Friday, October 09, 2015

Winners, Losers, and Playoff Randomness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

WSOP Europe Begins in Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The 2015 WSOP Main Event on ESPN (So Far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Tuesday, October 06, 2015

    The DFS “Scandal” and Online Poker’s Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Monday, October 05, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Friday, October 02, 2015

    Getting It Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Thursday, October 01, 2015

    PS Gets the OK from NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Wednesday, September 30, 2015

    Positions and Juxtapositions: Nine Years Later, the UIGEA Then and Now

    I’m just going to juxtapose a few items here today, inspired both by an anniversary and some items I’ve read and heard this week.

    On this date nine years ago -- just a few months after I started the Hard-Boiled Poker blog -- I wrote a post here called “Deals in the Dead of Night” noting how the night before, after midnight in fact, a federal bill had passed through both houses that thereafter change the course of online poker in the United States once it was signed into law by then-president George W. Bush a couple of weeks later.

    As it happened, that same bill -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 -- provided legal justification for the birth of a new online industry, fantasty sports.

    1. “Senate Passes Bill on Building Border Fence” (The New York Times, Sept. 29, 2006)

    “At the urging of conservative groups and the National Football League, among other interests, the port security measure carried legislation cracking down on Internet gambling by prohibiting credit card companies and other financial institutions from processing the exchange of money between bettors and Web sites. The prohibition, which exempts some horse-racing operations, has previously passed the House and Senate at different times but has never cleared Congress.”

    2. “Frist Statement on Passage of Internet Gambling Legislation” (Sept. 29, 2006)

    “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.) made the following statement after the Senate passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act:

    ‘Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society. Congress has grappled with this issue for 10 years, and during that time we’ve watched this shadow industry explode. For me as majority leader, the bottom line is simple: Internet gambling is illegal. Although we can’t monitor every online gambler or regulate offshore gambling, we can police the financial institutions that disregard our laws.’”

    3. “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006” (Oct. 13, 2006)

    “The term ‘bet or wager’... does not include... participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization....”

    4. “NFLPA Adds DraftKings to Partnership Lineup” (Sept. 25, 2015)

    “The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), via its licensing and marketing arm NFL Players Inc., and DraftKings, a leading destination for daily fantasy sports (DFS), today announced a group licensing partnership that will allow some of the NFL’s top-rated players to participate in DraftKings’ marketing efforts this season.... The NFLPA licensing partnership will provide DraftKings the right to employ active NFL players for in-product and promotional campaigns across broadcast, print, social media, digital and mobile properties, as well as via experiential, memorabilia and content activations....

    As the popularity of fantasy sports continues to grow with more than 56 million players in 2015, a nearly 40-percent year-to-year increase according to global market research company Ipsos, the deal provides DraftKings with a new degree of connectivity by directly involving a group of active NFL players in the marketing and promotion of its daily fantasy sports experience to fans.”

    5. “Fantasy Sports Sites DraftKings, FanDuel September Spend Tops $100 Million” (Advertising Age, Sept. 30, 2015).

    “According to estimates, DraftKings and FanDuel together have funneled $107 million into the networks' coffers since Sept. 1. Nearly half ($50.3 million) of that outlay was spent on national NFL broadcasts on CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and NFL Network....

    DraftKings ads have aired a skull-clutching 16,259 times over the course of the month, which works out to 135 hours and 25 minutes of 30-second spots. That's more than five-and-a-half days, or a full work week, of commercial messaging that's been hammered out in the span of a 29-day period.... By iSpot's reckoning, FanDuel ads have aired 9,463 times since Sept. 1. That translates to nearly 79 hours of total airtime, or a little north of three days.”

    6. Dan LeBatard and Jon Weiner (Stugotz), The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz (ESPN, Sept. 29, 2015)

    LeBatard: “DraftKings is spilling money all over the place, and now they have made an allegiance with the NFL Players Union where they are able to put players in their advertising. And I’m trying to find exactly the right analogy here, because what DraftKings and FanDuel and what the fantasy phenomenon has captured here is, it’s not quite legalized cocaine... because cocaine has a stigma with it.... But we are in an area right now where DraftKings and FanDuel... and their ilk have found this place.... They’ve found a place where it’s gambling -- it’s obviously gambling -- [and] they’re able to spill and sponsor everything in sports and everyone is taking their money.... People want it.”

    Stugotz: “I agree with you about the stigma, but wasn’t online poker... didn’t they ban that?”

    LeBatard: “Yes... but online poker is a little sketchier, not nearly as popular as this is....”

    Stugotz: “I agree, but I’m just trying to figure out the difference between the two.”

    LeBatard: “Oh, there is no difference. One’s legal and one’s not.... One is legal because it’s a game of skill, the other is illegal because, poker players will tell you, it, too, is a game of skill, but it’s the same thing.... It’s amazing to watch the arbitrary moralities that we have with this.”

    LeBatard: “I just think it’s weird that we are always applying arbitrary moralities, and in this case we are doing it with our legal system and we’re doing it with our government. It doesn’t make any sense to me that this is legal and online poker isn’t.”

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    Tuesday, September 29, 2015

    Great Deal of Fun in WCOOP Finale

    Fun stuff earlier tonight railing the final table of the World Championship of Online Poker Main Event on PokerStars, mainly because of the ongoing deal discussions that began even before play got going today with nine players left.

    The $5,200 buy-in tournament drew 1,995 players which meant it came just five players shy of reaching the number needed to match the $10 million guarantee for the prize pool. A total of 243 players cashed in the sucker, but over half of the prize pool -- $5.446 million -- was still up for grabs with nine left.

    During the minutes leading up to today’s restart, the table’s short stack, a Belgian going by “Coenaldinho7,” was proposing to everyone a hilarious nine-way chop in which (if I remember it correctly) each would take half a million, leaving the rest (nearly another milly) up top for the winner. No one even acknowledged that he was saying anything.

    The deal requests continued from Coenaldinho7 thereafter, pretty much after each knockout, and finally with five left they got to talking seriously about the possibility. No deal happened then, but one finally did with four remaining -- you can read details over in the recap on the PokerStars blog.

    Interestingly, once the deal was made both Coenaldinho7 and beertjes79 (also from Belgium) willingly gave up money to ensure the chop would happen. In fact, beertjes79 -- then the short stack among the four -- volunteered to give up over $50K (taking $800K). Coenaldinho7 meanwhile readily gave up about $27K to ensure a guaranteed payout of $1.1 million. Watching that made it easy to root for both of them going forward, and it was kind of amusing in the end to see Coenaldinho7 take it down to earn a $1.3 million score.

    Have written here before many times about the sometimes fascinating psychology of final table deal-making and how it really becomes in many cases an extension of the game itself. As the WCOOP ME final table was progressing, I noticed talk reviving on Twitter about the WSOP and its draconian prohibition against final table deals (again).

    The WSOP changes its line regarding this policy from time to time, and depending on who is addressing the subject and when, you’ll hear different explanations. Sometimes they say it has to do with regulations from Nevada Gaming, which doesn’t really make sense. Other times they’ll suggest not allowing deals protects the players, although that, too, seems counterintuitive, given that the policy forces deal-making “under the table” (so to speak).

    Meawhile in the WSOP Conference Call last May it was suggested the policy actually has more to do with spectators and fans than with players. “The general public really doesn’t want to see skill-based games played that way,” explained WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. “I can tell you ESPN producers and viewers [also] don’t want to see poker played that way,” he added, suggesting perhaps the prohibition has more to do with what ESPN wants than what the WSOP does.

    But as we saw today -- and at many EPT Main Event final tables, too -- the deal-making can sometimes be as entertaining or even more so than the poker itself.

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    Monday, September 28, 2015

    The Packers Are Freerolling

    Sitting here with Monday Night Football on the teevee, watching Aaron Rodgers exert his mastery once more as the Green Bay Packers are rolling over the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Not to get too carried away with a fast-crowding bandwagon here during Week 3, but the Packers look great and Rodgers in particular has become kind of incredible as one of the more dominating quarterbacks around. This has been building for a couple of years now, with Rodgers’s ability to see the field and react insantaneously to what is happening around him giving him an edge even we non-experts can see unfold in real time.

    The MNF crew just made a persuasive comparison between Rodgers and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, highlighting how quickly each is able to translate thought into action.

    Rodgers similarly makes me think of other sport-transcending players like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky -- guys who could survey a scene filled with more variables than most of us can track, “chunk” them somehow (as psychologists talk about) into manageable units, then act accordingly with precision and efficiency, seemingly “one step ahead” of everyone else.

    A favorite play of Rodgers’ that I’ve enjoyed tonight and during recent weeks is the “free play” whereby he is able to induce the defense to go offside with a hard count, then call for a quick snap that allows him to fire deep down the field without any fear of a negative outcome. It’s something no other team aside from the always edge-seeking New England Patriots even seems capable of trying, let alone executing. But Rodgers and the Packers have done it multiple times already tonight, with a TD pass and another 52-yarder resulting from a couple of them.

    In poker we are familiar with the concept of “freerolling,” say, when you’re all in with AcKc against AdKd and two clubs come on the flop. You can’t lose, but you could win big. Don’t see that scenario so often in football or other sports, but Rodgers and the Pack have found a great example of “freerolling” in football. And there’s something exceedingly enjoyable about watching it work.

    (EDIT [added 9/29/2015]: Here’s an article discussing the eight “free plays” Rodgers and G.B. have enjoyed so far during the season’s first three games.)

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