Thursday, August 30, 2007

Forcing One's Hand: Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky, 'Crime and Punishment' (1866)Excellent summary of the craziness at Bodog (or “New Bodog”) over at Kick Ass Poker. Sounds a lot like Bodog’s primary crime was simple negligence, with perhaps an added dash of arrogance (Ayre-o-gance?). Thus does the punishment -- that 12-hour interruption of service that occurred a couple of days ago, the permanent loss of their domain, the headache of getting everyone pointing to them to update links, etc. -- appear harsh, though some might believe not entirely undeserved.

Speaking of crime and punishment . . . .

Last summer I wrote a few posts discussing Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler (1867). That novel comes up frequently in poker narratives -- Alvarez, Spanier, Holden, McManus all refer to it -- and in those posts I considered a few reasons why I thought it of particular interest to poker players. (If you’re interested, those posts begin here.)

Dostoevsky is also an author of relevance to anyone interested in existentialism, as his novels provide ideas and arguments picked up and elaborated upon by later writers (both philosophical and literary) who operate within that tradition. Of course, it would be anachronistic -- and inaccurate, really -- to refer to Dostoevsky as an “existentialist.” Nevertheless, many of his characters express what can be called existentialist views, and he is often regarded as a kind of precursor to the movement. (E.g., Walter Kaufmann calls Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground “the best overture for existentialism ever written.”)

And, of course, when it comes to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866) -- a dark, violent, gripping murder mystery with alarming plot twists over which hangs a haunting, fatalistic ethos -- we’re also edging over into “hard-boiled” territory as well.

Makes sense, then, that I’d be getting around to posting something about this novel here sooner or later.

I really just wanted to share one, brief passage with you that illustrates a state of mind I myself have experienced while playing poker -- one that I think is not uncommon at all. It happens relatively early in the novel, just as the main character, Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, has begun to formulate his plan to kill and rob a local pawnbroker named Alyona Ivanovna.

The notion to commit such a ghastly crime had only just occurred to Raskolnikov after meeting the pawnbroker to negotiate the sale of a few items. As Dostoevsky tells it, “A strange idea was pecking at his brain like the chicken in the egg, and very, very much absorbed him.” In this distracted state, Raskolnikov finds himself within earshot of a pair of students playing a game of billiards. Gradually he realizes the young men are discussing Alyona Ivanovna, the very woman over whom Raskolnikov had been brooding.

Suddenly one of them claims he “could kill that damned old woman and make off with her money . . . without the faintest conscience-prick.”

Raskolnikov shudders at the uncanny coincidence of hearing these men discuss so casually what he himself was considering. The braggart goes on to say how he believes killing the pawnbroker would be justified. “Besides,” he says, “what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence?”

Here’s how Dostoevsky describes his protagonist’s state of mind after having overheard such a proclamation: “Raskolnikov was violently agitated. Of course, it was all ordinary youthful talk and thought, such as he had often heard before in different forms and on different themes. But why had he happened to hear such a discussion and such ideas at the very moment when his own brain was just conceiving . . . the very same idea? And why, just at the moment when he had brought away the embryo of his idea from the old woman, had he dropped at once upon a conversation about her?”

Obviously killing the pawnbroker is a bad idea. And it hardly resembles, say, decisions one makes during a hand of Hold ’em. There is a connection, however, I’d like to draw . . . an application of sorts of a principle found here to what can happen at the poker table.

I am referring to this notion of developing a theory independently -- something yet to be tested adequately by experiment -- and then just as one is about to try it out, hearing someone else endorse the very same idea. Such a theory (however valid) swiftly becomes almost irresistible.

Ever go through that in yr development as a poker player? Say you’ve just started playing limit Hold ’em and have developed certain notions regarding middle pairs like 77, 88, and 99. You’re losing with those hands, but starting to think maybe you should begin raising preflop every time to weed out the field, then pushing with them as though you held AA and see what happens.

Then you find yourself in a bookstore with a copy of a certain well-known, successful poker pro’s book in your hands. You happen upon his suggestion to beginners always to raise with 77 regardless of position and “no matter what it costs you to get involved.”

You’re done for. Your will is no longer entirely your own. As Dostoevsky says a bit earlier of Raskolnikov, “he felt suddenly in his whole being that he had no more freedom of thought, no will, and that everything was suddenly and irrevocably decided.” That strange idea pecking in yr egghead has broken through. You’re gonna try it out . . . and it might work for you. Regardless of what happens, that affirmation-before-the-fact has filled you with a false confidence, or at least a sense that your subsequent actions are somehow justified.

Probably a better way to describe the phenomenon would be simply to refer to those moments when you tell yourself “I have to [fill in the blank]” at the poker table. We’ve all been there. “I was getting 5-to-1, so I had to call.” We forget -- a lot -- that we never have to do anything in a given hand.

But often we tell ourselves otherwise. Theory overwhelms practice. Again and again.

* * * * *

So if you haven’t read it, go check out Crime and Punishment -- especially if you have an interest in existentialism and/or “hard-boiled” plots and characters. Or even if yr just looking for a compelling murder mystery that forces you to think about the many factors -- most out of our control -- that tend to motivate us poor, flawed humans to action.

Meanwhile, I’ll be following tonight’s final table of the WPT Legends of Poker Main Event at the Bike, where two of my favorite poker authors, Tom Schneider and Dan Harrington, have most of the chips heading into play. CardPlayer has bought exclusive rights to reporting WPT events, so we gotta head over there to follow along.

Dunno about you, but I’m hoping Tom schneiders them.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Gonzalez Getaway

The Gonzalez GetawayGonzalez is gone. Almost. Does it matter to Americans who play online poker? Hard to say. Let’s call this an interesting turn card.

Yesterday’s resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was a bit of a surprise, though there had been a few rumblings over the weekend. The fact that Gonzalez resigned was hardly that much of a shocker. Even though the Congressional investigation into the sketchy firings of nine U.S. attorneys late last year has lost some of its momentum, the fallout (from that and a number of other missteps) had all but ensured Gonzales would be stepping down at some point. It was the timing that took some off guard.

His farewell speech offered no concrete explanations, though it is clear he’d become too sullied to continue his post effectively. His performance before Congress -- full of equivocation, misleading statements, and (in the eyes of many) downright lies -- plainly demonstrated how unsuitable Gonzalez was to serve at the United States’ chief law enforcement officer.

Of interest to Americans who play online poker is how Gonzalez’s abrupt departure might affect the uncertain fate of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. We are in a kind of limbo at the moment as far as the UIGEA is concerned. Today we find ourselves about six weeks beyond the conclusion of the so-called “270-day period” during which federal regulators “in consultation with the Attorney General” were to assemble and deliver directives to banks, credit card companies, and other “designated payment systems” and “financial transaction providers” for blocking Americans’ transactions with online gambling sites.

As I’ve discussed here at length before, many observers have noted how such instructions -- if they are ever delivered -- may well turn out to be impossible to follow, thus making the law essentially unenforceable. Even so, according to the UIGEA, once those directives are delivered to the banks and credit card companies, those entities will then be considered in “compliance” with the law only if they “comply with the requirements of regulations prescribed.” And (one can reasonably infer) they will be considered not in compliance if they don’t comply with those regulations and therefore subject to the penalties outlined in the Act. Doesn’t really matter -- theoretically speaking -- if the banks can actually follow those instructions (e.g., can monitor the source of each and every check their clients attempt to cash at one of their branches). In any event, if those regulations are ever handed down, it is safe to say that many of us Americans who play online poker are in for more headaches.

Gonzalez will not officially step down as Attorney General until September 17th. From a political perspective -- and, after all, it was Gonzalez’s unmistakable partisanship that put him where he is today -- one wouldn’t expect the lame duck A.G. to be making any major moves here as he keeps the seat warm for his successor. Gonzalez has only rarely even acknowledged the UIGEA in public, and when he has it has only been after Jon Kyl (R-AZ), one of the authors of what eventually became the UIGEA, has brought it up in other contexts. For him suddenly to take a renewed interest in online gambling at this point would be quite unexpected.

Gonzalez spoke briefly about the regulations back in January 2007 in response to a query from Kyl. At that time Gonzalez said that it was his understanding that discussions about drafting the regulations had begun and that “hopefully” the process “can be completed in an expeditious manner.” (Video here.)

Kyl asked Gonzalez about the regs again in April, and received a similarly brief, non-specific response. Then about a month ago -- on July 24 -- Kyl brought up the UIGEA with Gonzalez yet again during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Gonzales that primarily concerned combating terrorism and other national security issues. At that time, Gonzalez agreed with Kyl that as far as online gambling was concerned, “we [i.e., his office] believe it is a serious issue.” Gonzalez also said he thought internet gambling was “addictive” and that it was connected to organized crime. He then reiterated the process outlined in the UIGEA -- for the folks over in the Treasury Department to come up with the regs and for him to be consulted along the way -- and said that his office had already delivered its “input.” He concluded by saying “my understanding is that those regs are moving forward.”

Kyl went on to ask Gonzales to confirm that he was committed to enforcing “other laws” designed to prevent online gambling, particularly those that target sports betting. (Not a concern to online poker players, really.) You can view the July 24 exchange here.

It sounds as though the current Attorney General is essentially done with the UIGEA and it is now up to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to finish their work and send along the regulations to the banks, credit card companies, and others. So it probably doesn’t matter too much as far as the process goes that Gonzalez is a goner. Of course, the next Attorney General may have a different -- i.e., less detached -- attitude toward the UIGEA, which could perhaps speed things along. Tend to doubt that’s gonna happen, though.

More relevant will be a hearing scheduled for Sept. 4 where a New Jersey federal judge will be considering that lawsuit filed by the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA) against Gonzales over the legality of the UIGEA. (Story here.) Don’t know whether the Attorney General will be playing any role at all during that hearing, even though he is the one being sued. Could be a last chance, though, for Gonzalez (or, as he likes to say, “his office”) to opine on the UIGEA and the prospects for its implementation.

So we keep waiting for that river card. Could be good for our hand. Could be bad.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Coming Attractions

Coming SoonHave a number of posts on a variety of topics simmering here at Hard-Boiled Poker -- none quite at boiling temperature yet, but all close. Here’s a quick preview of five different topics I plan to be writing about over the next couple of weeks (and beyond):

A couple of weeks back I mentioned plans for a post about Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, one of my summer reads. Nothing too terribly esoteric, mind you, but I did want to make a brief observation about how the main character, Raskolnikov, has something in common with poker players. Or so I am claiming, anyway. That post is coming sooner than later, I promise. So all you Dostoevsky fans out there, hang on!

Was in Borders last night where I picked up a copy of Women’s Poker Night. I’d been keeping my eyes open for this one for a couple of months, but never seemed to see it around. For those who don’t know, the book collects 17 essays written by various female poker players/writers, all of which touch in some way on issues concerning women and poker. I’ve already read the first two entries by Barbara Enright and Maryann Morrison. Morrison, who edits the collection, in her essay makes a couple of good points about ladies only events that I now see anticipate some of what I wrote about recently in a couple of posts about the subject. Plan to post thoughts about this here collection sometime in the near future.

I’ve also finally picked up a copy of Anthony Holden’s Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom and have started it as well. Might put it on hold for a week or two for these other concerns, but I am looking forward to making my way through this one. As most of you know, Holden wrote one of the more influential poker memoirs -- Big Deal: Confessions of a Poker Player -- published back in 1990. He also co-authors a terrific blog called Bigger Deal that features a number of different, talented poker writers. Will be posting a review of this one soon as well.

I read the news today that PokerWire was calling it quits -- apparently both the site (as it currently exists) and the podcast. Both the WPT and the WSOP have signed exclusive deals with competing sites, thus prompting PokerWire to pull out of the game. Am sorry to hear this, as I’m a big fan of the podcast and also enjoyed reading their assorted coverage of this year’s WSOP. Might sit on this one for a week or so before attempting to opine on the subject.

Finally, through super-secret, cannot-be-disclosed means, I’ve obtained a copy of the ESPN pay-per-view broadcast of the 2007 WSOP Main Event final table. I’ll probably be sharing some thoughts on this once I’ve watched it through. Last year I ended up writing a number of posts about specific hands from the broadcast. Might do something similar this time around. (Those posts begin here.)

I did get to watch the first eight hours or so of this year’s final table live, so it won’t be entirely new to me. The first 60 hands were fairly mesmerizing, I have to say, with Jerry Yang’s ultra-aggression bamboozling everyone (yr humble servant included). In Women’s Poker Night, Barbara Enright shares a few humorous anecdotes from her career, including a couple concerning long time tourney director Jack McClelland. Enright tells how when a tourney would near the bubble, McCelland would jokingly announce that it was time to “Shuffle up and steal.” Thinking back to how that final table began, that must’ve been precisely what Yang heard the announcer say when they started play on July 17th.

That’s the plan. We’ll get Dostoevsky out of the way here soon enough, then move on to these other topics PDQ. Or at least ASAP.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Before and After Science

Smooth SailingMade a so-so attempt in the Ante Up! Intercontinental Poker Series tourney on Thursday night. (A.k.a. AIPS 2: Electric Boogaloo.) The game this month was Stud Hi-Lo, which I’ve been dabbling in now and then over the last few months. Have read around in Ray Zee’s book, but have yet really to get serious about learning the game.

Ended up lasting a little over an hour, finally going poof in 49th (out of 78 entrants). Experienced some misfortune, I think -- not once, but twice during the first hour I had heads-up opponents make wheels on 7th street to scoop pots I had been poised to scoop on 6th. But overall I’m going to have to admit my lack of knowledge about the game handicapped me more than the cards.

But it’s all good. Have been navigating the calm waters of limit Hold ’em for the last few weeks. And the sailing has been, well, smooth. Sort of like side two of Brian Eno’s Before and After Science . . . .

“I am on an open sea . . . just drifting as the hours go slowly by . . . .

On Thursday I finally reached the end of my 30-day bonus period on Full Tilt (mentioned in an earlier post). Ended up clearing 80 clams on that one -- and picking up another $260 or so in the process. Adds up to a decent month on online pokery (for me). Started out sticking with $0.50/$1 LHE and a little PLO25, then about three weeks ago moved over to $1/$2 LHE where I ended up making most of that stash.

Back in the spring I had been playing a lot of $1/$2 LHE. While I had been winning overall, my results were inconsistent from session to session, and it seemed a struggle just to make that one big bet per 100 hands. Now, after taking a break for a few months to play almost nothing but pot limit Omaha, I’m back at the LHE tables and doing much, much better than before.

What’s the difference?

First of all, I’m playing full ring games now as opposed to mostly 6-max before. I had done well at short-handed $0.50/$1 LHE, but couldn’t really get it going at the next level. One factor I know that hurt my overall win rate was my having trouble getting away from the table when things weren’t going well. (Hence those “Rules of Engagement” I gave myself to try to curb those lengthy losing sessions.)

Poker Tracker tells me I played 2,308 hands of $1/$2 full-ring LHE on Full Tilt over the last three weeks. For funsies, I thought I’d compare some of the stats associated with those hands with my last 2,300 hands of $1/$2 6-max LHE hands (played back in Feb./Mar.).

Nice run here of late. I had thought the hands from Feb./Mar. would have paled a little more in comparison -- in fact, if I had guessed how I did during that group of hands, I’d have said I probably had come out a loser. My overall totals for $1/$2 6-max play aren’t nearly as impressive -- I’m actually a shade in the red over the 6,000-plus hands I have loaded into PokerTracker. (I know I’ve done a little better than that overall as my hands from Bodog -- where I did well -- aren’t included.)

I also thought that hands-per-session stat would have looked differently for the earlier group -- looks like I really was following my Rules there and limiting the sessions. These are small samples, I know, but I’m not seeing anything too out-of-the-ordinary here. (Do you?)

A second, major change has to be the way I’m dealing with losing those five-outers or getting AA cracked or the like. Sort of thing would often throw me way off my game before, and in 6-max getting unhinged can bite you in the arse pretty quickly. Perhaps it has something to do with the relative calm of limit Hold ’em when compared to the PLO rolly-coaster, but I’m rarely feeling agitated at all during these sessions.

Which is a good thing. Life’s agitating enough.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Regarding the WSOP Ladies Event (2 of 2)

Regarding the WSOP Ladies EventLast post I mentioned how I had asked Vera Valmore what her thoughts were regarding the WSOP having a ladies only bracelet event. Vera rides dressage -- a sport in which men and women compete against each other, much like poker. Since there are no “ladies only” events in Vera’s sport, I had thought perhaps she would say poker shouldn’t have them either.

I was wrong.

“I don’t see why not,” Vera responded. “Have they always had a ladies event?”

“Well, I know they didn’t back when the WSOP first started in 1970. I think the first ladies only event might have been around 1977 or so. They starting having a ladies seven card stud event sometime around then . . . .”

“It’s not like every bracelet event is the same, anyway. Right?”

“That’s true. Like the ‘seniors’ event . . . .”

“What’s that?”

“For people 50 and above. There are all sorts of different games and buy-ins, too. They might repeat certain structures in a given year -- I believe they had more than one $1,500 no limit Hold ’em event last year. Even so, every event is still going to be unique . . . different field sizes, levels of play, external circumstances . . . .”

“And they all award bracelets,” said Vera.

“Yes. Which is why some complain that a bracelet won in a ladies-only event shouldn’t be equated with a bracelet won in an open event.”

Vera bit her lip, then continued.

“Why equate those two bracelets if every event is unique, anyway?” she asked. “No, I don’t see any problem having a ladies event. But it also makes sense to think of that event as different -- as more marginal -- than other open events with bigger buy-ins.”

“So make it a preliminary event? Separate it out . . . ?”

“No point to that . . . .”

Vera went on to explain to me how at dressage competitions all different levels compete at once, though one’s scores are only compared with those in one’s own class.

It’s true that a lot of people get distracted by the significance of a WSOP bracelet when trying to talk about this issue. If one thinks about it at all clearly, one realizes that it makes no sense to worry about the relative “value” of a WSOP bracelet being affected by the existence of a ladies only event. No one (in his or her right mind) is ever going to suggest seriously that the bracelet Erik Seidel won in Event No. 54 this year -- the $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven w/Rebuys event -- is utterly equivalent in status to that won by Sally Anne Boyer in Event No. 17, the $1,000 Ladies NLH event. Nor is it equivalent to the bracelet Phil Hellmuth won in Event No. 15, the $1,500 NLH event. Nor to the bracelet Seidel himself won two years ago for the $2,000 NLH event, nor the one he won four years ago in the $1,500 pot limit Omaha event. And so forth.

Vera used the word “marginal” when referring to the ladies event. I’ve heard others speak of it in those terms as well. It makes sense to consider events that exclude participants because of their sex or age as “marginal,” I think. However, a serious problem arises when people mistakenly transfer the idea to the participants themselves -- as if they are somehow identifying themselves as “marginal” for entering such an event . . . .

“Besides, it costs money to play poker,” said Vera, interrupting my train of thought.

“Yeah . . . and . . . ?”

“And women -- on average -- tend to earn less than men.”

“You’re talking about how women get paid less for doing the same jobs that men do?”

“Well, yes, sometimes. But that’s not what I mean. I’m just referring to women in general and the jobs women usually take. Or don’t take -- if they stay at home to raise the kids. Generally speaking, women earn less than men. And any sport -- or employment or anything -- that requires start-up money is automatically going to favor those who have more money.”

We talked a bit more about poker’s history and what I characterized as a kind of “legacy of prejudice” against women in poker that one sometimes sees evidence of today. I mentioned Doyle Brunson’s comments in the original Super/System where -- writing back in 1978, mind you -- he said he didn’t “like to see women at a Poker table” and he’d “never met a woman who was really a top player.” (We all know Brunson has revised his opinion since then.)

I also summarized David Spanier’s comments about women players in Total Poker (published in 1977) -- where he suggests women are, in a sense, wired differently from men in that they haven’t the same urge to compete as men do. A provocative idea, actually. But Spanier continues. “The fundamental reason, I think,” writes Spanier, “why girls don’t play poker, or don’t play it very well, is that there is something unsexing about gambling games. To win, a woman has in some direct way to deny her femininity, to be hard, cunning, and aggressive; whereas for a man, poker reinforces his masculinity: he feels tougher and more sure of himself after winning.”

I went on to say that Brunson and Spanier were reflecting assumptions shared by many when they said those things. And how some of those ideas about women poker players -- along with some other, less thoughtful and/or less generous attitudes -- continue to exist today. Then I explained how because of this legacy, some believe ladies only tournaments provide a kind of relaxed, less threatening way for women to get some experience. To wade into the tourney ocean, so to speak, without having to mix it up with those sharks swimming out beyond the breakers . . . .

“I see,” Vera said. “Well, that would be another reason to keep them, then.”

She went on to talk about the dressage scene. One often finds more women than men competing at the shows where Vera rides. When we were in Vegas in April for the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Grand Prix finals -- the cream of the crop -- only three or four of the 12 riders in the final (that I attended) were men, I believe. Dressage is a sport with a different legacy than that of poker, to be sure.

* * * * *

Vera’s point about mistakenly equating WSOP bracelets was one I had considered before. Her reference to women’s income (relative to men’s) -- and how women often (still) are expected to stay at home with the children -- I hadn’t really thought about in this context. Such factors probably do need to be contemplated before people claim without hesitation that women all have exactly the same opportunities as men when it comes to competing in high stakes, tourney poker.

Of course there are certain players -- men and women -- who have managed by dint of their skill to overcome those financial obstacles to becoming regular participants in WSOP events. For the great majority, however, getting access to the money -- and the time -- to play and compete ain’t as simple a matter as some make it out to be.

Regarding women novelists -- who also over the years have faced obstacles largely unknown to men -- Virginia Woolf once argued that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.” Whether you are a man or a woman, you have to have money to play poker. And the time (and a place) to play . . . .

Does the woman poker player really need a “tourney of her own” at the WSOP? I suppose that would be up to her to decide. As for the rest of us on the rail pondering the question, seems like there are a number of relevant factors a lot of us aren’t really considering when we debate the issue.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Regarding the WSOP Ladies Event (1 of 2)

Regarding the WSOP Ladies EventMentioned a few posts back how I’d taken a trip down to Charleston with the lovely Vera Valmore. On our return we read the story of two shark attacks off the Isle of Palms -- precisely where we had stayed. In fact it appears officials decided for a few hours to close the very beach where we had been swimming just two days before.

Vera and I had joked then about sharks as we waded out into the warm Atlantic. Whereas I had ventured out beyond the breakers to piddle about, Vera had stopped short and with a pointed finger drew an imaginary line beyond which she claimed the sharks began feasting.

“Ha!” I hollered. “I’d like to see ’em try!”

A couple of days later and we might have been talkin’ ’bout a Shamus sandwich.

On the drive back I asked Vera what she thought about the World Series of Poker having a “ladies only” event among its various offerings. Three reasons why I sought Vera’s opinion on the matter.

For one, the issue was on my mind thanks to several forum threads and other recent attempts on various sites to explore the subject.

There had been some discussion back in June during the WSOP, of course, fueled in part by a perhaps somewhat partially-baked ESPN column by Gary Wise, followed by a more thoughtful attempt to clarify his position.

In Wise’s initial piece -- which he later described on PokerWire Radio as “parody” (though only certain passages really qualify as such) -- he spends a little time making fun of how women act around one another, generalizes that “most industry insiders have a problem with the ladies championship,” then hastily describes the poor quality of play at this year’s ladies event. Wise strangely concludes that while it’s okay for a bracelet to be awarded in the ladies event, doing so “is a slap in the face to the Erick Lindgren’s [sic] of the world.”

In his follow-up, Wise clarifies that he meant the earlier column as “tongue in cheek” (though, as I say, only part of it could be considered that way). He then goes on (1) to elaborate on why he (and others) believed the quality of play at the ladies event was poor; (2) to share his impression that the event is regarded by many -- including the participants -- as more of a “social event” than a serious poker tourney; (3) to conclude (again, somewhat oddly) that poker is a “mean and nasty and grimy and grungy and hard” and thus -- I take it -- especially challenging for some women.

The debate continued on some of the forums. Then a couple of weeks back Michele Lewis (of the Pokerati posse) started her new blog with a great interview with WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack. Lewis specifically asked Pollack about the future of the ladies event. “There’s nothing wrong with celebrating women in poker through a specialized event,” said Pollack. “It is one of my favorite days at the tournament and as long as I am commissioner and women continue to turn out it will be a bracelet event.”

Pollack’s proclamation that the ladies event is here to stay next prompted PokerListings to run USA Today-styled pro and con editorials responding to the question of whether the WSOP should keep the ladies event.

Sarah Polson, arguing the “pro” side of the issue, agrees with Pollack that the ladies event is needed since “[p]oker is definitely still a male dominated world” and women “need a place more comfortable to get started.” Skewy syntax aside, Polson here echoes a point made by others who believe the ladies event serves a specific -- and significant -- purpose.

Erin Warner, arguing the “con” side, says the event is “superfluous and offensive to women.” According to Warner, “with so many risk-taking, aggressive, intelligent women these days there’s no reason why the ladies can’t belly up to the felt with the boys.” Again, Warner essentially reiterates an argument made by others who oppose the event.

PokerNews also weighed in on the issue last week with an interesting article by Tina Bergstrom reporting on some of the buzz regarding the ladies event at this year’s series. Bergstrom describes how some female players, such as Annie Duke, oppose the event, while others, like Susie Isaacs and Kathy Liebert, are in favor of keeping it.

Some of those who oppose a separate event for women like to point out how -- as Annie Duke told CBS four years ago -- “poker is one of the only sports where a woman can compete on a totally equal footing with a man.” That actually brings up the second reason why I thought I’d ask Vera what she thought about the matter. You see, Vera actually competes in another such sport -- dressage.

For the uninitiated, dressage is sort of like horseback riding without the jumping. Some call it “horse ballet.” Riders take the horses through prescribed courses and various gaits, then are judged as in a gymnastics competition. Not only do men and women compete against one another -- Vera says she isn’t aware of any examples of “ladies only” dressage competitions -- but different breeds of horses compete against one another as well. Thus is dressage sometimes described as a truly “egalitarian” sport.

The third reason I thought I’d ask Vera about it is, well, she’s smart and stuff. You know, like about sharks.

And as I thought she would, Vera gave me some things to think about, bringing up a couple of points I’m not hearing most folks consider when tackling this here issue.

I’ll share what she told me next post.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stephan M. Kalhamer and Chad Brown’s Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker

'Act to Win in Texas Hold 'em Poker' by Stephan M. Kalhamer and Chad BrownEarlier this week I happened to obtain a copy of Chad Brown’s new book (co-authored with Stephan M. Kalhamer), Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker, and spent the last couple of days reading it through. I don’t believe the book has been officially released as yet (it doesn’t currently show up on Amazon), but it looks like one can order it through the Bluff website, if one so desires.

I know a lot of folks are curious about the book, given Brown’s recent string of tournament successes. Besides winning Bluff’s player of the year in 2006, Brown finished second in the NBC Heads-Up Challenge this spring, then cashed in no less than eight events at this summer’s WSOP, tying the all-time record for most cashes at a single series. Two more WSOP final tables for Brown in there, too. Pretty remarkable stuff.

Time seems right, then, for Brown’s big debut as a poker author. Unfortunately, Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker ain’t gonna do much to enhance Brown’s status. Remember the sighs of disappointment over Negreanu’s book? Ain’t nothin’ compared to what you’re gonna hear about this one. This slapdash introduction to no-limit Hold ’em poker strategy will likely strike most as an attempt to take advantage of Brown’s currently-enhanced table image.

First off: Act to Win is not a new text. An earlier version, simply titled Texas Hold ’em, was published in Germany in early 2006, with Kalhamer, a German mathematician and poker enthusiast, listed as the book’s sole author. As Brown explained last week when he appeared as a guest on Ante Up!, he had collaborated with Kalhamer on Texas Hold ’em, which Brown says sold well in Europe. This new English version now lists the pair as co-authors, with poker pros Vanessa Rousso (Brown’s girlfriend) and Sven Lucha also listed as contributors.

The book’s title -- and Brown’s experience as an actor -- might lead some to expect a book focusing on table behavior and deception. The reference to “acting” is mostly meaningless, however. The book is arranged in five sections, each presented as “acts” (as in a play), then further divided into “scenes.” The arrangement is more confusing than helpful, with the second “act” -- on no-limit Hold ’em -- divided into over 40 scenes and sub-scenes, while most of the other “acts” have less than five subsections.

“Act 1: The Rules of the Game” is self-explanatory, doing nothing more than describe hand rankings and rules for different varieties of poker. Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with poker can safely arrive late and begin with the second act.

“Act 2: No-Limit Hold ’em Strategy” occupies about three-fourths of the book, with a lot of space again merely devoted to describing the rules and order of play. The text features a Super/System-like array of font faces and sizes, with shadowed “Did You Know” boxes providing random bits of trivia, jokes, and quotations along the way.

By the way, “Did You Know That . . . Texas Hold ’em is the type of poker played in the World Series of Poker Main Event? The buy-in to this prestigious event is $10,000!” Gives you an idea what sort of audience the authors might have in mind -- i.e., not you. Nor anyone, really, for whom the overuse of exclamation points can grow tiresome.

Early on, readers are presented with a “no fold ’em” ranking of the 169 starting hands indicating each hand’s relative strength as determined by a computer simulation in which a ten-handed table plays every hand to the river. I’m fairly certain the authors did not run the simulations from which the chart comes (they don’t claim they did). In fact, I wrote a post about this exact chart over a year ago. Thing has been floating around the web for a good while, I believe. The rankings are playfully reproduced along the bottom of each of the first 169 pages of the book, then once more in a later section.

The discussion of pre-flop strategy is presented in the familiar style of identifying hand groupings. The authors then further rank hands within their ten starting groups according to their made character and potential to draw to bigger hands. Like most every other poker strategy book aimed at beginners, the authors recommend a mostly-tight strategy pre-flop.

A hasty overview of the later streets is then followed by a section entitled “Perception of our Opponents” in which the authors categorize player types as -- get this -- trees. You know, the supple willow, the steadfast oak, etc. I am not making this up.

Unlike Hellmuth’s animal types (from Play Poker Like the Pros), Kalhamer and Brown’s tree types are hardly memorable. And while Hellmuth does at least incorporate his categories into subsequent strategy discussions, no reference to the different kinds of “trees” one encounters is made following their introduction halfway through Act to Win.

Brief sections about bluffing, check-raising, slow playing, and other moves follow, some further illustrated by descriptions of famous hands from professional circuit events. (Nothing new here.) A three-page section on tells provides the only real discussion of acting at the table. Then comes advice about money management, online vs. live play, and tournaments. As is the case with Hellmuth’s book, Brown and Kalhamer offer very little discussion here of tournament strategy -- surely disappointing to those encouraged to pick up Act to Win because of Brown’s tournament successes.

“Act 3: Calculations and Tables” lists probabilities for various head-to-head situations (along with the no fold ’em chart). “Act 4: Hall of Fame” presents pithy, fanzine-like bios of fifteen poker pros, some adorned with incredibly amateurish pencil drawings. The stuff of nightmares, these. The book then concludes anti-climactically with “Act 5: Glossary.”

Adding to the fun . . . the copy I read was riddled with numerous distracting typos and what appear to be awkwardly-translated passages. One most unfortunate typo involves the omission of a letter from the word “shift.” (I shift you not.) If Brown continues to go around saying Rousso edited the book -- as he did on Ante Up! -- the celebrity couple might be headed for trouble . . . .

I certainly respect Brown's poker playing, and he is a very likable, interesting guy (to me, anyway). The Ante Up! interview was terrific, by the way. I even think it is cool Brown was in Basket Case 2.

Which is why Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker was such a big letdown, of very little use to experienced players, and of frankly dubious value to the novices for whom it is primarily intended.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Freedom of Choice

Bluff Magazine announces its 2nd annual Reader's Choice AwardsLast week Bluff Magazine kicked off its second attempt at running what they call their “Reader’s Choice Awards.” The first go-round didn’t go so smoothly, you might recall.

After printing the issue and naming Pocket Fives as the “Best Poker Forum,” Bluff came back with a retraction stating that the actual winner chosen by readers was in fact Two Plus Two. Bluff co-president Eric Morris insisted the error resulted from editorial carelessness, though others -- namely Two Plus Two owner Mason Malmuth -- said the switcheroo had to do with Two Plus Two’s unwillingness to grant Bluff free ad space on its site in exchange for the award.

If you’ve already forgotten about that snafu -- sheesh, it was only a few months ago -- here’s the 2+2 post where Mason Malmuth made the allegation of monkey business. Then go read Haley’s post about it over on the Kick Ass Poker blog, plus her follow-up which includes Morris’s response to the matter.

Looking over this year’s ballot, one finds twenty questions altogether. The first eight concern online poker sites (best overall, best tourneys, best customer service, etc.). Then one is asked to choose the best poker forum, best poker blog, and best poker podcast. Then come six questions about brick-and-mortar rooms (best all-around, best dealers, etc.). A couple of questions about televised poker follow -- best show and best commentators. Then one picks the most entertaining player to watch. Finally, the last question asks the respondent to fill in the name of his or her favorite poker player.

Only the last question offers readers a chance to write in a response -- all of the others have pre-selected candidates from which one must choose. Meaning, of course, a lot of worthy folks in just about every category have been left out of the running.

Allow me to comment briefly here about two of the categories: Best Poker Blog and Best Poker Podcast.

Bluff Magazine's choices for best poker blogHere are the ten candidates for best poker blog. I follow most of these, though I have to admit I only now & then get over to the players’ blogs (Negreanu, Lynch, Townsend, the Ballas crew). Some pretty glaring omissions here, the most obvious (to me) being the aforementioned Kick Ass Poker, Up for Poker, Bigger Deal, and Tao of Poker. Other pro player sites -- like Shaniac’s or maybe Paul Wasicka’s -- arguably deserve a place here, as well. (And now that I think of it, wasn’t Morris wearing Bodog gear at the Main Event this year . . . ? Never mind . . . .)

When it comes to poker blogs, we all seek different pleasures, I suppose, thus making any contest to choose the “best” blog a hopelessly imprecise exercise. Since I prefer blogs that take a somewhat comprehensive approach to discussing the “poker world” -- while also entertaining me once in a while -- I would favor Iggy and Pokerati here. I do enjoy PokerWorks, though really consider it multiple blogs. Name recognition will likely promote Negreanu to the top spot, though, when the votes are counted.

Bluff Magazine's choices for best poker podcastAnd here are the seven poker podcasts from which we get to choose. I’m sorry, but it wouldn’t have been that hard to have looked just a little further into the poker podcast scene before publishing the ballot. Bluff Poker Radio hasn’t been on the air since February (though I suppose the magazine had to include it). And I wouldn’t even count the rarely-updated Full Tilt Poker Learn from the Pros as a podcast. I emailed Bluff to ask whether “The Poker Show” is meant to refer to Rounders, though I haven’t received a reply. If so, Rounders is going to lose some votes because folks won’t recognize the name. Not Florida 2000, but worth noting anyhow.

Again, I’d have included a few others here (Beyond the Table, Keep Flopping Aces, Poker Psychology). I also enjoy both PokerDiagram and Poker Podcast World, though neither produces shows often enough to get onto the ballot, I think. And while it ain’t my favorite, I’m kind of surprised the Joe Average Poker Show is not on the list, either.

Given the choices, I’d pick Ante Up!, with Rounders and PokerWire close behind. PokerWire will win here, I’m certain.

Pocket Fives does a nice job every week, though some of the interviews with online tourney phenoms tend to sound the same. Phil Gordon’s Poker Edge is hit-or-miss for me. I do recommend his most recent show, though, in which he interviews 2007 WSOP Main Event champ Jerry Yang.

(Incidentally, in the Yang interview the champ confirms he had JJ on the big early hand where Lee Childs folded and showed pocket queens. What a hand. Can’t fault Childs too much there, though. And he’s a great sport . . . check out his comments on this recent post over on the Ante Up! blog.)

Such awards provide an interesting diversion, I guess. And landing an award will certainly mean a feather in the winner’s cap, however imperfect the contest may be.

Here’s hoping that feather doesn’t come with a solicitation.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Obligatory Follow-Up to Brag Post

Was doing a little bit of wootin’ yesterday. Couldn’t contain myself, I was so glad to have built up some cabbage over on Full Tilt. Knew I was asking for trouble . . . .

Actually, I just wanted to share this crazy pot limit Omaha hand with you from today & also try out this fancy pants PokerXFactor hand replayer, which I first saw over on Gadzooks’ blog. (Now that I think about it, this here hand is an homage of sorts to ’Zooks.)

I had started with $15 at this table, and had built up to a little over $42 when the following took place. Check it out.

Click here to view a larger version.

The replayer rounds to the nearest dollar, so those early bets are all basically minimum bets, I believe (a quarter each). Seemed like such a harmless little hand until that river!

Have to confess I had no clue VoodooLady had the straight flush. In fact was a bit disoriented when I saw the chips sliding her way instead of mine. Was convinced she must’ve filled up there on the end.

Comments welcome.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Bonus Baby

Bonus releasedI mentioned a few posts ago how I’d received one of those “because you are a valued player on our site” bonus offers from Full Tilt. Had seen others writing about how they’d received similar offers throughout the summer, so I was glad finally to get mine.

Excuse my glee here, but many of us Americans haven’t been able to take advantage of the regular deposit bonus offers like we could before the UIGEA passed and Neteller went away. Not sure if all of these Full Tilt offers have been the same or not -- I think some may have different time periods and/or maximum pay outs. The way mine works, once I activate the sucker I have 30 days to accumulate as many Full Tilt Points as I can. For each Full Tilt Point, I get $0.06, with payouts coming in $20 increments. I could potentially earn $500 worth of bonus money, if I played enough. One earns a single Full Tilt Point for every dollar of rake taken out of pots into which one has been dealt. Also, you can receive partial points; e.g., if the rake on a given hand was $0.15, you get 0.15 of a Full Tilt Point.

When I received the offer, I had a mere $25 in my Full Tilt account. In fact, I’d been sitting on that for the last few months, pretty much staying away from Full Tilt except for the occasional Ante Up! tournament. Back in January, I had right at $100 in Full Tilt when Neteller abruptly shut out us Americans. I held steady there for about six weeks or so, then had a bad run at the limit HE tables that knocked me back down around $30. I didn’t log on at Full Tilt for a couple of weeks, playing on Stars, Absolute, and Bodog where I have healthy (i.e., $200-$300 or more) rolls with which to play. Then I tiptoed back over to Full Tilt and managed to piddle away nearly all of what I had left.

That’s when a non-American buddy of mine generously offered to transfer me $25 on Full Tilt in exchange for my giving him $25 over on Stars. That was mid-March. Looking back through my records, I see that I essentially avoided Full Tilt for the next three months, again content just to play on those sites where my roll was comfortably large enough to play my regular games (PLO25, PLO50, and some LHE 1/2) without worries.

Then came the bonus offer. Before activating it, I decided to try to build up a little bit so as to have something with which to play once the bonus clock started ticking. I won about ten bucks in a session of PLO25, then bumped my balance up to $50 in a few brief, fortunate turns at LHE 0.50/1. I activated the bonus on July 24th.

The last time I went bonus chasing on Full Tilt, things went only so-so. That was when I first signed up on the site. I deposited $200, thus giving myself a chance to earn $200 during those first 120 days I played. I ended up reaping $80 worth of the bonus, never really venturing beyond the 0.50/1 tables where one only nets about a penny per hand bonus-wise. During that same period, I also made an additional $14.30 at the tables. Not so hot, really, though I suppose it could’ve been a lot worse.

Then came the UIGEA, and I withdrew most of my Full Tilt moneys. Then Neteller’s January surprise, then my March swap of funds . . . and we’re back to late July 2007.

I started out splitting time between full-ring LHE 0.50/1 and PLO25. I did well enough to crack the $100 mark after a week, at which time I moved over to the LHE 1/2 tables. As far as the bonus goes, one gets just about $0.02 per hand at both full-ring LHE 1/2 and PLO25, meaning I’m earning about a buck’s worth of bonus for every 50 hands I play.

I’m still playing some Omaha, but have mostly stuck to full-ring LHE since I’ve been running so well there. How well?

That’s the last two weeks’ worth of LHE. Am not playing all that much, really. Was away a few days at the beach, and I’m only averaging about 60-65 hands & less than an hour per session.

Hadn’t really played LHE at all for several months -- and in fact was really only playing 6-max before -- so I’m not completely up on how to read my stats for this here small sample. (Comments welcome, though I know that with 750 hands I ain’t giving youse much with which to work.)

As you can see, I’m playing a conservative game, only preraising when I should (really) and enjoying a nice win percentage at showdown. I am, as it happens, following those “Rules of Engagement” I set for myself earlier in the year -- only playing one table at a time, leaving if ever down more than 10 big bets, leaving after 50 hands if down, etc. (Of course, having mostly winning sessions makes it a lot easier to follow such stop-loss guidelines.)

I like how I’ve played, but much of the profit can be attributed to some truly awful play by those around me. You know, the usual -- people incapable of letting go of bottom pair, calling down with ace-high, river folds after failed chases, etc. Just be patient and you can’t help but take their chips.

Anyhow, with the $40 of bonus money I’ve picked up thus far I’m up over 300 clams now on Full Tilt. Have ten days left on the bonus, and probably won’t even worry about earning more than $20 of it.

Kajapoker wrote a nice post about a week ago called “How I Play” where he talked about how real life stuff cuts into his poker playing time. Kaja’s situation differs from mine in several respects, but I still appreciate (and can identify with) what he says there at the end about working to “find a balance” between poker and other obligations. I’m facing a lot of “real life”-type obligations here over the next few weeks and so know I’ll only have limited opportunities for playing. And so must be patient . . . both at the tables and away from them . . . .

But it’s all good. And very cool to have another site in play again when looking for tables. Having balanced bankrolls across the sites definitely helps in the effort to “find a balance,” generally speaking.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Close Shave

A Close ShaveWanted to let everyone know there’s a new episode of Beyond the Table loaded up into the old jukebox (on the right). You can also download it here or subscribe to the RSS feed.

This latest episode was recorded shortly after co-host Tom Schneider had clinched the 2007 WSOP Player of the Year, narrowly defeating Jeffrey Lisandro who came up just short of passing Tom in the last POY points event, the $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven w/Rebuys (Event No. 54). So Schneider, Dan “Pokerati” Michalski, and Karridy Askenasy talk a bit about that. Schneider also tells the story of an interesting haircut he received just prior to the Main Event getting underway.

If you want to read more about Tom Schneider’s exciting WSOP run, check out Steve Horton’s recent two-part interview with the Donkey Bomber over on PokerNews -- here’s Part I, and here’s Part II. Some interesting stuff in there about Tom’s mindset throughout the series, as well as how over the course of the WSOP he began to develop (as he says) “a totally different perspective on being able to make final tables, and being able to win final tables.”

By the way, after you read Tom talking about his plan to “run over” opponents during the end game, go look up “schneider” in the dictionary. Seems to me like his plan should have been obvious to anyone with access to a copy of Webster’s.

Looking for more?

Here’s my post about Schneider winning his first bracelet in Event No. 5, the $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8 event. Here’s another written on the eve of Schneider winning his second bracelet (in Event No. 46, the $1,000 Stud Eight-or-Better event) that also discusses his book, Oops! I Won too Much Money. And here’s the one about him clinching the POY.

Oh, and if you’re interested in rethinking how the WSOP determined this year’s player of the year, Schneider himself invited folks to do just that in an interesting post over on Pokerati.

Word is the Beyond the Table guys have another show in the can. And no, I don’t mean in the toilet. Though that could be true as well . . . .


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson's One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar

'One of a Kind' by Nolan Dalla and Peter AlsonBeen away for a few days. Journeyed with Vera down to Charleston, SC for a quick trip to commemorate the fast approaching close of summer. Swell, but sweltering. Charleston is a terrific vacation spot, but dunno if I necessarily recommend August as the time to go, when yr likely lookin’ at triple digits in terms of both temperature and humidity. Water had to be above 80° as well.

A fun, relaxing time, though, as we very consciously limited our contact with the sun and the media. (As we all know, prolonged exposure to either can be deadly.) Did not even try to get online for the entire trip. Took the cell phone, but left it turned off for the duration. Did have the boob tube, where we learned Wednesday that Barry Bonds had hit 756.

Broke out the chip set once and played a little heads-up limit Hold ’em, though not for keepsies. Also caught up on some reading. Finally finished Crime and Punishment. Fair warning: I do have a post I want to write in the not-too-distant future concerning how Raskolnikov’s destructive pursuit of a theory resembles how poker players sometimes deliberately limit their own options at the table. (Hey, I was reading Dostoevsky last summer, too. And wrote about it.) I also read Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson’s One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar, the World’s Greatest Poker Player. Not exactly Dostoevsky, but pretty damn compelling nonetheless.

Yr probably at least somewhat aware of the circumstances surrounding the composition of One of a Kind. Started out as one of those “as told to”-type autobiographies, with Ungar telling his story to Dalla. As is explained in “A Note to the Reader,” Ungar’s death in November 1998 after only a few months’ worth of interviews meant Dalla faced what he calls an “ethical dilemma.” He finally decided to change the book from a memoir to a biography (recruiting Alson to help), but still include lengthy quotations from Ungar “so that readers could grasp his streetwise vocabulary, his incessant vulgarity, his rough humor, and his deep passion for taking risks.”

The technique is mostly effective, and in the end one does come away with a strong impression of Ungar’s undeniably absorbing personality. One does get the sense that we’re at a freak show here, with the authors intermittently trotting out the drug-addled whiz kid to try to explain himself from time to time. When I say the book isn’t Dostoevsky I am referring to the fact that the authors aren’t terribly “literary” in their approach to Ungar. There is a kind of half-hearted attempt at plotting in the decision to begin on the eve of the 1997 WSOP Main Event, then take us back to Ungar’s birth and childhood, then carry us forward through ’97 to Ungar’s death. The authors mostly stay out of the way, though, and instead just present the story chronologically through a series of anecdotes and interviews.

The fact is, Ungar’s life and death is so full of truly remarkable twists and turns it really doesn’t need an author further complicating matters with showy descriptions or pretentious explanations of possible symbolism. So I’m counting Dalla and Alson’s mostly “objective” approach to Ungar as a plus here -- a more “literary” book probably wouldn’t have worked as well, at least not as a first-out-of-the-gate biography. The authors are certainly sympathetic to their subject, but they consciously avoid making Ungar out to be something he is not, dutifully praising his skills as a player (and a few other genuine positives) while not glossing over his selfishness and self-destructiveness.

Sections detailing Ungar’s prowess at gin are among my favorite. Here’s an example of a player genuinely beating a game, a notion that fascinates anyone who plays games. A bit like watching Bonds back in 2001 and 2002, when pitchers simply could not throw anything close to the plate. In 2002, for example, Bonds hit 46 homers and only struck out 47 times. (He also hit .370 and had an on-base percentage of .582!) Juiced or otherwise, that is some serious concentration. And that, apparently, was Ungar when it came to gin. His opponents were mostly hopeless against him, thanks to Ungar’s uncanny ability to read their hands (exactly) within just a few discards.

Fascinating, also, are sections describing Ungar’s ultra-competitive nature. We read how in late 1974, when Ungar was barely 21, he took his first trip out to Vegas. Within hours of landing, he summarily crushes Danny Robison -- then the best gin player in Vegas -- and immediately discovers he can no longer get anyone to play him. “Stuey wasn’t a con man or a hustler,” explain Dalla and Alson. “He was an assassin. That was just who he was, and he couldn’t control it. The downside was that by annihilating Robison the way he did, instead of hustling him, the pint-size prodigy might as well have put a neon sign on his head warning others away.”

Thus does Ungar eventually turn to poker, and winning the WSOP Main Event in both 1980 and 1981 guaranteed his celebrity in that sphere. Given the mess he’d made of his life via cocaine addiction, his comeback to win it a third time in 1997 is quite improbable. Here, as elsewhere, the authors don’t go very far beyond the “facts” of the case, simply relating what happened in a fairly straightforward, journalistic manner. They narrate the final minutes of the ESPN telecast of the 1997 Main Event, which you can watch yourself by clicking below:

You see Gabe Kaplan interviewing Ungar there at the end. Kaplan plays a somewhat significant role in the story, as do other well-known figures like Billy Baxter, Puggy Pearson, Doyle Brunson, and Mike Sexton. I especially enjoyed some of Sexton’s contributions here. An interesting guy, Sexton, who despite all of his corporate ties and status as an “ambassador” of poker strikes me as someone with whom us average Joes can identify quite readily. At least that seems true in One of a Kind, where Sexton comes off as a “normal,” well-balanced individual who thanks to some serendipity ends up part of Ungar’s crazy world.

One of a Kind is definitely worth the read. As I say, it’s no Dostoevsky. (Nor Alvarez or Spanier.) But then again, what kind of weirdo wants to read Dostoevsky on the beach anyway?


Sunday, August 05, 2007

No Friends in Poker?

Still smilingDid take another shot at one of those $6.00+$0.50 6-max PLO satellite tourneys the other day. Have to admit it didn’t go so well, with yr humble punter knocked out fairly early, well short of the prize. Should’ve been a pretty forgettable tourney, really -- I never got anything going for the mere half-hour or so I lasted.

Something interesting happened on the last hand, though. Check this out.

I had chipped up to 1,790 during the first couple of orbits, then lost about a third of that to a short stack who managed to suck out a runner-runner flush on me. Was somewhere around 800-900 chips when the following hand took place. (The hand history didn’t get saved to my hard drive for some reason, so forgive the fuzziness here.)

I was in the big blind and picked up something like Qc9c-X-X. The UTG called, as did PrimeBud420 in the small blind. (As always, I’m making up names.)

Flop came queen-high with two clubs, and in a now-or-never-type gesture I bet pot. Both players called, and the turn card brought another low club, completing my flush. I hesitated for just a moment, then went ahead and put my last 600 or so chips in the middle. (The pot was slightly larger than my stack at the time.) The UTG player quickly folded. Now just PrimeBud420 was left to act. He had me covered by a few hundred chips.

About 10-15 seconds went by -- enough time for me to think PrimeBud might either have a K-high flush or, perhaps, I might even be okay here. Finally he reached the end of his allotted time and took the extra time bank. The timer ticked down . . . 25 . . . 20 . . . 15 . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . . At first I’d thought perhaps he had disconnected. But no. We weren’t getting the “trying to reconnect” messages. 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . . Jeez Louise, what could this guy have? 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . . Finally, at the very last moment, he calls.

And shows AcKc-X-X!

I quickly typed “slow roll” as the turn and river cards fell. (I believe I was drawing dead.) Bounced from the tourney and thus unable to chat, I could only watch what followed.

A player still at the table with whom I had played before -- NoSoup4U -- asked PrimeBud420 what the hell he was thinking.

NoSoup4U: why did you slow roll so long
NoSoup4U: it is considered rude

A moment or two passed. Then came the reply.

PrimeBud420: punch [Shamus] in the heart

Nice. Dude wanted to punch the little smiling frog in the heart.

NoSoup4U: if you guys are friends or something I get it if not it just rude
PrimeBud420: im just rude
PrimeBud420: no friends in poker

NoSoup4U continued his defense of me a little longer -- even throwing in some praise of my ability as a player (which though more than a little exaggerated I appreciated nonetheless). Another player chimed in with a not-so-nice epithet directed toward PrimeBud420. By that point, he’d stopped responding, having turned his thoughts toward punching his remaining opponents in their hearts, no doubt.

Made me think momentarily of Otis’ recent post in which he took a kind of moral snapshot of the poker landscape at present. Otis began with a reference to a particularly rude comment he’d received at the tables, then segued into a dissertation on the lack of communication -- and, in some cases, common decency -- he’s noticed sometimes occurring on poker forums and at the tables. Otis speaks of a subsection of young players whose “grasp on morality, etiquette, and the golden rule is as weak as their handshake. If there is a gray line, they are happy to cross it if they believe they can benefit from it financially. What’s more, they feel more than entitled in doing so.”

Now I know PrimeBud420 is likely not even old enough to drive a car and has little clue that slow rolling -- not to mention boasting about it afterwards -- ain’t exactly recommended behavior. And I also know that his transgression isn’t nearly as disconcerting as the sorts of actions and attitudes Otis is alluding to in his thoughtful post. Even so, I think PrimeBud420 does illustrate, in a way, what Otis is talking about. The “poker world” -- however you want to define that -- is one big playground, really. A place where a whole hell of a lot of immature nonsense is not just tolerated, but in various ways encouraged. Or at least that’s what I assume PrimeBud420 has learned from his exposure to poker thus far.

I’m as competitive as they come. But I’ll never buy into the “no friends in poker” line. We all make it mean what we want it to mean. And for me poker mostly means fun, friends, and (of course) the occasional chunk of change.

Which is why I’m still smiling.


Friday, August 03, 2007

A Tale of Satellite Suspense (2 of 2)

And now, back to our tale of SUSPENSE!In this series are tales calculated to intrigue you, to stir your nerves, to offer you a precarious situation and then . . . withhold the solution . . . until the last possible moment . . . .

That’s how the “Man in Black” would often introduce the old radio show Suspense. Terrific stuff, by the way, and not too hard to locate many of the 900+ shows created during the 40s, 50s, and 60s here on the interweb. (If you’re interested, check out them “hard-boiled links” down below.)

Missed part 1? Click here. Or just read this here recap: There are four of us left in a PLO satellite for which only first-place offers any reward. Blinds are 50/100. I am in second-place with 3,480 chips. To my left are the two short stacks -- one with 922, the other 1,968. To my right is the chip leader, Moosehead, who has 5,630. Moosehead posts the small blind and I post the big blind. I get dealt JdAhJhKs. Both the short stacks fold, and Moosehead completes from the SB, I raise it up to 300, and Moosehead calls. Flop is 8hJs9h and Moosehead instantly bets pot -- 600 chips. He’s got 4,730 behind, and I’m sitting there with 3,180.

That’s our “precarious situation.”

I think this hand highlights differences between cash games and tourneys, as well as between winner-take-all tourneys and those which pay multiple places. We’re almost looking at a heads-up situation here -- not just in this hand, but for the entire tournament. The short stacks still have chips, of course, but aren’t in good shape to battle me or Moosehead, especially if either of us lands a big chunk of chips in this hand.

My first thought when Moosehead bet pot on that flop was he had Q-10. That instinct probably comes from playing more PLO cash games than tourneys. Indeed, if this were a cash game -- and if we had several limpers seeing that flop -- a pot-sized bet from early position very likely would mean a flopped straight (and probably a flush draw, too). Let’s say he has the straight. Let’s give him a worse flush draw, too. That would be his best possible holding in this situation, really. Where do I stand?

I still have seven outs to the nut flush (twice), plus seven outs to the boat or quads (twice), plus three more to the boat or quads (on the river). Running my hand through the Omaha calculator, most versions of Q-T-x-x with two hearts make me around 60% to win. MacAnthony’s example (see comments on previous post) of QhTh9s9c is the absolute best case for Moosehead, I believe. In that one, I’m a 52.7% favorite.

Like I say, my first instinct was he had the straight. But I had a second thought even before I made a move here. My “nerves were stirred,” so to speak. Influenced mainly by some of Moosehead’s prior play, I had an overwhelming impression he didn’t have the straight. I didn’t know what he did have, but just didn’t believe he had Q-T.

Looking back, I’m liking both Mac & Kaja’s suggestion to call here and see that turn card. If I really don’t think he has the straight, then I should have thought a little longer and realized I am WAY ahead of any other possible holding. In which case I can afford to see that turn card and reassess. However, I was eager to get Moosehead’s chips right here, especially considering where a double-up would position me tourney-wise. Mark makes a great point about a heart scaring Moosehead away. The board pairing might well do the same.

Thinking like Mark, I re-potted to 2,400, pretty much knowing Moosehead would stick around (and that such a bet commits me to the hand). Moosehead reraised it (as I expected), I called all-in, and we turned over our cards:

Good Golly, Miss Molly . . . I am WAY ahead!

Wow. About as good as I could have hoped for, really. I’m over 90%. Just don’t want to see any non-heart ten here. Hold! Hold . . . !

Boom . . . the turn brings the friggin’ Td. I’m still about 42%, though. But the river is the 4d, and I’m out in 4th.

I’ll be trying again, I think. Interesting how in the PLO tourneys the “nut-peddler” really can’t survive. Out of necessity, folks routinely call and/or push with less than the nuts (sometimes in reckless fashion). In the tourney, you might have to go with your middle set and/or king-high flush draw, whereas in a cash game it’d be obvious suicide to do so.

Anyhow, thanks for the great feedback. I hope everyone was sufficiently intrigued. And so concludes our tale of . . . SUSPENSE!


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Tale of Satellite Suspense (1 of 2)

A tale of satellite suspenseHad a somewhat interesting situation yesterday in a pot limit Omaha tournament about which I thought I’d try to solicit some feedback. Even you non-Omaha folks should be able to weigh in here. Really comes down to more of a tourney strategy question than a PLO-specific issue, I think.

For the last week or two, I’ve been playing probably 60% limit Hold ’em, 20% PLO, and 20% stud games -- including 5-card stud over on Bodog (fast becoming a new for-fun fave). Full Tilt finally sent me the bonus offer about 10 days ago. (Seemed like everyone else had gotten it long before.) So I’ve been playing a lot more over on Full Tilt as I try to accumulate at least some of that there bonus cabbage.

I started looking over the schedule for the next FTOPS and hunting through the satellites to see if perhaps I might try to weasel my way into one of the PLO events. There are two PLO tourneys on the FTOPS V schedule: Event #4, a $500+$35 buy-in, 6-max PLO event; and Event #13, a $100+$9 buy-in (with rebuys), full-table PLO event. Makes more sense for me to try to satellite into the non-rebuy event, as I ain’t gonna be bankrolled for rebuys. (Even so, if I could sneak into Event #13 on the cheap, I’d certainly play it.)

Anyhow, I noticed a number of $6.00+$0.50 PLO tourneys that fed into a super satellite the day before Event #4 from which the top 20 finishers land spots in the big one. I also saw these tourneys haven’t been attracting that many entrants. The most I’m seeing enter any of them is 18, and a lot are only getting seven or eight runners. Technically, the ones that attract eight or fewer players are offering a bit of an overlay, since the winner gets a $50+$5 seat in the super satellite. However, even when 18 sign up you’re looking at a pretty good deal, since in that case the second- through fourth-place finishers get some cash back with which to try again.

It was about 30 minutes until the next one, and when I signed up I was the first on the list. Eventually a total of eight players entered, meaning it was a winner-take-all tourney.

We started out on two tables of four players each (this was a 6-max tourney). Before I’d gotten seriously involved in any hands at all we were down to six, with two players from the other table coming over, each having doubled his stack. We meandered along for a little while. There was really only one player at the table who seemed particularly clueless, and he was out fairly soon. After a long stretch of poor starting hands and missed flops, I ended up making a semi-desperate push with my last 800 or so that required a bit of a suck-out to keep me afloat. After that, I finally picked up a few decent hands and started chipping up.

Along the way came one notable hand. With five players left, I was in third place with a little over 2,000 in chips. Blinds were 40/80, so I don’t believe we’d even reached the half-hour mark yet. I was dealt 4d4sJsTd on the button and both middle position players limped in. I limped as well, the SB folded, and the BB checked. That meant there were four of us seeing the flop of 4h8h2d. My initial flicker of interest was quickly extinguished when the UTG player bet pot (360) and UTG+1 quickly raised pot (1,440 more). Seemed possible I’d be drawing nearly dead here with my middle set, so I let it go. Those two got it all in, and it turned out neither had the set of eights -- UTG had Jh7hJd7s (an overpair and a jack-high flush draw), while UTG+1 had 9c9hQc6h (a worse flush draw and a backdoor dream or two). Would’ve been ahead (but vulnerable), had I stayed in. The bigger stack ended up taking the pot -- and a sizable chip advantage over the table -- and we were down to four.

It was a little while later when the hand about which I want your advice took place. I’m going to take you up to my big decision point and give you a chance to tell me what you’d do. Then I’ll come back and finish the story in a second part.

Here’s the situation: Four players left, and only first place is worth anything. Blinds are 50/100. I am in second-place with 3,480 chips. To my left are the two short stacks -- one with 922, the other 1,968. To my right is the chip leader, Moosehead, who has 5,630.

Moosehead posts the small blind and I post the big blind. I’m dealt JdAhJhKs. A nice starting hand, especially four-handed. Both the short stacks fold, and Moosehead just completes from the SB. I pause for a moment, then raise it up to 300. Moosehead calls.

I should mention Moosehead was the UTG player above who survived that earlier hand after putting a lot of chips in on the 4-8-2 board with the jacks and sevens. I had seen him make a couple of other semi-reckless plays as well, so felt pretty good about having a decent starting hand and position on him.

Flop comes 8hJs9h. Moosehead instantly bets pot -- 600 chips. He’s got 4,730 behind, and I’m sitting there with 3,180.

Whaddya do here?

Okay, smarties. Whaddya do here? (Think about it, then read Part 2.)


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