Thursday, July 31, 2008

Daily Affirmation; or, What Color is the Sky in Your World?

What is real and what is imagined?“Poker is just a never ending series of hands. During each hand a pot is built and won, money in the center of the green felt-covered table. No beginning and no end, because each hand takes only a minute and then we go on to the next one....”

That’s from Jesse May’s novel Shut Up and Deal, which I picked up this summer when I visited the Gamblers Book Shop. May’s protagonist, Mickey, says this early on in the novel while introducing himself. I’ve only just started the book, but am liking what I’ve read thus far.

By the way, my buddy Tim Peters gives a nice commentary on Shut Up and Deal -- and poker-based fiction in general -- in episode 2 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. I’m hoping to post a new episode very soon (perhaps today or tomorrow). Will let you know here when it is ready.

That notion of poker -- especially cash games -- being “a never ending series of hands” is not new with May, of course. All of those who’ve been successful for long periods of time have understood and accepted this formulation as a way of dealing with momentary swings up or down. And we’ve heard most of the top pros characterize their careers as “one long game” time and time again. So much so it has become a poker (or gambling) cliché, really.

In any event, it is important when coming out of a bad session or streak to remember the long term. And that there really is “no beginning and no end” other than the ones we invent along the way.

Since I returned from Vegas, I’ve been playing online fairly steadily for the last two weeks. And as I always have done, I record every session in one of those little Moleskine pocket squared notebooks. I’m on my second one, now. (Wrote about the notebooks in an earlier post, titled “The Psychology of Record-Keeping.”) I record details about each individual session (site, game, limit, hands, time played, wins/losses), then also always make a note of the day’s total (whether I’ve played more than one session that day or not).

Had something weird going on here over the last two weeks, something I’d started noticing three or four days ago. I knew I was running well, but hadn’t realized that up until the day before yesterday, I’d somehow managed 11 straight winning days. I had two days in there when I didn’t play at all, so that meant nearly two weeks of nothing but winners.

I haven’t gone back and checked, but that was probably the longest such streak I’ve ever enjoyed. Not only that, but a lot of those days featured some pretty big days (by my short-stacked standards). In fact, I was cruising toward a record month, profit-wise, even though I barely played at all until after mid-month.

You’re noticing my use of the past tense here. That’s right -- it all came crashing down yesterday. The streak is over. A pretty bad day, too, as I found myself starting out enduring some bad fortune, then compounding it with several rash, spewy plays that ensured I wasn’t gonna climb out of the hole I’d dug. Not yesterday, anyway.

Still way up since Vegas, though, which considerably lessens the pain of yesterday’s sorry showing. Meaning I am therefore demonstrating a couple of other poker clichés...

One is becoming reckless and unfocused after having a long stretch of success. Like May writes about in his introduction, you win some and “then you think that this is the easy life and how sweet it is and the simplest thing in the world is to wake up whenever you want, go into the card room, play a little, and win.” Guaranteed recipe for failure, there.

The other is the way we poker players instinctively rewrite our stories in the most favorable ways to accommodate our own self-image. As May also says in his introduction (on the subject of assessing poker players and their play), “there is no reality, it all depends on how I present what is and how I cloud it.”

When yesterday ended and I had to record a big loss in the Moleskine notebook, I impulsively looked back over the last two weeks and quickly redeclared myself a big winner. That’s why I still keep that column over on the right-hand side listing “total” winnings since I started playing back in late 2004.

Am I “clouding” reality? Or clarifying? Does it matter?

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

2008 WSOP Moves to TV Land

Watching the 2008 WSOPHave been watching ESPN’s 2008 World Series of Poker coverage the past couple of weeks. Last week they gave two hours’ worth to Event No. 1, the $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em event won by Nenad Medic. Last night was Event No. 2, the first (and biggest) of the “donkaments,” i.e., those $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em events.

By the way, how about that last hand of Event No. 2 in which Grant Hinkle made a horrendous blunder and got rewarded? With just a small chip advantage over James Akenhead, Hinkle raised preflop from the small blind/button with Td4d, Akenhead reraised, then Hinkle crazily pushed all in. (Actually, the heads-up battle did last two hours -- ESPN only showed two hands -- and thus there was some context for Hinkle’s play. Still, even with the context, a pretty wild shove.) Akenhead snap-called with AcKh. But the flop came 10-4-10, and the turn brought the case ten, giving Hinkle quads and the bracelet. (Read F-Train’s account of that last hand here.)

Have to say, all things considered, that finale has to be “good for poker,” as they say. Don’t you think? (How many fish will Hinkle’s move inspire?)

I don’t believe I’d even started my first shift live blogging for PokerNews until after Event No. 1 had completed. During Event No. 2’s final table I was there, positioned right outside of the little mini-stadium covering the second day of Event No. 4, the $5,000 Mixed Hold’em event. I mentioned in one of my early 2008 WSOP posts how we were somewhat affected by the spectacle of Chris “Jesus” Ferguson as we sat nearby posting about that other event. Big crowd of people that night wanting to get into that relatively small arena (only seats 90-100, I’d estimate).

Next week ESPN will be showing the Event No. 4 final table. Will definitely be watching that one closely, as I was there covering it live. I remember talking to Dr. Pauly on one of my last days in Vegas and him explaining how he tends not to watch the foreground of these ESPN telecasts but instead focuses on the periphery. Hard not to avoid doing that, I’m discovering, as I’ve already had fun spotting a number of colleagues and other familiar faces in the background these last two weeks.

The packaging of these ESPN shows is done quite well, in my opinion. I know some on the forums don’t care for certain aspects of the productions, e.g., the player profiles, the “Nuts” segments, the necessarily selective presentation of hands, etc. But they do manage to make it all fairly compelling, even for someone like me who is already very familiar with what happened.

I watched last night’s show with Vera, and she also got hooked by the various storylines ESPN created.

Early on, one player, Jeff Wiedenhoeft, apparently misread his hand and as a consequence found himself bounced in tenth place. (That was the first hand shown, and in fact was the very first hand of that final table.) ESPN continued to focus on his mistake, but did an okay job folding it into a larger narrative, I thought. They underscored his triumph (he had outlasted over 3,900 others, after all), and also did a “Nuts” segment about other poker players’ “most embarrassing moments” which made Wiedenhoeft’s miscue seem less egregious.

The Mike Ngo-Theo Tran drama that developed was curious to follow, as well. Ngo bluffed Tran out of a fairly big pot in which Tran mucked the best hand on the river (pocket aces). (This was Hand #43 of the final table.) After the hand Ngo gloated a bit, and while Tran appeared initially to take it well, he was obviously steaming afterwards. Later on, Tran outwardly roots for Ngo’s elimination. Neither player came off too terribly well there.

Tran would get pocket aces cracked again just six hands later by Aaron Coulthard. My colleague Loganmark reported both hands here. (I think ESPN might’ve shown just one of the intervening hands.) It was easy to sympathize with Tran’s predicament. Losing once with A-A is bad enough. Losing twice in such short succession -- at a WSOP final table, no less -- is simply brutal, especially when you actually had the winner on one occasion.

And the Hinkle family stuff was all entertaining, too, I thought. ESPN made a lot of the rivalry between the two Hinkle brothers, Grant and Blair, and their proud mother, Lynn. I think Vera especially liked that part of the show. After Grant won, I told Vera that Blair would go on to win a bracelet himself (in Event No. 23, the $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em event), and she got a kick out of hearing that. ESPN won’t be covering Event No. 23 in full, so I thought it was okay to give that part of the story away.

Back in May I complained about ESPN’s decision to forgo showing most of the preliminary events and instead devote most of its coverage -- 20 of its scheduled 32 hours -- to the Main Event. I still would rather see some of the other events, but frankly, I wouldn’t want to sit through too many of these No-Limit Hold’em final tables.

Like I say, ESPN does well to create interest, but one can only endure so many sequences of “all in” and “call.” So if they aren’t going to show other games (just four of the 32 hours will feature non-Hold’em games), they might as well get to the ME as fast as they can.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On Judging Others

On Judging OthersIn “A Note on the Verse of John Milton,” T.S. Eliot talks about Milton as a poet whose style is so grandly idiosyncratic he is basically impossible to imitate. Eliot isn’t the only reader of Milton who talked about him this way. Many have pointed out that the “Miltonic” style just can’t be mimicked. In that essay, Eliot also suggests that really only the very best poets are qualified to judge Milton (or any other great poet, for that matter). They are the only ones, says Eliot, who are able to form an appropriate “jury of judgement.”

Not everyone agreed with Eliot. On either count. Several have argued differently about Milton’s style, explaining it in ways that makes it seem less “out there” and, consequently, more suitable as a model for others. Some also took Eliot to task for suggesting only poets (and of those, only the very best ones) are able to judge the work of a Milton or any other highly-regarded poet.

Probably the most famous example of the latter criticism came from C.S. Lewis, author of the The Chronicles of Narnia as well as several other works of literary criticism and Christian apolegetics. Lewis wrote a book about Paradise Lost in the early 1940s, just a few years after Eliot wrote his essay, and in his book Lewis makes a point of addressing Eliot’s idea to limit the number of those who are qualified to judge a poet like Milton.

Lewis disagrees with the notion that only the best poets are able to judge the work of the best poets, pointing out that if what Eliot is saying is true, then the great majority of us wouldn’t be able even to discuss the relative merits of the best poets. They’d become a secret group, in a sense, only able to judge one another, “an unrecognizable society” whose “mutual criticism goes on within a closed circle which no outsider can possibly break into at any point.”

Lewis admits that while it is true that “only the skilled can judge the skillfulness” of poets, “that is not the same as judging the value of the result.” In other words, while it probably does take a poet -- and a good one at that -- “to tell us... whether it is easy or difficult to write like Milton,” we don’t need to leave it to them to tell us “whether the reading of Milton is a valuable experience.”

Was playing a little PLO online and watched a hand develop in which a player in late position raised before the flop, an early position player reraised, and the late position player called. (I stayed on the sidelines for this one.) The flop brought two baby cards and two hearts, and the two players ended up getting it all in right there. The showdown revealed the EP player had K-K-x-x with no hearts, while the LP player had 8-7-6-4 with two hearts. The LP player ended up turning a straight on the hand and winning a nice pot.

Kind of typical, really. The guy with the kings obviously overplayed his so-so hand from out of position, and the late position player smartly played his speculative hand and got paid. A bit less typical was the way the guy with kings subsequently criticized his opponent’s play. Forced to sit out as he’d lost all of his chips, he typed “what were you thinking of?” The other player simply replied “donkey,” and the sore loser soon left.

To me, the less-skilled player had not only bungled the hand, but also clearly revealed how ill-qualified he was to judge the playing style of his opponent. I assume you’ve seen something similar in your poker-playing experience, and perhaps even demonstrated it yourself. I know I have. (Wrote about this phenomenon a little bit last week in a post about note-taking -- this idea of making hasty, ill-informed judgments about others’ playing styles.)

In the debate about poetry, I want to side with C.S. Lewis and say how wrong it is to believe only the very best poets are qualified to judge each others’ poetry. Seems silly to shut out most readers as unqualified evaluators and/or to suggest a poet like Milton is too different or grand or idiosyncratic to be imitated -- as though there is something dangerous about doing so.

I’m wondering, though, if Eliot’s argument does apply a bit more readily to games of skill like poker, wherein one really is asking for trouble whenever one tries to judge a more-skilled player’s style. (Or imitate it.)

Of course, when we are sitting at a table competing against a better-skilled player, we have to try to judge what he or she is doing, or risk frequently finding ourselves in uncomfortable, confusing situations. But we also have to be cautious, not jumping to conclusions about plays that appear strange or idiosyncratic.

I guess what I’m getting at here is a fairly obvious paradox of poker, one that has likely occurred to just about everyone who has spent any time at all thinking seriously about the game. Namely, that one of the most important tasks before you when you sit down at a poker table is to judge your opponents’ relative skill levels, yet one’s ability to make those judgments is necessarily limited by one’s own skill level.

You have to keep reading, though. Even if it is hard-going.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Is This the Real Life?

Not possible in real lifeLeft Vegas nearly two weeks ago. Have been hanging out with Vera, visiting family, resuming a more stable sleeping pattern, etc. Have also gotten back into my usual online poker playing routine -- mostly short sessions (1-2 hour) at the cash tables, scattered here and there. After those two months in the desert, life is starting to return to “normal” (whatever that was).

Am also listening to the podcasts again, and enjoyed hearing Gary Wise’s post-WSOP show (Wise Hand Poker, 7/23/08 episode) in which he compiled a number of interviews he conducted throughout the summer.

Among the several interesting conversations in there is a 20-minute one with Brandon Adams. Wise talked to Adams just after his big Day 1 of the Main Event (he ended the day among the chip leaders). Before Day 2, Adams had helped pull together a high-stakes cash game at Bobby’s Room in which he and about a dozen others had convened for a $300/$600 PLO/NLHE game. Oh, and everyone also had to pony up a $300 ante each hand, too, just to make things interesting.

The discussion of the cash game is compelling enough, but I especially enjoyed hearing Adams’ comments about his non-poker life. Some of you might know Adams is kind of an anomaly in the poker world, having gone to graduate school and picked up a couple of Masters degrees (one in economics), then having entered Harvard’s Ph.D. business program in 2001 where he did all of the course work and is now what they call “A.B.D.” (all but dissertation). In 2004 Adams published a novel, titled Broke: A Poker Novel. He also continues teach courses at Harvard every spring in behavioral finance and, more recently, in applied game theory.

“This makes you unusual as a poker player,” said Wise. “Because you are a successful poker player, yet you choose to have a job. What keeps you teaching?”

Adams quickly came up with a witty response to the question. “I like to keep one foot in the world of respectability,” he said (amid Wise’s laughter).

“And the other in the real world?” Wise cracked (pun intended).

Adams went on to talk about how much he enjoys being in the college/university environment, full of interesting, smart people who are in a place where they actually have the time and energy to explore ideas, be creative, and learn.

I appreciated the exchange for a couple of reasons. Wise’s reference to the poker world being the “real” world is funny because of how often that world is characterized as fantasy land -- is defined, in fact, as being a place where “real” world obligations and concerns simply do not register.

That’s the primary allure of professional poker (for some). In The Biggest Game in Town, Al Alvarez well portrays what he calls the “different ordering of reality” that routinely goes on in the world of high-stakes poker where Adams currently spends a lot of his time. Alvarez writes about how some of those who live in that reality particularly value being able to avoid the so-called “straight world” or “stay outside the system.”

Wise’s reference also reminds some of us of how the college/university campus -- that intellectually-stimulating environment that Adams values -- is also often regarded as somehow not being the “real” world. For Adams, teaching his classes gives him the chance to challenge others and explore ideas without money being on the line. That’s what the classroom is -- a place where theories are formed and discussed, then later can be tested or confirmed outside the classroom in the so-called “real” world.

Adams clearly benefits a great deal from having this sort of balance in his life. He went on to tell Wise how he’s been involved with the very high-stakes games for the last three years or so. He mentioned how especially helpful it was for him to have his teaching and other interests when dealing with steep downswings on the poker side. “At those times you really appreciate being able to fall back on… being a part of a broader society, if you will,” Adams explained. “I would never be willing to give that up to go full force into poker.”

I’ve written before about the “double life” of the poker player, although my emphasis was a little different in those other posts. There I was talking about the fact that in my “real” life I am mostly interacting with people for whom poker is essentially a non-entity -- if it has any meaning at all, it is as a signifier for gambling, sin, or other unsavory activities. As a result, I don’t normally share my poker-related experiences with them the way I do here.

This summer the contrast of my “double life” became even more stark as I physically relocated and spent most of two months doing nothing but writing about poker under this here pseudonym. Still, I like (and can identify with) what Adams is saying about “being a part of a broader society” and how that helps keep one grounded.

I didn’t experience the severe highs and lows of the high-stakes player, of course. But I did immerse myself in the poker world there for a good while, a place where much that might seem fantastic, alien, or even impossible exists. It is good to be back over here in this one again, if only to regain that sense of balance.

Not gonna venture to guess which of these worlds is the “real” one. Am inclined, in fact, to agree with that other great existentialist, Freddie Mercury’s bohemian, and say it doesn’t really matter to me.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

UB & AP Think Makeover Gives Them a Do-Over

Absolute Poker touts CereusLike most of you, I saw yesterday’s presser from the “management” of online poker sites Absolute Poker and UltimateBet announcing “the upcoming launch of CEREUS: a new poker platform that will integrate the customers and features from both poker rooms, instantly making CEREUS the third largest online poker network.”

First read the news over on Pokerati. Dan’s headline to his post -- “AP and UB Merge to Form Criminally Questionable Supersite” -- initially gave the impression that we were reading some sort of lampoon in the style of The Onion (or Melted Felt). But apparently this is no joke.

Sounds like the idea here is not to form a single site, actually, but rather to share the player pools between AP and UB. Thus, as is the case with other networks that feature “skins,” players will (I assume) only be allowed a single account on both, but will have the option of which interface to use.

Aside from the dozens of puns that spring to mind (“Are they Cereus?”), I just have three initial reactions to the news:

(1) Damage control.

What we are seeing here is not unlike what the Kahnawake Gaming Commission was doing earlier in the week with its much-belated statement regarding the UltimateBet scandal. Despite appearances, said the KGC, we weren’t “doing nothing” with regard to UB. Rather, its “investigation... has yielded a number of key findings which, within the next several days, will enable the KGC to issue its decision on the appropriate steps to be taken.”

That 60 Minutes exposé ominously looms in the near future, and both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet stand to lose face when that feature finally airs. When that day comes, all of those associated with both AP and UB will want to have positioned themselves in such a way as to appear to have responded correctly to the scandals. A new network with a new name affords new titles for those running the show, enabling them (perhaps) to distance themselves even further from all that unpleasantness everyone keeps going on about.

(2) People are buying this?

I see an enthusiastic announcement over on Pocket Fives about the merger. Bluff Magazine also thinks it’s just the cat’s pajamas. (P5s continues to operate as an affiliate of UltimateBet, while Bluff is still an affiliate of both Absolute Poker and UB.)

Applesauce, of course. The reasonable response to such news is serious (I said it), deep-rooted skepticism. The idea that two online poker sites, both of which permitted insiders to exploit breaches in the sites’ integrity in different ways, could somehow be expected to manage the task of creating a unified, trustworthy network between them is frankly beyond belief.

(3) How futile.

What a half-baked, facile attempt at rebranding. Really. Something likely dreamed up by the same underachieving ad execs who thought putting Phil Hellmuth in a general’s uniform in order to recruit dupes to join the “UltimateBet Army” was clever.

Over on UltimateBet, we read that “the strongest online poker community is about to get CEREUS.” Over at Absolute Poker, word is “the future of online poker is CEREUS; bigger, badder, better...” Only those utterly ignorant of online poker could possibly be convinced that AP and UB together comprise “the strongest online poker community.” And perhaps some segment of that group responds positively to hollow (yet alliterative!) phrases like “bigger, badder, better.”

No telling where it all will lead. Can’t help thinking, though, that somewhere down the road -- perhaps not that far -- we’ll be reading about “Cereus missteps” and “Cereus problems.”

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reporting on the 1979 WSOP

Gambling Times, October 1979 issueWhen in Vegas this summer, I made a point of stopping by the Gamblers Book Shop. I’d been there before when I had met the shop’s friendly and knowledgeable proprietor, Howard Schwartz. I enjoyed chatting with him again this time. By the way, let me once again recommend Howard’s podcast which he records right there in the bookstore. Lots of terrific interviews among the two dozen or so shows he’s done thus far. If you haven’t heard the show already, the three-part episode he did during the WSOP is a great place to start.

While there I picked up a couple of books as well as some back issues of Gambling Times from the late 70s and early 80s. The issues I chose all included coverage of the World Series of Poker. As I was there covering the WSOP myself, I was curious to look back on how the Series had been reported on back in its relative infancy, before the “boom.”

The first issue of Gambling Times was produced back in 1977. In these early issues, only a handful of the 100 or so pages would concern poker, with much more attention being given to sports betting, blackjack, backgammon, gambling theory, and other features. To give you an idea of how the WSOP was covered, let me summarize the six-page article in the October 1979 issue by John Hill titled “Highlights of the World Series of Poker.”

'Highlights from the World Series of Poker' by John HillThe first third of the article gives a quick rundown of how the “soft-spoken amateur Hal Fowler” managed to upset all expectations to become the first non-professional to win the WSOP Main Event. Fowler took the 10th annual WSOP title after defeating Bobby Hoff in a five-hour heads-up battle.

The article picks up the action with five players remaining, and describes in a cursory fashion the hands with which Fowler managed to knock out Johnny Moss (in 5th), Sam Moon (in 4th), and George Huber (in 3rd). We then get a four-paragraph overview of the heads-up battle, which includes descriptions of exactly two hands. The first is one in which Fowler bluffs Hoff off of a medium-sized pot and shows deuce-six offsuit. The second is the final hand in which Fowler cracks Hoff’s aces after turning a gutshot straight, thereby claiming the bracelet.

Hill then shares some reactions to Fowler’s victory, including an interesting one from Junior Whited: “That’s going to prove to people that anyone can come in here and win half a million dollars. It’s not all Texas anymore.” Indeed, while the “Fowler Effect” wasn’t nearly as wide-reaching as what we’d see in 2003, there was a tremendous symbolic significance to the amateur having broken through.

The rest of the article relates various other happenings of note from the four-week-long Series. There’s the story of a Social Security administrator named J.J. Whalen who had won an entry into the Main Event after having been one of 300 who’d ordered an advance copy of Doyle Brunson’s How I Won A Million Dollars Playing Poker (later renamed Super/System). For those who had bought advance copies, a drawing was held, and Whalen had won an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas and an ME entry. His wife, Elsie, is quoted saying she didn’t know her husband had spent $100 on the book. “I don’t think I would have stood for it if I had known,” she said. Whalen was knocked out of the tourney on the first day.

Jimmy ChagraThere’s a discussion of the side games, including a reference to Jimmy Chagra (pictured at left) winnning approximately $4 million playing blackjack and craps during the WSOP. Chagra, a large-scale drug trafficker, has a place in poker history as a frequent donator to the big games during the 70s. (EDIT [added 7/28/08]: The morning after this post, Chagra succumbed to his battle with cancer. He was 63.)

Of course, Hill doesn’t mention any of Chagra’s other, nefarious activities in the article. Nor does he say anything about the drug-taking of Bobby Hoff and Hal Fowler during the WSOP Main Event, recounted in detail in Des Wilson’s Ghosts at the Table. (One wonders if there were an early version of Dr. Pauly hanging out at Binion’s that spring taking notes on such matters.)

There’s an interesting, brief reference to Stu Ungar being there and not being able to get anyone to play gin rummy with him. (Ungar, of course, would win the WSOP Main Event the next two years running.) It is curious to see how Ungar’s presence -- and prowess -- was already being openly acknowledged in 1979. As Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson write about in One of a Kind, Ungar had only come out west the year before

There’s also discussion of CBS’s coverage of the event. This was the period in WSOP history when CBS was filming the Main Event for its CBS Sports Spectacular. According to Hill, there had been “several incidents… the year before between newsmen and the CBS crew jockeying for position in the cramped space of the tournament area.” Even though the Main Event had only started with 54 entrants (just six tables), every inch of space there in Binion’s was taken up with the crew and their equipment, “hordes of spectators, relatives of players, well-wishers, and newspersons.” Apparently the year before “one overzealous camera assistant incurred the wrath of virtually all the newsmen and relatives of players sitting inside the ropes by bodily shoving people out of the vicinity of the camera he was tending.” According to Jerry Adler, producer of the 1979 coverage, measures had been taken to avoid such unpleasantness this time around.

That passage certainly made me think of this year’s Series, where we PokerNews folks and others covering the action were often sharing space with the ESPN guys, especially as play wound down to the last few tables of the Main Event. Unlike what happened thirty years before, in 2008 those of us covering the WSOP all seemed to coexist quite amicably. (In fact, toward the end one of the ESPN guys made a point to come over and compliment the PokerNews crew on how smoothly the entire operation had run.)

Kenny Rogers singing 'The Gambler' at the 1979 WSOPThe article winds up with some references to various celebrities who made appearances at the 1979 WSOP. Gabe Kaplan played his second Main Event. Lily Tomlin stopped by. And Kenny Rogers came around to sing his new hit song, “The Gambler.”

An interesting article. Also interesting to contrast not only how huge the WSOP has become since the late 1970s, but how the nature and scope of its coverage has changed, too. Would be very cool to go back in time and see full-fledged, wall-to-wall reporting of these old WSOP Main Events. Further details of that Fowler-Hoff heads up battle would be fascinating to read through as well.

Then again, having all of those details would probably demythologize the WSOP’s history in detrimental ways. And frankly, even in today’s world of (relatively) comprehensive WSOP coverage, there’s always going to be much, much more that is left untold.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On the Horizon: The Future of UltimateBet?

Phil Hellmuth looking obliviousCatching up on the podcasts once again. Kind of fell behind over the summer, but am now back to listening regularly to all of those listed over on the right-hand column. And, by the way, new episodes of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show will be coming before too long.

Yesterday I listened to Big Poker Sundays (7/20 episode) and the Two Plus Two Pokercast (7/21 episode), both of which spent time discussing the ongoing UltimateBet scandal, particularly focusing on the decisions made by individuals who have chosen to associate themselves with the site. A couple of points came up in those shows that I wanted to share and respond to here.

Phil “Completely Oblivious” Hellmuth

On the Two Plus Two show, hosts Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz spent some time early on discussing the recent week of Poker After Dark. Rather than follow the usual sit-n-go format, last week PAD featured a cash game involving Mike Baxter, Allen Cunningham, Tom Dwan, Phil Hellmuth, Guy Laliberte, and David Peat. In their discussion of the show, Johnson and Schwartz particularly focused on Hellmuth’s poor performance and apparent lack of awareness of how others perceive him.

That got the pair onto other Hellmuthian absurdities, including his non-response to ongoing revelations of insider cheating having occurred at UltimateBet -- the site for which he is a paid representative.

Regarding the latter, Schwartz said that he has “talked to somebody who’s very close [to Hellmuth] and [whom] everybody... would know -- I don’t want to say [who it is].” According to Schwartz, this person has “talked to Hellmuth about [the scandal], and Hellmuth is completely oblivious. Like, he thinks that nobody really pays any attention to any of this stuff.... He absolutely doesn’t think this is going to anything bad for his reputation.”

Most listening to the podcast (or reading this blog) are probably not surprised to hear this about Hellmuth. We’ve grown accustomed to his aloof behavior. We’ve also rolled our eyes at the recent ads in CardPlayer attempting to recruit more members into the “UB Army” (from one of which the above picture of Hellmuth in faux-military garb comes). A recent one includes a memo from “UB High Army Command” from “Eleven Star General Phil Hellmuth Jr.” in which he invites the reader to join the UB Army “and gain exclusive access to our TOP SECRET MISSION.”

We roll our eyes, of course, because we know what happened at UltimateBet. It wasn’t exactly a “super-user”-type account being exploited such as we saw over at Absolute Poker, though functionally speaking it was the essentially the same problem -- namely, players who had access to opponents’ hole cards were playing on the site and exploiting the games. Indeed, the problem was more grave over at UltimateBet than at Absolute, insofar as it apparently involved an external program one ran alongside the UB software that enabled the user to see opponents’ hole cards (and not a special account).

What makes the scandal especially grievous is that the scam was perpetrated by insiders -- as UB itself admits in its statement of May 29, 2008, “the individuals responsible were found to have worked for the previous ownership of UltimateBet prior to the sale of the business to Tokwiro in October 2006.” Since that claim was made, further questions have arisen regarding the nature of UB’s ownership and whether the “sale of the business” really represented a complete break from those responsible for the cheating. UB’s failure to respond to these questions has only increased suspicions regarding the site, its owners, and its spokespersons.

All of which makes ad campaigns about some “TOP SECRET MISSION” seem particularly inappropriate -- or “oblivious” -- wouldn’t you say?

The Future of UltimateBet?

While news about Hellmuth’s lack of awareness about how he is perceived isn’t particularly surprising to most of us, there was one statement made over on the Big Poker Sundays show that I found especially curious. Unexpected, even.

There hosts Scott Huff and Haralabos Voulgaris spent the majority of the show discussing both Tiffany Michelle’s decision to don UB patches during the last three days of play at the WSOP Main Event and responding to some of Annie Duke’s statements in recent interviews about the cheating scandals.

Both Huff and Voulgaris express astonishment at Michelle’s decision to go with UB. For a thoughtful explanation of that decision and situation, go check out Change100’s analysis from late last week (if you haven’t already). A lot of us share the BPS hosts’ incredulity at Michelle’s decision, and Change100’s explanation of the significance of the player-agent relationship here does a lot to help those of us on the outside understand what might have happened.

In the midst of expressing his view of how short-sighted Michelle was in signing with UB, Voulgaris made a statement which I found a bit surprising. He pointed out how these sponsorship deals generally are set up so as to pay more the deeper one gets in the Main Event; thus, if Michelle had made the final table, she’d likely be looking to make considerably more than whatever she got for wearing the UB patches on Days 5, 6, and 7.

“This final table is going to play out in November,” Voulgaris continued. “There’s like a better than fifty percent chance that UltimateBet won’t even be around in November to pay her. So it’s like ‘okay, yeah, I’m gonna sign up with a company that may or may not be out of business by the time I’m due to collect my money.’ Which is kind of, I mean, may not be a smart thing to do. I don’t know, I mean if I’m going to [sign] an incentive-based contract, I want to at least make sure the people are going to be around to pay me.”

Can this possibly be true? Is there really a “fifty percent chance” UB will close up shop by November?

I mentioned last week that PokerNews no longer operates as a UB affiliate. (They no longer promote Absolute Poker, either.) Also on the “better late than never” front, the Poker Players Alliance yesterday issued its “Response to Online Poker Cheating Scandals,” in which the PPA urges both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet “and their regulating authority, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, to provide full and transparent accounting of these breaches of the public trust to help lift the black cloud that has been placed over the industry.”

Without such “full and transparent accounting” of what happened, will others turn their backs on Absolute Poker and UltimateBet as well? Will CardPlayer, ESPN, and others stop accepting advertising from the sullied sites? And, most importantly, will players stop playing on them?

I’m thinking we’re looking at considerably less than a fifty percent chance UB will no longer be around come November. Then again, who knows what exactly General Hellmuth sees approaching on the horizon?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sticks & Stones

I am rubber and you are glueMy note-taking about other players online has always been fairly scattershot. Probably the one part of my online play where I am the least disciplined.

When I first started playing real money games, I took notes diligently, though not terribly effectively. Mostly I was recording the knee-jerk, misinformed impressions of a novice. Thus later on, when I’d read some note I’d taken say, a year before, I’d instantly realize a flaw in the note. Often what I’d find is that I’d drawn some jingle-brained conclusion about a player’s style based on the way he or she had played a single hand, and even that generalization was sometimes off-base.

As subsequent experience and knowledge made me skeptical of the earlier notes I’d taken, I found myself less and less inclined to take notes at all. Only very occasionally would I write anything, and usually didn’t devote too much energy to doing so.

Pot-limit Omaha became my primary game of choice somewhere around the spring of 2007, and while the game has definitely become more popular online over the last year-and-a-half, there are still usually a relatively small number of tables going at each level on most sites. I do, therefore, often come to recognize certain players as regulars at the games. Regardless of the site, I’ll usually find at least one player per table with whom I have played before, and most often those familiar names/avatars represent decent players who’ve put in a number of hands and have some clue about how to play.

At some point last year, I started taking notes again, although I am now realizing that frequently the only time I was inspired to take a note on a player was when that player said something to me -- usually derogatory -- in the chatbox. Had a moment later on when I noticed that whenever someone at the table had the little designation on the avatar indicating I’d taken a note, that was a person who’d once insulted me. I remember having a cluster of sessions in there somewhere where it seemed like every time I sat down, someone at the table had taken enough offense at one point or another to call me a name.

If that had happened early in my online poker days, I’d have been mortified. But by then I’d played long enough to know better.

For most sites, when you take a note on a player it saves to a file on your hard disk, so it is possible to go read all of your player notes, if you wish. For PokerStars, look in the main folder for a text file called “notes.” For Full Tilt Poker, look for a file with your username and the “.dat” suffix and open in Notepad. Depending on what kind of note-taker you were/are, doing so might provide a kind of snapshot glimpse of your online poker playing progress.

I did just that today, and while there were a few notes like this…
“called me a donk once”
“cursed me once after I felted him”
“got sarcastic after I won a small pot from him in a PLO freeroll”
“once got all pissy w/me after I got lucky vs. his AA in the Hold'em part of a HORSE game”
…I didn’t find as many of those as I thought I might.

Saw one note about a player calling me a “hureson” after I’d hit my wrap draw on the river against him in PLO. Had to look that one up. German for bastard.

Actually, what got me on this subject was I had a hand yesterday which resulted in a player cursing me (again, in German). For those who are interested, I’ll just post the hand in the replayer and let you decide about my play, his play, and the validity of his post-hand comment. (I set the replayer to show MrAnger’s cards at the start.)

Said MrAnger afterwards: “arschloch, wichser, play lotto idiot!!” Then he left.

Maybe I am an arschloch. Or a wichser. Or an idiot. But which of us here is closer to playing lotto?

We all know you are much more likely to be called names online than in live play. And while that can certainly be unpleasant to experience sometimes, when it does happen, it has to be viewed as an overall positive for you.

You win a hand, and someone calls you a donk. There are two ways of looking at it: (1) Yr name-caller is correct in his or her assessment. Perhaps you are a donk. In which case you have been given some indication it is time to work on yr game. That’s good. (2) Yr name-caller is off the mark. You are not a donk, but in fact have some clue about what yr doing. But someone thinks you are, and is sharing with you and everyone else that critique. That’s good, too, yes?

Have to say, I didn’t mind one bit being left to play with the Bystanders after MrAnger’s outburst -- if they think I’m a mindless gambler, all the better for me.

Kind of goes back to the point with which I began about those first impression, knee-jerky notes I had been taking when I first started playing. More misleading than helpful, those. Chatbox crudities often work in a similar fashion, I’d say.

Or maybe that’s just wichser-thinking.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Playing Poker & Writing About Poker

Playing Poker & Writing About PokerThis summer I had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time doing something I particularly enjoy -- writing about poker. Also had the opportunity to spend much of that time interacting with others who also like to write about poker. Some real talented folks, too.

I’m referring both to members of the so-called “poker media” (all duly marked by the laminated badges hanging on lanyards around our necks) and to numerous others, including some who have authored poker books, some who contribute significantly to poker websites, and some who keep personal poker blogs.

I rarely encounter other fellow “poker writers” in the circles I usually trace (not face to face, anyway), and so that was another particularly pleasing facet of my summer experience.

I mentioned a few times during my excellent adventure how covering the WSOP tended to lessen my desire to play poker. I was essentially spending almost every waking moment while there writing about others’ play, leaving myself little time and/or energy to play myself. I did put in a few sessions of low limit hold’em here and there, and there was that freeroll tournament near the end (which went well). But that was about it.

Not surprising, then, that I leave Vegas and start playing poker again.

Over the last week I have gotten the chance to return to online play and have discovered I still enjoy doing so. Am taking seats at pot limit Omaha and H.O.R.S.E. tables, again sticking to the low limits at which I am most comfortable. Did happen to get involved in a fairly dramatic three-way PLO hand yesterday in which a $125 pot was pushed my way (at a $50 max. table), but something like that represents an extreme. Usually for me the pots don’t exceed single digits dollar-wise.

Playing a bit more -- and writing a bit less -- has gotten me thinking about both activities and how closely related they are. For me, anyway. Playing poker provides me a great deal of pleasure. So does writing about it. And I think, in a way, the pleasures are very similar to one another, even if on the surface the activities seem quite different.

Almost everyone who plays poker spends at least some time reflecting about what he or she is doing, I’d imagine. And a certain percentage of those people record those reflections in some fashion or another. They might keep an exhaustive diary or journal or blog. They might write books on strategy and theory. They might post a hand or anecdote in an internet forum as a way of starting a dialogue about their play. Or they might just jot down a few numbers in a notepad as a pithy, functional chronicle of their activities.

I’ve written before about the various reasons why I enjoy poker. A good while ago I wrote a fanciful post in which I listed five motives, assigning each a letter -- P = profit; O = opponents; K = knowledge; E = enjoyment; R = risk -- as a way of addressing the subject. There I explained that I play poker because I like making a little cabbage, I like competition, I like puzzles and trying to solve them, I like the social side of the game (even if it is much muted online), and, finally, I do like taking occasional (if carefully managed) risks.

I think all of those reasons more or less apply to writing about poker, too, though the hierarchy is necessarily different.

There’s a profit motive, I suppose, but it is minimal. (Woe to any poor soul who gets into poker writing for the money.) Also, anyone who writes for an audience is probably competitive (to some extent), too. There’s a challenge that comes with trying to “win” over readers to accept one’s views, or simply to be interested in what one has to say. And, of course, there’s always some form of risk involved whenever one decides to publish those views to the world.

The two most similar motives, though, are the social aspect of writing and the intellectual stimulation writing provides.

Those of us who do keep poker blogs and/or contribute to poker forums have all experienced (more or less) the fun of interacting with others with similar interests. This is one way we find each other -- by writing about ourselves, responding to others’ words, etc. And I think for most of us this is probably the primary reason why we write, namely, to communicate (and not simply “broadcast”).

Writing is also a manner of problem solving, of working out a kind of intellectual puzzle. One has something to say. It might be quite clear and explicit what that something is, in which case the puzzle isn’t too difficult to solve. Like folding eight-trey offsuit from under the gun. Or that something might be a bit more elusive, in which case one writes in order to solve the mystery. (We learn to write, then we write to learn.)

Raymond Chandler Raymond Chandler once claimed that “everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.”

A bit of bluster, there, as well as another subtle shot at literary critics, of whom Chandler was no fan. But if I understand what he’s saying, Chandler seems to be indicating that as long as the writer keeps writing, he or she is still trying to figure out what writing is. It remains an unsolved puzzle.

Much like poker, yes?

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Friday, July 18, 2008

2008 WSOP, A Reporter’s Notebook

Reporter's NotebookLeft Vegas on Tuesday, but the body clock still ain’t quite reoriented itself.

Each night the hours from midnight to 3 a.m. have been quite restless. Frequently find myself stuck in that limnal space between waking and sleep, still occasionally churning out posts about hands. Player completed from the small blind, and player checked his option. The flop came. Player checked, player bet, player called. The turn was. Both checked. The river brought. Player checked, and player thought a moment before checking behind. Player turned over. Player mucked.

Then I turn over, stubbornly renewing my awkward quest for blissful slumber.

The hours between 7 a.m. and noon have been the opposite. Somewhere around dawn I, too, hit the muck, and am dead to the world for those several hours.

After a couple of months’ neglect, I have now gone back through and updated my archival pages: On the Street, The Rumble, Shots in the Dark, High Society, and By the Book. I know when I check my stats that occasionally readers will hunt around in those for old posts, so they are all up to speed now.

I’ve also been going back and working on properly tagging all of the 500-plus posts. I didn’t really use tags until a year ago or so, and so there’s a healthy-sized chunk of old posts that still need ’em. If I ever get them all done, I’ll add a list of those tags somewhere on the main page. (Incidentally, that search box over on the right works pretty well for finding particular terms or names in old posts.)

These last two months probably saw me cranking out more words per day here than at any other time in Hard-Boiled Poker history. I did manage to post at least once every day of the World Series of Poker, plus a few other items here and there along the way.

Thought I’d compile links to all of my WSOP posts here for easy reference later. One post -- “On Covering the WSOP” -- is not included in the list, as it wasn’t so much a daily report as reflective detour. Am not including descriptions of the posts here, but the titles are all at least somewhat suggestive, I think. Here are them links:

Day 1: Dawn
Day 1: “We're In For Six Solid Weeks of Poker”
Day 2: Time Flies
Day 2: Live from the Rio
Day 3: First Final Table Delivers
Day 3: Who Will Wear the First Bracelet?
Day 4: The New & Improved Mixed Hold’em Event
Day 4: Into the Fire
Day 5: Five for Five
Day 5: Storytelling
Day 6: Lights, Camera, Action!
Day 7: Last Night’s Final Table
Day 7: And He Rested On the Seventh Day
Day 7: Mixed Event Look-In
Day 8: Shootout!
Day 8: Keep Up the Pace
Day 9: Running Well
Day 10: Final Table Fun
Day 10: Let’s Make a Deal
Day 11: Escape!
Day 12: Omadraw!
Day 12: Buffets, Bustouts, and Bullsh*t
Day 13: Birthday
Day 13: A Big Hand for the Little Lady
Day 14: Reporting from the Eye of the Hurricane
Day 14: Postscript
Day 15: R & R
Day 16: Year of the Pro?
Day 16: Rebuy!
Day 17: Laughs & Lightning Bolts
Day 17: Brasilia
Day 18: Bluffs & Boasts
Days 19-20: Catching Kings, Z’s, then a Break
Day 21: No Expectations
Day 21: Tigers & Grizzlies
Day 22: Be the Ball
Day 23: Sweat
Day 24: Lowball
Day 25: More Clichés Than You Can Shake a Stick At
Day 26: Cowboy Hats, Cigars, and Draw Poker
Day 27: Cheers
Day 28: Horsin’ Around
Day 29: Love
Day 30: Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Day 31: Kafkaesque, It Was
Day 31: Tell Everyone You Know and Duplicate
Days 32-33: The Beginning of the End
Day 34: Three Tales
Day 34: The Last Final Table
Day 35: The Big One
Day 36: Starting Again
Day 37: Pop Stars, Sexual Puns, and Magic Swords
Day 38: Living the Dream
Day 39: Taking Shots
Day 40: “Seat Open!”
Day 41: Chuck Norris Doesn’t Dodge Bullets; Bullets Dodge Chuck Norris
Day 42: Bubble Go Pop
Day 43: Whirlwind
Day 44: IGHN
Day 45: From the Bleachers
Day 46: Whoopee

Gonna move back to my usual weekday posting schedule now, so have a good weekend everybody. (It is Friday, ain’t it?) Try to get some sleep.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The November Nine and the WSOPE

The November Nine and the WSOPEBack in May, about a week before the WSOP began, there was an announcement regarding the WSOPE schedule. The exact number of events had yet to be determined, but the dates were then set -- September 19th through October 1st.

A couple of weeks ago, just as the WSOP Main Event had gotten underway, Harrah’s Entertainment announced a more specific schedule. There will be four bracelet events this time around:
  • Event 1: €1,500 No-Limit Hold’em, Sept. 19-22 (4-day event, 2 opening days)
  • Event 2: €2,500 H.O.R.S.E., Sept. 22-24 (3-day event)
  • Event 3: €5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha, Sept. 24-26 (3-day event)
  • Event 4: €10,000 World Championship No-Limit, Sept. 27-Oct. 1 (6-day event, 2 opening days)
  • Also as part of the 2008 WSOPE schedule will be five other, non-bracelet events taking place at a few different poker clubs in London.

    When I heard the announcement in May that the WSOPE events would take place in September-October, my first thought was that those events would be taking place before the WSOP Main Event champ was crowned in November. I wrote a short post about it at the time, pointing out that Harrah’s and ESPN would likely want to ensure that all of the “November Nine” showed up in London for the WSOPE events during the interim.

    Seemed like a no-brainer to me, as having those guys play in the WSOPE would both heighten interest in the WSOPE as well as give the players some extra exposure prior to their return in November. In fact, I had assumed that the WSOPE schedule had been a factor that had influenced those who had decided upon the plan to delay the WSOP ME final table.

    Even before I made it out to Vegas this summer to help cover the WSOP for PokerNews, I discovered that in fact the WSOPE had not figured into thinking regarding the final table delay at all. Someone in the know responded to me regarding my post, telling me that in fact the idea to send the November Nine to London had not occurred to tournament organizers. (In fact, he told me that after reading the post he had passed it along to them.)

    Now we’re on the other side, and early indications seem to suggest that while a few of those making the final table may make their way over to London in September, it is highly unlikely all of them will.

    Yesterday I listened to a couple of podcasts, the latest Two Plus Two Pokercast (7/14/08) and PokerRoad Radio (7/15/08), and the topic came up on both shows.

    On the Two Plus Two show, one of those who made the final table, David Rheem, appeared as a guest. Rheem was asked about an “orientation session” that apparently took place for the final nine players the day after play ended at the Rio. Specifically, the hosts asked Rheem what sort of obligations the players would have during these intervening months regarding accessibility, promotions, etc.

    Rheem was a bit evasive about what actually was discussed during the meeting, but it definitely sounded as though the players are not being obliged to do anything in particular between now and November. “As far as, like, what’s going to happen within the next three months, I’d rather just keep that to myself,” answered Rheem, avoiding sharing any specifics from the session. Rheem explained that he just wanted to “figure out, like, what the best interest for me is. I’m not really too worried about what Harrah’s and what ESPN want to do -- that’s their own thing. For me, I just want to try to lay low and keep a clear head and just stay focused for the final table.”

    When asked if he planned to play any poker during this interim period, he did say that he might play a couple of WSOPE events, which seemed to suggest that topic most certainly came up. But Rheem made it clear that if he were to play the WSOPE, doing so would be his own decision. “It’s not 100% what exactly, what I’m going to do,” he said. In fact, he said he didn’t want to play too much poker during these next few months, as doing so might unduly affect his “game plan for the final table.”

    Over on the PokerRoad Radio show, Courtney Harrington, Gavin Smith, and Joe Sebok also discussed whether or not the nine would be heading over to London. Said Smith, “I think what Harrah’s should have done when they decided to do this thing… I think they should have taken the interest [that will be made from the yet-to-be-awarded prize money]… and all nine of these people should have been flown over to WSOP Europe and playing in those tournaments.”

    The hosts went on to speculate further about how many actually would make the trip. While Sebok and Harrington thought all would go, Smith said he was sure at least three would skip it.

    I’m with Smith here. I think it unlikely all nine will make the trip, and in fact it could be the case that only a few even bother, particularly if they have to pay their own way. I’m recalling how in 2007 Tom Schneider won the WSOP Player of the Year, and part of the prize was an entry into the WSOPE Main Event. He decided not to make the trip, though. (I think there was some golf to be played.) One has to think the nine who made the WSOP ME final table will also find reasons not to put themselves through the stress of travelling to England, playing in poker tourneys with difficult fields, and having their efforts scrutinized much more intensely than they’ve experienced previously.

    Interesting enough fodder for us to ponder over, I suppose. Still find it unfortunate that we’re talking about marketing and not poker. That’s what the Main Event has become, though.

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    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    On Patches and Pitch; or, the Disgrace That Is UltimateBet

    UltimateBet patchI’m back, safe and sound. Still a bit weary (and, unsurprisingly, a bit under the weather at the moment). But very glad to be back.

    Have started trying to catch up on the blogs and forums. My sense is most folks are describing that WSOP Main Event finale as a huge anticlimax. See both F-Train and Dr. Pauly for smart takes on the whole “out with a whimper” feel to the event. Mean Gene’s WSOP coda neatly captures the idea, as well.

    Can’t help but notice when assessing “the rumble” how a lot more energy is being directed at the moment toward the UltimateBet scandal and associated stories than toward the WSOP. Which perhaps says something about the relative importance of both to the so-called “poker community.”

    When we had that freeroll tourney early last week for PokerNews peoples, one of our field reporters, Tim, showed up with a hilarious white long-sleeved shirt on which were sewn about twenty patches of various online poker sites and other pokery stuff. A number of these guys have worked previous tourneys together, and so some perhaps had seen Tim’s shirt before. But I hadn’t, and so got a good belly laugh out of it.

    The shirt was funny for a couple of reasons. For one, although we had dealers and played the freeroll as if it were a regular WSOP event, it was essentially an informal, friendly affair in which the idea of “sponsorships” was amusingly incongruous. Also, I got the sense that Tim’s shirt was part of a tongue-in-cheek effort to intimidate opponents, the kind of thing that perhaps works for real in other contexts, such as on the ESPN feature table during a WSOP event.

    The fact is, while these patches most certainly have a tangible value for the players, they carry significant symbolic weight as well. And sometimes the figurative meaning can overwhelm whatever literal significance the patch might have.

    I just got the chance this morning to read PokerNews’ statement about Tiffany Michelle’s decision to don UltimateBet patches during the last stages of her amazing Main Event run. In the statement, PokerNews expresses disappointment in the sponsorship deal, suggesting how it in fact conflicted with PokerNews’ own association with Michelle as she was both an employee of PN and a sponsored player.

    The upshot? PokerNews says it has been “sabotaged by Tiffany, her agent and UltimateBet,” and as a result appears to be severing its ties both with Tiffany and with UltimateBet.

    Can’t really comment on the former, as I have no real insight into the nature of Tiffany’s sponsorship deal with PN. Goes without saying that I personally wasn’t too thrilled when I saw her show up on Day 5 (my last day of live blogging) marked as the latest recruit of the UB “army.” But, whatever -- not my business.

    But I am associated with PokerNews, and thus am most certainly pleased about the latter development in which the site for which I write will no longer have UltimateBet among its roster of sponsors.

    Have been trying this morning to catch up on all the latest rumblings related to the sordid UB saga -- e.g., these revelations that cheating occurred on UB as early as January 2005, that numerous large scale money transfers were routinely permitted to occur between alleged “super-user”-type accounts, and that UB owner and 1994 WSOP Main Event champ Russ Hamilton along with several co-conspirators have been implicated.

    UltimateBet is a disgraceful mess of an online poker site, dragging the reputation of online poker deeper and deeper into its unsavory muck with each passing week. The standing of other UB-paid entities such as Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth has clearly been negatively affected this summer, and the longer anyone persists with their association with UltimateBet, the worse it will be for him or her.

    In the first part of Henry IV there is a scene in which Falstaff, play-acting as the king (Henry’s father), ironically warns the young prince about hanging out too much with people like himself. “There is a thing, Harry,” says Falstaff (as the king), “which thou hast often heard of, and it is known to many in our land by the name of pitch. This pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile; so doth the company thou keepest.”

    Falstaff is joking around, but Harry knows exactly what he’s talking about. Indeed, eventually Harry will cut the fun-loving drunkard Falstaff loose as someone he can’t politically afford to be associated with once he takes the throne.

    UltimateBet has now become a similar sort of “pitch” -- a thick, black, tar-like substance the more one rubs the worse it stains. Eric “Rizen” Lynch and PokerNews have realized this, and thus gotten away. I have, too, in a sense. You might notice a couple of my advertisers (under “Shamus Plugs”) have UB included among their collection of links. One has already agreed to remove the UB link. The other is up for renewal in a couple of months; I’ll see then if they’ll remove the UB link (if not, we’ll no longer be running the ad).

    It’ll take a while, I think, but we’ll get the UB stain out eventually.

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    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    2008 WSOP, Day 46: Whoopee

    WhoopeeAm sitting in Gate A of McCarran International Airport, the air filled with indecipherable public address announcements, cell phone conversations, and, of course, the incessant drone of electronic bells and other effects emanating from the rows of slots that fill the center of the space. Oh, and there’s a toddler with a whoopie cushion in the row behind me, firing it off every couple of minutes and giggling “I farted!”

    Will be in the air about an hour from now. Had originally intended to stick around LV for another couple of days, as there were still a few other things to do and people to see. But yesterday I was overcome with a sudden realization that it was time for me to go home. So I changed my flight and here I sit, typing and occasionally smiling at the sound of faux flatulence.

    Went back over to the Rio last night with James to watch a bit more of the last night’s proceedings. Tiffany Michelle had already busted by the time we got there. We got seats in the ESPN arena and watched a couple of levels’ worth of poker. Saw some interesting hands, and three or four bustouts. Have little or no familiarity with any of the fellas who made the final nine. Or interest, really, for that matter.

    I noticed WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack standing over by media row at one point when it was down to just 12 players left. I saw him studying the crowd and looking up at the big screen overhead. I wondered if he was perhaps reconsidering the whole final table delay. Or maybe wondering just how arduous of a task it is going to be to build any interest beyond hardcore poker fans in these nine who made it.

    I said it back in the spring when it was just a rumor, and again at the beginning of May when the rumor become reality. And I’ll say it again now. I think the final table delay stinks. That kid with the whoopie cushion is providing a perfect soundtrack.

    Thanks, everybody, for reading along these 46 days. Will be getting back to the usual routine here at Hard-Boiled Poker pretty soon.

    Thanks also to everybody at PokerNews and all of the other folks I got to meet and spend time with this summer. (Not naming anybody here, as I’m in a bit of a hurry, but they know who they are.) As I say, I’m more than ready to get back home, but you guys all made my home-away-from-home pretty special, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

    Talk to you again soon.

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    Monday, July 14, 2008

    2008 WSOP, Day 45: From the Bleachers

    From the BleachersA friend of mine, James, is visiting Vegas for a few days, and a primary reason for his visit was to check out the World Series of Poker. He’s relatively new to poker, having seen it on television the last few years and heard me talking about it now and then. When he learned of my coming out this summer, he decided to take a trip of his own. The timing of his visit was particularly good, as he arrived just as I was putting in my final shift with PokerNews.

    Yesterday James and I went over to the Thomas & Mack Center during the afternoon to watch some of that NBA Summer League that’s happening over there this week. We saw one game between the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets. Not too thrilling, as none of the regular rosters of either squad showed up. Nor did the head coaches, so we didn’t see Larry Brown, the Bobcats’ new leader. Was still fun to watch some hoops.

    Afterwards, I found myself once again heading back to the Rio, accompanying my friend to watch some WSOP. I had my credentials with me, but kept them in my pocket most of the time.

    We started out taking a spot up in the Milwaukee’s Best Light No Limit Lounge, and indeed we were drinking cans of the Beast with Phil Hellmuth’s picture on the side as we watched the Poker Brat get knocked out of the Main Event in 45th. My main feeling at watching his demise was ambivalence, with perhaps a dash of pleasure as I anticipated some seats opening up below (they did).

    I was surprised to have learned about the decision to overturn Hellmuth’s penalty at the beginning of play yesterday. Talk about applesauce. I hadn’t witnessed the tirade that got him the penalty at the end of play on Saturday, so I can’t say one way or the other whether he deserved it. But you can’t just take it back like that. We would witness another player, Joe Bishop, receive a one-orbit penalty yesterday over at the ESPN feature table, although I am not certain what he did to earn it. Whatever it was, he surely didn’t have the opportunity to appeal his case the way Hellmuth had.

    After the first break they swapped Tiffany Michelle’s table over to the main stage, and we eventually would watch a couple of levels’ worth of her table in action. This was a period during which Michelle built her stack from approximately four million up to the nine-plus million she has to start play today. She played well, I thought, being aggressive but not recklessly so, and doing a terrific job accumulating the chips when she did hit hands. Had one hand in particular in which she flopped a set of treys and got the absolute maximum out of Cristian Dragomir (sitting to her right).

    As a PokerNews colleague, I have met Tiffany and chatted with her a few times, and though I can’t claim really to know her much beyond that, my impression is she’s a friendly, witty person and certainly not hard to root for here coming down the stretch. She’s done the video interviews for PokerNews the last couple of years, and if you’ve seen those you know she does quite well in front of the camera. A lot has already been made of her being the last woman still playing, and, of course, she’ll be a superstar should she make it through today and to the “November Nine.”

    Tiffany’s an interesting case, really. This is her first ever Main Event, but she has a lot of tourney experience. And as an interviewer and actress, she’s much more comfortable in the spotlight (I’d think) than most -- or, perhaps, all -- of the other 26 players still vying for the bracelet. So while on the one hand it seems utterly remarkable for her still to be playing here on Day 7, on the other hand it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see her handling herself well here during these final stages of play. (She begins today in 3rd place.)

    James and Tiffany MichelleDuring one of the breaks last night I separated momentarily from James to go talk to Tim Lavalli, the Poker Shrink, who along with Amy Calistri is putting the final touches on a book about Mike Matusow. (Matusow went out on a tough hand in 30th last night.) Was glad to meet Tim in person, and I definitely look forward to the book. When I reunited with James, he was all grins as he showed me a picture of himself with Tiffany. Apparently he’d caught her coming out and she had taken the time to pose for pictures with a few folks, and he’d jumped in line and got his own pic.

    Remains to be seen whether James got himself photographed with one of the November Nine or not. A lot can happen today, of course. Play gets underway in just a few minutes. Of the remaining players, the ones I was most impressed with along the way were Craig Marquis (currently in 2nd place), David Rheem (6th), Brandon Cantu (14th), and Albert Kim (18th).

    James is in town until tomorrow, and I know he wants to go back today to watch some more. I’ll probably head over at some point, too. Dunno when, but I think I probably would like to be there for the very end. Will let you know tomorrow what I saw.

    Meanwhile, you can follow along from afar over there at PokerNews.

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    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    2008 WSOP, Day 44: IGHN

    I Go Home NowI’m not going home just now, actually. Still a few more days before I fly. But Day 5 of the World Series of Poker Main Event was my last as far as live blogging goes. The group has been narrowed down to just a few more tenured writers for these last couple of days, meaning I was released from duty when play concluded last night close to midnight.

    Was overall kind of a slow day in terms of reporting. After the first couple of hours or so the pace slowed down somewhat, and the day became quite different from Day 4 which never let up. Still a lot going on, though. Several big elimination hands and/or hands in which a ton of chips were exchanged. And, of course, when Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow were seated next to one another at the ESPN feature table during the last level of the night, there was a lot of interest happening over there (we had TassieDevil on that table). Hellmuth actually ended the evening incurring a one-orbit penalty for his applesauce, so he’ll be in the “penalty box” (as F-Train put it) when play starts this afternoon.

    Probably the wildest hand I posted about was the one where Sean Sheikhan lost almost all of his stack pushing his pocket jacks and getting snuffed by pocket aces. He had raised from late position, and got reraised by Jamal Kunbuz who was on the button. Sounded like this sort of thing might have been happening a lot, where Sheikhan kept getting bet out of pots with reraises. So this time he shoved his stack of 1.5 million or so, and Kunbuz snap-called him with A-A. Sheikhan lost all but 75,000 of his chips on that one, and was out shortly thereafter.

    Also posted about a fun one in which Aussie David Saab needled Hellmuth, showing him a bluff on the end. Hellmuth blew up, as is his custom, and Saab gave it back pretty effectively. (In fact, the scenario -- Hellmuth getting bluffed out of a hand and his opponent showing -- was very similar to the one that took place in that last hand of the night after which Hellmuth got the penalty.)

    My colleagues yesterday came up with several neat, interesting color posts that added a lot to the proceedings.

    Loganmark published a few posts about the payouts and what would be the case if, say, the last 99 players decided to chop up the remaining money. If they did, Logan determined they’d all get better than 13th place money, actually. F-Train wrote what I thought was a very interesting post called “How Do I Get My Money?” in which he described the process a player goes through when busting out of the tournament. He wrote that one from experience, of course, as he finished 33rd and thus cashed in the Razz event a few weeks ago.

    Mean Gene wrote another called “Strike the Sets” in which he told about how the tables were being taken apart and stored away as the field continued to shrink. Yes, when they broke tables they literally broke them down. And Change100 wrote one about the recovery of Doyle Brunson’s scooter, which someone apparently stole and had kept for much of last week.

    As we moved into the last hour of play, it occurred to me I was looking at a last chance to contribute something along those lines, too -- something beyond just reporting another hand. But I just couldn’t summon the energy to do so. Truth be told, I was starting to feel myself already kind of disengaging from the whole scene. Not sure why, but I think the feeling resulted from a combination of knowing I wouldn’t be there to see the thing through (indeed, none of us are, not here in July, anyway) and a kind of mental exhaustion after six straight weeks of writing about poker nonstop.

    Gonna hold off on the heavy philosophizing about the whole thing for later when I’ve got a little distance and more energy for it. I will say that as I left the Rio yesterday, I was strangely reminded of the one summer I went off to camp. I was about ten years old, and had spent a couple of weeks with a horde of other kids playing games, sharing meals, and sleeping in bunk beds -- the usual summer camp stuff. Finally the last day came, and my parents came to pick me up. I remember riding off and suddenly feeling very sad, which was confusing to me because in my still-growing ten-year-old mind I hadn’t really realized how strongly I’d felt about all those people with whom I’d been spending the last two weeks.

    Have to say I have a little of that going on inside again today. At least this time I’m smart enough to have some idea why.

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