Thursday, March 23, 2017

To Panama and Back

Am back safely on the farm after a fun, long trip to Panama and back.

I miss a little doing the daily “travel reports” here, although as I’ve mentioned previously especially when returning to a place I’ve been before there ends up being a little less that’s fresh from the road to discuss. Never mind how busy the trips are, which obviously uses up a lot of the mental fuel left for scribbling further about what’s happening.

It was interesting going back to Panama where I’d been twice before for Latin American Poker Tour stops. Both there and elsewhere, the LAPTs were always popular though modest-seeming relative to European Poker Tour festivals or the World Series of Poker.

Usually LAPTs only featured a dozen or so events with a Main Event often featuring a buy-in on the small side (e.g., in the $1,100-$1,500 range). Meanwhile the EPTs would have as much as 100 events or more, including satellites, making for a much busier schedule.

This inaugural PokerStars Championship Panama series had 46 events on the schedule, a $5,300 Main Event (like at the former EPTs/other PSCs), and other elements that made it less like the LAPTs of old and more like the first PSC in the Bahamas and what is coming up in Macau, Monte Carlo, Sochi, and Barcelona.

In the coverage we focused largely on the $50K Super High Roller (won by Ben Tollerene), the $10K High Roller (won by Steve O’Dwyer), and the $5K Main Event (won by Kenny Smaron). Meanwhile there was some time here and there to look upon the city’s remarkable, idiosyncratic architecture, with several excursions by foot around the Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino and a cab trip over to Old Town for a nice meal and more interesting sightseeing.

Those two photos up above -- and the idea to juxtapose them -- come via Brad Willis of the PokerStars blog who snapped ’em on one such evening out. “Panamanian noir,” he titled them.

Probably the night from the trip I’ll remember the longest was that of the media tournament. There were 30-40 entrants including three Team PokerStars Pros -- Jake Cody, Felipe Ramos, and Leo Fernandez. Tito Ortiz, the MMA fighter who managed to get all of the way to 22nd in the Main Event also took part in the media tournament, and I ended up playing with all four of them before the night was over.

After a slow start in the sucker, I had some good hands come my way and after a while had made the final table, then eventually got all of the way to heads-up before coming up short to finish second (again!). Was kind of a circus by the time we got to the end, with tons of people having stuck around to support both me and eventual winner Melanie.

And heads-up featured some big time back-and-forths with both of us getting close to finishing the other off in preflop all-ins before cards fell on either the turn or river to keep the thing going. Afterwards I knew I could’ve played a bit more aggressively heads-up, but I’ll have to file it away as more experience to draw from the next time around.

The best part of the trip was of course getting to work and laugh alongside my many colleagues and friends there, too. Among them was Carlos, who took that great pic of me just above during the media event, one of several great ones he snapped. “You are the most boring player,” grinned Carlos to me, referring to my lack of animation at the table. But from his photos you’d never guessed that was case.

Will be sitting tight for a while now, the next trip likely going to be another return visit, this time to Monaco. Plotting the summer as well, which might contain a fun adventure, too -- will update accordingly.

Photos: Brad Willis (top); Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog (bottom).

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Clocking in from Panama

Hola from rainy Panama City where I’ve been since Friday, having arrived in time to help cover the PokerStars Championship Panama series for the next week-and-a-half.

Had a chance this morning to get out and about a little, then again at lunchtime when my friend Nick and I were able to find a very busy local establishment to enjoy a Sunday brunch of Panamanian fare. The temps are warm and the air humid, and right now as I write a thunderstorm is pouring down sheets of rain outside. (Meanwhile, check out what happened back at the farm this morning -- nuts!)

Inside the Sortis Hotel and Casino the PSC continues with the $50,000 Super High Roller, a “shot clock” tournament in which players have 30 seconds to act, unless they want to use any of their three “time bank” chips that give them an extra minute each to be a decision.

I’m not sure if I ever have covered a tournament using a shot clock before -- if I have, I don’t recall it -- but yesterday made it seem an awfully attractive addition to tournament poker. My sample is a bit misleading, given that the players (all high rollers) are pretty much without exception both experienced and skillful, and the dealers are also top notch, making the incorporation of the clock (a hand held time piece) seem not at all intrusive.

From a reporter’s standpoint, the shot clock is very welcome given the way it obviously sets a limit on the amount of time any one hand will take. It’s nice to know something is going to happen relatively soon whenever you get involved watching a hand, and to avoid ever getting lost in those endless tanks that end in folds and little to report.

These guys (the regular participants in SHRs) generally act fairly quickly, anyway, of course. I could see how the shot clock wouldn’t be so welcome among more varied fields. Then again, I can also imagine everyone getting fairly used to them, and don’t necessarily see their introduction as being that much different than other experiments with structures designed to make events play out more quickly. I’m remembering not being so crazy about such an idea three years ago or even more recently, but I could warm to it.

Get over to the PokerStars blog to see how the $50K SHR is (rapidly) playing out and everything else happening in Panama.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart / PokerStars blog.

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Monday, March 06, 2017

The Man Who Can’t Stop Firing

The most dangerous tweeter alive has fired off several more strange, unsettling, self-implicating messages for all of his followers -- and the rest of us -- to ponder. “Fired” was a word already associated with the reality TV star, thanks to his famous catch phrase. Now it’s the easy choice of verb to describe his weapon-like use of Twitter.

Last Thursday the president’s recently-named Attorney General recused himself from current and future investigations of the 2016 presidential campaign. Such investigations are presently focusing on the influence of Russia on last year’s election and the numerous ties between the foreign power and several of the president’s associates (including the president himself). The A.G.’s decision came after it became widely known that during his confirmation hearing he’d lied under oath about his own meetings with Russian representatives during the campaign.

We know that angered the president, as he let us all know via Twitter. Saw a funny tweet yesterday from the columnist Doug Sanders summarizing the absurdity of such a situation as speculative fiction: “Sci-fi where the president has lost his mind and everyone knows because his private thoughts keep appearing on little slabs in their pockets.”

“The Democrats are overplaying their hand,” the president furiously wrote, choosing a poker analogy in order to express frustration about his A.G. having succumbed to the pressure to recuse himself. The president wished to suggest the Democrats are betting too heavily with too weak of a holding, since (in his view) the connections and communications between Russia and his associates (and himself) are inconsequential.

“The real story,” he added, “is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total ‘witch hunt!’”

He hastily jabbed some more pettiness into his smartphone after that, then traveled to his supervillain-like lair in Florida, his estate in Mar-al-Lago. From there the embittered president launched an incredible accusation Saturday morning that his predecessor, Barack “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”

He first called this action “McCarthyism,” which is at best an imprecise use of a term normally used to refer to someone making unfair allegations against another. Indeed, the president himself seemed to be the one making the unfair allegation, making his phrase “This is McCarthyism!” punctuating his tweet seem unintentionally self-referential.

Many soon picked up on the fact that the claim was derived from a far-right talk show host’s hypothesis that had been turned into a faux-report over on Breitbart, the website formerly run by the president’s assistant Steve Bannon widely known to have published several unsupported conspiracy theories and falsehoods in the past.

The president continued his accusation over a few more tweets, finishing thusly: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The “Nixon/Watergate” reference is again another hazy allusion to history being made by the president, in this case triggered by the mention of phone taps. Again, it’s hard not to think that while he intends to suggest a comparison that accuses another, he is instead drawing attention to parallels with himself.

To name one, the investigation into the 2016 election includes questions about the president and his associates (among them his original national security adviser Michael Flynn who has already resigned over the allegations) having suggested to the Russians that United States sanctions against them would be lessened or removed once the new administration took over, severely undermining the Obama administration’s authority and ability to act in the nation’s interests (never mind violating federal law).

Such meddling resembles what Nixon was alleged to have done prior to the 1968 election when interfering with the sitting president Lyndon B. Johnson’s attempts to reach peace in Vietnam. (For more on the latter, see “‘I’m Reading Their Hand”: LBJ, Nixon, and the Week Before the 1968 Election.”)

In fact, the idea of one president accusing his predecessor of having formerly illegally tapped his phones is yet another example of the current commander-in-chief emulating Nixon. So, too, did Nixon on multiple occasions bring up privately that he believed he had been bugged by Lyndon B. Johnson during the last couple of weeks prior to the 1968 election.

For example, on October 17, 1972, Nixon told John Connally (the former Texas governor who served for a time as Nixon’s Secretary of Treasury before leading the “Democrats for Nixon” in the run-up to the ’72 election) that J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director until his death in May 1972, had informed him LBJ had Nixon’s plane bugged because “he had his Vietnam plans... and he had to have information as to what we were going to say about Vietnam.”

“Johnson knew every conversation,” Nixon told Connally. “And you know where it was bugged? In my compartment!”

Later, after Nixon had been reelected and once Watergate began seriously heating up, Nixon would again bring up LBJ’s alleged bugging of his plane, wondering aloud to others how they might make it public so as to make the bugging of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters seem less remarkable -- or at least not without precedent.

But Nixon never did that. Meanwhile the current president -- going off a speciously-sourced story that the present FBI Director is denying could be true (and a spokesman for Obama and others in the know are suggesting to have been wholly impossible) -- got out his phone and pulled the trigger without hesitation. And without even informing his staff he was doing so. And without seemingly any care for the effect such an accusation might have on the country he was elected to lead, or its standing in the world going forward.

I wonder sometimes what this presidency would be like without the tweets. Would it seem as obviously unhinged? Perhaps. After all, that first press conference in mid-February was an absolute horrorshow -- way, way more distressing than any performance by any president ever, including Nixon at his most petulant and paranoid.

Then again, it seems possible that if he were not to tweet he would at least seem less demented, wouldn’t it? Or is it too late? I mean with every single tweet he hurts himself, and often hurts lots of us, too. It seems like he has to figure that out at some point, right?

Or not. Brace yourself. He’s about to fire again.

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