Friday, July 31, 2015

Ten Thousand Tweets

Was noticing over the last several weeks that the total for the number of tweets I’ve sent from @hardboiledpoker was approaching 10,000. Today I got there, with the tweet I sent to announce this post being the one.

It actually has taken me a while finally to reach that milestone after first noticing I was getting close. It took me a little over a month to get from 9,900 to 10,000 tweets. I first opened my Twitter account on April 9, 2009. That was 2,304 days ago which means I’ve been averaging sending out a little over four tweets per day over the last six years-plus.

Went back today to find my first tweet, pictured above. You can see before I even get to the end of that one how I’m distracted by the medium itself, self-reflexively counting down the characters at the end.

Seeing my reference to an article about Twitter by Otis (Brad Willis), I was curious to track it down once more. I headed over to Rapid Eye Reality, the blog Brad started way, way back in 2001 (about five years before I began Hard-Boiled Poker), and found his post dated April 9, 2009 titled “Much Atwitter About Nothing.”

He begins engagingly -- as he always does -- suggesting “Twitter is the Keanu Reeves of the internet.” Then he proceeds to list by category those who were then complaining about Twitter:

  • Advertising and branding people who can’t figure out if it’s important
  • Hipsters who have to hate anything a lot of people like
  • Companies that feel like they have to use it but don’t know why
  • People who don’t know what a Twitter is and are afraid to put one in their pants
  • “My favorite criticisms,” Brad continues, “are those who use Twitter to talk bad about Twitter,” following that with a list of examples I won’t cut-and-paste here, because you’ve been reading the same kinds of statements about Twitter on your feed for the last six-plus years, too.

    “As far as I’m concerned,” Brad says, “you’re better off wringing your hands about Keanu Reeves.” That is to say, in his estimation, Twitter was hardly something to get too worked up over. Sure, like Reeves (then), it was a conspicuous part of our cultural landscape, something hard to avoid if you wanted to. That said, it was (at least then) something more or less innocuous -- an occasionally entertaining diversion.

    “I use Twitter the same as I use the blog,” he concludes. “It’s a way to communicate. If you’re in the business of communication, you should know Twitter. If you don’t, you’re behind.”

    I feel like over the years I’ve mostly thought of Twitter in a similar way, simply viewing it (and using it) as another way to communicate, although I’ve always been more inclined to express opinions here on the blog than over there. Even though I agree Twitter is real, actual communication, it still feels ephemeral to me, despite the fact that I can search back through all 10,000 of my tweets if I wish, as well as the tweets of others. And while I generally like Twitter, I do sometimes experience a kind of Twitter weariness such as I was describing a few months ago in “Time for a Twitter Break?

    If you’ve read any of those 10,000 tweets of mine and looked at the photos and other silliness I’ve broadcast there, you’ve perhaps gotten to know me a bit, much as have those who’ve read what I’ve been posting on this blog over the years. And if that’s the case, thanks for following and responding and communicating with me along the way.

    See you on Twitter, then. And definitely not on Facebook. Speaking of, the occasion of tweet #10,000 is reminding me of tweet #5,000 (pictured at left).

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    Thursday, July 30, 2015

    Back When Everything Needed Explaining

    There’s a new thread on 2+2 decrying the level of play at the conclusion of the 1987 WSOP Main Event as evidenced by 43-minute video of the final table you can watch on YouTube.

    It’s an interesting final table, with Bob Ciaffone, Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington, and eventual winner Johnny Chan among the final six. If you click on the link to watch, you’ll see the first few minutes taken up with introductions of the scene and players, then a quick primer on how to play no-limit Texas hold’em.

    Those little instructional segments continued to appear as part of the ESPN broadcasts of the WSOP up through the start of the “boom,” although looking back I think by 2005 they’d already dropped them. At least I don’t see it at the start of the first episode from that year’s Main Event.

    By the way, I was just distracted by that opening show from the 2005 ME, highlighted by Jennifer Harman losing with queens full to Cory Zeidman’s straight flush (a river one-outer), some laugh-out-loud hilarity from Brad Garrett, Greg Raymer’s red-hot start where he picked up hand after hand and was consistently paid off, and 90-year-old Victor Goulding making quads in one hand then a little later being given a 10-minute penalty for cursing (no shinola).

    (Also interesting, both John Duthie and Vicky Coren are shown playing hands in the episode, yet neither are identified. In fact, Coren is sitting next to Goulding and was involved in his quads hand -- was Victor v. Victoria.)

    The instructional segments went away, of course, as more and more started playing poker -- many playing no-limit hold’em exclusively -- and it became apparent such explanations were mostly superfluous. Watching those segments today sparks a bit of nostalgia, while also calling to mind the effect they had back when we first saw them.

    For those of us who already knew what a flop, turn, and river were, the segments were perhaps a bit tedious to sit through, but I’m realizing today how they might have served as confidence-builders to some (or many?).

    Hearing someone explain something that you already know all about produces at least a couple of by-products, I think. One is a kind of self-affirmation, especially when the explanation checks out in all particulars with your own understanding. A second is the suggestion that someone actually needs the explanation -- i.e., that there are those whose level of understanding doesn’t match your own.

    In other words, while the how-to segments might have been designed primarily to help non-players understand the game they are watching, and secondarily as a way of encouraging some of them to give the game a try, they also certainly provided a measure of encouragement to those already familiar with the game.

    And as far as the level of play (by some) in those old shows is concerned, that, too, was certainly encouraging to many as well.

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    Wednesday, July 29, 2015

    Learn, Chat, and Play with the Non-Pros

    Post-Black Friday, I kept Full Tilt Poker on my laptop even though as an American I was no longer able to play real money games on the site. I occasionally goofed around a little with play money on there, although my main purpose for not deleting FTP was the fact that I still had money left on the site (even if my balance was no longer showing it).

    A full two-and-a-half years after Black Friday, I submitted a petition to get my balance back, then in June 2014 (more than three years after BF), I finally received the cabbage.

    Incidentally, I vaguely suspect that getting that transfer of my FTP funds from the Department of Justice might possibly have precipated my Fifth Third Bank account -- which I’d had for nearly 11 years -- being suddenly closed four months later with zero explanation. (Would be a suitably nutty postscript to the absurd funds-retrieval saga, if so.)

    Meanwhile at some point a while back I got a new laptop, and didn’t bother to download FTP this time as I had little reason for it. I still enjoy play money games, but have always like PokerStars better, anyway, and so when I do play I just do so on PS.

    All of which means I’m not really in the loop so much anymore when it comes to the news like that from a couple of days ago that Full Tilt Poker -- or just “Full Tilt” (as they style it now) -- has made some fairly significant changes to the client affecting their cash games.

    For starters, it sounds like there is no lobby anymore and thus no way for players to choose particular tables. Rather, they choose their game and stakes, then get seated automatically.

    Over on the Full Tilt blog, Dominic Mansour, Managing Director at Full Tilt, likens the procedure to seating in live games where players get on a list or “tell the poker room manager what game they want to play and the poker room manager will take them to a table with a free seat so they can start playing right away.”

    In a video about the changes, it is explained that “online ring game lobbies can all too often look like fast-moving spreadsheets, which can be a little confusing” -- which is kinda true, actually, even for some of us with lots of experience on the sites. (Such is why filters are needed on Stars.)

    Relatedly, when games become short-handed reseating automatically occurs to merge the tables, which I guess could be said partially to resemble what happens in live rooms as well. In any case, the major difference here is not being able to select particular opponents against whom to play, although I guess players can still choose not to play against certain players by simply getting up after being seated with them.

    Another big change is the removal of all heads-up games, which according to Mansour had become “adversely affected by the minority of experienced players who targeted ‘weaker’ opponents rather than take on all challengers” -- i.e., by the practice of “bum hunting.” He also argues that heads-up games were “intimidating and confusing” for new players, who maybe couldn’t figure out why people were sitting out and opponent selecting.

    They’ve also gotten rid of higher-stakes non-hold’em offerings like stud, draw, and mixed games, although the comment from Mansour regarding that change doesn’t specifically address why. “The new structure will present a clean offering for all players and we consider these ring game changes to be key to Full Tilt’s ongoing commitment to provide a level playing field and attracting and retaining more casual poker players,” he says.

    I used to think a lot about the “ecology” of online poker, although never really felt as though I had too much insight into how it all worked (despite occasionally opining on the subject). Clearly Full Tilt is responding to its having slipped traffic-wise since the site’s relaunch in November 2012, falling well behind other second-tier sites like 888, partypoker, the iPoker network, and Winamax, and the still-U.S.-serving Bovada (Bodog).

    These changes seem designed to focus on promoting the segment of the player pool (recreational players, including new ones) where the potential for growth still exists while diminishing the importance of serving full-timers or professionals. I suppose I get it, although for those who are fans of the site and long-time players on it, I can’t imagine they are all that enthused by such radical moves.

    Thinking back to the original Full Tilt Poker and its launch more than a decade ago, it’s a 180-degree turn away from the “Learn, Chat, and Play with the Pros” campaign of old, as well as a distancing from the faint echo of that idea demonstrated by “The Professionals” campaign that arose with Full Tilt 2.0 and has since been abandoned.

    I guess trying to sell amateurs on the idea of playing with pros was always sketchy as a marketing strategy, even if learning from the pros and chatting with them might have once seemed an attraction. Now it seems there is a desire to sell the idea that the poor newbie will be protected from the pros so as to be able to learn, chat, and play exclusively with those on their own level.

    Or maybe just to chat and play, and not learn so much.

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    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    Still the Same

    Since moving to the farm a little over a year-and-a-half ago, Vera Valmore and I have finally gotten ourselves settled (more or less), having established various routines to help maintain everything while constantly dealing with new challenges, most having to do with repairs to the barn and/or frequently used equipment. I’ve never in my life spent so much time with hammers, wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers.

    It is no longer the case that everything is new to us. The routines are becoming more and more familiar, and while repetition can induce tedium, there is also a kind of pleasure that can come from it, too.

    One practice we established early on was to keep a radio playing in the barn day and night. Don’t know if the horses care one way or the other about the music, but after dealing with a skunk who tried to take up residence in there we read that the noise helps keep them away. We still see skunks about now and then -- in fact, about a month ago we saw a troupe of five of them slinking across the back yard, closely bunched as though they formed a single, frightening-looking mega-skunk. But we’ve seen no Pepé le Pews in the barn, thankfully.

    We started out playing a classical station, then at some point early on switched it over to the local classic rock one -- you know, the one that plays a rotation of a few hundred songs we’ve all been hearing for years and years. Some tunes I like, some I don’t, and quite a few I’m ambivalent about even if they manage to enliven in a dim way that nostalgic part of the brain that makes things that are familiar seem pleasurable.

    I mean, I own exactly zero Bob Seger LPs. I feel like once I might have had a cassette of Against the Wind, but that was very long ago. If we were to apply the “VP$IP” stat from poker to him and his oeuvre, I voluntarily play Bob Seger -- my current VPBS -- exactly 0.0% of the time. Yet I know every note and lyric of at least a dozen of his songs, thanks to their inclusion on that endless loop of tunes I heard in my childhood and have continued to hear over the decades since.

    If you ever listen to the “classic rock” station where you live -- probably in the car, I’d imagine, which for many of us the only place we are exposed to FM radio anymore -- you’ve probably heard some of the same drops my station includes in between songs touting their playlist as “timeless” and “the best music ever made.”

    I suppose just by the evidence of playing music first written and recorded 40 years ago or more, the “timeless” claim is being aggressively proven by the mere fact of these stations’ existence. However, the argument about it being “the best music ever made” is obviously one with which many people -- especially those outside of the (now aging) target demographic -- would take issue.

    (Speaking of, search online about “classic rock” and you soon learn the term “demographic cliff,” used in concert with the idea that the first audience for such music is dying out. As Mick Jagger -- who turned 72 over the weekend -- once sang, what a drag it is getting old.)

    Something occurred to me this morning while feeding the horses to the accompaniment of Leon Russell’s “Tight Rope” and Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” though -- something that might help explain from where this “best ever” claim might be coming. Those of us who grew up listening to just a few radio stations or watching three television networks or going to the same few movies that played for weeks at a time in the local theater shared a lot of the same cultural experiences, with these various artifacts helping provide odd little touchstones that significantly shaped the way we learned how to relate to others, for better or worse.

    Meanwhile now people experience popular culture much differently, in more fragmented ways that among other things can involve a lot more consumer direction (if the consumer desires such freedom of choice, that is). The phenomenon is more complicated than that, of course, but it starts to explain at least one difference between the present and the past, and also the source for that insistence by some that what came before represented the “best” cultural products “ever made.”

    I guess the Seger song that best emblematizes the mass psychological experiment of “classic rock” is about has to be “Still the Same.” You know it, the one addressed to a gambler -- a poker player, presumably -- who “always won every time you placed a bet.” Of the gambler, Seger sings “you always said the cards would never do you wrong.” And like the old card player in “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, Seger’s understands the importance of knowing when to walk away: “The trick, you said, was never play the game too long.”

    But while he never plays a particular game too long, he’s more or less stuck in his role, not unlike a song being played over and over and over again. As the chorus explains, the gambler is a lot like those poker “lifers,” destined (doomed?) to keep “moving game to game.”

    Because (the song concludes) -- like that playlist of “Dream On” and “More Than a Feeling” and “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Magic Man” and “The Joker” I can count on hearing every time I go back into the barn -- “some things never change.”

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    Monday, July 27, 2015

    Rebozo, Abplanalp, Nixon, and Poker

    Those who are aware of Richard Nixon’s poker playing might know about his having played while a Naval officer stationed in the south Pacific during WWII, including perhaps the curious detail that money won by Nixon from those games of draw and stud would later be used to help fund his initial Congressional campaign in 1946.

    Once he’d begun his political career, Nixon continued to play poker with fellow Congressmen in weekly games, and would keep playing in those games -- albeit less frequently -- during his two terms serving as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president (although he never played with Ike, himself a skilled player by most accounts).

    After losing the presidential election to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and then also the race for governor of California two years later, Nixon and his family moved to New York where he worked in a law firm over the next stretch -- the “wilderness years,” as this period out of the public spotlight is sometimes called.

    Nixon joined several prominent men’s clubs in and around New York, more than likely playing poker occasionally when visiting them. That said, he was kept busy doing quite a bit else during that time, including frequently traveling abroad, and once the campaigning for the ’68 election began in earnest, he likely played very little.

    While president, Nixon played even less frequently, with the most likely context for such games occurring when away from the White House, in particular when visiting the home in Key Biscayne, a.k.a. “The Florida White House” to which he took trips on more than 50 occasions during the five-and-a-half years he was in office.

    Nixon bought the home in 1969, not long after taking office, which was located near the residences of his two closest friends, Charles “Bebe” Rebozo (pictured with RN above) and Bob Abplanalp (below). The son of Cuban immigrants, Rebozo was a banker and businessman whom Nixon first met in 1950 (in fact they were introduced by the Congressman from whom Nixon would later by the Florida home). Nixon met Abplanalp later during those New York years. He was an inventor credited with coming up with the aerosol valve, an invention which helped him to extreme wealth.

    Both names are so unusual -- appearing as they do amid Nixon‘s already exceedingly unusual story -- they almost seem as though invented, like a couple of Thomas Pynchon characters.

    References to the trio often mention poker -- along with fishing and drinking -- as a favorite pastime. An article in Sports Illustrated from December 8, 1969 focusing on Abplanalp’s fishing exploits mentions his special affinity for poker as well as his friendship with Nixon, although doesn’t specifically refer to poker games between them.

    In January 1974, Hunter S. Thompson wrote a piece for The New York Times called “Fear and Loathing in the Bunker” in which he correctly predicts Nixon will be resigning, envisioning as he does a post-presidency scene in which card playing is one detail.

    “If I were a gambling person,” writes Thompson, “which I am, whenever possible -- I would bet that Nixon will resign for ‘reasons of health’ within the next six months.” The cited cause of the resignation isn’t accurate and it would take a couple months longer, but otherwise Thompson’s bet was a good one.

    “There will be all-night poker games on the palm-screened patio, with other wealthy exiles like Howard Hughes and Robert Vesco and occasionally Bebe Rebozo,” Thompson continues, shifting the scene southward. “And Nixon, the doomed exile, will spend the daylight hours dictating his memoirs in a permanent state of high fever and vengefulness to his faithful secretary and companion, Rose Mary Woods.” (Indeed, Nixon would spend those first years focused heavily on his memoirs, published in 1978.)

    A 1977 article in People repeats the reference to Rebozo, Abplanalp, and Nixon being “fishing, drinking and poker buddies.” And many accounts of Nixon’s first learning about the Watergate break-in while in Key Biscayne depict him relaxing following the first Moscow summit with his friends, in the midst of seeking escape in a friendly game of cards when first reading the news of the DNC break-in and arrests.

    One reporter who would occasionally accompany Nixon on the trips to Florida, Richard Beeston, would later write how “it was Nixon’s idea of relaxation to spend hours and hours aboard a small houseboat with Rebozo, a Cuban-born Miami banker, and Abplanalp, the multi-millionaire inventor of the aerosol valve, playing poker, drinking and using the below-deck language of his US Navy days.”

    “It was on such a weekend,” Beeston continues, “that Nixon first learned of the break-in.”

    If poker were played between Rebozo, Abplanalp, and Nixon, no details from those games survive. Nixon said nothing about them, and his two “confidants” were both consistently unwilling to divulge details about their friendship with the president or the time they spent with him.

    In fact, a profile of Abplanalp appearing in the March 5, 1971 isssue of Life magazine suggests that despite the inventor’s fondness for poker, he and Nixon had never played at all.

    “Oddly, according to Abplanalp, he and the President do not play cards,” it says. “Abplanalp loves poker, gin or hearts, but he says he did not know Nixon had a reputation as a poker player until he read it in Life” (referring to a famous profile of RN that had appeared about four months before).

    Any cards those three might have played would have been strictly for entertainment, I tend to think, a far cry from the approach Nixon took when winning thousands as a Naval officer some three decades earlier.

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    Friday, July 24, 2015

    The GPI Turns Three

    Saw this morning Alexandre Dreyfus tweeting that the Global Poker Index was marking its third anniversary today.

    I couldn’t resist cheekily responding by pointing out that according to the GPI’s own “Aging Factor” for which results more than three years old no longer count in the rankings, they’ll “need to pick up more points now to replace those from the start.”

    Kind of interesting to think how much the GPI has managed over these three years to locate itself near the center of everything as far as tournament poker goes. The rankings get referenced a lot in poker media, most full-time tourney players are at least aware of them (if not genuinely motivated by them), and of course the various events and partnerships (such as with the WSOP) have increased the GPI’s profile even further.

    The use of the GPI’s formula to determine the WSOP Player of the Year this time around earned a lot of cynical response (including from your humble scribbler), but setting that aside, the general ranking system has at least worked to some extent as a kind of shorthand reference indicating players’ relative consistency when it comes to tournaments.

    Think about tournament poker as it was played 10 years ago, during the height of the “boom.” How were players’ performances judged against one another then? And, concomitantly, how were online sponsorships -- in abundance then -- awarded?

    It was a fairly scattershot process, almost entirely manipulated by television exposure. That’s not to say the GPI is the best way to measure what tournament players have done and thereby suggest what they might do in the future, but at least there’s a kind of method being followed that is more obviously meaningful and less random.

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    Thursday, July 23, 2015

    Caesars’ Swoon and the WSOP

    Noticed earlier this week that Twitter-related flare-up that saw poker pro Matt Glantz tweet a list of suggestions for improving the World Series of Poker, and the initial response from WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel less than half an hour later to block Glantz. (He’s since been unblocked, Glantz reports.)

    Was kind of hilarious to see that playing out on the timeline Monday afternoon in between my reporting on the penultimate day of poker in Peru. Of course, those of us who have followed the WSOP’s various accounts on Twitter have gotten used to this sort of behavior. I’m talking about these seemingly hostile responses (or non-responses) to criticism or even just vague references that something is less than ideal.

    Goes without saying this kind of thing doesn’t help at all when it comes to promoting the WSOP as a friendly brand. In fact it almost seems self-sabotaging in a way, although obviously not intentionally.

    Was thinking again about this sort of digging-a-hole-even-deeper sort of dynamic yesterday when reading the news about Caesars’ stock falling so fast they had to stop trading for a short while.

    Caesars Entertainment Co. has been trying to deal with a nearly $23 billion debt over the last many months. They restructured in the spring of 2014, splitting into three units and moving most of the debt over into one of them, Caesars Entertainment Operating Co. Then this past January the CEOC filed for bankruptcy, which then prompted a bunch of lawsuits from creditors angry about the restructuring and viewing the whole rigmarole as having been rigged to dodge billions’ worth of debt.

    Caesars had tried to stop the creditors’ lawsuits from going forward, but a judge in June ruled against those efforts in one case, then another yesterday ruled in favor of the creditors in the others. That’s what spurred the sudden plunge in the CZR stock on NASDAQ, which hit a nadir at $3.30 per share, I believe, amid a crazy surge in trading (causing the brief halt during the afternoon).

    If you bought a share of CZR back in late February 2014, it would have cost you almost $26. It closed today at $5.14 just a little while ago.

    The WSOP and WSOP.com are not part of the embattled CEOC unit -- they belong to Caesars Interactive. That said, the news on Wednesday that the lawsuits can go forward means that the parent company might also be forced to declare bankruptcy. Which one assumes would ultimately affect the WSOP, perhaps sooner than later.

    Gotta be a pressurized place to be right now, I imagine, so like the amiable Glantz I’m inclined to cut Effel and others doing what they can at the WSOP a little slack. Still, curious to see how Caesars can avoid continuing its downward spiral, and what might happen to the WSOP if it cannot.

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    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    LAPT8 Peru, Day 4: Into the Night

    In one sense, the last day of the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event was surprisingly long.

    After starting at noon, the final table wasn’t over until around 10-10:30 p.m., which is about 4-5 hours longer than the LAPT final tables usually tend to go. Heads-up alone went over four hours, which had us all wondering about whether or not we might be watching one of the longest finales ever in the tour’s history.

    That said, the super-quick penultimate day that saw 32 play down to eight in the space of just four one-hour levels kind of set things up for a longer last day, given the deep stacks most of the players had coming back.

    The protracted finish ended up messing up our dinner plans -- often the last night becomes a good chance to go out for a good, final meal -- but it was fun, nonetheless, to order pizzas and have them delivered to the casino. They arrived just as Chile’s Claudio Moya won the last hand versus Lebanon’s Chadi Moustapha to take the trophy and title, allowing us to gain some needed nourishment while finishing up our last reporting duties.

    As it happened, I ended up having still other business to take care of after that, which ultimately meant I couldn’t finally get to sleep until after 2. That wasn’t necessarily ideal, as my shuttle to the airport was scheduled for 4:30 a.m. (ouch), but I was able to force myself up early enough to get showered, packed, and head back out into the night to begin the process of leaving Peru even before sunrise.

    The flights were fine and on time, although we had a weird thing happen in Miami where we almost touched down, then suddenly and without warning the plane rose back up again to circle about the airport and try the landing a second time. The audible was called because of some weather, we were told, and the second try went just fine, but it was an odd enough finish to the flight to remain lingering in the brain for a while afterwards.

    Managed to negotiate my way through to my terminal in the always-baffling Miami International Airport, then got home early evening in time to enjoy a late dinner with Vera, my day’s journey of 3,300 miles or so having come to an end.

    Was a fun time, but once more I am very glad to be back with Vera and our four-legged friends on the farm. Time to rest.

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    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    LAPT8 Peru, Day 3: Well, That Escalated Quickly

    We are about a half-hour away from the final table getting started here at the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event. That to the left is a look at the scene at present -- quiet now, though sure to enliven shortly.

    Day 3 was kind of a weird one yesterday, as they managed to hustle down from 32 players to eight in just four-and-a-half hours -- in truth just about four hours’ worth of play.

    It wasn’t as though the stacks were especially short. The calls of “all in” just kept happening over and over, seemingly every time we’d looked down from the last one. Was kind of interesting as well to see the top four players in the counts with 32 left all fall shy of making the eight-handed final table.

    The day’s final hand kind of stood as a ready emblem of the whole day, actually. They’d just redrawn for the nine-handed table, the “unofficial” final table which would play on until one more fell. The stacks were plenty deep, thanks in part to the rapid pace, and we were settling in for what often at the LAPTs becomes a lengthy final table bubble, sometimes lasting a couple of hours or more as they try to get from nine to eight.

    But after just a couple of hands one arose in which Carlos Moya defended his big blind with a call after fellow Chilean Patricio Rojas -- winner of this same event two years ago -- had made an early-position raise. The flop came 8-6-4, and suddenly all of the chips were in the middle, with Rojas showing pocket kings and Moya a flopped straight with 7-5.

    Two cards later Rojas was out, and as I say the cracking of those kings seemed appropriate on a day when those who had begun the day with the biggest stacks had all been toppled.

    Another strange bit of trivia coming out of yesterday -- the final table will feature exactly zero Peruvians, which we believe is the first time ever on the LAPT that a final table doesn’t feature a player from the host country.

    The early finish gave Reinaldo, Sergio, and myself a chance for a leisurely dinner, then I managed to get a nice, full night’s sleep. Always seems to go the same way on these trips, sleep-wise, insofar as I start out getting practically none, then by the time I’m about to leave I’m finally getting close to a regular schedule of rest.

    Head over to the PokerStars blog today to follow the action as they play down to a winner, where we’ve already gotten profiles of the final eight up there, if you’re curious.

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    Monday, July 20, 2015

    LAPT8 Peru, Day 2: A Parade in Peru

    Just a couple of quick highlights from yesterday to share that happened along the way while Day 2 of the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event played down from 129 players to 32.

    Early on during the day I caught up with Scott Davies, a poker pro who hails from New Jersey and now lives in Vancouver. Davies won the World Series of Poker Asia Pacific Main Event last October, and following that big score has been able to travel the world playing tournaments all over the place.

    He’s continued to be successful, too, cashing a lot and winning a few events, too, including most recently picking up a WSOP Circuit ring in my neck of the woods at Harrah’s Cherokee. He’s a really amiable guy, and it was a lot of fun chatting with him and sharing the story of how he got to Peru this week.

    Another highlight was that parade I’ve been referring to the last couple of posts, the one that is part of the Fiestas Patrias or national holidays going on for the last part of the month and centered around July 28, Peru’s independence day.

    Along with my friend Carlos Monti, the photographer, I climbed up onto one of the casino’s balconies overlooking the street and we watched the parade for awhile, both of us snapping pics as we did. It was indeed a festive scene, with a huge crowd and lots of kids.

    We saw a fight break out between a couple of dudes, with police having to intervene, but otherwise it was all pretty jovial. Click here to see some of Carlos’s better pics of what we saw.

    Day 3 awaits. Visit the PokerStars blog for more.

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    Sunday, July 19, 2015

    LAPT8 Peru, Day 1b: Peruvian Perambulation

    Gearing up here for another day of blogging from the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event, where 129 players are returning, survivors from what ended up a 366-entry field who will be vying for pieces of the $807,396 prize pool.

    Was a long one yesterday, but fairly smooth and mostly stress-free. I even managed to enjoy three full meals, which afterwards I realized was kind of a rarity on reporting days.

    At one point during the early evening Reinaldo and I took a break to enjoy a long walk around downtown Miraflores where preparations are in full force for the big parade that will start at 3 p.m. today.

    The parade is part of the Fiestas Patrias that includes a few different national holidays, including Peru’s independence day (July 28). For the entire month Peruvian flags are flying everywhere, outside every building and in every office window.

    They’ve blocked off the park and set up bleachers, as I believe there will be more than 100,000 spectators watching the parade which will last several hours. That sign above points parade-goers to the port-a-pottys and where lost children can be found.

    Ought to be quite a spectacle, and I plan to get out there to get a look once it kicks off. Otherwise I’ll be inside the Atlantic City casino reporting from Day 2 -- check over at the PokerStars blog to follow along.

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    Saturday, July 18, 2015

    LAPT8 Peru, Day 1a: Safe Blogging

    While the field wasn’t huge -- 134 entries (including those who re-entered) -- the first Day 1 flight of the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event was still a busy one, with a lot to cover and keep us all occupied as they played down to just 52 players, one for every card in the deck.

    Had some fun during the day with the picture at left, which I tweeted along with a report that we’d had 0.5 days of blogging without an accident. You can never be too safe, especially when posting.

    Speaking of cards, I enjoyed chatting with the gregarious Canadian player Shakeeb Kazemipur early in the day. He won in Panama at the last LAPT stop (which I had missed), so I chatted with him about the experience. It was his first LAPT event, and he was understandably full of enthusiasm about the tour after such a successful first try.

    Speaking of LAPT debuts, a little later I talked briefly with the Scottish player David Vamplew who was making his (not counting LAPT Bahamas). He’d won a satellite online and viewed Peru as a potentially interesting-seeming postscript to his Vegas summer. Had a good start yesterday, too, finishing with a top five stack and not too far behind Day 1a chip leader Raul Alvarez of Peru.

    We skipped out during the dinner break to have a not-too-remarkable chicken meal a short walk away from the casino. Good to get out, though, which I think we’ll do again tonight to get a look at the Saturday night scene downtown. Preparations are being made for a big parade tomorrow marking the Peruvian independence day, called the Wong Parade in light of Fiestas Patrias.

    They’ve already started blocking off some of the streets and have set up bleachers downtown for it, and I think it’ll be quite a spectacle. Might have to sneak out during the afternoon to see some of it.

    Heading back over to the Atlantic City casino here in Miraflores. Check the PokerStars blog throughout the day for more from Lima.

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    Friday, July 17, 2015

    LAPT8 Peru, Arrival: Eat Some Good Food, Then Brood

    I arrived in Lima in one piece during the early evening, and after long wait for luggage and a quick shuttle navigated by an especially deft driver I made it to my hotel room not too far away from the Atlantic City casino where I’ll be spending most of the next five days.

    Despite landing about an hour late, my buddies Sergio and Reinaldo still hadn’t left for dinner, and so I was able to join them and a trio of Brazilian players -- Ale, Renata, and Felipe -- for a delicious dinner at Restaurant Punto Azul, a place where after we arrived I realized was the site of my last meal in Lima back in October.

    I had octopus in olive sauce for an appetizer and a much too big fish dish in pepper sauce, which along with the fun conversation was a nice way to end a long travel day.

    I only got in just a few minutes before we left for dinner, and so had only just caught brief glimpses of tweets mentioning the especially sad news about BLUFF shutting down. Read a little more afterwards and now today am seeing more references and tweets.

    Have been brooding this morning over it all, feeling especially bummed for the guys who are currently with BLUFF and who besides being cool cats have played big roles in making the magazine/site an important, valuable contributor to the poker community. The suddenness of the news adds to the shock, actually, making it harder to believe it is actually true.

    Will probably have to reflect on it all next week after I return home, but there’s work to do. Start checking over at the PokerStars blog today for reports from Lima on the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event.

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    Thursday, July 16, 2015

    A Look Back Before Lima

    Am sketching out a quick post here mid-transit on my way back down to Lima, Peru where I’ll be covering the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Main Event for the PokerStars blog from Friday through Tuesday.

    Like most of the poker world, I still have those last few hours of the World Series of Poker Main Event circling around in my noggin’. As is probably true for most, as the other stories of that finale fade a bit the one that will stick with us for the next short while -- and probably for longer than that -- was Daniel Negreanu coming oh-so-close to making it to the November Nine and thus to be front-and-center amid all of the hubbub he’d surely help build between now and then.

    I’m seeing a few folks trying to go against the grain a bit with sorta-kinda provocative posts about how it didn’t matter so much “for poker” (as they say) for Negreanu to come up short. Or even that it is better somehow that he didn’t.

    While I’m in agreement that poker won’t be overly negatively affected by his not being able to do the mainstream media rounds as one still in the hunt for the long-paused ME, I’m not really convinced by those who want to suggest it wouldn’t have been a net positive overall for that to have happened.

    The NFL does fine regardless who makes it to the Super Bowl. So, too, does the NBA seem to make out all right regardless which teams get to the later rounds of its playoffs, although the MLB and NHL are perhaps affected somewhat when smaller-market teams compete for their respective championships. And I suppose golf and tennis tends to “need” (speaking in relative terms) recognizable names on the leaderboard to sustain interest and keep television ratings high.

    Poker is different, though, functioning like a sport (especially when it comes to the WSOP Main Event) but also existing in many other ways that have different meanings for different people -- as a pastime, a hobby, a semi-serious recreation, a potential career, an actual career, or even just as something fun to watch like a drama series or (more similarly) a reality show.

    I’ll be watching in November for sure, as usual, although I think a lot who might have if Negreanu was there probably won’t.

    Anyhow, turning all that off now as I ready for Peru. It’ll be my fourth time there, I believe, and my mouth is already watering at the thought of the great eats that await. More to come.

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    Wednesday, July 15, 2015

    WSOP “Play Down” Day: The Might-Have-Beens Begin

    Well, that was exciting.

    Everyone’s still reeling from Daniel Negreanu’s suspense-filled near-miss of the World Series of Poker Main Event final table, incredibly matching his best-ever finish from 2001 after getting knocked out in 11th.

    The “Twitter rail” was tremendous last night, with Negreanu’s agent, Brian Balsbaugh, tweeting every hand Negreanu played and even every street at times, right up through the fateful knockout hand when Joe McKeehen spiked a needed card on the river. See the sequence at left, which I’ve turned upside down from earliest to latest to recreate the tension (click pic to embiggen).

    After winning the first couple of hands yesterday to boost his stack well above average, Negreanu slipped back soon thereafter and was more or less just outside of or squarely within the danger zone most of the night as they played down from 27 to 11. Just before dinner he survived an all-in versus chip leader McKeehen that produced a lot of drama, but later on couldn’t fade his opponent’s many outs... and he was out.

    There’s a lot worth discussing regarding what happened last night as well as what’s to come in November. I like McKeehen, whom I mentioned on Monday I first encountered when covering his victory in the WSOP Circuit Main Event at Caesars Atlantic City in early 2013.

    From that tournament I recall he also experienced some run good near the end of the penultimate day, picking up pocket aces a couple of times to earn knockouts and carry a big lead to the final day. I remember him clearly being a solid tournament player, seemingly comfortable in every situation and especially well-suited to play with the lead (I don’t recall him being challenged much at all at that final table).

    I also recall McKeehen being very social at the table and even supportive of others, including some obvious amateurs who made it relatively deep in the event. I’m not talking about Negreanu-level good will -- no one has that -- but enough for me to have banked it as one of my impressions of the guy at the time, and to make it nice to have seen him win the sucker. With more than twice the chips of his nearest challenger (the Israeli, Zvi Stern) heading into the final table, McKeehen is certainly a big favorite, and again I wouldn’t mind seeing him get there at the end.

    Pierre Neuville (in fourth position) making it to the final table is another very cool story. The amiable Belgian is 72 years old -- the oldest November Niner ever -- and last night I enjoyed chatting with my Dad who also happens to be 72. Here’s hoping the hashtag “#NeuvemberNine” picks up again as the final table nears.

    Meanwhile the 61-year-old Neil Blumfield (in third) also significantly skews the average age of this year’s ME final table. Max Steinberg (in fifth) is the only bracelet-winner of the bunch, and is a fun, talented player to watch. The others -- Thomas Cannuli (sixth), Joshua Beckley (seventh), Patrick Chan (eighth), and Federico Butteroni (ninth) -- we’ll get to know eventually, too.

    My thoughts this morning, though, were mostly taken up with two takeaways from last night. One was the lamentable lack of any live stream for what was easily the most exciting night of the summer at the Rio. If you were on Twitter, you saw the frequent references by many to the fact that because of the ESPN contractual obligations our game’s “Super Bowl” must be necessarily experienced piecemeal when it is happening live -- via updates and other “coverage” such as Balsbaugh and others were providing -- and then only in an edited, spaced-out form months later.

    It’s bad, and like others I wish it weren’t so. But clearly there was nothing the WSOP could do about that last night. The other focus of my thoughts, though, concerns something the WSOP did have control over.

    After George McDonald got his queens cracked by Stern’s 10-8-suited to go out in 12th, they were six-handed at the outer table and five-handed at the feature. At the latter were seated McKeehen and four short stacks, Negreanu among them. A huge pay jump had arrived as well, as the next player out in 11th would earn $526,778 while the 10th-place finisher was due $756,897 -- a more than $230K jump which oddly was greater than the jumps from 9th to 8th, 8th to 7th, and 7th to 6th.

    From that point forward, reading the updates on WSOP.com makes it glaringly apparent the pace of play at the feature table was much, much faster than on the outer table, with several hands being reported for the former in each post versus just a couple per post in reports from the latter.

    With one less player and with players generally acting more quickly, the main feature table was blitzing along while the outer table inched slowly from hand to hand. If I’m counting correctly, by the time they reached the next break they had played 48 hands on the feature table and just 26 on the outer table.

    After about an hour-and-a-half of this, with the start of a new level tournament officials finally decided to have the tournament played hand-for-hand. This was something I’d anticipated they’d do as soon as they’d gotten to 11 players, as I mentioned at the end of a PokerNews article yesterday titled “From 27 to 9: How Might the New Payouts Affect Play on Day 7 of the WSOP Main Event?

    In that article I talk about how the pace of play differed between the last few tables on “play down” day at the WSOP ME over the last couple of years. With such a huge pay difference, it seemed to me a trivial decision to go to hand-for-hand at 11 this year, but somehow they didn’t.

    For a decent part of that sequence, McKeehen was the overwhelming chip leader and the other four players at his table were 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th in the counts. McKeehen hammered away at them throughout, and they had to play nearly twice the hands as those at the feature table did during the same 90 minutes. A quick skim through those 48 hands shows McKeehen predictably involved in the great majority of them, and winning 26.

    It only took four more hands before Negreanu’s bust at the start of the new level. The fact that they did at last go hand-for-hand shows they could have done it earlier. And they should have, because not doing so introduced unfairness into what was the most crucial period of the tournament up to that point.

    Those are the thoughts I’m mulling over this morning. I suppose I’ll eventually get around to thinking about what might have been had Negreanu made it. But for now I’m distracted by this other “might have been” having to do with the decision not to go hand-for-hand immediately after McDonald’s knockout.

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    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    Negreanu’s Intentions

    Folks have had fun with Daniel Negreanu’s frequent statements of his “intentions,” often delivered via Twitter, whenever he heads into a new day of tournament poker.

    A short while before play begins, the newly-inducted Poker Hall of Famer will send his more than 365,000 followers or so a tweet starting “My intention is” with the rest spelling out some specific goal he intends to realize by the end of that day. Usually he lists a specific chip count for which he’s aiming, while sometimes he adds other less tangible intentions, too.

    As he has explained in various forums, Negreanu’s motive for stating such intentions has to do with maintaining a positive, optimistic attitude about what he hopes to accomplish, not any particular superstition or other irrational purpose (as far as I’m aware).

    About a half-hour ago Negreanu tweeted out his intentions for today, Day 7 of the World Series of Poker Main Event, which he’ll be starting in ninth position out of the final 27, his above-average stack of 8,495,000 representing a little under 71 big blinds when play begins in just a few minutes.

    “My intention for day 7 of WSOP main event is to maintain focus and intensity, be compassionate, and reach the final table with 40 million” says Negreanu. That chip goal, if reached, might well put Negreanu in the chip lead as the tourney pauses nearly four months before resuming in November.

    Of course, if Negreanu does survive the whittling down from 27 to 9 and make it through today -- no matter how many chips he has -- I think many of us already have an idea what his intentions will be during the long interruption of play. Never one to shy from the limelight, nor one to demonstrate reticence regarding the promotion of poker, I think it’s safe to assume he’ll show us once and for all what good might come from having someone who is already a full-fledged poker “ambassador” slotted into the November Niner role.

    Former 2+2 Pokercast co-host Mike Johnson tweeted earlier today a question that suggested a little bit of skepticism about how exactly Negreanu making the November Nine will change the status quo as far as his already considerable influence is concerned.

    “WSOP ME - someone needs to explain how Daniel winning helps poker?” asks Johnson. “He’s had a huge stage to promote/be an ambassador for yrs. It would be the same.”

    It’s a valid question and point, I think. And it might well be true to say that whether Negreanu realizes his intention to make it the WSOP Main Event final table or not, the difference for the larger poker community -- ultimately -- might in fact be negligible.

    But I think most of us are still curious to see what comes next, should that eventuality occur. That’s why my intention is to follow closely what happens.

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    Monday, July 13, 2015

    Stories Upon Stories at the WSOP

    Yesterday was definitely an interesting day to rail the World Series of Poker Main Event, which I find I’m doing mostly by shuttling between WSOP.com (for live updates and counts), the poker news sites (for spontaneous features), and Twitter (for reactions and discussion).

    Lots of interesting stories emerging regarding the players who remain. As the day wore on, I found myself continually seizing on one particular plotline as “the” story of Day 5, then having that one be soon replaced by another and so on right up until the end of play.

    Start-of-day chip leader Joe McKeehen spent a good portion of the afternoon on top of the counts, and he finished up with 3.66 million -- above the average (about 2.79 milly) and good for a spot inside the top 20 with 69 players left from the starting field of 6,420. McKeehen intrigues me mostly because I helped cover his win in a WSOP Circuit event in Atlantic City in March 2013, a tournament in which he conspicuously distinguished himself as a talented player and dominated at the close.

    Brian Hastings ascent up the counts then led to thoughts about his complicated place in the poker world at present (see “The Battle of Hastings”). He finished the night at 4.74 million and in 10th position, and thus will continue to earn attention going forward, thanks also to his having won two bracelets already this summer which allows him to challenge for the lead in that strangely-calculated WSOP Player of the Year race.

    Then it was Anton Morgenstern leaping to the fore, the player who entered Day 7 of the 2013 WSOP Main Event in first position with 27 left only to be ousted in 20th place. It wasn’t exactly a blow-up two years ago for the young German -- he experienced some bad fortune in two big hands against Mark Newhouse -- but still, it was a remarkable turn of events.

    I still like to rib my friend Stephen Bartley for his tongue-in-cheek-but-still PokerStars blog post he published during Day 6 declaring “Why Anton Morgenstern will (probably) win the main event.” After leading for a short while yesterday, Morgenstern ended today with 4.2 million (17th of 69). See “Anton Morgenstern Getting the Second Chance of Lifetime” on PokerNews to read what Morgenstern is saying about his return trip to the latter stages of the ME.

    Speaking of the PokerStars blog, the deep run of Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu will continue to keep them occupied over there as it has throughout the Main Event thus far. He has 3.62 million (in 22nd place) and chances are the closer he gets to the final table the more likely his story will be eclipsing everything else.

    Then at another break the not-so-familiar name of Bruce Peery appeared in the top slot, with a tweet by Chris Moneymaker quickly helping everyone learn why he might be of interest to WSOP Main Event fans and historians. “Sick sweat at @WSOP #MainEvent,” wrote Moneymaker, “as best friend from 2003 and guy who lost half my action leading with 145 left.”

    As Eric Raskin wrote about in his oral history The Moneymaker Effect (2014) as well as in the preview Grantland article “When We Held Kings,” Peery was the fellow who told Moneymaker not to aim for fourth place and a cash prize of $8,000 in that final PokerStars satellite back in ’03 but to try to win one of the three Main Event packages, ensuring his friend he’d give him $5,000 and take half his action. Alas for Peery, he backed out of the deal and thus missed out on being able to claim half of Moneymaker’s $2.5 million score.

    Tim Fiorvanti jumped on that story yesterday for BLUFF, talking to Peery to get more details which Tim shared in “Moneymaker Legend Grows as Bruce Peery Takes WSOP Main Event Lead.” Peery will begin today in 35th position with 2.4 million.

    But finally it was Pierre Neuville’s story that ultimately pushed past all of these, just as his chip count managed to exceed everyone, too, by night’s end. The 72-year-old finished with 7.105 million to lead all and grab away the Day 5 headlines.

    We’ve all gotten to know Neuville over the years as the very amiable Belgian who earned a reputation as the “Serial PokerStars Qualifier” after winning seats in 23 straight EPT events online. He only took up poker seriously after retiring from a lengthy career in business, I believe, and has earned nearly $2.2 million in live tourney cashes (plus a lot online, too) over the last eight years or so including a two runner-up finishes in EPT Main Events and another second-place in a WSOP bracelet event.

    If you don’t know Neuville, check out this interview Remko Rinkema did with him at EPT Deauville earlier this year to hear him explain how “poker makes me younger every year”:


    Impossible not to pull for Neuville, and his story -- just like his chip stack -- will take precedence when they get going again today. But with all of these other stories -- and players -- still in the mix, the overall narrative should continue to take some interesting turns.

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    Friday, July 10, 2015

    1 to 1,000

    Today (Day 3) the 2015 World Series of Poker money bubble will burst. For the last several years that moment has come during Day 4, usually late in the afternoon, although I’m recalling one memorable instance in 2010 when they were four off the money and went to dinner break, stretching out the suspense an extra hour-and-a-half.

    After initially announcing just before Christmas a plan to repeat last year’s Main Event payout schedule and guarantee $10 million for the winner, there was a lot of less than enthusiastic response over Twitter, prompting the WSOP to do a survey and then change their plans in late January.

    The new schedule jettisoned the $10 milly guarantee in favor of accepting two different ideas proposed by players -- guaranteeing each of the nine players who make the final table at least $1 million, and also paying the top 1,000 finishers. Both of those ideas came with conditions, which then were restated in the structure sheet for the Main Event.

    Regarding the first, “The final table of this event will each receive a minimum of $1,000,000 if this event reaches or exceeds the 2014 entry number.” As it happened, the 6,420 playing the Main this year didn’t quite reach or exceed the 6,683 of a year ago, but when the prize pool and payouts were announced on Wednesday the WSOP decided to stick with the idea, anyway. Probably a good call, actually, if only to prevent what would likely have been a lot of acrimony to bookend the outcry that happened at the start of the summer with the “Colossus surprise.”

    The other condition stated “This event will payout 1,000 places and pay a minimum payout of $15,000 if the event reaches a minimum of 5,000 players.” They got there easily enough, and indeed the schedule does call for those finishing 649th-1,000th to earn exactly $15,000. In fact, the payouts ended up very closely following what my friend Darrel Plant surmised was going to be the case in a table he created for PokerNews back in late January in which he estimated what they would be by looking at last year’s turnout.

    There has been a lot of positive reaction to the idea of paying 1,000 players, even if over a third of them are only going to get 1.5 times their buy-ins, and less than half will double their money. And I think when we get to Monday and Tuesday -- the last days of play this summer -- there will again be some added excitement when that “November Nine” bubble arrives and players are eyeing the seven-figure score awaiting those who make it to the final table.

    Paying a little under 15.6% of the field is not so far out of the norm for tournament poker to be that strange, I think. And there will no doubt be a lot of happy stories surrounding those realizing the achievement of cashing in the Main Event today, which will be fun to follow.

    Thinking back to how the WSOP Main Event began as a winner-take-all affair. From 1971 (the first year they held a tournament) through 1977, only one player made the money. It wasn’t until 2004 that more than a thousand actually played the event (the post-Moneymaker year the turnout jumped from 839 to 2,576).

    Now a thousand players are actually getting a piece of the prize pool. And I’m going to guess they’ll keep this payout schedule in place at least for the near future, too.

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    Thursday, July 09, 2015

    Kiddin’ Around

    So much of what adults do can be regarded as exaggerated versions of children’s behavior.

    For all the ways poker resembles or can be regarded as a variation of other “mature” endeavors like, say, a business negotiation, a political conflict, a type of social intercourse, and so on, it also simulates entirely playful diversions such as kids pursue so earnestly. After all, the game does involve a lot of pushing around of cards with different shapes, numbers, and pictures on them, not to mention passing tiddly-winks back and forth according to an agreed upon set of procedures.

    Vera was scrolling through the channels on the teevee yesterday and for a while settled on some show involving artists (of a sort) who painted bodies. Like so many shows, this tiny little creative niche had been made into a competition (“reality TV”-style), with judges and votes and so on. The program reminded me of kids’ doodles in the margins of notebooks, just elaborated much more thoroughly and overlayed with a patina of weightiness.

    Also enjoyed some of the funny business conducted by several NBA players over Twitter yesterday, the kind-of-hilarious “emoji war” that served as a comical chorus to the whole DeAndre Jordan flip-flop whereby after verbally agreeing to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, he changed his mind (as allowed) and decided to stay on with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    I won’t sort through all of the details of that story -- here’s a good recap of it all that also includes several of the tweets players were sending out with emojis as well as photos attached, many of which were very clever and highly amusing.

    Couldn’t help grinning both at some of the tweets as well as the whole idea of adults communicating via little pictures in this way, never mind the fact that the context for the whole conversation was a business deal involving more than $85 million.

    Was like poker, I guess. And other things adults do that kids do, too. Make pictures. Doodle. Compete. Laugh and play.

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    Wednesday, July 08, 2015

    WSOP Main Event Holds Steady (Again)

    They’ve begun Day 2 at the World Series of Poker Main Event. I know the excitement will start to build in earnest once we get to the weekend and the final table starts to shape up, but at the moment things seem oddly anticlimactic. I guess the absence of live streams at this point (and from hereafter) and other changes have diminished the hype this year a bit, at least for me.

    Even with Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey playing at the same table yesterday during Day 1c, the highlight thus far -- for what it’s worth -- seems to have been watching to see where the final total number of entrants was going to settle.

    I had been posting of late about the various predictions people were making before the WSOP began. The PokerNews guys’ guesses for this year’s Main Event turnout ranged from 6,150 to 6,800. I was on the higher end of that spectrum, having guessed 6,774. The total finally settled at 6,420 -- very close to Chad Holloway’s guess of 6,400 and Donnie Peters’s of 6,480.

    That’s down, of course, from the 6,683 who played the Main Event a year ago (about a 4% drop), although more than the 6,352 who played in 2013.

    Meanwhile because of the newly-introduced payouts (including ensuring all who make the final table will earn at least $1 million), first place is getting “only” $7,680,021 this year. You have to go all of the way back to 2004 when Greg Raymer earned $5 million for becoming the champ to find a lower first prize.

    Even so, I think the turnout total represents another example of “holding steady,” which has to be regarded as a victory of sorts for the WSOP and Caesars -- not unlike a player who keeps getting dealt marginal hands yet keeps his stack roughly where it is.

    Not sure how many exactly made it through the three Day 1 flights -- there were conflicting totals reported all over, but it looked like something close to 4,400 or so. The fact that 1,000 are getting paid this year will make the bubble bursting come a little earlier, probably sometime late Friday (I imagine) after the various flights all combine for Day 3.

    Like I say, it all feels pretty even keel at the moment, but hopefully once they get into the money the subsequent days will provide a little more drama.

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    Tuesday, July 07, 2015

    A New Fiscal Physical Year

    If you hunt back through some of my posts from early last year -- and heck, from years’ past, too -- you’ll see me occasionally talking about physical fitness and making mostly vague promises here to try to remain active, usually according to some imagined schedule.

    It was during last summer (or so) that I once again lapsed as far as regular exercise was concerned. That said, maintaining the farm has required a fairly steady pace of physical exertion from your humble scribbler (he said defensively while raising a plastic pitchfork).

    I mean, I’ve lifted more 50-lb. bags of feed, similarly-weighted bales of hay, and full muck buckets than I care to count, and that’s not even getting into other daily, weekly, and monthly chores and repairs that are constantly needing to be done.

    All of which is to say, I haven’t been feeling especially slothful, although for some reason when July 1 came around this year I was strangely inspired to put on my running shoes and hit the road again. It’s a week later and I’ve managed to string together seven days’ worth of runs in a row -- nothing too outrageous (just a couple of miles), but enough to feel like I’m doing something.

    You should have seen my sad waddling around after the third day, when the soreness was at its greatest. Things got much better soon after, though, and Vera has even joined me these last couple of days, which has provided some additional encouragement.

    Like I say, I’m not sure what inspired me to get out there again. I would say it was all of the players at the WSOP discussing the importance of being fit in order to play so many marathon days of poker one after another, but to be honest it was more the otherwise meaningless milestone of the half-year starting.

    Whatever the cause, I’m going to try to stick with it a little longer this time. Have a trip coming up later in the month (to Peru) which might provide a challenge, but I’ll nonetheless see if I can keep up the pace here at the start of my new “year.”

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    Monday, July 06, 2015

    Regarding Those Ribbon Clerks

    The 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event is underway, with the first of three Day 1 flights drawing a smallish Sunday crowd of 741. Today and tomorrow will obviously be much bigger, and I think most expect the total number of entrants to rival or even exceed last year’s 6,683.

    The $10,000 buy-in Main comes in the wake of that huge $500,000 Super High Roller that just finished playing out at the ARIA Resort and Casino over the weekend, the biggest buy-in poker tournament of the year. Brian Rast topped a field of 43 to win a $7.525 million first prize that should rival the $8 milly or so the Main Event winner will take away.

    The divide between those two events is enormous, of course, with that 50x difference in the buy-ins obviously meaning those playing the $500K belong to a very exclusive club. In fact, if you go back into the early history of the WSOP, back to the 1970s when the Main Event fields had yet even to crack 100 players, it’s tempting to draw further comparisons between the guys currently paying a half a milly each to play a poker tournament and WSOP ME players of old.

    In 1978, the year Bobby Baldwin won the WSOP Main Event (and the first year it wasn’t played as a winner-take-all tournament), just 42 took part, one less than the number who played the $500K Super High Roller. That said, $10,000 in 1978 was worth the equivalent of something like $38,000 today, so the comparison only goes so far.

    Speaking of separating the high-stakes players from the hoi polloi, I was recently listening to an old interview with Richard Nixon in which he was talking about the long and winding road that led him to complete his comeback to political prominence to win the 1968 presidential election after losing to JFK in ’60 and also losing the California governor race in ’62.

    He was talking about having dinner with friends right after the ’66 elections in which the Republicans had gained a few senate seats (three), a lot of House seats (47), and what many thought to be some momentum going forward for ’68. Nixon’s friends were urging him not to wait much longer before announcing his intention to run for president, but he would actually hold off officially doing so more than a year until February ’68.

    Nixon paraphrases his friends’ urging thusly: “Now you’ve got to get in [they said]. You’ve got to announce for president, and so forth, and get the ribbon clerks out.”

    I had to pause over that phrase “get the ribbon clerks out,” employing as it does a term that Robert McLaughlin also uses in the title of his 1945 New Yorker poker-themed short story “Let’s Get Rid of the Ribbon Clerks.”

    The title comes up halfway through the story in the middle of a poker hand in a game played at the Officers’ Club among some enlisted men. The game is seven-card stud, and by fourth street a player bets a dollar, then the story’s protagonist, Lieutenant Fred Wilson, announces he’s raising. “I’ll just raise that five,” he says. “Let’s get rid of the ribbon clerks.”

    Besides being used simply to describe a raise (as Lt. Wilson does), the phrase is also used in poker to refer to raising the stakes in a game, such as when someone suggests changing a $1/$2 game to $5/$10 to “weed out the ribbon clerks.” You’ll find the term in a lot of poker dictionaries, such as in The Poker Encyclopedia edited by Elkan Allan and Hannah Mackey where a “ribbon clerk” is defined as “slang for a small-stakes player.”

    It’s also used more loosely to describe tight players (or “rocks”) who can be easily frightened out of a pot by a big bet. Thus, any player not courageous enough -- or, in the gendered world of poker, manly enough -- to handle upping the stakes or an aggressive raise, can be considered a “ribbon clerk.”

    Why a “ribbon clerk”? Well, a ribbon clerk was the common job title for a cashier working in a dry goods store back in the late 19th or early 20th centuries -- that is, a place where you’d buy clothes, household goods, cloth and fabric, and other miscellaneous items including hair ribbons. Again pointing back to the historically hyper-masculine context of poker, the man working such a job would be considered just a touch less macho because of his employment.

    Searching around about the term also shows it’s having been used in the context of gay slang. I’m seeing a couple of different examples there, with ribbon clerk once used to refer to a gay man working a desk job, though more recently (and more frequently) used to refer to a woman who primarily socializes with gay men. Such uses obliquely allude back to the earlier-created idiom and its reference to presumed gender roles.

    So in a poker game -- or a presidential campaign -- calling opponents “ribbon clerks” is mildly demeaning, suggesting as it does the idea that the players being so described aren’t as tough or brave as the one doing the name-calling.

    Of course, upping the buy-in ante to $500K gets rid of not just the ribbon clerks, but 99.9% of the rest of us, too.

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    Friday, July 03, 2015

    Eight Years, Eight Hands: Looking Back Through the 2007-2014 Main Events

    Readying here for the Fourth of July tomorrow, and for the start of World Series of Poker Main Event on Sunday. Hard to believe the whole sucker has almost played out again already.

    Thinking about the Main Event inspired me to rummage around a little through the last eight years’ worth of live reporting from the WSOP on PokerNews -- a pretty cool, easy-to-navigate archive. From each of the eight years I chose a single hand from either the final table or close to it and presented all of them in a compilation over in the PokerNews Strategy section.

    Some of the hands were more consequential than others, but each featured some interesting, even fascinating decisions made by the players involved, thus inspiring the title of the compilation “The Second-Guessing Game: Key Decisions from WSOP Main Events (2007-2014).”

    Part 1 covers the following hands:

    2007 - The elimination of Philip Hilm in ninth place by Jerry Yang in just the 15th hand of the final table. Recall how Yang began that final table in seventh while Hilm was in first.

    2008 - A huge hand early on from the final table between Dennis Phillips (with A-K) and Ivan Demidov (with A-Q) that suddenly sent start-of-final-table chip leader Phillips down to ninth of nine.

    2009 - The wild Billy Kopp-Darvin Moon hand with 12 players left that saw both flop flushes and Kopp suddenly ousted in 12th.

    2010 - The dramatic hand in which Jonathan Duhamel knocked out Matt Affleck in 15th, cracking Affleck’s aces after they were all in on the turn and Duhamel filled a straight on the river.

    Part 2 then carried things forward with these hands:
    2011 - Kind of a cool hand from heads-up between Martin Staszko and Pius Heinz in which both were bluffing away without a pair and Staszko finally pushed Heinz off his hand.

    2012 - Andras Koroknai’s huge six-bet shove with K-Q-offsuit, called by Greg Merson called who held A-K-suited to knock Koroknai out in sixth.

    2013 - J.C. Tran’s fold with six players left to Jay Farber’s four-bet in a blind-versus-blind hand. Tran had A-Q while Farber had pocket sixes.

    2014 - Mark Newhouse’s elimination hand in which he battled to the river versus William Tonking, finally pushing his last chips in with pocket tens on a 2-4-J-4-J board, and Tonking found a call with pocket queens.

    Remember those hands? Click over to relive ‘em and/or think about some of the strategy followed in each.

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    Thursday, July 02, 2015

    Zinno’s Paradox

    Last night Anthony Zinno won his first ever World Series of Poker bracelet, topping a field of 175 in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship (Event No. 60) to earn a better than $1.12 million first prize.

    That’s Zinno’s fifth cash this summer at the WSOP, and incredibly he’s made the final table all five times. He’s also won two WPT Main Events this year as well as a WPT Bay 101 High Roller, so it has been some year for the Boston resident.

    In terms of the occasionally discussed (and occasionally derided) WSOP Player of the Year race, Zinno’s win was worth 619.11 points according to the formula followed by the Global Poker Index, which added to the 1,323.61 he had previously gave him 1,942.72 points total.

    That moved him into second place behind current leader Mike Gorodinsky who has six WSOP cashes this summer including a third, a second, and a first, with the latter coming in the $50K Poker Players Championship (Event No. 44). (Gorodinsky, you’ll remember, was wondering a short while back what exactly the incentive was for chasing the POY.)

    Gorodinsky also cashed in the $25K PLO event, finishing 17th, a result worth 279.49 POY points. Added to the 1,771.21 he had before, that gives Gorodinsky 2,050.70 points total.

    So Zinno was behind Gorodinsky prior to the conclusion of Event No. 60, then earned enough to pass Gorodinsky but didn’t because the latter also earned points in the same tournament.

    Will it keep happening for Zinno, that every time he cashes and earns points Gorodinsky will also cash to remain ahead of him?

    Could it happen that in order to win WSOP POY, Zinno would have to traverse an infinite number of divisions in order to reach Gorodinsky, but since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of divisions, Zinno will never be able to pass Gorodinsky?

    Really, we all should have seen this coming.

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    Wednesday, July 01, 2015

    Watching the High Rollers

    Have to admit my eagerness to follow what has been going on at the World Series of Poker has been coming and going here over the last week or so. Kind of surprising to look up and realize the Main Event is almost here (it starts Sunday).

    In fact, I’ve found my attention as a poker-spectator divided this week somewhat by what’s happening over at the ARIA Resort & Casino, in particular by that big three-day “Super High Roller” cash game featuring $400/$800 blinds, $200 antes, and a quarter-million minimum buy-in. That’s leading up to a $500,000 buy-in “Super High Roller Bowl” tourney at the ARIA that starts tomorrow.

    All of the action at the ARIA is being delivered over the PokerCentral Twitch channel, albeit without hole cards. It’s all being shot as well for broadcast later on NBCSN. The cash game has at times resembled the old High Stakes Poker shows given the emphasis on table talk and having lots of well known personalities sitting around the table. And I think I heard something about Gabe Kaplan and A.J. Benza coming back to do the commentary, although I’m not 100% on that.

    Among those taking part thus far have been Jean-Robert Bellande, Bob Bright, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Colman, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey, Matthew Kirk, Paul Newey, Doug Polk, Andrew Robl, David “Doc” Sands, Scott Seiver, Jennifer Tilly, and Sam Trickett.

    There have been some huge pots and interesting props -- if you’re curious you can read PokerNews’ recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 and/or look through the live reporting blog.

    You might’ve heard about one hand from yesterday involving Daniel Colman and Doug Polk in which the flop came AsQcQc -- that’s right, a second queen of clubs snuck in there. The craziest part of the hand, though, was the fact that neither Colman, Polk, nor anyone else at the table seemed to notice the duplicated card, and in fact the hand played to a conclusion before the fouled deck was realized. Take a look:

    Seiver had a funny line soon after when Robl holding ace-queen called a preflop all-in by Polk who had a pair of kings. “Obviously Andrew’s playing this because there’s a bonus queen in the deck,” Seiver cracked.

    The Qs did fall on the flop in that one the first time they ran it, and Seiver said “I’m rooting for another queen of spades.” The Qh then came on the turn to put Robl ahead, but a king came on the river to give Polk kings full. (Polk won the second run, too.)

    Going back to hand with the duplicated card, though -- everyone’s so unfazed, despite the huge amount of money on the line. Safe to say if something similar happened at the Rio -- say, at a WSOP final table -- the response would hardly be so ho-hum.

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