Friday, October 30, 2009

Talking WSOP Main Event Final Table: ESPN Conference Call

ESPN conducted a conference call yesterday regarding the WSOP ME final tableHad a very enjoyable conversation with Jim McManus yesterday, whose new book, Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, has finally come out this week. I wrote a little something about the book here last week. I’ve also been invited to review it for a couple of other places, and my interview of McManus will additionally be appearing on a website near you -- not this one -- in the not-too-distant future. (More on that to come!)

We talked a lot about the new book, as well poker writing in general. I had a list of questions and got through just about all of them, although I noticed afterwards one question had gone unasked. Since McManus is not only a person who has studied World Series of Poker history, but has helped write it and, in fact, is part of that history himself (having made the WSOP Main Event final table back in 2000), I had meant to ask him his thoughts regarding the current state of the WSOP Main Event, in particular his opinion on the delayed final table. But we’d gotten onto other things and that one fell through the cracks.

As it happened, around the time I was chatting with McManus, ESPN was having a conference call with the media to talk about the upcoming final table, which finally will be getting started in just a little over a week. George McNeilly, Senior Director of Corporate and Consumer Communications for ESPN, moderated the call, with Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, the WSOP show commentators, and Doug White, the Senior Director of Programming and Acquisitions for ESPN, offering their thoughts and fielding the questions. I had a chance to listen to that call later on, thanks to our buds over at Pokerati.

Things began with McNeilly noting that there will be a live blog over on (kept by Andrew Feldman, I’m assuming), as well as a “poker pick’em” game with trivia questions about the final table. Chad noted early on that he was particularly focused on the storylines of Phil Ivey, Joe Cada (trying to become the youngest ME winner ever), and “the logger coming out of the woods,” Darvin Moon. Later on Chad would say the presence of these three players and their stories made this year’s FT the “most fascinating” for him “since we started doing it in 2003.” Later a reporter from The Washington Post tried to characterize these nine players as “one of the least charismatic groups you’ll ever see,” but both Chad and McEachern begged to differ.

The first questions concerned coaching -- it appears Jeff Shulman is the only one of the players thus far to have publicly acknowledged having hired a coach (Phil Hellmuth) -- and the effect of the delay. Then Stephen Murphy of Card Player asked an interesting question about that Phil Ivey hand aired earlier this week, the one in which Ivey mucked the winner at showdown.

Ivey mucks a winner“My first reaction was somehow something was wrong with the tape,” said Chad, who called it “a stunning thing to see.” McEachern added that Ivey’s gaffe proved “this [kind of mistake] does happen even to the best, because the grind tests every fiber of a player’s mind and spirit.” They added that as far as they knew, Ivey may not have known he had made the mistake until the show aired this week. Would they ask him about it? Of course, said Chad, who guessed that Ivey would probably say “‘Thank goodness it didn’t happen in the Big Game.’”

Midway through the call they took a break to give summaries of all nine players. One interesting point made by Chad was the fact that of these nine, there are three players in their 20s, three in their 30s, and three in their 40s and 50s. McEachern said he favors Eric Buchman to win it all, and Chad said he thought Moon would not bully the table with his big stack but instead play it conservatively so as to guarantee himself a finish in the top four or five.

Dan Cypra of Poker News Daily asked about the pros and cons of a Moon victory, as well as that of an Ivey win. McEachern said there was “a huge upside for both players winning,” speaking particularly of a Moneymaker-like effect should Moon take it down. “The stuff of storybooks,” said Chad of a possible Moon victory, sort of echoing himself from earlier ESPN broadcasts. Near the end of the call, they talked a bit more about Moon and the fact that he has yet to accept any sponsorship deals. Chad suspects he will ultimately take a one-day deal and be wearing a logo of some sort at the FT, though thinks it would be cool if he didn’t.

Gary Trask of Casino City Media asked about the production of the final table and whether ESPN had learned anything from last year. “We heard our fans loud and clear,” said Doug White, adding that they were “hoping to show a little bit more of heads-up play” this time around. Along those lines, we also heard reports yesterday -- not in the conference call, but elsewhere -- that ESPN Senior Producer Jamie Horowitz is saying that ESPN is reserving the possibility of extending its programming on Tuesday night (November 10) beyond the scheduled two hours so as to show more of heads-up play.

Answering another question, White said he did think the ratings for this year’s final table would exceed last year’s, and he also intimated that the plan for 2010 will likely be to follow a similar schedule as we saw this year, with a lot of shows devoted to the Main Event (and not so many to the prelims).

There will be no preview show this year, but as McEachern pointed out “we’ve already introduced all of the players to America already” and so ESPN won’t be taking away from showing hands in order to bother too much with that during the final table show. There will be a feature on Phil Ivey next Tuesday night on ESPN’s “E:60” show (at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time).

Those were the highlights. Not too much in the way of news, really, and in fact, the only real news of the day didn’t come from the conference call, but in that report in which Horowitz said they might show more than two hours of coverage on November 10.

Jim McManusI may well follow up with McManus to ask him his thoughts regarding the Main Event final table. I’m remembering that the year he made the ME final table -- 2000 -- where he finished fifth, Jeff Shulman also went deep, being eliminated in 7th. (The televised final table was six-handed that year, the last year before the switch to a nine-handed FT.)

In any event, I’m sure that like the rest of us, he, too, will be curious to see how this next chapter of “the story of poker” plays out.

Have a good weekend, all.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Watch and Wondurrrr: The Challenge Crosses Halfway Point

A hand from the 'Durrrr Challenge'Like everyone else, I’d largely taken my eyes off of that “Durrrr Challenge” between Tom “durrrr” Dwan and Patrik Antonius that has been going on (and off and on) over at Full Tilt Poker for the last nine months. Found myself checking back in on it recently, though.

You might recall how Dwan issued his challenge in late 2008, inviting anyone (other than Phil Galfond) to play against him heads up, four tables of either pot-limit Omaha or no-limit hold’em, at a minimum of $200/$400 blinds. Whoever was ahead -- even by just a single buck -- after 50,000 hands would be the winner. If Dwan won, the loser would have to pay up an additional half million clams. If Dwan’s opponent won, he’d pay that person $1.5 million.

A few names surfaced as possible opponents for Dwan (including David Benyamine and Phil Ivey), but it was Antonius who was first in line. The game chosen was PLO ($200/$400). The pair began their match in February of this year amid much hype, but interest died down after several long gaps between sessions. Following the WSOP this summer, they finally began playing again in earnest, and earlier this month crossed the halfway point of 25,000 hands played.

A couple of days ago Dwan and Antonius had a lengthy session in which they played over 2,000 hands versus one another. Dwan had the upper hand for much of the session, and at one point apparently was up around $400,000-$500,000 for the night, but Antonius pulled back closer and when they logged off Dwan had increased his overall lead by $81,716.

There was a moment in there somewhere when they took a dinner break, during which time Dwan chatted with the fellas over at the high-stakes 7-game table about how the night was going. Nicole Gordon, in her latest report on the challenge for PokerNews, shares a funny moment from that conversation:

Ziigmund: durrrrr
durrrr: wtsup?
Ziigmund: who won in challenge?
durrrr: i won small
durrrr: 150 mayb
John Juanda: yeah u won small ferrari

Gotta watch that Juanda. Sits there all quiet like, then -- zing!

According to Full Tilt Poker’s official stats page, the pair have played a total of 27,185 hands to this point (in 42 sessions). Back at the 14,000-hand mark or so, Antonius was up over $500,000, but Dwan stormed back and currently is up $779,248 and Antonius down $785,355.

Top 10 Biggest Pots in the 'Durrrr Challenge'As the volatility of that session from earlier in the week shows, Dwan’s lead is by no means insurmountable, and indeed could potentially be halved in a single hand. The pair have played at least 10 hands with pots of more than a quarter million dollars, with a couple nearing the half-million mark. Dwan has had the advantage in those so far, having won most (eight) of those “monsterpotten” hands (as Gordon calls them). If you’re curious, you can view replays of those biggies over on the Full Tilt page. (Clicking on the pic will get you there.)

According to the Full Tilt page, the pair have played for a total of 3 days, 14 hours, and 50 minutes. That means the average session has been a little over two hours. That also means they are playing about 5.2 hands per minute when they sit down at their four tables. All of that adds up to nearly a solid week (160-plus hours) of play in order to get the challenge done.

I guess many thought that once the challenge began, it would continue uninterrupted until the 50,000th hand was played, but obviously neither player saw that sort of insane stamina test as preferable. Even playing sporadically as they are, there have been several moments when each player has reported falling asleep at the computer, accumulated fatigue from all of the other high stakes games they are also regularly playing having caught up with them.

I remain intrigued by the challenge and am glad others are keeping tabs on it for me. As I noted in February when it began, we’ve come a long way from that Nick “the Greek” Dandalos-Johnny Moss challenge back in 1949 or 1951 or whenever it was. (Read more about that here.) Full details of what precisely happened at Binion’s between those two -- another high stakes, heads-up battle in which millions were won and lost -- will remain shrouded in mystery, perhaps never to be revealed. But with the Dwan-Antonius challenge, every mouse-click and keystroke is being carefully chronicled.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not Exactly Ivey League

2009 WSOP on ESPNWatched that 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event coverage again last night on ESPN. They’re giving four whole hours to Day 8 -- really one of the most exciting days of poker I’ve ever witnessed (as I wrote about here back in July) -- so next week will be devoted to this one as well. Last night they showed them playing down from 27 to 18, while next week they’ll get ’em down to the final nine.

Looking back at the PokerNews live blog of the day (kept by F-Train, Change100, and myself), I’m calculating that those two hours aired last night covered only about two-and-a-half hours of actual playing time, as the bustouts were happening at a rapid clip. It was still the middle of the afternoon when the final 18 players redrew for seats around the last two tables.

I was positioned near Table 2 that day/night, the one where Antonio Esfandiari busted in 24th, and Steven Begleiter was hitting all of those flops. F-Train was over at the other outer table where Eric Buchman was building a big stack, while Change100 was at the feature table with Nick Maimone, Andrew Lichtenberger, Joe Cada, and the player everyone in the Amazon Room was focused on most intently that day, Phil Ivey.

Watching Ivey is always a treat, if only to see the timidity he causes in other players, most of whom seem never to know for sure what two cards he is holding. Not surprising, then, that the most memorable hand from last night’s coverage involved Ivey. Very surprising, though, to see that it was a hand in which Ivey himself didn’t know what he held!

If you watched, you know the hand. There were 24 players left, I believe, so they were eight-handed. The blinds were 60,000/120,000, with a 15,000 ante. (ESPN doesn’t always mention the antes.) That means there was 300,000 in the middle when Ivey is shown opening with a raise to 320,000 from under the gun with 8s8d.

The table folds around, including Jeff Shulman who tosses away his pocket deuces, and the action is on Jordan Smith in the big blind. Smith looks at his cards -- Ad9c. He thinks a moment, then raises to 1,000,000. Ivey (in Seat 1) leans forward and asks Smith (in Seat 9) what he has left. Smith says “six-and-a-half or six [million], something like that.”

“I’d like to tell you what Phil Ivey is thinking,” says Norman Chad. “But he thinks at a much higher level than I do, so I don’t want to pull a brain muscle.” Ivey makes the call.

The flop comes 5sQhTs, and both check. The turn is the Qs, and again both check. The river brings the As. I’ll freely admit that when I watched this for the first time, my initial instinct was to think Ivey had let Smith catch up, as I was focused on an ace or nine coming. Of course, with the hole cards displayed on the screen for me, it was easy enough to see that the river had in fact given Ivey the flush and so his hand was still the best.

Ivey mucks the winning handThe gum-chewing Smith takes a few seconds, then checks, and Ivey waves his hand with what appears to be some exasperation, indicating he is checking as well. “Ace,” says Smith, and Ivey waits to make his opponent turn over his hand. When he does, Ivey then unexpectedly drops his cards face down before the dealer, mucking the winning hand (see picture). In other words, Ivey gifted Smith more than 2 million chips, leaving himself with a bit more than 8 million. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the hand here -- skip to the five-minute mark.)

A pretty astonishing little lapse in attention, that. And of course all the more wild to see because it was Ivey. Like Tiger missing a three-footer, or Jordan missing a breakaway dunk or something. Made Chad’s little preflop speech about Ivey thinking at a higher level -- added afterwards, of course -- all the more ironic-sounding.

Some like to make the argument that poker must be a skill game because unlike in other entirely chance-driven games like roulette or slots, one can lose on purpose in poker. An interesting idea, I suppose, although to be honest my addled brain has never quite put together why that “proves” poker is a skill game. It does, however, most certainly prove that in poker one can make a mistake like Ivey did -- that the often-taken-for-granted “skill” of remembering your own hole cards is indeed part of the game.

Ivey survived his misstep, of course. And as it happens, Smith would be the last one out (in 10th) before the final table was set. Indeed, the real excitement of that day -- including some much, much bigger missteps than Ivey’s -- was still to come.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Call and Response

Call and ResponseThe blog. It’s been around for a good while now. I keep it. It keeps me. Whatever.

The way it works? Generally speaking, I get up early. Earlier than I would otherwise. And I write. I take care of the blog. And I guess it takes care of me. It’s a little like running, which I am still doing (though not as earnestly as I was earlier in the year). A kind of mental exercise that has become... routine? Obsession? Whatever.

Indeed, I’ve now reached a point where I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to make it through an entire weekday without having posted something to the blog.

I have written before (at length) about some of the reasons why people keep blogs, and most particularly what I perceive to be the purpose(s) for my own. Tended to do that quite a bit during the early days of Hard-Boiled Poker, in posts such as “An Existential Pause,” “Milestones,” and “Who Wants to Write About Poker?

Haven’t gone for the navel-gazing thing quite as often here lately. A recent example was a post titled “Pokerback Writer” in which I talked some about the stories poker produces, and what to me seems like an inevitable relationship between playing poker and writing about it. However, I have been inspired to think again along these lines during the last few days, really for a couple of reasons.

One is my reading of Vicky Coren’s new memoir For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker, which the further along I get into it the more I’m realizing is an especially good entry into that little subcategory of “poker literature.” Coren identifies herself early on as more of a writer than a player, although like pretty much all of us who do either with any degree of seriousness, she has sufficient awareness and humility to recognize that she’s still learning in both realms.

Because really, if we had either completely figured out -- writing or playing -- why would we continue doing either?

The other inspiration for thinking again about the blog and its purposes was F-Train and his post from late last week “All Atwitter.” As the title suggests, F-Train is reflecting on the effect Twitter has had on blogging over the last few months, namely, that not-so-gradual shift among many in the poker writing crowd from blogging to Twittering. They “all” haven’t given over their blogs for Twitter, but it does seem quite a few have. While I still subscribe to a ton of poker blogs, really only a small percentage of the authors still post consistently, with many having opted instead to send out multiple “tweets” per day.

In his post, F-Train talks about that 140-character limit in Twitter and how such an abbreviated form necessarily affects the content. But he also suggests that both blogging and Twittering lack the sort of collaboration he believes is fundamental to good, quality writing. If I understand him correctly, we’re all kind of “broadcasting” -- either in 140-character-or-less chunks on Twitter or in longer stretches in blog posts -- without necessarily receiving (or even seeking) the kind of feedback that can make writing better (and more meaningful).

F-Train is absolutely correct when he says “polished, high-quality writing -- the type that is collaborative and takes more time, voice and skill to produce -- is receding in prominence.” Such is true not just in our little world of poker blogs and poker-related Twitter accounts, but everywhere. The fact is, here on the web, people do write hastily, hit ”publish” without reservation, and do not expect (let alone seek) feedback.

I do, however, think that a kind of collaboration is possible with blogs -- and even Twitter -- but it depends on how one approaches each medium. Soon after I started Hard-Boiled Poker, I quickly became aware of the “community” I had not-entirely-wittingly joined. As I wrote in an earlier post (“Community Watch”), “This here is a complicated, overlapping set of communities where (one might argue) we all eventually get around to hearing from each other. Unlike the world of print media, we ain’t so bound by time and space -- or even other factors that make it hard or even impossible for us otherwise to communicate with others. Here the interaction seems more alive (if that makes sense), and usually more meaningful.”

That’s how I have tended to think of the blog, anyway. Thus have I always felt myself interacting with others, not simply issuing monologues one after another with no expectation of being read and/or responded to. Sometimes in poker we make a bet and don’t want to be called. But when it comes to writing -- public writing, anyway -- we should always be seeking response.

Indeed, to write publicly without an awareness of (or respect for) audience is at best silly or pointless, at worst dangerous. Like Coren, I know I’ve a lot to learn. About poker, obviously. And about writing, too.

So please, keep writing everyone. Blogs, Twitter... whatever.

’Cos I’m reading. I’m responding.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Online Poker at Sixes and Sevens

At Sixes and SevensI continue to play mostly on PokerStars, from which I’ve had zero trouble when it comes to cashing out a chunk every now and then (via eCheck). Currently have some cabbage on both Full Tilt Poker and Bodog as well. Did take out a small chunk Full Tilt several months back (via paper check), but haven’t cashed out from Bodog in over a year, I think.

Have started thinking more and more about December 1 -- the date the final regulations for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 are required to be implemented by banks (or “designated payment systems”). Those finalized regs suggest cashing out will not be a problem even after that date, but that depositing will. I have seen reports here and there that a few banks have sent notices to their customers regarding their intention to start complying with the UIGEA come December and block transactions with online gambling sites. Haven’t received any such notice from my bank (yet).

Efforts have been made to delay the UIGEA’s implementation, including the introduction of legislation (Barney Frank’s bills in the House, Robert Menendez’s in the Senate) as well as an appeal to the feds to use their authority under something called the Administrative Procedure Act and simply put implementation off a year in order to give these other bills a chance to be heard. There’s really no way of predicting whether or not such a last-minute delay could happen -- but time is running out.

Meanwhile, I play on. Had a strange hand of pot-limit Omaha ($25 buy-in, 6-max.) last week I thought I’d share, not so much for the sake of talking strategy -- although there’s a little of that to consider -- but mainly because of the statistical improbability the hand ended up demonstrating.

The hand came up during a semi-rough stretch for yr humble gumshoe, which may partially explain the seeming impatience I showed. After having lost a bit elsewhere, I had arrived at this particular table about a half-hour before, and so had played around 25-30 hands with this same group. One of my opponents -- LtBradshaw -- I had played with before and considered to be an essentially solid player who tended to avoid nonstandard moves. He had been doing well at this particular table, and had $55.15 when the hand started. Another player -- RockyRococo -- I had never played with before. Rocky had lost one buy-in under questionable circumstances, was doing a lot of calling out of position and other not-so-great moves, and thus seemed from the small sample to be a much less tutored player. At the start of this hand he had $23.45. I had $23.35.

The hands I had played at this table had been entirely uneventful, aside from Rocky’s having lost that buy in somewhere along the way. (Incidentally, he didn’t lose it to LtBradshaw). The hand began with the UTG player limping in, then LtBradshaw (UTG+1) raising the pot to $1.10. It folded back to RockyRococo in the small blind who reraised to $3.25. The action was on me in the big blind, where I had been dealt 5d7h8h6d. As I say, I was down a bit and wanted to play my double-suited rundown. Could’ve reraised, I suppose, but I figured my hand played well against multiple opponents and so I just called the extra three bucks.

The UTG player folded, then LtBradshaw repotted it to $13.25. (“Why, hello there, aces,” thought I.) RockyRococo quickly called, leaving himself just about ten bucks behind. Calling seemed silly here -- I, too, would be committing over half my stack -- and as I say, I was feeling a bit stubborn. Also, now I figured I was up against aces and kings (or even better, aces and aces), which made my hand seem even more playable. So I pushed my stack all in, and both my opponents quickly called, creating a total pot of just over 67 bucks.

Even though we were all in, the cards were not flipped over as I suppose one of my opponents had removed the check mark from the “Show Hole Cards When All-In” option in the lobby. So I had no idea what they held as the community cards were dealt.

The flop came 6hJs7c, which delighted me -- two pair, and an open-ender. Not bad at all. The turn was the Qd, which didn’t look so good, and when the river brought the Kc I assumed I was cooked. The cards were flipped over. RockyRococo somewhat surprisingly turned over 3s2d6s7d. He and I both ended the hand with two pair. And LtBradshaw? 6cTc9s7s! (Wrong about them aces, I was.) He’d backed into a straight and took the pot.

All three of us held sixes and sevens, and the case six and case seven had come on the flop. I imagine the other two liked the flop, too, although for Rocky it was terrible, leaving him just 7% to win the hand. And by the end, I’ll bet LtBradshaw didn’t care to see those three overcards like that, but they'd ensured him the pot.

By the way, that phrase “at sixes and sevens” refers to a confusing situation, a world out of whack. (Read more here.) The fact that we’d all three gotten it all in before the flop with those hands was a bit out of whack, for sure, although as I suggest, I think there was something in the dynamic of two reasonably sound players (me and LtBradshaw) and one apparently loose cannon (Rocky) that helped cause that to happen.

’Cos weird stuff can occur if you get the right (or wrong) combination of people interacting with each other. Like the passage of some bizarre, unfocused law against transferring money from online gambling sites. Or the delay of such a law’s implementation. One never knows.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Kentucky Still Hoping to Be Master of Your Domains

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday regarding the domain seizure caseSo you might have heard something yesterday about that Kentucky domain seizure case having popped up once again. With regard to the proverbial that, what, you might be wondering, is, as they say, up?

That purposefully murky-sounding lead is hopefully understood to be symbolic of the murkiness that surrounds this sorta-baffling-yet-undoubtedly-meaningful case. To review...

Back in October 2008 came a Franklin Circuit Court case between the Commonwealth of Kentucky (the plaintiff) -- represented in court by J. Michael Brown, Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and in the media by the state’s governor, Steve Beshear -- and “141 Internet Domain Names” (the defendants). In the case, Judge Thomas D. Wingate somewhat preposterously ruled in favor of the plaintiff, meaning those 141 sites needed to block access by Kentucky residents within 30 days or the domains would be forfeited to Kentucky, sort of like foreclosed homes or something. No shinola!

According to the ruling, if access wasn’t blocked, Kentucky got to take the domains on which the sites resided and do with them whatever they wanted. All of the domains were gambling related, and included several (but not all) online poker sites, including Absolute Poker, Bodog, Cake Poker, Doyle’s Room, Full Tilt Poker, PitBull Poker, PokerStars, Reefer Poker, UltimateBet, and others. In fact, both Cake and the Cereus network (Absolute and UB) immediately began blocking Kentucky residents’ access in response to the ruling.

That ruling was appealed, however, and after a few delays was heard in January 2009 at which time the Court of Appeals overturned the decision. Although that reversal cited multiple problems with the original case, the big one appeared to be the mistaken assumption that an internet website constituted a “gambling device” -- a technical requirement that is part of Kentucky’s anti-gambling law. The Commonwealth immediately responded by saying it planned to appeal the appeal -- this time taking the case to Kentucky’s Supreme Court. And that is what finally happened yesterday.

Incidentally, just before yesterday’s hearing, Full Tilt Poker went ahead and took their case to court in the U.K. -- where the domain registrar (Safenames) used by Full Tilt resides -- to settle the matter of whether or not Kentucky could seize its domain. The U.K. court ruled that since “Kentucky’s proceedings are not enforceable in English law,” Kentucky had no right to seize Full Tilt’s domain. The poker site hadn’t been sure whether or not Safenames would comply should Kentucky in fact win its case, and so went ahead with the preemptive measure.

Am assuming, then, that while continues to be included among the 141 domains at issue here, if it turns out there is some sort of reversal of the reversal by the Kentucky Supreme Court, Full Tilt Poker is already set to keep its domain from being seized even if it continues to allow Kentuckians’ access.

It's a head-scratcher, all right.I watched yesterday’s hearing, which lasted an hour-and-a-half or so. You can watch it, too, if you are interested. You can find an embedded video of it over at Pokerati by clicking here. To the left there is a shot of one of the judges scratching his head while listening to the testimony. Indeed, the whole sucker is most certainly a head-scratcher.

The fun began with the hilarious Eric Lycan, the attorney representing the Commonwealth’s side, pointing out how none of the owners of the sites hosted on the domains were present in the courtroom, further speculating that they preferred to remain in hiding, operating from afar their “illegal gambling trade associations.” I kid, of course. The dude was as humorless as one would expect.

Lycan then offered various, also unfunny analogies between the situation being discussed and that posed by drug trafficking and pornography. (He’d eventually mention human trafficking later on while making a point as well!)

The judges didn’t really seem to buy any of those comparisons, noting that the Court of Appeals had said the domains were “intangible property” when denying they could be regarded as “gambling devices.” The judges also questioned why the seizure of the domains was needed here. Why not, instead of trying (vainly?) to make the domains inaccessible to the entire world, simply block access in Kentucky?

That was a strategy also suggested by those representing the 141 domains -- Bill Johnson (representing, Jon Fleischaker (iMEGA), and John Tate (, Interactive Gaming Council). The Commonwealth could have tried to make online gambling illegal if they wished, they argued, but have instead adopted this less direct, less sincere approach that tries to skirt the usual legislative process. The Commonwealth “had no subject matter jurisdiction,” they said, and so Judge Wingate should have immediately dismissed the case.

It should be noted that the good guys were just as humorless as Lycan. Indeed, they were appalled, and made that feeling clear throughout. Although I have to admit I did smile for a moment when Tate noted that he represented VicsBingo. Such a silly word -- “bingo” -- to be uttered so earnestly there in the Supreme Court.

Lycan got one last say before the hearing concluded, and he reiterated the Commonwealth’s view that the operators of the sites are the “real criminals,” adding that every bet in every poker game represents a “contractual obligation,” and, since these contractual obligations were involving Kentucky residents, the state’s law against operating gambling was being broken here.

Apparently there will be a lengthy wait before we discover what the judges ultimately thought of the respective arguments, as a decision is not expected to be handed down for 2-4 months. The Commonwealth’s case remains mighty sketchy, and it continues to appear as though if it weren’t for one curiously-oriented circuit judge (Wingate), this thing would’ve never gotten as far as it has.

But as long as the case remains alive, there remains still another layer of uncertainty with regard to the fate of online poker here in the “land of the free.”

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Good Read: McManus Tells the Story of Poker

'Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker' by James McManus (2009)I mentioned a couple of times recently having gotten myself a copy of Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, the new history of poker by James McManus. I’ve finished it and have in fact written a review of the book for another outlet, so I’m not that inclined to review it formally here as well. However, as the book is officially due out next week, I thought I would go ahead and share a few thoughts regarding it here.

We’ve been hearing about this one for a long time, actually. I first recall reading something about it several years ago, with a 2009 target date for publication being mentioned. McManus, of course, carved himself an important place in the poker publishing business with his Positively Fifth Street, which first appeared in 2003 (a great year for anything poker-related to appear). Wrote something about that one way back during the early days of Hard-Boiled Poker, if you’re interested.

Those of you who have read Positively Fifth Street know that it is certainly a page-turner for (most) poker players. The book probably has some appeal to non-poker players, too, although I recall Vera Valmore never could get into it, having been turned off somewhat by the salacious opening scene detailing the murder of Ted Binion.

Positively Fifth Street ultimately weaves together three primary storylines. There’s the murder of Binion and subsequent trial of Sandy Murphy (his girlfriend) and Rick Tabish (her lover). There’s the 2000 World Series of Poker, for which McManus had been hired by Harper’s Magazine to produce a feature on women in poker. Then there’s McManus’s own involvement in the WSOP that year, where he won a satellite into the Main Event and then proceeded to make the final table, finishing fifth.

'Positively Fifth Street' (2003) by James McManusThe book also includes numerous other digressions regarding the history of poker, plus stories from McManus’s family tree. In fact, while the primary storylines were all compelling enough, those digressions were my favorite parts of Positively Fifth Street. They did, of course, make the book longer than it needed to be, and I think it is safe to say even though I found the book engaging from beginning to end, I sensed how it could have stood some editing and/or reorganizing. Thus I’d rate Positively Fifth Street a notch below other “classic” poker narratives like Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town or Anthony Holden’s Big Deal.

(Incidentally, it appears a film adaptation of Positively Fifth Street is in the works, although we’ve been hearing about that pretty much since the book first came out six years ago.)

Soon after Positively Fifth Street appeared, McManus began writing a regular poker column for The New York Times. If you remember, at the time we were in the midst of that “poker boom” and his landing that position was rightly viewed as further evidence of poker’s splash into the mainstream. Of course, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 came along to stem the tide and somewhere in there McManus stopped writing for the NYT. He did resurface, however, with columns in Card Player (starting in late 2006) which in fact were essentially chapters from his forthcoming history of poker.

If you’ve read any of those Card Player columns, you have a good idea what to expect in Cowboys Full. The book is comprised of 52 chapters (a nice, pokery number) which mostly follow a chronological progression from the ancient world and early gambling games on up through the invention of playing cards and eventually poker.

Most of the book focuses on poker in America, and thus pursues an early-stated thesis about how poker fits neatly within a peculiarly American ethos. Says McManus, poker provides a perfect context within which to highlight the “American DNA,” which “expresses itself -- in some environments, at least -- as energetic risk-taking, restless curiosity, and competitive self-promotion.” There’s more, but you get the idea: to us Yanks, poker ain’t just a game, and so it is worth our while to tell its story.

The book then carries that story all of the way through its having been the “cheating game” on 19th century riverboats and in Old West saloons to its growth during the 20th century to the birth of the WSOP and on up to the present, including discussions of the UIGEA, the cheating scandals on Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, and the most recent WSOP. Lots of gripping anecdotes throughout, and, like McManus’s earlier poker book, a definite page-turner.

I will say -- also like Positively Fifth Street -- that McManus’s new book is similarly lacking somewhat in terms of editing and organization. There are more than a few moments along the way when I found myself traveling down some digressive path away from the story of poker and through some other, tangential tale from the Civil War or presidential history or the like. (“What does this have to do with poker, again?” I’d wonder.)

In other words, one gets the feeling the author kept just about everything from that first draft, even if perhaps it might’ve been a good idea to trim things up a bit here and there. Kind of like a band who rather than craft a single disc every year or two churns out albums every month. Which is awesome if you really dig the band and love everything they do, but less dedicated followers might appreciate a little more selectivity.

Then again, at around 500 pages, Cowboys Full does present itself as a kind of definitive, all-encompassing reference work, and so it probably isn’t that fair to complain about it having included too much. (Although, like I say, some of the tangents might seem not-so-vital to “the story of poker.”)

All in all, the book should prove highly entertaining to those wanting to learn more about the history of the game, and useful to those interested in writing about poker’s storied past, too. Probably not a bad ideer for a Christmas gift, I’d think, for that poker player in yr life.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 November Nine Soon To Take Their Seats

The 2009 November Nine (photo by flipchip of lasvegasvegas.comThe 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event final table is set to restart on Saturday, November 7th over in the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Three weeks from yesterday (on 11/10), ESPN will be airing its “plausibly live” broadcast of the final table.

Last summer there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the whole November Nine ideer -- not just over what effect the delay might have in terms of the marketing of the WSOP, but the way introducing a four-month delay at such a crucial moment in a poker tournament tended to monkey with the “integrity” of the competition. The natural momentum of the tourney would be damaged, argued many. Players will study each others’ styles, get coaching, etc. -- all manner of things that couldn’t happen in a tourney otherwise.

All of which turned out to be true. Of course, the WSOP Main Event has always been a unique event, and so perhaps it isn’t necessarily correct to judge it according to the same criteria we use to evaluate other tournaments.

One detail of last year’s delayed final table that proved somewhat perplexing was the matter of seat assignments. The usual procedure for WSOP bracelet events -- the full table (i.e., nine-handed) hold’em and Omaha events, anyway -- is that once the 11th place finisher is eliminated, there is a redraw and the remaining ten sit around a single table, from which point there are no more redraws and they play down to a winner. However, last summer the word was there would, in fact, be another redraw of the final nine just before play began on Sunday, November 9, 2008.

This was what we heard -- on a fairly consistent basis -- for the entire four months between the end of play in July and the restart in November. I listened to and read several interviews with players, and each one said he expected there to be a redraw. Indeed, I recall hearing Scott Montgomery interviewed just a couple of days before the final table, and when asked he said he had no idea who would be seated on either side of him.

Confusion about seating assignments continued right up until the day play resumed. Lon McEachern appeared on ESPN’s The Poker Edge that week and (somewhat surprisingly) said there would be no redraw. When asked again, McEachern said he might be “speaking out of turn,” which I took to mean either he wasn’t sure or perhaps he was revealing something he wasn’t supposed to be revealing. You may recall that while we didn’t get a pay-per-view live telecast of the final table last year, there was an audio broadcast by Bluff Magazine, and at the start of that host Nick Geber actually said they were redrawing for new seat assignments. But then it turned out they did not -- the nine came back to sit in the same seats they had occupied when play ended in mid-July.

This year I haven’t heard anyone say anything about redrawing for seats on November 7th. Rather, I think everyone is under the assumption that the players will come back to sit in the same seats they were in when Darvin Moon eliminated Jordan Smith in 10th place. Meaning this is what we’ll be looking at come November 7th:
Seat 1: Darvin Moon (1st, 58,930,000)
Seat 2: James Akenhead (9th, 6,800,000)
Seat 3: Phil Ivey (7th, 9,765,000)
Seat 4: Kevin Schaffel (6th, 12,390,000)
Seat 5: Steven Begleiter (3rd, 29,885,000)
Seat 6: Eric Buchman (2nd, 34,800,000)
Seat 7: Joe Cada (5th, 13,215,000)
Seat 8: Antoine Saout (8th, 9,500,000)
Seat 9: Jeff Shulman (4th, 19,580,000)
As we all know, position is about as important -- perhaps even more important -- than chip stacks or even the cards one gets. So it makes sense that those handicapping the November Nine take position into account. I’ve been enjoying the discussions over on Al Can’t Hang’s “Poker from the Rail” in which he’s invited some bloggers to weigh in on the nine players’ chances -- you can read those here, here, and here. And as one would expect, frequent references are made throughout to the players’ relative position to each other when assessing their prospects.

Position should be affecting the players’ preparation somewhat, too, which is what made last year’s confusion all the more strange. Jeff Shulman will return to find chip leader Darvin Moon on his left -- will that influence how Shulman and his new coach Phil Hellmuth plan their strategy? James Akenhead and Phil Ivey come back to short stacks, but they get to act after Moon on most hands early on. And I imagine Kevin Schaffel and Steven Begleiter are probably glad they get to act after Ivey, but they’ll have to contend with Eric Buchman acting after them. In any event, all nine have had plenty of time to prepare for how they are going to deal with their table-neighbors.

In fact, last summer and fall we were hearing that one of the reasons why there would be a redraw would be to prevent the players from being able to prepare too much based on their position -- in other words, the suggestion was a redraw would somehow help protect the “integrity” of the competition, even though (paradoxically) a redraw would’ve meant introducing a late change in procedure that would have made the Main Event different from other bracelet events.

But then there was no redraw. And like I say, there doesn’t appear to be any plan to have one this year, either. Should there be?

(November Nine photo by FlipChip)

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 19: Ace of Spades

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowFinally managed to pull together another episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, which I uploaded yesterday. That’s 19 in all. Was thinking of doing one more following the same format, then possibly changing things up just a bit after that to include other things like book reviews, podcast reviews, and the like.

I’d also very much like to have more guest segments wherein others tell their poker and/or gambling stories. If that’s something that interests you, drop me a line at shamus at hardboiledpoker dot com.

For this episode, I included three segments, all of which have something to do with the ace of spades. First comes an excerpt from James McManus’s new history of poker, titled Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, in which McManus talks a bit about the significance of the card during the Vietnam Conflict. The excerpt originally appeared in Card Player back in the summer of 2008, and reappears here in one of the later chapters of the book.

I have finished Cowboys Full and enjoyed it quite a bit. Will probably dedicate a post to the book here in the near future. Nearly all of what appears in the book first showed up in those Card Player columns that began in late 2006 and ran up until earlier this year.

Next I play the great Motörhead song, from the 1980 album of the same name. I mean, really, how could I not?

I also mention on the show how that album -- the band’s fourth -- actually concludes with a song called “The Hammer.” (The original LP did, anyway; the CD adds some bonus tracks, I believe.) And “The Hammer” has some great lines that are easily transferred over to a pokery context, e.g., “the hammer’s gonna smash your dream,” “the hammer’s gonna bring you down,” etc. Awesome disc, Ace of Spades, as is the band’s earlier Overkill, if yr into it.

Finally I play a short (15-minute) old time radio show called Nick Harris Detective, an episode titled “Fatal Ace of Spades.” The show is from 1938, and so the sound quality is understandably sketchy. Speaking of which, as I mentioned last post I have a new computer and set-up here, and am currently fussing a bit with improving the overall quality of the shows’ sound. Will probably get me a fancy pants microphone here soon in the effort to further the illusion that this ain’t amateur hour (which, as we all know, it most certainly is).

As far as Nick Harris Detective goes, you get used to the scratchiness, I think, and in the end it’s an okay little drama. Including it here did allow me to continue the streak of not repeating any radio shows. Since I started the podcast in the spring of 2008, I have shared entire episodes or excerpts from over 20 different old time radio shows.

Like I said, after doing one more show (to make an even 20) I think I might alter the format a bit. I’ll still include old time radio stuff, but might not keep that as the focus for every single episode. We’ll see.

Also, there’s a new internet streaming radio station starting up called the Poker Radio Network which is going to be syndicating the podcast. Probably will start out just playing the old shows, one per week, while I continue to create new ones. Eventually we’ll catch up and new shows will appear there as well as on iTunes as usual.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Measuring Up

One way of measuring timeSpent a good part of Saturday morning recording and mixing a new episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. Then yesterday I put in another hour or two on it and uploaded the sucker. That’s when I found I’d skipped a step which resulted in an extra layer of fuzz, making the show not so listenable. So I’m gonna remix today and hopefully get Episode 19 out there tonight.

Part of the reason for the hiccup stemmed from the fact that I recorded the show using a new desktop computer, and so the usual routine for creating shows had been disrupted slightly. (That’s also my excuse for the long gap since the last show.)

A few weeks ago Vera and I decided to convert the mostly-unused guest bedroom into a second office. We took a trip to the Ikea to pick up a desk, chair, and bookshelves, then got myself a new computer as well. In the end, it didn’t really take much cabbage at all to furnish the new writing space. Well worth it, I’d say, making it much easier to be more productive.

Have also loaded PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Bodog on this here new computer, though as I was saying last week I’m almost exclusively playing on Stars these days. Likewise reinstalled PokerTracker Omaha on this one and have started the process of moving all of my hand histories over. At the moment, I have only put in the last few months’ worth to go along with the new hands I’ve played.

In the past, I mainly have used PokerTracker just to help keep track of my own play -- e.g., to review my overall stats, or occasionally to look back over a session. Every once in a while I’ll look up a particular, frequently-encountered opponent to try to get a better picture of his or her playing style and/or results. But really I haven’t utilized the program as much as I could.

One stat I have become a little intrigued by here lately is the “True Hourly Win Rate” which takes into account multitabling and produces an actual amount per hour of sitting there with mouse in hand. The program tells me that (over the last few months, at least) I generally average right at 1.5 tables at a time, which sounds right as sometimes I just play one table and sometimes two (and only now and then three). As you might imagine, my true hourly win rate while playing one or two tables of PLO25 is quite modest, although I’m happy enough with the figure being reported there.

Looking at a statistic like that, though -- an unambiguous dollar amount representing to the penny how one has spent one’s time -- has an interesting effect. One starts to think about one’s “true hourly win rate” in other areas of one’s life. What was my true hourly win rate when writing that article last week? What about my “real” job -- how much am I making per hour there? And what about the hours I put in creating that episode of the podcast? What was my true hourly win rate there?

I imagine this is how a lawyer tends to think, or anyone with a “billable hours”-type job whereby at any given moment one either is charging for one’s time or is not. Not unlike a professional poker player. You know, someone for whom time really is, well, money.

So much win!Like I say, I’m happy with my true hourly win rate while playing online poker. And I suppose I’m okay with it in other areas of my life, too, although I’ve become increasingly convinced I could probably earn as much or more doing something other than the “real” job.

Of course, there are many other ways to measure one’s “true hourly win rate” than by dollars and cents. Which is why we do what seem to be unproductive things like record podcasts. Or write blog posts. Or read them.

By the way, thanks again for spending another few minutes of your time here. I hope having done so helps increase your overall true hourly win rate, however you measure it.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Up, Up, and Away!

We all watched the balloon hurtle across the Colorado skyLike nearly everyone else, I found myself following the story of “balloon boy” yesterday. Have to admit, during the first couple of seconds of seeing that weird, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers-looking, silver bag hurtling through the Colorado sky and having the possibility of a six-year-old boy riding along inside suggested to me via the news outlet I was viewing, my first response was not to be horrified.

Rather, thought I, how cool! What a ride! To be six years old, and just fly away like that! Neat-o!

Then, of course, my more mature, sober, realistically-inclined adult mind took hold to correct such silliness, and from that point forward I felt nothing but anxiety and dread about what was happening. In the end, the fact that all was resolved via a sitcom-like revelation of a misunderstanding -- the kid was in the attic! -- made dealing with whatever stress or anxiety the incident and its reporting had caused a relatively simple matter.

'The Fall of Icarus' by Peter Paul RubensAnother story that I couldn’t help thinking about during the time I was watching the balloon and the hour or so afterwards when we were still awaiting news of the boy’s fate was that of Icarus and his father, Daedalus. Back in ancient Greece, the two were exiled on Crete -- Daedalus having been punished for having committed a transgression against King Minos -- and the father came up with an escape plan.

Daedalus built a couple of pairs of wings out of wax for himself and his son, but when Icarus tried them out he ignored his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun, causing the wings to melt. Icarus thus plummeted from the sky into the sea, and like Prometheus and the Tower of Babylon became a much referenced symbol for human presumption. Leave flight to the birds, the story suggests. Know your limits. Don’t climb too high, or risk a mighty fall.

That we were all led to believe the boy was apparently flying along in a contraption engineered by his father only further suggested the Daedalus-Icarus parallel. And perhaps ominously suggested the tragic dénouement that for a time seemed sure to come.

Most poker players are familiar with the experience of having ambitions rudely dashed in Icarus-like fashion, a frequent consequence of our repeated attempts to “take shots” at higher stakes. I know I am. My most recent such fall occurred in pot-limit Omaha, where some time back I’d moved from the $25 buy-in game to the $50 game, and had enough success there to start entertaining thoughts of yet another move.

That’s when my wings began to melt and after feebly flapping around for a week or two I decided it best to take a break from PLO altogether and settle down at the low limit hold’em tables. Have been back at PLO25 for a while now, where once again I’ve climbed upward enough to inspire thoughts of moving to a higher altitude.

Can’t help but think I’m held back a bit, though, by my lack of childlike wonder -- that is, my inability to enjoy flying higher (how cool!) because of adult-like worries about the consequences should I fall. ’Cos really, I’m closer to Daedalus than Icarus. That is to say, I’m more likely to issue warnings about such things than to try them out myself.

Have a good weekend, all. And fly safely.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Poker Hall of Fame: Sexton Selected

Mike Sexton at the 2008 WSOP (photo courtesy FlipChip)So an article popped up last night over at the Las Vegas Review Journal leaking that Mike Sexton will be the lone inductee for this year’s Poker Hall of Fame, and that Harrah’s was expected to make an official announcement today.

Bingo, Bango, Bongo! Show tunes must be going off in his head.

Wasn’t really surprised to hear that Sexton had made it. The consensus among those voting -- at least the ones who’d made their preferences known -- seemed to indicate the “ambassador of poker” would very likely be chosen. Nor was I all that surprised that only one of the finalists got in, given the way the voting procedure was set up. (More on that below.)

I was surprised, however, that the announcement came this week rather than in November. I’d been under the impression that Harrah’s was saving that news for the weekend of the WSOP Main Event final table (which begins November 7). There will be a special ceremony at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino sometime that weekend to recognize Sexton. I suppose having the announcement come first, then the ceremony later, more closely resembles the sequence followed by most other sports hall of fames.

Coincidentally, yesterday was also the day that the newly-created NASCAR Hall of Fame announced its first class of inductees. After several years of negotiating to get that sucker established, a panel of 50 voters plus one “fan vote” chose five hall of famers from a list of 25 nominees. The 50 voters consisted of journalists, NASCAR execs, and former drivers. The “fan vote” came from an online poll on the NASCAR website. The panel spent the afternoon debating the nominees at a meeting in Charlotte, NC, then cast their ballots.

The NASCAR voters were allowed to pick five names from the 25 nominees, with the top five vote getters being selected. The process for the Poker Hall of Fame vote, newly revised this year, went a little differently.

In the Poker Hall of Fame vote, there were 30 people voting -- 15 current members of the Poker Hall of Fame and 15 representatives of the media. The names of the nine finalists were announced a little over a month ago, selected by the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council from the top ten online vote getters from over the summer. Only Tom “durrrr” Dwan was removed from that list, leaving Barry Greenstein, Dan Harrington, Phil Ivey, Tom McEvoy, Men Nguyen, Scotty Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, and Sexton. Each voter could only select three names from the list of nine, and a nominee had to get 75% “yes” votes in order to be inducted. I believe the ballots were due on Friday, October 2.

As Sexton would say, we had ourselves a race situation, Vince. That’s because the way the voting procedure was set up it was only mathematically possible for three of the nominees to get the needed 75%, and it was entirely likely one or even none would. (Wrote about this a bit last month.)

Poker Hall of FameTraditionally the Poker Hall of Fame has only enshrined one or two individuals each year, so having just a single entrant this year doesn’t alter that pattern. Also, with regard to that NASCAR example, it is often the case that hall of fames kick off by inducting larger classes at first, so as to get the institution established. (Though I believe NASCAR plans to keep adding five more at a time each year here.) Indeed, when the Poker Hall of Fame was first created by Benny Binion back in 1979, seven individuals were inducted in that initial class.

Sexton is certainly a worthy recipient of the honor, handily meeting the criteria for induction. (So, of course, do several of the other finalists.) Sexton was born in Indiana and went to Ohio State University (on a gymastics scholarship -- no shinola). He then joined the Army and was stationed in Fort Bragg. After leaving the service, Sexton stayed in North Carolina and really that is where his poker career began -- in home games up and down the same highways traveled by folks like Junior Johnson, who ran moonshine before becoming one of NASCAR’s first superstars and eventually a member of its initial class of hall of famers.

Sexton later moved to Las Vegas (in the mid-1980s) to become a full-time poker pro. He won a WSOP bracelet in 1989 (in a Stud/8 event), was a friend of the late Stu Ungar and figures somewhat prominently in Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson’s Ungar bio One of a Kind, and of course went on to write for Card Player, represent PartyPoker, and, perhaps most importantly, co-host the highly influential World Poker Tour television show.

Like I say, not a huge surprise to see Sexton make it, especially considering the way his career put him in close proximity to both groups of voters -- the current hall of famers and the media. And though I’m surprised, I don’t really mind Harrah’s decision to announce his selection early like this, even if it does remove a small bit of suspense from the ongoing narrative of the 2009 WSOP. If you think about it, it would have been even worse for those not selected to have perhaps made the trip to the Rio only to learn they hadn’t got in this time around.

Will be curious to see if the process gets tweaked moving forward. Meanwhile, we can now all forget about that other November Nine -- the nine Hall of Fame finalists -- and go back to thinking about the nine who still have chips in the Main Event.

(Photo of Sexton at the 2008 WSOP courtesy the great FlipChip.)

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

That’s the Way We Do It!

Shamus watches 2009 WSOP on ESPNLast night I dialed up ESPN on the crystal receiver to watch the ongoing coverage of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. Got there an hour early (the show is starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time now rather than 8 p.m.) and therefore happened to catch that terrific one-hour documentary about Baltimore Colts football fans, “The Band That Wouldn’t Die.”

Directed by Baltimore-guy Barry Levinson (Diner, The Natural), the focus was on the Colts marching band that persistently stayed together even after the team left for Indianapolis following the 1983 season. Great stuff -- even moving, at times -- that said a lot about how sports can genuinely bring people together and help build community (in my opinion). I highly recommend the special, if you happen to see it being repeated here anytime soon. (Here is the trailer, if yr curious.)

I suppose poker can have a similar effect on us, bringing us together via a common interest and thus enabling the further forging of relationships and meaningful interactions. Watching the coverage of the end of Day 6 of the WSOP Main Event last night was great fun, and reminded me, in fact, of what it was like to have been there as the field shrunk down to just 64 players. This was the day when the media and others there in the Amazon Room now most certainly were outnumbering the players, and the sense of being part of a small “community” of sorts became ever more evident.

We’d arrived at a point where we had enough reporters and bloggers to cover just about all of the big hands and bustouts, and so most of what was shown on ESPN last night I recalled fairly clearly, whether or not I happened to have been the one reporting a given hand.

Glancing back through the PokerNews live blog for Day 6, I’m seeing that I did happen to write up that hand in which Ludovic Lacay was all in with pocket kings versus Hamid Nourafchan’s pocket aces, and ended up spiking a king on the river to survive and win a whopping five million-chip pot. Don’t think they mentioned it on air, but I see in the post that Adam Bilzerian had said he’d folded a king, so that was the last one in the deck that saved Lacay. Had another post later on in which Lacay again saw a fortunate river card come, “Ludovic Lacay Lucky and Lovin’ It.”

My buddy FerricRamsium was reporting on the TV table that day, and he has a post in there describing that hand between Dennis Phillips and Darvin Moon in which Moon had A-K and Phillips pocket queens. An ace flopped for the Maryland logger, and Phillips managed to escape without too much harm. The ever-prescient FerricRamsium titled his post “A TV Hand.” Nice call, sir.

Tom Schneider was in that hand, too, although had fortunately dropped out preflop with his A-J. Got a big kick out of the segment late in the second hour focusing on Tom and his wife, Julie, who has been frequently shown on the rail cheering on Tom over the last couple of weeks. Julie’s own poker-playing was mentioned last night, and I believe last week the announcers did point out her third-place finish in an earlier bracelet event (Event No. 55, $2,500 2-7 Triple Draw). I’m remembering watching some of her fantastic finish play out in that event, and how Tom was on the rail then -- less vocal than Julie but no less supportive, utterly unable to stop smiling as he watched. Cool stuff.

Here’s my write up from July of that day of play in which I talk some about Schneider, Joe Sebok, and Dennis Phillips, and how cool it was to be going back to the Rio on Day 7 with those guys still in contention. Toward the very end of the ESPN coverage last night, a big hand for Phillips was shown, one that pushed him back up over 2.3 million. Seeing that hand caused me to remember how I had spoken to Phillips while walking out of the Rio that night. I’d last seen him with a shorter stack, so it was news to me when he told me about having hit a big hand near the end to get back into a healthier range heading into Day 7.

Was an exciting time, with lots of interesting possibilities still in play. And our little community of poker people would be back the next day to see what would happen.

Have to say, after several weeks of being less than enthused by this marathon coverage of the Main Event, I really dug the programming on ESPN last night. Some good poker, a few examples of genuinely clever storytelling, and fairly riveting throughout. As Julie sometimes says from the rail after Tom wins a hand, “that’s the way we do it!”

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hot and Cold

Hot and ColdWas playing over on PokerStars yesterday afternoon when the site suddenly became inordinately sluggish. Eventually a message popped up in the chat box saying the site was experiencing “internet routing problems.”

At the time, I was at a six-handed pot-limit Omaha table. I’d started the session well, nearly doubling my buy-in early on after drawing out a straight to beat a player’s flopped set. After that hand, my opponent, MisterBlister, had rebought and I could tell he was angling to get into another big confrontation with me, but no opportunities had arisen for that to happen. At some point before the slowdown began to occur, the other players had left one by one, leaving just me and MisterBlister.

I have gotten into the habit of sticking around whenever that happens, as I generally feel pretty comfortable with heads-up play, whereas I suspect a lot of players of ring games tend not to prefer to play against a lone opponent. We rapidly traded small pots, and I could sense my revenge-seeking opponent was burning to find some hand with which to create a bigger pot. From my perspective, it was shaping up to be a good trapping opportunity, and so I, too, was lying in wait, hoping to pounce on an overeager opponent.

But then the slowdown started, made all the more noticeable because we were heads-up. Eventually it was taking a half-minute or more for the next hand to be dealt, and after we acknowledged to one another in the chat box that the site had indeed slowed, MisterBlister and I left, perhaps to renew our battle some other day.

Made me think a little about “hot” and “cold” players or play -- that is to say, the way some players sometimes appear to us as either desirous for action and thus more willing to take risks than most (“hot”) or purposefully avoiding conflict and especially risk averse (“cold”).

Players can distinguish themselves these ways quite dramatically in PLO -- perhaps more obviously so than in hold’em. There are those who “heat up” and start betting pot again and again, regardless of position or holdings. Then there are those who seem almost frozen, afraid ever to raise preflop under any circumstances, check-calling big flopped hands, etc. I even saw a dude check behind with quads the other day on a double-paired board -- no shinola!

Anyhow, MisterBlister certainly seemed “hot” to me -- and perhaps I did to him, too -- but we both cooled off quickly when the site began slowing down.

I noted just at the start of the slowdown that the site had about 195,000 total players (including play money), and marveled to see that figure dip down to 90,000 within just a few minutes. Soon, however, Stars corrected the problem and just like that was back up over 200,000 players. I ended up tripping over to Full Tilt Poker where I played another short session before signing off. Realized I am probably playing about 90% of the time on PokerStars these days, only looking to take a seat elsewhere when something like yesterday’s glitch occurs.

PokerScoutGlancing over at PokerScout, I see Stars continues to be the most popular site by a significant margin. In its tracking of real money ring game players, the site lists PokerStars as having averaged 26,000 cash game players over the last week. Full Tilt is next with 15,400, followed by three sites/networks that are not available to Americans, the iPoker Network (5,600), PartyPoker (5,300), and the Ongame Network (2,850).

Looking at other sites that are available to us Yanks, the Cereus Network (Absolute Poker and UltimateBet) is in sixth place (2,550), Cake Poker is in 10th (1,840), and Bodog has slipped to 14th (averaging just 890 cash players over the last week).

Pretty simple to see why I’m always on PokerStars -- it is definitely the “hot” site right now, while the others (especially Bodog) have turned relatively “cold.” Always plenty of six-handed PLO25 tables for me to join at Stars, whereas Bodog often only has one or two going, if that.

Of course -- as Bill Rini noted last month in a post titled “Is Online Poker Really Doing Well?” -- it is easy to get carried away with looking at the numbers of players, a figure which he says doesn’t necessarily tell us much at all about the overall health of a given site. Rini discusses this trend in which the “big keep getting bigger and the small get smaller,” but also notes how being bigger doesn’t always mean becoming more profitable. Despite rising numbers on certain sites, the industry as a whole isn’t necessarily thriving these days, says Rini. (Check out his post for some of the reasons why he thinks this is so.)

Meanwhile, we Americans look with trepidation at the calendar as December 1 draws closer, the day that “designated financial systems” must begin complying with those finalized regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. (Which, incidentally, then-President Bush signed into law exactly three years ago today.)

And hoping something happens to prevent the possible slowdown that might follow as the games (potentially) go “cold.”

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