Friday, January 30, 2009

Podcasts, Programs, & Presumptions from Pessimistic Poker Players

Let me start this Friday morning by passing along a few items for you poker fans out there.

The Poker Beat with Scott HuffFirst, Scott Huff (of CardPlayer’s The Circuit, PokerWire Radio, Big Poker Sundays) has started up a new poker podcast over on PokerRoad called The Poker Beat (replacing BPS). The focus of the weekly show will be to discuss current poker headlines, with Huff mostly having journalists, bloggers, and other insider-types on as guests.

For the first episode (1/29/09), Scott had lead WPT tourney reporter B.J. Nemeth, Pokerati poobah Dan Michalski, Bluff Magazine Editor-in-Chief Matthew Parvis, and ESPN poker reporter Gary Wise on to discuss the state of the WPT, UIGEA stuff, and Tom “durrrr” Dwan’s challenge. Huff’s Two Jacks in the Hole co-host Joe Stapleton also came on at the end for a humor segment.

By the way, speaking of podcasts, the plan is to have Episode 13 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show available for your listening pleasure tomorrow. Looking at a comedy show, this time. (EDIT [added 9 p.m., 1/31/09]: Looks like it might be a couple more days before the show is ready -- stay tuned!)

ESPNAlso, if you hadn’t heard, ESPN plans to televise the 2008 World Series of Poker Europe Main Event for us Americans starting on Sunday. We Yanks never got to see the 2007 WSOPE (won by Annette Obrestad), so this’ll be our first glimpse of how they do it over in the U.K.

The first four hours of coverage airs on ESPN on Sunday night (February 1) from 6-10 p.m. Eastern time. For those who might be watching a certain football game during those hours, those four hours will be repeated over on ESPN2 starting at 10 p.m. Eastern. From what I’m reading, they outfitted many of the tables with the hole card cameras -- i.e., not just the feature table -- which will apparently add a little something extra to the coverage.

Finally, a quick anecdote from the online tarbles...

Had a longer-than-usual session of limit hold’em yesterday ($0.50/$1.00, six-handed). Started well, but ended up a loser for the day (down 20 big bets, oof!). Has been a nice week, though, and the total for the month is shaping up decently, so I wasn’t too miffed about one poor outing.

I say the session started well. I won a few small pots early, then had a sweet hand in which I’d been dealt pocket fours in the big blind, called preflop after there had been a raise and two other callers, then the flop brought a four. Ended up taking two of my opponents to the river, both of whom held (unimproved) pocket pairs of their own.

After the hand, the guy who’d lost with J-J started griping in the chat box.

GaryGripe said, “***in stinking rigged fake site”
GaryGripe said, “no matter what you ***in do not matter what table you go if this stinking rigged site wants you to lose you lose”

Interestingly enough, shortly after his tirade he started catching cards like crazy, and ended up leaving the table some twenty bucks ahead of where he was when he so eloquently offered his well-considered conspiracy theory to us all.

Like I say, things went downhill for me after that early rush. Turned into one of those days where everyone else seemed to be getting the aces and kings, making their flushes, flopping two pair out of the blinds, etc., while I kept getting dealt J-4-offsuit. The guy sitting to my left (not GaryGripe) would flop sets three times within eight hands. He left the table, another player took his spot, and damned if he didn’t flop sets twice right away.

As the late Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

CAUTION! Tin Foil Hat AreaAfter the session, I was fooling around looking at site statistics for the blog and noticed someone had come to Hard-Boiled Poker after having done a search of the key words “titan poker micro limits rigged.” Took the seeker to a post of mine from a couple of years ago called “Online Poker Is Rigged, ver. 2.0” in which I told the story of a dude at a LHE table on Bodog who kept yammering on in the chat box as he lost hand after hand, cursing someone named “Bo.”

Finally I realized the dude was cursing the site itself, having personified it as an evil antagonist out to get him. (A funnier than average post, by the way, if yr looking for a good laugh.)

The tin-foil-hat guys are certainly entertaining. Actually, I don’t think it is entirely goofy to worry about sites’ integrity, but to entertain the possibility that a site actually has it in for you in particular -- esp. when yr sitting at a $0.50/$1.00 LHE table -- seems an especially remarkable display of self-centered thinking.

Earlier this week, Thomas Steuerman wrote a post over on the Bigger Deal site called “The ‘Poker God’ Delusion” which kind of touches on that impulse to assign the cause of one’s momentary misfortune to a higher power. I think the dudes whimpering about sites screwing them are basically doing the same thing, only they’re a bit more earth-bound in their thinking.

Probably more interesting -- and more useful -- for those of us who don’t believe in “poker gods” or the targeted rigging of sites is to think about how to play back against such fatalists when we encounter them. At my table, I sensed others start to give GaryGripe more action after his comment, which probably contributed a few big bets to his suddenly-growing stack. (Maybe I did, too, now that I think about it.) Perhaps his whimpering was all part of a larger strategic metagame...?

Nah. What am I thinkin’? Lol microlimit metagames.

Have a super Super Bowl weekend, all.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keep Your Mind at Ease (Play at PokerStars)

Edvard Munch, 'The Scream' (detail)Had a little moment of anxiety yesterday when I discovered that for some reason my password was no longer working for one of my email accounts. Tried five times, and the sucker kept coming back “incorrect username or password.”

I knew it wasn’t the username that was the issue. My password just wasn’t working. What to do?

As it happens, the problem was with the email account that is connected to my online poker accounts, and it didn’t take long for me to conjure up some worst-case-scenario-type paranoia that perhaps somehow, some way, some rat was at that very moment stealing all my cheddar.

You recognize, of course, that detail from Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting “The Scream.” Munch created a few versions of the painting, and at least a couple of have been stolen over the last couple of decades. When one was stolen in 1994, apparently the theives left behind a note saying “Thanks for the poor security.” No shinola.

Well, suddenly, amid an otherwise placid, adequately-caffeinated morning haze, I found myself thinking intently about security matters.

Perfectly silly, of course. I honestly had little reason to worry about my smallish online poker rolls. If someone had hacked my email account, it really didn’t make much sense to think they could then successfully move on to my poker accounts. Even so, I was stuck at my place of work -- where, of course, I do not have the poker site clients on my work computer -- and so had no way of checking whether or not all was well with my accounts.

I was able to reset my email password, then decided to fire quick emails to support over at PokerStars and Full Tilt, the only two sites where I have significant moneys at the moment. Explained the situation and just wanted confirmation that my money was still there, safely waiting for me the next time I logged on.

It took PokerStars exactly 18 minutes to write back. Brett, of the PokerStars Support Team, told me there had been no real money deposits or withdrawals over the last 48 hours. “To further put your mind at ease,” wrote Brett, “I have attached a report that shows your full real money activity at PokerStars for the past 24 hours.”

The file was a nifty “audit” of my play from Tuesday afternoon –- that brief session I was referring to in yesterday’s post from which I came away with a small profit. Shows me what I bought in for, notes that I rebought for an extra $10 at one table at one point, then shows what I had when leaving each of the tables. Also notes all of my VPP & FPP accumulation (for session, month, and year).

I realize my request was a simple one. But Stars showed yet again they’re simply awesome when it comes to this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, Full Tilt has yet to respond to my request, which will be 24 hours old a little later this morning. Though I have received a tip from Keith Sexton about raising with a draw.

Once I got home yesterday I logged onto FTP and saw all was well with my account. I’ve never had too much trouble with FTP support (as others have from time to time), though during the years I’ve played on both sites I can say unhesitatingly that Stars has always outdone FTP support-wise.

Over the last few months, PokerStars has soared well past all competitors in terms of numbers of players. For the last month or more, Stars has consistently been attracting more than twice the number of cash game players than does Full Tilt, its nearest competitor, with the iPoker Network, PartyPoker, and the Ongame Network far behind.

When I checked PokerSite Scout last night, Stars had over 25,000 playing cash games to FTP’s 12,000. Among the other American-facing sites/networks, the Cereus network had just 2,500 or so playing for cash, Cake Poker had about 2,000, and Bodog was way down under 1,500.

My buddy Mark wrote an interesting post last week over at Plan3t Gong where he speculated a bit over why it was Stars had taken such a significant traffic lead.

Mark weighs several possible reasons, then concludes that the 100% match up to deposits of $50 has a lot to do with Stars being able to attract new players.

What? Yr not familiar with that? Hmmm. Wonder how you could find out more about that offer...?

Says Mark, many newbies generally don’t want to start out shipping too much into the sites, and so the humble-seeming offer to match up to $50 actually works well as an incentive to take that first plunge. Makes sense, frankly.

Of course, what we’re also clearly seeing happening over at Stars is the same phenomenon that occurred at PartyPoker back in 2005-06 -- right up until they pulled out of the U.S. post-Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Namely, the biggest site getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Always lots and lots of active tables from which to choose on PokerStars, which is the main reason why I generally am logging onto Stars first when I’m ready to play. I prefer the software, too, though I think that is always a more subjective preference for most players.

But for support -- and security -- I think most would probably agree PokerStars is way, way above all the rest when it comes to putting yr mind at ease.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On Being Results Oriented

U.S. Airways Flight 1549Had a poker-related thought flash through my mind while running yesterday. It happens.

By the way, I am still doing two miles just about every day. Have gone three on a few occasions, and there have been a couple of rainy or cold days this month when I’ve opted to go to the gym and ride the bike instead of fighting the weather. Getting near month’s end, and I’ve managed to exercise every single day in January.

I suppose I feel somewhat healthier, although to be honest I’m not really seeing any particular “results” from my regimen. I’m already a skinny dude, so we’re not watching weight or anything. I guess I do have a bit more mental energy, oft-cited as a happy consequence of keeping physically active.

Anyhow, as I was running yesterday I was pondering this whole “results oriented” idea we often hear about in poker -- usually as something to be avoided. The idea, we’re told (again and again), is to make correct decisions and not get too caught up in the fact that sometimes we lose anyway. Get yr money in as a 4-to-1 favorite and even if you lose when yr opponent makes his flush you can take solace in the fact that over the long term, if you repeatedly take that gamble, you’ll come out ahead.

What occurred to me as I ran was how the whole “don’t be results oriented” idea is, of course, based on the ultimate goal of achieving better results. So it is good to be results oriented, just not in the short term. Thus does the point of the advice occasionally get misconstrued by not-so-sharp players, as sometimes happens with other poker concepts like “implied odds” or “expected value.”

Tommy Angelo has a nifty little chapter in his Elements of Poker in which he bluntly admits to being results oriented, both with regard to individual hands and to sessions, too. “When I win, I think I played better than I did,” says Angelo. “When I lose, I think I played worse that I did.” We all do.

I won’t repeat Angelo’s examples, but instead just offer a quick one of my own from a hand of six-handed limit hold’em I played yesterday. Hand began with me limping under-the-gun with a pair of deuces. Was one of those passive LHE tables one likes to find (and frequently can find at the $0.50/$1.00 limits), so I wasn’t too worried about raises and reraises behind. The cutoff also limped, then the small blind raised, the BB called, and me and the cutoff called as well. The flop was nice: 9hTc2s. The blinds checked and I went ahead and bet out. All three of my opponents called.

The turn was the Qd. The blinds checked again, I bet a dollar (into the six-dollar pot) and the cutoff raised. The blinds folded and I took a moment to decide whether I’d run into the straight. I decided it unlikely he had K-J or J-8, a judgment I somewhat rashly based on the 30 or so hands I’d played with him. So I three-bet. He paused (something I took as a good sign) and just called. I figured him for two pair here, say Q-T or Q-9.

The Ad on the river changed nothing (according to my read), so I bet out. The cutoff called, showing QsJc, and I picked up a nice $13.50 pot with my set of ducks.

Was patting myself on the back, too, for having grabbed that extra turn bet. Of course, had a king or eight fallen on the river to cause me to lose to the straight, I’d have certainly felt much less heroic. Or even worse, had the guy actually had K-J (which, really, would have been perfectly reasonable given the preflop and flop action) and thus turned his straight, I’d have felt like a moron for having pumped up the pot there with the three-bet.

Thanks in large part to that one hand, I walked away from my brief session (just under 100 hands) with a tidy 16 big-bet profit, recording such in my notebook while experiencing yet another “results oriented”-inspired flush of satisfaction. Sue me.

We’re human. When the day begins and we wake up yet again and are glad for doing so, we immediately start being results oriented. If I were pulling muscles and feeling fatigued all the time, I’d stop running for sure. But I’m not. The results, if not dramatically obvious, have been acceptable. So I keep going.

While we are on the subject, last week I read an interesting article over on Salon by Patrick Smith, an airline pilot who contributes a weekly column over there called “Ask the Pilot.” The article (dated 1/23/09) asks the question “What saved the passengers of Flight 1549?” and in it Smith makes the case that neither Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger nor the first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, the two co-pilots who safely brought down that U.S. Airways plane onto the Hudson River earlier this month, should be exalted to greater-than-human status on the basis of what happened. Writes Smith, “we are owed a sober discussion of what actually befell them, instead of the vapid and infantile yammering about miracles and the ‘heroics’ of ‘the pilot.’”

Smith’s argument throughout the article is essentially to say the media and public have been way too “results oriented” with this one. Smith maintains that while the pilots should both be commended for having performed well under pressure, “skill was not the issue” that ultimately determined the fate of the 155 aboard that flight. Rather, it was luck. A lot of it. And according to Smith, “nowhere in the public discussion has the role of luck been adequately acknowledged.”

Read the article for the full discussion. Smith has a point, sure. Of course, I don’t think I’d agree with the claim that no one has said anything about “luck” here. And frankly, I’m not so eager to join the side of the dude wanting to diminish claims of the pilots’ skill and/or heroism, either. But I get where he is coming from.

But damn, isn’t this one instance where we can allow ourselves to be a bit more “results oriented”?

That is to say, a bit more human?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2009 WSOP Schedule Announced

2009 WSOP Schedule AnnouncedAs you’ve no doubt heard by now, the schedule of events for the 2009 World Series of Poker has been announced. Two more events than last year, meaning a record 57 bracelets will be handed out this summer -- and in November.

That’s right. November. They’re bringing back the four-month delay for the Main Event final table. No surprise there, given much of the talk surrounding the 2008 WSOP ME final table a couple of months ago (and since). The decision makers and other higher-ups have all been unanimous in praising the “success” of the experiment, while the rest of us have expressed varying degrees of praise, censure, and/or ennui.

More on that in a sec. How about a few other first impressions of the new sked?
-- Fifty-seven bracelets is way too friggin’ many. (Go ahead and add five or so more for the WSOPE later in the year, too, if you wanna.) I’m a poker fan and so don’t mind the overload, but I recognize and appreciate the whole “value-of-a-bracelet-has-been-watered-down” gripe. Hell, as recently as five years ago there were only 33 bracelet events. And five years before that? Sixteen.

-- Am glad to see a preponderance of non-hold’em events again (24 of the 57, if we count Event No. 10, the pot-limit Omaha/pot-limit hold’em event). I’m assuming Event No. 12 ($10K buy-in) is the eight-game mixed event featuring no-limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha, 2-7 triple draw, and the five H.O.R.S.E. games. You know, the one oft-referred to by discerning commentators as S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R. Looks like there is possibly a second, lower buy-in version of S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R. ($2,500) stuck in there as Event No. 42, too.

-- The so-called “stimulus” Event No. 4, i.e., that $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event for which organizers are hoping to attract over 5,000 entrants, seems like a mostly harmless idea, I guess. I suppose it may well bring a few folks out who might not otherwise have come, and some of those may stick around for other events, too. Will be curious to see the payout schedule, actually, as an incorrectly calculated schedule could make this one a huge disappointment to many.

-- The $40,000 NLHE event (Event No. 2) incites some curiosity, for sure. The buy-in (designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the WSOP) will certainly introduce some exclusivity to the field, although I think we might be surprised at just how many pony up for this one. It’s possible, though, that this one coming at the start of the series might prove to be a bit of an “anti-stimulus,” knocking some players out of action a little earlier than would have been the case otherwise (although that sort of thing would be hard to measure).

-- There are ten $10,000 “World Championship” events this time around (as opposed to eight last year). The overall price tag for a person playing all 57 events adds up to $289,500, compared to $236,500 in 2008. (Feel free to check my math, there. To swipe a line from F-Train’s very cool coverage of that high-stakes cash game at the Aussie Millions a couple of days ago, I’m no mathemagician.) Of course, for a person to be eligible to play all 57 events she would have to be a woman aged fifty or older who is also a casino employee.

-- Getting rid of the rebuy events has nothing to do with what the players want, nor with that absurd suggestion that such events make it possible for high rollers to “buy a bracelet.” I wrote about this issue last month, and in a comment Dr. Pauly pointed out that the real reason for eliminating the rebuys probably had to do with shenanigans surrounding the collection of the money. I think he is probably right.

-- The November Nine is back. Which sucks eggs.
I remain opposed to the delay for the way it introduces a strange, unwieldy variation into the poker tournament format. Granted, over the years we’ve grown accustomed to (and many of us have enjoyed) a myriad of creative modifications to “traditional” tournament formats. Indeed, one could reasonably argue there is no such thing as a “default” format for poker tournaments. Like novels, each one has its own way of redefining the genre to which it belongs.

That being said, stopping the sucker for four months then rebooting remains for me just too damn great a violation of form, making it too different from all other tourneys for any comparisons to be coherently made. I realize we want to make the Main Event unique, but think about it. It’s the “world champion of poker” we’re nominally crowning here. How can we even say that with a straight face if the event only barely resembles all other forms of poker ever played?

To put it another way...

Super Bowl XLIIILet’s say that for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL announced it was permitting both teams’ players to sell advertising space on their jerseys for the game. In fact, the league is encouraging it. Also, all of the space between the lines on the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay will be made available to advertisers, too.

Fans would object, sure, but hey, it doesn’t affect the actual game, right? And the NFL promises the ads on the field won’t obscure the yard-line numbers in any way.

But then we hear the NFL has decided to give each team one extra time out per half than teams are normally allotted. Also, each team will be allowed two extra challenges to use during the course of the game.

We want to make sure our champion is not decided because of an incorrect call, the league is saying in defense of this latter change, although in truth both of these ideas were primarily tied to a desire to squeeze in a few more of them cool commercials, if possible.

A few fans would pipe up about “integrity” and whatnot, but most would still be able to deal.

But wait. Now we’re hearing the league has actually decided to stretch the game out over a period of two days, with the first half played on Saturday and the second half on Sunday night. There will be extensive “halftime” shows both nights, with Springsteen still scheduled to perform on Saturday (between the first and second quarters) and Kelly Clarkson on Sunday (between the third and fourth quarters).

Also, as part of the Super Weekend, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger will be co-hosting Saturday Night Live via simulcast from the studios of WTVJ in Tampa. Special “holographic” technology such as CNN used during its election coverage will enable the quarterbacks to remain in Florida to participate in skits with the SNL cast in New York in what is sure to be a memorable program brought to you by the good folks at Sprint.

That’s about where we are with this four-month delay idea, I think.

Actually, I was going to go one step further there and say that the NFL had decided to repackage the telecast to show only the first downs, turnovers, and scoring plays. But that would’ve have been silly.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Pokerback Writer

Have arrived at another centennial here. Seven hundred friggin’ posts. Damn lot of scribblin’ that.

Vera Valmore came up with that phrase -- “pokerback writer” -- some time ago to describe whatever it is I think I’m doing here (and elsewhere) writing about poker. This whole idea (to write about poker, that is) started on a whim, of course. As these things tend to do. Over two-and-a-half years later, and I’m writing about poker, either here or elsewhere, just about every single day. And when I’m not writing about it, I’m thinking about writing about it.

Oh, and I’m playing it, too. But even then I’m thinking about writing about it.

Last week I was referring to Vicky Coren’s interview over on Wise Hand Poker (the 1/14/09 episode) and mentioned how she had offered some thoughts in there about the relationship between writing and playing.

“I think every poker hand is a story,” she began. “My favorite situations in poker are [in a] cash game or a deep-stacked tournament, you know, and there’s an awful lot of chips... and maybe it’s on the turn and somebody’s made a big bet and you have to work out what to do. And at that point, you look back through the whole story.”

Coren is obviously not the first to make that observation about the story-like nature of poker -- how the game is constantly suggesting these tales to us over and over again, affording us countless plots, settings, characters, conflicts, themes, and differing points of view. We’re all familiar with the way the game produces such an effect, allowing us to live out all of these tales as ourselves but also as someone else.

Say, a detective.

“You know, you’re like Hercule Poirot, [doing] the detective thing,” Coren continued. “Going back over the entire sequence of events.... And you’re piecing together this great narrative, [reviewing] tiny little incidents, [asking yourself] what happened that I didn’t notice at the time but subconsciously I did? I mean it’s very poetic. It’s like reading a book, every time you sit down to play.... Watching the action is like reading a story, but it’s up to you to determine the ending.”

I like the stories poker produces. I like experiencing them. I like reading about them. And apparently, if we are to regard all this scribblin’ as evidence of something, I must like to try to write about them, too.

I also like that last bit Coren suggests, that we have a say in determining the endings of these stories. Of course, at the table, the cards ultimately tell us our fate, making our stories into comedies or tragedies. That we cannot control. Not fully, anyway.

But we don’t have to let the stories end there, do we? We can keep them going, playing another hand, making what just happened not the denouement but yet another element of the rising action, the climax, or the falling action. Or afterwards, even after we leave the table, we can continue to tell our stories, scribblin’ those hands into a larger narrative.

So thanks once more, all, for coming around again and again to follow this here story. And for telling your stories, too. We’ll all determine our respective endings eventually, I suppose.

Not just yet, though. Still a few more clues to find.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

The UltimateBet Follies (Winter 2009 edition)

Ultimate DunceA quick search of all my January posts (aside from the 2008 recap ones that came at the start of the year) reveals I have yet to mention the online poker site UltimateBet a single time.

I did make a passing reference earlier this week to the Cereus network -- which includes both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet -- in a post about the Kentucky Court of Appeals having reversed that domain-seizure case. Otherwise, I’ve managed to resist yapping about any of the nonsense we continue to hear about UB.

Decided it time to break that streak today, though, and give a little update. Julius Goat often likes to offer us what he calls “Your Weekly Dose of Crazy.” (Incidentally, the one from this week is especially cra-a-a-a-azy.) Consider this your seasonal dose of UlimateBaloney.

1. The Ultimate Poker Show

Back in November, UltimateBet decided to launch a new weekly poker podcast called “The Ultimate Poker Show.” The show is hosted by a couple of the site’s pros, Annie Duke and Mark Kroon, an adult man who probably wishes he hadn’t chosen that name “P0ker H0” way back when he first started playing online.

I’ve listened to a few of the episodes, including the one on which fellow UB pro Phil Hellmuth came on to tell about that hand of $200/$400 limit hold’em from late December he had lost to “DOUBLEBALLER” but was nevertheless shipped the $5,599 pot. You remember, that was the show where Hellmuth casually (and crazily) claimed “this has happened 100 times,” a statement that didn’t quite jibe with what Paul Leggett (UB’s Chief Operating Officer) had just said over on the UB blog where he claimed UB “never had an issue like this reported previously.”

That conversation (from the 12/28/08 episode of the podcast) also didn’t really fit well with the previous weeks’ crowing about all the great new software updates going on at the Cereus network. As one might expect, while “The Ultimate Poker Show” does include some poker strategy discussion here and there, it mostly serves as a weekly ad for UB, showcasing its pros and promoting various promotions and tourneys happening on the site. In other words, safely skip.

2. New Possibilities for the Multi-Accounter?

More recently, Serge “Adanthar” Ravitch, the New York lawyer who was among that group of cybersleuths who uncovered the cheating scandal at Absolute Poker, made a post in mid-January reporting yet another jaw-dropping software (and security) issue at the Cereus network.

You might recall Ravitch appeared on camera briefly during that 60 Minutes report back in late November. In his reaction to the segment, WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla said Ravitch “came across as one of the most positive faces of the entire segment,” and especially appreciated the level-headed way Ravitch spoke about the scandals “without the hyperbole and apprehension that everything and everyone out there might be corrupt.”

Like me, Ravitch was purposely avoiding writing about UltimateBet on his blog, saying in his 1/15/09 post that he had “no intention of continuing to spend X amount of time every day documenting more Cereus scandal(s) fallout and/or security holes.” But then he pointed us to a Two Plus Two thread that suggested it was possible for a player to log into his Absolute Poker account and his UltimateBet accounts at the same time and subsequently enter the same tournament twice.

This may or may not be the case, actually, although like I say I wouldn’t expect Ravitch to fan the flames without reasonable suspicion. I do recall that prior to the merger of the sites it was apparently possible for multiple users to log into UltimateBet from different locations using the same username/password. (Wrote about that glitch about a year ago.)

3. Bad Mouth UB, Lose Yr Cabbage

Another thread on Two Plus Two caught my eye a week or so ago, one in which a poster was sharing the terms of service for the recent UltimateBet Online Championship series. Apparently, if one were to enter any of the UBOC tourneys and cash, one was subsequently restricted from saying anything critical of the site or risk losing one’s winnings.

The rule (part of Rule #18) specifically states that “UltimateBet® may cancel or terminate the UBOC and/or may cancel or terminate the awarding of any Prize(s), and cease distribution of any outstanding Prize if... A Prize winner commits embezzlement or theft against or from UltimateBet®, commits any public act of disrepute, publicly disparages UltimateBet®, or commits any other act that diminishes or that may diminish the value of UltimateBet® or any one or more of its brands.”

So be nice, y’all, if you happen to have won anything on UltimateBet. (Clearly I now have yet another reason never to play on the site!)

4. More False Promises

Finally, just a quick update on the status of my request to UB to send me all of my hand histories from the very brief period when I played on the site. You might recall back in December I posted about having heard Annie Duke claim over on the PokerRoad podcast that as part of UB’s efforts to make “everyone whole,” the site would “send anybody who requests it their lifetime hand histories.”

I was actually surprised to hear that, since a couple of months before I had made such a request to UB and was told then that “due to the amount of information, we are not able to send you all your hand histories.”

Incidentally, regarding the voluminous “amount of information” to which UB refers, I went back and looked up just how many hands we’re talking about here. A little over 1,200. That’s right. How many man-hours you think it takes to recover that heaping pile of hands?

I wrote UB again on 12/16/08, referring to Duke’s claim, and received a response telling me that yes, in fact, they could send me all of my hand histories, “however, because it is a lot of information we will need to look for that information in our server, this process could take up to 2 weeks.” I wrote back to thank the support person and to say that would be fine.

Two weeks passed, and I heard nothing from UB. So I wrote again (on 1/3/09), asking what was up. I got the automated response telling me my email had been “forwarded your email to the appropriate department,” but heard nothing further.

Send another message into the void on 1/19/09, and haven’t heard back. Clearly the claim made by Annie Duke that UB will send anyone their hand histories is a bunch of applesauce. The site disappoints again and again and again.

Wait a minute, what’s this? Looks like just this morning I received an email from Absolute Poker? Let’s see here...?

“$10 waiting in your AP account.”

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things Gettin’ Weird Down by the River

'River's Edge'Anybody remember that movie River’s Edge? From the mid-80s. Had Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Donovan’s daughter? I think Dennis Hopper was running around being loony in there somewhere, too.

I remember how when it came out the film caused a minor stir for its unflinching portrayal of American youth as a disaffected “teenage wasteland” only interested in selfish pursuits. You know, getting high, getting laid, and/or getting away with whatever they could.

If I remember correctly, the story was based on a true event in which some high school cretin murdered his girlfriend, then after a few days was showing his friends the body and the friends did nothing about it.

Although it has been a couple of decades since I’ve seen it, my memory of the film is that it did a decent job highlighting the strange, complex web of peer pressure and hormones that could produce such an odd, disturbing scenario. I recall some observers at the time wanting to describe the film as a commentary on the breakdown of society, a clear signal that our culture was experiencing a most grievous moral decline. Which I suppose it was. But what’s new? Doesn’t every age produce similar commentaries about itself?

Speaking of morbid fascination, I have discovered lately that I have what is probably an unhealthy fixation on the weird, eccentric, and/or outright bizarre choices some of my opponents are making on the river during our limit hold’em games. We’re talking $0.50/$1.00, so I know I shouldn’t be surprised by unpredictable, irresponsible behavior in my opponents. I also know there are surely better things to be doing with my time than puzzling over some of these decisions I have witnessed, as doing so is probably about as useful, ultimately, as trying to figure out what exactly is going on in yr average teenager’s head. (Now that I think about it, perhaps some of these players are teens, for all I know.)

But bear with me. Let me show you a couple of hands. I just have to tell somebody.

In the first one, a player two to my left -- GoatBoy -- had gradually allowed his stack to dwindle all of the way down to just $2.05 thanks to a lot of passive calling on flops and turns and meek folds on rivers. Meanwhile, the player sitting in between us (to my immediate left) was also of the passive variety. This one -- whom we’ll call BeardedLdy -- was doing a lot of obvious chasing of inside straight draws and/or with overcards, and occasionally was getting there so as to preserve her stack.

Here’s the hand (RSS readers will have to click through to view):

That’s right, folks. With pot odds of 81-to-1, the BeardedLdy decided it was best to let it go rather than risk that nickel.

Okay, just one more. I’m involved this time. The player of note here we’ll call TheDwarf. After a few dozen hands with the guy, he’d shown he was a loose-passive type who was more than willing to call down with king-high. He’d also done a bit of chirping in the chat box, commenting on others’ play in a fashion that signaled pretty clearly that what he lacked in stature he also lacked in brains.

I’m in the big blind and TheDwarf is on the button, limping in as usual:

I should have raised preflop, actually. And while that Qh on the turn might’ve bothered me more against some opponents, I was fairly sure TheDwarf was sitting over there with K-6 or something like it, and that check-raising was the way to go.

My favorite part of the hand, though, was after our cards were revealed.

TheDwarf said, “neededgthe10”
Shamus collected $8.60 from pot
TheDwarf said, “:(”

Yeah, that ten would have helped. Sure.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Victoria’s Secrets

Victoria CorenThe latest Wise Hand Poker podcast (the 1/14/09 episode) contains three interviews. Wise starts out talking to 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Peter Eastgate, and concludes with a conversation with Jeffrey Haas, president of the Asian Pacific Poker Tour.

Those two interviews are fine, but the one I especially want to recommend is the middle one with British poker player, writer, and PokerStars Team pro Victoria Coren. The Coren interview begins at about the 27:00-mark and lasts about a half-hour. Definitely worth checking out if yr curious to hear an insightful, articulate, and interesting observer commenting on all things poker. To share a few highlights....

During the first part of the interview, Coren discusses her poker-playing background, including winning the 2006 EPT London Main Event. That was the first televised final table ever won by a woman, and so Wise asks her a bit about the significance of that achievement.

Coren immediately responds with what I thought was a very provocative comment about men, women, tournaments, and cash games. Coren says that she, like many others, had previously found herself “falling into the trap of believing that women are more natural cash game players than tournament players. You know, [the idea that] in cash games where there’s virtue in patience and perception and guile, women were better suited to it, than [to] the aggressive, blustery nature of a tournament.”

Coren’s victory at the EPT London helped her see through this notion, realizing there wasn’t anything particularly “natural” about women being better suited to cash games than to tourneys. (“It proved to me that was a load of old hogwash,” as she puts it.)

Victoria CorenPerhaps an obvious dichotomy to some -- this suggestion that we might theoretically “gender” tournaments and cash games this way -- but one I can’t say I had necessarily thought about all that much before. Since I spend about 95% of my poker time at the cash tables, I don’t generally spend much effort contemplating all that deeply the differences between cash games and tourneys (though I certainly immediately recognize ’em whenever I do decide to take a seat at a MTT).

That issue of the relative “competitiveness” or “aggression” of men and women at the poker table emerges as a kind of theme in the book Women’s Poker Night (2007), edited by Maryann Morrison. I reviewed that book here a while back, if you’re curious. As it happens, several of the essays in that collection deal in one way or another with the notion that “there’s a killer instinct women don’t naturally have” (as one contributor, Raparata Mazzola, quotes pro Kristy Gazes saying).

Interestingly, in the interview Coren goes on to talk about her own game and explicitly notes how despite her tournament success she still believes she lacks the “killer instinct” at times, and in fact recognizes that as a weakness in her game. But it is a weakness with which she is willing to live.

“For me, it’s a balance,” says Coren. “I want to beat the game, I want to be successful, I want to win, but I want to do it while still being able to sleep at night and look myself in the mirror with pride. And I’m aware that it’s a cruel game with a lot of hard edges, but I think I can find my way through it doing things that are morally acceptable to me while still winning.”

There’s more of value in the interview, including some thoughts from Coren about “poker writing” (and some of the great poker narratives), as well as a comparison or two between poker playing and writing (of special interest to yr humble gumshoe, for sure).

'Once More With Feeling' by Victoria Coren and Charlie Skelton (2002)Coren is at work on a poker narrative herself. I would expect it to be a good one, given her writing background. She currently has regular columns in both The Observer and The Guardian, and she’s also already authored or co-authored four books, including one detailing her experiences trying to produce a porn movie, titled Once More With Feeling (2002). (Was a little surprised Wise didn’t ask her about that, though I suppose he was being tactful.) If yr interested in that, or anything else about Coren, you can find out more on Coren’s website.

Meanwhile, if yr wanting to hear some thoughtful commentary about men, women, writing, and poker, check out that interview.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Kentucky Not King of Internet After All

Welcome to KentuckyRemember that case in Kentucky a couple of months back involving the seizure of 141 domains hosting online gambling sites? The one in which Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Wingate ruled -- incredibly -- that the Commonwealth of Kentucky was justified in requiring those sites to block access by Kentucky residents or risk forfeiting the domains? And a few of them -- including the Cereus network and Cake Poker -- went ahead and did just that?

Last we heard, that decision had been appealed. This afternoon came the decision, and by a 2-1 vote among the three judges hearing it, the appeal was granted.

The Court of Appeals’ ruling does mention the jurisdiction question, but it appears it was the argument that a domain name was a “gambling device” that ultimately sunk the original decision. Reading through the judges’ explanation for why that argument is insufficient, you can just sense the judges -- at least the two who were in the majority here -- shaking their heads at the faulty logic that enabled Judge Wingate to arrive at such a weak conclusion:

“Suffice it to say that given the exhaustive argument both in brief and oral form as to the nature of an Internet domain name, it stretches credulity to conclude that a series of numbers, or Internet address, can be said to constitute a ‘machine or any mechanical or other device... designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling.’ We are thus convinced that the trial court clearly erred in concluding that the domain names can be construed to be gambling devices subject to forfeiture....”

And that is that. As the judges say, “Because we have concluded that petitioners are entitled relief on the above-stated basis, we decline to address other issues presented in the briefs and/or argued at oral argument.”

If you recall, the bulk of that decision (about three-fourths of the 44-page document) was taken up with a long “Discussion of the Issues.” (I summarized most of that original decision here.) That “Discussion” included the whole “gambling device” claim, but also touched on all manner of other issues, too, including arguments justifying Kentucky’s jurisdiction over the 141 domain names.

There was also a section in there addressing the question of whether poker is indeed gambling. With regard to that latter issue, Judge Wingate had determined that since “in the end, no matter how skillful or cunning the player, who wins and who loses is determined by the hands the players hold,” poker was indeed gambling.

But, like I say, the judges here aren’t bothering with any of that.

The judges do add a few parting shots, too, in the decision. One of the consenting judges explains how he’d also have granted the appeal since circumstances for the forfeiture of the domains weren’t met. And the dissenting judge also throws in his two cents regarding the “gambling device” question, weakly arguing that since computers are built by humans, and humans also write the software, we can therefore consider the whole kit-and-kaboodle a “device” and thus regard it as such in legal contexts. Luckily his two colleagues thought otherwise.

This ruling will be appealed, too (in the Kentucky Supreme Court). And I suppose anything could happen there, but it seems pretty doubtful this one is gonna get reversed yet again.

Good news for online poker players in Kentucky, then, as well as for those in other states, too, where similar seizure-type action might’ve been tried had this one not been successfully thwarted.

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Running In Place

Exercise: The Poor Man's Plastic SurgeryStill running, everyone. (Thanks a bunch for all them good vibes on my post announcing such last week.) Still sticking with two miles a day, pursuing that same circle from my house to that corner and back. Finally got a decent pair of running shoes, so as to save my knees and ankles.

Still playing small stakes limit hold’em, too. And having fun.

Mentioned last week I’d moved from pot-limit Omaha back over to LHE where I had gotten off to a decent start during the first couple of weeks of the new year. Have held steady over the last seven days or so, just picking up a couple more berries while putting in a goodly number of hands. My win rate has fallen a bit as a result, but I’m still enjoying the relative tranquility of LHE.

Am also reading up, again, on LHE. In addition to revisiting certain faves like Small Stakes Hold’em by Ed Miller, David Sklansky, and Mason Malmuth and Advanced Limit Hold’em Strategy by Barry Tanenbaum, I’ve also spent some time lately rooting around over in the limit forums on Two Plus Two to see what I could find.

I’ve been playing mostly six-handed LHE, and so was keen to read more about short-handed play. Someone just a day or two ago posed a question on 2+2 about preflop hand selection in the 6-max. games, and a response pointed to another thread that linked back to a collection of older SSHE threads (from ’04 and ’05). Some great stuff in there comparing short-handed to full ring, blind play, how to interpret various PokerTracker stats, and more.

Of course, as was pretty much always the case over at the PLO tables, the bulk of my profits seem to come sliding my way from the stacks of the lousy players (of which there are enough, to be sure). Nothing new there, I know -- such is the case in just about any poker game.

My sense in PLO was frequently that the especially bad player usually had very little chance of lucking into a winning session. It would happen, of course, but the odds were usually stacked against such a player. The post-flop nature of the game meant better players generally knew how to steer clear of marginal situations before they became costly, while the less tutored folks pushing their A-A-x-x or K-K-x-x or not-so-hot draws generally couldn’t avoid getting crushed.

I remember somewhere along the way having that “revelation” (or, more modestly, “vague insight”) that a bad PLO player had much less hope of getting lucky -- and getting paid off for getting lucky -- than did a bad LHE player, mainly because the bad LHE player’s losses came in smaller increments and thus didn’t knock him or her out of action as rapidly. And then he’d nail that friggin’ five-outer against you, win eight-and-a-half big bets, and get to lose ’em all over again.

I suppose that observation is holding up as I continue with LHE, although I probably haven’t played enough hands this month to be able to generalize much about anything, really.

Speaking of bad players, one factor PLO has in common with LHE is the way both games occasionally attract the no-limit hold’em player who doesn’t seem to be able to adjust to the different game. Such a player distinguishes him or herself in PLO by overvaluing those big pairs or failing to appreciate that one usually cannot drive others out preflop. In LHE, these players again sometimes misapply aggression, or fail to notice that river bluffs tend not to work, or demonstrate in other ways their no-limit prejudices.

Anyhow, like I say, still enjoying myself and that’s the most important bottom line, I think. Am starting to get the urge to throw in the occasional session of PLO, but might just ride out the month without doing so if only to establish some sort of baseline for what I can do LHE-wise.

Meanwhile, two miles seems just about right for me, running-wise. Did three miles that one time, but am realizing I haven’t any strong ambitions to do that again. Not soon, anyhow. My conservative tendencies manifest themselves once again.

Thus concludes this little update from “on the street.”

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Monday, January 19, 2009

The UIGEA Era Begins

The UIGEA Era BeginsToday is the day regulations for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, finalized on November 12, 2008 by the Treasury and Federal Reserve of the outgoing Bush administration, are set to go into effect. In other words, from this day forward the UIGEA, approved by Congress by surreptitious means on 9/30/06 and signed into law by President Bush on 10/13/06, most certainly now has a legal significance it did not have before.

Stated yet another way, today marks the beginning of an era when it is theoretically possible for some “designated payment system” somewhere to be found in violation of the UIGEA. Or for some “designated payment system” to act in a way so as to avoid being in violation of the UIGEA, say, by stopping you from depositing money onto a site where “unlawful internet gambling” is thought to be taking place.

I say “theoretically possible” because it still seems relatively unlikely any institution will ever be found in violation of the UIGEA. It is perhaps slightly more likely the latter will somewhere occur, that is, an institution will prevent a player from depositing online.

That’s where we are. Still foggy, I know.

Adding to the uncertainty, tomorrow a new president gets sworn into office, bringing with him a new cabinet and a new political agenda. A mechanism exists by which to overturn the UIGEA entirely (the Congressional Review Act of 1996), although it seems only faintly likely that avenue will be pursued. Another possibility has already arisen in the new Congress, the so-called “Midnight Rule Act” proposed by House member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), that could be used to overturn last-minute rules like the UIGEA. Also perhaps a dim possibility. And, of course, new legislation could be proposed -- in fact, probably will be proposed -- by our new 111th Congress designed to overturn or replace the UIGEA.

In any event, the UIGEA is now in effect. Let’s take a look at what exactly this law with its final, published regulations says, and consider a bit how it might (or might not) affect our fun little world of online poker.

First Draft: The Act They Passed

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006When first passed, the UIGEA ambiguously laid out terms by which “designated payment systems” and other “financial transaction providers” were to stop clients from moving money to and from online sites that were either involved with or helped facilitate “unlawful internet gambling.”

The law didn’t provide much guidance for determining what exactly “unlawful internet gambling” really was, other than to suggest any “game subject to chance” is gambling and therefore subject to all other legal restrictions upon it, such as are suggested by the 1961 Wire Act (on a federal level) and/or the various laws states have on the books regarding gambling.

Nor did the UIGEA provide any specific instructions to the banks, credit card companies, and other third-party vendors how to block these transactions, although it did promise to provide such guidance by stating the Feds would be presenting more-detailed regulations within 270 days of the day Bush signed the UIGEA into law. As we know, it would take over two years for that process to be completed.

In October 2007, the regulations were first released and comments were solicited for the next couple of months. The Treasury Department and Federal Reserve did some work studying the law, the regulations it had proposed, and the comments, then a couple of their representatives appeared before a House Committee in early April 2008 to say they had been given an impossible task. As Louise Roseman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System put it, “The challenge we have is interpreting something -- particularly [with regard to existing] federal laws [about gambling] -- that Congress itself isn’t sure what they mean.... That is something that we are really struggling with at the moment.”

Opponents to the UIGEA proposed bills to repeal the sucker, but none got out of the House, and after several months of nothing new from the Feds, we began hearing rumors right around the time of the 2008 election that the Bush administration would be publishing the finalized regulations for the UIGEA along with a lot of other “midnight” rules during its final weeks in power. Then, on November 12th, the “Final Rule” was published, with one of its provisions being it would go into effect today (1/19/09), although “compliance... by designated payment systems is not required until December 1, 2009.”

Final Draft: The Regulations They Published

The UIGEA 'Final Rule'As far as defining what is and what is not “unlawful internet gambling,” the finalized regulations add nothing to what the UIGEA said on the matter, and in fact appear to strip the UIGEA of its authority to define such activity altogether, pointing out explicitly that “The Act does not spell out which activities are legal and which are illegal, but rather relies on the underlying substantive Federal and State laws.”

The published regs do get into a bit of analysis of the UIGEA’s fuzzy references to a “bet or wager” and a “game subject to chance,” but ultimately do not add any real clarification that would suggest, say, poker cannot also be considered gambling.

In its attempt at sorting out the UIGEA’s language, the regulations state that “even if chance is not the predominant factor in the outcome of a game, but was still a significant factor, the game could still be deemed to be a ‘game subject to chance.’” I know some who have read and commented on the finalized regulations want to read that line as opening the door to suggest certain games that involve chance but for which chance is not a “predominant factor” would somehow not be covered by the UIGEA. But the finalized regs frankly seem to say the opposite, and even so, they explicitly deny the Act or the regulations are here to offer any definitions regarding what is and what is not “unlawful internet gambling.”

As far as helping spell out to the affected institutions just what to do in terms of blocking “unlawful” transactions, the published regulations state that the Feds “recognize the challenge that participants in designated payment systems will face in trying to prevent restricted transactions without unduly burdening their processing of lawful transactions.” There will be no list of sites or companies with whom transactions are not permitted, so really it has been left up to the institutions themselves to determine what transactions are legal and what are not.

As a general directive, then, the regulations vaguely suggest that “due diligence” be the guiding principle for such institutions. Each payment system is given the freedom to exercise in its own fashion how best to handle transactions that may be deemed “unlawful” according to whatever legal jurisdiction under which that institution falls. In order “to minimize the burden of the rule on non-exempt participants [i.e., the affected institutions],” so say the regulations, “the final rule has been designed for maximum flexibility... [and] does not prescribe any design standards (such as requiring the use of a specific technology) or performance standards for such policies and procedures.”

Remember, these “non-exempt participants” or payment systems were the primary targets of the UIGEA -- the banks, credit card companies, third-party vendors whom the law says must block “unlawful” transactions or be forced to pay those “criminal penalties” (five years in prison, fines) listed in the original Act. Govern yrselves, say the published regs. And use “diligence,” why dontcha?

Another important clarification made by the final, published regulations suggests that when it comes to blocking transactions, these “non-exempt participants” (the banks, et al.) are not obligated to consider the transfer of funds from a site to a player (i.e., cash outs), but only the transfer of funds to an online site where it has been determined “unlawful internet gambling” occurs. “Under the final rule,” it states, “the term ‘restricted transaction’ would not include funds going to a gambler, and would only include funds going to an Internet gambling business.”

A New Era Begins

You Are HereSounds a lot like we’re now in a situation where the banks can block transactions if they wish, but they very likely won’t bother, and there isn’t really much incentive for them to do anything special to discover whether or not that money you’re transferring is going to an online gambling site or not.

That doesn’t mean your bank won’t block such a transaction -- they could. But they probably won’t.

Seems even less likely our banks will be objecting when we try to cash the checks we’ve received when pulling funds out of the sites on which we play. The finalized regs specifically exclude those transactions from the purview of the UIGEA altogether. Could still happen, though. I think we’re basically looking at status quo for a good while here, although we may well start hearing stories of folks running into hassles moving moneys back and forth (mostly forth) to the sites.

I liked listening to Joe Brennan of the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA) on the most recent Pocket Fives podcast (the 1/15/09 episode). Brennan and iMEGA has been heavily involved in the legal fight to declare the UIGEA unconstitutional, a battle that will continue as we move forward. I have my doubts about the potential success of iMEGA’s suit, but I was nevertheless impressed by Brennan on the podcast, where he offered what sounded to me like very sane, level-headed commentary on the legal situation as it currently stands.

On the podcast, Brennan was asked “How are the UIGEA regulations going to affect online poker players in 2009?” His sober reply: “Well, it may be harder to move money in and out of their players’ accounts at their favorite sites, is the long and the short of it. It may take more than one option for being able to fund their... accounts, and it may take longer for the operators to get their winnings to them when they cash out.”

Brennan expressed hope that the players would not subsequently “blame the operators” for such inconveniencies, and recommended patience on our part. Toward the end of the interview, he also strongly advised that we keep playing.

“Keep playing, and keep being advocates of your game,” said Brennan. “The more Americans that play the game, the more... revenue that the industry potentially generates, the more growth the industry sees, [and therefore] the more leverage the industry is going to have with the U.S. government. Because at the end of the day... the government has an interest in not making criminals out of millions of its citizens for something that is a simple pastime.”

Brennan might be just a little unclear there -- as we all know, the UIGEA does not criminalize playing online poker whatsoever -- but his point is still a good one. As more and more Americans choose play online poker, a poorly-designed, hard-to-enforce law designed to curb that activity like the UIGEA becomes less and less influential, and the likelihood of its being overturned or replaced with some sort of legalized, regulated form of online poker all the more likely.

Whether that is what we want is another issue, of course. Even so, in this new era (legally speaking), I, for one, certainly intend to keep playing.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 12: Gunsmoke, The Gambler

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowNew show up today. In this one I spend some time with David Spanier’s 1977 collection Total Poker. Then, as is the case with all the shows, there comes a complete episode of an old time radio show. This time it’s Gunsmoke starring William Conrad as Matt Dillon. The episode is titled “The Gambler.”

As I mentioned before, I’m going to see if I can keep up with producing a new show every other week. Have some comedy stuff to pass along here in the near future, so that should be fun.

So far I’ve managed to include a different old time radio show in each of the 12 episodes of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, all of which have had something to do with poker and/or gambling. Here’s a quick run down of all the different shows that have been featured thus far on the HBPRS (the links take you to each episode’s entry on the show’s website):

Episode 1: Inner Sanctum Mysteries (“Dead Man’s Deal”)
Episode 2: The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (“The Killer Cards”)
Episode 3: Duffy’s Tavern (“Playing Poker with Charles Coburn”)
Episode 4: Suspense (“Hitchhike Poker”)
Episode 5: Mystery in the Air (“The Queen of Spades”)
Episode 6: Escape (“The Ambassador of Poker”)
Episode 7: Fibber McGee and Molly (“Poker Game”)
Episode 8: Frontier Gentleman (“Aces and Eights”)
Episode 9: Nick Carter, Master Detective (“The Case of the Poker Murders”)
Episode 10: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (“Come, Fill My Cup”)
Episode 11: The Cisco Kid (“Poker Chip Draw”)
Episode 12: Gunsmoke (“The Gambler”)

As you might imagine, there ain’t an infinite number of these suckers floating around, but I’ve still got quite a few for future shows.

You can subscribe to the podcast over in iTunes by clicking here. And as always, send yr feedback to shamus at hardboiledpoker dot com.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

There’s Someone In My Head And It’s Not Me

American IdolWhen I first started doing a podcast -- hope to have a new episode tomorrow, by the way -- I remember joking around on here about the horror of hearing my own recorded voice. “Is that my voice?” I asked. “Sheesh.”

By August of last year I’d done a few shows, and got a huge kick when I saw Littleacornman had posed the question on his blog “Is it just me or does anyone else reckon Shamus over at Hard-Boiled Poker sounds a bit like K-Billy’s super sounds of the 70’s on his excellent poker podcasts?”

For those who don’t remember, K-Billy is the DJ in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, played by the comedian Steven Wright. He of the unhurried, deadpan baritone. Not exactly what I imagined I sounded like, I have to admit. But I’ll take it.

A couple of things this week reminded me of Littleacornman’s comparison. One was watching the debut of the new season of American Idol. Yeah, I watch it. Vera Valmore likes it, and I’ll admit I find it fairly compelling, although I’ll sometimes drift in and out, reading or doing house stuff while it plays. Those of you who’re watching should follow Change100’s ongoing analysis, if you aren’t already.

This is the part of the show when they give a lot of air time to contestants who failed to make the initial cut, including some who are so incredibly awful one cannot help but wonder how they ever convinced themselves they ever belonged in front of the judges -- never mind on national television -- singing songs. And if we are to believe the quickly-told back stories we occasionally get, some of these folks genuinely believe themselves to be talented singers with quality voices, destined to be stars. (Seems like most have been told this by mothers or other relatives.)

I’m an amateur musician (guitar, bass), though as a singer am just passable. I know I have a very limited range (not even two octaves, really), and if I try anything outside of it, I’ll quickly be entering William Hung territory. Doesn’t stop me from doing so, of course, in the car or elsewhere, at a safe distance from others’ ears. And, perhaps, from time to time, I’ll let myself be deluded into thinking maybe I can hit certain notes or carry certain not-so-simple tunes.

The fact is, we all have an idea of how we sound that is different from what others hear. And usually that idea tends to be more generous in its evaluation than what is merited.

That’s true of singing or other artistic endeavors. It’s also true at the poker table, where I think the difference between self-perception and others’ ideas is demonstrated even more dramatically.

I was talking last week about encountering “Level Zero Thinking at the Micro Stakes,” sharing examples of inexplicable play at the $0.50/$1.00 limit hold’em tables. Was back there yesterday and again encountered what seemed at first to be a Level Zero player -- that is, someone who was not even thinking of his or her own hand. Eventually I realized this person’s actions were dictated somewhat by the cards s/he had been dealt -- at least occasionally -- and so had to promote the player to Level 1.

We’ll call the player StarryEyes. I won’t go into too much detail as far as hands are concerned, but the performance was very much like one of those jawdroppingly-awful renditions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Looking at PokerTracker, I’m seeing I actually only played 39 hands with StarryEyes, so the impression was made quite rapidly. For some reason StarryEyes loved queen-deuce offsuit, voluntarily playing it three times (raising preflop once), then calling down bets all three times without pairing either card. On one occasion, I was delivered a nice little gift in the small blind (again, you RSS-reader types might need to click through to view):

Then, a little later, StarryEyes had rebought and soon after got into a blind-vs.-blind confrontation against Randy:

Checked after on turn and river with the king-high flush? Yo, yo, yo dog you gotta bet that.

I was scratching my head, even wondering if I were perhaps witnessing some sort of bizarre example of softplay or collusion. I wasn’t, of course. I’m sure it all sounded mostly fine in StarryEyes’ head.

Not intending, really, to pick on StarryEyes or any of the other not-so-fine American Idol wannabes. Like I say, I think we all have an idea of how we sound or appear to others that isn’t quite what others are hearing and seeing.

And with that, I hope everyone out there has an excellent Super Sounds of the 70s weekend and remember just... keep... on...


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Podcast Plug: The Gamblers Book Club Podcast

Gamblers Book ShopHere’s a podcast recommendation for you. Go check out the 12/12/08 episode of the Gamblers Book Club podcast featuring a couple of great interviews with Las Vegas-based journalists, Jack Sheehan and Norm Clarke. Actually, go check out all of the episodes, if you haven’t been listening to Howard Schwartz’s show. Definitely one of my faves at the moment.

Schwartz, the proprietor of the Gamblers Book Shop in Las Vegas, is a living, breathing encyclopedia of all things Vegas and gambling. He generally interviews authors and other folks from the gambling industry for his show (new episodes come out every two weeks). They record the show right there in the shop. I’ve been listening since I first found out about the show about a year ago, and I can’t remember a single episode that hasn’t been informative & entertaining.

Have to say I especially enjoyed the Jack Sheehan interview from that 12/12 show. To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with Sheehan before hearing the interview. I was aware of one book that he edited titled The Players: The Men Who Made Vegas (1996), a book I recall leafing through, in fact, in the Gamblers Book Shop. (Now that I think about it, I believe Schwartz actually recommended it to me, which is probably why I remember it.)

I see from Sheehan’s website and hunting around elsewhere online that he’s authored about a dozen books, including a couple about golf that he co-authored with PGA pro Peter Jacobsen. He’s also written a few more Vegas-related books, including Skin City: Behind the Scenes of the Las Vegas Sex Industry (2005).

Jack SheehanOn the show, Schwartz introduced Sheehan as an important historian of Vegas, and again recommended The Players as “one of the most important references ever written” about some of the city’s most important figures. Schwartz also referred to his guest as a “humorist,” and over the course of the 35-40 minute interview, Sheehan showed that he’s indeed earned that appellation, as he had me cracking up on a few occasions.

They spent most of the first part of the interview discussing Jimmy Chagra, the infamous drug-trafficker who often played in the biggest poker games in Vegas during the 1970s. Chagra was the one who hired Woody Harrelson’s father to kill the federal judge who presided over Chagra’s 1978 drug trial. Chagra ended up spending a lot of time in prison, then was out as part of the federal witness protection program when he died in Arizona last summer.

Sheehan tells about the fascinating interview he did with Chagra in 2006. He is working on a book about Chagra and is also currently shopping a screenplay around Hollywood (called Do a Nickel) about him.

He and Schwartz also talk about Sheehan’s many other ongoing projects, touching on numerous Vegas luminaries and other behind-the-scenes stuff along the way. Sheehan also offers some interesting observations about the tribulations of freelance writing (a subject of particular interest to yr humble gumshoe).

The Clarke interview is good, too. He and Schwartz discuss his new book, Norm Clarke’s Vegas Confidential, which is drawn from his regular celebrity gossip column that appears in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But for poker/gambling folks, the Sheehan one is particularly fun and interesting.

There’s a newer episode of the podcast up, too, featuring an interview with Gentleman Jack Newton, a long-time gambler who has a new book out titled Confessions of a Crossroad Gambler.

Haven’t heard that one yet (dated 1/9/09). But if the first 30-plus episodes are any indication, I’m guessing I’ll probably enjoy it.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PokerNews News

Changes, Next ExitMy association with PokerNews began around May 2007. Card Player had covered the World Series of Poker in ’06, then the next year Bluff secured the rights and an agreement was made to have PokerNews handle the live reporting. I came on board to help out with some background stuff and also write some for the site while all the first-stringers were in Vegas that summer. I have continued to work with PokerNews ever since.

Early last year John Caldwell, the Editor-in-Chief over at PN, asked me if I’d be interested in coming out to Vegas and helping with the live blogging at the WSOP. I took him up on the offer, and have noted here several times how positive an experience that was. As a poker player and fan, it was a blast to be there at the Rio for those seven weeks and experience the madness up close.

A huge part of what made the summer so satisfying -- both personally and professionally -- was the smart, supportive, fun group of folks with whom I got to work. I probably interacted with and in many cases worked closely with more than 50 different people, and I know there were more coming and going who were also part of the team. It really was a “team,” with everyone genuinely looking out for each other and committed to making the coverage as good as it could be.

And while there were other talented people who had a lot to do with the whole operation running so smoothly, Caldwell was the one overseeing the sucker. Hellmuth might’ve been prancing around the Rio in the general’s outfit, but Caldwell -- never one to seek such attention -- was the one leading troops.

Yesterday we heard the news that Caldwell had decided to step down from his post over at PokerNews. Dr. Pauly quickly posted his thoughts, and if you’re interested you might head over to Tao of Poker to see what he has to say and to read the comments, too, for others’ reactions.

Thought I’d also take the time to add my thanks here to Caldwell for the opportunities he’s sent my way, and for having done such a terrific job over the years helping build PokerNews up into a prominent part of the poker media landscape.

Wise Hand PokerIf you’re curious to learn more about Caldwell and/or PokerNews, you might check out the 3/26/08 episode of the Wise Hand Poker podcast on which Caldwell appeared as a guest. Gary Wise interviews Caldwell for the first half of that episode.

Wise and Caldwell began the show chatting some about the history of PokerNews (which first started up in late 2004), moved on to talk about Caldwell’s background working in the music industry, then spent the rest of the conversation discussing the role of poker media in general and PokerNews in particular. Last spring I wrote a post here, titled “Sunshine & Lollipops,” that focused on that latter portion of the interview, particularly the issue of how the poker media has to negotiate this sometimes-tricky business of reporting on subject matter -- i.e., gambling -- that certain segments of the general public find objectionable.

The first part of the interview -- the part in which Caldwell relates some of the background about PokerNews -- is interesting, too. Caldwell tells about the site’s humble beginnings, starting over at, then gravitating to, and how thanks to “a lot of hard work and a lot of belief” the site was able to grow.

John CaldwellCaldwell notes that a “big turning point” for him occurred when PokerNews began to focus on providing content in languages other than English. In 2005, a German version of the site was launched, then one in French, until eventually versions of the site became available in over 30 languages.

That meant finding qualified people in all of those countries to translate articles appearing on the main site, as well as to report on items of particular interest in to poker players and fans in those countries, too. A huge undertaking, to be sure. And fascinating, really, when one considers the extent of the site’s reach.

I do hope PokerNews makes it okay without Caldwell. And, of course, that Caldwell does well, too, without PokerNews.

The fact is, when it comes to poker media and the professional circuit, it is probably best to understand that nearly everything is subject to change at any moment. Tournament series appear and disappear, the WSOP is constantly revising itself, advertisers come and go, and thus are media outlets constantly affected by a myriad of forces that are mostly out of their control. Indeed, Caldwell’s lengthy tenure at PokerNews (going on five years) is something of an anomaly, really, insofar as he’s helped provide a kind of stability there that one doesn’t really find much elsewhere in the industry.

As I say, best of luck to Caldwell and his family. And to PokerNews, too.

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