Wednesday, September 18, 2013

West No Longer Best for WPT World Championship

Last month I was making reference to all of the new tours getting cranked up once again, with the World Poker Tour -- now in its 12th season -- among them. Only the first half of this year’s WPT schedule (which will ultimately run from August 2012 through May 2013) has been announced as yet, although I imagine the second half is more or less fully in place already.

Already announced for the final months of 2013 are events in Paris, South Africa, South Korea, Prague, and a few in the U.S. including in Jacksonville and Las Vegas. The WPT will be going back to the Playground Poker club in Kahnawake, Quebec, too, in a few months, one of the Canadian poker sites that has now found its way into the regular tourney tour schedule along with other tours’ stops.

There was some news yesterday, though, regarding the season-ending WPT World Championship which has traditionally taken place at the Bellagio ever since the tour debuted. This year that event will instead take place at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, which is where the WPT not coincidentally happens to be at the moment for the WPT Borgata Open.

The move made me think of a post I wrote last May about the WPT World Championship, “The Shifting Place of the WPT World Championship,” the title of which today sounds like it has a different meaning than the one I had intended.

I was speaking figuratively, of course, referring to how the once prestigious tournament had receded in significance over recent years. In that post I noted in particular how the turnouts had declined dramatically since peaking in 2007 with 639 entries. Last year there were just 146 entries in the event, with 26 of those coming from players re-entering, thus meaning there were only 120 players involved. Meanwhile, the fields for many other big buy-in events have been growing over that same period.

Those shrinking numbers were no doubt a big part of the reason for the WPT making this move. In the announcement yesterday, WPT President Adam Pliska referred to the Borgata having been “home to four of the five biggest tournaments in WPT history,” and indeed it does seem relatively certain the event will have a better chance of thriving in its new location.

Initial response to the decision to move the season-ending eastward was met with what sounded like a lot of positive buzz from players over Twitter. Part of that positivity being expressed the Borgata was inspired by criticisms of the Bellagio, which has certainly fallen from favor over the last several years as a destination for both tourney types and cash game players.

Thinking beyond the relative merits of particular casinos and poker rooms, though, I wonder if the WPT moving its championship might prove a significant moment in the larger Nevada-versus-New Jersey discussion already ongoing thanks to online poker legislation and the concomitant launching of casino-affiliated sites. In other words, will there be more “shifting” to talk about occurring in the poker landscape, perhaps sooner than later?

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Travel Report: 2012-13 WSOP-C Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Main Event, Day 1

Hello from Atlantic City. Am holed up in the Harrah’s Resort, up on one of the higher floors and looking out on an overcast Sunday morning. I’m here for the next couple of days helping cover the WSOP Circuit event, a $1,675 buy-in event that marks the seventh of 20 stops on the 2012-13 WSOP-C schedule.

The trip in on Friday was fine, although as I flew into Philadelphia that meant taking a cab, then a train, then another cab to reach my final destination. Met up with Mickey (my reporting partner for this event) at the train station in Philly and so we were able to travel together from there.

The two of us got checked in, then had a delicious pasta meal at one of the several restaurants here at the venue. We then played some poker in the evening, with Mickey doing very well hitting a big score in a warm-up session prior playing a tourney in which he also cashed.

Meanwhile I sat with the old folks at the low limit table for an hour-and-a-half or so, making a small profit before hitting the hay relatively early. Game was predictably tight (and a little tedious), and I was the only player at the table ever to venture a three-bet. Conversations were mostly about house repairs and insurance, with everyone relating the extent of damage they’d suffered from Hurricane Sandy some six weeks ago.

As it turned out, I was glad I’d chosen the sleep option, as yesterday’s first day of play was very long and fairly exhausting. For this event there is a Day 1a and Day 1b, although both flights are played on the same day, which meant we covered nine 40-minute levels (1a), then had dinner (burgers and shakes this time), then went back for nine more levels (1b). It’s a re-entry event, too, meaning some of those who busted in the afternoon came back to play at night. In fact, late registration allows people to buy in as late as the start of Day 2, although I don’t think we’ll see too many taking that option.

All that added up to about a 15-hour day, with your humble scribbler not getting back to bed until around 3 a.m. Was a decent day of blogging, though, with a few interesting moments. Was also able to reunite with and chat briefly with a few players along the way, among them Matt Glantz, Lee Childs, Brian Ali, Aaron Massey, and Victor Ramdin.

Probably the most memorable moment of the day occurred right at the end of Day 1a when Will “The Thrill” Failla and Dwyte Pilgrim arrived and bought in at the start of the very last level. There was much fanfare among the field when the two arrived, both of whom are popular on the WSOP-C and especially so on the east coast. Both immediately tried to double up and failed, and were soon on the rail waiting to come back for Day 1b.

Another funny moment happened late in the evening when a player suddenly yelled out from one end of the room to someone on the other side. “I made a blog!” he said, and I immediately thought of a funny Twitter convo from a while back involving Kara Scott, B.J. Nemeth, and others regarding how some use that phrase to announce having posted a new blog entry. (And how it sounds a little like a toddler after a successful potty visit.)

The meaning was different here, however, as the player subsequently tried to explain. He was referring to the fact that someone had mentioned him in a blog post. He wasn’t in our reports for the Main Event, but I think he might have been referring to having cashed in an earlier event here at WSOP-C Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, and thus having earned a mention in a report on that tournament.

Anyhow, the calling out of “I made a blog” had people laughing all over the room, with the conversations at the tables in some cases focused on trying to figure out just what a blog was. Meanwhile back at the player’s table the idea of “making a blog” became an ongoing theme, with players following hands with recommendations to each other “to make a blog” about everything of interest.

Have other work to do this morning before heading back down for the restart at noon today, so I’ll end things here. About 320 players (of the 600) made it through to today’s Day 2, and the plan today will be to play to 2 a.m. If they somehow get down to nine players before then, they’ll stop, but chances are there will probably still be 20-plus left once we hit two o’clock, which means another long day today, and likely a long final day on Monday as well.

Should be fun, though, with the sweating of my NFL picks adding a little extra something to focus on along the way. Back tomorrow with more from AC.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Re-Entry: Atlantic City

Limited space to scribble this morning, as I’m heading off for another poker-related voyage.

I actually have two tourneys I’ll be reporting from coming up here in rapid succession, both up in the northeastern part of the country. The first takes me to Atlantic City for the World Series of Poker Circuit event at Harrah’s (a $1,675 buy-in event, with re-entries). Then I’ll be headed to the Sands in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for the Main Event of their Sands Bethlehem Deepstack Extravaganza (a $2,500 event, also with re-entries).

This’ll be a return trip to AC for me, as I was there previously for the WSOP-C back in March 2011. Was a memorable trip and tourney, in part because it was won by Brian Ali (who I was able to meet and play with this past summer in Vegas), and Ali knocked out most of the players at the final table, including one named Ellis Frazier (much to the delight of pun-seeking bloggers).

Yesterday the poker world’s attention was suddenly focused on Atlantic City thanks to the Wall Street Journal’s report that PokerStars is looking to purchase the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in AC, a deal that is in limbo while New Jersey continues to debate an online gambling bill that would allow casinos to operate sites. The article explains how if such a bill were passed, Stars would likely move to obtain a license to operate in New Jersey.

Speaking of that NJ online gambling bill currently under consideration (Assembly Bill A2578), that bill was recently revised to remove language that might have prevented PokerStars from returning to the U.S. because of its so-called “bad actor” status (i.e., for having taken U.S. customers post-UIGEA). Haley Hintze explained that change and its possible implications in an article for PokerFuse yesterday.

Put together with PokerStars’ deal with the DOJ (and purchase and relaunch of Full Tilt Poker), all of this adds up to a possibility that Stars could well find its way back to the U.S., with Atlantic City the avenue through which such re-entry would occur.

All very interesting to consider as I plan for my own re-entry into Atlantic City a little later today.

Will be curious to see how AC is holding up after Hurricane Sandy barrelled through six weeks ago. I’ll probably hop back on here starting Sunday to file some travel reports along the way. Meanwhile, have a good weekend, everyone!

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Live Poker: Caesars Atlantic City, Atlantic City, NJ

The poker room at Caesars Atlantic CityMentioned yesterday I managed to play some at Caesars Atlantic City before leaving. Since the WSOP-C Main Event final table ended early, I was able to sneak in some hands of low LHE before grabbing a late dinner and hitting the sack. Hadn’t planned to play at all, but figured I might as well, if only to say I’d done so.

And today, of all days, I just had to write about playing at Caesars, right? Beware the Ides of March! And/or playing low limit hold’em.

Was only there about an hour-and-a-half, I think. I emerged from the game relatively unscathed -- almost exactly even, in fact -- despite only hitting a few hands. Was your typical no-fold’em hold’em game in most respects, although there was one aspect that made it marginally more intriguing for your humble gumshoe.

I was in the seat to the immediate right of the dealer. During the short time I was there, the game constantly fluctuated between as few as six and as many as 10 players. Soon after sitting down I realized the fellow to my left was doing a lot of talking, including cursing, both to himself and to others at the table. And, as it soon became apparent, a lot of drinking, too, as he seemed to order something -- usually Heinekens, sometimes liquor -- at least once per orbit. He was playing round for round, you might say.

He was also playing very aggressively, rarely limping (the typical play at the table, natch), almost always betting when checked to after flop, three-betting and check-raising, and so forth. And he would fold now and then, too, thus giving an initial impression that there was some method involved. He won a few pots, too, during that first stretch, furthering that notion that perhaps he wasn’t as out of his mind as he seemed.

Soon, though, he’d lost whatever he’d won and was rebuying. Again. And again. No, the guy wasn’t good. He was blotto. And playing like it was lotto.

He kept rebuying for $20 at a time, ending up all in by the turn on most hands in which he got involved, then usually rebuying again for the next hand, which slowed the game a bit. In fact, one dealer even allowed him to play cash during hands -- i.e., to rebuy even after running out of chips before a hand had completed -- which also complicated things not insignificantly. (This obviously shouldn’t have been allowed, and the next dealer put an end to that applesauce right away.)

Caesars Atlantic City chipsAdding to the madness, he kept trying to toss out the two Bally’s chips he had in his possession, mixing them in with his bets, with the dealers having to sift those out and return them to him. He was also becoming increasingly belligerent, even upsetting a couple of players with his actions and language. One actually left muttering something about being on tilt, although I think his mood was soured as much by his having lost a lot as by the inebriated antics of our tablemate.

Perhaps on another day I’d have been upset, too, but I found myself feeling very stoic about everything. Maybe I was just too tired to get worked up, having averaged only 3-4 hours of sleep the previous couple of nights. But it was as though I were a detached observer gathering from the experience various details about human behavior, like some sort of anthropologist or something. And despite (or maybe because of) our close proximity, the dude hadn’t specifically directed any of his vitriol toward me.

So I didn’t leave. Then I realized something else that was making the situation more interesting -- that was perhaps even a reason to stay longer.

I could see every single hand my drunken neighbor was playing.

Anyone whose played live enough has experienced something similar, I imagine. When first dealt his hand, he’d hold up his cards in front of him in such a way that I had to make a conscious effort not to see them. In fact, he’d usually utter some sort of judgment on the quality of the cards, too, letting me know not only what he held, but how he liked (or disliked) his hand as well. Then on each subsequent street he’d flash them again, again making it very hard for me not to catch a glimpse.

It crossed my mind that I now enjoyed what could well be a significant advantage in the game. Ultimately, though, I never utilized it. I could claim some personal sense of integrity prevented me from doing so, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. More accurate to say no circumstance arose in which the added info mattered. Might’ve been deterred also by a vision of the drunk suddenly catching me seeing his hand and responding with a barrage of profanity. Or bottles.

Like I say, though, it did make the whole scene more interesting than it might have been otherwise, such as in one hand in which I’d joined a family pot from late position with 8-7-suited, then saw a flop come Q-A-8 rainbow. There’d been a bet and a raise before my action, so I let my bottom pair go. The turn was a five and again someone in early position bet, a couple called, and when the drunk raised everyone stayed in.

The river brought another eight, making the board Q-A-8-5-8. I knew it to be the case eight. Why? Because I’d folded one. And my neighbor -- with K-8 -- had the other. He took the big pot, much to the dismay of the young woman who’d come in second with ace-queen, though he donated it back soon enough.

I left the game shortly thereafter, thinking randomly about how strange a species we are, wondering why we do the things we do. And no, I wasn’t really focusing on the drunk. I was thinking about myself.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Day 3

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Day 3WSOP Circuit Atlantic City is in the books. Was a fun finale yesterday.

Before things got started some were putting the over/under for our day yesterday at 10 hours, which seemed a reasonable line given the deepness of the stacks. Turned out to be way, way off, primarily because everything changed on just the second hand when the two chip leaders, Patrick Houchins and Brian Ali, got involved in a massive pot that saw Ali double through and left Houchins the table’s short stack.

In the blog I described that “first round action” as Ali delivering a “gut punch,” and a little later when six players were eliminated in a one-hour stretch -- five by Ali -- it was hard to avoid the boxing references amid all the knockouts. Especially when Ali took out Ellis Jeff Frazier (in fourth). No shinola!

Suddenly after just three hours it was heads up, at which point Ali and John Andress showed a lot of patience for nearly an hour until a cooler-type hand (two pair versus a straight) ended things with Ali the champion. For more details, here’s a link to yesterday’s blog, and here’s Nolan Dalla’s write-up of the finale over on the WSOP site.

At one point during the day I finally decided that Ali and Frazier, both in their fifties, actually seemed to play very similar styles (conservative, tight-aggressive), although Ali’s big stack and Frazier’s short stack gave Ali a lot more freedom to see pots and thus made their similarities less obvious.

They also were two especially friendly guys. Didn’t speak directly to Ali, but in his demeanor at the table and his interview afterwards he struck me as a very likable fellow. When WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla asked him about how it felt to win, he said how winning the lottery would be nice, but winning a tournament like this in which you use skill to defeat “a bunch of really, really good players” was immensely more satisfying.

Trojan guardsI did talk with Frazier some before the start of play. He thanked Rich and I for the coverage, saying some very nice things about it and explaining how his wife and family were at home following it excitedly. He said how his wife was carrying the laptop around the house refreshing constantly for updates.

I wasn’t surprised to hear Frazier saying those things about his family, having read his bio sheet where under “Interesting Things About You” he’d written “Best family person could have -- wonderful,” while also mentioning having “great poker player friends.”

There was one other 50-something at the final nine, Roland Isrealashvili, the fellow who actually won the WSOP Circuit Atlantic City Main Event last year when it was a $5,000 buy-in event. I believe he’s originally from Georgia (of the old U.S.S.R.), and I remember him and Ali talking some about on Day 2 about the old Cold War as Ali was in the military in the ’70s.

At one point yesterday Israelashvili had me thinking of Rodney Dangerfield, both because of a very distant resemblance and the fact that he was delivering one-liners fairly constantly throughout the day. Had the table cracking up over and over, and when he busted in fifth you could tell by the way the others wished him well that everyone very much enjoyed his presence at the table.

Israelashvili also delivered some insight about one key hand early on, too, that I found interesting.

Houchins would eventually battle back from that early hit to finish third in the tourney, but had to get very lucky along the way, particularly in one key hand versus Albert (A.G.) Winchester. In that hand, Houchins had open-pushed all in from middle position, and another player in late position thought for a couple of minutes before finally folding. During that period there was a question about Houchins’ exact stack that took some time to answer (he had 551,000 left). It then folded back to Winchester in the big blind who called. Houchins had pocket fours and Winchester had woken up with A-A, but Houchins spiked a miracle four on the river to survive.

Venus de MiloWinchester took the blow very well and also had a “that’s poker” smile on his face after he busted soon thereafter in eighth. Some time later discussion of the hand had revived, with Israelashvili saying he knew that Winchester had aces even before he called.

“How could you know that? He was the big blind?” questioned others. It did seem a far-fetched claim, perhaps another one of Israelashvili’s jokes. He then explained that he knew at least that Winchester had a big hand and was going to call what was at the time about a 15-big blind shove. His reasoning? When the question arose about Houchins’ stack size, Winchester had answered it exactly, showing that while the late position player was tanking he’d been paying close attention and was interested in the hand. Circumstantial evidence to be sure, but it seemed to convince the others at the table that Israelashvili might be on to something.

The other six guys all fell into the more typical demographic for these things, most in their 20s and most playing a lot online as well as live (as revealed by their table talk on both Days 2 and 3). They were also -- as I was mentioning yesterday -- mostly very witty guys, matching Israelavshili with several funny contributions themselves.

To give a quick example, I’ll just share some of the responses by Winchester from his bio sheet. Aged 23 (I think), he listed his occupation as “degenerate.” Under “Notable Poker Accomplishments” he wrote “I wish.” Then, for “Interesting Things About You,” he had Rich and I in stitches at his one-sentence response: “I wear pink shirts and listen to Taylor Swift.”

So lots of fun yesterday, and ending early wasn’t so bad either. Gave me a chance to play a little in the poker room (I’ll write some about that later in the week), then rest up for today’s day of travel. Definitely a different, more relaxed vibe on the WSOP Circuit than one encounters at the WSOP in Vegas during the summer. And it was great working with both Rich and Nolan again.

Haven’t gotten to see much of Atlantic City, I’m afraid, though I think I’ve experienced enough to confirm some of the generalities I’ve heard about the place. Might share some of those thoughts, too, later in the week.

Looks like check-out time is approaching, so I better get packed. Thanks for following my little travelogue here the past few days. And good luck!

Good luck

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Day 2

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Day 2“Put this in the blog,” one of the players said to me last night. “Nines are a favorite to make a set over every other pocket pair.”

They were down to the final two tables at the $1,650 buy-in WSOP Circuit Main Event in Atlantic City when this new piece of poker knowledge was delivered to me. It was getting late.

Another player joined in excitedly, agreeing that the “proven fact” should be reported. It was a conversation that had begun with more straightforward discussion about percentages and how AJ-suited compared to a lower pocket pair when it came to preflop all-ins. Then came the silly. Both agreed it would surely go viral -- the proclamation about pocket nines -- as the report got picked up and repeated in the forums, on Twitter and Facebook, and elsewhere.

“That’s good information to know,” I responded with a grin.

From the reporting side of things, that progression was kind of how the day as a whole went, starting out somewhat staid, then gradually turning increasingly giddy. Kind of thing often happens once a tourney has moved through those last orbits just prior to the money bubble bursting to the period afterwards when everyone has at least cashed. And many if not all still harbor hopes of landing the big score.

We had 81 players to begin Day 2, evenly divided among nine tables. Bustouts came quickly, but my blogging partner Rich and I were able to keep track of players relatively well thanks to the seating chart with which we began the day.

I had done what I often do in that situation as players were first arriving and taking their seats -- go around and make notes next to names about their appearance or dress to help me remember who was who later on once they’ve begun moving around. The side of the page gets peppered with keywords like “purple shirt,” “red hair,” “Titleist,” “LAPC,” “plaid hat,” “bald,” and the like. Then come the knockouts, represented up and down the page by unfeeling crossout lines.

Things were most tense right as the bubble burst yesterday. An unusual set of circumstances led to there being no hand-for-hand play, as a half-dozen players all busted within just a couple of minutes of one another to take the field from 50 to 44. Since the top 45 finishers made the money, there was a bit of uncertainty regarding the last two bustouts, which had essentially happened at the same time. Took a few minutes of sorting out -- some of which time was taken up calming the fellow who appeared as though he might get shut out of the cash -- but all seemed to work out well enough (45th-place money was split between those two) and play finally resumed.

As I say, once in the money the overall mood relaxed considerably, the table talk increasing as the night wore on.

With about three tables left players at Mike Kosowski’s table finally recognized him from his late 2009 appearance on “Million Dollar Challenge” where he managed to defeat Daniel Negreanu in a heads-up match to win the $1 million. We reported the entertaining scene that followed, and the conversation about Kosowski’s experience on the show continued on afterwards for quite a while. (Kosowski finished yesterday in 16th.)

A lot of other stories were being passed back and forth, including one very humorous one told by a player about a particularly poor display of behavior by an opponent at another tourney he’d played. Won’t rehearse the whole thing here, but it involved the player unpeeling a banana and smearing the peel on the felt, then putting the banana on his chips as well as part of some sort of ill-conceived protest. Or performance art.

Talk of penalties followed, with the tournament director joining in to share the no-nonsense way he’d have handled the situation. “They should have at least taken his banana away,” cracked one player. The storyteller noted how he had a friend who’d once endured the bad behavior of “Banana Man,” and the friend confirmed he was the “douchiest player” ever.

“At least he’s the best at something,” said another, and the table broke up in laughter again.

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Day 2There was another very funny sequence lasting several minutes once we’d crossed midnight and the main topic of conversation turned to Daylight Savings Time. No one seemed to know with absolute certainty whether the clocks were to be moved forward or back, nor when the resetting was due to occur. The discussion was complicated even further by some wanting to know what time it “really” was.

Additionally, a couple of players noticed after midnight their Verizon-connected phones were saying it was a little after 11 p.m., which made as much sense as pocket nines being more likely to hit a set than any other pair.

“That’s because you guys are on Verizon time,” said the tournament director with a grin, clarifying nothing.

The whole conversation about time started to feel a little “existential,” especially given the context, namely, a casino, a place specifically designed to obscure the whole concept of time for its inhabitants. I joked with Rich that the whole “spring forward fall back” mnemonic only really works if you know what season it is -- harder than one might assume for those who spend the majority of their time inside of poker rooms.

As I say, there was a lot more banter that made the scene quite fun to be around. Those who have played tournaments and made deep runs before well know how this strange sort of camaraderie often develops between the survivors -- strange because while they’re becoming friends, they’re also trying to eliminate one another.

And after spending another 14 hours or so yesterday with those who’ve made today’s final table, I have to say I’m glad for all nine, and will be more so for whomever comes out on top.

Have no favorites among them, although I cannot help but notice a couple of neat storylines suggesting themselves rather strongly. Roland Israelashvili, who nursed a very short stack for much of the latter half of the day yesterday, will be there. He actually won this same event last spring (when it was a $5K buy-in tourney), and so would make WSOP Circuit history should he defend his title.

And speaking of “title defenses” and such, a heads-up battle between Brian Ali and Ellis Frazier would make for some nifty headlines, wouldn’t you say? If that were to happen, we’d know for sure the bout would end with a knockout.

Check over at PokerNews starting at 2 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) today to see how it all turns out. No matter who makes it to the end, we’ll be providing blow-by-blow coverage.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Day 1

Hail, Caesar“Good luck” is a commonly-heard saying here at Caesars Atlantic City, a phrase that seems to punctuate practically every encounter, no matter how incidental.

Check in, and the person manning the front desk wishes you good luck. Ask where the elevators are located, and after getting your answer the person helping you wishes you luck following directions. Even last night when my blogging partner Rich and I went for dinner, the host passing us off to the person seating us wished us good luck, which we both agreed hopefully wouldn’t be so necessary with regard to the upcoming meal.

As someone who is not really here to gamble, but rather to help cover the three-day, $1,650 buy-in WSOP Circuit event being held here through Sunday, such wishes seem a little incongruous. They are certainly well taken, though. Indeed, now that I think about it, there’s always some luck involved whenever a small team -- in our case just the two of us -- try to cover a large field, multi-table tournament such as the one Rich and I were monitoring yesterday.

A total of 442 came out to play the event, well above the 300 or so I was hearing most estimate prior to it kicking off. That meant the spacious Palladium Ballroom was fairly packed, with Rich and I doing a lot of hoofing it over the long day of play. They played 16 40-minute levels, which including breaks took us from noon until close to 2 a.m. Went from 442 players down to 81, which I think is just about right on schedule as far as these things go, with the plan being to play down to a final nine today.

For the reporter, then, luck does play a role in that constant search for the little stories that ultimately add up to the larger tale of the tourney. (Thanks, by the way, to PKR for the “good luck” comment to yesterday’s post.) Most of those stories obviously center around hands played, although other “color” items often make it into the mix as well. If one is lucky, that is.

Was able to spin a few fun ones yesterday. Probably my favorite involved Andy Santiago, an amiable guy who had actually come around to say hello while I was visiting with WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla on Thursday. Santiago had written out a signed “affadavit” (as he called it) predicting he was going to win the tournament, delivering it to Dalla. He then got off to a very good start yesterday, which gave us occasion to tell his story.

Unfortunately he ran into a couple of very unlucky hands late in the evening to bust before day’s end, including one where he’d flopped trips while an opponent flopped a boat. He was good-natured about it, though, and chatted with us some more after his elimination.

In fact, as he was leaving I remember wishing him “good luck.” Even though he’d just busted, it still seemed like the right thing to say.

As happened a lot during those $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em events I covered last summer at the WSOP -- occasionally referred to here as “The Grand Games” (such as here and here) -- we had a lot of interaction with the players yesterday, many of whom are locally-based. A big difference from the WSOP, of course, is the fact that there really aren’t a lot of media here other than Rich and myself, perhaps making it even more likely for us to draw the players’ attention.

Had a few funny exchanges as the day and evening wore on. “You drawing sketches?” asked a player of me once with a mischievous grin as I stood nearby with pad and pencil. Another time one got up and walked over, put his arm around me, and offered to give me humorous “Cliffs Notes” regarding the personalities at his table, and I subsequently chronicled his explication here.

Another time a player stopped me to ask if any famous players were in the event. I rattled off a few, and he told me he had plans to be among that list one day.

Actually there were really only a few so-called “notables” in the field for this one, including Steve Dannenmann, Sirous Jamshidi, Beth Shak, Paul Volpe, Josh Brikis, Matt Matros, and David Apostolico. Had the chance to speak some with Apostolico, a friendly guy and author of several interesting poker books including ones relating poker to Machiavelli's The Prince and Sun-Tzu's The Art of War.

None of those folks made it through to Saturday, however. Probably the best known player still remaining among the last 81 is Eric Buchman who finished fourth in the WSOP Main Event in 2009, although he’s on the short side and will need things to go his way in order to make it to the top 45 and the cash. Mike Kosowski -- the retired NYPD sergeant who defeated Daniel Negreanu heads-up to win $1 million on the “Million Dollar Challenge” in late 2009 -- is still in as well.

Even without the big names, though, I’m sure we’ll find plenty of stories to tell as they play down to the final nine today. You can check in over at PokerNews to see how it goes.

And for whatever else you end up doing this weekend, good luck.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Arrival

WSOP CircuitI might have been dreaming. Could have sworn I heard shouting coming from the parking deck across the street from my room at Caesars Atlantic City.

Sounded like someone saying “we’ve still got one grand” over and over, adding “we’re in Atlantic City.” His interlocutor was female, and while I couldn’t make out her responses they seem to have been antagonistic to whatever plan he had in mind. Went on for quite a while, and whether real or imagined, the exhange was enough to remind me I wasn’t sleeping in my own bed.

My flights yesterday were both smooth. Speaking of gambling tales, on one leg I was seated near a member of one of the NASCAR crews who spent most of the journey excitedly relating his recent adventure in Las Vegas to his neighbor.

The tour had a stop there last weekened, I believe, and this fellow told how he’d taken a Mason jar filled with $63 worth of coins along with him. Ran it up to $500 or so, he said, before leaving Las Vegas with “about a hundred.” (Which probably meant something a little less than $63.) Had friends -- apparently lacking his discipline -- who lost two or three grand, though.

So, you know, it was like he was up. A lot.

Took a cab through the dreary, pounding, early evening rain and made it up to my room a little after dinner time. Ended up spending some time scoping out the scene downstairs, including finding the large ballroom where the WSOP Circuit $1,650 buy-in Main Event will be happening today.

Found WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla there monitoring the conclusion of a preliminary event, and he and I had a good time talking about what we’ve each been up to since last summer. Dalla’s a sports bettor, and he and I also talked some college hoops and some of the conference tourneys he would have his eye on this weekend.

Now that I think about it, all that shouting about what to do with the last thousand dollars probably was a dream, suggested to me by that bit of eavesdropping on the plane, my rereading the end of Jesse May’s Shut Up and Deal and a couple of chapters of Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town on the flights, and my conversation with Dalla.

In any case, it is sounding like there ought to be 300 or so hopefuls showing up this afternoon, themselves all dreaming of a handsome payday and a WSOP Circuit ring come this weekend. And each willing to part with more than a grand to get there.

Check in over at PokerNews today to see how things go.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Travel Report: WSOP-C Atlantic City, Pregame

Caesars Atlantic CityNot a lot of time for scribblin’ this morning as I’m getting things together for a quick trip to Atlantic City to help cover this weekend’s WSOP Circuit event for PokerNews. In a few hours I will be heading to Caesars Atlantic City where the $1,650 buy-in event begins tomorrow.

The newly-refurbished WSOP Circuit schedule has succeeded in getting the tour some extra attention. Announced last summer and kicked off in August, the 2010-2011 schedule featured added events as well as a new points system in which top finishers win their way into a WSOP Circuit National Championship event in a couple of months.

I believe the plan is still for the top 100 point-getters to play in that Championship event (to be held at Caesars in Las Vegas), with the top 10 finishers in that one dividing up a handsome $1 million prize pool. Additionally, the winner will be getting a WSOP bracelet, too, right there before the WSOP proper gets going at the end of May.

Some players have clinched spots in the Championship already. These include those who have won the Main Events at each WSOP Circuit stop, the "Casino Champion" at each stop (i.e., the player earning the most points in the overall series at a given site), and those who made the final tables at the “Regional Championships” played thus far (at Horseshoe Hammond and Harrah's Atlantic City). Two more Regional Championships are still to come -- at Harrah's Rincon and Harrah's New Orleans -- before they get to Caesars in Vegas at the end of May.

Here’s the full WSOP Circuit schedule, here’s how the points system works, and here’s the current leaderboard.

This will be my second trip in just a few days to an east-coast poker destination, as Vera and I just got back from a quick visit to West Palm Beach, Florida where I made a brief return to the poker room at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. (Wrote about my visit there a year ago.)

They were still buzzing, actually, about the WSOP Circuit event that just concluded at the PBKC, won by local boy John Riordan. I say local “boy” because, well, Riordan is only 19 years old, and while he’s allowed to play in tourneys in Florida (where legislation regarding poker has opened things up considerably since last summer), he won’t be eligible to go to Caesars Las Vegas to play in the Championship.

Pacific AvenueAm definitely looking forward to the AC trip, as I’ve never been. Have mentioned it to a couple of people who in response brought up Monopoly, the game we’ve all played in which all the streets and place names (in the U.S. version) were taken from the New Jersey city. Indeed, Caesars Atlantic City is on Pacific Avenue, where the rent has probably gone up a bit since the mid-1930s when that deed card was printed.

Been rereading Jesse May’s Shut Up and Deal lately, a book set in the mid-1990s and with several scenes there in AC just after poker was legalized (in 1993). Further whetting my interest to see at least some of the place, albeit a couple of decades later.

I hope to deliver a few trip reports here, but we’ll see how the time goes. Looking at the structure sheet for the Main Event, it appears we are in for a long day of reporting tomorrow. Check in over at PokerNews to see things are going.

Monopoly guyAnd come back here, too, where I’ll be sure to let you know if I see this guy high-steppin’ around.

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