Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WSOPE Main Event Down to 36, Hawrilenko Ahead

World Series of Poker EuropeThey are down to 36 at the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event, that £10,000 + £350 no-limit hold’em event that began last Friday. Also known as “Event No. 4” or, perhaps, “Event No. 61.” Matt “Hoss_TBF” Hawrilenko is atop the leaderboard going into today’s play.

Hawrilenko won a bracelet this summer at the WSOP at an event I helped cover. In fact, it was the last bracelet awarded in Vegas -- Event No. 56, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event. I wrote some about that one here, particularly noting how most of the attention in the Amazon Room at the time was being directed toward that Ante Up for Africa celebrity-charity event. Meanwhile Hawrilenko was busy taking down a $1 million-plus first prize.

You may also remember “Hoss_TBF” as the fellow who posted some side-splitting chat between himself and Phil Hellmuth on his blog last spring. Hellmuth and Hawrilenko were engaged in a heads-up session of $2,000/$4,000 limit hold’em over on UltimateBet, and Hawrilenko was apparently crushing the Poker Brat. (Obviously hands Hellmuth lost weren’t resulting in pots being shipped his way that session.)

Amid Hellmuth’s chatbox insults of Hoss_TBF’s play, he at one point complained “I should have 50k right now.” To which Hawrilenko wittily fired back “Maybe if you started with 200k.”

Hellmuth also went so far as to suggest Hawrilenko might somehow be cheating during the session, noting threateningly that “Im having scurity review this session first time ever.” Read more about that applesauce in this earlier post, titled “I Am Irony Man.”

Hawrilenko enters the WSOPE Main Event today with 701,500 chips, followed by Steven Fung (648,000), Praz Bansi (471,300), and Arnaud Mattern (469,500). And in fifth place is Barry Shulman (452,500), whose son, Jeff, is, of course, currently in fourth place in chips awaiting that final table of the WSOP Main Event in November.

Speaking of Jeff Shulman, I watched a bit of the coverage of the WSOP Main Event on ESPN last night on which Shulman was featured prominently. They are up to Day 5, I believe, where my buddy Tom Schneider had cruised into the chip lead with more than two million, although he was barely shown. I believe he makes it over to the feature table soon, though, so hopefully we’ll see more of the Donkey Bomber.

Like I say, Shulman was at the feature table and was on camera fairly frequently during last night’s show. Not the most dynamic personality at the table, but interesting enough to watch, I guess. They did a short feature on him at one point that discussed his being the publisher, president, and COO of Card Player. I didn’t watch the entire two hours last night, but during the time I was watching I did not catch them saying anything about his beef with Harrah’s. (Perhaps that may come up during the next few weeks.)

Other notables still with chips at the WSOPE include John Kabbaj (6th), Daniel Negreanu (12th), WCOOP Main Event winner Yevgeniy Timoshenko (15th), Doyle Brunson (21st), Liz Lieu (26th), Steve Zolotow (29th), Jason Mercier (32nd), Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott (34th), and Men Nguyen (36th). There are also two 2009 WSOP November Niners still alive: Antoine Saout (24th) and James Akenhead (30th).

Only 334 entered the WSOPE Main Event this time around (a dip from last year's 362). Hasn't been a heckuva lot of hype stateside about the WSOPE, as far as I can tell, but I personally have enjoyed following the coverage thus far over on Betfair and also PokerNews.

And I'll be following today and tomorrow to see who takes down the sucker, for sure. The first hands of the day have just been dealt and Snoopy and Danafish are there at the Empire Casino with the coverage over on PokerNews. Check it out.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tough Table

I’m a sports fan and particularly enjoy following basketball and football. As a kid, baseball was the number one game for me, but its appeal lessened considerably following the strikes, the ballooning of salaries, and free agency causing nearly half of the players to move to different teams from year to year. So these days I mostly just follow college b-ball and pro football, and will spend leisure hours watching both when I can.

I’ve mentioned here before how I’m not really a gambler by nature, and so rarely, if ever, bet on sports. Most recently talked about the subject in a post last spring titled “Confessions of a Non-Gambler.”

I did bet on baseball game this summer. I was in the MGM sports book watching the games go by, and just for kicks took a random shot at a Mets-Yankees game, placing a bet on the underdog Mets. They were at home, had a decent pitcher starting (or so the stats suggested), and would pay $26 for my $10 bet should they have beaten the mighty Yanks. They lost something like 9-1, natch, duly punishing me for my frivolity.

So I rarely bet on sports. And I never, ever got interested in the “fantasy” games that are so popular and which were given privileged status (like betting on horse racing) in the finalized regs of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. There it is said that “participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game” is allowed with a few provisions (e.g., the prizes have to be declared up front).

ESPN Pigskin Pick'emOn the eve of this year’s NFL season, though, I did decide to join in Dr. Pauly’s football pool, in which one picks winners for all of the games every week (straight up, no spreads). The top four finishers (out of the 40 who are playing) split the prize pool. You can follow the standings, too, by going over to ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’em game and checking out the group Pauly’s Pub.

As Week 1 played out, I saw I’d hit 11 of the 16 games. Was feeling pretty good about that until I checked the standings and saw how that had put me near the bottom of the list. Everyone else had 12, 13, 14, or even 15 correct! Sheesh.

The next week I only picked 9 of 16 correctly, but everyone else struggled, too. Still my team name -- More Cowbell -- was appearing in the bottom half of the group.

This past week was a breakout week for me, as I hit 13 of the 16. Was most proud of having picked Detroit to beat Washington -- that’s right, I picked a team that had lost 19 straight games to win, and they won. Kind of felt like hitting a two-outer, there.

Still, though, my 33-of-48 performance thus far lands me right in the middle of the pack, tied for 22nd and looking up at folks like Lance Bradley of Bluff Magazine who sits with a gaudy 40 correct picks, including 15 this past week. Yeah, he picked Detroit, too.

Am starting to think I’m at a tough table here. A bit like what happened the other day at my usual PLO25 six-handed game. Took a seat and saw a player across the way with nearly a hundy, an obvious sign the dude had a clue. Sure enough, within a few hands it had become apparent that he was the one with the edge, raising more than other players, showing a bit more savvy after the flop, and basically keeping everyone else in a defensive mode.

How do you respond in that situation? Do you leave to find a better seat elsewhere? Or do you stick around, taking the presence of an obviously more-than-worthy foe as a challenge? And if you choose the latter, why do you play it that way? To prove yourself? To improve your game? Or out of a stubborn unwillingness to move and/or accept you might not be the best?

Sometimes, of course, you find yourself with a couple or three tough spots at the table (though not so often at six-handed PLO25 games). Then it becomes more obvious that remaining in your seat -- when there are always plenty of seats at other tables available -- is an even more meaningful decision. How do you play it?

More often than not, I react like the amateur I am and stick around. Partially out of curiosity (can I beat him?), but mostly because of stubbornness. And like that bet on the Mets game, it often doesn’t work out so well.

More Cowbell!There’s no leaving Pauly’s Pub, though, as we’re locked in for the duration. Not that I want to, anyway. ’Cos I think I can beat these guys. I got a fever. And the only prescription is...


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Monday, September 28, 2009

900 Posts? Get Real

900th postThese milestone posts generally tend to inspire a bit a navel-gazing. That is to say, more navel-gazing than usually occurs -- ’cos the blog is always gonna be a bit that.

You know, those what-the-hell-do-I-think-I’m-up-to here kind of posts. Knowing that number 900 was coming up today, I was thinking a bit along those lines over the weekend when I came across an interesting post by Amy Calistri from yesterday regarding the passing of Bob Stupak.

Not so unusual to encounter an interesting post by Amy -- all of her posts are. After a few years of poker writing, Amy not too long ago took a step back from poker to rejoin the so-called “straight” world. Among her many credits before moving on was having co-authored Mike Matusow’s autobiography, Check-Raising the Devil, published earlier this year (read more). She does still keep her blog, Aimlessly Chasing Amy, though, where she’ll occasionally reflect on poker-related items.

As I say, Amy was noting the death at age 67 of Vegas entrepreneur and poker player Bob Stupak, who succumbed over the weekend after a lengthy struggle with leukemia. His varied life included many notable milestones, the most prominent (literally and figuratively) probably being his having been responsible for the building of the Stratosphere, that unmistakable, 1,149-foot addition to the Vegas skyline.

Stupak’s significance to poker and poker history is considerable, too. He made a half-dozen WSOP final tables over the years in a variety of games, winning a bracelet in 1989 in the $5000 Deuce-to-Seven Draw event. He also made a final table of an early WPT event, and some may remember him from a TV appearance there in 2003 or perhaps a little later on “High Stakes Poker” where he played during the first season.

Additionally, Stupak was part of the story of the early days of creating “poker bots” or computer programs to compete with humans in poker, insofar as he was the human opponent to Mike Caro’s computer in a quarter-million dollar match that was shown on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” There are many other intriguing tales surrounding Stupak, including those stemming from his political campaigns, failed attempts to become the mayor of Las Vegas and then, more recently, the state’s Lieutenant Governor. But as the many tweets from the poker pros over the last couple of days indicate, he was a fairly central figure in the poker world, thus making it needful to note his passing.

Bob Stupak at the 2006 World Poker Open, photo taken by Amy CalistriAmy’s post had a couple of purposes (besides sharing some of her photos of Stupak from the 2006 World Poker Open, one of which I have included here). One was to reflect on Stupak a bit, but the other was to reflect on the somewhat surprising lack of coverage his death received in the poker media. There were a couple of articles out there (e.g., Card Player had one). And of course Pokerati was on top of it. But mostly silence elsewhere. Which seemed strange, but, perhaps, understandable.

Amy notes that she realizes that while “the news used to be a public service,” these days “it’s mostly a thinly veiled ratings grab.” True for all news, for sure. Including poker news. “Hey I know times are tough,” she continues. “With poker affiliate and ad money vanishing like [fill in the blank]’s bankroll, the mad traffic grab is on. And I get the fact that an article with Durrr in the headline or a guy whacking off in the Borgata will get more reads than Bob Stupak’s obituary. But c’mon.”

It’s true, of course, that most poker news seems primarily designed at accumulating hits and, most importantly, generating click-throughs on those affiliate links and banners which can potentially generate the hosting sites some revenue. Like the deal of the cards and the order of betting, that’s how the game is played.

Amy’s Check-Raising collaborator, the Poker Shrink, Tim Lavalli, recently noted that he, too, was bowing out of the poker media game, not long ago announcing his “retirement” in a interesting “Exit Interview from the World of Poker.” He also acknowledged how money has become tight in the poker media game, thus making it harder to accommodate what we might call “real” reporting. “With poker magazines down more than 50% in pages printed and online sites getting 90% less poker ad spots,” writes Lavalli, “there simply is no money left to pay for ongoing quality poker journalism.”

Regarding that latter point, I’m one of those strange people who doesn’t instinctively react to the phrase “poker journalism” with a smirk or derisive comment to “get real.” There are others who feel as I do, I know. And there are some among them who are consistently producing quality poker journalism, though much of it seems to happen despite sites’ pressure not to be overtaken in that “mad traffic grab.”

Getting back to the navel-gazing... I don’t know how valuable my occasional reflections here are in the grand scheme of things. But I enjoy using this space to try to add something to the conversation now and then. And while I’ll happily sell you an ad or try to make a little cabbage if I can, that’s never been a primary purpose or something that unduly affects what I write about here.

The Poker Shrink added one last piece of advice to his “exit interview”: “When the time comes, get out before you burn out.” I guess all this reflecting tells me I ain’t quite there yet. Gonna stick with this Hard-Boiled stuff for a while, I think.

Hell, only a hundred more ’til a thousand.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

On Those UltimateBet Hand Mysteries, er... Histories

UltimateBet Under the Magnifying GlassListened to The Poker Beat’s latest episode last night, and -- as I expected -- the hosts didn’t seem to pull many punches with regard to the Joe Sebok signing at UltimateBet. Pretty clear all of those who spoke -- host Scott Huff, Pokerati Dan, Gary Wise, and John Caldwell -- are less than thrilled at Sebok’s decision to sign on with UB, expressing varying degrees of skepticism and trepidation in their conversation.

The good news there, of course, is that the content of PokerRoad’s most interesting show doesn’t appear to have been unduly affected by PR’s CEO having become a sponsored pro and “media and operations consultant” for UltimateBet. As I say, I didn’t really think it would -- though I suppose that like with other matters we’ll have to wait and see how long things remain as they are at present over at PR. (Will be most interesting, of course, to hear the next episode of PokerRoad Radio, the show Sebok himself co-hosts.)

On yesterday’s episode, Pokerati Dan shared his funny story regarding his recent request to obtain his hand histories. As you might have heard, Sebok published a blog post informing everyone how to get their hand histories from UB, and Dan followed the Cub’s instructions. Apparently after his initial request, Dan was sent a form letter instructing him how to look at previous hands while playing at UB -- i.e., a useless non-response. He did get another, less impersonal reply afterwards (not discussed on the show), but it didn’t jibe with Dan’s memory of his UB (mis)adventures. (Dan’s interactions with UB support are being chronicled in the comments to this Pokerati post, if you are interested.)

Some readers of this blog might recall my own struggles with trying to get hand histories from UB, a site which I joined in the fall of 2007, then quickly decided to leave on the heels of the Absolute Poker cheating scandal. Knowing that UB and AP were owned by the same folks, I didn’t see any reason to risk remaining on UltimateBet and so pulled my money off of the site a couple of months before the scandal broke over there.

Anyhow, it was in the fall of 2008 that I put in a request to UltimateBet to get copies of all of my hand histories -- not so much because I was worried about having been cheated (I play at low stakes, and thus apparently below the range of the cheaters), but simply as part of my efforts at the time to get hand histories from all of the sites on which I have played. Incidentally, my requests to PokerStars and Full Tilt were entirely successful, with both sites able to supply me with four years’ worth of hand histories within days.

The response to my October request was that “unfortunately, due to the amount of information, we are not able to send you all your hand histories.” Of course, we’re only talking a couple of months’ worth of play on the site, so while I was skeptical, I didn’t pursue the matter.

Then on 12/14/08 Annie Duke appeared on Sebok’s PokerRoad Radio podcast and said "We'll send anybody who requests it their lifetime hand histories." So again I sent in a request, and this time was told it would take a couple of weeks, but I could get my hand histories. After three weeks of nothing, I wrote back, but received no response. Tried one more time later in January, but once more my email went unanswered.

So I gave up, but decided this morning to try again. My request concludes with the following paragraph:

“I played on UltimateBet for only a couple of months -- Aug.-Sept. 2007 -- and according to my records only played a small number of hands, relatively speaking. I also played low limit stakes, and so while it is likely I was not affected by the cheating that occurred on the site, I would like to see my hand histories nonetheless. UB’s response to my request will determine whether or not I wish to return to the site, and also whether or not I will be recommending to others that they consider playing on the site.”

I’ll note in the comments to this post what sort of response I get from my request (if any). Perhaps some -- including those handling the hand history requests at UB -- might for various reasons view my case as relatively unimportant. Indeed, I wouldn’t disagree that there are those who played on the site for whom there is much greater urgency here than is the case for myself.

Tin foil hat ShamusNevertheless, I was a customer at UB. And I’d like to know with utter certainty I wasn’t cheated while playing there. Indeed, I recall how during my last session on UB -- not long after the Absolute Poker merde had hit the fan -- a weird hand or two led to thoughts of the possibility that someone could see my hole cards. Which led to the realization that I couldn’t keep playing on the site, whether or not my paranoia was justified. (As it happened, the cheating was still going on at UB at the time -- although as I say probably not at my low limit table.)

So, we’ll see. Can’t believe, really, we’re all chirping about UltimateBet again like this.

Of course, some are worried about other highly important stuff. No, I am not referring to Phil Hellmuth threatening to mastermind an alternative poker site/series to compete with the World Series of Poker/Harrah’s (check it out). I’m referring to the pressing need for casinos to ready themselves for the possibility of pot being legalized in California and Nevada. No shinola! What is this, poker news or freshman comp? Got nothing but love for my bud-loving buds, but legalization is still a huge longshot. And casinos letting players get high in the poker rooms? Pure fantasyland. (Of course, the author does suggest at one point he thinks most of his readers might well be high, so maybe I’m somehow missing the big picture here, man.)

To be honest, I think it is only slightly more possible that all 31 names of the cheaters alluded to in the KGC “final decision” on the UltimateBet cheating scandal will be named. And maybe a little more likely all these friggin’ hand histories will finally be shared. Even so, I think we can all agree these are still matters worth discussing.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don’t Want No Short People ’Round Here?

Don’t Want No Short People ’Round Here?You guys remember that song, right? Randy Newman? Late 1970s? They got little baby legs that stand so low, you got to pick ’em up just to say hello?

I mentioned last week having listened to Tommy Angelo interviewed on the Two Plus Two Pokercast. During the first half of that particular episode (the 9/15/09 show, show no. 88), the hosts had a conversation with online player Jason “Imsakidd” Kidd in which the focus was short stacking, a topic about which a lot of no-limit hold’em players tend to have strong opinions.

And by strong opinions I mean they think short stackers got no reason to live.

In fact, while Kidd did mention a few of the strategies he employs when short stacking at the NLHE tables, a lot of the conversation was taken up with the subject of the hatred many players profess for short stackers. “It’s... the way that I play that annoys them,” said Kidd, who went on to talk about how infuriated some players get when he’s at the table, sharing some of the vitriolic responses of players who believe short stackers “ruin” the game or are inherently bad players because they appear more interested in gambling it up than playing “real” poker.

Indeed, as Kidd pointed out, the very fact that some players get easily tilted by a short stacker at their table can sometimes work to his advantage. After co-host Adam Schwartz mentioned how he had a friend who would often “spite call” short stackers just to try to bust them -- even with marginal holdings -- Kidd replied that he frequently encounters similar responses from opponents. “That’s very standard,” said Kidd. “Some of the biggest winners in the games will just snap-call with 7-2 offsuit or whatever, just because they hate me,” adding that he was perfectly fine with their willingness to call his all-in bets with such hands.

My game is pot-limit Omaha, and short stacking is also an approach some employ in that game as well. Rolf Slotboom outlines in detail how to go about it in his earlier book, Secrets of Professional Pot-Limit Omaha. My buddy Mark has a simplified introduction to short stacking in PLO over on his OmahaPlanet site.

The fact is, as in NLHE, short stacking can be a viable strategy in PLO for those who know what they are doing. However, despite the preponderance of short stackers in the PLO games I play (the $25 buy-in games), very few seem to have a grasp on how to exploit their short stacks to any real advantage.

Even though my name is “short-stacked,” I generally do not favor short stacking when I play. It is true that when I first started out with PLO, I did often sit at the table with less than a full buy-in, mainly because of my own uncertainties about my play and the desire to minimize my potential losses. The fact was, I didn’t really know much about how to play the short stack, and so wasn’t really helping myself that much buying in for less than the maximum. It took awhile for me to realize I was also minimizing my potential gains by sitting there with the short stack, and even longer to figure out that given the way I was playing, my variance actually lessened considerably if I bought in for the maximum.

So now I always buy in for the maximum, and if I fall below, say, $15, I tend to top off again rather than stubbornly sit with less than a full stack. Haven’t yet clicked the “Auto-Rebuy” option I was discussing a few weeks back, though essentially that is what I’m doing manually -- automatically rebuying whenever I fall much below the max.

And often I am sitting there with short stacks all around me, especially in the full-ring games. I’ve had numerous situations lately where I’ll be sitting at a nine-handed PLO25 table, and four or five of the players have bought in for $5 or $10.

The problem, like I say, is that many seem not to know that their short stacks prevent them from being able to limp into many pots to see flops, or even to put in initial raises before the flop in many spots, or try to engage in any extended postflop play. My guess is a lot of these guys may well be relatively new to the game -- like I was when I was starting out and buying in small.

There are a few, though, who know a little bit about what to do with the short stack. But sometimes they run into trouble, too. I watched a funny hand recently involving a short stacker who had bought in for $5 at the PLO25 table. Shorty limped in from under the gun, had one caller, then another player in late position made a smallish raise to 75 cents. It folded back to MartyMule in the big blind who called the raise, then Shorty reraised pot to $3.35. The others folded, but MartyMule -- who started the hand with $57 -- made the call.

The flop came JhTs2s. MartyMule checked, Shorty put in his last $1.65, and MartyMule quickly called. Shorty showed JcAs4cAh, while MartyMule had 6s9dQd7s -- a flush draw plus an open-ended straight draw. A spade fell on the river, and Shorty was rebuying for another five bucks.

There was some dialogue afterwards between the pair in the chat box:

Shorty: i*diot
MartyMule: ok
Shorty: no implied odds reraise pre
Shorty: lol fish
MartyMule: just want to see the flop
Shorty: yep fish

Shorty’s chat showed that he obviously has given some thought to how to play a short stack, though I think he’s missing the point a little bit when he gets mad about a player calling his limp-reraise. That’s exactly what he should want, isn’t it? Otherwise, he’s risking $3.35 -- two-thirds of his stack -- to win the $2 sitting in the middle. Not saying Shorty played it wrong, but it seems strange for him to be upset (or surprised) that at least one of the remaining three players in the hand called him.

I wouldn’t say MartyMule played it wrong either, actually. If he puts Shorty on, say, single-suited aces -- which is a pretty reasonable guess -- he’s got a decent hand here with which to call. Nearly a coin flip, in fact. As it happens, MartyMule was just a 53-47 dog. Shorty has a point about the lack of implied odds, but really just simple pot odds tend to make the call not so bad here, don’t they?

Anyhow, while the short stackers can be annoying -- and I’ll sometimes join in the fun of cursing their existence away from the tables (as I recall doing in that “Topping Off” post alluded to above) -- I welcome bad players of all varieties. Obviously the more the bad players bring to the table the better, but bad short stackers are certainly welcome, too. Just means I have to try to take their moneys in bite-sized chunks NOM-NOM-NOM-NOM-NOM.

Okay... for those of you who have the song in yr head now anyway:

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Sebok Surprise

Joe Sebok, as photographed by B.J. Nemeth at the 2009 WSOPYesterday I was at the bank making a deposit. Was the middle of the afternoon, and when I walked in there were no other customers and three tellers seemingly having a good time at their jobs, all smiling and joking around a bit. I handed the one my check and deposit slip, and after looking it over she took it to be approved by a supervisor.

While the supervisor was signing off on it, the teller, still with a smile on her face, startled me a little by asking me the following question: “What is one belief you have about human nature?”

I’m not making this up. I smiled and asked jokingly whether the question was part of the approval process for my check. She chuckled and said no, they were doing a poll. Indeed, her colleagues were looking over at us, awaiting my reply to the question.

I thought for a moment, then came up with an answer. “All are interested in survival,” I said. “That’s good,” one of the other tellers said, nodding. Then I made another joke about how when I sign into my account online, I always struggle to remember the answers to those ID questions such as “What was your first car?” I said I was glad that I wasn’t asked about human nature there, because I’d never remember what my answer was.

My check was approved, and the teller humorously said “Thanks for your belief” as I left.

It was a little later that I was reading online about Joe Sebok having signed on to represent UltimateBet. Again, like the teller’s question, not expected. I have to admit, at first I thought the story might have been a Melted Felt-style satire, but a little more surfing around confirmed that indeed, Sebok had made the move. In fact, not only is he now a UB-sponsored player, but he’s also taken a position as a “media and operations consultant.”

It appears the signing of Sebok isn’t intended as just another addition of a poker pro to the roster, but a non-ambiguous public-relations move coming on the heels of that, well, still somewhat ambiguous “final decision” from the Kahnawake Gaming Commission regarding the insider cheating that occurred at UB.

As the report noted, folks on the inside cheated players for four-and-a-half years (from June 2003 to December 2007), a period that was followed by another twenty months of less-than-forthright communications with players and others regarding the status of the investigation that for many further damaged the site’s credibility and integrity.

The UB press release is headlined “Respected Poker Pro Joe Sebok Joins UltimateBet’s Team UB” -- a pretty clear signal that the signing is attempt to improve the current respectability of the site. The release goes on to say that in his new role Sebok “will help bridge the gap between the UltimateBet brand and poker players.”

Interestingly, the press release also suggests that an announcement regarding those mysterious 31 unnamed players implicated in the cheating scandal is imminent. Says Sebok, “UB and I first started talking about a possible relationship almost 4 months ago and I made it very clear that I couldn’t commit until that point in time when the names associated with the scandal began to be released.”

UltimateBet patchIn other words, it sounds like Sebok’s signing was based in part on a agreement that UB would eventually release the names of everyone -- in addition to the already-named Russ Hamilton -- “associated with the scandal.” That would seem to indicate both those guilty of fraud and those merely “associated” will be identified. As some have speculated, the 31 names may well include some of both -- that is, some who were actively involved in the cheating and some who were “associated” in some less-culpable fashion. One wonders if it really is feasible for all 31 to be identified here, but that’s what is being suggested will happen.

Sebok goes on to say that UltimateBet COO Paul Leggett has assured him that those names will be released. “I consider this [i.e., the releasing of the names] to be one of my new responsibilities moving forward,” says Sebok, “and intend to continue working very closely with Paul to ensure it happens.”

I’ve noted here before that I’m a Sebok fan, having listened to his podcasts since he first joined CardPlayer’s The Circuit some three years ago, and continued to follow his shows and the impressive growth of the PokerRoad site he founded with his father, Barry Greenstein. (To give credit, that picture of Sebok above at the 2009 WSOP comes from the PokerRoad site, taken by B.J. Nemeth -- click the pic to enlarge.) Got to meet him and talk a few times this past summer when covering the WSOP, and found him as friendly and funny as you’d expect from the shows.

I am remembering shaking Sebok’s hand after he busted from the Main Event on Day 7, finishing in 56th place. As I reported here at the time, pretty much everyone on the rail, particularly the media folks, was pulling for the guy.

I am also remembering back during the 2008 WSOP when another pro whom I respect and like, Eric “Rizen” Lynch, signed with UB, and writing a post here lamenting his decision. (Lynch, of course, soon afterward changed his mind and parted ways with UB.)

It’s true that the situation at UB was somewhat different then than now, but I can’t help but feel a little bit of the same disappointment at the news of Sebok joining with UB. But I’m not going with the obvious “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” headline for this post. I want all of this to work out well for Sebok, for UltimateBet, and for the online poker industry as a whole.

I’m not terribly optimistic, though. Feel a little like I’m sweating Sebok in a tourney. He’s showing me his cards, and just now has decided to limp in from early position with a not-so-good hand. The button raises, it folds back to Sebok and he just calls. Maybe Sebok has a read on the situation and knows what he’s doing. And how to make this hand work. But watching from the rail, it isn’t obvious yet how that’s going to happen.

And so I fear that rather than increase UB’s respectability, Sebok’s well-earned respectability -- like a big stack of chips accumulated through a long stretch of good play -- might suffer a bit here. We’ll see, though.

One has to imagine that UltimateBet offered a pretty sweet deal to the Cub. Details of these things aren’t generally made public knowledge, but the gossip has been that UB’s deals have tended to be larger than those offered by other sites here lately (for obvious reasons). And I suppose that added “media and operations consultant” tag must have required a little extra cabbage as well.

I thought back to my answer to the teller’s question about human nature. If it is true that we are all interested in survival, then, well, I guess I probably shouldn’t be too judgmental about someone taking an opportunity like this, especially if it is (as I suspect) a somewhat lucrative one.

Still doesn’t prevent me from worrying about how it all plays out, though.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PokerStars WCOOP Concludes -- It’s a Skill Game, Jo

PokerStars' World Championship of Online PokerPoker players -- particularly those with a special desire or need to defend their game against accusations of it being mostly “gambling” or some other non-edifying, less-than-moral pursuit -- like to point out how the better players tend to succeed more often than not. Such evidence helps support the argument that the game does, in fact, require skill, despite the very real truth that chance does often govern how a particular hand or sesssion or tourney might go.

Last night I was up late again -- ’til about 3 a.m. my time -- helping cover the end of the PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker Main Event (a $5,000 + $200 buy-in no-limit hold’em event). Change100 and I handled the live blog, and as the night wore on we were marveling at the fact that Daniel “djk123” Kelly was building a huge chip lead once again. Kelly had already cashed 10 times in this year’s WCOOP series, and won two previous WCOOP bracelets, including one just the night before in the $10,000 + $300 High Rollers H.O.R.S.E. event.

Kelly was in the top ten when Day 2 of the WCOOP Main Event started yesterday (with 178 players still alive from the 2,144 who entered). With about 50 players left, Kelly charged into the chip lead and had a huge advantage for much of the endgame before finally falling in third place.

We were also noticing and reporting on several other recognizable names among those still around for the conclusion of this one. J.C. “area23JC” Tran -- who won the WCOOP Main Event in 2006 -- made a deep run and finished not far outside the top 100. Scott “dorinvandy” Dorin, who won a High Rollers event during the 2008 WCOOP, ended up finishing 61st. Layne “reloadthis” Flack was around at the end, too, getting eliminated in 55th.

A lot of the online names were familiar, too, having turned up time and again deep in these WCOOP events we’ve been covering, or having become recognizable after taking down big Sunday tourneys. There were a few who made it deep who hadn’t been “outed” officially, and so while we knew they were name pros we weren’t identifying them in the blog.

Yevgeniy TimoshenkoA couple who were eventually identified included Isaac “philivey2694” Haxton, who finished 31st, and Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko, who ended up winning the sucker. Change100 and I covered Haxton back in the summer when he finished second to Vitaly Lunkin at that $40,000 WSOP event (Event No. 2). And, of course, we remember Timoshenko for winning that WPT World Championship event at the Bellagio this past April.

I had been up all night the previous evening writing up the report on Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier’s victory in WCOOP Event No. 43 -- his second WCOOP bracelet of the series. So I was going on 40-plus hours without sleep when, noticing the preponderance of players who’d enjoyed repeat successes going deep in last night’s Main Event, when I confidently delivered the following thesis to Change100 in chat: “this must be a skill game.” “haha” she replied at my less-than-startling conclusion.

’Cos it’s obvious, ain’t it? We poker players love to quote Mike McDermott’s sort-of-hyperbolic-but-still-meaningful questioning of his girl, Jo, in Rounders when he asks “Why does this still seem like gambling to you? I mean, why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every single year? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?”

Mike concludes “it’s a skill game, Jo.” Indeed, this year’s WCOOP provided still more evidence to support that ideer, I think.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Sleep Is for Suckers

Can't sleep... clowns will eat meWas a late one last night. Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? If one never goes to sleep, one cannot refer to the night as being a “late” one.

That’s right -- another sleepless night for yr intrepid gumshoe, still covering that there World Championship of Online Poker for PokerStars. Today (Monday) is the last day. Has been a long ride.

Spent the first part of Sunday night helping live blog Day 1 of the $5,000 + $200 Main Event. A total of 2,144 runners came out for that one, which I believe means that the prize pool -- $10,720,000 -- is the largest ever for an online poker tournament. Click here to check out the live blog to which I contributed along with Drizztdj, Change100, and Otis.

I shuffled off of there late in the evening, then went over to watch Event No. 43, the last of the $200 + $15 no-limit hold’em events. That sucker ended up pulling in 9,220 players. It began at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon (my time), but as of 6 a.m. this morning was still going with eight players left, Team PokerStars pro Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier among them.

Grospellier has already won one WCOOP event this year, Event No. 38, a $500 + $30 no-limit hold’em event with one rebuy and one add-on. And as of this moment he’s the chip leader, and continuing to put on the pressure big time, opening every hand with preflop raises whenever possible.

ElkY invariably raises to odd amounts -- e.g., 234,567 -- although in fact a lot of players adopt such a strategy in these MTTs. Makes me think a little of a post I wrote about a year-and-a-half ago called “Numbers & Psychology” that addresses the subject of those strange-looking bet amounts.

In the post, I referred to a Cornell University study regarding how consumers respond to rounded off prices, in particular referring to homes. The study concluded that buyers had a “built-in bias in favor of precise numbers,” by which they meant the non-rounded off numbers. I made a few gestures in the post toward applying the researchers’ findings to how players respond to weirdly-sized bets at the poker table. A number of interesting comments on that post, too, if you’re curious.

Anyhow, I’m hoping this thing ends in the next couple of hours, as I have that other “real” job to do! Looks like they just lost one more player, so seven to go.

Check out all the WCOOP action over at the PokerStars blog or at the WCOOP website. Also, for those interested in the World Series of Poker Europe, that initial event -- a £1,000 + £75 no-limit hold’em event -- ended up drawing a nice-sized field of 608 players, making it the largest poker tournament ever in London.

They’ve reached the final table in that one, with Richard Allen and J.P. Kelly leading the way. As they play that one out today, Event No. 2, the £2,500 + £150 pot-limit hold’em/pot-limit Omaha event, will get underway. Follow the coverage of all of the WSOPE events over at PokerNews.

(Addendum: ElkY won -- his second WCOOP bracelet this year. Is he human?)

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Fish and Chips: 2009 World Series of Poker Europe Kicks Off in London

World Series of Poker EuropeJust moments from now, the World Series of Poker Europe gets underway over in London, with the first of four bracelet events beginning at Empire Casino in Leicester Square. They’ve stretched out the mini-series to last over a couple of weeks, with each subsequent bracelet event beginning only on the final day of the previous one.

Here’s the complete schedule (all events start at noon):
  • Event No. 1: Friday, Sept. 18th
    No-Limit Hold’em
    (£1,000 + £75), 4-day event

  • Event No. 2: Monday, Sept. 21st
    Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha
    (£2,500 + £150), 3-day event

  • Event No. 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23rd
    Pot-Limit Omaha
    (£5,000 + £150), 3-day event

  • Event No. 4: Friday, September 25th
    Main Event, No-Limit Texas Hold’em
    (£10,000 + £350), 6-day event
  • You can find the daily schedule as well as structure sheets and other info about WSOPE over at Betfair. And PokerNews will be there, too, live blogging all four events. Not sure who all is at the helm, but I do see Snoopy has written the intro post for the first event. I’m gonna guess the ever witty Danafish is there, too. (And maybe Homer? Also, ever witty.)

    I understand ESPN will be producing 10 hours of coverage from the WSOPE as well, so there will be a lot of chronclin’ goin’ on at the Empire over the next couple of weeks.

    Annette ObrestadThis marks the third year for WSOPE. So far seven WSOPE bracelets have been awarded, the most notable, of course, being the one claimed by Annette Obrestad in the 2007 Main Event. Obrestad turns 21 today, by the way, so expect to see her in Vegas next summer.

    The first two years of the WSOPE featured H.O.R.S.E. events, but that has been dropped in favor of that PLH/PLO mixed event this year. Both years the H.O.R.S.E. drew only a little over a hundred entrants -- the smallest field each year -- so that probably figured into the decision to drop the event.

    Will be curious to see how the numbers go for all four events this time around in London. Again, the European Poker Tour has arranged its London stop to follow the WSOPE (running Oct. 2nd-7th), so a lot of pros will be spending the next few weeks there hanging out by the Thames.

    Last year there were 410 runners for that initial lower buy-in NLHE event -- the biggest field ever for a WSOPE event. Interestingly, both in 2007 and 2008 there were exactly the same number of entrants for the £5,000 PLO event (165) and the same number entering the £10,000 Main Event (362). (The British pound is currently worth about $1.63, by the way, so we’re talking a $16K-plus buy-in for that Main Event.)

    I’ll be distracted somewhat this weekend helping cover the World Championship of Online Poker Main Event over on PokerStars, a two-day, $5000 + $200 buy-in NLHE event that begins on Sunday. Will be doing some live blogging for that one, so check it out over at the PokerStars blog. In between, though, I’ll be looking in over at PokerNews to see what’s happening in London town.

    Have a good weekend, all.

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    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Worth a Listen

    Tiltless chipYesterday I listened to this week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast. Another good show (as usual), with the second half devoted to a lengthy interview with poker coach, player, and author Tommy Angelo.

    I’ve written about Angelo here before, having reviewed his book and even getting the chance to meet and have dinner with him last summer. Smart, funny, friendly guy who has a lot of insight into the psychology of poker.

    When I met him last summer, I’d neglected to carry my copy of his book, Elements of Poker, to Vegas with me, and so missed the chance to get him to sign it. But he had a souvenir for me, a “tiltless” poker chip which I subsequently used as a card protector during the weeks I was there.

    Not gonna rehearse the whole hour-long interview here, but I did want to share a reaction I had while listening. It was during the first part of the interview when the topic of conversation was tilt and how to avoid it. Co-host Mike Johnson started talking about those great players who seem able to avoid tilt altogether, and that led to Johnson asking Angelo a two-part question.

    “The one thing I find fascinating when I sit at a live table is the player who can take a bad beat and just let it roll off them,” Johnson began. “Those are the players you always look at as the premium players -- the ones that just never get bothered by anything.” Then came the two-part question: “Can you tell the difference from somebody who it actually doesn’t bother versus somebody who it is bothering and is stewing on the inside, but they’re just not showing it outwardly and are able to control their image to the rest of the table, but inside they are actually letting it affect their game? And what’s worse, admitting it and actually having outward tilt or keeping it bottled up inside and not having it show to the other players?”

    Two Plus Two PokercastAs I listened, I imagined my own responses to the questions. Then, like a poker player waiting for an opponent to act, I found myself anticipating what Angelo would say. I’ll admit to feeling a little overconfident about being able to guess Angelo’s answers. Having read his book, as well as having met him and gotten to know him a bit, I thought I knew what he’d say.

    To the first question (I thought) he’d express humility and say, well, of course he couldn’t tell the difference if the player was successfully controlling his or her image. To the second question, I thought he’d say it was better to hide tilt, if you could, given the practical benefits of doing so.

    As it happens, that’s how I’d have answered both questions. And as it happens, that’s not how Angelo answered ’em. Not at all.

    “The answer to the first question,” said Angelo, “is I do believe I can tell... now.” He went on to explain that while he couldn’t do so before, these days he often (not always) can tell the difference between someone who is not tilting and someone who is tilting but hiding it because he himself is able to remain calm enough at the table to observe his opponents more closely. “I’m able to quiet myself to a degree that I think I can pick up on feelings that are buzzing around the table that I didn’t use to be able to pick up on when my own feelings were more dramatic,” he explained.

    Angelo went on to use an analogy involving being seated next to a noisy generator pumping out 60 decibels of sound. Sitting there makes it impossible to hear something nearby that is less than 60 decibels. So, says Angelo, if you’re there at the table generating 50 “decibels” of “mental noise,” it makes it hard for you to notice the guy across the table who is tilting but hiding it and thus only transmitting 20 “decibels” of “negative energy.”

    To the second question, Angelo also had a different answer than mine, and different from the one I’d guessed he’d have. But in this case, I think we were hearing the question differently. Rather than say it was best not to “admit it” and have “outward tilt,” Angelo replied that “accepting it is always the best thing.” He went on to talk about how “it is always best to be able to stop and to say ‘I am on tilt now’ -- in fact, that is the cure.”

    Like I say, here I believe I was thinking of the question in terms of trying to get along at the table without giving your opponents free information, while Angelo was looking at the notion of “admitting” one was on tilt in a less literal way -- i.e., admitting it to yourself, not necessarily to others.

    'Elements of Poker' by Tommy Angelo (2007)Anyhow, check out the show for more. And again, let me recommend Elements of Poker as an entertaining and informative compilation of Angelo’s many ideas. Angelo has built on those ideas in a new series of videos over on Deuces Cracked, titled “The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment.” (I remember him speaking about working on the series when we met back in late May.) I don’t have an account over there, but the series sounds worth checking out, so I may have to get me a trial membership or something. ’Cos reading or listening to Angelo always seems to have a positive effect for me and my play.

    Indeed, after listening to the show, I played some online and as I did I very consciously avoided checking email, surfing the web, or doing anything other than try to focus on the game. Was in fact able to open up three tables as a result -- whereas normally I’ll only play one or two -- as I found myself with enough available mental capacity to handle ’em. In fact, the only extraneous activity I did at all was to riffle a few chips here beside the keyboard, including that “tiltless” one.

    And the session went well. I played competently, but benefited a lot from a couple of very bad plays by opponents. Dunno if they were tilting or not -- indeed, now that I think about it, they probably were. I think I still had too much of my own mental noise whirring to be able to tell who was tilting and who wasn’t.

    Was listening well enough to know I wasn’t, though.

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    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Oh Yeah, I Think the World Series of Poker is On

    The 2009 WSOP Main Event continues on ESPNFound myself last night sitting before the crystal receiver, having dialed up ESPN. Was watching the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. You remember that, don’t you?

    Haven’t really been following the coverage on ESPN too closely, I have to admit. Was super tired last night, having essentially lost most of a night’s sleep the night before after staying up to cover another late running WCOOP event on PokerStars. Had enough mental capacity, however, to pay attention to the show, which presented on Day 3 of the Main Event. Or parts of it, anyway. As usual, the show primarily focused on just a couple of tables, plus a few other players scattered here and there.

    Vera Valmore was watching with me. As I’ve recounted before, Vera isn’t a poker player. She knows how to play Texas hold’em, (and can even follow -- and patiently endure -- my tales of pot-limit Omaha hands). She can also get genuinely interested in poker TV now and then, depending on the personalities and storylines that get presented.

    At one point during the show there was a brief scene showing Jennifer Harman busting out of the event, and Vera commented that she liked Harman. I recalled to Vera how I’d covered one of her events this summer, during which Harman had come over to me to ask how her husband, Marco Traniello, was faring in another event. Harman was playing in (and I was covering) Event No. 42, the $2,500 Mixed Game event (eventually won by Jerrod Ankenman). We were in the Brasilia. Meanwhile, over in the Amazon, Traniello was working his way through Event No. 41, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout event. Actually, Harman was in that one, too, and had won her table already. She was looking for a report on how Traniello was doing at his.

    I did a quick check and saw he’d made it to heads up. Sent an IM to our guy covering that event to keep me updated, and told Harman I’d keep her informed. Alas, soon after Traniello got knocked out. I told Vera how I’d stood up from my laptop and caught Harman’s eye, giving her a thumbs down signal while voicing a sympathetic, soundless “sorry.” Vera and I chuckled over my disappointment at having to deliver bad news like that.

    Vera also responded to the hands that were shown involving Jean-Robert Bellande, referring to having seen him before -- not on Survivor, but on that 2005 WSOP Circuit event (played at the Rio and aired on ESPN) in which Bellande finished third, Harman second, and the victor was Doug Lee (of the infamous and neverending “toolbox” thread on 2+2).

    Now that I think about it, that two-hour broadcast of the 2005 WSOP Circuit final table was one of the more engaging presentations of a final table I remember seeing on ESPN -- a good example, actually, of a poker TV show that captured Vera’s attention and kept us both fairly riveted to the end. Partly was due to the personalities -- if I recall, Phil Ivey and Gabe Thaler were also at that final table -- but there were some intriguing hands in there, too.

    Shamus watches the WSOPMaybe it was my fatigue, but I found it very difficult to connect with the show last night. A few semi-interesting moments here and there, such as when Phil Hellmuth was shown taking a seat next to formerly-unknown-but-soon-to-be-poker-forum-hero Lauchlin McKinnon, and McKinnon was shown refusing to shake the Poker Brat’s hand. And I’m as affected as the next guy over the story of Kent Senter, whose participation in this year’s WSOP Main Event defied the odds given the advanced state of his cancer.

    But overall it was difficult to really care all that much about the various stories being plotted for us during the two hours.

    I might specifically point to the particular personalities and hands as affecting my response -- i.e., more excitement would have created more interest. But I think there are a couple of broader reasons why I’m not getting into the coverage, and indeed, why some weeks I’m not even getting around to turning it on.

    I realize that ESPN’s decision to devote so many hours to the Main Event has made me much less motivated to sit down and watch every minute. If there were half as many hours being shown, I’d probably never miss a show. But with 24 hours’ worth of shows leading up to the final table, I’m thinking I can just pick this sucker up somewhere down the line. Or not.

    Also, I’m still vaguely aware of the fact that this plot has no conclusion as yet. I know that’s supposed to make it more intriguing -- the fact that we’re all waiting until November to see how it turns out -- but something about that disconnect is making watching in September less enjoyable to me. Sorry if I’m not articulating that very well -- am still behind on sleep -- but I’m thinking I’d rather just see the damn final table already than spend all of these weeks watching players who didn’t even make the top 648 (the money) fight with each other over pots.

    At least it’s still fun to watch the background, to see if I can spot anyone I know. Spotted a few of my PokerNews buds lingering around the outer tables last night. Makes me think of watching a rerun of an old television show and getting excited over noticing what were once non-essential details -- like, say, Andy Griffith suddenly reaching over and lighting up a cigarette -- which “read” differently today.

    A strange way to watch, I know. But, hey, sitting around watching people play cards on TV is pretty strange, too, eh?

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    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Twitter Can Be Bitter, Or a Tweet Can Be Sweet

    Twitter Can Be Bitter, Or a Tweet Can Be SweetIn my trip reports from the World Series of Poker last summer, I made note on a few occasions of the prevalence of text messaging at the tables. Was quite a phenomenon, really. In 2008, just a handful of players appeared to have their iPhones or other, similar devices at the ready. In 2009, seemed like everyone had ’em.

    It was early in the summer I noticed that despite there having been a rule in place stating that “iPhones, iTouch, Treos, Blackberrys, and other similar devices will not be allowed at any time,” the rule was never being enforced. Thus did folks happily text away at the tables, mostly between hands, but sometimes even when they had cards before them.

    A little later I had occasion to talk about how curious it was to be reporting from the events amid so many players simultaneously sending out messages to the world about their progress. I called that post “Land of 1000 Reporters.”

    Dr. Pauly has gotten me thinking again about texting and poker, specifically the use of Twitter -- that latest, greatest form of “social networking” whereby folks accumulate “followers” to whom they can broadcast reports about themselves, reflections on current events, or anything that pops in their heads in 140 characters or less. Pauly makes several interesting points in his new PokerNews article on the subject, correctly observing that whatever Twitter ultimately signifies, like other all media via which we communicate with each other, “it becomes what you make of it.”

    The article contains several examples of well known pros who use Twitter, including that one story of Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) sending out a tweet in which he called a player at his table a “whackjob surprise,” only to find that player -- Julie Schneider -- was herself following his tweets and thus instantly called him out on his casual characterization. Surprise!

    That story made me think of another one from the WSOP, one I’d read over on cmitch’s blog, O-Poker, toward the end of June. In a post titled “Careful What You Tweet at the Poker Table,” cmitch recounts how he played one of the $2,000 no-limit hold’em events, and at one point was moved to a table where Vanessa Rousso had just busted out. When he arrived at the table, he discovered the players left behind were all quite animated as they continued to discuss her.

    Indeed, if you weren’t so sensitive about puns, you might say they were all a-twitter.

    The players were excited for a couple of reasons. One was Rousso’s bustout hand, which according to some at the table apparently hadn’t been played very well. You can read a description of the hand in cmitch’s post, but it involves getting all her chips in on a king-high board with A-K and running into a player holding pocket rockets.

    The other topic of conversation, though, was how she’d sent out a tweet earlier on which read “Just sat down...danny wong at my otherwise weak table.” A friend of one of the players had read Rousso’s tweet, then forwarded the message in a text to his buddy. And, in fact, that turned out to be the player who busted Rousso on the hand. As cmitch says, the inside dope about Rousso’s low estimation of her opponents’ skills may or may not have influenced how he played the hand, but it surely didn’t hurt him to have had the extra info.

    I saw some texting at the tables at the EPT -- and to be honest, I don’t know one way or the other what sort of rules are on the books there regarding the use of electronic devices -- though not as much as at the WSOP. I still feel (for various reasons) as though I’d like to see officials make players step away from the tables whenever using their devices, but I’m doubting that’ll ever come to pass.

    No, for better or worse, these devices are permanently part of us now. And it appears a lot of us are satisfied to use them primarily to send tweets to each other -- consistent, frequently updated progress reports from our respective journeys through this mortal coil.

    I’d say more about this, but I have to run. Time to go send a tweet that this post is up.

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    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Final Decision on UltimateBet: None of My Business

    The list of usernames involved in the cheating at UltimateBet included in the KGC's 'final decision' on the matterOn Friday, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission -- the entity that “is empowered to regulate and control gaming and gaming related activities conducted within and from the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake [near Quebec, Canada] in accordance with the highest principles of honesty and integrity” -- issued its “final decision” regarding the cheating that occurred at UltimateBet, one of the sites to which the KGC issues a license (and thus purports to regulate and control).

    Friday’s news comes nearly a year after we last heard from the KGC, and about 20 months after a few online players first began publicizing their suspicions that cheating might be happening on the site.

    Turns out at least 31 different people -- in addition to 1994 WSOP Main Event champion and UltimateBet “consultant” Russ Hamilton -- were involved in the cheating at UB. And those guys had over 100 separate accounts with which to have their fun (click on list to enlarge). Over $22 million has now been refunded to affected players, and the KGC has further fined UB $1.5 million. The KGC says it believes “criminal behavior” has taken place, and so is providing information to law enforcement authorities, although whether any sort of prosecution will follow remains to be seen.

    According to Friday’s report, this applesauce went on at UltimateBet for a period of four-and-a-half years -- from June 2003 to December 2007. If you’ve been paying attention, the UB cheating era keeps getting lengthier (and involves more cheaters) with each report. Back in May 2008, Tokwiro Enterprises, the company that owns UltimateBet (and Absolute Poker), reported that the “fraudulent activity” on UB first began in March 2006. The last time we heard from the KGC back in September 2008, we were told that “multiple cheating incidents” started to occur on UltimateBet in May 2004.

    Since this is the “final decision,” I imagine the UB cheating era won’t be extending back any further. Couldn’t go back too much further, I guess -- UB only went online in 2001.

    I’m glad the KGC has at last made its “final decision” public. I’m glad efforts are being made to try to make the criminals pay for their deeds, although am skeptical those efforts will get very far. I’m glad that the KGC has audited and approves of the operation of Tokwiro Enterprises, and has also audited and approves of the Cereus Poker Network system on which both Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet presently run.

    A graphical representation of the likelihood of 'NioNio''s results on UBOf course, it took a bunch of players noticing a player named “NioNio” was enjoying a statistically improbable run of good fortune on UB -- not the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, despite its being “empowered to regulate and control” the sites to which it issues licenses -- for the cheating by 30-plus other individuals on the site to be discovered. And, it appears, eventually stopped.

    Not so glad about that.

    Tokwiro took over ownership of UB in October 2006, and Friday’s report further details how the new owners became aware of the cheating, reported it to the KGC, and aided KGC with the investigation. The new report confirms the previous statement made by Paul Leggett, CEO of Tokwiro, that “this cheating occurred on our site through illicit software placed on the UB servers prior to our purchasing UltimateBet” and “that Tokwiro and its entire management team had no knowledge of the illicit software until it was revealed by our investigation; and no one associated with Tokwiro was involved in the cheating scheme at any point.”

    Fine. The new owners are clean, although they were in charge for over a year before recognizing that a gang of folks using over 100 different usernames were cheating the site. And again, such recognition only arriving after some players started to notice and complain.

    When that happened -- in January 2008 -- we had just heard from the KGC regarding the Absolute Poker cheating scandal that took place in 2007. There it was concluded that cheating had occurred at AP for a period of about six weeks during the late summer of 2007. Multiple user accounts were identified as having been involved in the cheating, “with players using software that enabled the viewing of the ‘hole cards’ of each of the other players.” Not exactly what happened at UB, apparently, according to the “Anatomy of the Cheating” section of the new report, but practically speaking very similar. The suckers playing with these cheaters were playing with their cards face up.

    Absolute Poker was fined $500,000 and placed on a two-year probation by the KGC, a probation which involved the KGC conducting random audits of AP. By then, I had already abandoned Absolute Poker as a place to play, having pulled my money off the site in October 2007. I had an account over at UltimateBet at the time as well, and realizing that the same company ran both sites, I soon removed my funds from UB, too, in November (though not without some headache) -- that is, even before the NioNio thing came to light and (eventually) we all began to realize the UB scandal was much, much bigger in scope than what had happened at Absolute Poker.

    So I was no longer playing on UltimateBet when the site acknowledged in March 2008 that a cheating “scheme” had been detected on the site via an “interim statement” sent to various poker industry folks. Nor was I a couple of months later when players began uncovering a number of other usernames that appeared to be involved in the cheating. Nor in September 2008 when the KGC issued its “initial findings” on the UB matter.

    Nor in November 2008 when that “60 Minutes” story about the scandals appeared along with accompanying features in The Washington Post. Nor in December 2008 when UltimateBet spokesperson Phil Hellmuth was shipped a pot despite holding the worst hand, about which he said afterward (on the 12/28/09 episode of The Ultimate Poker Show) “this has happened 100 times.”

    Like I say, I made my decision long ago. Am a bit incredulous, I guess, that an online poker site can manage to abuse its customers so badly for so long -- not to mention negatively affect the reputation of the industry as a whole -- and still be endorsed. And attract players.

    But that’s none of my business.

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    Friday, September 11, 2009

    I Get Up, I Get Down

    I Get Up, I Get DownI mentioned a week-and-a-half ago how August had gone particularly well for me poker-wise. September? Not so good. Has been a rough, rough last week at PLO25 (six-handed).

    Some bad play on my part, for sure. In some cases compounded, I think, from having played at least a couple of sessions while tired.

    You might remember me whimpering earlier in the week about my sleep schedule having gone wacky from helping out with some of those WCOOP write-ups. As my buds Change100 and California Jen have been noting in their tweets, doing those often requires sitting up into the wee hours, sometimes all through the night.

    Three of the four recaps I did last weekend were like that, and as I’m no good at sleeping during the day, I ended up having a few 24-hour periods in there during which I only got a couple of hours of actual snooze time. Yet I stubbornly tried to play my usual sessions anyway, and while I haven’t studied the hand histories (too tired, haha), I’m reasonably sure I was making some poor decisions that made it harder for me to succeed.

    Have been running bad, too, though, seemingly missing most draws while my opponents always seem to hit theirs. Which doesn’t help, dontcha know.

    Played yesterday and was doing all right, up a modest amount (ten bucks or so). Had mentally slipped into that zone where I was thinking of leaving so as to secure even a tiny win, a strategy I like to employ when on a downswing. Does a lot psychologically, I think, just to be able to return the next day with a memory of ending in the black.

    Anyhow, I’m thinking of getting up when I get dealt AdAhThTd in the cutoff. The first two players limp in, and I raise the pot (to $1.35). After all, my hand fell into that very small class of starting hands Jeff Hwang calls “Magnum.” “Ultra premium Aces,” he says, are the “double-suited aces with... a second big pair.” “The very best starting hands in PLO. A raising hand from any position.”

    Folds back to to the big blind -- whom I have covered by a few -- and he reraises pot to $5.90. The limpers fold, and its back on me. I suppose I can call and see a flop, but really, that’s silly talk. I’m Magnum, baby! I reraise, he puts the rest in, and I call, making for a pot of 65 bucks or so.

    He has ticked the the option not to show his cards when all in, so while I don’t see his cards when the flop comes KcTc2h, I am sure already that I’m cooked. I have flopped a set of tens, but I know know know he’s flopped a better set. The turn is the 5s, the river the 3h, and sure enough he’s got the kings -- Kh7d7hKd.

    After being up, now I’m down. I notice I had both his suits covered. A little more insult to injury arrives in the form of my opponent typing “ty” afterwards. I leave shortly thereafter, having to book another loss.

    Speaking of injury, all apologies for sharing this here story of woe, as I know know know how unpleasant they are to read sometimes. In fact, this week -- as I’ve endured my own downswing -- I’ve begun to notice just how excruciating these stories of poker misfortune can be. And prevalent.

    I read a lot of blogs, forums, tweets, and whatnot, and was starting to see this week how these stories are everyfrigginwhere. Kind of like the smoke that used to fill most poker rooms, choking us all. So, like I say, sorry for clouding up the room with more of that. Here, let me just put this one out right here.

    Yes, 'Close to the Edge' (1972)One of those whose tweets I follow is Joe Sebok, who occasionally broadcasts to his 793,195 followers (?!?) his “album of the day.” Several weeks ago I recall he mentioned he was listening to that Yes album, Close to the Edge (1972), one I have on the iPod but hadn’t dialed up in some time. I think it was the suggestion that caused me to listen yesterday.

    What a jewel, that one. Lyrics mostly applesauce (as is usual for Yes), but nonetheless fascinating from beginning to end, especially the title track, which has that moment of clarity during the sweetly serene middle section, titled “I Get Up, I Get Down.”

    Don’t ask me what any of the surrounding lyrics are supposed to be saying, but I get that one phrase. I think we all do.

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