Tuesday, June 30, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 34: Shamus, the Movie

'Shamus' (1973)Just got back from taking Vera Valmore to McCarran Airport. She returns home today after a week here with me in Vegas.

Vera had a good time, going to a show, eating out a lot, even coming to see that Event No. 50 final table on Sunday night where she was one of the 200 or so on the rail helping make that one more exciting than it might have been otherwise. Best part, of course, was just being able to spend time together. Two-and-a-half more weeks of this here crazy adventure and we’ll be able to do so again.

Today I’m back at the Rio to begin covering the last event prior to the Main Event, Event No. 56, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event. Three days of that, then the big one starts on Friday. Will probably also wander over now and then today to see how that $50K H.O.R.S.E. event winds up. They are down to the final eight over there, with Erik Sagstrom and Vitaly Lunkin leading the way. (Wouldn’t it be something if Lunkin took both the $40K NLHE event and this one?) Huck Seed, Chau Giang, and Erik Seidel are still in the hunt there, too.

People often say to me “Shamus, you live such an interesting life, being an undercover poker reporter and all. Someone should make a movie of it.”

'Shamus' (1973)As a matter of fact, someone already has. Not many have seen it, but in 1973 a feature film about me hit the theaters, directed by Buzz Kulik and starring Burt Reynolds in the title role.

Sure, they took a few liberties here and there. The whole business about the stolen diamonds is completely made up out of thin air. Oh, and I never lived in New York City. Also, I can’t honestly say I recall crashing through quite so many windows, but I suppose they had to jazz it up somehow.

Dead on, though, otherwise. Here’s the trailer:

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Monday, June 29, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 33: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Dreams are like rainbows. Only idiots chase them.That post title sort of comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Prospero proclaims “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” But it also comes up -- with the altered preposition -- at the conclusion of a famous hard-boiled film. Any guesses?

Last night during the final table of Event No. 50, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shooutout, the six remaining players decided to take a ninety-minute dinner break after the fourth level. A little out of the ordinary, as most final tables have only had an hour-long break in there somewhere. Worked out well for yr humble gumshoe, as Vera Valmore has been here for the past week, and so we were able to go enjoy a leisurely dinner elsewhere in the Rio.

We were walking back to the Amazon Room when we realized I still had a half-hour or so before the tourney would restart. So we just parked it on a bench there in the hallway and were sitting there when F-Train happened by, his tourney (Event No. 52, the $3,000 Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em) having just reached its break.

“What, you just spend your breaks sitting out in the halls?” asked F-Train. Sure, I joked. Only today I had Vera to keep me company. We chatted for a bit about various items, including the way covering the WSOP tends to wreck one’s sleep schedule.

Went back over and the rest of the night went fairly well, and in fact the tournament was all over before midnight. Tourney officials did not choose to stage the Limit Shootout final table on the main feature table, but rather played it out over on the secondary feature table. That meant no live streaming coverage on ESPN360 or Bluff. That also meant very limited seating for spectators, which ended up being a big deal since there were probably 200 or more people crushed on all sides trying to watch this one play out.

Would have made an interesting broadcast, I think. David Williams finished fourth. Millie Shiu finished third, which if I am not mistaken is the closest a woman has come to winning an open event this summer. Then the two players who made heads up, Marc Naalden and Greg Mueller, were both gunning for their second WSOP bracelets of the summer. Not only that, both had won their earlier bracelets in limit hold’em events -- Mueller in Event No. 33, the $10,000 World Championship LHE event, and Naalden in Event No. 38, the $2,000 LHE event.

Greg MuellerMueller ended up taking it down. I was mentioning yesterday my thoughts about his prowess at LHE, and it was definitely fun (and instructional) to watch how he played numerous hands last night. He caught some cards, for sure, especially during the middle levels of the final table. But he played an obviously smart game and well deserved the win.

Limit hold’em has that reputation as a relatively boring game to play, let alone watch. But the fact is, from the reporting side of things, LHE can actually be much more interesting to cover simply because there is never a lack for hands.

Unlike in no-limit, where you can go a couple of orbits without any hand getting past the turn, you have lots of showdowns in LHE, and most of those hands involve players having made three, four, or even more clear decisions. Not only that, but once those hands reach a showdown and you find out players’ cards, your report of all of those decisions becomes all the more meaningful. In other words, one often has a better shot of actually relating to the reader in a somewhat complete way players’ strategies and thought processes in LHE than in no-limit (if that makes sense).

Even though it ended up being a relatively early night, I was dead tired by the time Vera and I made it back to the home-away-from-home. Fell asleep quickly, but three hours later was awake again.

What woke me up? Hands. One after another.

It folded to player who raised from the button, player three-bet from the big blind, and player made the call. The flop came this of that, this of that, this of that. Player checked, player bet, and player check-raised. Player called. The turn brought the this of that. I turn over, readjust the pillow, and it folded to player who raised from the cutoff. The button three-bet, the blinds got out of the way, and the cutoff made it four to go. And so on.

Dreaming of handsSuch is how my jingle brain seems to deal with all the mental mumbo-jumbo of the day, revisiting it upon me in vaguely-drawn, incomplete gestures while I try to rest. I remember fussing through this same phenomenon last summer (where that picture of the little boy dreaming of hands was first used).

One more tourney for me to cover this summer before the Main Event starts on Friday -- Event No. 56, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event which starts on Tuesday. Am off today, though, and so will get to spend the day with Vera, her last full day here before she heads back home.

Gonna be a quiet day today. A nice one for sitting here on this bench and watching other people rush back and forth. I’m a little tired. And in no hurry. Think I’ll just sit here a while and rest.

Nice to have Vera next to me.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 32: A Long Flight

Flying WSOP“It’s like flying to Australia every day. Only when you get there you’re at the Rio. Again.”

Said Tom Schneider to me during one of the breaks at yesterday’s Day 2 of Event No. 50, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout. Schneider, like a lot of pros, has played in numerous events at this summer’s World Series of Poker, somewhere around 15 or more. Which means he’s spent just about every day sitting in a seat in either the Amazon, Brasilia, or Miranda rooms handling chips, cards, and the mental and physical challenges that come with trying to win a poker tournament that generally requires a person to survive three consecutive 12-14 hour days of play if he or she hopes to win the sucker.

There’s an upside, obviously. The chance to win a big bag of cabbage is nice, of course. As is the fact that, well, one is playing games all day.

But four-plus weeks of anything (to this degree) can make the line between “play” and “work” more than a little fuzzy.

Schneider’s analogy seemed to characterize my own experience helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews as well. The days are long, sometimes arduous. I’m sitting a lot, too, although unlike the players I’m often up and around, moving through the tables in search of hands, chip counts, or other material to pass along. Can’t sleep, of course. Can’t even mentally check out for a few minutes, really.

And when you get to the end, you’re at the Rio. Again.

Yesterday I reported on the eight eight-handed matches that constituted the second round of the Shootout, with the winners moving on to today’s final table. Schneider came close in his match, gamely battling back after the dinner break to make heads up against Greg Mueller.

Tom SchneiderTheirs was probably the toughest table of the second round, including Brock Parker and Juha Helppi as well. Schneider was WSOP Player of the Year in 2007, when he won two bracelets. Mueller won his first bracelet a few days ago in the $10,000 World Championship Limit Hold’em (Event No. 33). Parker has won two bracelets this summer, one in an LHE event. And Helppi has $2.4 million in tourney winnings, including a couple of near-misses at WSOP bracelets. The other four at their table weren’t slim pickings, either. Easily the highest concentration of tough players in the room, I’d estimate.

Too bad both Mueller and Schneider couldn’t have made today’s final. Their heads-up match went back and forth for awhile before Mueller won. Indeed, several of those who won their matches yesterday had been low in chips at some point during the day -- most often during heads up -- before coming back to win. Such is limit hold’em, where having even just a couple of big bets left means you still have a legitimate chance. If you can catch a hand, that is. Schneider appeared to have hit such a hand late during his match yesterday when he flopped a set of treys, only to have Mueller chase down a flush on the end. Most definitely one of those “so it goes hands” (S.I.G.H.).

I’ll be back over to help cover today’s final table. Hasn’t been too much turbulence covering this Limit Shootout event, though the days/nights have been long, for sure. Am hoping we’ll make it to the main stage, where covering final tables is marginally less strenuous than on the secondary feature table or on one of the outer tables. Not quite the difference between first class and coach, but enough to make the flight a little more pleasant. We may be over there. David Williams is at our final table, which improves our chances. As does the fact that we’re the only final table being played today (although that doesn’t always guarantee we’ll be on the main stage).

In any event, I know I’ll be somewhere in the Amazon (after two days in the Brasilia), and so might get a chance during a break to wander over and see what’s happening in the $50K H.O.R.S.E., where Gus Hansen is leading with 53 players left. Hop over to PokerNews’ live reporting page and I’ll see you there.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 31: Decline

DeclineTurned out to be my latest night so far all summer at the Rio, as my event, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout (Event No. 50), didn’t conclude until close to 4 a.m. Just 572 entrants came out for this one, meaning after a bit of awkwardness early on they settled on just 64 tables (rather than 100). The 64 winners come back today at 2 p.m. to play eight separate eight-handed tables, and those eight winners will come back for an eight-handed final table on Sunday.

Last year, this event -- the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout -- attracted 823 entrants. It was also one of the last events in 2008 (Event No. 53). So we’re looking at a precipitous drop here of 251 fewer runners, about 30% less than last year, and also well below the 905 that had been projected for this event (in that WSOP Staff Resource Media Guide back in early May).

Of course, the main buzz at the Rio yesterday -- aside from the surprise playing of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” at Brit John Kabbaj’s bracelet ceremony (an attempt at a little cheekiness that sounds like it didn’t quite land) -- concerned a similar decline in entrants in the much more prestigious $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event (Event No. 49), which only drew 95 players. That’s also a huge drop from last year -- nearly 36% off of last year’s 148 -- and well below the projected 151.

Now folks are starting to wonder about the Main Event that starts this coming Friday (July 3), which drew 6,844 last year, and for which Harrah’s had projected 7,323. Will at least 7,000 players come out and plunk down $10,000 to chase that dream this time around? Some are saying that is starting to look increasingly less likely.

In some ways, neither the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout nor the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. has much at all to do with the Main Event. A small percentage of the LHE crowd will play the Main Event, too, though I’d bet well over half probably won’t. I don’t think the dip in registrants for this year really tells us too much about what’s going to happen with the Main Event.

On the other side of the coin, I’d venture to guess that all 95 of those who entered the $50K H.O.R.S.E. will be in the Main Event as well, and the main reason why that number fell so far was the lack of television coverage of that event from ESPN this year. Sure, that $40,000 “Special 40th Annual No-Limit Hold’em” event probably took a few names out of the $50K H.O.R.S.E. mix, but the fact that ESPN is not televising it meant many players who would’ve gotten help from sponsors to enter were not put into the event this time around.

When we were about one-third of the way through the WSOP, I took a brief, comparative look at the numbers and said at that point that it didn’t appear there had been much of a change from last year. I’ll do another comparison like that later next week before the Main Event kicks off and see whether this sudden decline we saw yesterday in the two new events might be part of a larger end-of-series trend.

Meanwhile, I will be back over to the Rio in just a couple hours to follow Round 2 of the Shootout. As you might imagine, it wasn’t the most exciting night for me last night, with much of my work being more clerical than creative as I tallied up the winners to report. And, of course, match-ending hands in limit events tend to be more than a little anti-climactic, since usually one player is down to his or her last couple of big bets and is forced to go all in with any two cards.

There are a few folks left to help make Event No. 50 interesting, though. Jean-Robert Bellande -- who finished second in this same event last year after having an enormous 8-to-1 chip advantage over Matt Graham when heads up at the final table -- won his table yesterday and so will be there for Round 2. David Williams, Humberto Brenes, David Plastik, and Dan Heimiller won as well. And Tom Schneider, Juha Helppi, Brock Parker, Greg “FBT” Mueller, and “Crazy Mike” Thorpe are all going to be seated at the same table today.

Still, I’m aware I'll probably be experiencing a decline of my own when it comes to the number of eyeballs following my reporting this weekend, since most everyone who ends up over at PokerNews’ live reporting page will probably be following that $50K H.O.R.S.E. event. (Most of the field -- 91 of 95 -- is still alive in that one.) Hell, I’ll probably be looking in over there as well today.

I will also likely be keeping an eye on the entrants in Event No. 51, the next-to-last of the so-called “donkaments” (i.e., the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em events). That figure will probably be a more significant indicator of things to come if that number turns out to be one-third below the projected number (2,800 entrants).

Then that Sex Pistols’ song -- and its predictions of “no future” -- might start sounding uncomfortably prophetic to some.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 30: The Dealers

The DealersThis afternoon I’m back over at the Rio for the first day of Event No. 50, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout. This will be the second LHE event for me, having earlier covered Event No. 26, the $1,500 LHE event won by Tomas Alenius.

I am recalling the first day of that earlier LHE event -- this would have been exactly two weeks ago, Friday, 6/12. We had reached what I guess must’ve been the second 20-minute break (it was around 4:45 p.m. or so) and I was sitting there in the Brasilia Room at my laptop, catching up on something or another.

As is customary, dealers remained at the tables during the break, making sure there was no funny business with the chip stacks sitting around them. Dealers follow the same schedules of “pushes” -- rotating from table to table or onto breaks themselves -- whether the tourney is in progress or not. As I did on that day, I will sometimes spend my break sitting in there with them, and as no one else is allowed within the ropes at that time, it is usually relatively quiet and I can overhear their conversations. And sometimes I’ll get into conversations with them, too.

On that day, Event No. 27, the $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better event was about to get underway, and one of the tourney directors passed through asking the dealers if anyone wanted to go deal that event. No hands went up, and after the TD left there were a few chuckles. Dealing limit hold’em was obviously a much less arduous task than dealing PLO/8.

That’s not to say these guys aren’t working hard and especially conscientious about performing well. Although I know players will complain about dealer screw-ups -- and I’ve witnessed a few, to be sure -- they do a hell of a job, sometimes under fairly trying circumstances.

The last event I did, the $1,500 Mixed Game event (Event No. 42), obviously presented particular challenges to dealers, with the constantly changing games among which are included those tricky split pot games. “Have you ever run out of cards during triple draw?” asked one dealer of his neighbor during a break. No, was the reply. I asked him what he did in that situation, and he explained how they would be forced to reshuffle the discard pile in order to deal more cards.

Dealers at the WSOPDuring that event, all of the dealers had structure sheets out on the tables with them, and there was quite a bit of interaction between dealers and players regarding how the games were to be dealt, as well as about the different blinds, limits, antes, and bring-ins.

Most of these interactions were cordial and friendly, although I witnessed one particular player on Day 1 routinely giving the dealers an especially hard time. This older player is not at all like your typical WSOP player, and while he has something of a reputation for being irascible, I was taken aback at some of the epithets he used, many of which were inspired by the dealer’s racial or ethnic background. From what I saw, the dealers forced to endure such applesauce all remained professional, sitting and taking it, and not talking back.

The dealers at the final table for Event No. 42 were especially good, and I think they were probably chosen on the basis of their abilities. I remember overhearing one say something about how they were there for the duration -- i.e., there wouldn’t be another shift of dealers coming to replace them -- and how she was glad, because she especially enjoyed dealing that event. As that final table wound along, I picked up on the fact that those dealers and the players had begun referring to each other by their first names, having developed a kind of camaraderie after spending several hours together.

All of them -- players and dealers -- seemed to have a genuine desire to see everyone do as well as they could (if that makes sense). I remember Layne Flack, who caught some unfortunate cards at that final table, complaining in a humorous way after one hand about one of the dealers being “terrible,” referring simply to the fact that he kept getting dealt bricks. He and that dealer were later talking and joking during one of the breaks, and it was clear from where I was sitting that both respected each other.

It’s always nice to see such scenes, whether between players, between players and dealers, or among any of those involved in these tournaments. There’s a lot of pressure surrounding the staging and execution of the WSOP, and I think everyone benefits when those involved understand and appreciate the various challenges all of the participants face, including the dealers.

That said, I can’t say I mind going back to a relatively-easier-to-follow limit hold’em event after having gone through the challenge of covering the eight-game mixed event. And I’m guessing that some of the dealers probably feel the same.

Head over to PokerNews’ live reporting page to see how the first round of Event No. 50 goes. I would say to dial up that page around five o’clock Vegas time, but these late afternoon tourneys haven’t been starting until 5:15 or 5:30, usually. F-Train wrote an interesting piece yesterday about some of the problems that have arisen with these 5:00 p.m. tourneys, which have routinely started late and short-handed, thereby introducing some undesirable weirdness into the first couple of levels of play.

Of course, this event is a shootout, and it has also been capped at 1,000 entrants. Meaning I wouldn’t imagine many players would want to show up late for this one, so maybe we will start on time after all.

Whatever happens, I’ll be there. And I know the dealers will be, too.

(Trivia: From what cult film comes that picture at the top of the post?)

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 29: Mystère

MystèreI signed off yesterday saying something about relaxing “poolside” with Vera Valmore (here visiting for the week). Was cloudy most of the day, and during the afternoon came a torrential downpour, meaning nobody was doing much of anything poolside yesterday. Much nicer today, though, so I think we’ll really, genuinely make it out there for some fun in the sun.

Last night, while Jeff Lisandro was winning his third WSOP bracelet of the summer (in Event No. 44, the $2,500 Razz), Vera and I trucked over to Treasure Island for dinner and to see another Cirque du Soleil show, this time Mystère. We’d seen both O and Love before, and this one followed the formula fairly closely, offering once again that surreal mix of dance, ballet, gymnastics, acrobatics, trapeze, and occasional slapstick. Fun stuff, to be sure. (This here two-minute trailer gives a good ideer what we’re talking about, if yr curious.)

Another part of the formula for these shows that was given a little more attention in Mystère than in the others we’ve seen has to do with audience involvement, whereby some of the characters of the production pull spectators out of the crowd and interact with them, with a couple even being brought onto the stage to become “characters” in their own right, playing roles in the nonsensical narrative.

I’ll admit that while watching the show last night I was thinking there was something incongruous about the more serious-minded dance/gymnastics numbers and these little comic interludes. Neither really immediately seem to “mean” much at all, and whatever they meant, I wasn’t really picking up on what they had to do with each other. I’m not saying that sensing such incongruity made the performance less entertaining -- just harder to respond to intellectually.

Vera made some good points to me afterwards, though, that kind of explained how all the parts indeed served a greater whole. She noted how those interactive elements forced the audience to engage a little differently, which kind of fits with Cirque du Soleil’s thematic emphasis on creativity and imagination. Indeed, on their website one reads that “Cirque du Soleil’s mission is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.”

How do they do that?Those bits with audience -- in which one could literally be unexpectedly taken out of one’s seat at any moment -- made it impossible, really, to sit there passively and not respond to what was happening. “No one dared to take out their iPhones or Blackberries to check their messages or friends’ status updates,” explained Vera. She added that she appreciated the effort made to engage the audience in this way, because really, they could’ve gotten by without doing so -- the dancing and jaw-dropping-how-the-hell-did-they-do-that performances were plenty engaging on their own.

Vera’s explanation made me think a little about the WSOP and how it attempts to engage its audience -- both online and live at the Rio. There’s a lot of energy being directed toward that effort, too, I think, that shows Harrah’s understands you can’t just put on a poker tournament and expect throngs of fans and other interested folks to come follow along.

Of course, sitting in the bleachers watching a WSOP final table is probably never going to “provoke the senses” quite like a Cirque du Soleil show can. Although it can certainly “invoke the imagination” and even “evoke the emotions,” I think. And for anyone hopeful of finding and keeping an audience, it is important always to think about how best to keep ’em engaged.

I’ll be back over at the Rio tomorrow, trying to keep people engaged with Event No. 50, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout, which I’ll be covering Friday through Sunday. Looks like they’ve capped that one at 1,000 entrants, meaning the person who wins that bracelet will need to win just three one-table sit-n-go’s.

Meanwhile, my plan is to spend most of today relaxing au soleil with Vera by the pool. Very passively.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 28: Intense

The Human Function CurveKind of a weirdly intense vibe yesterday at the Rio.

I worked the last day of Event No. 42, the $2,500 Mixed Game event won by Jerrod Ankenman. Ankenman is the somewhat lesser known co-author of The Mathematics of Poker with Bill Chen. Chen, of course, won two WSOP bracelets during 2006, shortly before the appearance of their book, and thus when the book came out many simply referred Chen as the book’s author, neglecting to mention Ankenman.

But Ankenman was already an accomplished player then, and in fact had finished runner-up in a $3,000 limit hold’em event that summer to Ian Johns. Ankenman had had Johns all in at one point during heads up, but ended up losing. He also took second in last year’s $10,000 World Championship limit hold’em event to Rob Hollink. So now he’s finally got his.

Jerrod Ankenman wins Event No. 42Was pretty cool afterwards as all of Ankenman’s buds, including Chen, Greg Raymer, Terrence Chan, Sabyl Cohen-Landrum, Gavin Griffin, and others were there to root Ankenman on and eventually congratulate him on his victory. I heard him giving some interviews afterwards, and he definitely is both a smart and funny guy who is easy to like. And he played especially well, I thought, showing a significant edge in the six limit games (2-7 triple draw, hold’em, O/8, razz, stud, stud/8), though being willing to gamble and take intelligent risks, too, in no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha.

Covering the tourney was interesting. Folks came over now and then during the three days to watch. Yesterday LJ stopped by to say hello and observe a few hands, after which she joked with me how the 8-game event didn’t seem as exciting to watch as one would think. (Speaking of mixed games, LJ finished an amazing 10th place in Event No. 31, the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E.) I told her it kind of came in waves -- some very uneventful stretches followed by some seriously exciting hands/sequences.

Really the whole event was like that, including the last day when they played down from 14 to one. Lengthy periods where nothing seemed to be happening, then highly-charged moments full of action and big chip swings and/or eliminations. And the funny thing was, the intensity level didn’t seem to be connected necessarily to the games being played. Sure, we saw more big pots develop more quickly in the no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha rounds than in the limit games, but there were dry patches in NLHE and PLO, too -- and some seriously high-stress hands (resulting in big pots) in the other rounds as well.

Probably the most intense hand from my perspective was a 2-7 triple draw hand between Eric Crain and Layne Flack in which after a long session in the tank Flack ended up breaking a 9-5-4-3-2 on the last draw -- everyone saw what he’d had ’cos when he finally decided to give up the nine he showed it -- and unfortunately picked up a jack to replace his nine. He checked, then Crain (who’d raised him previously) surprisingly checked behind and turned over 9-5-4-3-2 -- in other words, the very same hand Flack had given up on. (Flack was no happy camper after that one, let me tell you.) That hand basically turned the tide for Flack, knocking him back down to a below average stack and helping ensure his departure in seventh place.

And from the reporting side of things, it occasionally got pretty intense as well, especially when it came to narrating those O/8 and Stud/8 hands where one has to keep track of a dozen or more cards. Was good working with Don Peters who was great help managing the occasional information overload with which we sometimes had to deal.

Miami John CernutoOf course, when I speak of the intensity and stress of playing a poker tournament or reporting on it, I speak in relative terms, as we all now there are more important things in life. We were reminded of that fact yesterday when word made it over to the Amazon Room that Miami John Cernuto had collapsed at a table over in the Brasilia while playing the $2,500 razz event (Event No. 44). At first it was thought he’d had a heart attack, although it isn’t clear now what exactly happened. He has been hospitalized and while suffering some internal bleeding is apparently stable for now.

The razz event was stopped for about an hour, and, as I say, hearing people asking each other about what was going on did help lend that strange vibe to yesterday’s proceedings. Luckily for all of us, Dr. Pauly has finally returned to the Rio after his extended musical interlude from the WSOP to help us sort through this stuff. Read Pauly’s take on “The Miami John incident” here.

What’s up next? Well, Vera is here. And I have two days off in a row, and so she and I will likely be enjoying them poolside. We’ll probably be catching a show of some sort tonight, then maybe even get outta Vegas tomorrow for a bit. Taking another cue from Dr. P, in a way, though my break from poker will just be two days, not two weeks. Gotta relax now and then. No way around it.

And while you’re taking your break from life’s many stressors, be sure to head over to PokerNews’ live reporting for all things WSOP.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 27: Eight Arms to Hold You

Eight Arms to Hold YouWas an especially long one yesterday blogging from Event No. 42, the $2,500 Mixed Game, the one in which players rotate between eight different poker games. Fun, though.

Things went relatively well as far as the reporting went, although I’ll confess the tournament became marginally more tedious as most of the “names” dropped out. All of them entered, it seemed, but few made it into the top forty (and the cash). Instead, it was folks like Bob Slezak, Zvi Groysman, Vojislav Petrov, Yuval Bronshtein, Mihail Stoykov, Hank Paloci, and Alex Dovzhenko making the money -- all good players, obviously, but not players for whom I necessarily have a lot of “back story” with which to contextualize what I’m watching.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler went out close to the cash bubble. Nursed his short stack all of the way, then Andy Black took the last of his chips with J-4 against Kessler’s A-10 in a no-limit hold’em hand after the board came 9-Q-6-K-10. Yep, Black rivered the straight, though by that point Kessler was down to about three big blinds, anyway (for the NLHE) round.

When I say the “names” didn’t make it I’m referring to all of those top tier “notables” like Doyle, Negreanu, Hellmuth, Ivey, and so forth. Have gone over this subject before here (more than once, actually) -- that issue of whether or not it is correct or fair for those reporting on these tourneys to favor certain “poker celebs” over others in their coverage -- and I don’t really want to review that topic again this morning. There is most certainly a bias in all reporting that favors these guys, particularly during the first day of an event. But I think when you look at, say, the forty hours or so that are given to an entire tournament, those who make it to the end always get the greater share of attention (which they’ve certainly earned).

That said, there are still some interesting stories among the 14 left. Jon “PearlJammer” Turner is the chip leader, gunning for his first WSOP bracelet. Jerrod Ankenman is right behind him, looking to get a bracelet and start catching up with his Mathematics of Poker co-author, Bill Chen (who has two). Layne Flack has a big stack, and has a great chance at landing his seventh WSOP bracelet. And Rami Boukai, who won an earlier event I covered this summer (Event No. 10, $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot Limit Omaha), is trying to become the fourth two-time winner of 2009.

Jimmy 'Gobboboy' FrickeIf I had to say I was pulling for any of the 14, it would have to be Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke, who unfortunately took a hit right at the end of the night in a PLO hand and is the short stack going into the final day. Was so cool to see him cash last night, and also cool to meet and visit some with Gobbomom, who was there to watch for the last 5-6 hours of play.

The mixed game is a pretty curious event to observe and report on. The blinds/antes/limits are now getting big enough in the six limit games (2-7 triple draw, limit hold’em, Omaha/8, razz, stud, and stud/8) that some hands played during those rounds are resulting in some big chip moves, but really it seemed like particularly during the latter part of the night that it wasn’t until no-limit hold’em or pot-limit Omaha that people were getting crippled and/or knocked out.

Michael Binger lost most of his stack to a one-outer in PLO, flopping top set of queens versus a set of jacks and the case jack coming on fifth street. (He was eliminated soon thereafter.) There was another wild A-A-vs.K-K-vs.Q-Q hand in NLHE late last night that produced a 380,000-chip pot. (Ankenman won that one with queens when a third queen came on the river.)

Definitely an interesting test of mental agility to move back and forth between the games, and between the patience and discipline needed for the limit games and the willingness to identify and take appropriate, tournament-life-threatening risks in the pot-limit/no-limit games. And like I say, fun and interesting to observe play out. I’m glad I had the chance this summer to cover this mixed event, if only to mix things up for me as well.

Of course, what also made the day a little more arduous from my perspective was the fact that all day I was thinking about the arrival of Vera Valmore. She lands in just about an hour, actually, and will be here for the next week. Just in time, too. Have been over this topic before, as well -- especially toward the end of last summer -- but it’s not easy being away from her and other family and friends for such a long stretch like this. Probably the toughest part of the gig, all things considered.

But she’ll be here today, probably relaxing poolside from her trip while I’m covering the last day of Event No. 42. Will get to join her by the pool over the next couple of days, which I’ll have off. Before then, though, head over to PokerNews’ live reporting page to see if Fricke can maybe double up early and make things interesting. Gobboboy FTW!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 26: Mixing It Up

Allen Kessler“Hey, I’ve got more PokerNews stuff on than you do.”

Said Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler to me about a half-hour before play began for Event No. 42, the $2,500 Mixed Game event that started about 5:15 p.m. yesterday, the late start due to the longer-than-anticipated lines at the registration desk to enter. Kessler was the first player I saw show for the event.

I had gotten in a little earlier than I normally do and already had set up shop back in the corner of the Brasilia Room where the event was due to begin. I saw Kessler had patches for PokerRoad, Doyle’s Room, and PokerNews there on the front of his short-sleeved powder blue shirt.

Allen 'Chainsaw' Kessler is keeping a blog for PokerNewsKessler is one of a few pros keeping a WSOP blog for PokerNews this summer. I know people have fun with the “Chainsaw” a lot over on Two Plus Two, where he’s known for starting numerous threads. Some also like to give him a hard time for his especially nitty playing style that often leaves him nursing a short stack for much of his tourney life, sometimes sneaking into the money though not going deep that often. (List those who gave him his ironic nickname among that latter group.)

Kessler’s a good sport, though, whose self-effacing sense of humor is endearing (imo, as they say). That sense of humor comes out a bit it in the “Calling the Clock” segment he did with PokerNews’ Melissa Castello a few days ago (see bottom of post).

I had several interactions with players yesterday during the Mixed Game event, which ended up attracting 412 total entrants, including just about every big name you can imagine. At one point, Jennifer Harman came over to my table to ask me if I knew how her husband, Marco Traniello, was faring over in Event No. 41, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout event. Harman had won her table already, and last she had heard Traniello was still alive at his.

A quick check enabled me to tell her that it looked as though Traniello had made it to heads up and was about even in chips with his opponent. “I’ll let you know,” I said. Alas, soon after I learned from MarcC that Traniello had been eliminated. I stood up, caught Harman’s eye, and gave her the thumbs down signal with a soundless “sorry.”

Layne Flack was also in not-so-rare form, bouncing around the room and making a lot of noise, especially near the end of the night. He was seated right near where I was set up, and at some point began digging into the reporters’ bags of Jack Link’s beef jerky. Then he began ordering beers a few at a time. I couldn’t resist writing one post about it.
Slow Cooked and Mesquite Smoked
Layne Flack has just now found a couple of bags of Jack Link's Beef Jerky (not hard to do -- they're everywhere) and has gone down the path many others have tread over the last few weeks here at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. That would be the path to the bottom of the bag, having discovered like many others it is especially difficult to eat just one piece of the stuff.

Not surprisingly, Flack now finds himself feeling a little parched. "Cocktails!" he just cried. "I've got a bigger order this time!"

Flack has about 20,000 at the moment.
Finally, just as the night was about to end, a no-limit hold’em hand came up involving Kessler and Jonathan “Fatal Error” Aguiar which my reporter happened to catch and relate to me just before he left for the night. I wrote it up, and not five minutes later Aguiar was there beside me retelling the story to Jonathan Fricke and others, pretty much exactly as we had reported it.
Kessler's Kings Kracked
No-Limit Hold'em

Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler just lost a big pot versus Jonathan "Fatal Error" Aguiar in one of the last hands of the night. Aguiar was all in preflop. Once Kessler called him, Aguiar said "Please have kings." He got his wish, as Kessler indeed had K-K.

When Aguiar showed his hand -- A-3 -- Kessler had a comment as well: "Oh no."

The flop changed nothing, but the turn brought a trey, and the river another trey, and Aguiar survived. Kessler gets knocked back to 7,000 right before night's end.
Poor Chainsaw. It actually looks like he has 25,000, though, as Day 2 begins, so he either picked some chips back up or we had that last estimate wrong there.

I’m glad to see, in any case, that he has a stack. Maybe his kings will hold up for him today and he’ll last a bit longer. Or his 7-6-4-3-2 will hold up in 2-7 Triple Draw. Or his king-high flush with the nut low won’t get quartered in Omaha/8. Or his rolled up jacks will hold up in Stud.

Follow along on PokerNews’ live reporting page and find out.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 25: Multiple Multiples

There are now three different players who have won two WSOP bracelets this summerLast night Jeff Lisandro took down Event No. 37, the $10,000 World Championship Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo 8-or-better event, meaning there are now three players with two 2009 WSOP gold bracelets -- Lisandro, Phil Ivey, and Brock Parker. Remarkable? Sure. Of course, this marks the 10th straight year there has been at least one multiple-bracelet winner at the WSOP, so it’s not like this sort of thing never happens.

What’s the record for multiple-bracelet winners in a single WSOP? In 2003 there were no less than six players who won two bracelets: Johnny Chan, Chris Ferguson, Layne Flack, Phil Hellmuth, John Juanda, and Men Nguyen. That record still seems safe for now, anyway.

Which is more remarkable -- three two-time winners in 2009, or six two-time winners in 2003? There are obviously some differences worth considering when addressing the question, including the number of events, the buy-ins, and the field sizes.

In 2003, there were 36 bracelet events; in 2009, there are 57. (The fact that six guys won a third of the bracelets in 2003 is in itself a fairly interesting bit of trivia.) As far as buy-ins go, while there are more $10,000 events today than in the past, relatively speaking the buy-ins are mostly very comparable. Of course, the average field sizes for WSOP events has changed markedly, particularly in no-limit hold’em events. But there, too, differences between 2003 and 2009 aren’t that overwhelming.

To be more specific, here are some stats for the multiple bracelet winners from each year:

Comparing 2003 and 2009 mulitiple WSOP bracelet winnersYou’re noticing a lot of smaller fields among those 2003 events, at least compared to 2009. Is it less of an achievement to outlast a field of fewer than 100 players than to win a tournament in which over 1,000 enter?

Obviously in the tournament with a smaller field one will probably be playing fewer hands, and thus face fewer decisions, and risk one’s tournament survival fewer times, and so forth. But I think it is probably a mistake to make some sort of snap judgment about the relative worth of a tournament victory based solely on field sizes. Smaller fields often (not always) have fewer weak players among them, thus making it more difficult to negotiate one’s way through to the end. I’m not saying the 77 players Men Nguyen outlasted in that Ace-to-Five event in 2003 were all necessarily top-notch lowball players, but there is nevertheless often an inverse relationship between the quantity and quality of entrants in WSOP events, generally speaking.

In any case, it is interesting to see the same guys going deep and winning bracelets, and as I was talking about a week ago after Ivey won his second bracelet of the summer, I think it helps further the case that while chance is a big part of poker, the game is undoubtedly a test of skill.

After a little respite, I’m back at the Rio tonight to begin covering Event No. 42, the $2,500 Mixed Event. This is the event that requires players to play eight different games -- the one I once suggested be called S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R. The games rotate between Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, Limit Hold’em, Omaha Hi/Lo Eight-or-Better, Razz, Seven-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo Eight-or-Better, No-Limit Hold’em, and Pot-Limit Omaha. Here is the structure sheet, if yr curious.

Should be interesting to cover, I’d think, if only for the variety of games. Should probably attract an interesting variety of players, too, although I’m going to go ahead and predict there will be some familiar names among those who go deep in this one. Indeed, we may well get a fourth multiple-bracelet winner here after all is said and done.

Follow along over at PokerNews.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 24: Seeing Is Believing

Seeing is believingQuiet day yesterday, mostly spent at the home-away-from-home. Was off and so tried to catch up on some other reading and writing, though didn’t get too far with that. (Today’s a new day, though.)

Did go out and play some $3/$6 limit hold’em for a decent stretch (over three hours), and won a few bucks. There were a couple of okay players at the table -- no one was checking with quad aces, anyway -- although again it was still primarily make-a-hand poker. And thankfully I made enough hands to win a little.

Meanwhile, over at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, a total of 35 bracelets have been awarded (of the 57 total) thus far at the World Series of Poker. That’s more than half, although in terms of days we are only just now reaching the halfway point. The last day of play this summer will be Wednesday, July 15, which if I’m counting right will be Day 49. I think I fly home the day after.

Day 24 of the WSOP (yesterday) saw just one bracelet won, in Event No. 35, the $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha. Looks like that one ended with a truly kooky final hand in which the winner, Richard Austin, knocked out both Sorel Mizzi and Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy at once. The hand actually touches on an issue I’d been thinking about some over the last week or so -- the fact that occasionally we’ll see hands that are so odd that they become difficult to report, because they seem so strange and, well, unbelievable. Let me share the hand, then I’ll explain further what I mean.

Looking at F-Train and tbostic’s live blog of the final day of Event No. 35, it appears there were about 5.45 million chips in play. The final three players had reached Level 25, where the blinds were 25,000/50,000. Doing a little bit of math, it looks like when the hand began Austin had the lead with about 2.75 million (roughly half the chips), Mizzi was in second with around 1.7 million, and Josephy was the short stack with just under a million.

The hand started with Austin just calling the 50,000 from the button, then Mizzi completing from the small blind. That made the pot 150,000 when Josephy raised pot from the BB. Austin again just called, then Mizzi reraised pot. That meant Mizzi had now put in a total of 800,000 chips: 50,000 for the first call, and now he was raising “to 750,000” -- i.e., 150,000 more to call Josephy’s raise, then 600,000 to match the new pot size.

The action was on Josephy, who pushed the 795,000 he had left in the middle -- a call of Mizzi’s reraise, plus another reraise of 195,000 more. Austin decided to call, and Mizzi finds out he cannot reraise again, since Josephy’s reraise was less than half the pot. So he just calls, too, leaving himself 680,000 behind. But he’s clearly committed, now. The pot is something like 3 million, and Mizzi’s probably pushing his chips in the middle no matter what the flop is. The flop comes Kc9d3c, Mizzi does indeed shove, Austin calls, and the trio’s hands were then revealed.

Mizzi had AsAh5d3d. That flop wasn’t good for him at all, as he just had a dry pair of aces and vague hopes for a backdoor diamond flush. Meanwhile, the flop was pretty darned nice for Josephy, who had AdKhKs8d. Top set, there. Austin meanwhile was the one with the draws. He had QhJs8c5c, both a flush draw and a gutshot straight draw. According to Two Dimes, Josephy was ahead here with a nearly 60% shot to win the hand. Austin was about 38% percent. And Mizzi was drawing mighty thin -- about 2% to win.

The 8s on the turn meant Mizzi was at that point drawing dead, and Josephy was about 70% to win it. But the river was the 7c, and Austin took all the chips and the bracelet.

Austin’s passive preflop calls with a pretty marginal PLO hand are perhaps a bit hard to figure, though the more I think about it, I can start to see what might have been going on. He makes three calls. The first one -- limping from the button -- is not unusual at all. Limping preflop in PLO is common, and looking back through the blog, it appears there were a lot of smallish pots being played for the hour or so they had been three-handed, and so the pot-sized raises preflop were something new. The second call of Josephy’s pot-sized raise from the big blind fits with what had been going on previously as well. Austin had little reason to suspect Mizzi would try anything here, and wanted to keep the pot small and play his marginal hand with position after the flop.

When Austin makes that third call of Josephy’s all in, he pretty much knows he’s going to face another 680,000-chip bet from Mizzi after the flop, regardless of what three cards come. But if he’s not going to fold this hand before the flop -- certainly a reasonable (or, one has to say, recommended) option at this point -- he’s smart just to call here, because doing so makes it impossible for Mizzi to get all of his chips in before the flop.

When Austin makes that call, he has committed about a million chips preflop, meaning it would certainly be painful to fold this one if the flop doesn’t hit his hand. But by just calling before the flop, he leaves himself that option to fold and preserve the still 1.7 million chips he has behind should an especially crummy flop come.

Anyhow, all of this is easy to say well after the fact. But such complicated decision-making is often very hard to appreciate when you’re just trying to record bet amounts and get the cards correct. Kudos to F-Train and tbostic for their report on this last hand (and for the entire night’s worth of reporting).

Like I say, this hand in a way touches on the phenomenon I alluded to above, namely, watching a hand go down that seems a little strange -- or perhaps that makes little sense at all -- then trying to report it. You almost want to try to explain a player’s thought processes in order to justify the action. But that’s obviously not the reporter’s job (even if he or she were capable of doing it).

We saw a hold’em hand the night before at our final table in which a player called off his still-substantial stack with KhQs on a board of 3s5d7c. When you see a hand like that, you start distrusting your senses, and indeed we were confirming with each other there on media row that what we saw indeed was what happened. Then we puzzled with each other over why the player made his decision. Did he actually think he was good? (His opponent had 9d7d, by the way.) Did his opponent’s constant aggression finally get to him, causing him to make what was clearly a sketchy decision? Or was he just tired and willing to gun for six outs?

It was not unlike that hand I mentioned yesterday in which the player called Jonathan Little’s all-in bet with just Q-J after a seven-high flop. You see it, then you look around and say “Wha?”

In fact, it just so happened Little was in the bleachers Thursday night watching our final table where the player made that call with K-Q. I looked across and wondered if he turned to those with whom he was sitting and said something about how he’d been knocked out of the very same event.

’Cos, yeah, weird stuff happens. And believe me, we see it all the time.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 23: The WSOP Odyssey

One more island in the boundless main“How’s it going?” Asked a person from the rail of one of the players who’d made it to the last two tables of Event No. 34 ($1,500 No-Limit Hold’em). The player was Robert Mason, one of three older guys who’d made the last 18. By “older” I speak in relative terms, of course, as the majority of those playing in these events are in their early 20s, and Mason appears to be perhaps twice that.

“Great!” answered Mason with a smile. “I’m at the World Series of Poker!”

Mason had enjoyed a terrific first hour of play yesterday, winning a couple of big hands to move from the bottom third to the top third of the leaderboard. So he had reason to smile. But the worn-out green WSOP baseball cap atop his head suggested his enthusiasm wasn’t strictly inspired by the status of his chip stack.

Robert MasonA quick check over at Hendon Mob further explains why Mason might be having a great time at the WSOP this summer, one that began with his first-ever WSOP cash in the Casino Employee’s Event. Last night’s 11th place finish was his fifth cash already, with the $42,000-plus he won yesterday appearing to have given a nice boost to the bankroll.

I’ll be honest. When I saw I’d been assigned to cover Event No. 34, the fourth of seven of these massive-field $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em events on this year’s schedule, I wasn’t exactly excited about the prospects of doing so.

Sort of felt like Odysseus when he and his men land on the island where they’ll encounter the goddess Kirke. They’d just escaped another island where the flesh-eating Lestrygonians had chomped a bunch of Odysseus’ men and wrecked a bunch of their ships. Understandable, then, that Odysseus would be in kind of a sour mood. After they land, Odysseus goes up on a hill to see what he can see, and when he comes back his report isn’t all that cheery.

'The Odyssey' by Homer“All that I saw when I went up the rock was one more island in the boundless main,” reports Odysseus. “A low landscape, covered with woods and scrub, and puffs of smoke.” Just another friggin’ stop in our meaningless -- and now seemingly doomed -- journey of life.

It’s actually one of my favorite moments in the poem, where Odysseus momentarily becomes somewhat existentialist -- and even more “human” -- while expressing doubts about the meaning of it all.

Such is the feeling I’ll admit to have gotten around noon on Tuesday, when I was looking out over the landscape of two thousand-plus players taking their seats for Event No. 34. Over the next three days, I’d be spending about 40 hours reporting from this sucker.

You hear these events referred to derisively as “donkaments” because so many inexperienced and untutored players choose them to take their WSOP shots. And it is true -- you see some howlingly-bizarre plays here and there, particularly on the first day.

I happened to see one of these hands on Tuesday. It was Level 8. The board was 7-4-3 with two clubs, Jonathan Little had pushed all in for what appeared to be a huge overbet with pocket fives, and he had been called by a player holding QdJc. A jack came on the turn, the river bricked, and Little left quickly and quietly, not too happy with his opponent’s crazy call. “You’ve got guts, kid,” a player said afterwards, explaining how on the flop he’d folded Q-7. (Dunno if I’d call it guts.)

From a reporter’s perspective, though, poor play makes the thing more interesting to follow and write about. No, those feelings of dread at the start of another $1,500 NLHE event don’t stem from the prospect of witnessing bad poker. (Not for me, anyway.) They arise from the feeling that it’s just another poker tournament -- “one more island in the boundless main.” Those who have entered care a lot about it. And there’s a group of people following online, many of whom are friends with or fans of some of the entrants, who care, too. But in the grand scheme of things, how can I get invested in this sucker? How can I care?

Then the tournament starts. Chip stacks grow. Personalities emerge. The thing becomes gradually more and more interesting. And yesterday was a total blast. It’s amazing how this scenario happens over and again. What begins a nondescript island turns into a full-fledged episode -- another adventure-filled stage in the WSOP odyssey.

And I think to myself this is pretty great. I’m at the World Series of Poker!

Actually slept past noon today, about ten hours, the body (and mind) recovering from the most recent three-day challenge. Might come back on here either today or tomorrow and talk more particularly about why yesterday’s final day of Event No. 34 was so fun. I have a little break here before I get back to it, the next event I cover being the $2,500 Mixed Event in which they play eight different games (Event No. 42).

Meanwhile, go over to PokerNews’ live reporting page to follow still more episodes in the WSOP’s still unfolding story.

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