Friday, February 26, 2010

NAPT Venetian Postscript

The trophy won by Tom Marchese at the NAPT Venetian Main EventMade it back home safely yesterday afternoon. Quick flight, it seemed. Still amazes me how common it is for folks to wake up in one place and later that afternoon be 2,000 miles away. I’m simple that way. Easily amazed.

Got home and was very glad to be back with Vera and enjoy a quiet evening together. Had every intention to sit up and watch some Olympics -- which I’ve lost track of over the past week -- but zonked out by nine o’clock and slept ten straight hours. Needed that after averaging four or so over the last few nights.

Had kind of an interesting postscript to that final table of the NAPT Venetian event I was discussing last post. After watching Sam Stein enjoy the chip lead for the entire final table, Tom Marchese grabbed it away from him in a surprising hand during heads up, and then won the tourney shortly thereafter in a hand that involved another curious call from Stein.

You can see yesterday’s post for details of those last hands. If you do, you’ll see a comment from someone who viewed the streaming broadcast of the final table noting how Stein did not intend to show his hand in the one in which Marchese took over the chip lead. Rather, after he’d mucked face down, the dealer had flipped it over -- that’s when we all saw it on the overhead monitor and the announcer confirmed that yes, Stein called the all-in bet with just fourth pair.

Those NAPT live broadcasts -- like the EPT ones -- are terrific fun for poker players. You get to see all of the hands at final tables (sans hole cards, of course). They also often will start showing action once the tourney gets down to three tables or so, with a feature table and secondary tables, if logistics allow it. For example, I don’t believe the NAPT Venetian Main Event was covered until that final table, but I know at EPT Kyiv they started broadcasting with at least three tables left.

As I mention in my response to the comment, we weren’t watching the stream Wednesday night. The images projected above the table were those being shot by the crew taking footage for the eventual ESPN2 broadcast of this Main Event final table, set to air on April 26th. And even though we were sitting just a few feet away from the table, those cameramen, constantly rotating around the table, were between us and the action, thereby obscuring from us the fact that the dealer had flipped Stein’s hand. Will definitely make watching that final table more interesting -- and we’ve only a couple of months to wait!

Two other items to share before signing off today. That episode of Lou Krieger’s podcast “Keep Flopping Aces” on which I appeared (2/18/10) is now available for download either via iTunes or from the Rounders website. I’m writing up some of the latter half of the conversation for a Betfair piece that should appear soon, perhaps today if I can manage it. (EDIT [added 2/27/10]: The interview on Betfair is now posted -- click here to read.)

Also, I might be turning up briefly on the next episode of ESPN’s Inside Deal in a segment where people ask questions of Daniel Negreanu. Show host Andrew Feldman rounded up a few of us Wednesday night to participate, and I came up with a question to ask. Dunno if it’ll be used or not, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the Inside Deal page to see if perhaps it was.

Great fun to travel and especially to reconnect with the many poker people with whom I’ve gotten to work, as well as those working for other media outlets that I worked alongside. Big thanks again to Brad, Jen, and Joe for a fun week, to Macon Marc Hodge with whom I got to work one night, to Donnie, F-Train, and all the PokerNews guys, to Mad Harper and Garry Gates of the NAPT, and to everyone else for all of the added support.

But it’s good to be home, too. Think I’ll be sticking within my usual 25-mile radius of activity here for the next few weeks. Have a good weekend all.

As were the photos in yesterday's post, the one above is by Joe Giron. Check out his website for more cool poker & music pics.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 5

NAPT Venetian Main Event final tableAm sitting in McCarran Airport, readying for return home. Got a big cup of coffee here that is too hot to drink just yet, so I thought I’d file a quick report while I wait.

Yesterday’s final table had some excitement, primarily provided by the eventual runner-up Sam Stein. A.k.a. the “Wrecking Ball.” Or, for those with an affinity for alliteration, “Steamroller.”

Chip leader coming in, Stein made quick work of the short stacks, including hitting a couple of unlikely hands that gave the impression he might well be invicible. Was during that stretch that poker blogger Thomas “GnightMoon” Fuller (Bad Moon Rising) went out in sixth after a helluva run. Indeed, given the swiftness of Stein’s handiwork, it looked like we might be enjoying a short night of it.

The bustouts slowed down as we approached the dinner break, however, and it would end up being close to midnight before we had our winner. Got down to Stein and Tom Marchese -- both a couple of 22-year-olds -- for heads up, with Stein enjoying a big lead. They fought for a while, then came two relatively strange hands in quick succession and suddenly Marchese was the winner.

In both hands, the players had gotten to the river and Marchese had bet, with Stein left to decide whether to call. The first time, Marchese was all in, and the pot comprised something like 3/4 of the chips in play. The board read 6dKc5h4sTc, and Stein thought for about 15 seconds before calling with just Jd5d. Marchese only had Ks9h for top pair, but he was good.

Writing up that one, I had to double- and triple-check with everyone that I had seen the cards correctly. Stein’s hand had been shown briefly and was called out by the announcer. (We were additionally wondering why he showed.) Was one of those head-scratcher hands that can prove a bit challenging for the person trying to report it -- something I wrote about last summer in a post titled “Seeing is Believing.” Did he really just call with fourth pair? He had.

And then he did it again. He did! We all saw it.

Tom Marchese, 2010 NAPT Venetian championIn the next one the board read 9d5h4c3cTs and betting on previous streets had gotten Stein down to a small stack. This time he tanked for some time, then called with 4s2s. Marchese flipped over pocket tens for a set on the end, and suddenly we were done. Marchese had won the trophy, and the $827,648 that went along with it.

A couple of us immediately evoked the Poker Grump, champion of the deuce-four. I said I thought a good explanation for the call was that Stein must read Grump’s blog.

Actually, the story behind those last couple of calls would be interesting to learn. But even if one is sitting just a few feet away, able to observe every card and bet, there is a lot that happens in a poker tournament that no one sitting to the side can ever possibly see or report.

Hung out a bit afterwards with Otis, Jen, F-Train, and Joe Giron, our photographer (those are his pictures in this post, by the way), and managed to snooze about four hours or so before checking out and getting a cab. I realized when I walked through the doors of the Venetian out onto the sidewalk that I hadn’t left the place since I’d arrived last Friday.

Was a good week for the NAPT Venetian and I’m glad and grateful for having had the opportunity to help out with the PokerStars blog in the chronicling of it. Go back over there today to read Otis & Jen’s report on that $25,000 Bounty Shootout final table.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna see if that coffee has cooled down now. See you on the other side.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 4

To the Bellini Room“So, have you found the meaning yet?”

Asked of me by F-Train a couple of days ago as we criss-crossed between the tables at the North American Poker Tour Venetian Main Event. Don’t ask me which day it was. I’ve now reentered that familiar, what-day-is-this-what-does-the-sun-look-like-again zone one gets to know when reporting on these multi-day affairs.

F-Train’s question alluded back to some half-joking, half-serious something I’d said to him before about the need to find meaning. I thought a moment, then came up with a reply.

“I have,” I said with a grin. “But it’s private and no one would really understand it.”

F-Train got the joke contained in my non-answer, and with a chuckle we moved on in our separate searches for hands. And whatever else.

Yesterday I was pulled off the Main Event to go cover the first round of the $25,000 Bounty Shootout, an interesting change of pace. Day began early with some morning prep followed by the walk down to the Bellini Room where the event was to take place.

Arriving at the Bellini RoomThere I would find a stark contrast to the clamorous din of the first three days of the Main Event, mostly staged in an area sandwiched between the poker room, casino, and sportsbook. None of that traffic and noise for me yesterday, as I settled into the relatively tranquil conference room, here transformed into a television set, with cameras, boom mics, and the lot.

The first table was done in something like two-and-a-half hours, with Scott Seiver managing to knock out all six of his opponents, including two on one hand. The one-time WSOP bracelet winner (2008, $5,000 NLHE) earned $5,000 for each of the bounties, and another $75,000 for moving on to Thursday’s final.

At the neighboring table, Jennifer Tilly took a sizable lead early on, but would end up slipping and ultimately succumbing to Faraz Jaka who went on to defeat Annie Duke heads up. I covered Jaka in that Event No. 56 at last year’s WSOP, the $5,000 NLHE short-handed event won by Matt Hawrilenko in which Jaka finished third. A couple of weeks after that, Jaka made runner-up at the WPT Bellagio Cup which has been airing on the Fox Sports Network a lot here lately. I’ll take him as a favorite in the final.

The third afternoon table lasted about twice as long as the other two, with heads up between Hoyt Corkins and John Duthie extending for more than two hours. Corkins led most of the way, but Duthie had the advantage when Corkins sucked out a runner-runner flush to retake most of the chips, finishing off Duthie shortly thereafter.

NAPT Venetian $25K Bounty Shootout trophyTook about seven hours altogether to get through that first flight, leaving less than an hour break before the second group of four tables got underway. None of those saw a Seiver-like massacre, with each extending deep into the night. Finally, about six-and-a-half hours after they’d begun, the last winner -- Brett Richey -- moved through to the final to join Seiver, Jaka, Joe Cassidy, Ashton Griffin, and Peter Eastgate.

Had another hour or more of scribblin’ to take care of before I got out of there, interrupted somewhat from time to time by a friendly security guard asking all about the event. Was pretty tuckered when all was said and done, but got some rest and am once again looking forward to rejoining the Main Event coverage for today’s final table.

We’ll find out tonight which of the 872 players who entered the NAPT Venetian Main Event will leave the hero of the story, the one whom, in a way, it will have been all about. And everyone else will find his or her meaning in the sucker as well.

Dunno how long things will go tonight and I fly in the morning, so I’ll check back in here when I can. Meanwhile, you can see how it all turns out over at the PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 3

Welcome to the NAPT VenetianLong, long day yesterday, it turned out. Didn’t get out of there ’til 2:30 a.m. or thereabouts, as we tracked the field going from 147 down to 24 in the Main Event. For a general recap of the day, you can read my wrap-up and/or peruse the Day 3 live blog.

They made it down to the money somewhat quickly. About an hour to get down to 129, then another half-hour as hand-for-hand took about a half-dozen hands or so. A rapid exodus followed, but things slowed down big time once we reached 60-odd players left. Was noticing the average stacks creeping up toward the 60 big blinds level then, which helped explain the slowdown, I think.

Players also took a lot of time with decisions, something Benjo -- who follows tours regularly -- told me has become a trend of sorts over the last year or so. “First level of tournament, the button raises for 3x and the big blind thinks and thinks and thinks,” said Benjo, indicating how the brooding seems to happen with every decision, no matter how (relatively) routine or standard.

As we waited for more eliminations, I asked Benjo about his progress translating into French Dr. Pauly’s forthcoming Lost Vegas, which sounds like has been a fun but challenging task for him thus far. Lots of vocabulary for which the French equivalent is a bit elusive, it sounds like. I’m sure Benjo will figure out how to say “pharmies” in a way that successfully captures intended connotations.

A couple of other extracurricular items from yesterday to share. Brad and I had a long discussion about the future with the entrepreneurial (and friendly) Teddy “the Ice Man” Monroe. I say “conversation,” although I’ll admit I didn’t contribute much. I’m a listener, see. A learner. I also focus far too much on the near term, whereas the Ice Man is thinking big, with multiple projects currently, and plans for several more.

Joe Sebok happened by and we gabbed a bit as well. He’s in for the High Rollers $25,000 Bounty event that happens today. I’ll be covering that one with Macon Marc. Seven sit-n-gos, all with seven players each. Winners move on to a final table on Thursday. Plus, everyone gets a $5,000 bounty for eliminating another player. And is kicking in an extra $100,000 to the player who collects the most bounties overall.

The line-up for the event is nuts. Gonna be like seven episodes of “Poker After Dark” going on all around me today. In addition to Sebok we will be seeing Justin Bonomo, Joe Cada, Annie Duke, Peter Eastgate, Antonio Esfandiari, Tony G, Phil Galfond, Barry Greenstein, Bertrand Grospellier, Joe Hachem, Isaac Haxton, Phil Hellmuth, John Hennigan, Phil Laak, Dario Minieri, Sorel Mizzi, Chris Moneymaker, Daniel Negreanu, Greg Raymer, Andrew Robl, Vanessa Rousso, Yevgeniy Timoshenko, J.C. Tran, and David Williams. And that’s just half the field... many more big names among the rest, too.

Not sure at the moment of the exact schedule today just yet, but I do know there will be two “flights” -- one at 11 a.m. and the other 7 p.m. (PT). Check Brad’s post from yesterday for the table draws, and check out the NAPT site for live streaming television coverage today, too. The event will be filmed for ESPN2 as well, so that’ll come at some point down the road.

As I say, Marc and I will be on this sucker today, and so I better sign off and get prepared. ’Cos you know, the future... there’s a lot going on there. Better be ready. See you later over on the PokerStars blog.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 2

Another day of professional tourney poker is in the books, as the NAPT Venetian completed its second day of play (of five). Was another smooth day both in terms of the play and over on the reporting side, and as the field continues to shrink the excitement continues to grow.

It appears 149 are returning for Day 3. Tourney is going to be played eight-handed from here on out, and so they’ll need 19 tables for today. And, of course, the final table will be eight-handed, following the format of the European Poker Tour (as the NAPT has in other respects, too).

Andrew “LuckyChewy” Lichtenberger is the chip leader heading into today. He returns with over 600,000, a little down from the 700,000 or so he won in a single hand yesterday versus Lars Bonding. I got over in time to see the chips get counted down -- was an A-A vs. K-K situation in which LuckyChewy’s aces held. Andy “BKiCe” Seth and Steve “MrSmokey1” Billirakis are way up there. Men “the Master” Nguyen also has a lot of chips, as does Nam Le. Picking these things is a silly exercise, but if forced to choose a winner this far out, I’d take Le for the win.

There are three Team PokerStars pros with big stacks, too -- Vanessa Rousso, Bill Chen, and Greg Raymer. One other, 1983 WSOP champ Tom McEvoy, is still alive with the short stack he was nursing all day yesterday. I did manage to see him play a hand yesterday, one in which he had an even shorter stack all in and won. I expect he’ll probably keep folding for the first while today, too, as we are about 20 spots from the cash.

Blurry photo taken inside the VenetianThe day went by quickly -- or seemed, too, at least. A dinner break had been scheduled, but it was decided midway through the day to forgo it and push on through.

Ended up having to find a moment to run up to the second floor to Tintoretto, the little Italian bakery, and grabbing a yummy bruschetta with tomato, mozzarella & basil, an Italian sub, and a bunch of freshly-baked almond cookies I shared with my colleagues. There’s the canal, blurry as I’m racing past it.

After the night was over, we got word of a media tourney, and soon about 25-30 of us were gathered around four tables for the event. The Mathematics of Poker co-author Bill Chen was playing, too, sporting a fashionable pair of shorts. So was Bernard Lee, whose attire included a shirt with the Foxwoods logo, indicating his new gig as spokesperson.

There might have been a couple of other faces familiar outside of the media world, but I didn’t get to inspect the field too closely, as I somehow managed to be the first one out. No shinola! My streak of media tourney victories -- begun last August in Kyiv -- ends at one.

What happened? Picked up pocket aces on just the second hand and, well, they didn’t work out for me as well as they did for Lichtenberger. Ended up overplaying them like a true amateur. I wouldn’t say I got “married” to them. ’Cos, well, I never once had any loving feeling about the hand. But it was definitely a case of ’til death to us part.

Got two callers of my preflop raise, and after a 10-7-4 rainbow flop, I didn’t get the message when one of them called my oversized c-bet. Guess I hoped he, too, was overplaying, say, top pair, but if I had thought for just a moment longer, I’d have realized he had to have a set. Soon I was all in on the turn and drawing to just two outs. Silver lining -- got to bed early, and so am well rested for what could be a longish Day 3.

To try to guesstimate what we are looking at today... the plan is to play down to 24. They start today with the average stack at around 175,000 or a little over 43 big blinds. So we’re right about at that 40 BBs mark where F-Train notes “the number of chips in play catches up to the structure” -- i.e., the shipping of chips begins. (Actually, I think we’ve probably been in that neighborhood for a level or two now.)

So we might see a lot of eliminations early, especially once that cash bubble bursts (at 128). Looks like the blinds/antes move up relatively slowly over the next few levels, though, so things may well slow down as the day-slash-night proceeds. Check in over at the PokerStars blog to see how it goes.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 1

NAPT VenetianCool first day at the Venetian yesterday for the start of the NAPT event. My sense at day’s end was that most everyone -- players, tourney organizers, media -- felt it more than met expectations.

As you’ve probably read elsewhere, the turnout was huge, with 872 players altogether, making the prize pool somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million. That meant 89 tables to start out. The Venetian Poker Room is already quite large, but only holds room for about 40 tables, so there were tables set up all around the perimeter, filling every space there between the Poker Room and the Race & Sports Book, Noodle Asia, and the Casino.

I made it down early to get acclimated, and was glad to see Mad Harper (whom I last saw about 6,000 miles away in Kyiv, Ukraine) who helped get me oriented, as she helps everyone do at these things. Also glad to meet up with Garry Gates soon afterwards, with whom I’d worked the last two summers at the WSOP.

Brad, California Jen, and Joe (our photographer) had ourselves a nice spot from which to work, and once we got set up we were on our feet a lot, making the long circuit in and out of the tables. Had some more fun reunions while making that trek, including with Benjo, Gary Wise, F-Train, and Donnie Peters (who, by the way, final tabled one of the preliminary events at the Venetian).

Incidentally, those jokes the last couple of posts about my new computer were partially true -- I am now writing on a MacBook Air which so far has worked like a charm. Still getting used to the basics, but as other Mac users have said time and again, the sucker is set up in a way that it generally isn’t too hard to figure out how to do what you want to do. The fast start ups and shut downs are pretty cool, too.

There was a little bit of talk here and there before things got going about the absent Team Full Tilt folks, but not a lot of attention to that story once the cards were in the air. Fact was there were plenty of big names there -- including a lot Full Tilt pros, just none of the toppermost guys (and gal). Much more interesting to focus on who was there than who was not.

For a quick overview of Day 1, you can check out Brad’s wrap-up post which also has links to the live blog. Also check out the PokerNews’ reports for further details of the day.

The stacks were -- as the “Deep Stack Extravaganza” name suggests -- mighty deep, starting at 30,000 with 50/100 blinds and with a very gradual schedule of increases. So aside from a few bits of drama early on (e.g., Daniel Negreanu doubled up on one of the day’s first hands), it was slow going poker-wise for the first couple of hours. But things soon picked up and by day’s end the field was down 510. The plan is to be down to 24 by the end of Day 3 (Monday), though, so we’re anticipating a couple of long ones today and tomorrow.

Phil Hellmuth arrived at the start of Level 5 -- the last possible moment, I believe -- and was soon gone after somewhat stubbornly running his pocket queens into Eric Levesque’s pocket aces. Enjoyed hearing about that hand from Kathy Liebert (who was at the Poker Brat’s table), although Cali Jen had already been there to report it on the PS blog.

Woman Poker PlayerSpeaking of Liebert, Jen and I have begun a new “He Said/She Said” column over at Woman Poker Player, and in the first one we separately discussed the issue of women and sponsorships in poker. The idea was partly suggested by some recent debates about the issue in the poker media, debates which invariably involve Liebert, the most successful no-limit hold’em player among women who doesn’t currently have a sponsorship. We've both been getting some nice feedback on those articles -- here they are, if you are interested: He Said & She Said

Like I say, a nice start, and it’s only going to get more exciting as the tourney progresses. And I’m glad once again to be working with and alongside a bunch of talented and smart folks. Follow along over on the PokerStars blog for all of the latest.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Arrival

Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: ArrivalToday’s the day. The second big North American Poker Tour event (NAPT) -- and first in the U.S. -- begins at noon at the Venetian. Lot of buzz surrounding this one, for various reasons, with many interested to see just what the turnout will be, who comes to play, and how it all plays out.

Flight out was routine, the nearly one-hour delay before departure the only notable diversion from the ordinary. I peripherally followed the progress of my two seatmates as they became fast friends, traded whisky shots, turned predictably rambunctious, then predictably sleepy. Meanwhile, I read two-thirds of Dashiell Hammett’s most insane novel, The Dain Curse. Had been awhile, and I'd forgotten just how nuts that one is.

Finally put the book down shortly after poor Eric Collinson went over the cliff, and ended up spending the last part of the trip listening to Here Come the Sonics. “Have love... whoa baby, will travel...”

Landed at McCarran around nine-ish, and the Poker Grump was there to meet me. He and I created a funny scene there outside of the secured area, both on our phones trying to describe to each other our locations, then realizing we were practically standing right in front of one another.

We rode to Venetian, and soon got me checked in. I hadn't eaten dinner, so we hit the Grand Lux Cafe where I enjoyed a plate of pasta and clams while the Poker Grump impressively demolished an oversized chocolate cake dessert. Was fun visiting and definitely nice to begin the trip hangin’ some with a bud.

I expect I’ll be seeing a lot of other familiar faces soon. I arrived too late last night for the partyin’ at Tao. Was too tired anyway, really, although I'd end up only sleeping a few hours before waking this morning. Body will catch up, clock-wise, about time I leave I expect.

I’ll get an idea in just a little bit what the next few days will be like. The Main Event, a $4,750+$250 tourney, gets underway at noon today, and it looks like according to the schedule the plan is to play down to 24 players by the end of Day 3 (Monday), then eight (Tuesday), then the final table plays out Wednesday. Meanwhile, there’s also a “High Roller Bounty Shootout” event with a $25,000+$600 buy-in taking place on Tues. and Thurs. I believe I’m gonna be helping with the first day of that, too, although as I say I’ll find out for sure in a little while.

You can get all the info about the NAPT Venetian schedule over at the tour’s website. Meanwhile, coverage has already begun over on the PokerStars blog, where Otis wrote up details of yesterday’s celebrity charity tourney and the party (see here).

Be sure to check in on the PS blog to follow the coverage of today’s action. Meanwhile, I need to spend some more time getting acclimated to my new computer.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Your Roving Reporter

New computerCheck out my new laptop! It’s awesome. I love the colors and lights that flash. And the tunes! Having a hard time composing words with just six letters, though I can work around that. I mean, it is kind of bad. But it is also def fab. (I know, I’m a cad. Hey, I just got out of bed.)

Great fun last night talking with Lou Krieger on his podcast Keep Flopping Aces. The hour flew by, with him interviewing me for the first thirty minutes, then I asked him questions about the current state of poker books and publishing for the remainder of the show. If you didn’t listen live, I imagine the show will be available for download soon (check the KFA page over on Rounders Radio), and it’ll also turn up in iTunes.

As I mentioned on the show, I’ve been a long time listener of KFA, so it was indeed a treat to get to take part like that. As others who’ve listened to the show or read his books well know, he’s a very thoughtful guy, and I found his answers to my questions about poker books and publishing both interesting and insightful. Much thanks again to Lou for having me on.

I’ll soon be writing up some of the latter part of the conversation for a piece over on the Betfair site. Today’s item over there is one I think many of you might find interesting -- a chat with Kevin Mathers (a.k.a. “Kevmath”) of Two Plus Two, Pokerati, and all of our Twitter feeds. Check it out!

NAPTMeanwhile, as I’ve been alluding to this week, I’ll be helping cover the big North American Poker Tour event at the Venetian that gets cranking tomorrow. Lot of buzz surrounding that -- will be very interesting to see how it all plays out. I’ll try to check in here to report how things are going when I get the chance.

Wish me well. Hope this new computer works for me.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Appearing on Keep Flopping Aces Tonight (2/19, 6:00 PT)

Shamus on the airBusy days. Seems like I have a half-dozen things I’m supposed to be doing right now, one of which includes readying to go help cover the North American Poker Tour Venetian event starting this weekend.

Saw the exciting news a couple of days ago that ESPN2 will indeed be airing a number of hours’ worth of NAPT events starting April 19. (Read all about it here.) I also saw the less thrilling news yesterday that apparently Full Tilt Poker doesn’t want its pros playing in the NAPT Venetian. Gary Wise reported on that development over at ESPN, and Dan Michalski adds a few thoughts as well over at Pokerati.

Besides readying for the trip, I’m busily trying to finish some articles and take care of other matters, too. Feeling pulled in a number of directions, but not too stressed, really. (Maybe I’m being inspired by those Olympians to rise to the challenge.)

In any event, all of this stuff has most definitely gotten in the way of my creating a new episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, which I now have to admit is on a hiatus of sorts. But I do have more shows planned!

Speaking of the HBPRS, the show is now being aired -- syndicated, if you will -- over on the fledgling Poker Radio Network. They streamed the first episode over there (Dead Man’s Deal) last week and I had some nice feedback on that. Should get the show a few new listeners, and perhaps some new readers over here, too.

I think the HBPRS gets played over on the Poker Radio Network on Mondays at 5 p.m., Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m., and Fridays at noon (all Pacific times). I believe there’s also a time on Saturday when the show comes on, too. There are some other shows over on PRN as well, covering a variety of poker-related topics.

Lou Krieger's Keep Flopping AcesMeanwhile, I’m going to be turning up over on Rounders Radio tonight when I appear on Lou Krieger’s Keep Flopping Aces podcast. The plan is for him to interview me a bit initially about the blog and other items, then I’m going to be asking him some questions to pick his brain a bit regarding the current status of poker books and print publications. (My plan is to write something up from my interview afterwards for Betfair.)

Krieger, as most of you know, has published numerous poker books -- 11 altogether, I believe -- and so has a particularly informed perspective on the subject. His first poker book was published back in the mid-1990s (Hold’em Excellence: From Beginner to Winner), and his most recent one in 2007 (52 Great Poker Tips). That means he was already on the shelves when the “boom” happened in 2003 (and, I assume, benefited somewhat from that). Here’s a page on his website where you can see all of his books and follow links for ordering.

Krieger also edits Poker Player Newspaper, familiar to anyone frequenting the cardrooms in Vegas and elsewhere, so he has some insight into that side of poker publishing as well.

Should be fun to go on KFA, which is one of the poker podcasts I’ve been following for a long time. I think I first found it three years ago (or so), when Krieger was co-hosting the show with Amy Calistri, and have always enjoyed the variety of guests and discussions. The show airs at 6 p.m. Pacific time tonight, or 9 p.m. for those of us here in the east, and then will be subsequently available for download as a podcast.

Gambling Tales PodcastFinally, you can also hear me crashing the party again over on the latest episode (No. 8) of the Gambling Tales Podcast with Special K and Falstaff, where we have a segment discussing James McManus’s Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker. As I’ve said before, those of you who have listened to and enjoyed my podcast should check out GTP, as it also features some great stories about gambling, delivered via interviews and discussions of such tales from history. Fun stuff.

So there are a few audio snacks to fill the gap between servings of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. By the way, if you have any questions about poker books & publications you’d like me to bring up on tonight’s Keep Flopping Aces, leave ’em in the comments and I’ll see if I can work them into the conversation.

Be talkin’ to you.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Flitcraft Parable

'The Maltese Falcon' (1930) by Dashiell HammettI am such a creature of habit. Almost obsessively so, I’d say.

Helps me in certain ways, for sure. While I haven’t even 1/100th of the stubborn stamina of most of these Olympic athletes I’ve been watching over the last few days, I’m pretty good at being able to focus on long-term tasks. I establish routines, stick to them doggedly, and little by little the work gets done.

Such had to have been the case for the writing of Same Difference, my hard-boiled detective novel (which you can now buy on Amazon -- check it out!).

But I’m not really talking about a trait that necessarily leads to achievement but rather a resistance to change -- a trait that likely more often than not makes it more difficult to succeed or achieve anything special.

One of my favorite moments in one of my favorite novels is the so-called “Flitcraft Parable” in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930) -- a short digression completely unrelated to the novel’s plot in which Hammett’s detective, Sam Spade, tells a little story about a man named Flitcraft. The story is often cited as illustrating that sort of “existential” or “hard-boiled” view of the world adopted by Hammett and/or Spade. It also is all about being a creature of habit who resists change.

In the story, Spade explains how Flitcraft, a real estate agent and family man living in Tacoma, one day went to lunch and never returned. Five years later his wife comes to the detective agency where Spade is working with news that someone in Spokane told her of seeing a man who looked a lot like her husband. Spade tracks him down, and sure enough, it is Flitcraft, who then explains to Spade what he’s been doing all this time.

That day he had gone to lunch, he had walked by an office building under construction, and a huge beam fell from eight to ten stories up and stunningly landed on the sidewalk next to him, nearly killing him. It had the effect of snapping Flitcraft out of his existence for a moment. “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works,” says Spade. “The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things.”

He left for Seattle that very day, then moved around a bit before eventually coming back to Washington where he again got married and started a new family. “I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma,” says Spade. “But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

Like I say, the digression has nothing specifically to do with the larger plot of The Maltese Falcon, but it does loudly sound a thematic point regarding what Hammett and/or Spade had come to discover about human nature. In our efforts to find meaning in our lives, we impulsively seek certain “grooves” or patterns that tend to help us reduce our sense of uncertainty. Could be explained as a kind of survival instinct. In any case, when it comes to these routines, humans tend not to be able to get along too well without ’em.

So I guess I’m saying I’m a bit like Flitcraft. But then, we all are, to some degree.

Keep your coins... I want change.Last April I wrote about my having this character trait in a post titled “The Ever-Present Existential Struggle With Change.” Indeed, the very fact that I’ve written about it before might be highlighted as further evidence of my “creature of habit” status.

There I explained how I am one of those “who generally has a hard time changing my routine once I find something that I like or at least is comfortable enough to endure without too much hardship. That’s not to say I am not able to adapt to changes that go on around me, but rather that I myself am less inclined to introduce such changes if not forced to do so.”

A few weeks ago I sat down at a Rush Poker table on Full Tilt, playing the game I’ve been playing pretty much without exception for the last year or so, pot-limit Omaha. Had a blast at first, particularly when it seemed there were quite a few not-so-hot players occupying the other virtual seats. After while the win rate finally dropped, and the novelty wore off. My graph ended up resembling an Isildur1-like rise and fall -- speaking in relative terms, of course, and thankfully not ending in a big ugly hole like the mystery man did back in December.

(Incidentally, Isildur1 has made a return to the high stakes tables over at Full Tilt Poker, where he apparently enjoyed a $730,000 winning session yesterday, most of which came versus Justin Bonomo. Read more here.)

But even though the enjoyment had waned, I still kept going back, instinctively joining the same silly game over and again. Not so much to satisfy some junkie-like fix such as Dr. Pauly lyrically detailed in his inventive “Memoirs of a Rush Addict” post in late January. Rather, I kept returning because of this strange inertia that takes over and prevents me from looking around and finding new challenges, and encourages me to keep to the safe, familiar path.

I guess trying out the Rush Poker format in the first place was something of a change, but it wasn’t really -- I probably wouldn’t have been so willing to try it if my game (at my stakes) weren’t available. So anyhow, there I was again earlier this week, sitting at another PLO25 table, stuck a bit for the session. And stuck in a larger sense, too.

Somehow I pulled away, and went over for some limit hold’em -- a previous obsession, you could say, though a game I hadn’t really played in over a year. Remembered it well enough, and picked up enough hands to leave up a pittance. And with a smile.

A small, relatively trivial move in the grand scheme of things, to be sure. But as a creature of habit, I found it meaningful.

In that post from last April I noted how “I tend to pick one game and stick to it in an almost obsessive (or superstitious) way, even though I know switching up would likely keep my poker instincts sharper in all games.” There I am, analyzing myself pretty accurately, I’d say. Though not appearing to do too much about it.

“I also tend to have a hard time moving around stakes-wise, especially if I’m extracting a modest win rate wherever I happen to be,” I added. “Kind of limits my ever seeing what exactly I’m capable of doing, poker-wise.”

Regarding my online play, I’m going to try to find a way to start incorporating change -- that is, playing different games and trying different stakes -- as part of my routine. In other words, I’m going to try to make change familiar. Will lessen my comfort level at times, I’m sure. But overall should increase the fun, and perhaps the “achievement,” too.

I mean, if I’m gonna be stuck in some groove, I might as well try to make it groovy.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What’s in the (Credit) Cards?

Some U.S. players are experiencing difficulty getting funds onto online poker sitesWhile I’ve been playing online poker for some time, I actually have very little experience with depositing funds onto sites. (Thinly-veiled brag there, as they’d say on the forums.) I opened accounts before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 became law. Thus was I able to use Neteller to open my first account, then simply shift moneys around to open others.

After the UIGEA came and Neteller went, there was a brief period when other third-party processors appeared ready to fill the void for American players, but none of them lasted long enough for me to bother with them. Eventually we saw more depositing options return, but as I say I haven’t really messed around with those, and instead have just nursed the bankrolls I still have on a few sites, taking a little cabbage out every now and then.

I’ve experienced no trouble at all with withdrawing funds (most recently last month from PokerStars). I did notice, though, the stories over the past couple of weeks regarding new problems for those trying to deposit onto online sites using MasterCard or Visa cards.

Recall that while the deadline for banks and other transaction providers to comply with the UIGEA was moved back to June 1, 2010, that date represents when it becomes mandatory for these entities to block transactions with online gambling sites. In other words, there’s nothing stopping them from going ahead and starting to block such transactions if they wish, which is why some folks have begun receiving notices from their banks telling them that “restricted transactions” will be prohibited from being processed. (See here for an example.)

Then, earlier this month, word came that MasterCard had begun blocking transactions. Truth be told, MasterCard had always tried to prevent folks from using their cards to deposit onto online poker sites. However, somewhere along the way the codes would get changed to get transactions to go through, although now and then some still would experience their transactions being declined.

What recently changed (apparently) was MasterCard proactively uncovering how the transactions were being “uncoded” as related to online gambling. As a result, some sites removed MasterCard from their depositing options. (PokerStars, incidentally, quickly came out with a statement that they never manipulate codes on their end, but rather it is up to the issuing bank whether or not to deny the transaction.) Those initial reports regarding MasterCard were accompanied with speculations about whether Visa had also begun successfully blocking transactions, with some reports noting that indeed Visa had as well.

The timing for all this has been the subject of some speculation, with some pointing to the Super Bowl (on February 7th) as having invited the crackdown, and others noting a federal appeals court ruling (on February 1st) in which the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an order that found a couple of Canadian-owned companies in contempt for not complying with a subpoena issued over the companies’ processing $350 million worth of payments for online gambling companies. (That case involves charges of fraud and money laundering as well, though, and so may or may not be related.)

MasterCard and Visa continue to be presented as depositing options on all three sites on which I play (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Bodog), as well as on other sites, too. However, just because you see those options listed as available, that doesn’t mean they will work.

Dan Cypra over at Poker News Daily interviewed “an insider in the world of payment processing” regarding the current situation, who explained that while some credit card deposits are being blocked, others are going still through. However, when the deposit is blocked, “the players are not notified.” Rather, the transaction still appears on their bill, and “the processor the gaming company used then has their account with MasterCard closed and they are fined.”

In other words, until the online sites get their money from the processor (the “middleman”), they’ve given the player the money with which to play. “We basically just gave him free money,” says the unnamed insider. “These companies do not settle instantly with the poker rooms and that is where the big risk comes in” -- for the online sites, that is.

If I’m following everything clearly, players are still not really risking anything other than the possibility of getting hit with a penalty fee for a declined transaction (which depends on the card issuer). But it does look as though this recent development is already affecting the games somewhat, as the insider tells Cypra: “From what I have been told, cash in is down significantly. Obviously, if you take a credit card channel as big as MasterCard away from your portfolio, there will be a big hit.”

Bottom line: Online poker for U.S. players remains a foggy, uncertain place, with the forecast not appearing to include any chance of clear skies any time soon. Last week saw a couple of features in mainstream publications -- Forbes Magazine and The Washington Post -- that recapped the current legislative situation, though understandably neither were able to predict with any certainty what will happen next.

Nor can I.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Olympics, A Chance to Contemplate the Significance of “Sport”

Poker reporter B.J. Nemeth and Rhapsody in Vancouver at the start of the 2010 Winter OlympicsHaven’t gotten a chance to see all of this poker on TV here over the last couple of days. Too much else going on, I’m afraid.

ESPN has been airing its coverage of the 2009 World Series of Poker Europe all month. They started with a couple of hours devoted to the Caesars Cup in which Team Europe defeated Team Americas, then this month they are having eight more hours devoted to the Main Event won by Barry Shulman. The Super Bowl got in the way early on, and now the Winter Olympics has taken over our crystal receiver, so I have yet to view any of that coverage.

Last night also saw the debut of the sixth season of “High Stakes Poker” with new co-host Kara Scott joining Gabe Kaplan with the commentary. That show comes on the Game Show Network, a channel we used to receive but now requires an upgrade for us to get -- and I won’t be doing that for one show. So as with the WSOPE, I’ll be trying to catch up on HSP soon online, too.

I mentioned the Winter Olympics, which Vera Valmore and I have dialed into the last couple of nights. I know many complain about the way NBC covers things, with all the tape delays and the prepackaged stuff disagreeably mediating the viewing experience at times. But I still find it all pretty compelling, and am often astounded by the focus and drive of these athletes.

Of course, as happens with the Summer Olympics as well, there are events that arise that make one wonder about the definition of “sport.” This weekend that conversation was mostly about the frequently-featured luge competition, which saw the men’s singles play out following the tragic death of Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili during a test run.

Clearly luge is a sport that involves incredible concentration and body awareness. As does the skeleton, the one in which they ride down on their tummies. Still, for many of us watching it is hard to appreciate the athleticism required not only to perform well, but to avoid injury. Or, as was sadly illustrated on Friday, even worse.

Maybe it looks too much like something we all did as kids on the playground for us to appreciate luge as a sport. In fact, I remember saying something Saturday night to Vera about how it was sort of like a grown-up, much more serious (and dangerous) version of sliding. That led us into a conversation about poker and the oft-evoked debate over its designation by some as a “sport.”

By the way, for those who don't know, that photo above is of poker reporter B.J. Nemeth and his dog, Rhapsody, who were in Vancouver for the start of the games. (Click the pic to enlarge.) The pair is in the middle of an epic cross-continent trip which Nemeth is chronicling both on Twitter and his blog.

Nemeth is one of those who finds it useful to call poker a sport. If you are interested, he discusses some of the reasons why he thinks so in this Pokerati post from a while back. Meanwhile, Vera disagrees, and I, too, am more inclined to call poker a “game.” That said, as Vera and I talked further about the issue, I noted to her how calling it a “sport” has had some legal significance in certain parts of the world.

Indeed, last summer when I went to Kyiv, Ukraine to help cover that European Poker Tour event, I would have never even been there had Russia not decided in July to remove poker from its official list of sports. By doing so, poker was no longer protected from being prohibited by a new gambling law, and thus it instantly became unfeasible for the EPT to stage an event in Moscow. Thus was it moved to Kyiv (and, as it happened, I got the invite to go help cover the event soon after).

The timing was good for Kyiv, because Ukraine had just recently (in June 2009, I think) had a court decision where poker was included in its official list of non-Olympic sports. In fact, at the opening of the EPT Kyiv event, a welcome message from Ukraine’s “Minister of Youth, Family and Sport” was read referring to the decision.

I’m with Vera, though, in saying that poker hasn’t the athletic component to make it a real “sport” in my mind. In luge or skeleton the expression of athleticism is perhaps too subtle for me readily to appreciate, but I’m willing to allow that these are in fact sports I’m watching. I know some want to argue for a kind of non-obvious athleticism in poker, too, citing things like stamina or even (as in luge) body awareness/control as factors affecting one’s performance. But unless it helps us get some sort of legal clearance to play our tourneys, I’m sticking with the “game” designation for poker.

North American Poker TourSpeaking of, I’ll be helping cover another event here pretty soon, the North American Poker Tour (NAPT) Venetian event that starts on Saturday. More on that to come!

Meanwhile, I think there’s a bunch of skiing and skating on tap for today and tonight. Gonna have to check that out. Might be a little while before I get to all that poker watching.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Blasts from the Past

Blasts from the PastOne of the neat things about keeping a blog is the feedback one sometimes receives. Particularly fun are those times when I have written about a particular person and gotten a comment or email from the subject of my post. Sometimes those responses come right away, while other times many months might pass before the response arrives, the sender perhaps not seeing the post until much later.

For example, earlier this week I received some nice feedback from Kyle Siler on that post from last month in which I discussed his study “Social and Psychological Challenges of Poker” (appearing in The Journal of Gambling Studies). Siler responded both to my summary of his study as well as to observations made by poker pro Andy Bloch there in the comments section. For those who were following that discussion, you might check that out.

Of course, sometimes comments or responses come much later. In July 2008, I had just gotten home after a summer of reporting on the World Series of Poker. While in Vegas I had visited the Gamblers Bookshop and picked up some old magazines, including some issues of Gambling Times.

Gambling Times, October 1979 issueI ended up writing a post titled “Reporting on the 1979 WSOP” in which I shared a lot from one particular article in that magazine chronicling the ’79 Series, one written by John Hill. I got a kick out of comparing how the WSOP was covered in 2008 and how it was covered some three decades earlier.

Anyhow, it was about six months later that John Hill himself came around and left a comment on that post. “Glad to see a reprise of my coverage,” he began, noting that “those were heady days of the game and provided grist for many a mill.” He shared a few more memories of those days in his comment -- take a look if you’re curious.

I also had some feedback just recently to another post I had written some time ago. In August 2008, I spent a little time going through the first 40 years’ worth of Rolling Stone magazine (a task made easier by my having gotten them on DVDs), searching for references to poker. I thought it would be interesting to see how poker had been covered -- or not covered -- in this non-poker, mainstream publication.

Rolling Stone magazineI ended up writing two posts, focusing in particular on a few articles that had appeared along the way. Here are those posts: “Poker & Pop Culture: Rolling Stone (1967-2007) (1 of 2)” and “Poker & Pop Culture: Rolling Stone (1967-2007) (2 of 2).”

In the second of those posts, I gave some attention to a particular article that appeared in 1981 amid a series of pieces about college life. Actually it was two articles -- companion pieces that dealt with students and professors interacting in social settings: “On Drinking with Professors” by Grif Fariello and “On Drinking with Students” by William Kittredge.

Both of the writers -- the student (Fariello) and teacher (Kittredge) -- make reference to poker games, and finding all of that very interesting I summarized it in great detail in my post, noting both how the students were routinely beating the profs and also what the game seemed to signify to each.

Anyhow, just last week I received a nice email from Grif Fariello offering some background on how the articles were put together. I asked him if it would be okay to share some of what he told me here on the blog, and he said it would be fine.

“I should fill you in on that piece I wrote for Rolling Stone,” he began. Apparently William Kittredge (“Bill”) had gotten a last-minute, panicky request from the editor at Rolling Stone. “They’d come up short for the next issue and could Bill fill in with X amount of words in 24 hours,” came the appeal. The editor had come up with the student-teacher “gimmick,” and Kittredge asked Fariello, then a grad student in the writing program, if he could write the student half. “I said sure,” responded Fariello.

“We blasted the stuff out overnight,” Fariello told me. “Some of the anecdotes in my half are true, but the poker aspect is not.” Indeed, it turns out that while the articles are somewhat based in reality, there are several embellishments in there, some likely resulting from the necessity of the quick turn-around. Fariello said that while he’d “shared plenty of drinks with Bill... I've never played poker with him or any other Prof. If I had I would've lost my shirt. I'm a lousy poker player and never really enjoyed playing cards much beyond cribbage and not even that anymore.”

The fact is, the articles weren’t really meant to be taken as on-the-scene, documentary-like reports (as I did in my post). “Both articles were intended as amusing blather in the heroic mode, quick filler, not reportage,” explained Fariello. He added a few more comments about how other details of the interactions between the students and teachers were further enhanced for added drama.

I thought it very interesting to learn that the poker angle had been introduced into the articles as a way of helping flesh out the student-teacher dynamic a bit more, even though no poker had actually been played. Kind of says something about the symbolic value of the game, really, as a way to bring together different groups and have them interact in ways they might not otherwise.

As I said, I asked Fariello if it would be okay to share his postscript here, as I know some readers might remember those Rolling Stone posts and thus might find it as interesting as I did. Big thanks to him for letting me do so, as well as to John Hill and Kyle Siler for their feedback, too.

For another example of a story I thought once to be true but later found out otherwise, check out my Betfair article from today, “The Nuts, the Wheel, and the Hammer.” And, as always, feedback is welcome!

Have a good weekend, all.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Has the Power?

Who Has the Power?Saw that “Power 20” list put out by Bluff Magazine recently, a list of “the most influential and powerful people in the poker industry” here at the start of 2010.

The magazine has compiled similar lists in the past, polling media types and other industry insiders to create it, and has usually included not just individuals but companies or organizations, too. The idea for such a list likely comes from other, similar catalogues of important, influential types from various industries. That annual “Forbes 500” springs to mind -- a list of the 500 top U.S. companies that identified the “largest” companies by looking at various factors, including sales, profits, assets, market value, and number of employees. They turned that into the “Fortune Global 2000” a few years ago, following a similar rubric to compare companies around the world.

The Bluff list of powerful poker people doesn’t come accompanied with a particular set of criteria other than to say these are the “movers and shakers” of the poker world, which I take to mean folks whose actions necessarily get noticed and have some substantial effect on everyone else involved in poker, such as players or others whose livelihood is shaped by poker in some fashion (e.g., casino employees, media, etc.).

Of the 20 spots, nine are occupied by professional players, most of whom have numerous ties within the industry that help extend their influence: Howard Lederer (#4), Doyle Brunson (#6), Joe Cada (#7), Tony G (#9), Daniel Negreanu (#10), Phil Ivey (#11), Mike Sexton (#13), Joe Sebok (#17), and Barry Shulman (#18).

The rest of the list is comprised of two folks who represent important poker industry entities, Mitch Garber (Harrah’s) at #3 and Ty Stewart (the WSOP) at #5, two agents (Brian Balsbaugh [#15] and Per Hagen [#20]), the Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance (John Pappas [#12]), a tournament director (Matt Savage [#19]), a television producer (Mori Eskandani [#14]), a lawmaker (Barney Frank [#8]), and Bluff’s editor, (Lance Bradley [#16]).

I didn’t really want to get into the merits of the list itself, which certainly names a lot of important people but -- as always happens with such things -- seems to omit some obvious ones, too (e.g., no Annie Duke?). For more discussion of who got picked and who got left out, see Wicked Chops’ post on the list as well as the one over on Pokerati. (The latter includes a number of interesting and insightful comments as well.) They also talked about the list some on last week’s episode of The Poker Beat.

I did, however, want to say a word about the top of the list, where one finds not individuals but two online poker sites, Full Tilt Poker (#2) and PokerStars (#1). Their listing is preceded by a disclaimer that “Given the murky legality involved in owning an online poker site, the top two names... both asked to have their names removed from the list” and Bluff did so.

While not entirely surprising, I nevertheless find this to be the most intriguing aspect of the entire list -- the fact that the most important two individuals in poker as voted upon by more than 100 industry folks and members of the poker media are uncertain about being identified at all, never mind being highlighted as especially powerful within poker. Says a couple of important things about the industry as a whole, I think.

For one, the list seems a pretty strong argument for the centrality of the online game and the influence of online poker over just about all other aspects of the industry. Many, many jobs within poker are tied directly to the health of online poker, and in particular to the continued growth and success of a couple of two “U.S.-facing” sites. We knew that already, but the list certainly clarifies that to be the case.

Secondly, the fact that those who own those two sites shun this sort of publicity says something about the highly uncertain status of the online game at this moment in time, most particularly in the U.S.

ForbesRegarding that subject -- and speaking of Forbes -- an article appeared on the business magazine’s website today with a headline asking “Are the Feds Cracking Down on Online Poker?

The article notes how PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker together “account for maybe 70% of the $1.4 billion in revenue the U.S. [online poker] industry brought in last year.” Speaking to the issue of the legality of operating an online poker site that serves U.S. customers, the article reports that “PokerStars, situated on the Isle of Man, claims it has legal opinions from five U.S. law firms saying it is not violating any laws.” Forbes tried also to talk to Full Tilt, though their representatives “did not respond to requests for comment,” likely because Full Tilt “has deep roots in the U.S. and close connections to famous American poker players who can be found in Las Vegas regularly.”

The article goes on to summarize recent history, including the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 and its aftermath, PartyGaming founder Anurag Dikshit’s guilty plea to violating the Wire Act back in 2008, and the seizing of $34 million by federal prosecutors in 2009 from companies processing payments for Stars and Full Tilt. It also mentions Barney Frank’s current efforts to get online gambling licensed and regulated in the U.S., as well as that June 1, 2010 deadline for banks to start implementing the UIGEA.

Thus are we in a world where “Online poker operates in the law's shadows.” And since the entire poker industry is so enormously affected by the status of the online game in the U.S., anyone appearing in poker’s “Power 20” today may well be more vulnerable than their listing might suggest.

In other words, they have the “power” right now, but everyone continues to worry and wonder -- could others come in and pull the plug?

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talking ’Bout Women, Men, Poker, Horses

Women and PokerSome -- or many -- of my readers may have seen the Black Widow of Poker’s insightful post last week titled “The Delicate Issue of Women in Poker.” Definitely caught the eye of a number of folks, and elicited a long list of also interesting comments as well. If you haven’t read BWoP’s post, she (1) offers reasons for the relative lack of women players in poker tourneys, and (2) offers reasons why she is opposed to ladies-only events.

I actually wrote a couple of posts on the latter topic some time ago in which I shared a conversation I had with Vera Valmore, who rides dressage -- one of those rare sports that like poker allows men and women to compete against one another. If you are curious, here are those posts: “Regarding the WSOP Ladies Event (1 of 2)” and “Regarding the WSOP Ladies Event (2 of 2).”

One factor that Vera brought up to me in the second of those posts as a relevant one was the issue of bankrolls. BWoP does list “insufficient bankrolls” as a reason for lower participation by women, adding that when it comes to backing arrangements there, too, women generally make up an especially low percentage of those receiving backing. Citing LJ, the Black Widow notes that when it comes to backers choosing their horses, it turns out that “most backers are online players / focus on online players, and the stables rarely have any mares.”

I see our road-tripping friend B.J. Nemeth in the comments challenging whether that factor is specific to women, noting that many men, too, find themselves without the moneys to play. In her response to Nemeth’s comment, BWoP allows that one may not be necessarily sex-specific.

That exchange made me think again about a point Vera had made to me -- not because of the horse metaphor, but for another reason. It was a point I hadn’t necessarily contemplated too greatly before our conversation -- namely, that since playing in poker tourneys does require money, and since women on average tend to earn less than men do, that could be considered a factor that affected women differently than men.

Vera was referring both to the fact that women do (still) tend to get paid less than men for doing the same jobs as well as the fact that the kinds of jobs women take -- including the job of homemaking -- tend to generate less income. “Generally speaking, women earn less than men,” Vera said. “And any sport -- or employment or anything -- that requires start-up money is automatically going to favor those who have more money.”

Definitely something worth considering there, I think. Poker is often described as an “inclusive” game open to all comers, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, faith, etc. But there necessarily exist pretty severe class distinctions in poker -- indeed, the game wouldn’t really work without them. You have to have money to sit down at all. In fact, in order to be genuinely competitive, you have to have money to lose.

DressageDressage is an interesting sport in this way, too -- one which also (for most) requires start-up money but which like poker allows for a wide variety of financial commitment from competitors. I think there’s probably more to be made of the parallels between poker and dressage, but I’ll need to talk to Vera again about it.

By the way, the BWoP added a few more “Mitigating Factors” yesterday regarding this issue of women’s participation in no-limit hold’em tournaments which are worth reading. Not talking bankroll issues there, but rather questions of skill and the willingness to play aggressively (a necessity when it comes to doing well). Check it out.

And if you’re still interested in reading more about women and men in poker, see my Betfair piece from a couple of weeks ago titled “Sexual Identity in Online Poker” in which I talk a little about some of those sex-based stereotypes the BWoP discusses in her posts, though in the context of online play.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

When the Saints Go Marching (All) In

It was an all-in move“It was an all-in move.”

That’s what the fellow on the local sports radio station said yesterday regarding New Orleans Saints’ coach Sean Payton’s decision to go for the onside kick to open the second half of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIV.

A truly remarkable play it was, never tried before in the history of the Super Bowl. That is to say, no team had ever attempted an onside kick prior to the fourth quarter before in the previous 43 title games. And it wasn’t as though the Saints were down by three scores -- it was only 10-6!

By calling it “an all-in move,” the sports radio guy wanted to suggest that the decision to try the play represented a “do-or-die” choice. In other words, had the play failed, he was saying that would’ve been like putting all of one’s chips in the middle and then losing the hand, thereby getting knocked out of the tourney. Meanwhile, a successful onside kick -- like going all in and surviving -- would not have guaranteed ultimate victory, but would have at least kept one alive and with a better chance of winning than if the play had not have been attempted in the first place.

I heard some other commentators yesterday debating the merits of the decision to try the onside kick, as well whether or not it truly represented an “all-in move.” Some noted how onside kicks generally only work around 20% of the time, although most are attempted with the opposing team fully expecting it. One would have to imagine surprise onside kicks work more often, but I heard no percentages for those situations. However one measures it, the Saints went with what we might call a vulnerable hand there -- like shoving with pocket deuces or something, knowing at very best you're not going to be much better than 50-50 to succeed.

Had it failed, the Colts would have started their opening second-half drive on the Saints’ 40-yard line or thereabouts -- a short field. And four passes or so later it likely would have been a 17-6 ball game. As we had already been reminded Sunday, no team has ever come back from more than 10 points to win a Super Bowl before (a record the Saints tied with their win).

Of course, the Saints defense might’ve stiffened up and held Indy to a field goal (or less), so it is hard to say what would have happened next. As in a poker tournament, when considering a particular hand and what would have happened had a different set of community cards come and the hand gone differently than it did, it is hard to say how subsequent hands would have been affected.

As I think about the play -- motivated in large part out of respect for (or fear of) Colts quarterback Peyton Manning -- I can’t help but think of that play from Week 10 near the end of that New England-Indianapolis game. You remember, when the Patriots, up 34-28, decided to go for a fourth-and-two on their own 28-yard-line with 2:08 left in the game (and no timeouts). New England failed to convert, and Manning swiftly led a short drive to give the Colts the winning score with 13 seconds left.

Now that was clearly an “all-in move,” one which New England coach Bill Belichick was derided for loudly afterwards. However, you might say that in that case the decision to go “all in” was made by the chip leader, not the short stack. It was as though the Pats had a small lead -- say 55% of the chips in play -- and shoved with a marginal hand hoping to win the tourney right there. But it didn’t work out and suddenly they were crippled, almost sure to lose.

I’m recalling at the time reading a lot of analyses of Belichick’s decision that tried to suggest it was in fact correct, analyses that resembled the sort of thing you might find in Harrington on Hold’em with regard to judging whether or not it is time to shove or fold. For instance, this guy.

The Saints’ onside kick also made me think of how the Jets opted to take a more conservative route when they grabbed a surprising lead on the Colts two weeks ago in the AFC Championship game, e.g., with a 14-6 lead deciding to run the ball and kick a field goal late in the first half rather than go down the field and build a bigger lead before halftime. New York most certainly chose not to go “all in” there or even be aggressive with the lead, and Indy took advantage.

Perhaps the onside kick wasn’t truly an “all-in move” gamble, as Grange95 persuasively suggests, an example of “calculated aggression.” However one describes it, it was a lot of fun to watch, one of many plays and decisions from Sunday’s game that showed the Saints -- realizing they were up against an especially talented foe -- were more than willing to take risks in order to reap rewards, thus playing to win rather than not to lose.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Did Gambling on the Super Bowl Alter Your Brain?

Gambler's BrainReally enjoyed that there Super Bowl yesterday. Was mostly just hoping for a good, competitive game, which after the first quarter didn’t appear was gonna be the case. But the Saints were solid from the second quarter onward, and definitely deserved the win. Great fun watching, capping an entertaining season of football viewing for yr humble gumshoe.

I did not bet on the game nor did I go for any of the many prop bets (longest field goal, length of national anthem, coin flip, etc.), though I enjoyed following on Twitter the travails of others who did. The Super Bowl is, of course, the single most gambled on contest in sports. Saw estimates ranging from $2 billion to as high as $10 billion being wagered worldwide on the game. Hard to know for sure, of course, since so much of that betting is not necessarily on the up and up, but it is safe to say a ton of cabbage changed hands yesterday based on what happened down in Miami.

For many people the Super Bowl is the one time all year when they will gamble on sports. The Super Bowl also often becomes a favorite time of year for pundits to opine about gambling, generally speaking. Among those articles one caught my eye over the weekend on the Fox News site, one titled “Super Bowl Gambling May Alter Your Brain.”

The article appeared in the “Science/Technology” section, so I guess what we’re looking at there is technically reporting, not editorializing. Actually, it probably doesn’t qualify as either, really. The piece basically just compiles quotes from three sources as a way of trying to support that sensationalistic headline.

First, the author quotes a junior faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia pointing out that while most believe “gambling is enjoyable and harmless,” for some “it is as destructive as being addicted to drugs.” No argument there, but that doesn’t really speak to the idea that our brains are changing.

The next source quoted is Kyle Siler, author of that study on online poker that appeared in The Journal of Gambling Studies. I wrote a few weeks ago about Siler’s article, which he titled “Social and Psychological Challenges of Poker,” mainly noting how Siler’s findings got muddled by USA Today in its reporting. The Fox piece similarly misrepresents Siler’s study, suggesting that it “showed that the more hands of poker someone plays, the higher the chances that he’ll walk away with smaller profits.”

I read the study and it actually says nothing at all like that. After pumping 26.9 million hands into Poker Tracker, Siler did find that the players with higher win rates were not the ones who won the most hands, percentage-wise. Then he offered some speculations about why that might be the case, including suggesting that winning small pots might gird one against the pain of losing big ones. But Siler does not suggest playing more hands leads to winning less -- rather, his main point (the one that keeps getting misrepresented) is that winning more hands does not directly correlate to winning more money.

Casino OnlineA more accurate summary of Siler’s study -- one that sticks more closely to the text of his article as well includes a real interview with Siler (and not just a quote-grab) -- appears over at Casino Online. Some interesting discussion there about this “counterintuitive incentive structure” Siler says characterizes poker, as well as some further talk about the online game, if you are interested.

Getting back to the Fox News piece, though, we’re still not talking about how the brain works yet. Only the third source quoted in the piece offers anything along those lines, a researcher named Luke Clark who works at the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge.

Last year Clark published a study in the academic journal Neuron that showed that when a person gambles, the brain responds similarly to near losses as it does to wins. That is, Clark looked at MRIs of people gambling and found the same parts of the brain appeared stimulated when they came close and lost as when they won. Clark’s study, titled “Gambling Near-Misses Enhance Motivation to Gamble and Recruit Win-Related Brain Circuitry,” concluded that these near misses actually “invigorate gambling through anomalous recruitment of reward circuitry,” increasing the desire to gamble despite the lack of monetary reward.

As he told the Fox interviewer, “a near miss is a signal you’re acquiring the skill, so it makes sense that your brain processes [it] as if [it] were a win.” This is even true, says Clark, when dealing with gambling games that are nothing but chance-based like slot machines (which were used in his study).

All very interesting, although if we go back to that headline, if gambling does “alter your brain” it sounds like it only does so temporarily -- not quite like the way, say, drugs or physical trauma might permanently damage one’s brain as the article’s headline seems to imply.

Did Gambling on the Super Bowl Alter Your Brain?I do think Clark is probably on to something there with regard to the way coming close and losing can increase one’s desire to try again. But I also think one can easily go too far with talk about how gambling can “alter your brain.” Saying that suggests a greater than temporary change, which I don’t think Clark is necessarily saying. Such a claim also perhaps might encourage dubious arguments questioning the culpability of problem gamblers, too.

In fact, I’d compare what Clark is saying to the temporary “pleasure” I received from simply watching the game last night (without betting on it). I guess you could say my brain was momentarily altered by the experience. That cold medicine I took during the evening also probably altered my brain for awhile, too. But I think this morning my brain is pretty much the same as it was yesterday when I woke up.

Or maybe that’s just what my brain is telling me to say.

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