 2), the turnouts have seemed modest-sized so far. Even so, there have been more entries and more euros at stake in Berlin than was the case at the last WSOPE that took place at the Casino Barrière in Enghien-les-Bains, France in October 2013.

Here’s a look at the turnouts and prize pools from the first six bracelet events at the 2013 WSOPE (all but the Main and High Roller):

  • No. 1: €1,100 Ladies NLHE -- 65 entries, €62,400 prize pool
  • No. 2: €1,100 NLHE Re-Entry -- 659 entries, €632,640
  • No. 3: €5,300 Mixed Max NLHE -- 140 entries, €672,000
  • No. 4: €1,650 PLO -- 184 entries, €270,480
  • No. 5: €2,200 NLHE -- 337 entries, €647,040
  • No. 6: €3,250 Mixed Max PLO -- 127 entries, €373,380
  • Here’s what’s happened so far through the first seven events at the 2015 WSOP (Event No. 8 has another starting flight on Saturday):
  • No. 1: €2,200 NLHE -- 197 entries, €382,180 prize pool
  • No. 2: €550 NLHE “Oktoberfest” -- 2,144 entries, €1,039,840
  • No. 3: €3,250 PLO 8-Max -- 161 entries, €468,510
  • No. 4: €1,650 NLHE “Monster Stack” -- 580 entries, €843,900
  • No. 5: €2,200 8-Game Mixed -- 113 entries, €219,220
  • No. 6: €3,250 NLHE -- 256 entries, €744,960
  • No. 7: €550 PLO -- 503 entries; €243,955
  • The offerings from each festival don’t exactly parallel each other, so it’s hard to compare individual events. Just adding up prize pools, the first six events of the 2013 WSOPE (all but the Main and HR) totaled €2,657,940 in prize pools. Meanwhile the first seven of the 2015 WSOPE have added up to €3,942,565 (boosted significantly by the big “Oktoberfest” crowd).

    Meanwhile there were 1,512 total entries for those first six 2013 WSOP prelims. Setting aside the “Oktoberfest,” there have been 1,810 total entries for the other prelims so far in Berlin (3,954 with the “Oktoberfest”).

    The Main Event and High Roller will earn most of the attention in Berlin -- indeed, that’ll probably be the first time a lot of folks bother to see what’s going on at the WSOPE. Thus will more comparisons be made between the turnouts at the Spielbank Casino and what was the case two years ago when 375 played the 2013 WSOPE Main Event (for a €3.6 million prize pool) and 80 played the High Roller (for a €1.92 million prize pool).

    Honestly, I have barely tuned in at all to any of the streams on Twitch. Perhaps it is my connection or browser, but Twitch very often gives me trouble with freezing, buffering, and cutting out, making it less than ideal for me. And I’m thinking the Main and High Roller may not be featured over there, anyway (I have to check). If not, I’ll try to fight it and watch some, or at least look in on the updates.

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    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    The Cincinnati Kid Turns 50

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the film I still consider the best of all poker movies, The Cincinnati Kid.

    I guess Daniel Negreanu or “Kid Poker” is in his 40s now, so it isn't that odd to note The Cincinnati Kid is 50. Heck, Steve McQueen (aged 35 when he portrayed the title character) always did seem a little old for the part.

    When the film debuted in 1965, initial reviews were lukewarm. It was frequently likened to The Hustler (1961), an obvious influence, with many viewing it a lesser attempt to tell a similar story. I tend to agree that The Hustler is greater cinematic achievement, although Kid has a lot going for it, too.

    I’ve mentioned my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class here many times before. Every time I’ve taught the course I’ve included The Cincinnati Kid, and every time I’ve enjoyed seeing the students’ overwhelmingly positive response.

    Many who are college-aged don’t bother much with films made three decades before they were born. Indeed, I seem to remember one or two of my students confessing to me it was the oldest movie they’d ever seen (if you can believe that). But a lot of them are surprised when they find it not just entertaining but thought-provoking as well. A very high percentage of them are surprised by the ending, too -- I’ve had many of them every semester tell me how they fully expected the Kid to win in the end.

    The film gives the class a lot of great themes to explore, with the “coming of age” story at the heart of it, a theme connoted pretty transparently by “the Kid” and his duel with “the Man.” There are also a lot of interesting “existential” ideas in play, plus other commentary about human nature, gender roles, and other topics that make for some great discussions.

    Way back in early 2007 (not that long after I started the blog) I wrote a series of posts about The Cincinnati Kid (both the film and the Richard Jessup book on which it is based). I’d probably put things differently today, but I can still link to those posts without too much embarrassment:

  • Commentary on the Commentary: The Cincinnati Kid
  • Richard Jessup’s The Cincinnati Kid
  • Poker Review: The Cincinnati Kid
  • The Last Hand of The Cincinnati Kid: Differences Between the Novel and the Film

  • Wrote a couple more posts since then, too, on the film -- “Does the Kid Know Jack?” and “The Cincinnati Kid and Looking Back” -- which contain still more thoughts about it. Meanwhile today over on PokerNews I wrote something exploring the final hand in particular which for many represents a deficit for the film given its odds-defying improbability. That article is titled “Hand Histories: 50 Years of Debate Over the Last Hand of ‘The Cincinnati Kid,’” if you’re curious.

    A half-century on, I’m keeping Kid at the top of my list of favorite poker films. Where does it rank on yours?

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    Wednesday, October 14, 2015

    Is DFS Helping or Hurting?

    Daily fantasy sports were already of great interest to poker players even before all of the hubbub began surrounding the industry not quite two weeks ago. Since then, DFS has attracted the attention of many others, too, including the mainstream media, legislators, and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation according to a report appearing late today in The Wall Street Journal.

    I was writing last week about how the histories of online poker and daily fantasy sports have intersected and (in a few ways) even paralleled one another. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 that played an integral role in removing online poker as an option for most U.S. players also made online gambling on fantasy sports possible, which in turn led to the birth and eventual growth of DFS into a highly conspicuous option available to those in all but a small handful of states.

    As the probing of DFS continues, I can’t help but believe it hurts the prospects for online poker in the U.S. a lot more than it helps. But I could be wrong.

    I’ve seen a few folks suggesting how the calls for federal regulation and other inquiries into DFS could eventually lead to a revisiting of online gambling laws in the U.S., including the UIGEA, with some change on the federal level regarding online poker being a possible consequence. But to me it looks more like online poker will get buried further underneath the weight of moral outrage at DFS and the “loophole” it has found to permit legal online gambling (as some view it).

    What do you think? When it comes to the future of online poker in the U.S., is DFS helping or hurting?

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    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    Negative-EV: Nixon’s “Last Press Conference”

    My “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics” class is going well so far. We’re about halfway through the semester, and as the course is organized chronologically to follow RMN’s life and career we’ve now arrived at the tumultuous year of 1968 when Nixon completes what was really a most improbable comeback to win the presidency.

    After losing a very close election to John F. Kennedy in 1960 (Nixon’s first political defeat), then getting soundly beaten by Pat Brown in the 1962 California governor race, it seemed very likely Nixon would be moving on from politics, probably using the law degree he’d earned from Duke University to move over into a legal career. Indeed, he and his family would soon move to New York City where Nixon would become a senior partner in a law firm, spending the next few years hovering at the political periphery (and eventually plotting his return).

    In terms of American political history, Nixon’s comeback was almost unprecedented. That is to say, only once before had a major party’s candidate run for president and lost, then managed to run again subsequently and win. But that was Grover Cleveland way back in 1892, and he’d actually been president for a term once before (from 1885-1888) and in fact had won the popular vote in 1888 though lost the electoral vote to Benjamin Harrison.

    So really no one who hadn’t previously been president before had ever run in the general election and lost, then later run again and won (as a major party candidate, that is). Several had tried, including William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Dewey, and most recently Adlai Stevenson (who lost to Eisenhower in both 1952 and 1956). But none had managed to pull it off.

    But the odds seemed even longer for Nixon. After all, he had lost another race in between for a lesser office. Not only that, after conceding the ’62 race, Nixon then delivered a spiteful series of comments directed toward the press, ending with a sarcastic reference to how they’d lament his absence going forward.

    “As I leave you I want you to know -- just think how much you’re going to be missing,” he said. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

    A couple of months back a poker player I follow tweeted out a reference to this moment, alluding to it as he described himself petulantly leaving a cash game in which he’d lost. I wish I could remember who the player was and find the tweet again, but essentially he was self-deprecatingly chiding himself for behaving badly, having said something like “you won’t have me to kick around anymore” as he left the table.

    It seems like an entirely negative-EV play for Nixon to have made, regardless of his future plans. In his memoirs he reports that Murray Stans (then an advisor, later Nixon’s campaign finance chairman and one of the many implicated in Watergate) “told me he thought it would cost me $100,000 a year in new legal clients.”

    Meanwhile in the wake of the “last press conference,” many pundits leaped in to pronounce Nixon’s career finished. In fact within the week ABC aired a special called The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon, kind of figuratively throwing dirt on his coffin. The show even featured a couple of Nixon’s formerly defeated foes, Jerry Voorhis (whom Nixon crushed in ’46 in a race for Congress) and Alger Hiss (whom Nixon accused of being a Soviet spy and successfully pursued a perjury conviction that earned Hiss time in prison).

    Characteristically, Nixon thought differently about his performance, saying how he “never regretted what I said at the ‘last press conference.’” In fact he spun it into a positive, claiming that “it gave the media a warning that I would not sit back and take whatever biased coverage was dished out to me,” claiming it was “partially responsible for the much fairer treatment I received from the press during the next few years.”

    “From that point of view alone,” he concludes, “it was worth it.”

    For Nixon, the press was essentially an opponent. In the “last press conference” he notes to the reporters how he “welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you,” underscoring the way he viewed their interactions as antagonistic -- as a competition, even, with the potential to win or lose.

    But if the press were an opponent, they were especially difficult to “play” against. No matter how many times Nixon thought he was putting in the last bet, they just kept on calling and/or raising to continue the hand.

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    Monday, October 12, 2015

    Cubing the Cards

    A week ago came a press release from something called Mediarex Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the Global Poker Index, announcing this new Global Poker League that is set to launch early next year.

    The presser describes the desire of the GPI and its CEO Alex Dreyfus to “sportify” poker “in a bid for the Global Poker Index to become the equivalent of the NASCAR, NFL, NBA, ATP, or PGA for poker.” In an interview with PokerNews, Dreyfus underscored the importance of making poker spectator friendly, with the GPL and its planned-for schedule intended as a step in that direction.

    The GPL will consist of 12 teams, it sounds like, who will compete with each other over the course of a 14-week schedule. Sounds like an extension of the earlier Global Poker Masters experiment from back in March of this year -- you can read details over on the Mediarex website.

    “We wanted to think out of the box,” explains Dreyfus in the PN interview. Not sure if the pun was intended or not, but the GPL will have players playing inside a box -- “The Cube,” that is, described as the GPL’s “signature arena” à la UFC’s Octagon.

    I’ve been skimming for several minutes now this elaborate page describing “The Cube” on the Mediarex site, though to be honest the idea still kind of escapes me. It is like a big clear box that kind of reminds me of the squash class I once took. (The photo credits to “SquashPics.com” might have further planted that seed for me.)

    The “arena” lets both TV viewers (or Twitch or whatever) as well as a live audience see and hear the players as well as access all the stats, cards, bets, and so on -- again, I suppose kind of replicating watching or attending a sporting event with a scoreboard nearby tallying relevant data and results.

    I’m not real sure what all of this is or is supposed to be. It doesn’t look much like poker, and of course no previous attempts at team-based poker have ever really worked to produce more than a curiosity.

    It excites some curiosity, sure, and I’ll be staying tuned to see what happens. “The Cube” feels like a big weird roll of the dice, although without knowing exactly what is being gambled it’s hard to have a rooting interest just yet.

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    Friday, October 09, 2015

    Winners, Losers, and Playoff Randomness

    The Major League Baseball playoffs have begun, and with them the annual conversation has also started about how even though a 162-game season does a good job determining who the best teams are, the much smaller sample size of the playoffs increases the chance element markedly, often making it hard unequivocally to anoint the World Series winner as the season’s greatest team.

    We talk about sample sizes a lot in poker, more often than not about how inadequate they are. We talk about variance, too, and how luck necessarily invites a disruption between what is and what ought to be.

    The new wild-card playoff -- a one-game, winner-take-all-affair -- with which the MLB playoffs now always begin encourages such discussions even more, with each league producing one team who after 162 games will lose the 163rd and head home for the winter. The Pittsburgh Pirates, losers of the NL wild card earlier this week to the Chicago Cubs, had it happen for a second year in a row.

    Just like like year when the Pirates ran into the hottest starting pitcher in baseball, Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants (then the Giants went on to win the whole sucker), this time they were up against the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta who is on a historic streak of success over the last several months. Both Bumgarner and Arrieta pitched complete game shutouts to oust the Pirates, this year after the team won 98 games (more than every other playoff team except the St. Louis Cardinals who took the Pirates’ division by winning 100).

    For the Pirates it has been #JBL, as the poker-related hashtag would go.

    In the NFL teams play 16 games, then enter into a series of single-elimination playoff games which obviously heighten the randomness more than a little (especially for a sport in whcih injuries are so significant). Even so, the 16-to-1 regular-season-to-playoff ratio is still not as big as the 162-to-7 ratio (or about 23-to-1) in the MLB. That’s looking ahead to the best-of-seven series coming up later for the league championships and World Series. That’s also assuming teams get to seven games in those series, which often they do not.

    The NBA and NHL each play 82-game regular seasons and feature best-of-sevens each round of their playoffs (a little less than 12-to-1). NCAA basketball has it worse, I suppose, with a 35-game season (roughly) then a single-elimination tournament at the end.

    Having playoffs is still better than not having them, I think, as college football proved for several decades up until the institution of the Bowl Championship Series from 1998-2013 and the College Football Playoff starting last year. Voting on the best team never worked well, nor does applying the incredibly complicated advanced analytics that are available these days to “let the computer decide.”

    No, it’s best to have the teams play it out. It’s a little like a well played poker hand resulting in an all-in on the turn and something that is often close to a coin flip situation thereafter. Skill helped the players get into a position to win, then luck necessarily plays a role thereafter.

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    Thursday, October 08, 2015

    WSOP Europe Begins in Berlin

    The World Series of Poker Europe quietly began today at the Spielbank Berlin Casino in Germany. I say “quietly” because I can’t remember there ever having been less buzz about the WSOPE before.

    This marks the eighth installment of the WSOPE which dates back to 2007. It’s also the first one to come after a two-year gap after there having been seven straight years’ worth of WSOPEs from 2007 to 2013.

    From 2007-2010 the WSOPE took place in London, growing from three to five bracelet events over that stretch. Then from 2011-2013 the festival traveled to France, taking place in Cannes twice then moving to Enghien-les-Bains (north of Paris) in 2013. There were seven bracelet events for each of those two years in Cannes, then eight bracelet events in Enghien-les-Bains.

    This year there are 10 bracelet events, with buy-ins ranging from as little as a couple of €550 buy-in events (one no-limit hold’em, one pot-limit Omaha) up to the €10,450 NLHE Main Event and a €25,600 High Roller. Looks like a small field of 197 showed up for today’s Event No. 1, a €2,200 NLHE 6-Max. event.

    Most of what I saw over Twitter the last couple of weeks with regard to WSOPE were occasional notes from players wondering how to wire funds to Berlin and appearing to run into hurdles preventing them from doing so. Now that things have started, there are some updates (in English) on WSOP.com and also live reporting (in German) on the PokerFirma site (where the WSOP updates are also being funneled through).

    Things pick up, coverage-wise, this weekend with live streaming of several events on Twitch starting tomorrow. I think, though, that neither the Main Event nor the High Roller is going to be featured there, as those are being shot for ESPN. (Not 100% sure about that.) Here’s the presser spelling out what WSOP is doing to cover the series.

    For various reasons it feels almost more like a WSOP Circuit stop than a major stop (looking at it from afar, that is), with the upcoming European Poker Tour festivals in Malta (later this month) and Prague (in December) seeming more significant by comparison.

    We’ll see how (or if) the bracelet buzz builds by the time the Main rolls around. Not hearing too much as yet, though.

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    Wednesday, October 07, 2015

    The 2015 WSOP Main Event on ESPN (So Far)

    ESPN’s coverage of the 2015 World Series of Poker has been up and running for four weeks now, with eight-and-a-half hours’ worth of shows shown so far. I think that total is correct, anyway, as an extra half-hour turned up this week.

    They’ve moved the shows around some on the schedule, making it challenging to find them sometimes, although mostly they’ve been popping up on Monday nights. The strategy appears to be mostly to put the episodes on one network while NFL football is playing on the other, which I have to think hasn’t helped a lot with ratings. It also means I’ve actually never watched any of them initially but only later on DVR.

    I’ve somewhat enjoyed the coverage thus far. I didn’t plan on it beforehand, but was inspired to start a series of strategy articles (over on PokerNews) each of which focuses on an interesting hand or two while giving readers a chance to play along. The response has been pretty good on these, which all include polls that invite you to pick how you would play a certain hand. (When setting the scene, I withhold the hole cards of the player with whom you play along.)

    Here are those so far (the headline of the first one is quoting something a player said at the table):

  • Watching Phil Hellmuth or ‘The Master at Work’
  • Daniel Negreanu Turns the Nuts -- Call or Reraise?
  • How Would You Respond to Negreanu’s Check-Raises?
  • Flopping Huge Versus Fedor -- Play Fast or Slow?

  • I think all of them present genuinely interesting spots that are made a little more fun from a strategic standpoint when you don’t know all the players’ holdings. Watching the shows with an eye toward finding such spots is probably adding significantly to my enjoyment of them, too, I would venture.

    As those titles suggest, the coverage to this point has featured a lot of Hellmuth (until he busted) and Negreanu, with the latter destined to be front and center all of the way up to the November Nine thanks to his near-miss of the final table.

    They started with Day 4 this year, and by now they’ve gotten to the end of Day 5 at which point just 69 remain from the 6,420 who entered. Would have been preferable, I think, to start back on Day 1 and give a couple of hours to each of the days (rather than four or more for both Day 4 and 5), but obviously it’s cheaper to shoot fewer days.

    Starting on Day 4 means they actually began after the bubble burst (on Day 3), which skips one of the more exciting moments of the Main Event. This year, too, with 1,000 players cashing, there were certainly dozens (if not hundreds) of cool stories about first-time players/cashers which might have been entertaining to hear about, along with all of the other fun stuff that tends to mark the early days of the WSOP ME.

    Still, I’m finding I’ve been looking forward to the shows each week. Have you been watching at all? What do you think?

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    Tuesday, October 06, 2015

    The DFS “Scandal” and Online Poker’s Past

    Late last week I was following a few tweets and read a post on what appeared to be a yet-to-explode forum thread regarding this story about a DraftKings employee accidentally releasing ownership data for the Week 3 NFL games during the afternoon that Sunday, including ownership for games that hadn’t started yet.

    The post appeared on the RotoGrinders site in a forum thread titled “DraftKings Ownership Leak.” Like I say, the thread didn’t seem to have gotten much attention, although if I remember correctly subsequent posts (which I don’t see today) made it seem like the thread might have been locked early.

    The first response (that remains) was from someone at RotoGrinders saying he was talking to a person named Ethan at DK who was about to post a statement. The RotoGrinders guy defends Ethan and DraftKings. Then Ethan’s statement appears, and he explains how “I was the only person with this data and as a DK employee am not allowed to play on the site.” An innocuous-seeming, nothing-to-see-here-please-disperse kind of exchange.

    This back-and-forth sat there quietly for a couple of days, but over weekend Twitter picked up the story in a big way, and by yesterday it had developed considerably with more details about the data leak as well as information about the employee Ethan Haskell’s successes on the rival FanDuel site, including a massive $350,000 win for finishing second in FD’s $5M NFL Sunday Million during Week 3. More on Haskell himself has been made more generally known as well, including his position at DK (Written Content Manager) and his previous experience as a content editor for a couple of years at RotoGrinders (perhaps explaining the RG guy’s defense of him in the thread).

    It should be noted that there is no evidence that Haskell used any of the info he accidentally leaked to help him land the big prize in the FD contest (or in other games). In any event, the story has now ballooned into a larger discussion about daily fantasy sports, in particular about potential problems with game integrity.

    Legal Sports Report has been a good site to follow for coverage of the many issues arising with this story as well as other DFS-related topics. This article from the weekend titled “DraftKings Lineup Leak Rocks Daily Fantasy Industry: Questions and Answers” provides details of the original story, a full explanation of why “insider” knowledge of DFS player ownership data ahead of time can provide a huge edge, and other issues having to do with the sites’ policies and current lack of regulation. The article also includes new statements from both DraftKings and FanDuel from Monday about their intentions to review their “internal controls” and policies.

    The story has now moved into the mainstream as well, with even The New York Times reporting on it yesterday in “Scandal Erupts in Unregulated World of Fantasy Sports.” Thanks in large part to the highly conspicuous blitz of television advertising by both DFS and FD, the topic of daily fantasy sports is no longer interesting just to those who play but to others, too, who have been inundated so aggressively with all the ads.

    Those of us who were involved with online poker when it first appeared and began to grow in popularity can’t help but notice several parallels seeming to emerge with regard to this story.

    Like with DFS, online poker was around for a few years before suddenly catching fire. Planet Poker was the first online site to deal real money games, doing so on January 1, 1998. A little over five years later came the first episodes of the World Poker Tour, then Chris Moneymaker’s win at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, and then the “boom,” generally speaking.

    Last week I noted the anniversary of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, a piece of legislation that interestingly has had the dual significance of helping jettison online poker from the U.S. while introducing a means for what has now evolved into the DFS industry to be introduced. The first DFS site (Fantasy Sports Live) went live in June 2007, with that industry’s “boom” (as it were) also not occurring until several years later.

    As online poker grew more popular, the potential for scandals began to grow as well with much discussion about possible industry-threatening problems on the horizon. Lots of stories about collusion, ghosting, multi-accounting, and other violations of sites’ terms and conditions were circulating, as were instances of player funds being lost with the boom-preceding PokerSpot controversy the biggest early example to occur.

    Then on September 12, 2007 a player going by the username POTRIPPER won the $100K Guarantee on Absolute Poker after correctly calling an opponent’s final hand all-in with just ten-high. My first reaction -- chronicled in a post here a week-and-a-half later -- was to wonder about AP getting hacked somehow or perhaps there having been an “inside job.” As we would come to learn, the latter was indeed the case, something AP would initially try to cover up (thereby making the scandal worse). The story then quickly took off in a big way both within the poker world and in the mainstream (including an article in The New York Times).

    The loser of that crazy ten-high hand versus POTRIPPER was poker pro Marco Johnson who emailed AP afterwards to request hand histories from the tournament. Johnson didn’t initially study the response, but after buzz about the hand and other possible shenanigans at AP had begun to build he went back to look at those hand histories again and discovered something remarkable. Not only were his hole cards listed, but so, too, were the hole cards of all the other players. The hand histories then became a “break in the case” helping prove POTRIPPER was able to see others’ hole cards and a first step in unraveling the “superuser” scandal.

    The larger superuser scandal that would follow at AP sister site UltimateBet (a story that first broke in early 2008) would similarly start out focusing on a single player -- “NioNio” -- who won at an insanely high rate on UB right up until the week the AP scandal broke at which time the player suddenly disappeared from UB. (That scatter plot graph above created by Michael Josem famously illustrated NioNio’s dominance.) Other suspicious accounts were then identified, and the story and scandal got bigger and bigger from there, never being truly resolved (despite former UB part-owner and representative Phil Hellmuth’s revisionist claims to the contrary).

    At least a few parallels can be seen here -- an accidental “leak” of information by a site suddenly opening the door to closer scrutiny and suggestions of wrongdoing, a focus on “insider” information allegedly helping an employee to win (in the DFS case by going onto a different site to play), and remarkably high win rates inspiring accusations of an imbalance in the playing field.

    The unambiguous advantage of seeing others’ hole cards and the less obvious advantage of having access to ownership data before games close in DFS perhaps don’t seem analgous (to most of us). But those who understand DFS strategy and how the games work have persuasively put forward the parallel. Again, this issue isn’t unrelated to other ones affecting the game, including the huge knowledge gap between number-crunching DFS regs and everyone else, something that is also akin to what we’ve often talked about in online poker where third-party software and other aids have created a significant advantage for a segment of full-timers over those who don’t benefit from the information provided by such tools.

    Online poker survived (and mostly continued to thrive) despite the AP and UB scandals, with the sites themselves even able to remain in operation until both collapsed post-Black Friday (resulting in another huge loss of players’ funds). There continued to be serious problems with game integrity thereafter, of course, and the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint would dramatically demonstrate even larger issues for the industry.

    I’m actually not quite ready to join the torch-carrying crowd currently storming the gates of DFS. I will say, though, as someone already not hugely inspired to get involved with DFS, recent developments are hardly encouraging me to give it an earnest try.

    That said, knowing how similar things unfolded and turned out with online poker, it will be curious to see where the faster-moving DFS “scandal” goes next.

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    Monday, October 05, 2015

    253,698

    Today 253,698 people played a poker tournament. No shinola.

    The tournament cost just one penny to play, the kickoff event of PokerStars’ “Common Cents” series that runs through Sunday. It started just after two o’clock this afternoon Eastern time, and with a turbo structure played all of the way down to a winner in six hours and 38 minutes.

    The starting stack was 1,500, so after the final hand winner DaDumon of Austria had collected 380,547,000 chips to earn the $10K first prize. Omitting freerolls, it’s probably safe to say winning 1 million times the buy-in equals the best ROI anyone has ever enjoyed in a poker tournament.

    The total prize pool was $100,000, the tournament’s guarantee. This was one instance where a tournament’s organizers well knew the field would not come close to reaching the number needed to match the guarantee, as PokerStars knew there wouldn’t be 10 million players taking part. (They capped the sucker at 300,000, actually.) In fact, the whole event was practically a big donation to PokerStars players, as $2,536.98 in buy-ins meant a $97,463.02 overlay.

    Still, over a quarter million is quite something -- a new record, in fact, breaking the earlier one set on PokerStars in June 2013 when 225,000 played a $1 buy-in tournament featured as part of PS’s 100 Billionth Hand celebration.

    How many other games can be played with just two players or more than a quarter million?

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    Friday, October 02, 2015

    Getting It Wrong

    Watched that Thursday Night Football clash last night to the bitter end. Was a pretty poorly played game, with a lot of endgame weirdness to create an unexpected outcome and thus enough extra drama to keep me watching to the last.

    A couple of weeks pack I shared a pleasure-pain ranking system for evaluating my Pigskin Pick’em picks. Last night’s game -- which I got wrong -- ended up way over on the extreme pain side of the spectrum.

    I picked the Steelers, who thanks to an unreliable field goal kicker and some especially bone-headed coaching decisions allowed the Ravens to complete a 13-point comeback to win in overtime. Making things worse, many in the pool (including the leader) had taken Baltimore, making it doubly unpleasant to lose after having with a couple of minutes left prematurely congratulated myself for having picked a winner. (Amateur move.)

    I mentioned how the Steelers’ field goal kicker, Josh Scobee, had a rough night, missing two in the fourth quarter. Both were very late, and both happened with Pittsburgh ahead 20-17. The first miss was a 49-yarder with 2:29 to go, and the second a 41-yarder with 1:06 left.

    As I had a rooting interest, I wasn’t happy to see Pittsburgh missing field goals. I was less happy, though, to see the Steelers even attempt them. Why? Because I was convinced each time that trying a field goal lessened rather than increased their chances of winning the game.

    If Pitt. had made either FG, they’d have gone up by six, thereby forcing Baltimore to drive the length of the field in the hopes of scoring what would be a winning TD. Down just three, Baltimore instead played for the tie and overtime, and after being unsuccessful on the first try did manage to do so when given a second opportunity.

    Because Pittsburgh missed their FG attempts, Baltimore played for the tie and overtime. They failed the first time, but given a second opportunity the Ravens were able to get close enough to kick a long tying field goal at the end of regulation.

    When Pittsburgh missed the first FG attempt, then, it more or less assured they would not lose the game in regulation, as the Ravens then went for the tie (they still could lose in OT, of course). If Pittsburgh had hit the FG, however, there would have been a non-zero chance they could lose in regulation. Weighing the chances of losing in overtime (after Balt. hit a game-tying FG following a Pitts. miss) versus losing in regulation (after Balt. scored a game-winning TD after a Pitts. make), I suppose hitting that first FG would have been marginally better than punting, although not by much.

    But when the Steelers held Baltimore on downs, then faced a similar decision with less time on the clock (and Baltimore having used their timeouts), trying the FG again was surely a poor decision (especially considering the inconsistent Scobee had just missed one). Punting and pinning the Ravens inside the 20 would have been a much, much better choice. Doing so would have further reduced the chance of Baltimore driving for a winning TD (because of a longer field), although that likely wouldn’t have been the Ravens’ aim, anyway, since the tying FG would’ve been a primary goal for them.

    A Twitter exchange at the time involving Grantland’s NFL guru Bill Barnwell succinctly summed up the situation. A follower asked him “why did Pitt go for FG?” adding “Wouldn’t you rather be up by 3 than 6 there? Have Balt play for FG and OT instead of TD and win?” (This is the point I’m making.)

    Barnwell’s response delivered the same observation in a different way: “NFL coaches optimize decisions to put off losing for as long as possible, not to win.” This was a point he made in greater detail a couple of weeks ago in a column where he was describing almost exactly the same scenario in a different game:

    “Trailing by three in a two-minute drill, coaches will almost [always] settle for a field goal to try to push the game into overtime,” explained Barnwell. “They optimize their decision-making to tie, which only improves their chances of winning to 50 percent (or whatever the implied odds were from the pregame spread), because they still have to win in overtime. Down six and without any other choice, they get aggressive and optimize their play calling to try to score a game-winning touchdown.”

    I’m trying to think of a decent poker analogy here (and struggling a little). Looking at it from the perspective of the team that is behind, being down a FG and playing for a tie would be like being short-stacked enough to fold your way into the money. Meanwhile being down six forces a team’s hand (so to speak), kind of like being too short to take the passive line of folding into the money and instead having to go into shove-or-fold mode.

    That’s not really describing the perspective of the team that is ahead here, though, who makes a choice that seemingly provides a temporary benefit but isn’t the best decision long-term. That would be a little like risking too much to win a single tourney hand when doing so doesn’t really improve your chance at realizing the more substantial goal of winning the event.

    All of which is to say, Pittsburgh’s choice to try a long field goal to go up six with less than two minutes to go -- a decision they ended making twice -- was at the very least questionable even if they’d had a more reliable kicker. And in fact, I tend to think it was just plain wrong (especially in the second instance).

    I’m remembering as I write this a game from two years ago in which Pittsburgh similarly decided to try a long field goal with less than two minutes to go in a close contest. In that case the game was tied and the FG was 54 yards, i.e., a would-be career long for their then-kicker Shaun Suisham. Things went similarly badly for the Steelers there, too, and in a post here I surmised their chances of winning were decreased merely by the decision to kick a FG instead of punt.

    Pittsburgh made some other bad choices, too, most glaringly with regards to a couple of fourth down calls in overtime. Indeed, I think last night it was obvious the team I’d picked had hurt their own chances of winning because of in-game decisions -- i.e., because of things they could control -- which definitely added to the pain of getting it wrong.

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    Thursday, October 01, 2015

    PS Gets the OK from NJ

    My first thought last night upon hearing the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement had authorized Amaya to begin operating both PokerStars and Full Tilt in the Garden State was “finally.”

    That such an announcement would be coming is something we began hearing not that long after New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed the state’s online gambling bill in late February 2013. Since then the likelihood of PokerStars’ return to the U.S. via Jersey has swung back and forth between just-around-the-corner to not-bloody-likely a few times before several hints over the summer punctuated by the phrase “end of the 3Q” made late September seem a real possibility again.

    My second thought was that when news finally did arrive it coincidentally did so on the anniversary of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 being passed by the House and Senate (as noted in yesterday’s post). Something oddly symmetrical there, I suppose, given how the UIGEA’s history and that of PokerStars (and Full Tilt) have been intertwined over the last nine years.

    After that I found myself less specifically thinking in generally positive terms about the news, not necessarily because of what will immediately come of it but rather how longer term the story of “U.S. Online Poker 2.0” will surely be a lot more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Felt like there was very little to look forward to before; now, perhaps, there are at least more possibilities, including more good ones for U.S. players wanting to play online.

    That said, it’s been so long since U.S. Online Poker 1.0 -- an era that ended mid-April 2011 -- it is hard to think all that concretely about how last night’s news might conceivably lead to the reintroduction of the game online in more than just a few states here and there.

    But it does feel a little like after enduring several orbits of garbage cards while sitting behind a dwindling stack, a hand with some potential has finally arrived. The attention is newly engaged, but the hand still has to be played skillfully. And luck still matters, too, going forward.

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