Friday, May 29, 2015

The Sun in June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Infinitesimal Uptick of Online Poker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Opening Day for the 2015 WSOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When Hoover Turned Down a Game of Poker With Harding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Colossus Counting and Other Poker Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

How many do you think will play the Colossus?

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Remko’s Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Last Call for Late Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One More Week

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

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

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

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

With everyone else, am staying tuned.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

GPI, WSOP, POY, et al.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Virtual Rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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