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 -- is exactly 0.0. 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 is the only place they 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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