Saturday, June 30, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 30: Riding the Happy Train to the Final Table

Riding the Happy Train to the final tableTom Schneider has made another final table -- his third this year. And again, he’s playing the game he loathes, Stud Eight-or-Better. You can follow the final table for Event No. 46 over on Poker News. Also head over to Pokerati, where Dan “Milwaukee’s Best Light is the Best Beer Around” Michalski is posting regular updates on Tom’s progress.

Schneider has made no bones about his dislike of Stud/8. Before the WSOP began, he explained on Beyond the Table his intention not to play any of the Stud or Stud/8 games. After winning the bracelet in Event No. 5 (the $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8 event), Tom was interviewed by Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum. When Newnum asked him about that event’s format, Tom unhesitatingly replied “I actually didn’t want to play in this event because I hate Stud 8-or-better. I can’t stand the game.” However, the day the tourney began (Sunday, June 3), Tom found himself without a tourney to play and, as he says, “decided to play in this because I had nothing else to do.” (Here’s a summary of Tom’s victory in Event No. 5 that also includes a link to the PokerNews interview.)

I’ve been looking back through Tom’s book, Oops! I Won too Much Money: Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table, looking for clues for why he might be doing so well playing a game he hates so much. I think I might have found a chapter that has some relevance here, the one called “Jump on the Happy Train.”

Tom’s point there is to emphasize the benefits of keeping oneself in a good mood at the poker table. Even in the face of heavy losses, he consciously rides the “happy train” (which Tom admits is an intentionally silly-sounding phrase), as opposed to the “miserable train” or the “everything-sucks train.” He goes on to describe his efforts to keep the mood upbeat at the table, telling jokes, singing, and laughing. “I find that I play better when I’m happy,” he explains. As is the case with just about all of the chapters in the book, the advice also applies beyond the table (pun intended).

Clearly Tom is having fun at these split-pot and mixed events, and I suspect the lower expectations (accurately-formed or not) have something to do with it. Reading through the PokerNews reports from the last couple of tables of Event No. 46 yesterday, one gets the sense that the mood was certainly upbeat, at least among some of the players, as the action wound down. (See, for instance, the post describing table talk about Scotty Nguyen’s two pet monkeys.)

Dan on Pokerati has shared more funnies involving Nguyen and Tom. According to Dan, “Scotty Nguyen is more than a little drinky, and ordering beers for the table. Tom obliged, and thanked him as he tried to tip the waiter. ‘No no! I already tip him. Ten dollars. When I say I take care of it I take care of it.’ ‘You’re trying to get me drunk,’ Tom joked upon taking a big swig, ‘so you can take advantage of me.’” Later on, Dan reports Tom diffusing the situation following an argument between two players and Tony Ma, remaining oblivious to the negative vibes while staying on the happy train.

Best of luck to Tom. A third-place finish would put him in a tie with Jeffrey Lisandro for the WSOP Player of the Year points lead.

Watch where the happy train ends up over at PokerNews' live reports and at Pokerati.


Friday, June 29, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 29: H.O.R.S.E. Champ Brings Smiles All Around

Smile! Freddy Deeb won the H.O.R.S.E. event!It is impossible to say the name of this year’s $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. champion (Event No. 39) without smiling. Just try it.

Freddy Deeb. See?

The Lebanese-born Deeb survived a 15-hour marathon of a final table in which he more than once peered over Bustout Cliff into the Gaping Maw of Elimination. (Whoa, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to go all John Bunyan there. I was up all night, too, ya know.)

There was one stretch yesterday when they were five-handed -- this was around 5 p.m. Vegas time, or approximately three hours into play -- when Deeb was all-in three times within nine hands (Hand #101, Hand #107, and Hand #109). The first time he got quartered in an Omaha/8 hand. The second time he doubled up with quads in another O/8 hand. Then he tripled up in a big Razz hand in which he made a 7-5 (a hand Kenny Tran appears to have botched somewhat).

When they began three-handed play (a bit after 10 p.m. Vegas time), Frenchman Bruno Fitoussi had what appeared a commanding chip lead. Fitoussi had over 10 million in chips, while Freddy Deeb and John Hanson each had a little over 2 million. I seriously thought proceedings would be coming to a close fairly quickly at that point. They were at Level 65, Stud/8, when the antes and bring-ins were 30,000, it was 120,000 to complete, and betting limits were 120,000/240,000. Meaning if either Deeb or Hanson found himself betting a hand down to 7th street, he’d have to commit something like three-fourths of his stack to do so.

Both the short stacks would battle back, though, and some five hours later the trio would still be there, each sitting with about 5 million in chips.

Then came an interesting Razz hand (Hand #305) which might arguably have been the turning point of the final table. This was Level 73, where the ante was 50,000, the bring-in 70,000, the completion a whopping 250,000, and the betting limits 250,000/500,000. The hand began thusly: Fitoussi was dealt a 5, Deeb a J, and Hanson an A. With the jack, Deeb brought it in for 70K, Hanson raised it up with his ace, Fitoussi got out, and Deeb called.

Now that’s an expensive call with a jack showing and your opponent having the ace as his door card. Have to think Deeb is pretty darn good underneath, right? On fourth street, Hanson got a 9 and Deeb an 8. Hanson made the 250,000 bet, and Deeb called. Now on fifth street, Deeb picked up a 2 while Hanson got a 10. Limits increase on fifth, so Hanson bet 500,000. This time Deeb raises to 1,000,000. That deuce must have been good for him, perhaps giving him a low draw to the 8.

When Deeb made the 1,000,000-chip bet, Andy Bloch (doing audio commentary for WSOP/Bluff Radio) remarked that it might have been the first time in WSOP history there had ever been a million-chip bet in a limit tourney. And it was a bold move, in my opinion. Deeb, the longtime pro, was forcing Hanson -- whose previous biggest cash was for $12,000, not even a fourth of the buy-in for Event No. 39 -- to a critical decision. While Hanson might have been ahead of Deeb at the moment, he was at best drawing to a 9-low, meaning if Deeb caught on sixth and Hanson didn’t, the less experienced player would be in a tough spot.

B.J. Nemeth’s report tells us Hanson thought for a full minute and then made the call. Sixth street brought Hanson an 8. Deeb picked up an A. So their boards read:


Hanson checked and Deeb fired out the required 500,000. With Deeb’s bet, the pot was up to 3.5 million. Whatever Hanson had underneath, he decided he could no longer proceed with the hand and folded, at which point Deeb decided to show everyone he had another ace underneath. As Bloch pointed out in his commentary, for Deeb to have paired his ace there on sixth street wasn’t all that surprising -- he had to have been pretty good to have called with his jack on third street.

Hanson failed to make the read, though, and when the hand was over he was down to 3 million or so while Deeb had moved up closer to 7 million.

Freddy Deeb, 2007 WSOP Event No. 39 WinnerDeeb would never relinquish that lead, helped in large measure by picking up a wheel and a big pot on Hand #311. Hanson would go out on Hand #315. When heads-up began, Deeb had over two-thirds of the chips -- 10.8 million to Fitoussi’s 4 million. They went for a while (26 hands), although Fitoussi never did make any substantial gains. Deeb finally took it down during Level 75 (Stud 8/b), claiming the bracelet and a cool $2,276,832 -- easily the largest cash prize for any non-Main Event WSOP tournament.

The pros who so value the $50K H.O.R.S.E. event are probably smiling a lot more today than they would have been had Hanson won. And not just because pronouncing Deeb’s name forces upwards the corners of one’s mouth. Had Hanson slipped through and taken the bracelet this morning, there would have been even louder complaints about the fast structure having taken the “skill” out of this year’s tourney, making it a crapshoot that a relative unknown could win. Would have been a lot of applesauce, of course, but I promise that’s what we’d have heard.

With Deeb’s victory, the complainants will be marginally less indignant, I think. Hard to whine with that big smile on yr face, anyway.

Keep following all the action over at PokerNews’ live reports!


Thursday, June 28, 2007


InterludeWas listening all night to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black while following the WSOP. Have you heard this album? Kind of a stunner, really.

The sound alone marks it as something special -- part early-sixties girl group (soaring, expansive, exuberant), part torchy chanteuse (dark, intimate, desperate). Held together by that enormous, hopelessly arresting, listen-’cos-I-gotta-say-this voice.

It’s what she says, though, that elevates the whole thing from simply distinctive to downright astonishing. I suppose Back to Black might be called a concept album. The album’s title (best explained in the song of the same name) seems to refer to that scary, sometimes inevitable-seeming move back into a self-created darkness. Most of the songs speak of solitude, self-destructive behavior, and the need for (and difficulty of finding) a friend.

“Rehab,” the album’s opener, is a terrific test for the listener -- either you get it and you proceed onward, or you don’t and you can’t. The chorus is killer, but the lines that get me are “The man said ‘Why do you think you’re here?’ / I said, ‘I got no idea.’” Elsewhere in the song she reveals a good deal more self-understanding, but as this response shows, it’s sometimes easier -- even inevitable -- to refuse to acknowledge what’s really going on.

Amy WinehouseThe rest of the album follows in a similar vein. Most (if not all) of the tunes are apparently autobiographical, though I haven’t spent much effort looking into that. One track, “Love is a Losing Game,” might reasonably be added to the catalogue of “poker” songs. The song meditates on a failed, possibly destructive affair that has led the singer to conclude “love is a losing hand.” Play, if you must, but know that doing so means facing “futile odds” and most likely being “laughed at by the gods.”

Speaking of poker and music, Anthony Holden wrote a smart post on the subject a couple of weeks ago over on the new Bigger Deal blog. Any fan of good poker writing can safely add Bigger Deal to his or her list of subscriptions. Besides Holden, other regular contributors include Al Alvarez (The Biggest Game in Town), Lee Jones (Winning Low Limit Hold ’em), and Peter Alson (One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar w/Nolan Dalla). In the most recent post, Jones provocatively argues in favor anonymous user IDs for online poker. Check it out.

And check out Back to Black, too, if you’re up to it. (For those who haven’t and are curious, here’s a better review for you.)


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 27: Welcome Back, Kaplan

Gabe Kaplan looks over the seating assignments for Day 4 of the H.O.R.S.E. eventTwenty-four return today for Event No. 39, the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. Of those returning, nine own WSOP bracelets: Daniel Negreanu (3), Dewey Tomko (3), Barry Greenstein (2), Thor Hansen (2), Mike Matusow (2), Freddy Deeb (1), Max Pescatori (1), Greg Raymer (1), and Chris Reslock (1).

And, at Table #71 in the three-seat, Gabe Kaplan will be coming back, too. Heading into today’s play, Kaplan’s 625,000 chips put him in 10th position -- right in the middle of the pack, though well behind chip leader Amnon Filippi’s 2,343,000. The average chip stack is around 708,000. When they begin play on Wednesday, they will still be in Level 44 -- Stud -- with a 5,000 ante, a 5,000 bring-in, 20,000 to complete, and 20,000/40,000 limits.

Most poker fans today know Kaplan for his commentary on High Stakes Poker, the Intercontinental Poker Championship, the National Heads-Up Poker Championship (in 2005), and those pre-Moneymaker, pre-holecam WSOP telecasts on ESPN. And a few of us still remember his days as the star of the hit sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.

A lot of folks don’t realize that Kaplan has had a long history of success at the World Series of Poker. He played a Main Event final table with Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Moss (in 1980, finishing sixth). In fact, he’s made a total of six WSOP final tables, the most recent being just two years ago when he finished 2nd in the $5,000 Limit Hold ’em event. His other final tables were in Deuce-to-Seven Draw (one limit, one no limit), Razz, and Seven-Card Stud (twice).

Shouldn’t be that surprising, then, to see Kaplan advance this far in the big H.O.R.S.E. event. He’ll still have Greenstein on his left when they return. (Then again, everybody’s got a tough one on his left in this tourney.)

I’ve always liked Kaplan. Probably some sort of nostalgia thing from having seen him as Kotter so long ago. I do think he’s a great poker commentator, though. Not to mention funnier than a bag of hammers. I remember one episode of the Intercontinental Poker Championship where Stephen Wolff became short-stacked and had to push all of his chips in on several occasions. Every time he did, Wolff would loudly say “It’s not much, but it’s going all in!” A few times of this and Kaplan could no longer resist adding “That’s also what he said on his honeymoon.”

(Wolff is still alive as well in the H.O.R.S.E. tourney in 16th place.)

Hope to see Mr. Kotter survive the day and get welcomed back to another WSOP final table tomorrow. You, too, can follow his progress over at PokerNews’ live reports.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 26: Slim Understanding

'Amarillo Slim' PrestonWeird little interview with 1972 WSOP Main Event winner “Amarillo Slim” Preston appeared over on PokerListings this morning. The interviewer caught up with him during the Seniors $1,000 No Limit Hold ’em Event (Event No. 41).

The interview is titled “This Just In: Amarillo Slim, Not A Murderer,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to a comment Slim makes about rumors that he may have had something to do with the murder of Jimmy Shagra’s brother, Leo. Jimmy Shagra was the drug trafficker who found himself in Vegas in the 70s gambling with (and losing to) the likes of Billy Baxter, Preston, and other poker legends. Apparently after serving considerable prison time, Shagra has resurfaced and was spotted yesterday playing in the Seniors event (although I haven’t seen any references to him in the live reports).

When asked about Shagra, Preston seems startled to learn his one-time acquaintance is at the Rio. “Last I heard they transferred him from Leavenworth to um, the penitentiary there in Illinois,” says Preston. “I forgot. I heard that he did roll over and got out.” Then, with no prompting, Preston says “But I liked his brother Leo real well. Leo was a good man. I was down there when he got murdered. I didn't kill him.”

The interviewer responds with nervous laughter. Preston continues, “Well, I didn’t. They thought I did but I didn’t.” Another question about Leo from the reporter and Preston reverts back to the homespun wiseacre act that once served him so well: “Yeah! I put a rattlesnake in his pocket and then asked him for a match!”

By her questions and comments, the interviewer demonstrates only a vague awareness (at best) of Preston’s questionable standing in the present-day poker world. Perhaps she considers him just another one of those “poker legends” whose presence lends a certain color to the proceedings, connecting the present-day WSOP carnival to the series’ more humble origins. I say that because anyone aware of Preston’s 2003 indictment on charges of indecency with his twelve-year-old granddaughter probably wouldn’t say things like “You live the poker dream” or ask questions like “So tell me a story you’ve never told anyone before.”

Knowing nothing more about what took place in Randall County, Texas a few years ago than what appears in the public record -- Preston was found guilty by a jury of three counts of indecency, then managed to plea bargain his way to reduced misdemeanor assault charges -- I’ll refrain from heedless speculation about the case. Whatever happened, it makes his impromptu denial of Leo Shagra’s murder less humorous-sounding, and certainly not worthy of a jokey headline for the interview.

Perhaps we’ll be hearing more from Preston, as he currently sits in 7th place of the 121 players who survived to Day 2 of Event No. 41. Follow along over at Poker News’ live reports.


Monday, June 25, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 25: The $50K H.O.R.S.E. Event -- More Bracelets Than Entrants

Lots of bling-bling at the $50K eventAs you probably have heard, poker blogger and PokerNews reporter Dr. Pauly cashed in Event No. 38 ($1,500 No Limit Hold ’em). Finally got bounced in 119th (out of 2,778 runners) when having shoved with Ad9d he failed to improve against Erica Schoenberg’s 9c9s. Right next to Pauly in the payout schedule is Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (who went out in 118th). Some impressive company there. Nice hand, sir.

Buoyed by her trouncing of the Doctor, Schoenberg went on to make tonight’s final table. She’ll certainly get some attention, though most folks will probably be more preoccupied following Day 2 of the $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event that got underway yesterday. 127 of the original 148 players remain.

Speaking of impressive company . . . .

I was looking over the list of those who entered the 50K H.O.R.S.E. event on PokerNews and wondered how many of those entered had won WSOP bracelets. Took a little figuring, but I think I’ve found my answer. This is unofficial, mind you, but it appears that 64 of the 148 entrants are WSOP bracelet-winners -- nearly half the field!

As far as I have been able to discover, here is a list of all of the entrants who have won at least one WSOP bracelet:

11 bracelets: Phil Hellmuth, Jr.
10: Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan
7: Erik Seidel
6: T.J. Cloutier
5: Allen Cunningham, Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Phil Ivey
4: Mickey Appleman, David Chiu, Scotty Nguyen, Huckleberry Seed
3: Lyle Berman, Farzad Bonyadi, Chau Giang, John Juanda, Daniel Negreanu, Chip Reese, David Sklansky, Dewey Tomko
2: Josh Arieh, Bill Chen, Sam Farha, Barry Greenstein, David Grey, Thor Hansen, Jennifer Harman, John Hennigan, Howard Lederer, Mike Matusow, Carlos Mortensen, David Pham, Steve Zolotow
1: Rafi Amit, Jim Bechtel, Todd Brunson, Freddy Deeb, Annie Duke, Eli Elezra, Tom Franklin, Hasan Habib, Alexander Kravchenko, Ted Lawson, Keith Lehr, Jason Lester, Toto Leonidas, Benjamin Lin, Jeff Lisandro, Kirk Morrison, Ralph Perry, Max Pescatori, Greg Raymer, Chris Reslock, Tom Schneider, Mike Sexton, Harry Thomas, Jerri Thomas, Cyndy Violette, Mark Vos, Mike Wattel, David Williams, Robert Williamson III, Jack Zwerner

That’s a total of 161 bracelets. More bracelets than entrants!

Five 2007 WSOP bracelet winners entered the event (Eli Elezra, Alexander Kravchenko, Jeffrey Lisandro, Chris Reslock, and Tom “Oops! I Won too Much Money” Schneider) -- all of whom were first-time bracelet winners. Interestingly, neither the winner of the $2,500 H.O.R.S.E. event (James Richburg) nor the winner of the $5,000 H.O.R.S.E. event (Ralph Schwartz) chose to try his luck in the big one.

They’ll be gettting back underway a couple of hours from now. Of the 64 bracelet winners, 54 are still alive, as Josh Arieh, Lyle Berman, Johnny Chan, Chau Giang, Sam Farha, Jeffrey Lisandro, David Pham, Jerri Thomas, Mark Vos, and Jack Zwerner were all among the first-day casualties.

The H.O.R.S.E. event is scheduled to run five days altogether, with the final table happening this Thursday. Follow all the action over at PokerNews’ live reports.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 23: Check Out These Numbers, Bro

Check Out These Numbers, BroWhen asked on yesterday’s episode of PokerWire Radio about the caliber of play at this year’s World Series, Eugene Todd answered with what has to be the quote of the day (or week): “Brutal. So bad. If I went to the supermarket and put a table in aisle five and picked out the next 10 people that came and played poker with them, they’d be better than the f*&!ing idiots we’re playing with downstairs.”

More on Eugene Todd below. Meanwhile, some numbers.


Yes, Regis. That’s my final answer. The question? How many entrants do I think there will be in this year’s WSOP Main Event.

Why have I committed to an exact figure? A poster over on 2+2 started a contest to pick the number of entrants in this year’s WSOP Main Event. The one who comes closest without going over gets 50 clams (to be transferred by said poster into yr Full Tilt, Pokerstars, or Ultimate Bet account). Contest remains open until July 1.

So I went ahead and decided yesterday to throw my fedora into the ring by adding a guess to the thread. (Someone is compiling all of the entries on a spreadsheet here). About three weeks ago, I stated here I thought we’d be looking at somewhere between 5,400 and 5,800 entries this year. So I put in my guess at 5,763. I was the 457th person to enter the contest.

Trolling through the entries . . . . When I made my guess, the highest number guessed was 22,345. (Yeah, right.) The lowest was zero, an apparent “Price Is Right”-style maneuver that was quickly thwarted by the person who guessed there would be only one entrant this year. The average for all the entries (as of the time I put in my guess) was 7,305. The median was 7,231 (half guessing above, half below).

Intriguing to consider how the hundreds of contestants have so far collectively come up with a final total in the 7,200-7,300 range. It should be noted that the contest discourages people from picking a figure someone else has already chosen (else one wants to split the prize), so that might slightly skew people’s choices -- not by much, though.

Should be interesting, I think, to see whether the actual number of Main Event entrants approaches this “collective” guess of those who have entered the contest. There’s a school of thought that believes this approach -- i.e., gathering an average prediction from a large sample size of individual predictions -- is actually a reasonable way to predict future events. (Anybody else remember that story about the ill-fated governmental agency that tried to create a “futures market” in predicting terrorist acts?)


That’s the number of hands played heads-up last night between Qushqar Morad and Alan Smurfit at the final table of Event No. 33, the $1,500 pot limit Omaha with rebuys event. Smurfit finally emerged as the victor.

Lengths of Heads-Up Matches, 2007 WSOPHeads-up lasted over five hours, the longest heads-up battle thus far at this year’s WSOP. By a hell of a lot, actually. The longest previously (in terms of number of hands played) had been Event No. 13, when Allen Cunningham took 80 hands to best Jeff Lisandro in the $5,000 pot limit Hold ’em event. The shortest heads-up battle so far this year was -- interestingly enough -- at another pot limit Omaha event, Event No. 23 (the $1,500 buy-in PLO), when Scott Clements took out a short-stacked Eric “Rizen” Lynch in a single hand.

On the left there is a rundown of the number of hands played heads-up at all of the events thus far at this year’s WSOP. (For those events where PokerNews didn’t have hand-by-hand coverage, I’ve made estimates.)

As has been done for a number of events this year, PokerNews provided hand-by-hand coverage of Event No. 33’s final table, so you can go back and look at every hand of the Morad-Smurfit epic battle. Pretty cool for us PLO players.


Number of times Eugene Todd said “bro” during his PokerWire interview yesterday. Again, that’s an estimate, as the man got some serious momentum going a few minutes in. Also heard hosts Gavin Smith, Joe Sebok, and Joe Stapleton use the word at least a dozen times between them during the 23-minute long interview.

You owe it to yourself to give it a listen. Todd is an very likable, extremely funny dude, bro, and the interview ends up coming close to reaching the overall hilarity level of Haralabos Voulgaris’s spot on The Circuit last year. Several “listener-dissolves-into-helpless-laughter” moments here, including the quote listed above. I’m not going to ruin it for you any further with more quotes -- go check it out yourself.

And when you are done there, go over to PokerNews’ live reporting for all the latest.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Online Poker Is Rigged, ver. 2.0

Taking the online-poker-is-rigged conspiracy to a new levelWas up until way past sunrise this a.m. following the $3,000 Limit Hold ’em event (Event No. 34), which played down to the final nine. Perhaps as a result, I found myself back at the limit tables online some today. Kind of enjoyed the serene, low risk atmosphere after the last few months of riding the pot limit Omaha rollercoaster.

Haven’t the energy for a long post, but wanted to share some chat from one of my tables today. Fellow to my left -- I’ll call him WaryWarren -- had been bleeding chips at a fairly impressive clip. That’s when I noticed the same fellow had been typing something over in the chat box.

WaryWarren: bo you dont lay a man to good of odds ha

Wasn’t sure to whom the comment was directed. On the previous hand I had been dealt pocket rockets, had raised preflop only to see five or six callers, then had to let the hand go in the face of possible straights and flushes. This was on Bodog, where the chat box is located off to the side, the chat being segregated from the “dealer” commentary. Since the chat doesn’t appear with the hand descriptions -- and since I don’t pay that much attention to the chat, anyway -- I often don’t know when a particular comment has been made.

Anyway, a few hands later Warren pipes up again:

WaryWarren: i see ya bo that suppose to be funny you not

Who the hell is Bo? No one is responding to WaryWarren’s comments. I glance around at the player names and don’t see a Bo among them. As Warren’s stack trickles down to his last five bucks or so, his comments become more piercing.

WaryWarren: yea rub in you crooked ass
WaryWarren: you think you die tonight you taking it with you sorry you got to answer to man upstairs

Amen, brother. And whatever. I watch as he chases another draw, again failing to hit.

WaryWarren: i bet you grinning aint you bo
WaryWarren: bo look up my account see how many deposits i given you then look how much ive cased in sad ha

Now I’m starting to wonder if perhaps he’s got a buddy at the table, someone to whom he’s made player-to-player transfers. And with whom he is now -- possibly -- colluding. I’ve seen such applesauce before. Just about this time last year when I wrote a post about encountering collusion at the online table, the perps having betrayed themselves in chat. Warren loses yet another pot, and is now down to his last buck. He mucks his hand and types:

WaryWarren: good god bodog thats getting sad

Ahhhh . . . now I see. Warren has taken the whole “this-site-is-so-rigged” whine to the next level, personifying the site as his much-hated arch-nemesis. Hilarious.

Wouldn’t it have been great if “Bo” responded? What would he say?

Oh, I know.



Thursday, June 21, 2007

David Spanier's Total Poker

David Spanier, 'Total Poker' (1977)Thought I’d continue with the “reading recommendations” theme of the last post and offer a review here of my latest poker read, David Spanier’s Total Poker.

Total Poker was one of the books I picked up when I visited the Gambler’s Bookshop in Vegas back in April. First published in 1977, Total Poker certainly deserves a place on the short list of “essential” reads when it comes to poker journalism-slash-literature, alongside Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town (1983), Anthony Holden’s Big Deal (1990), and Jim McManus’s Positively Fifth Street (2003). If you are reading this blog, you are undoubtedly a poker player -- and probably also someone who likes to read and/or write about poker. As such, you really should try to find yourself a copy of Total Poker at some point, as I do think you’d enjoy it and get a lot from it. Let me give you an idea what you’ll find in Spanier’s book.

Unlike the trio of books mentioned above, Spanier’s collection of essays does not focus specifically on the World Series of Poker. Aside from one chapter devoted to Puggy Pearson that talks a bit about Pearson’s 1973 WSOP Main Event victory, the rest of the book approaches the subject of poker from a variety of perspectives, thereby demonstrating the richness of the game and its seemingly endless capacity to produce stories, emotions, ideas . . . even life lessons. The best way to characterize the book is call it an “anatomy” of poker -- a close, minute examination of the subject from multiple angles.

The first of the book’s eleven chapters -- simply titled “Bluff” -- itself shows Spanier taking various approaches to his chosen topic. He discusses the “classical approach” using examples from Yardley’s The Education of a Poker Player, the James Jones novel From Here to Eternity, and The Cincinnati Kid (both the novel and the film). He then focuses on Muhammad Ali’s use of bluffing in his famous “Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight title bout versus George Foreman in Zaire. (By the way, if you’ve never seen When We Were Kings -- a documentary of the 1974 bout -- let me recommend that to you as well.) He then shares others’ efforts to explain bluffing from psychological and even physiological points of view. He then concludes with a brief discussion of stud hi-lo, arguing how, in his opinion, split games are where bluffing “achieves its fullest complexity.”

David Spanier (1932-2000)The next three chapters are more historical, focusing on the origins of poker, the legacy of U.S. presidents’ frequent association with the game, and that aforementioned character sketch of Puggy Pearson. There follows an homage to America’s gambling capital, titled “Breakfast in Vegas,” that opens with the following tone-setter: “On a sunny day, with nothing particular to do, an indulgent thought sometimes crosses my mind: On the whole I’d rather be in Las Vegas. Vulgar, eye-catching, money-grabbing Vegas, the place whose relentless tastelessness gives you shudders. I love it.” A terrific study of the seedy allure of Sin City, circa seventies, a place Spanier says is “run like a huge turbine, day and night, and you can sense its tightly coiled power wherever you go.”

The next chapter, “Loving and Losing,” has a couple of purposes. One is to explore the theory “that gambling has an intimate connection with sexual drives,” producing a lot of similar desires and pleasures (normal and neurotic). The other is to consider the place and influence of women when it comes to poker. Again, we’re talking 1970s here, so it shouldn’t surprise us to see Spanier operate within the context of a taken-for-granted prejudice against women poker players. (Noting the lack of good women players, Spanier wonders “Is poker the last remaining men’s game?”) To his credit, however, Spanier doesn’t just accept what he sees, but tries to understand and explain it -- to explore the idea that, for instance, an apparently higher degree of competitiveness in men perhaps makes them better suited for a game like poker. You might not agree with his conclusion (or his tendency to refer to women as “girls”), but you will find him a thoughtful commentator on the issue, nonetheless.

Next comes a chapter on poker in the movies, which contains one of the better discussions of The Cincinnati Kid I have come across. I actually agree with a lot of what Spanier has to say here about the film, e.g., we both have a greater appreciation for the climactic hand than do some other commentators. (If you’re curious, I wrote a series of posts back in January that talked about the novel, the film, the DVD commentary, and that last hand.)

Spanier moves on from there to discuss A Big Hand for the Little Lady and The Sting, and singles out California Split (which I reviewed here) as having “the stamp of authenticity” when it comes to depicting the gambler’s life. He then oddly spends most of the rest of the chapter trying to argue that The Hustler, despite being about pool and not poker, is to him the best example of a film teaching lessons about poker. It’s a smart analysis of the Newman-Gleason classic, but it seems kind of a stretch in this context.

The next three chapters address various psychological and moral issues associated with poker. “The Old, Old Story” humorously dramatizes poker’s ability to make us lie to ourselves. “Funny Game” explores an example of cheating in poker. And “Morals” considers that strange formula (with which we are all at least somewhat familiar) that suggests becoming a winning player requires one to care less about the welfare of others. The chapter begins provocatively: “A fine line is drawn between the status of amateur and professional at poker. Really it’s a moral line. How far do you go, how much do you play, how much do you want to win?” Good stuff. The book then concludes with a chapter called “Ends and Odds” which is peppered with probability tables and observations about particular games.

I hope my overview encourages a few people to seek out Total Poker. I don’t see it mentioned quite as often as the “canonical” poker books referred to above, but I think it is safe to say Spanier signficantly influenced all of those writers. A longtime correspondent for The Times, in 1997 Spanier would become the first ever to write a poker column for a national newspaper (The Independent). Some of those columns were collected in The Little Book of Poker (1998). Also worth checking out is another collection of his poker essays, called The Hand I Played (2001), published shortly after the author’s death. (I talked briefly about that collection in an earlier post.)

Spanier says in the Preface to Total Poker that “one of the things [he] discovered in writing this book is how deep a subject poker is: one can’t really ever get to the boundaries of it; like exploring space, there’s always farther to go.” Such is a lesson his reader discovers as well.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 20: Reading Recommendations

Reading RecommendationsAfter a few days off, I’m back on the WSOP beat tonight. We’ve returned to the heavy schedule with five different tournaments going on today. Only one bracelet will be awarded, in Event No. 30, the $2,500 Short-handed NL Hold ’em event. I’m probably most interested in following the Heads-Up tourney (Event No. 31), for which 64 players come back to play today.

Instead of babbling on myself here, I thought I would instead point you to some good reads written by others on the subject of this year’s WSOP.

First check out Change100’s account of her experience playing in Event No. 17, the World Championship Ladies Event ($1,000 No Limit Hold ’em). Besides vividly describing hands and some of the situations she faced in the tourney, Change100 makes a great read on Harrah’s somewhat primitive stance regarding women and poker. In particular, she has some things to say about Harrah’s bizarre decision to award the champion of the event a spot on a friggin’ “extreme makeover” reality TV show.

Also, if you haven’t been reading Tao of Poker, you’re only getting half the WSOP story. Dr. Pauly’s daily posts provide a terrific commentary on the goings-on at the Rio. All of the posts are good, but let me particularly recommend the one from Day 16 (June 16th), which begins with a reflection on his own role as a reporter: “Covering the WSOP is like climbing Mt. Everest. Most inexperienced climbers spend too much energy reaching the summit that they forget to realize they have to climb down. That’s when most of the accidents occur, when you are tired and making poor decisions that often end up costing you your life.” He could be talking about some of the players as well there. His Day 18 (June 18th) reflection on the phenomenon that is Hellmuth is good stuff, too. Go check it out.

I mentioned a few posts back the story of Mitch Maxey, the poker fan who got a chance of a lifetime to hang out with several of his idols at the WSOP. Here’s Amy Calistri’s thoughful take on Maxey’s story and what it might say about poker, generally speaking.

Our buddy Falstaff has joined the PokerNews team, and has an article up today recounting Katja Thater’s victory in the $1,500 Razz event (Event No. 19). Thater is the first woman to win an open event at this year's WSOP.

Though not exactly WSOP-related, I did enjoy Ante Up! co-host Chris Cosenza’s account of a dream he recently had involving Dan Harrington, Todd Brunson, and a Karaoke machine.

Finally, if you’ve been reading my last couple of posts about the fast final tables at this year’s WSOP, you might go read Spaceman’s comment on the subject. He points out that the shorter final tables haven’t necessarily meant that we’re seeing less “play” than we would want at the end of an important tournament.

Incidentally, Spaceman’s comment reminds me that when I was running through those numbers yesterday, I looked a little more deeply into the $5,000 No Limit Hold ’em events from 2006 and 2007. That one took over eight hours in 2006 (culminating in a heads-up battle between Phil Hellmuth and eventual winner Jeff Cabanillas), but was over in less than three hours in 2007 (just 48 hands). I was curious about that one, and so went through and checked out the blinds and stack sizes for the respective final tables, expecting to find a severe discrepancy in the average “M” for the players between the two years. Instead, I found out that the average “M” for players at the start of the 2006 final table something like 8.2, whereas the average “M” for players at the start of the 2007 final table was around 8.8. No kidding!

Of course, the players in 2007 did experience the shorter levels (60 minutes as opposed to 90 minutes) -- and the blinds did get jacked up there pretty quickly. But still, if you think about it, when the final table began they had at least the same amount of maneuverability as the players did last year.

And if you still want something to read, go check out PokerNews’ live reporting for all the latest.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 19: Fast Final Tables (Further Facts)

Super speedy final tables at this year's WSOPWanted to follow up a bit on that last post about the fast final tables at this year’s WSOP and gather a bit more data. (I also didn’t want to have thrown out some claim about fast final tables without backing it up with some concrete facts.)

At the start of today’s action, 27 bracelets had been awarded at this year’s series. Of the 27 events, 15 resemble those offered last year (i.e., same game, same buy-in). Let’s take a look at the final table durations for those 15 events from 2006 and 2007.

In order to derive the length of the final tables, I looked at CardPlayer’s live reports from last year’s WSOP and PokerNews’ live reports from this year’s WSOP. I noted the time stamps, going from the “Shuffle Up & Deal!” post signalling the start of the final table to the time listed for the post describing the final hand. In each case, I’ve subtracted time spent on dinner breaks (if one was taken), but I did not subtract the other shorter breaks. Nor did I try to guess at the downtime involved for ESPN to set up cameras to film heads-up play.

I should also point out that for the most recent six events listed here for 2007, a little bit of guess work was involved since the time stamps have yet to revert to the exact date/time (still showing “6 days, 18 hours ago”), as I believe they do once a week has passed. It is nevertheless possible to reconstruct pretty closely when the first and last hands were dealt.

Not a perfect way to measure final table durations, then, but a decent enough estimate, I think. Incidentally, a better way to pursue this comparison would be to look at total number of hands played at the final table. As you can see, information regarding total hands isn’t complete.

A couple of exceptions, but for the most part the facts do appear to support the theory -- final tables are moving faster this year. By quite a bit.

I think the change from 90-minute to 60-minute levels for final tables is the largest factor here, although whenever a tourney stretches into that Level 22, the crazy ballooning of blinds (see the previous post) ensures play will end quickly. I assume that the loading of the schedule with extra events caused Harrah’s to adopt the new blind structures, hoping perhaps to prevent those final tables from extending too far into the night.

It’s a shame, though. As Gadzooks’ smartly asks in her comment to the last post, “Am I the only one that thinks it’s wrong to set these tournaments up in such a way that the moment there’s real money on the line (at the final table) coincides with the time when people are forced to take the most risks with hands?” No, ’Zooks . . . I’m with you, there.

Kind of surprised we aren’t hearing more complaints from the players on this one. Perhaps they’ve been too distracted by worrying about whether that tent is gonna fall on ’em.

Meanwhile, keep checking out PokerNews’ live reporting for all the latest!


Monday, June 18, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 18: Fast Final Tables

Rapid-Fire PokerHeard a curious observation from Jeremiah Smith, the lead tournament reporter for PokerWire, on Saturday’s episode of PokerWire Radio. Smith noted how quickly a lot of the final tables seemed to be going at this year’s WSOP when compared to those of previous years. He offered a couple of examples, adding how “It’s been a big point of discussion among . . . professional players . . . [how] this double-stack doesn’t mean anything, because once you get to the end of the game, it’s push or fold . . . . [Rather,] it’s much more like a WPT final table . . . [like] a turbo sit-n-go.”

By “double-stack” Smith is referring to how players this year are starting with double the buy-in amount in chips (e.g., one gets $3,000 worth of chips for an event with a $1,500 buy-in). When the announcement was made back in March that players would be given twice the starting chips, initial response was very favorable, as many thought this ensured “more play.” However, players soon learned that the blinds were going to be increased as well, a change which appeared as though it might negate much of the difference made by doubling the starting stacks.

I took a look at the structure for this year’s $1,500 No Limit Hold ’em event (Event No. 3) and compared it to that used for the same event last year (Event No. 2). Here’s what they look like side-by-side:

That “cost per round” number, by the way, is based on a nine-handed table. Also, there was a level 24 in 2006, but we never got that far in 2007.

Hard to tell at a glance whether or not the “speed” of the tournament could have been affected by the changed blind amounts. One thing is clear, though -- WSOP officials did not simply double the blinds throughout (as many have said).

So how do they compare, and is there any explanation to be found here for the relatively-rapid final tables we’ve been seeing?

Here’s another chart where I’ve taken that “cost per round” number and expressed it as a percentage of the original starting chip stack. I then compared each level, noting whether players are having to spend “more” or “less” (in relative terms) in order to play each round.

Notice how for most of the tournament -- really until the final table (which started at level 19 in 2006 and at level 20 in 2007) -- players are able to be a bit more patient since the cost per round is “less,” relatively speaking, when compared to 2006.

But look at those last couple of levels. A huge jump there. And compounding the increased speed of the tournament is the fact that we have shorter levels at the final table this year. In 2006, all levels were 60 minutes long until the final table, when the time per level was increased to 90 minutes. In 2007, there is no change at the final table -- all levels continue to last 60 minutes.

How long were the final tables for these two events? In 2006, the final table for this event lasted about 10.5 hours total -- about 9 hours if you discount the dinner break. In 2007, the final table for the same event lasted just 4.5 hours. And they never even made it to the dinner break!

So this year’s final table was over in half the time, and I think the blind structure and the shorter final table levels are two big reasons why.

I am going to assume that we would see something similar if we compared the structures of all of the other parallel tourneys from 2006 and 2007. (I should say that I’ve heard the Main Event structure does not necessarily follow the same pattern here, but I have yet to look into that.) I think Jeremiah Smith was right to say that what we are witnessing at this year’s WSOP final tables is indeed a lot more like WPT final tables than what we’ve traditionally seen at the WSOP. In fact, Smith might have made the same point in reference to the tournaments as a whole, not just the final tables. The whole structure, if you think about, is a lot like that used in most WPT events, with a slower pace for the early and middle sections of the tourney (allowing for more “play”), followed by a hyper-rapid finish.

Is the 2007 structure better or worse? My instinctive response would be to say it is worse, since the slower final table is part of what always distinguished the WSOP from other tournaments. What do you think?

Remember, you can follow all them final tables over at PokerNews' live reporting. Better hurry, though, ’cos they’re going fast.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 16: While You Were Sleeping

Scooby Doo!What? You’re telling me you didn’t stay up all night following the WSOP like I did? No wonder you look so well-rested. Lemme tell you about some of what was happening while you were off counting sheep. It was an entertaining night, actually. Something here for everybody, I think.

Gonna start off with the funnies. Then I’ll point you to a nifty story about how some poker celebs took time out to do something very special for a fan. Finally, I wanted to look a bit at Johnny Chan’s surprisingly rapid exit from Day 2 of Event No. 23, the $1,500 PLO event.

Fart Machines, Shipping the Sherbert, and Scooby Doo

The PokerNews reporters’ primary job is relate the action, so the majority of the posts you find under “live reporting” are play-by-play-styled narratives of the sequence of events in selected hands. However, you will see the occasional “color” commentary thrown in as well, as the reporters take a moment to relate some of the extracurricular activities they happen to witness.

Event No. 24, the $5,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, began last night, and a good number of the 192 who entered were high-profile players with damned impressive poker resumés. You’d think such a concentration of talent would make for an intense, sober atmosphere. You’d be wrong. Sample these highlights from last night’s reports:
Here's a Table for You . . .
Seats 4, 5, and 6 on table 37 are occupied by John Juanda, Doyle Brunson, and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson. To start things off, Doyle stuck a fart machine under Jesus’ chair and couldn't keep a straight face. He and Juanda are both equipped with notepads to keep track of their side-betting.

Colorful Quotes
“Ship the sherbert to the skinny kid.” --Layne Flack after winning a pot.
“The only people that play Razz are deceased.” --Annie Duke on the “R” in H.O.R.S.E.

Zolotow on Milwaukee’s Best Light
Steve Zolotow on official WSOP sponsor, Milwaukee’s Best Light: “I went up to someone and asked for the second best light, and they said they didn’t have it.”

Gavin Wants Jesus in His Life
The tournament staff just informed Gavin Smith’s table that they’d be filling one of their empty seats with the big blind from table 40. Upon hearing this, Gavin Smith took a look at table 40, and had this to say: “I hope the big blind is Chris Ferguson. I’ll take that weak-tight, long-haired, son of a b**** any day of the week.”

Mimi Tran Doubles Through
Keeping her hopes for a comeback alive, Mimi Tran has doubled through David Plastik with a 7-6 low. After winning the hand, Tran yelled, “Scooby Doo!”
A Wish Fulfilled

Two nights ago, I read how several of the players involved in Event No. 24 ($3,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo) used their dinner break to help grant the wish of a young man named Mitch Maxey. Maxey suffers from terminal cancer and unfortunately hasn’t much time left. A huge poker fan, Maxey had expressed a desire to meet some of his idols, and arrangements were made for him to do so at the WSOP.

Among those who took time out to visit with Maxey -- and play an impromptu poker tournament with him -- were Tom McEvoy, Phil Laak, Greg Raymer, Mike Sexton, Patrick Antonius, Gavin Smith, Isabelle Mercier, Bill Chen, and Michael Mizrachi. Afterwards, Maxey took a spot behind Phil Ivey once the tourney resumed, and again several players took the time to visit with him. “On this day,” wrote the PokerNews reporter, “Mitch Maxey is the highest of high rollers and loving every minute of it.”

We got to hear a bit more about Maxey last night in a “rest of the story” post. Very cool stuff. Here, you can read the posts for yourself: (1) Tourney in Room 1145; (2) Maxey at the table; (3) More on Maxey at the table.

The Orient Express Barely Leaves the Station

Have to say I was a little perplexed to read about Johnny Chan’s quick departure from last night’s $1,500 PLO event (Event No. 23). The day began with 23 players remaining and Chan in 3rd place with 131,000 chips. He was well behind the chip leader (and eventual champion), Scott Clements, who led the pack with 295,000. And while he had Clements at his table, it doesn’t appear that Chan tangled too much with him last night.

Among last night’s live reports from Event No. 23 there were four describing Chan. The first explained how he’d arrived ten minutes late and had missed the first two hands. About twenty minutes later, we read how Chan lost 20,000-plus chips to Andy Black’s aces full. Ten minutes after that comes the following hand:
Mark Davis Doubles Through Johnny Chan
On a flop of Td9h5c, Mark Davis raised 17K. Chan raised him all in and Davis called for 5K more. Davis flopped two pair with KsQsTh5d. The turn was the 6s and the river was the Jd. Davis won with a straight as Chan mucked his hand.
As Davis only had 5,000 behind after the flop, Chan knew he’d be calling the all-in. What do you think Chan had? A set? 10-9-x-x? A wrap draw (that resulted in a lower straight)?

It appears Chan dropped another 25,000 or so on that hand, which would have put him down around 80,000 -- still an above-average stack with 20 players remaining. But a half-hour later, we learn that he’d been eliminated in 20th. In the bustout hand he once again ran up against Davis, meaning that by that point Davis had to have run his stack up above whatever Chan had.

According to the PokerNews reporter, “On a flop of 8h2s2h, Chan moved all in and Davis called. Chan: QcJd9s5c. Davis: JhJc6s6c. Davis was ahead with Jacks up. The turn was the 3h and the river was the Ah. Chan headed to the rail . . . .”

While it’s impossible to know exactly what was happening in terms of table dynamics, I’m a little perplexed by Chan’s play here. It isn’t clear whether he and Davis were heads-up going to the flop. In any event, it seems that Chan is trying to represent trips and Davis ain’t buying what he’s selling. Even if that were Chan’s plan here, that is one crummy board for his hand should his opponent decide to look him up.

* * * * *

All in all, a fun and interesting evening. You, too, could be following all of the action over at PokerNews. Why dontcha? You’ve gotten your beauty rest . . . go on and stay up late tonight.

Scooby Doo!


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