Friday, January 20, 2017

Finishing First

Everyone was ganging up on 2016 as the year concluded, what with all of the bad news punctuating seemingly every week of the calendar year.

For your humble scribbler, the year seemed to involve an inordinate number of second-place finishes. My Carolina Panthers came up short in the Super Bowl in February, then my UNC Tar Heels also took runner-up in the NCAA finals in April. Then in May I finished second in a poker tournament in Monte Carlo, and came here to whimper a little at having come so close to winning only to have it snatched away.

The presidential election in November was hardly considered a victory here on the farm either, I’ll confess. It was right after that I remember messaging a friend and after listing all of the second-place finishes making a stubborn proclamation: “I am winning the gotdamn Pigskin Pick’em and that’s all there is to it.”

I was referring to the Pauly’s Pub football pool, of course, which I wrote about a bit during the course of the NFL season here although not as much as I have in past years. This was the eighth year running I’ve participated. I won it once before (in 2011), and this year managed to get off to a fast start to tie for the lead in Week 2, then take the lead all by myself in Week 3. By November I had built up a long streak as the frontrunner, and would remain in the top spot into the final weeks.

My largest lead over the chase pack was five games -- six, in fact, for a brief period halfway through one Sunday’s games -- but it had been reduced to just one game heading into Week 16. I was a bit of a basket case, I’ll admit, worrying that I was sadly, slowly careening toward yet another second-place showing.

Week 16 saw games happening all over the place as the NFL scheduled things around (and on) Christmas (which was a Sunday). I believe games took place on four different days that week. I enjoyed some great fortune in three games that mattered a lot, as in each I’d gone one way and my trailing opponent(s) went the other.

The first was the Atlanta-Carolina game where I took the Falcons, others took the Panthers, and Atlanta won easily. Then came the Cincinnati-Houston game the night of Christmas Eve. I had the Texans, my nearest foe had the Bengals, and while Houston led 12-10 in the final minute Cincy was driving for what seemed a certain winning field goal. With seconds left, Bengals kicker Randy Bullock tried a 43-yard field goal that somehow went wide right, and Houston won.

Then on Christmas Day I’d taken Pittsburgh over Baltimore (whom my closest challenger took), and after a crazy back-and-forth game the Steelers got a go-ahead TD with just over a minute left to win 31-27. I was up four games heading into the final week, a relatively comfortable place to be.

For Week 17 all 16 games were played on Sunday, and after making my picks I realized I could very well have it all locked up by mid-afternoon. But it didn’t go so easily.

Up four versus three opponents tied for second, two of them gained two games on me in the early afternoon games, cutting my lead to two. In the late afternoon games one of those two and I made identical picks for all six of them, which meant I’d automatically clinched beating that player as there was only the single night game left.

With the other opponent we’d picked five games the same, only differing in one -- the New York Giants (whom he picked) at Washington (whom I’d picked). The Redskins were playing to earn a playoff spot while the Giants had nothing to play for at all, having already clinched a seed that wouldn’t change with a win. But NY played their starters throughout, Washington struggled mightily, and the Giants won the game.

Now with only the Green Bay at Detroit night game left to go -- the 256th of 256 regular season games -- I had a one-game lead. And I had a strong suspicion my opponent was going to go with the underdog Lions in an effort to close the gap.

I was facing an interesting “game theory”-type situation, I realized. And I had about an hour before the kickoff to ponder it.

I had already chosen Green Bay, but could change my pick if I wished. That said, I had imposed on myself a strict “no-change” policy according to which I never changed a pick once I had entered it. I estimated the likelihood my opponent was taking the Lions to be at least 75%, perhaps even higher. If he did and I switched to Detroit, I’d clinch the title as soon as the game kicked off. But if I stuck with Green Bay and he took Detroit, I’d have to sweat one last game.

I decided not to change my pick, and when the game began I saw indeed he’d taken Detroit. Then the Lions led for the first half, and I was filled with misgivings for having let a superstition of sorts overrule my rational analysis of the situation. Green Bay stormed back in the second half, though, with Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers to three TDs in four drives to build a two-touchdown lead. I don’t think I finally exhaled, though, until after Green Bay covered up the onside kick at the very end after Detroit had made it 31-24.

I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking how I’d spent 10-plus hours during the first day of 2017 fretting about the pool, thinking all along how if things had gone just slightly differently I might’ve clinched things during the early afternoon and avoided all the stress.

Today the trophy arrived, which turned out to be a shiny bit of fun amid a dreary day in which a newly-inaugurated president is going on about “America First,” seemingly unable to understand the difference between national pride and jingoism. (Not to mention unaware -- or perhaps not -- of the term’s history and less than appealing connotations.)

In any case, I’ll say it was fun to be first nearly all year, and even more so to end up on top -- a nice finish to start a new year.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Back from Paradise

A quick one today to report I’m back home safely from a week-and-half in the Bahamas on Paradise Island, a trip which as I mentioned before was timed in such a way that I missed entirely the Great Snowstorm of 2017 here on the farm.

Eight inches dumped down on us the day after I left, and by the time I returned on Monday it was all melted, very likely the only snow we’ll see all winter here in NC.

“Well played, Shamus,” said Vera on my return.

The trip was fun, and as has been the case these last three years the series in Nassau tends to operate as a kind of annual reunion for many players, media, and staff, so it was good again to see friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since last January. Good to get home, though, where I’m expecting to stay put for at least the next couple of months.

That pic up above was one taken by the great Carlos Monti of a group of Selene Vomer fish, better known as “Lookdown” fish, just one of more than 250 species of marine life one can see in the aquariums and around Atlantis. I love looking at the Lookdown, which have such expressive faces and uncannily appear two-dimensional.

Poker-wise, the trip was a bit more entertaining than average, I’m going to conclude. My time was split between three big events, the $100K Super High Roller, the $5K Main Event, and the $25K High Roller. Jason Koon, Christian Harder, and Luc Greenwood won those (respectively).

In the latter, Luc actually knocked out his brother Sam just shy of the final table, and indeed the win represented a breakthrough for Luc, the biggest cash of his career by tenfold (nearly $800K).

Incidentally, prior to this first ever PokerStars Championship, I had a chance to interview a number of people for a piece that appeared on the PokerStars blog just as things were getting going in the Bahamas, something called “Anatomy of a PokerStars Championship.”

These things are such huge, complicated undertakings, and it was kind of fascinating to talk to some of those involved with putting them together. Because of space limitations I had to cut out a lot, but hopefully it at least comes across how much goes into the planning and staging of these things.

Relatively speaking, farm life is a lot more simple. That said, as I’ve noted before, every time you look up there’s always something else to do around here.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Slides, Celebs, and Likes

Been in the Bahamas for more than a week now, having left the farm just a day before the Great Snowstorm of 2017 hit to cover the place with eight inches of the white stuff. Vera and our four-legged friends all managed okay, though I felt more than a little guilty not being around to help deal with it all.

Quite a contrast down here, weather-wise, as you might imagine, with temps in the mid-to-upper 70s, the cloudless skies baby blue, and the water an even darker, more brilliant shade of blue. It’s been busy, but I did manage to goof around on the water slides on two separate occasions already, including daring to plunge down “The Abyss.” It only lasts a few seconds, but it’s still long enough for all manner of existential doubt to overwhelm a dude before splash landing at the bottom.

The PokerStars Championship Bahamas festival is now heading into its home stretch, with the High Roller and Main Event both ending tomorrow. The poker’s been fun to follow, as I was on the $100K Super High Roller to start, then the Main Event, and now the $25K HR.

That first event saw the actor-comedian Kevin Hart take part, livening things up quite a lot for the first day-and-a-half before he finally busted a second time. Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame then played in the Main, so there was a lot of star-gazing going on between those two.

Speaking of poker-playing actors, Jennifer Tilly is here, too, and in fact took runner-up in a $5K turbo event this week, one where the final table included David Peters, Benjamin Pollak, and Mustapha Kanit.

I’d met her before but finally had a chance to talk with her a bit more this week. She’s a great follow on Twitter by the way -- @Jtillathekilla2 -- and one of the things we talked about were the folks we follow on there.

I also confessed to her that I never have gotten in the habit of favoriting tweets. I’ll retweet ones I like occasionally, but I just never got around to start “liking” them. For example, I liked one she sent a few days ago sagely observing: “Poker tournaments are like life: We're all gonna die, just some of us last longer than others.” But I just had to tell her I liked it as I didn’t “like” it on Twitter. (She assured me that was fine.)

(That reminded me of something similar I’ve been known to utter around poker tournaments.)

Vera kids me about not “liking” tweets. I’ll tweet something and get a bunch of likes, then mention it to her. “And how does that make you feel?” she asks with a grin.

“I like it,” I reply.

One more day of poker tomorrow and then back home to the horses where the snow has already melted. There’s a pic to the left from the day after that I tweeted before. It’s totally okay if you didn’t favorite it.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

“I’m Reading Their Hand”: LBJ, Nixon, and the Week Before the 1968 Election

Several friends recently passed along to me an article from The New York Times that appeared on New Year’s Eve, one sharing a bit of news regarding Richard Nixon’s actions during the final days prior to the 1968 presidential election when he won a narrow victory versus Hubert Humphrey. They did so both because they know about my ongoing “Nixon studies” and because there’s a small poker reference in the article, too.

The article is titled “Nixon’s Vietnam Treachery” and was written by John A. Farrell who is currently at work on a Nixon bio coming out later this year. The story being told in the article is not new at all, although Farrell does pass along some relatively unknown evidence regarding Nixon’s role in possibly preventing a peace settlement from occurring in Vietnam just prior to the election. (The evidence isn’t new, although it hadn’t gotten a lot of attention before.)

To give a little context, by mid-October 1968 outgoing president Lyndon B. Johnson was hopeful to find some way to end the war before leaving office. After months of negotiations, Johnson had a breakthrough of sorts when the North Vietnamese finally agreed to enter into talks with the South Vietnamese in Paris if the U.S. called a bombing halt. Such talks hardly meant peace would be imminent, but they represented an significant first step toward such an eventuality.

What’s been known for quite some time now (thanks primarily to some FBI-supplied evidence) is that high-level members of Nixon’s campaign team were communicating with South Vietnamese leader Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu at the time, urging Thieu not to enter any peace talks just yet while promising a better negotiating position once Nixon took office. Such a move is rightly regarded with suspicion, obviously motivated primarily by the fact that an announcement of peace in Vietnam on the eve of the election would serve as a last-minute boost to Humphrey in what had become a tight race to the finish.

In The Making of the President 1968, Theodore H. White recounts the day-by-day developments leading up to Election Day, telling how with just one week to go (on October 29) “the promised end of the war in Vietnam was beginning to leak from every news source around the world.” Two days later, on Thursday, October 31, Johnson announced the cessation of bombing “in the belief that this action can lead to progress toward peaceful settlement of the Vietnamese war” (as LBJ said).

The promising news remained atop the headlines for about a day before doubts began to creep back in to cloud the picture regarding peace in southeast Asia, and by Saturday The New York Times was reporting that the word from Saigon was that the South Vietnamese couldn’t participate in any talks. The way White reports it (sharing what was known at the time), it appeared President Thieu had agreed to the talks without having secured the support of his cabinet or the national assembly, and that once they objected the deal had been dashed.

White then introduces the mysterious Anna Chennault into the story, the Chinese-born widow of a WWII hero who became involved in politics and chaired a number of Nixon’s citizen committees during the ’68 campaign. Chennault had numerous connections throughout Asia, and (says White) had learned about the secret negotiations in October. Using her contacts (including some within the South Vietnamese government), “she had begun early, by cable and telephone, to mobilize their resistance to the agreement -- apparently implying, as she went, that she spoke for the Nixon campaign.”

LBJ found out about Chennault’s chicanery, and that weekend accused the Republicans of sabotaging the peace effort, including having a somewhat tense phone conversation with Nixon on Sunday regarding the matter. (You can hear that phone call, with a transcription, over on YouTube.)

All of this tumult during the final week before the election certainly had some effect on the outcome, but it’s hard to say how much.

The situation recalls the one surrounding the final days before the 2016 election. I’m referring of course to FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress saying the bureau would be investigating more of Hillary Clinton emails, a letter Comey delivered just 11 days before the election, then his announcement two days before Election Day that Clinton would face no charges regarding the messages -- a dubious two-step that also likely had some, hard-to-measure effect on a certain number of voters near the end.

As noted above, it has been known for a good while that members of Nixon’s team -- among them campaign director John Mitchell and vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew -- were talking with Chennault, which would explain how she could represent herself to the South Vietnamese as speaking for Nixon.

A few books have delved more deeply into the Nixon-Chennault connection, with William Bundy’s A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (1998), Jeffrey Kimball’s Nixon’s Vietnam War (1998), and Anthony Summers’s The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (2000) among the more earnest efforts. More recently Ken Hughes’s Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate (2015) looks even more closely at the story.

As with Watergate, the extent of Nixon’s particular involvement here has long invited much speculation and debate. Was Nixon directly involved with Chennault’s suggestions to the South Vietnamese that they not enter peace talks and wait for a Nixon administration to move forward? Or was this (as with the Watergate break-in and some elements of the cover-up) an example of some of his subordinates freelancing with a kind of vague endorsement from the top man? The new NYT piece sheds some additional light on the situation.

As Farrell shares, notes taken by Nixon advisor H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (later RN’s White House Chief of Staff and key Watergate figure) recount an October 22 telephone conversation in which Nixon advised him to tell others to do what they could to thwart LBJ’s efforts to negotiate the beginning of peace talks. “Keep Anna Chennault working on SVN,” Haldeman scribbled, a fairly direct-sounding directive from Tricky Dick. “Any other way to monkey wrench it?” added Haldeman, referring to Nixon’s ostensible desire to come up with futher means to scuttle the talks.

Such notes strongly suggest that despite Nixon’s later claims to the contrary, he was not only aware of what was going on behind the scenes with regard to those representing him while pressuring Thieu not to enter talks just yet, he was encouraging that effort. The NY Times piece concludes with a reference to another phone call between LBJ and Everett Dirksen, the Republican senator from Illinois who had served as Senate Minority Leader for nearly a decade -- one that can also be heard over on YouTube, if you’re curious.

That call came on Saturday, November 2 (a day before the call to Nixon), and finds LBJ speaking directly about the apparent sabotage. LBJ declares “this is treason,” complaining outwardly that “they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.”

Indeed, for Nixon -- then technically a private citizen -- to have anything at all to do with the country’s talks with a foreign power like this was obviously out of bounds, a violation of the Logan Act, a federal law forbidding unauthorized citizens from negotiating with other governments. (A few weeks ago I was alluding to another, much less outrageous example of this same sort of violation prior to my recent trip to Prague, one involving Frank Zappa’s dialogue with Václav Havel.)

Johnson encourages Dirksen to talk to his party colleagues, telling them how they “oughta keep the Mrs. Chennaults and all the rest of them from running around here” while threatening to go public with the information that the Nixon team was obstructing negotiations that would hopefully lead to an end for the war.

“I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important,” says Johnson. (The mind wanders toward a certain president-elect’s strange communications regarding a certain foreign power.)

Also tucked into that conversation is a poker metaphor, used by Johnson to refer to the fact that he is privy to what all sides have been up to, including what Chennault has been doing on behalf of Nixon.

“Now I’m reading their hand, Everett,” says Johnson, adding “I don’t want to get this into the campaign.” (The NYT piece shares that quote, too, near the end.)

Those conversations are fascinating to listen to, especially the one between Nixon and Johnson, both of whom were accomplished poker players. Understanding the larger context, it is clear both knew full well what the other “player” had in his hand, with both also obviously walking a fine line trying not to give too much away to each other.

Photo: Richard Nixon Foundation.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

A Post About Posting

Just firing a short one here today both to wish everyone a Happy New Year and to make a short announcement regarding the blog and my posting schedule here in 2017 (and beyond).

For years I’ve been hinting here at slowing the pace of my posting, though somehow have kept up the same routine of sharing something every single weekday -- and weekends sometimes, too, such as when doing “travel reports” -- without exception.

Sometimes I’ve fallen behind a little and had to backdate things to fill in gaps. Typically what I’ve done (say, when on a trip) is to sketch a quick draft of a post and save it, then go back later to finish. That has been the case for a good while now.

I started Hard-Boiled Poker way back in April 2006, adding to the list of what was then a fast-growing crowd of other “poker blogs.” Full of enthusiasm about both playing the game and writing about it, it didn’t take me long to work up to that five-post-a-week pace by the start of 2008, which I’ve continued for nearly nine years.

I remember sometimes during the first few years when I’d make lists of topics about which to write each week, often having to whittle the list down to just five. Coming up on the 3,000th post here, which if you divide by 10-and-a-half years you can figure out what kind of pace that means.

Of course, once you’ve written about something once or twice or ten times, the urgency to write about it again diminishes. As I imagine does the desire to read about such things, too.

In any case, the plan going forward is to check in regularly -- at the very least once per week -- and as a result try to give a bit more substance to each post, perhaps making them more like features than journal entries.

That said, I won’t self-impose any sort of formal restrictions, other than the only one I’ve ever followed here which is to make every post have at least something to do with poker, even when it isn’t about poker at all.

Meanwhile, I’ll have much else to share in the coming weeks and months -- including a new novel that is already on its way (no shinola!) -- plus some other writing projects that are already well along. More about all of that soon.

Image: “Found Blur Motion,” ilouque. CC BY 2.0.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Safe and Sound

Back on the farm at long last. Have already reunited with the horses and cats, all of whom seem to be doing well after having endured a colder two weeks here than was the case in Prague. That's Maggie (standing) and Ruby (sitting) to the left, both relaxing on a mild winter’s day.

Alas for Vera, there was a mix-up with her flight resulting in her journey back taking a little longer. She’s having to stay an extra night in London on the way back, which is a pain but all things considered could be worse.

Spent the flight watching various stuff on the Lufthansa menu of entertainment offerings. Started with a pretty good documentary about Freddie Mercury (The Great Pretender), focusing mostly on his non-Queen stuff.

Then watched the 2011 political drama The Ides of March that George Clooney directed and co-wrote and starred in (along with Ryan Gosling). The mildly twisty plot was not at all convincing, I’m afraid, nor were the characters that compelling. Meanwhile the version of presidential politics it presented seemed especially naïve, probably even more so in retrospect (i.e., post-Trump).

Filled in space with some television, including trying an episode of Magnum P.I., a show I never really watched much back in the day. Tom Selleck is fine, but good golly the episode was dreadful.

I’d have been much better off having read instead, but after so many days in a row of traveling and working I was just too damn tired to do so.

Speaking off, I’m signing off. Looking forward to a little down time here over the holidays, to rest up and recharge before the crazy poker-coaster cranks up again in the new year.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 11 -- Coffee, Crepes, and Communism

The last European Poker Tour festival is done, with winners emerging from both the Main Event and final High Roller in Prague. Both endings involved deals, and in fact when it came to the High Roller the sucker culminated with a deal rather than a victor being decided on the felt.

The Main Event had gotten down to three players when the deal talk first began. Essentially David Peters wanted more and couldn’t get the other two to give him what he wanted, so they played on and Peters ended up taking third (and earning considerably less than he would have with a deal).

Then at heads-up came another discussion and a completed deal, after which Jasper Meijer van Putten outlasted Marton Czuczor to win the trophy. Here’s a recap of the final day from Howard Swains that shares all of the final day’s highlights, including those deal talks.

Meanwhile later in the evening over in the high roller Patrick Serda and William Kassouf struck a curious bargain that gave Serda (who had a big chip lead) the larger cash prize but Kassouf the trophy and title, ending play with the deal (i.e., without playing it out for a small leftover bit of cash).

I was on the Main Event, and so wasn’t around for the multiple discussions punctuating the High Roller’s finish, which had to have been interesting to witness given Kassouf’s involvement. You can read Jack Stanton’s end-of-event recap for a bit more on how it all went over there.

Before play began, Vera Valmore and I made a return trip to a breakfast place we enjoyed before, lingering for a while over coffee and crepes with apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, and whipped cream (yum). From there we took a short subway ride over to the Museum of Communism located in the center of Prague on Na příkopě, itself an interesting, bustling area to walk around.

The not-so-easy-to-find museum is tucked away just above a McDonald’s, which gave us a chuckle. There’s a casino nearby as well, something else the museum advertises as a way to play up the contrast between how the Czech Republic looks in 2016 compared to the era the museum chronicles.

It’s a modest collection of materials related primarily to Czechoslovakia’s history under Communist rule from just after WWII through the Velvet Revolution. We took an hour or so winding our way through the various rooms looking at the photos, artwork and other propaganda, lingering over a couple of videos, and reading the long descriptions attached to each display.

Despite the often grim subject matter, the museum takes a humorous approach to things, particularly in the gift shop where the postcards and refrigerator magnets have more to do with kitsch than culture (“You couldn’t get laundry detergent but you could get your brainwashed”). I did get a kick out of one display near the end telling the story of the Plastic People of the Universe, that political “Prague Rock” band I wrote a little about before embarking on this trip.

The Kafka one might have been better, and as we left I found myself going over The Trial and The Castle in my head while remembering the dozens of times I taught “The Metamorphosis” to world lit classes. But I didn’t regret getting over to Na příkopě and exploring a different part of the city with Vera.

Kind of like with those tournaments, the museum visit was a bit of a compromise with which to end things here in Prague.

Home tomorrow! Has been great fun, and especially so with Vera here. But we’re both more than ready to get back to the farm. Let me go another 5,000-plus miles or so and we can talk again.

Photos: Museum of Communism.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 10 -- Food, Friends, and the Familiar

They are down to six now in the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event. David Peters remains in contention, and also could (I believe) overtake Fedor Holz for the 2016 Global Poker Index Player of the Year with his finish.

The last EPT High Roller is also down to a final group of 22 which like the Main will be playing down to a finish on Monday. Adrian Mateos, Ihar Soika, Martin Finger, and William Kassouf are among those still in the running over there.

We finished up by nine o’clock or so, and so Vera and I and a few of my colleagues ended up reassembling over at the Cafe Bistro in the Hilton Prague for an evening meal. That's above is a shot looking down on the restaurant, taken from the glass elevator I’ve ridden up and down many times over the last 10 days.

The dinner was enjoyable, bookended by a couple of fun conversations with friends (old and new).

When Vera and I got there we joined Mickey May, one of the team photographers here in Prague. I liked introducing her to Vera and hearing her tell the story of her husband, Jesse, writing Shut Up and Deal and how he named his protagonist (a fictional version of himself) after her -- Mickey Dane. (Mickey is from Denmark.)

Later on we were joined by the poker player Kristen Bicknell, the Canadian who has now won a couple of WSOP bracelets including one this past summer in a $1,500 NLHE Bounty event. She went fairly deep in the Eureka Main last week (finishing 31st) and played a couple of other events here, too.

Was fun hearing her tell us her interesting story. She was an online grinder, playing millions of hands over several years and being a SuperNova Elite on PokerStars. She won the Ladies Event at the WSOP in 2013 -- something I recall as I was there that summer, although I didn’t report on that event -- though she really wasn’t playing live all that much back then.

More recently, though, she’s begun taking more poker trips and playing more tournaments, including having a run in the EPT Grand Final Main in the spring (where she finished 60th) and winning that second bracelet over the summer.

As was the case with Mickey, I’d heard some of Kristen’s story before, having heard her tell it on the PokerNews Podcast back in early July. Even the meal was familiar, as I’d had the same burger at that same restaurant a few days before. Can be nice, though, to experience a little bit of the familiar when in a foreign land.

One more day, and one which Vera and I intend to spend part of doing a little more touristy stuff, including a museum visit. Deciding between the Franz Kafka one and the Museum of Communism at the moment (kind of leaning toward the latter).

More tomorrow -- meanwhile check the PokerStars blog for updates on the poker.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 9 -- The Maze of Life

Today the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event continued apace, playing down from 65 players to just 18. There are a few familiar folks still in the running, including David Peters and Team PokerStars Pro Felipe “Mojave” Ramos.

Of course, they’re all pretty familiar to us by now after four days of this tournament plus seeing most of these folks in other events over the last week-and-a-half. One player coming back to a short stack is one such example, the Czech player Martin Kabrhel who talks at the table as much as any player I’ve covered in a while -- more than William Kassouf, even, who was making noise as part of the €10K High Roller field on Saturday as well.

For your humble scribbler, however, Saturday’s highlights all came away from the Hilton Prague Hotel as Vera Valmore and I were able to make a couple of excursions, one in the morning before play began and another in the evening once things had wrapped up.

The morning one involved joining our friends Howard, Stephen, and Gareth for a subway ride down to Vysehrad, the historical fort built on the Vltava River a thousand years ago (or more) where are located a few of Prague’s oldest buildings.

Indeed, one of the first sights we saw as we made a loop around the hilly “city within a city” (as Howard advertised it) was the Rotunda of St. Martin, a chapel built in the 11th century said to be the oldest Christian house of worship in the country.

There was the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and other old, Gothic structures at which to marvel. We also walked through the famous Vysehrad cemetery where many of Prague’s most famous are buried, mostly painters, musicians, sculptors, and others responsible for the country’s considerable contributions to the arts.

The Romantic composer Antonin Dvorak is buried there, whose Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), commissioned while he was in the U.S. during the 1890s, is one of the more famous symphonies ever composed (and was played during the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969).

So is the poet and journalist Jan Neruda whose collection of short stories from the 1870s were famously translated into English during the 1950s as Tales of the Lesser Quarter. Playwright and novelist Karel Capek who wrote science fiction and is often credited with having coined the word “robot” (in a 1920 play) is there, too, along with about 600 others, I believe.

The various shapes and sizes of the headstones well suit the creativity of those resting underneath, creating a kind of crazy quilt of different designs that are fascinating to look upon and even inspiring. Hard not to think, also, about the many paths life can take a person, all of which end similarly.

The entire fortress is a bit like a maze, actually, with various paths all winding and criss-crossing through it. Appropriately, on the way out not far from the Rotunda of St. Martin is a circular maze on concrete. We watched as Gareth chose to negotiate his way through it, and I snapped a few photos as he did.

Reading around online, I found a reference to this “magical maze” and how those who enter it “while ruminating over an important task or urgent issue... will find the solution upon reaching the exit.” While we weren’t aware of this story at the time, we nonetheless had fun making an emblem out of Gareth’s circuitous journey, applying it more broadly to the human condition.

After the poker, Vera and I grabbed dinner at the hotel and then took another, more direct walk straight over to the Christmas market to see it all lit up at night. We’d each been there separately during the day, but it was fun to return together and be among the crowds enjoying a festive Saturday night filled with lights and music.

We’re angling toward a museum visit or two here during our last couple of days, if we can manage it. Meanwhile wind your way back over to the PokerStars blog for more from the last EPT festival.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 8 -- Czeching In

Just a quick note to report Day 3 of the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event went relatively quickly, the field being trimmed from 231 to 65 in time for us all to escape for a nice dinner at a place called the Krystal Bistro located about a 20-minute walk or so from the Hilton Prague.

Was a brisk evening, although the temps have been pretty mild throughout our stay, remaining well above freezing with little precipitation. In fact it has been much colder back home on the farm in North Carolina these last couple of weeks -- not what we expected as we’d thought we’d encounter snow and frigid conditions here.

Great atmosphere at the Krystal Bistro, and the eats were fantastic. I had snails au gratin for an appetizer and the veal entrecote with foie gras for a main course -- both scrumptious, making me wish I had two stomachs so I could order them again.

While meals (and most things) at the hotel are not inexpensive (although not inordinately pricey), we’ve enjoyed a few great meals in Prague and spent relatively little, the dollar being especially strong here at the moment. It’s a work trip, but as Vera and I are discovering Prague is a nice vacation destination, too, for a number of reasons.

With a full belly, then, and I’m signing off. Will have to get up early Saturday to get some work out of the way, as we have some more walking around planned before work tomorrow. Meanwhile walk over to the PokerStars blog to see how things continue to play out in both the Main Event and the soon-to-start final High Roller.

Image: “Vchod” (adapted), Dušan M.

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