Monday, June 30, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 31: Tell Everyone You Know and Duplicate

Tell Everyone You Know and Duplicate!Another superlong shift for yr humble gumshoe last night. We started at 2 p.m. and got out of there at something like 4:30 a.m. Still beat poor Mean Gene and Change100 who were over covering the $50K H.O.R.S.E. final table when we left, though.

I actually managed to see exactly zero hands of that celebrated event, having been away from the Rio for the first two days of it, and utterly buried under the $1,500 no-limit hold’em events I’ve been covering for the last three. Was glad to see Scotty Nguyen took that one down. Hard not to like a guy who has pet monkeys (and loves to talk about ’em).

Our event, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em (Event No. 49), went fairly smoothly. We were in the Brasilia room, where I finally came up with effective signage to discourage the constant questions about satellites, registration, etc. The sign read “NO INFO ABOUT SATELLITES HERE (or much else) -- SORRY.” Several read the sign and laughed, and quite a few, including Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke, stopped, read the sign, and with a smile would facetiously ask “So, do you have any info about the satellites?”

Fricke went on to suggest to me that the sign would invite even more interference, as many would stop to make that same joke. (Indeed, probably 15 people did before the night was through.) I answered that at least that was more fun than having to tell people over and over we didn’t have the info.

We played down from 215 to the final nine. Some interesting hands, and a few fun posts, but I have to admit I’m finding no-limit hold’em incredibly mundane at the moment. Was never a big fan before (it is the one game I almost never play), but writing up hundreds upon hundreds of hands is making me less and less enamored with each post.

Early in the day I was feeling particularly giddy, mainly because I had somehow rid myself of that 48-hour bug I’d picked up before. Almost got completely carried away with the puns in the post titles. Started right from the top when Young Phan had won a couple of early pots. I posted that he was getting active early, titling the post “Young and Restless.” That sent me down a dangerous road . . .
“Xiang It” -- Tingjian Xiang elimination hand.

“Merkow Not Enjoying the Vu” -- Gregg Merkow losing a big pot to Tommy Vu.
Then came the one for which I certainly secured a spot in one of the upper circles of hell:
“Nguyen-er Nguyen-er Chicken Dinner” -- Peter Nguyen wins a pot (following a post reporting Men Nguyen having won one).
Somehow no one came over to strangle me after that last one, and I managed to finish the evening/morning safely.

By the way, early on, the ever-entreprenurial Tommy Vu gave us his business card. It was for a “social networking-global commerce” website, of which he is the “founder.” By way of clarification, the card says the site is “a social site that pays you to use it and to tell others.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The card provides further guidance by telling the holder to follow three simple steps: (1) Call a long-distance number and listen to the message; (2) visit the website; and (3) “Tell everyone you know and Duplicate.”

I showed it to Pokerati Dan and he asked if he could have it. So if you start seeing posts over there about this neat new social site that pays you to use it and to tell others, you’ve been forewarned.

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Repetition ≠ Truth

Cheating 'Scheme' Confirmed at Ultimate BetThere is a term often used in advertising called the “truth effect.” The idea has been around for a long, long time, as long as advertising has existed, I’d imagine.

Academics in the fields of sociology, psychology, and marketing research have investigated the concept extensively from the late 1960s onward, producing numerous studies trying both to define it and explain what causes it. I’m not sure who actually coined the phrase “truth effect,” though a trio of researchers named Hasher, Goldstein, and Toppino are frequently credited with having first advanced the idea in an academic context back in 1977.

The idea isn’t that complicated. Basically, “truth effect” refers to the idea that repeated statements are more often believed than true statements.

That is the gist of it, anyway. There are other factors such as source credibility (i.e., the ethos or past reputation of the person delivering the statement) and source variability (i.e., whether the statement comes from different sources) that tend to matter here. But you get the general idea. People often believe something after hearing it repeated over and over and over again, regardless of the truth of the statement or other criteria by which we might otherwise choose to verify the statement’s validity.

If you have happened to listen to any episodes of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, you’ve heard glaring examples of advertisers relying on the “truth effect” in the old cigarette ads that pop up in just about every episode of those old radio shows. (Each episode of the HBPRS contains an entire old time radio show complete with the original commercials.) Probably even more obvious there, as it sounds quite jarring to our twenty-first century ears to hear someone earnestly professing over and again that doctors energetically recommend their brand of cigarette.

I sometimes get readers landing here at Hard-Boiled Poker after having searched for information about the “super-user” cheating scandal over on UltimateBet, simply because I’ve written several posts on the subject. I was glad to see that late last week John Caldwell of PokerNews interviewed Annie Duke, paid spokesperson for UltimateBet, specifically to get her take on what happened at UB. You can reach that interview here.

As I’ve been spending most of my waking hours at the Rio covering the WSOP the last three days, I only had the chance to watch the interview earlier this morning. Unfortunately, it reveals very little in the way of new information. For a terrific breakdown of the interview, go read the PokerGrump’s response. He smartly analyzes just about all of Duke’s responses and gives the online poker player a lot of food for thought regarding whether or not one should ever play at UltimateBet.

I’m about to head back over to the Rio again this afternoon, so I haven’t time myself to produce such a thoughtful analysis, though I will say a couple of points stood out for me on listening to the interview, both of which are related to the “truth effect.”

One, in responding to Caldwell’s questions about UB’s handling of the matter, Duke correctly points out that the site did issue two interim statements along the way and, as Duke puts it, “they both basically said the same thing: there’s a problem, we’re investigating it.”

Yep, that’s what happened. I’d add that their final statement on the matter pretty much amounted to a third instance of the same statement, only the tense had changed; i.e., there was a problem, and we investigated it. Not much in the way of concrete info, and a clear reliance on the “truth effect” to get the idea across that UB was doing what it should be doing.

Secondly, early in the interview Duke says she believes UltimateBet “handled this particular issue not only with grace and integrity, [but]... management stepped up to the plate in a way that they actually didn’t have to from... a legal standpoint.”

Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the UB matter and how it was handled will instinctively cringe at all three of these observations, as none of them -- “grace,” “integrity,” or “stepping up to the plate” -- seem to apply whatsover. The communications with customers were awkward and indirect, not graceful. The vagueness and non-responsiveness of UB throughout hardly bespoke integrity. And the entire “we’re completely new; it was the old guys who did this” routine certainly sounds more like disowning the problem, not “stepping up to the plate.”

In any event, at the very end of the interview Duke is asked once more about UltimateBet’s handling of the affair, and Duke’s response has a weirdly uncanny ring to it. She says there at the end that she thinks the scandal “was actually handled very gracefully... and with integrity, and they stepped up to the plate in a way much more than they really had to by any letter of the law.”

Again, the instinctive cringe. None of these observations are at all true. Not if measured by other criteria for determining validity.

But they are being repeated. And I assume we’ll be hearing them again and again. Like an advertisement.

Respond accordingly.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 31: Kafkaesque, It Was

Kafkaesque, it wasFirst three hours were a breeze. Well, I shouldn’t say “breeze.” I was still feeling a bit unwell and was fatigued, but the bustouts were happening quickly and it looked like beddy-bye wasn’t going to be that far away.

By 5 p.m. -- after just 69 hands -- four of the six players who’d made the final table of Event No. 48, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event, had already been eliminated. We began heads up with Joe Commisso enjoying a 2-to-1 chip advantage over the tricky-to-type Richard Lyndaker. Didn’t think heads up would go all that quickly, as Lyndaker had not shown a predilection for chancy play up to that point. And Commisso didn’t strike me as much of a thrillseeker either.

But I didn’t think it would go that long. Don’t believe anyone did.

They traded small pots for the first hour, then eventually Commisso had chipped up to about 6 million versus Lyndaker’s 2 million. After gaining a few more chips, Commisso finally pushed and Lyndaker called.

Here we go, I thought. Hello sleep.

Lyndaker showed Ac7h. Commisso showed Kd4d. Okay, c’mon diamonds. The board blanked out, and we were still playing.

That set the pattern, with Commisso slowly chipping up then giving it back in a big chunk after Lyndaker survived yet another all in. In most cases, Lyndaker had Commisso crushed going in (e.g., Q-J vs. Q-6). The night wore on. We reached 50 hands of heads up. Then 100. Then 150.

Joe CommissoPeople started talking about longevity records. By the time I had typed “Joe Commisso raised from the button, and Richard Lyndaker folded” for the 20th time, I was starting to believe this bewildering mental exercise might be causing some permanent damage to the ol’ cerbral cortex. Lyndaker became Lydanker became Lynkander became Linklater. Joe Commisso was turning into Lewis Black, then Eraserhead.

Three hours. Four hours. Five hours. Then the players appeared to crack and the all ins started coming faster, with Lyndaker surviving again and again and again -- usually coming from behind to do so, now. Commisso actually lost the advantage at one point and had to suck out a straight to survive.

How did I get here? What crime did I commit? Is this my punishment, or is something worse awaiting me? Just call me Shamus K.

Finally, on the 209th friggin’ hand of heads-up, around 11:30 p.m., Commisso took the last of Lyndaker’s chips and we were all free. He played well and certainly deserved it. Sheesh did it take a while, though.

I pumped out a quick wrap-up post and Vera carried me back to the home-away-from home. Vera had watched the whole thing, actually, finding it very entertaining. It was, in fact, a compelling final table. But I was just too damn tired to enjoy it.

Slept very well last night and came back into the Rio today to help cover Day 2 of Event No. 49, another of the “donkaments” -- i.e., a $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event. Started the day with 215 players and we have to play down to nine, so I’m expecting to be here ’til sunrise. Am feeling much, much better though, and not at all bummed about being here. Am still really enjoying the whole WSOP experience.

Vera heads home today. Was a terrific week with her here. Her coming here in the middle of the adventure has really made the whole thing more doable, I think.

I haven’t gotten to see any of the $50K H.O.R.S.E. I hear they are down to five. Remember you can follow that one, or this here Event No. 49 on which I am reporting, over at PokerNews.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 30: Long Night’s Journey Into Day

Sleepy ShamusWas up until 5:30 a.m. or so working Event No. 46, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event. Kind of an exhausting day, made worse by the fact that somehow I picked up some sort of bug that enveloped me in one of those my-whole-body-hurts kind of illnesses right toward the end of the shift. Digestion, everything all out of whack. I blamed the salad I ate at the Poker Kitchen earlier in the night, though to be honest I don’t know what the culprit was.

As a result, I had a very restless six hours this morning before having to get up and truck back over to the Rio for today’s final table. Have made it through the first couple of levels of the FT without too much trouble, though. Three of the six players have already managed to find the exit, despite the super-deep stacks all enjoyed going in. Am sincerely hoping big time two more decide to gamble it up here and I can get back to bed in short order.

All of which is to say, no time or energy today for a full-fledged post. But I’ll be back, no worries.

Be sure to follow the coverage over on PokerNews.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 29: Love

Cirque Du Soleil's 'Love'Well, the Love show didn’t disappoint. Definitely one of the more entertaining spectacles of the many from which to choose here in Las Vegas.

Have written here before in praise of the Beatles. Grew up listening to them. Learned to play guitar from a Beatles songbook. Long ago committed all two hundred-plus of those tunes to memory. (Like a lot of folks, I imagine.) Also had someone pass me the Love soundtrack a couple of years ago when it first came out, so I was additionally aware of how for the show the songs had been recombined, sometimes quite ingeniously, so I wasn’t necessarily surprised by any of that at the performance.

The show’s form resembled that of the previous Cirque du Soleil show Vera and I had seen, O. Lots of high-flying gymnastics-slash-modern dance supplemented throughout by various, clever machinations to redistribute the set design. There were a few dozen “characters,” none of whom perfectly corresponded to the ones inhabiting the Beatles songbook (to me, anyway). Although one could argue they were all suggested in an indirect way -- e.g., the lovelorn, flower-carrying shy guy, Teddy boys, the mustachioed British bobbies, Liverpudlian kiddies, etc.

The production definitely emphasized the more surreal-leaning, latter era of the Beatles repetoire, both in the song selections and the René Magritte-meets-Barnum & Bailey aesthetic. Lots of fun moments, perhaps the most fun being when a bed appeared in the center of the stage and its linens rapidly extended outward, enveloping the stage and then, to everyone’s delight, the entire audience as well. Vera said it reminded her of games with parachutes in elementary school.

As was the case with O, the show never moved too far away from the land of spectacle and into something more meaningful. That is to say, lots of moving around, but nothing too terribly moving. Still, that message of love that so indelibly informs the Beatles’ music was consistently delivered. One never hears in Love the Fab Four’s most profound lyric “the love you take is equal to the love you make,” though the idea is successfully implied throughout. Everybody, including Vera and me, had smiles on as we filed out of the theater.

As we walked out we passed the poker room at the Mirage, and hearing somebody telling his buddy about finally hitting quads quickly recalled to me the purpose of my being here. Back to poker today, as I return to the Rio to help cover Event No. 46, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event. Looks like 805 signed up for that one yesterday, and they played all of the way down to 96 today. Might take a good while for those 96 to turn into just six for tomorrow’s final table, I imagine.

Meanwhile the $50K H.O.R.S.E. (Event No. 45) moves into its third of five days, with over half the field gone. Just 67 of the original 148 remain. Many the big names are over there, with Greenstein, Lindgren, Negreanu, and Doyle Brunson near the top of the chip counts at present.

Oh, by the way, I couldn’t let it go unnoticed here that Dan LaCourse, the winner of Event No. 42, the $1,000 Seniors No-Limit Hold’em World Championship, is a retired police detective. According to LaCourse, his training as a detective came in handy at the poker table, as “people reveal themselves through subtle gestures and mannerisms within three seconds of being of being confronted with a question or decision.”

Interesting stuff. Of course, you probably knew that already -- that in the end, the info you take is equal to the profit you make.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 28: Horsin’ Around

Horsin’ AroundAll eyes on the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event (Event No. 45) which kicked off yesterday.

Like you, I read the reports about how tourney staff had removed tables, creating more space for extra media there in the front left corner of the Amazon Room. When everyone finally registered, there were 148 runners total -- exactly the number who entered last year. Kind of jibes with how the entire Series has gone thus far, with numbers mostly mirroring last year’s in most events (aside from those Omaha events, which have uniformly attracted more entrants).

Also noticed how PokerNews had assigned extra bloggers and reporters to cover this one, which combined with a smaller field means more comprehensive coverage. I liked seeing all 148 players in the chip counts right off the bat. (I’m guessing media was provided with a list for this one, although PokerNews might’ve been able to identify everyone anyhow.) That’s something that isn’t really feasible with most events. Take the last one I covered, the Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw event that had 238 enter (Event No. 40). Even with several reporters we were only ultimately able to identify a little over a third of the field by the end of Day 1.

Thanks to the slow structure, almost all of the 148 are coming back today. Just eight fell out, including Phil Hellmuth, David Williams, Amnon Filippi, Shun Uchida (who finished runner-up in Event No. 40), and Jamie Pickering (who was runner-up to Vanessa Selbst in Event No. 19).

I’m off again today (Thursday), but will be back in the Rio on Friday where I’ll join Don Peters to help cover Event No. 46, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Short-Handed event. So I’ll be around to catch some of the buzz as the H.O.R.S.E. plays out the last three days of its scheduled five.

Yesterday was a fun day with Vera. We started off having brunch with the PokerGrump over at a place called Hash House a-Go Go. It’s just a couple of miles off the strip and all three of us definitely recommend it for some good eats. Vera and I then spent the afternoon goofing around the Mandalay Bay-Luxor end of the strip.

Luxor ImaxWe had considered visiting the Shark Reef Aquarium, but decided against. Instead on a lark we ended up on this Imax motion simulator thingy in the Luxor. Was a little like spending 15 minutes inside a bad Mystery Science Theater 3000 film.

Our group included just us and a family of five, and the kids’ mostly whiny comments were the funniest thing about the whole ride. There was some sort of nonsensical narrative associated with the “adventure” -- something to do with finding a much-cherished obelisk. A couple of minor thrills but mostly a bunch of applesauce. Aside from the hokey “plot,” the thing felt pretty damn dated from a technology standpoint. Indeed, looking it up online I see the whole production was put together fifteen years ago.

“I don’t get it,” said one of the kids as we walked out. Dad couldn’t really explain it either.

We had thought about going back out later, but ended up just taking it easy, creating our own simulator of home life here at the apartment (eating in, watching some tube). We were both a bit fatigued, Vera from the time change, and me from having worked the three previous days.

We’re rested up now, though, and are looking forward to heading over to the Mirage for dinner and the Love show tonight. Meanwhile, you can head on over to PokerNews for yr H.O.R.S.E updates.

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The UIGEA Lives; H.R. 5767 Dies in Committee

The UIGEA steamrolls onA somewhat significant day on Wednesday in the ongoing sordid tale of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. Bottom line: the beast that is the UIGEA has survived to torment us further.

We last left off this one back in April when House Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) jointly proposed H.R. 5767, a tersely-worded bill solely designed to prohibit the Federal Reserve and Treasury Dept. from finalizing and implementing the UIGEA regulations.

H.R. 5767 was proposed in the immediate wake of that April 2 hearing before the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology, a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee. At that hearing, a couple of representatives from the Federal Reserve testified at length regarding the difficulties faced with actually enforcing the UIGEA. Several others from the American banking system likewise testified as to the impracticality of following the law’s directives. (Full summary of the April 2 hearing here.)

At the present moment, the UIGEA is technically an impotent law, although there does remain the potential for regulations to be finalized, thus introducing all sorts of new problems for online poker players. I say “technically” because the UIGEA has had a lot of influence on how Americans gamble online, despite never being enforced a single time. That April 2 hearing and swift proposal of H.R. 5767 provided hope to those of us wishing to make the UIGEA’s impotency permanent in a legal sense. And it would -- if passed, H.R. 5767 would make it impossible for the UIGEA ever to be enforced, since the feds would no longer be allowed to finalize the regs and pass them onto the banks.

So on Wednesday the House Financial Services Committee had a hearing regarding a few different bills, including H.R. 5767. This is how the legislative process works. A bill gets proposed, perhaps attracts co-sponsors, then gets considered by a House committee. If the committee gets behind it, then the bill gets forwarded along to the entire House, and if enough momentum is gathered it might be brought for a vote. If the House passes the bill, it goes to the Senate, and if they in turn pass it, the president has to sign it, too, and it becomes a law.

The purpose of the hearing (which can be viewed online here), then, was to get the committee to go ahead and vote on these bills, meaning if enough members were in favor of H.R. 5767, it would proceed on to the entire House of Representatives.

The Hearing

Frank began the part of the hearing devoted to H.R. 5767 with a brief overview of the political wrangling that resulted in the UIGEA being written and becoming law. He then referred back to that April 2 hearing and the feds’ testimony regarding the law’s inconsistencies and lack of feasibility. Alluding to the words of Louise Roseman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Frank said that while she “was very respectful, but as she honestly answered the questions it became clear that she thought that she had a job that was undoable.”

Rep. Jim Bachus (R-AL), a senior ranking member of the committee, then took ten minutes to pursue his thesis that “the fastest growing addiction in America is not drugs, it’s gambling.” Bachus referred to a study -- he offered no specific details regarding who conducted it -- that states “problem gambling doubles within ten miles of a gambling faciility,” using that alleged truism to support his argument that online gambling must be outlawed.

Bachus went on to refer to other arguments, including one of a colleague who had quoted a University of Illinois professor who believes “the internet is crack cocaine for gamblers. There are no needle marks. There is no alcohol on the breath. You just click the mouse and lose your house.” He concluded with a reference to another mind-boggling argument suggesting one-third of college students who have gambled on the internet have attempted suicide.

As Bachus has routinely done in all of this hearings, he spoke not in dialogue with others but simply broadcast his own moral arguments regarding online gambling. Indeed, H.R. 5767 has nothing whatsoever to do with the moral question; that law solely addresses the impracticality of having financial transaction providers monitor all clients’ transactions and forbid those with online sites deemed unlawful.

Indeed, I believe that in his heart of hearts Bachus is probably ambivalent over whether the UIGEA regulations ever get finalized and the law actually enforced. He triumphantly cited a University of Pennsylvania study that suggests the UIGEA has effectively reduced both “compulsive and problem gambling,” even though the law hasn’t ever been enforced a single time. “The 2006 law has had its intended effect,” said Bachus. And clearly, he wishes for it to continue to curb online gambling in the U.S., regardless of whether it ever actually gets enforced.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) then came on to explain his proposed amendment to H.R. 5767, which he described as “not a gambling amendment, but a banking amendment.” As King explained, “we are requiring the banking community not just to enforce the law, but in effect to define what the terms of that law are.” Therefore, King’s amendment “withdraws those regulations and . . . calls for the Treasury and the Federal Reserve in consultation with the Department of Justice to jointly develop regulations to define the term ‘unlawful internet gambling.’”

In practical terms, King’s amendment appears nothing more than a directive to legislators to try again. Sure, says King, let’s pass H.R. 5767 and stop the process of finalizing the UIGEA regulations, but let’s not let it drop there. Though a much more coherent speaker and thinker than Bachus, King is likewise no fan of internet gambling. So he wants the feds to keep at it and define unlawful internet gambling and even to compile a list of forbidden sites, so down the road a UIGEA-like law could be passed and really (legally) enforced.

Frank came back on to clarify for the umpteenth time that this issue here isn’t the moral question, it is the practical one concerning legislators asking banks to do something they cannot do. Frank claimed that H.R. 5767 would not, in fact, do away with UIGEA -- technically true, but a bit disingenuous, I’d suggest.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) then spoke briefly, reiterating his libertarian view that “individuals have a right to spend their money the way they want.” Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) spoke in support of King’s amendment, saying it would give “the regulators an opportunity to go through a methodical process” and revisit the issue of defining unlawful internet gambling.

Finally, Bachus came back on to suggest that despite Frank’s protestations to the contrary, H.R. 5767 would in fact halt the process that began with the UIGEA’s passage into law in 2006. He pointed out that it isn’t unusual for Congress to pass a law, then have it take “eight or nine years” for that law to ever be enforced. “What we’re doing,” argued Bachus, “is stopping and starting all over again and that’s a bad thing.” Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) added his opinion that the bill being proposed by Frank and Paul was, in his view, “an attempt to gut the process.”

The Vote

Those members of the House Financial Services Committee who voted on Rep. King’s amendment to H.R. 5767 were evenly divided, with 32 voting for it and 32 against it. Not enough for the amendment to be added, and so the bill was then voted on in its original state.

That vote was conducted verbally, and this time a large majority voted against it. H.R. 5767 is no more.

As much as I disagree with Bachus and others waging the moral crusade against online gambling, it is easy to see in retrospect that H.R. 5767 had little chance of making it out of committee. The fact is, Frank and Paul’s bill was a much more overt example of the same sort of legislative short cut that got the UIGEA passed in the first place.

Might have worked had it been added to some other must-pass legislation just as Congress was closing shop for the winter. But a bill negating a previously passed law -- no matter how poorly-constructed that law might be -- couldn’t get that far on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of the summer. That would mean getting legislators to admit in broad daylight they were once wrong. Sort of stuff just don’t happen.

The UIGEA lives, folks. And if those regulations ever do get finalized, we’re all going to be dealing with overblocking and a number of other headaches for a long time, I’m sure of it.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 27: Cheers

CheersFinished up last night’s final table for Event No. 40, the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) event, around 11:30 p.m. A long day (ten hours), but I ain’t complaining. The table was fairly riveting from beginning to end, what with the constant confrontations between eventual champ John Phan and Gioi Luong. Definitely enjoyed covering the event with F-Train.

Aside from the bickering between Phan and Luong, the play didn’t become all that compelling until Phan ordered ten cups of Corona, each with a lime wedge bobbing near the surface. The waiter carefully lined them up on the table next to the one on which they were playing, creating a kind of weird symmetry with the long, gaudy row of yellow chips Phan had lined up in front of him. One was the cause of the other, I think, as it was precisely when Phan had assumed over half of the chips in play (with three players left) when he ordered the beers.

He gave a couple away to friends on the rail, but appeared to suck down several on his own. Right as he took the first sip, he lost a decent-sized pot to Shun Uchida. Then he lost another one to Luong. Within twenty minutes, he was the short stack. Phan’s buzz was getting killed as quickly as he’d established it. I thought I was about to witness some sort of tragic play unfolding, but he pulled it together enough to get to the dinner break. After that, he played the best poker, I thought, and deserved the bracelet -- his second this summer.

After wrapping things up at the Rio, Vera and I ran over to the Gold Coast for a couple of hours to cheer on the large crowd of folks bowling in the latest installment of the Pokerati Bowling Series, including CK, F-train, Dr. Pauly, Change100, Haley, Spaceman, Tuscaloosa John, Cali Jen and Dan, Benjo, and several other cool cats. And to enjoy a couple of beers, though nothing close to what Phan had (and probably was having).

The big $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship cranks up today (Event No. 45). That one and the Main Event will get a lot more attention than these prelims we’ve been covering.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m off both today and tomorrow, and will be spending most of the time away from poker, doing some sight-seeing and running around LV with Vera. So you go follow the H.O.R.S.E. over at PokerNews and I’ll hook up with ya later.

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The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 5: The Queen of Spades

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowPosted a new episode of the show yesterday. I see it has already turned up over in iTunes.

This one begins with the Poker Grump regaling us with some humorous stories about drunks at the table. Then there’s an old Robert Johnson song with a poker theme. Finally, the feature presentation is an episode of Mystery in the Air called “The Queen of Spades” starring Peter Lorre, an adaptation of an Alexander Pushkin short story. The game of faro is central to the story, and at the end of the episode I come on and talk about the game a bit and how you can play it online.

That makes five episodes so far. Won’t be producing any new ones until I get back home from Vegas in mid-July.

If you haven’t heard any of the older episodes, you can always go back. Have had a couple of people here in Vegas who have heard the show tell me it reminds them a little of This American Life. That is probably because unlike other podcasts which focus on news, interviews, or strategy, this one mainly presents stories and examples of “audio theater.” And I suppose we are always pursuing a theme (like they do on This American Life), namely poker and/or gambling. So if you like poker and are at all into old time radio and/or storytelling, check it out!

And if you have any feedback, you can leave comments here or over on the show’s blog.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 26: Cowboy Hats, Cigars, and Draw Poker

Draw Poker“Hello?”

Heard from the neighboring stall in the men’s room. Is someone trying to communicate with me somehow? If so, I’m not answering.

“Still in. Yea there’s like five hunnerd still in outta two thousand two hunnerd. They ain’t updated it in a while. Last it says is six-oh-two. But there’s less than that there’s five hunnerd I know it is.”

Ah. The seniors are on dinner break. “I dunno if those guys from Texas er still in or what. Gonna be callin’ Hot Rod in a minute to find out if he still is. I got eighteen hunnerd, six times what I started.”

(Apologies to Dr. Pauly for reporting from the Rio bathrooms. I should probably insert a joke here about him marking that territory.)

Was back in the Brasilia yesterday for Day 2 of Event No. 40, the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) event. Our last thirty players were lined up on the front row of the room, while most of the other sixty or so tables were filled with those playing in Event No. 42, the $1,000 Seniors No-Limit Hold’em World Championship. Unlike our event, which began with just 30 players on five tables, the Seniors event began with 2,218 entrants, sent all over the Rio. (They played all of the way down to 220 before quitting last night.)

A semi-curious scene, seeing all those old guys coming and going from our station in the front corner of the Brasilia. Lots of cowboy hats and unlit cigars. Seemed like a good number of them weren’t there alone, but with a buddy or maybe five. Have to guess the Seniors Event is a kind of vacation destination for a lot of retirees. The wives go shopping, the old fellers play the tourney, and in between some of the husbands call their wives from bathroom stalls.

I heard over in the Amazon they did a “stand-up-if-yr-over-this-many” to find out who was the oldest to have entered. A 91-year-old fella was the last man standing. I know some want to argue away events like the Seniors event, but there seem to me to be a lot of reasons to keep the sucker.

Our event dragged on a bit longer than we’d hoped, though we were outta there by 10:30 p.m. -- a very short day by our usual standards -- so I surely ain’t complainin’. The coverage was fairly comprehensive (I thought). We had extra reporters on hand and thus more eyes to keep track of hands and the ever-fluctuating chip counts. Kind of liked seeing Billy Baxter, a guy who’s been eligible for the Seniors Event for at least a couple of decades, surge from practically nothing to the chip lead early in the day.

Billy BaxterBaxter has a whopping seven WSOP bracelets dating back to the mid-70s, every single one of which came in lowball games (deuce-to-seven, ace-to-five, and razz). At one point during the day we came around to count his chips and Greg Raymer quipped that we should just add up all the chips in play and give them to Baxter, ’cos he was going to be getting them eventually anyway.

On another occasion earlier on, I was standing there with the reporter and kind of idly looking at Baxter’s chips, doing a little mental arithmetic. He caught my eye, and said “Seventy-seven” (he had 77,000 at that point). I gave him a thumbs up in thanks.

Sitting at our table yesterday, F-Train and I experienced that phenomenon I described to you last week when Change100 and I were at that front table in the Brasilia Room. Somehow everyone seems to think whoever is stationed there is a provider of information for all manner of activities in the Rio. F-Train made the sign this time: “ALL QUESTIONS: $20.” Actually elicited a lot of laughs, though no cabbage.

Final table should be interesting enough. Baxter didn’t make it, but David Sklansky did (barely). I’m sure we won’t be on the main stage. The WSOP has already made it clear that in their view “draw poker of any kind is a difficult sell for both viewers and spectators.”

That’s what was stated in their press release from two weeks ago when addressing the mini-controversy surrounding the decision not to televise or even have played on the main stage the star-studded final table of Event No. 18, the $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw w/rebuys event. You remember, the one with Jeff Lisandro, Mike Matusow, Tom Schneider, Erick Lindgren, Barry Greenstein, Tony G, and David Benyamine.

I ain’t gonna weigh in on the pros and cons here too deeply. Draw is a different animal, no doubt, though I frankly don’t see why they couldn’t show it on ESPN360, where only the poker junkies are watching anyhow. Could really be interesting for that crowd with a Daniel Negreanu or Mike Caro or some other draw-poker-playin’ pro offering some words of wisdom along the way. Hell, they could get Billy Baxter, now. He’d be terrific, I’d bet.

Am getting two whole days off after today, thanks to some very thoughtful, very cool schedule-jugglin’ by the PokerNews guys. Not really sure what Vera and I will do Wednesday, but whatever it is it will be fun. Then on Thursday is the Love show.

By the way, the plan right now is to try to post Episode No. 5 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show later on today. Will keep you updated.

And I promise not to do so during my next bathroom break.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 25: More Clichés Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Another clichéVera is here. Slept very well last night. And late into the morning. Combination of the body recovering some lost hours (got up early yesterday to be at the airport) and Vera being here, I think.

Work continues, though I’ll have at least one and maybe two days off later in the week. Enjoyed covering with F-Train the first day of the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Lowball (Limit) event yesterday (Event No. 40). Started with 238 runners who amazingly played down to just 30 by the end of the night. The plan today -- as is usually the case on Day Twos -- is to play down to the final table, so we aren’t too far from that already.

Toward the end of the evening, the eliminations were coming so quickly that F-Train and I started to notice how all of our posts were reporting yet another bustout. And as we were nine-plus hours into the proceedings, neither of us had the creative energy we had at the day’s start. Enter the clichés. He titled one “Close But No Cigar,” then I followed it with “Another One Bites the Dust.” In the waning moments of our shift, we somehow resisted the urge to continue in that direction and describe players buying the farm, throwing in towels, kicking buckets, and/or bring out fat ladies to sing for them.

I was also trying to figure out why exactly people were busting at such a high clip. I hadn’t really examined the schedule of play that closely before the day began. Looking back, I can see that when there were 85 players left, the average chip stack was 14,000. That was at the beginning of Level 7, when the blinds were 300/500, and the limits 500/1,000. There are four betting rounds in triple draw, and the size of the bets (in limit) works like in other limit games. So here, for example, we had bets of 500 before and after the first draw, and bets of 1,000 after the second and third draws.

I suppose that average stack was on short side, as someone should probably expect to put in five big bets or so (on average) to reach the end of a hand. I think another factor here might be that in draw games it seems much less likely for someone to fold a hand after deciding initially to play it. (At least it looked that way to me watching the action.) So, if you had an average stack there at the start of Level 7 and decided to play a couple of hands and neither worked out for you, you were pretty much toast. Or dead as a doornail.

The reporting presented a couple of other challenges as well. Unlike in flop games, where observers can see community cards, or stud games where players have upcards, in draw games everything is hidden until the end. I think it was tricky, sometimes, for our reporters to pick up on whether or not a hand was worth reporting until after it was over.

Also a little cumbersome simply to narrate a draw hand in a way that is interesting or compelling to read. You share what players drew and whether they bet or raised, but you can’t really say much more.

Much more interesting yesterday were the extracurricular shenanigans that seemed to run rampant. Players were both showing discards (regularly) and rabbit-hunting (occasionally), neither of which is technically allowed. And there was a lot of table talk, it seemed -- some friendly, some less so -- perhaps more than in any other tourney I’ve covered thus far. All of these things are somehow related to how draw games usually go, I think.

Then there was the “absurdist” (as we dubbed him), who appeared to think he was playing five card draw or some other poker variant. He once stood pat with queens and tens -- no shinola -- betting all of the way down. He ended up going out with a pair of aces, which he’d hung onto after discarding his other three cards. You don’t want aces in this game (they are always high), nor do you want pairs. Didn’t faze him, though. Upon being eliminated, he took another swig of his Guinness and announced “Rebuy!” (Not an option in this tourney, either.)

We’ll see how quickly things go today. With just 30 players left, the average stacks are now just under 40,000. The blinds will be 600/1,200 and limits 1,200/2,400 when we begin today, meaning again, we’re not too far from where we were at the start of Level 7. At that point players with average stacks had about 14 big bets; right now they have about 16 or 17.

And not to beat a dead horse, but do head over to PokerNews to follow all the action. I’m not just whistling Dixie. It’s the cat’s pajamas, I tell ya. The greatest thing since sliced bread.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 24: Lowball

A 'Number One'Just about noon here. Event No. 40, the Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) event is about to get underway. F-Train and I are covering this one.

Went over to McCarran this morning and picked up the lovely Vera Valmore. Very nice to have her here. She’s currently wandering the Rio until we’ll reunite during the dinner break.

Did manage to get back over to the Gold Coast last night for some more bowling fun with California Jen, Karridy, SitNGo Steve, Ryan, Pokerati Dan, and Mean Gene. Karridy bowled the night’s best game, which started with strikes on four of the first five frames. I managed to squeeze out a spare in the tenth frame of the last game to establish a new personal high of 101 in the Pokerati Bowling Series.

I mentioned how I’d talked a bit with Tom Schneider about terminology for Deuce-to-Seven. The best hand in Deuce-to-Seven Lowball (also known as Kansas City lowball), is 7-5-4-3-2. That hand can, says Tom, be called a “wheel.” I know some reserve that term for A-2-3-4-5 (and use it in a variety of games), but that’s what a wheel is in 2-7 Lowball. Of course, A-2-3-4-5 is simply ace-high in 2-7 lowball, as aces are always high in this game. (Straights and flushes count against you, too.)

Also, like in Razz and other low games, you can refer to hand being “smooth” or “rough” hand, e.g., an 8-7-5-4-2 is a “rough eight” whereas an 8-5-4-3-2 is a “smooth eight.”

Tom also said the best hands are sometimes referred to more simply among the players, i.e., the best hand, the 7-5-4-3-2, is a “number one,” the second best, 7-6-4-3-2, a “two,” and the third best, 7-6-5-3-2, a “three.” Kind of reminds me of that story about the guys in prison passing around a joke book and after several years they’ve all memorized all of the numbered jokes. So every now and then a guy would just say “Seventy-Six” and everyone would laugh.

Doubt I’ll bother with the “one,” “two,” and “three” stuff, as that could simply confuse readers, I’d think. (Or me.) I have a feeling that with three draws and four rounds of fixed limit betting, this may well become a bit tedious to report in the usual fashion. But the event ought to draw a lot of name pros and interesting personalities, so I imagine there will still be a lot to write about.

As always, you can go follow along over at PokerNews.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 23: Sweat

SweatEvery day is well over 100 degrees. The wind is blowin’, but it’s a hot wind. Sort of like yr walking into a hair dryer.

Like most of us spending the summer in Vegas, I spend as little time as possible outside. When I first arrived I had considered forgoing renting a car. I’m staying reasonably close to the Rio -- not a long walk by any means. But I ditched that plan by the second day. Too hot, man. Too friggin’ hot.

Got this frankly silly-looking little silver Aveo. Looks like half a car from most angles. Had all kinds of trouble the first week or two finding the damned thing in the parking lot. Tim Peters, who’d worked the ’06 Series for CardPlayer, had actually warned me of this very phenomenon and had cautioned me to avoid it. I am referring to the where-the-hell-is-my-rental trek of shame.

There was one night around 3 a.m. that first week I actually ended up getting a ride from Security around the Rio parking lot just to locate the sucker. After a couple of loops I finally spotted the Aveo. “That’s one’s pretty car, ain’t it?” I quipped to the guard. He laughed. “Gets you from here to there -- that’s what matters,” he replied sagely. After that I began parking it in the same spot every day, somewhat distant from the Pavilion-side entrance but at least I always know where it is.

Got up today and made that very drive right about noon, even though it is my day off, ’cos I wanted to see if I could catch a glimpse of Karridy and SitNGo Steve playing in today’s Event No. 39, another one of those $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em events. Only takes about five minutes to walk from my self-assigned parking spot to the Rio entrance. Still enough to start perspiring, which always makes that initial step inside the air-conditioning faintly pleasurable.

I knew Steve’s table and seat assignment (he’d registered yesterday), and so after chatting with Dr. Pauly a bit found him and wished him well. Thought I might be able to spot Karridy on my own, but there ended up being 2,720 entered in this one, scattered all over the Rio in the Amazon, the Brasilia, the Tropical, and at those tables set up in front of Buzio’s. Hopeless.

So I went back out into the noonday sun and took a winding drive over to the Mirage to get tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show “Love” for next week. As I mentioned, Vera arrives tomorrow, and that’s the one thing we knew we wanted to try to do while she’s here. The tickets were pricey. (Turns out money can buy me Love.) But that didn’t matter too much to me.

Actually, waiting in line there at the box office, I found myself surrounded by couples and suddenly got blind-sided by a pretty hard, unexpected wave of Lonely. Damn, four weeks. Tomorrow is coming just in time, I think.

Got back to the home-away-from-home about one o’clock and immediately got a text message from the K-man telling me where he was seated. So I ran back over to the Rio, and snuck into the Tropical Room for a look-see. Twenty-three tables. Allen Kessler, Joe Awada, Mimi Tran, and two hundred other people I don’t recognize. Oh, and there’s Karridy.

I hung out for twenty minutes or so. They were nearing the first break. Looked over a couple times at Karridy’s table and not too much seemed to be happening.

Ah, but what’s this? A hand was developing. And boom, he was out.

Bit of an unsettling surprise, that. But then again, as I type this 2,200 of those 2,720 who entered have already hit the rail as well.

The K-man was bummed, as you might imagine. But things turned up soon afterwards. We chatted a bit with SNG Steve and their buddy Ryan (both still in then, out now), then were kind of aimlessly walking back through the Rio toward the casino when we heard a voice.

“Karridy! Shamus!”

Tom and Julie Schneider were lunching at the São Paulo Cafe, and we joined ’em for an hour or so. Tom’s a good friend and mentor for Karridy, and he and Julie both did a nice job reminding him he’s a good poker player and also giving him things to think about moving forward. Karridy had set up some sort of voice-messaging-update type deal to send updates to his many friends sweating him, and Tom made the call to report Karridy’s bustout, doing a hilarious bit about talking Karridy off a ledge as he did.

As I told Karridy afterwards, I ain’t playing in any events this summer, and it’s pretty up in the air whether I ever will. Might be fun to try one day, but I’ve a long way to go, I think, before I’d ever want to venture in myself. So I have a lot of respect for those who do take the plunge, and I have to say I’m getting a big kick out of experiencing this some vicariously through friends who are players.

We all parted. I’ll see Tom and Julie at tomorrow’s Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball event. And I might see Karridy again tonight before he takes off tomorrow.

It was about three o’clock when I stepped back out onto that hot plate of the Rio parking lot. Still seemed like noon, though, with that sun relentlessly enveloping everything around.

I wouldn’t be spending too much time in it, though. I knew where I was parked.

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2008 WSOP, Day 22: Be the Ball

Reported every hand from the final table of Event No. 34Last night’s final table of Event No. 34, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha w/rebuys event, was pretty much a blur for me. When the night began Marc and I decided I’d do hands and he’d take care of chip counts and color.

Next I knew, eight hours had passed.

We didn’t have to do every hand. Not generally expected to do so in Omaha events, because of the extra cards to track. But I realized after the first orbit or so it was easier for me just to do each one rather than try and decide on the fly which ones were more significant. So I did, typing incessantly with only a couple of twenty-minute breaks which I usually spent speed-reading back through what I had written.

A weird mental test, that. Got into a kind of zone where it was just me, the announcer's voice, the soundless ESPN360 broadcast projected above, the tourney clock, and my laptop upon which my fingers were flying. Had one little spell about three-and-half hours in when I suddenly couldn’t remember how to spell “Makowsky” (the eventual runner-up’s name), but that passed within seconds. Felt pretty good about how it all turned out by night’s end.

Layne Flack won the thing -- his sixth bracelet -- and was very impressive (in my view) in the way he pressured his opponents pretty much from the start of the final table. He played lots of pots early on, and almost always entered hands by open raising the pot, especially later once he’d started accumulating chips. Every now and then he’d flat call others’ raises (in or out of position), but then usually would be the one taking charge of hands after the flop.

Wrapped up relatively early (I think it was just after 10 p.m. or so) and met up with Karridy, SitNGo Steve, Tom Schneider, and Tom’s wife Julie for some bowling over at the Gold Coast. A very fun crowd. Tom crushed us all in the first game, then everyone other than Tom improved vastly in the second (won by Steve).

For me it was just a matter of concentrating, though a couple of tips from Karridy and Tom definitely helped me keep the ball between the gutters. I was particularly pleased to have cracked triple digits in game two, making an even hundred on my very last ball of the night. Karridy had mentioned something early on about the overall loser having to moonwalk out of the alley, but somehow everyone forgot about that and yr humble gumshoe was able to walk out face first like all the other humans.

All four of them are playing in WSOP events this weekend. Karridy and Sit-n-Go Steve are playing in the “donkament” today, i.e., the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event (Event No. 39), and Tom and Julie will both be in the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball event (Event No. 40) tomorrow. I’m covering the latter one, and so asked Tom a bit about terminology for describing hands. I’ll be paired up with F-Train, who I imagine has some background with the game being the Razz fiend he is.

Day off today, though I’m gonna head over to the Rio anyway in just a bit to sweat the K-man (of whom I have a tiny piece) and SNG Steve. And tomorrow Vera arrives for a week-long visit. These last four weeks have flown by thanks to my having been kept so busy. But I’ve missed Vera a lot -- her not being here has been the only downside to this here entire adventure, really.

I have had some fun, to be sure, but I’ve been looking forward to June 22 for a month now. Can’t wait to see her.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 21: Tigers & Grizzlies

An accurate representation of the relative sizes of a tiger, a grizzly bear, and a humanWas fairly smooth sailing yesterday back in the Brasilia room for Day 2 of Event No. 34, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha w/rebuys event. Ended up being about a ten-hour day at the office -- not bad at all. Some of the guys on ours had a prop bet going with the ones covering the Stud event (Event No. 35) regarding who would finish first, a bet our guys won by about an hour-and-a-half.

Today’s final table is scheduled for the main stage (and will be broadcast over ESPN360). Two name pros made it -- Layne Flack and Ted Forrest. Forrest is the one I’d look out for, although among the others current chip leader Kyle Kloeckner and Michael Guzzardi look tough, as does Dario Alioto who took down the PLO event at the WSOPE last fall.

Tim “Tmay420” West is also there. This is his second final table this summer, and I also covered his other one (the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em shootout). He’s the short stack going in today, but I’m hoping he gets some chips together and makes a run. West is a super friendly guy and a hell of a player to boot.

Had a few interesting, extracurricular moments yesterday while covering the event. Annette “Annette_15” Obrestad stopped by for a visit. My partner, Marc, has worked with Betfair in the past, and so Obrestad came in to say hello to him. She seemed a little bummed at not being able to play -- she is still only 19 years old, and in fact won’t be able to play until the 2010 WSOP as her birthday is in September. There was talk of her getting in on some cash games, though that can’t possibly happen either unless they are side games. Seemed like a friendly, smart person, and I can imagine how the contrast of her sweet image and terrorizing style of play can give her opponents fits.

Layne Flack was bouncing off the walls, pumped up on All In energy drinks and/or his natural hyperactive tendencies. He frequently came over to our station to chat, usually when Tiffany Michelle and Amanda Leatherman were sitting nearby. Flack once scampered over to engage them in a debate over who had the sexiest name. I joked about putting that into the blog, but refrained.

We did include some of the players’ banter in the blog, including a couple of posts about a several-hour-long debate the players were having about the relative difficulty of killing a tiger versus a grizzly bear. Here is the first one:

Pick Your Battles
Play is tightening up even more as we near the cash bubble. As players pass small stacks of chips back and forth, the table talk is increasing.

Just passed Table No. 63, where the following was overheard: “I'd rather fight a tiger with a knife than a grizzly with a gun.”

Not sure of context, but it sounds like the subject of choosing one's battles carefully is on everyone's mind with just four to go before the money.

Then, a good six hours later:

Beasts of Prey
The discussion about weapons of choice when trying to kill tigers and/or grizzly bears, begun earlier this afternoon, has lingered on into the night.

“I mean, think about this,” said Ted Forrest to Nathan Hagens, wishing to draw a distinction. “The Siegfried and Roy show... They carry a 300-lb. tiger on their back. You're not gonna carry a grizzly bear on your back....”

“No fun the first time I did it!” yelled Layne Flack from the other table.

Bill Chen was in this event, having been knocked out on Day 1. He was there sweating his co-author Jerrod Ankenman, who ended up cashing yesterday, when he came over to our table and asked if he could set up his laptop next to us. Of course, we said. Chen proceeded to log on and play a PokerStars freeroll, something he’s obligated to do from time to time as a PS-sponsored pro.

Terrence Chan was nearby and he and Chen occasionally discussed his progress in the freeroll, laughing and clearly having a good time. I’ve read a good deal of Mathematics of Poker, so it was definitely amusing to see the scholarly Chen joking around in defiance of the professorial persona one might assume from the book. One player who cashed brought a copy of the book for Chen to sign, which he did and then got Ankenman -- still alive in the tourney at the time -- to sign as well.

Should be an interesting final table today. Am hoping afterwards or perhaps tomorrow (my day off) to connect with the Beyond the Table guys, as all three -- Karridy, Dan, and Tom Schneider -- are in Vegas at the moment. Of course, Tom is busy cashing in event after event (he’s made the money five times already). Have a feeling I’ll be seeing the Donkey Bomber at the next event I cover, the Deuce-to-Seven Triple Lowball (Limit) event.

As always, head over to PokerNews to follow it all.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 21: No Expectations

No ExpectationsAmid discussing the last event I covered, I remember babbling something on here prior to my Day 2 that it could well be a short day. Turned out to be the longest I’ve worked yet, extending well into dawn of the next. Ain’t gonna be so bold this time around. (I did read Mean Gene’s recent discussion of jinx protocol.) So I’ll just share the facts of the case and let you decide.

There are 48 players left in Event No. 34, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha with rebuys event. The top 36 spots pay, so we weren’t that far from playing down to the money on Day 1. The plan today, as is usually the case on Day 2s, is to whittle the field down to the final nine. The final table for this one looks to be scheduled as another one of those ESPN360 live presentations -- I’m hearing good things about those, by the way, for the lucky ones getting to watch -- so I wouldn’t expect any audibles to be called with regard to the plan to play down to nine.

There were a lot of rebuys in this one. The 320 entrants rebought a total of 1,350 times, making the prize pool over $2.4 million. That means we have over 4.8 million chips play. With 48 players left, the math is easy -- average stack is about 100,000 heading into Day 2.

When we start play today, we’ll be at Level 11, with blinds of 1,000/2,000. I don’t believe Harrington’s “M” applies to pot-limit Omaha the same way it does to no-limit hold’em, so it really doesn’t mean much to say the players have an average “M” of 33 or whatever. The pots in PLO tend to balloon rather quickly. An opening preflop raise with these blinds can range from 4,000 to 7,000. Say a guy in the cutoff opens by betting pot (which happens a fair amount), and then the button reraises pot. Suddenly you’ve got over 30,000 in the middle. One more raise and folks with average stacks will be pot committed.

Even so, I think there’s a lot about PLO that tends to thwart strict mathematical analyses. People talk about playing by “feel” and whatnot, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. There’s a weird kind of momentum that takes place in PLO tourneys whereby players feed off of each other’s desire (or lack of desire) to gamble it up. (By the way, if you didn’t read Dr. Pauly’s elegy to PLO from a couple of days ago, it’s worth it. He does a nice job there trying to characterize the “action game.”)

Fact is, PLO doesn’t always live up to its maniacal, flying-without-a-net reputation, particularly if you get a table of clear-headed individuals who realize their stacks are deep enough to allow them to be choosy when it comes to picking spots to put their chips in the middle.

Like I say, no expectations here about how long today is going to take. Just gonna play the cards I’m dealt here.

Speaking of jinxes, I have to add that after I got back last night I was too wired to sleep (as usual) and fired up some more o’ that 1/2 Razz. And simply killed. I’ll refrain from saying how much I made at this relatively low limit, but it was a nice little session (by my short-stacked standards). I’ve probably done enough damage crowing this much.

I mentioned before how F-Train’s nice run in the Razz event had inspired such experimentation. Have also been discussing Razz hands with the Poker Grump. And last night I ended up chatting with one of our reporters, Mickey, about Razz, which is a favorite game of his. Mickey routinely plays 3/6 and 5/10 online and is doing well, so I paid attention to what he had to say. A little bit of strategy goes a long way in Razz, especially when up against players who aren’t exercising sound reasoning in their betting decisions. (As always -- with any poker game -- the best formula for success is to find the bad players.)

There’s a lot to be said for playing different games. Definitely keeps the interest up. One reason why I’m intrigued about the event I’m next scheduled to cover after this one -- Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball.

As has been the case most days over the last couple of weeks, there are six different WSOP events going on today. So head on over to PokerNews for all the latest.

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On Covering the WSOP

On Covering the WSOPBlogs can go a variety of ways.

For some, the blog is an intensely personal, utterly truthful record of the author’s existence, with autobiographical accuracy representing its goal and purpose. Others will mix fact with fiction, creating characters (so to speak) through which to communicate their thoughts, beliefs, and/or opinions with the world.

Still others use their blogs to discuss everything other than themselves, perhaps focusing on a favorite area of interest like politics, culture, religion . . . or poker.

I suppose all of those potential blog varieties have informed Hard-Boiled Poker from time to time. Even though the focus is mostly personal, I’ve always tended to approach the blog as a journalist might. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve had some experience with print media (columns and book reviews), and thus am aware of the various guidelines and ethics one generally follows in that realm. And even though I write under a pseudonym here, I’ve nonetheless always followed those procedures here. In other words, I never misreport or spread false info -- about myself or others -- and when it comes to editorializing I always aim to be constructive and balanced.

Helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews this summer has got me thinking a lot about the so-called “poker media.” When I report on those tourneys over at PN, there’s no question, it’s Journalism with a capital J. The goal is accuracy, first and foremost. Keeping the reader’s interest is also high up on the list, and there are a variety of ways that can be achieved (without forsaking accuracy, of course). A little creativity here and there, if only to help minimize the soul-crushing repetitiveness of yet another “they-got-it-all-in-before-the-flop” march to the showdown, goes a long way (for both reader and writer, I’d imagine).

I’ve expressed a lot of cynicism here in the past about the poker media, particularly the way its efforts are usually hopelessly blinkered by unseemly allegiances to advertisers. With PokerNews that actually is not so much the case. Sure, they heavily rely on revenue from online sites. But when it comes to reporting on the poker world, including the WSOP, the coverage is only minimally affected by such affiliations. Some players are designated by their sponsoring sites in the chip counts, but other than that there really is no discernable slant in any particular direction other than what is suggested by the usual standards of “journalistic ethics” -- i.e., a “bias” in favor of being truthful, impartial, and fair.

But what about the prejudice in favor of name pros? Surely that exists, doesn’t it?

My buddy Cadmunkey alerted me to an interesting thread over on Two Plus Two about all of the “year of the pro” talk which I addressed a few days ago and which Dr. Pauly also wrote about over on PokerNews earlier in the week. Actually it was one post in particular, by someone named MinxKitten, which was interesting. MinxKitten pointed out how WSOP reporting often tends to emphasize the exploits of established, recognizable pros, thus, according to Minx’s reasoning, “tilt[ing] the coverage” in their favor, and, perhaps, unduly fueling them “year of the pro” arguments.

MinxKitten makes a mostly astute observation, I think. (Doesn’t have much to do with the “year of the pro” argument, really, but still brings up a good point.) I wrote about something similar earlier this year, actually, in a post titled “Playing Favorites.” Of course the famous ones get more coverage. Hell, we start each event with posts listing them, often titled something like “Some Familiar Faces.” And, yes, if yr last name is Ferguson, Hellmuth, or Brunson, we’re gonna start tracking ya right away.

But as soon as folks start accumulating chips, we start asking them who the hell they are. And start reporting on them. And by Day 2 everyone is there.

And here’s another little phenomenon of the coverage of which I doubt too many who read along are aware. Sometimes a player -- usually not a “famous” one -- will ask a reporter to include him or her in the chip counts. Last night this happened. A fellow came around and said, hey, I’ve got some buddies back home who’d like to know how I’m doing, can you stick me in there?

“Of course!” we replied. We even ended up reporting a couple of his hands as well -- something that’s much, much easier to do when we know a person’s name.

Frankly, I’d be all for WSOP entrants sporting nametags, or perhaps hanging an sign on the back of their chairs saying who they were. Stuff like that is hard to sell, though, among players and/or those who run tourneys. The fact is, we don’t always want to bother ’em for names because, well, these guys are trying to play poker. And we’re trying to give ’em some distance to do their thing.

Anyhow, I do hope people are enjoying and getting something from the coverage over on PokerNews. It ain’t perfect, I know. But it’s pretty damn good (I think), and is done with an earnestness and sincerity that makes me feel very good about being able to contribute. (And I’m not even referring here to the professionalism of all my colleagues -- also a big plus for yr humble gumshoe.)

And even though all of this is coming to you via this here character I’ve created, I hope my own earnestness and sincerity is coming through as well.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

2008 WSOP, Days 19-20: Catching Kings, Z’s, then a Break

Day 19 of the WSOP was a quiet one for me, spent almost entirely at the home-away-from-home as I rested up between events.

Encouraged by the exploits of F-Train, I found myself playing a bit of 1/2 Razz online. Was running particularly well for a couple of hours, to the point where I was starting to become slightly deluded about how “easy” Razz was. Was only playing good starters (other than the obvious steal opportunities), and the right cards just kept coming. Was up over 30 big bets without encountering much strife at all. Then came the run of terrible cards. Either paint or a pair every hand, it seemed.

Finally, I picked up 6-3-2 which looked pretty sweet after such a long dry stretch. A player with an ace showing completed, and I went ahead and raised. Just the two of us left for fourth street.

You can guess how it went.

Brick, BrickRazz is such a heartbreak. Ended up losing most of what I’d made before. Was ahead just a few bucks when I finally packed it in and called it a night.

Somehow ended up sleeping 13 solid hours, waking up much later than I’d hoped to this morning. Thus Day 20 of the WSOP began with me rushing over to the Rio for the noon start of today’s Event No. 34, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha w/Rebuys event. Grabbed a coffee at the hallway stand on my way in, and three hours of rebuying frenzy later finally caught my breath.

Thought maybe I’d grab me another coffee, but when I stood up and reached in my pocket I realized I no longer had my wallet. Criminy. This could be much worse than catching kings on fourth and fifth.

I went back to the coffee stand, really the only possible place I could have left it. The cashier, Mary, recognized me immediately. She had turned the wallet over to Security. I spent the break dashing all over the Rio, finally recovering my wallet up at the Security podium in the Casino (a half-mile away from the Amazon).

A stone-faced officer spread out all of my credit cards and cash to see if it jibed with what was supposed to be there. “What, no one doubled my money?” I said, eliciting a suprising chuckle from the uniformed guard.

On my way back, I grabbed another coffee, tipping Mary a five spot for saving me a huge headache. Raced back to my perch here at the Amazon for seven more levels of PLO fun. More later.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 18: Bluffs & Boasts

BluffingBit of an anticlimax last night at that final table of Event No. 28, the $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha with Rebuys event. After a couple of hours of cautious play, Hellmuth, Negreanu, and Juanda all went out within a single orbit. Then Chan, who at one point had the chip lead, mangled a couple of hands to lose most of his stack and finish a disappointing fourth. Benyamine held on to finish third, although he never had the chips to make too much noise.

The stars were all gone, as were most of the fans who had filled the stands in the mini-arena where the final table was being staged. Heads up was between Adam Hourani and Phil Galfond, a couple of online pros. Couldn’t have been more different from that crazy final table for my last event, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event (No. 19) in which Jamie Pickering began raising pot (and cups of beer) without looking at his cards. This one tediously dragged on for several sedate hours, with Galfond enjoying a huge chip lead for most of the battle. Not terribly compelling, although there was one hand in there near the end that totally mystified me.

Hourani had been playing very tightly most of the night, which was one reason why he made it to heads up. Also why heads up was lasting so long, as he kept folding hands and only occasionally check-raising pot whenever he’d connected with the flop. Galfond thus would nickel-and-dime Hourani down, Hourani would get part of it back, then the chipping away would start anew.

Finally we had reached a point where Galfond had about 5 million to Hourani’s 1.2 million. Galfond raised to 200,000 before the flop (from the small blind/button) and Hourani called. The flop came Tc6d4c and both checked. The turn was the Qc. Hourani bet 250,000 and Galfond called fairly quickly. Then the river brought the Qs. Hourani thought for a little bit, then pushed a stack of green 25,000 chips forward -- a bet of 475,000.

Galfond took a long time to respond, perhaps as much as five minutes. Enough time for me to speculate with Change100 what each player had. I’d pegged a couple of hands earlier in the evening. There was one where Kirill Gerasimov had raised pot preflop from out of position and Hourani had called. The flop brought a king and Gerasimov immediately grimaced, then bet about half the pot. Hourani then came over the top, and when Gerasimov didn’t react right away, it seemed pretty clear he had A-A-x-x and Hourani K-K-x-x. And it turned out that was the case.

Not a very hard hand to call, but I’d nevertheless started to develop a little hubris about knowing what players were holding. So in a whisper I offered my ideas to Change here. I figured Hourani for the club flush, as he’d seemed to have liked that turn card. Betting out of position there without a flush (or at least a set) seemed out of character for Hourani. I read the river bet, then, as representing his belief (or hope) that Galfond didn’t make a boat. And when Galfond didn’t respond right away, I didn’t think he had a boat either. Rather, I thought he might have two pair and perhaps a smaller flush, or maybe even a queen and was wondering whether trips were good here.

In any event, I thought Hourani was somewhat strong and Galfond perhaps moderately so. Definitely thought each had made decent hands here.

Galfond finally did make the call, and showed A-10-8-7. No queen, no clubs. Just that pair of tens. And Hourani mucked! “Really no clubs?” I asked the tourney director/announcer afterwards. (From our location, we were relying on him to report the cards.) “Nope, just the tens -- pure bluff,” he replied, referring to Hourani’s bet. “All he could beat,” I said, shaking my head.

Of course, by that point they’d played over a hundred hands of heads up, so Galfond clearly saw something that told him Hourani was betting with air. (Definitely humbling for yrs truly, how off I was with my reads.) That hand knocked Hourani down to his last 450,000, and it was over soon after that.

Phil HellmuthOne other semi-interesting tidbit from last night involving the Poker Brat. Hellmuth had come in on the short stack and nursed it long enough to limp to eighth place. So while he was around for a couple of hours, he wasn’t terribly animated during the time he was there (relatively speaking), as he had to focus more of his energy on finding a spot to double up and get back into a position where he could compete.

There was one odd moment, though, when he got up and strutted around, peacock-like, saying something about “playing above the rim” and being like Tiger Woods hitting “three straight 30-foot putts” or the like. I think he was referring to the fact that he’d managed to stay alive for three-and-a-half levels with practically no chips.

Suddenly I realized amid the chatter that Hellmuth was looking in my direction, addressing this applesauce directly to me. I was sitting there on press row, behind my laptop with the “PokerNews” sticker I’d slapped on it earlier in the Series. And Hellmuth was hoping, I believe, that these lines would find their way into our coverage.

The fact was, what he was saying didn’t really fit that well into the narrative of the final table, and neither Change nor I had any inclination to include his little self-directed encomium in the blog. We’d given him plenty of play during the first two days of the tourney, and there was a lot else to write about last night than to pass along more “Hellmuthisms” (as Change dubbed ’em previously).

I thought about it afterwards. Hellmuth’s playing style -- a mostly-tight, cautious approach that is all about minimizing risk and carefully picking his spots -- couldn’t be more different from his approach to self-promotion, which involves throwing as much out there as possible and hoping something lands. When it comes to playing the media, it’s like he’s playing every single hand, often bluffing with little or nothing.

Has worked out well for him, so I can’t say I begrudge him for it. Doesn’t always, though. Sometimes the media doesn’t respond the way Hellmuth wants them to, letting him run ’em over and have his way.

A little like what Galfond demonstrated when he called Hourani’s bluff, I suppose. From time to time you are gonna run into those who refuse to lay down.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 17: Brasilia

The Rio at dawnCovering one of these three-day WSOP events from start to finish is unlike just about any other experience I’ve ever had.

I’ve done some traveling abroad, and I suppose I might liken the experience to finding oneself in a foreign country, far away from family and friends, interacting with a culture much different from the one to which one is accustomed. An utterly social experience, yet one is also always alone, too.

And there’s really no stepping away from it, even just for a moment in the hopes of catching some clarifying glimpse to help determine what it “means” or where it all fits into the “big picture” or the like. That’ll come later, perhaps, after one has returned home and resumed that other life, the so-called “real” one filled with familiar faces, routines, and/or modes of communication.

Was feeling that weird sense of being utterly enveloped in this other, strange world last night as we were off in the Brasilia room covering Day 2 of Event No. 28, the $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha w/rebuys event. The Brasilia room is down the hall and around the corner from the Amazon room where I had been every other day I’d worked thus far. Whereas the Amazon contains something like 165 tables, plus that mini-arena over in the corner (where I’ll be for tonight’s final table), the Brasilia room has perhaps a third of that number. Still a lot of people coming and going -- some asking about satellites and/or napkins -- but relatively speaking yr fairly well tucked away from the main thoroughfare of poker playing and watching.

Had a few exchanges last night with visitors inquiring about the WSOP and what was taking place there in the Brasilia, and I could sense their amazement when I told them who was playing over there in the middle of the room. Yes, that’s right. Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, John Juanda, and David Benyamine are all over there. Yeah, I know it looks like just any other cash game, but that’s them, battling for a bracelet.

We went deep into the night-slash-morning, my first real marathon of a day (ended up working about 14 hours, total). If I were given to hyperbole (which I ain’t), I’d almost describe the scene at 4 a.m. as surreal. Didn’t seem right, somehow, for all of this to be going down so peacefully. Shouldn’t there be music? A laser show? Norman Chad?

The six above-named pros, all regulars on televised poker and unquestioned celebrities in our little poker world, were at that last ten-handed table being dealt the last hands of pot-limit Omaha of the night. Standing around the table were perhaps 20 people total inside the ropes, only a very small handful of whom were charged with the duty of reporting on what was taking place. There were some fans there, too, though not too many. Due to the late hour and the relative obscurity of our location, I’m guessing few had any idea what was happening.

Hellmuth, incessant craver of attention, would occasionally pipe up to remind everyone he was there. He had to, as his short stack of chips didn’t allow him to make any noise otherwise. Negreanu was quick and alert as always, constantly engaging others in strategy talk and post-hand analyses. Benyamine exuded confidence and competence, once defending his play against a half-baked criticism from the Poker Brat, but essentially remaining focused on the cards.

Chan chimed in at one point after dragging a pot with a fairly weak hand. With a king in his hand and one on the board, he’d offered from early position at a small pot and had a couple of takers. All checked the turn, then another king on the river prompted Chan to bet again. All folded, and Chan showed his king (and not much else) as he dragged the pot. Some ribbing about the lucky river ensued, but Chan defended his play through infectious laughter.

Juanda remained silent throughout those final hands, and in fact seemed almost to be hiding behind the dealer over in Seat 1. That’s Juanda’s style, constantly flying under the radar. He’d only appeared in a couple of our posts last night, despite having the chip lead at one point during the night. You just don’t see him over there for some reason, and he certainly does little to draw attention to himself.

I was standing behind Ferguson, and so didn’t see his expressions or reactions during those final hands last night. Didn’t have to, though, as we all know how little he varies his countenance and behavior at the table. After the hand in which he was eliminated, the player who knocked him out, Brian Rast, shook his hand, saying “Sorry, Chris.” Ferguson was utterly gracious, taking a moment to congratulate everyone for having made the final table before sauntering off into the sunrise.

And after spending some time helping chronicle those last moments over at PokerNews, I, too, made my exit. It was daylight again, the only evidence of the evening being the still-turned-on headlights of a few of the vehicles on the road with me as I made my way back to the home-away-from-home.

Another stacked final table tonight. As I said, we’ll be back in the Amazon, over in the staging area, with the cameras and an announcer and fans in the stands. Will seem more like a spectacle today than that quiet, serene scene from early this morning.

Which, in an odd way, may make it all seem a little less strange to yr humble observer.

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