Friday, April 30, 2010

Poker Blogs, ca. 2010

What is a Blog?Writing that post earlier this week marking four years of Hard-Boiled Poker got me thinking once again about poker blogs -- most specifically how the poker “blogosphere” has changed over that period. I mentioned there how when I started mine there were a number of poker blogs already out there to serve as possible models. Back then it seemed just about anyone who played poker and enjoyed writing even just a little had a blog goin’.

I remember writing a post very early on -- titled “An Existential Pause” -- in which after just a few months of blogging I tried to explain the various purposes I thought a poker blog could serve. I had heard an interesting conversation on the old Lord Admiral Card Club podcast between Cincinnati Sean and Iggy, a.k.a. the “Blogfather” of poker blogs thanks to his long-running Guinness and Poker blog. I took their conversation as a cue to offer my own thoughts about what a poker blog was, or could be.

At a time when I was still trying to figure out what kind of blog mine would be, I suggested “a blog can be any number of things -- a personal diary, a virtual soapbox, a promotional tool, a news outlet, a discussion-starter, a confessional . . . you name it,” concluding that, “ultimately, a blog shapes itself according to the personality of its creator.”

I also added at the end that I had already found the process of writing the blog to have been somewhat illuminating, insofar as it required a bit more self-study than I might have otherwise performed. I was speaking mainly about my poker game, really, although the idea would obviously apply more generally. “Writing a poker blog is like being a detective,” I suggested. “Raymond Chandler once described the detective story as ‘a man’s adventure in search of hidden truth.’ All poker bloggers are shamuses, really. Investigating themselves.”

I continue to subscribe to a number of poker blogs today, although if I had to generalize I’d say that the idea of starting and maintaining a poker blog occurs much less frequently now to players than it did four years ago. Folks are much more likely to start Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or find other ways to satisfy that impulse to chronicle and/or communicate their adventures, if they have that impulse.

Still, there are plenty of good ones out there, demonstrating that same variety of approaches and angles to all things poker that keeps me following along. Just to give a small sample, let me mention ten bloggers who are among those I tend to click on first over in the reader whenever I see they have published something new. While I’m at it, I’ll mention particular, relatively recent posts from each which are indicative of why I like following ’em.
I always click on a new post from Tommy Angelo whenever I see he’s added something to his blog. Gonna reach back a few weeks to March to point you to a little poker anecdote-slash-riddle of his, which itself saw Angelo reaching back several years to share the story: “You No Gamble” (March 15). Speaking of Angelo, Episode 13 of the Gambling Tales Podcast went up earlier this week and on that one I joined Special K and Falstaff to discuss Angelo’s book, Elements of Poker. Check it out.

Amy Calistri has sort of moved out of the “poker blogging” game, having entered the so-called “straight world” of business investing. She still commments from time to time on the poker/gambling world, though, bringing with her the perspective of someone with a lot of poker reporting experience. Earlier this month she wrote a neat post titled “Frugal Detective Work” (April 4) which wasn’t really about poker (although it begins with an anecdote about Andy Beal), but provided a nifty little example of puzzle-solving that I think should appeal to poker players. And fans of detective stories, too.

Julius Goat’s blog is a great one for fans of the TV show “Lost” and/or video clips demonstrating examples of “awesome” or “crazy.” Other fun stuff there, too, including a new installment of his long-running, award-winning Stupid System strategy guide, “Stupid System 013: Rush Poker” (April 7). Okay, I made that up about the award. Although really, I think anyone who has been following the series would agree the sucker deserves some sort of recognition for its important contribution to our collective poker knowledge.

Most of you know the prolific Poker Grump, I assume. Lots of good stuff from him again this month, including more stories from his adventures at dozens of different Vegas cardrooms. I especially liked one such recent tale, “Beware the Newbie” (April 16), which concerns his having recently played with an absolute novice. The newbie experienced some especially good fortune in the session, thereby producing some very entertaining moments along the way. A well-chosen picture of Mr. Magoo illustrates that one.

Pokerati celebrated its sixth birthday not too long ago. Dan Michalski’s site (to which I occasionally try to contribute) is a great one for breaking poker news, one recent example being his post reporting “Rogue Payment Processor Arrested in Las Vegas Accused of Laundering Full Tilt, PokerStars, UB Money” (April 17). Many times the comments to posts over there add quite a bit to the stories, such as was the case with that post.

Dr. Pauly’s Tao of Poker is of course always a must read, for many reasons. I’ll point you to his “Dispatches from the Mohegan Sun” from a couple of weeks ago: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. Kind of a preview of the sort of thing we can probably expect to see from Dr. P. once again from the WSOP -- namely, the sort of off-the-beaten-path, stuff-you-can’t-get-elsewhere reporting on poker that often reveals much more about what really happened at a given event than one can get through the usual channels.

F-Train is another blogger whose posts are consistently thoughtful and thought-provoking. He’s also one who will sometimes report or comment on matters one doesn’t generally find being talked about elsewhere. For example, his recent post titled “Tilt Transfer OK?” was an eyebrow-raiser, I thought. There he commented some on Full Tilt Poker’s current legal tribulations, most specifically that federal grand jury investigation we heard about a few weeks back.

There have been a few more eyebrow-raisers over on Haley Hintze’s blog over the past week, too. Haley continues to add to her “Just Conjecturin’” series regarding the insider cheating scandals at Absolute Poker and UB. In the past week, she’s moved over to provide some startling evidence regarding the AP scandal in “Just Conjecturin’, Volume 11: Meanwhile, Over at Absolute Poker, It Seems Scott Tom Really Did It” (April 24) and “Just Conjecturin', Volume 12: The Absolute Scandal and the Day Occam Rolled Over in His Grave” (April 28). I know I’m not the only one hastily clicking on her feed whenever a new post arrives.

Since having covered the NAPT Venetian back in February, I’ve been enjoying following Thomas “gnightmoon” Fuller’s blog. Fuller made the final table of the Main Event there, which finally turned up on ESPN2 earlier this week. He took that occasion to write a little something about the experience in “NAPT Venetian TV Premiere” (April 25).

Finally, I also like checking in over at the ESPN Poker Club to read what their bloggers, including Gary Wise and Andrew Feldman, have to say. Yesterday Feldman opined a bit on the low turnout at the WSOP Circuit event at Caesars Palace this week in “WSOP Circuit Continues to Struggle” (April 29), providing some insights into what’s going on with that tour and with the professional tourney circuit, generally speaking.
That by no means covers all of the blogs I’ve been following of late, but those were some posts that kind of stood out for me as particularly interesting and/or entertaining.

Two more blogger-related bits of news to pass along. One, I am working on creating a separate page here for my ever-growing “Blogroll.” Have a few too many outgoing links here on the main page, and so am doing a little bit of tidying up. Will keep you updated on that.

Also, in the near future my weekly Betfair poker column will be including some contributions from a number of your favorite poker bloggers offering their thoughts about the upcoming WSOP. Will let you know about that, too.

Meanwhile, click on some of them links above and enjoy yourself. Then go have a good weekend.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

On the Unwritten Rules

RulesI mentioned a few weeks back that I’d been watching more baseball this year than I have been in the recent past. Am still doing so, and while I don’t necessarily have a fave team anymore (used to be the Braves, long ago), there are a handful of teams I’ve been following a little more closely than others, mainly because they’ve turned up on the tube most often.

One of those teams getting extra coverage, of course, has been the New York Yankees, off to a hot start this year although currently trailing the surprising Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. And speaking of the Yankees, there was an interesting incident last week in a game between New York and the Oakland A’s you might have heard or read about, if you follow baseball, too. The incident involved Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden, and a lot of talk about so-called “unwritten rules.”

To summarize what happened briefly, in the sixth inning of the April 22 game, Rodriguez had been on first base when Braden was pitching to Robinson Cano. Cano hit a high pop-up, during which Rodriguez had rounded second and was halfway to third when the ball landed foul. A-Rod then trod over the mound as he headed back to first base, kind of a no-no insofar as pitchers tend to be a bit fastidious over their workspace.

Braden saw what Rodriguez did, and was not a happy camper. When the inning ended he gave A-Rod an earful, yelling at him to “stay off my mound.” There’s a video of Braden’s outburst and more details of the incident over on the MLB site, if you’re interested.

When asked about it afterwards, Rodriguez expressed surprise that Braden had gotten so upset, adding that he didn’t think “a guy that has a handful of wins in his career” should be barking so loudly, anyway. Braden has been a major leaguer since 2007 and currently has 17 wins to his credit. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has been around since the mid-1990s, is a three-time MVP, is closing in on 600 home runs, and for the last decade has been the highest paid player in baseball.

Alex Rodriguez slaps ball from Bronson Arroyo's glove in 2004 playoffsRodriguez has failed to acknowledge certain unwritten rules before. There was an incident in 2007 when he yelled out at Toronto outfielder Howie Clark causing him to miss a pop-up. And back in the 2004 playoffs versus Boston there was that play in which Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove as Arroyo tried to tag A-Rod while running to first (see picture). Rodriguez was called out for interference, and then was later called out again by Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling who described Rodriguez’s action as “junior high school baseball right there, at its best.”

Schilling’s shot referred to the fact that besides breaking a written rule there, Rodriguez had violated another of those unwritten rules, too, by doing something major leaguers shouldn’t do. Of course, A-Rod has long been a lightning rod -- pun intended -- for other reasons, too, including his gaudy salary, his high level of achievement (something that always draws haters), and his admission to steroid use back when the policing of such was so badly managed by the MLB.

The whole episode reminded me a lot of the many unwritten rules in poker -- i.e., that sometimes elaborate code of conduct players and sometimes others (dealers, poker room managers, tourney directors, reporters, etc.) all are expected to know and follow. What sometimes gets referred to as “etiquette” and which tends only to get attention when someone fails to follow the code.

Slowrolling would be an obvious example at the tables -- not technically disallowed, but a clear violation of an unwritten rule. Other examples would include acting in a timely manner, refraining from verbally abusing the dealer or others, not “hitting and running” (i.e., winning a big pot quickly and then immediately leaving), or not speaking or interfering with play when not involved in a hand.

I suppose what Rodriguez did when he crossed Braden’s mound was a bit like touching another player’s chips unnecessarily. Not cool, man.

And, as a few commentators have been pointing out, Rodriguez’s response afterwards -- a kind of incredulity borne from the difference in experience between himself and Braden -- suggests another unwritten rule, namely, that seniority allows one greater freedoms. Such also often seems to be the case in poker, where the “name” players sometimes seem to get away with more egregious behavior and/or are given the benefit of the doubt more readily than are others when it comes to violations of etiquette. (Scotty Nguyen, Phil Hellmuth, and the 2008 WSOP spring to mind.)

Interesting stuff, and perhaps indicative of something more profound -- and paradoxical -- about human nature and competition. We like to compete, and perhaps have a kind of natural instinct to do so. But we also tend to surround our competitions with all sorts of guidelines (rules, written and unwritten) that not only ensure fairness, but a kind of decency as well. We want to beat each other, but we want to get along with each other, too.

Most of us, anyway.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Detour: Four Years of Hard-Boiled Poker

Title screen for 'Detour' (1945)Four years ago today I decided to start a poker blog. Was pretty much a total whim. I’d been playing online for a while, had read a number of books, and was following a few different magazines and news sites. Was also starting to listen to poker podcasts, was spending some time reading around in the forums, and had begun to visit some of the other poker blogs.

At the time, many of those poker blogs seemed to take the “journal” approach of chronicling one’s own progress as a poker player. Lots of hand histories and discussions, along with reports on how much the player/blogger was up or down. Some would include anecdotes and other fun poker-related stuff, too. And a few would diverge entirely from poker to discuss just about anything of interest to the writer -- e.g., an update on the writer’s relationship status, a review of a movie recently seen, a report from a recent vacation, what have you.

It was clear there were many ways to go when it came to poker blogs. Having little clue which way I’d be heading, I thought it would be fun to try one myself.

'Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories,' ed. Pronzini and AdrianAs I say, it truly was a whim. The title of the blog came to me at the end of no more than five minutes of meditation on the decision, inspired by an anthology on my bookshelf, Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. I’d long been a fan of those stories and writers, guys like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, James M. Cain, and so forth. And when it came to writing myself, most of my attempts at fiction had been in the same vein -- including a draft of what eventually became my novel, Same Difference.

So when I thought of writing, I thought “hard-boiled.” And there seemed a reasonable connection between poker and these sort of detective stories. All poker players are detectives, more or less, right? Some very good, some hopelessly inadequate. And every hand is a sort of miniature mystery with its own dramatic arc of exposition, climax, and resolution. Some potential there, I thought.

The “Shamus” character was also pretty much an on-the-spot-type invention. A “shamus” is a detective. My understanding is that it’s a slang term that originated early in the 20th century, probably first used with reference to New York City cops, some of whom were of Irish descent. It’s an Americanization of the popular Irish name “Seamus.”

Some have wanted to argue that the word also has a connection with the Yiddish word “shammes” which comes from the Hebrew “shamash” or a synagogue beadle. The idea there is that the beadle -- a parish officer -- is a person who knows everyone and thus is a good one to go to for information about what is going on (i.e., like a detective). I’ve always thought that was a bit of a stretch, but there could be something there.

In any event, writers of hard-boiled fiction picked up the word and routinely used it to refer to their detective protagonists. Comes up in the movies a lot, too. Go watch the beginning of The Big Sleep, where Humphrey Bogart (as Philip Marlowe) introduces himself to Carmen Sternwood by saying “I’m a shamus.”

So I started the blog, and in fact thought early on I’d try to write “in character” and employ more of that hard-boiled lingo in my little first-person narratives of my pokery adventures. Found it hard to keep that up, though, and so soon settled into a voice that came a little closer to my actual self.

Poster for 'Detour' (1945)However, as part of that “character” I was creating, I decided to borrow the mug of Tom Neal as Al Roberts in the 1945 noir film Detour. Shot in less than a week for practically nothing (around $20,000 say most), the movie tells the story of Al’s efforts to hitchhike across the country to meet up with his fiancee, though as the title suggests those efforts get sidetracked along the way.

Lean and mean, I recommend this 68-minute gritty marvel directed by Edgar G. Ulmer every chance I get. I liked Neal’s look in the film (I mean, really, doesn’t the poor sap look like he’s short-stacked?). Additionally, the film is in the public domain, which made me less hesitant to borrow them there images. That also means Detour can be easily found online, if you are curious to see it.

I also soon decided I didn’t want exclusively to write about my own low limit struggles. There was a lot else of interest happening in poker. Indeed, not long after I began the blog, we were all blindsided by that Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and for a short while there I actually thought I wouldn’t even be able to play online poker anymore. Suddenly there were other topics to discuss, and somewhere in there I came up with the different “sections” (On the Street, The Rumble, Shots in the Dark, High Society, and By the Book) for which I’d write.

Those first six months or so I had very few readers, and even though I got a great deal of enjoyment from writing, I did wonder sometimes why I even bothered. Vera Valmore encouraged me to continue with it, though, and so bears a lot of responsibility for my having kept at the sucker.

After a year or so I’d picked up a few more readers, and soon after that got the chance to do some poker writing for other sites, too. Then came an invitation to go cover the World Series of Poker (in 2008), something I described to many at the time as one of those “life detours” I never really would have expected even a few months before.

Shamus loosens his tieOther opportunities came along, and now I find myself about to head back to the WSOP for a third time. There’s been another significant development, too. For a variety of reasons -- this here freelance writing career being just one of them -- I’ve decided to move on from the current “day job” to pursue other possible futures, most of which involve doing a lot more writing.

Not quite at the moment of official transition yet, so I won’t go into other specifics. But the decision has been made. I’ve put on the turn signal. Just waiting for that green light and I’ll be going down a different road.

It has been apparent to me for a while now how that choice of the film Detour to help flesh out the blog’s motif has turned out to be weirdly prophetic, given that Hard-Boiled Poker has itself had a lot to do with the change in direction I’m now taking. Am excited, for sure. And a bit anxious, too. But again, I’ve encouragement from Vera. And, less directly, from many others, too, including all of you who have stopped by here from time to time.

So thanks again, everybody. Will let you know where this detour leads.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ESPN and the 2010 WSOP

Shamus watches the WSOP on ESPNWatched some of the coverage of that North American Poker Tour Venetian last night on ESPN2. Kind of drifted in and out during the first hour, though I did see the final hands of that $25,000 “High Roller” Bounty Shootout event won by Ashton Griffin. I was on my way home from the Venetian by that point (back in February), and so hadn’t really followed too much of how that had gone down at the time.

Enjoyed seeing my bud Marc Hodge (with whom I helped cover the first round of the High Roller event) sitting there in the front row sweating his bud Brett Richey. Lots of camera time for Marc last night as he sat there with Bryan Micon.

Also watched some of the Main Event final table, although had to hit the sack before it was done. I do want to go back and see those last couple of hands, though, which saw Tom Marchese end up taking it down against Sam Stein. Some might recall how Stein -- chip leader for the entire final table up until that point -- made two curious calls against Marchese to end the tourney. Read here for details of that somewhat surprising finish to the event.

I’ll echo F-Train’s positive assessment of last week’s NAPT coverage by ESPN, adding another kudos for what I saw of it last night. Fun stuff, and hopefully the tour will gather some momentum via these episodes and continue to thrive. The next couple of weeks (May 3 and May 10) will feature coverage of the NAPT Mohegan Sun. Then the following week (May 17) there will be two more hours devoted to the High Roller event from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, also dubbed a “NAPT” event.

That’ll take us right up until the WSOP essentially. Speaking of, there was news last week of ESPN’s plans for their 2010 WSOP coverage. Looks like they’ll be following the pattern of recent years by forgoing most of the preliminary events and almost exclusively concentrating on the Main Event.

According to Poker News Daily, ESPN will start airing WSOP stuff on July 20, just days after we all go home from the Rio. After a 2009 WSOP recap show that week, it looks like the plan is next to show the final table from the $50,000 buy-in “Poker Player’s Championship” event (Event No. 2) on July 27. Then the following week (August 3) will come the final table of that WSOP “Tournament of Champions” -- that “all-star” game for which voting continues over on the WSOP site.

And that’ll be it as far as non-Main Event coverage goes. From August 10 right up until November, ESPN will once again take us though all of the days of the ME, leading up to the “November Nine.”

ESPNFor the last couple of years, whenever the new ESPN sked has been announced, I’ve written posts here offering some opinions regarding the shift in coverage away from preliminary bracelet events and the increasing emphasis on the Main Event. Those posts -- “ESPN’s 2008 WSOP Schedule -- The Main Event (Mainly)” & “On ESPN’s Coverage of the WSOP” -- both express a desire to see more than just the Main Event (and just no-limit hold’em). But they also show some enthusiasm, too, over the expansion of the coverage each year in terms of total hours.

This time around I find myself having become more acclimated to the current focus on the ME as far as ESPN goes. Thus am I not really pining so much to go back to 2004-2005 when we got to see all of those preliminary events (even Razz!). I suppose I’ve also pretty much accepted the November Nine, too, an idea which I didn’t like initially and still think mucks way too much with how the tourney should be played.

But given all the current legal machinations going on with regard to online poker, as well as other uncertainties regarding the game’s future, I think I’m mostly done with lamenting the lack of this or that kind of coverage, and am simply glad to see coverage at all.

’Cos really, it is easy to see that ESPN’s continued involvement with the WSOP -- and its adding things like the NAPT to their poker offerings -- is ultimately very good for poker. For those who play and for those who write about it, too.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

An Exciting Future Awaits

An Exciting Future AwaitsInteresting times around here at Hard-Boiled Poker. Lots of “life stuff” happening, about which I am going to be entirely vague today, I’m afraid. Will try to be less so as the week goes along, however. Wednesday -- an anniversary for HBP -- seems like it might be a good day to try to start being more specific about some of these changes concerning yr humble gumshoe.

Glancing a little further down the calendar also reminds us that Wednesday is momentous in another way, as it will be exactly one month until the start of the 2010 World Series of Poker (on May 28th). I think I’ve mentioned that I’ll be back at the Rio once again helping cover the sucker for PokerNews. Will also have some other things happening this summer, including a quick excursion down to Lima, Peru in early June to help cover the Latin American Poker Tour event.

Before we get there, though, there is the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker which starts this coming Sunday (May 2). That’s also going to keep me plenty busy as I’ll be helping cover several of the events for the PokerStars blog.

PokerStars Spring Championship of Online PokerThe SCOOP schedule is a monstah. There are 38 separate events, each of which has a “low,” “medium,” and “high” tournament associated with it, meaning 114 distinct tournaments happening over a two-week period. The total guaranteed prize pool is $45 million, although it is probably safe to assume there will more than that ultimately won.

I’ve managed to score a seat in one of the “low” events -- a limit hold’em tourney -- so I’ll be fighting for a tiny share of the cabbage myself. Click here to see the entire SCOOP schedule, including all of the buy-ins and guarantees.

In other tourney news, I’m afraid I don’t have much to report concerning my so-so showing in that Battle of the Bloggers Tournament 5 Invitational last night over on Full Tilt Poker, where I busted relatively early on (in Level 7).

I logged on right around start time and found there was a new update to install. Took a few minutes to complete, actually, which meant I had to miss the first orbit or so. Kind of indicative of my tourney as a whole, really, as I found myself having a hard time getting anything going pretty much from the beginning.

(Come to think of it, when it comes to my jingle brain & tourney strategy, I probably could stand to install an update there, too.)

Battle of the Bloggers Tournament 5Actually picked up pocket kings twice during the first three levels or so, though got zero action despite the fact that I had been quite active otherwise. Had slipped below the starting stack a little when the chip leader joined our table two seats to my left, thereby making blind stealing a less simple matter.

Finally I was moved to a new table, although by that point I had fallen below 20 big blinds and was starting to look for a spot to double-up.

One such opportunity soon came. The hand began with poker author and Full Tilt Poker blogger Michael Craig opening with a 3x raise UTG to 360. Craig had built up a stack early on last night -- in fact, he had over 13,000 when this hand began, which put him in second place, I believe.

A player in middle position called Craig’s raise, and it folded to me on the button with A-K. I shoved my remaining 1,800 or so, Craig quickly called, and the third player folded. Craig showed pocket fives, the board ran out jack-high, and presto! that silly little frog avatar I use had vanished.

Thanks again to AlCantHang for pulling together the BBT5 and especially for the invite. (Get all yr BBT5 info here, by the way.) Will try again next Sunday!

Lots of other stuff to occupy me between now and then, though. More to come!

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Interviewing the Interviewer

Interviewing the Interviewer0I think I might have mentioned something last week about having had plans to interview Kara Scott, the poker player who has appeared as a host or presenter on numerous poker shows, including currently on “High Stakes Poker.” We did get a chance to talk this week, and the interview can now be read over on Betfair.

I asked her about various topics, including how she got into poker and poker TV, “High Stakes Poker,” the recent PartyPoker Big Game IV in London, her joining up with team PartyPoker, and her own play, in particular those two deep runs in the WSOP Main Event she has had over the last couple of years (finishing 104th and 238th).

As was the case last week with Matthew Hilger, I had a lot of fun talking with Kara, especially regarding her experience at the 2008 WSOP. I was also surprised a little about the story of her having trained as a Thai boxer (and that being an avenue to television for her). I guess I had heard that about her at some point along the way, but had forgotten.

Kara ScottThere was one question I didn’t ask her which didn’t occur to me until later on, a question having to do with her new affiliation with PartyPoker. She mentioned how there would be some television work there for her with Party -- the Big Game IV was an example. I remembered afterwards that PartyGaming had purchased the World Poker Tour last year, so I might’ve asked if she knew anything about the future of that relationship (including the TV side of things).

We also talked a bit about interviewing players, generally speaking -- something with which Kara has a lot of experience. Speaking of, I mentioned last week I was thinking of compiling a list of poker-related interviews I’ve done, so here that is:
Dennis Phillips (October 2008)
Barry Greenstein (April 2009) -- Part 1 & Part 2
Andy Bloch (May 2009)
James McManus (November 2009)
Victoria Coren (January 2010)
Kevin Mathers (February 2010)
Lou Krieger (February 2010)
Ilya Gorodetsky (March 2010)
Matthew Hilger (April 2010)
Kara Scott (April 2010)
Have other fun stuff coming up over on Betfair Poker in the near future, including involving contributions from some of your favorite poker bloggers regarding the good-gawd-is-it-less-than-five-weeks-away-that-can’t-be-right-I-guess-it-is 2010 WSOP. (Stay tuned!)

Meanwhile, enjoy the weekend, all! Don't forget the BBT5 continues over on Full Tilt Poker (details here).

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hooray for Boeree; Remembering Richmond

Liv BoereeYou’ve no doubt heard by now that Liv Boeree took down that European Poker Tour San Remo event yesterday, coming out on top of a huge field of 1,240 players to claim the €1,250,000 first prize. Lot of folks excited about it. Boeree becomes the third woman to win an EPT Main Event, following Vicky Coren (EPT London 2006) and Sandra Naujoks (EPT Dortmund 2009).

Boeree’s win also comes on the heels of Vanessa Selbst’s NAPT Mohegan Sun victory less than two weeks ago. And a month before that, Annie Duke took down the NBC National Heads Up Poker Championship -- not an “open” event, but still one in which men had only prevailed in the past.

Some object to assigning too much importance to women winning events such as these, arguing that doing so reinforces the significance of a player’s sex and thus suggests another kind of inequality in the way one views women players as opposed to men.

There’s something to that argument, I suppose. But still, it is hard not to recognize the uniqueness of women succeeding in these big buy-in, “big bet” tourneys, especially given the small number of women entering them as compared to men.

Woman Poker PlayerBy the way, even before Selbst’s win at the NAPT Mohegan Sun, Jen Newell and I chose the topic of women & no-limit hold’em tourneys for our April “He Said/She Said” columns over at Woman Poker Player. There we were separately responding to a chapter in James McManus’s Cowboys Full in which he offers a few thoughts about why men seem “biologically inclined to sign up for” NLHE tourneys.

As we were working on our articles, Selbst won her NAPT title, and so we both ended up making reference to her win. You can see what else we said about McManus’s ideers here: He Said / She Said.

Last week I also wrote a post here called “Women and the WSOP.” There I mentioned how even though 12 different women had won open WSOP events, none had done so in a NLHE event (aside from Annette Obrestad’s 2007 WSOPE Main Event title). In that post I included a list of women who had won WSOP bracelets in open events, with Vera Richmond being the first to do so back in 1982 in the $1,000 buy-in Ace-to-Five Draw event.

Curiously, when people discuss this topic many tend to overlook Richmond’s victory and cite Barbara Enright’s 1996 bracelet in the $2,500 pot-limit hold’em event as the first by a woman in an open-field WSOP tourney. In fact, when it comes to poker history, Richmond is probably better known not for her WSOP bracelet but for her involvement in that story in which Amarillo Slim Preston allegedly said he’d cut his own throat if a woman ever won the WSOP Main Event -- another story the accuracy of which sometimes gets skewed.

According to the story, at the 1973 WSOP Main Event, Richmond -- who according to this had to have been the first woman ever to play in the Main Event -- enjoyed the chip lead for a time, and during a break took the opportunity to tell Preston she intended to win the sucker. Preston (the reigning champ) responded by telling Richmond that if she were to win the tourney, she could cut his throat with a “dull knife.”

The exchange later got retold in such a way as to suggest Preston had threatened to cut his own throat, and that his threat referred to any woman winning the event (not just Richmond). Preston himself later would exploit the apocryphal version of the story, such as in 2000 when both Annie Duke and Kathy Liebert made deep runs in the Main Event, as recounted by McManus in Positively Fifth Street.

(EDIT [added 1:00 p.m.]: Actually there are other problems with this story, including the fact that Richmond didn't play in the 1973 event at all. Hat tip to Kevmath here, who points us to an article by Susie Isaacs that suggests Barbara Freer was the first woman to play in the WSOP ME in 1978.)

That was about all I recalled about Vera Richmond, too, other than the fact that she always gets described as a “brusque cosmetics heiress” in histories and on the web. There was, however, a reference to Richmond not too long ago on the Gamblers Book Shop podcast (episode 63, 3/19/2010).

There guest Linda Johnson -- the third woman to win a WSOP in an open event (1997, $1,500 Razz) -- noted how Richmond “never got credit for her win,” referring to what I mentioned earlier about how Enright tends to be more readily cited as the first woman to win an open WSOP event.

Host Howard Schwartz asked Johnson why that was the case. “Well, she wasn’t very popular,” answered Johnson. “She was kind of mean and nasty... spoke like a truck driver, and nobody liked her. And so when she won her event, she never got credit for it, which isn’t right because plenty of asshole men have won and they are in the record books.”

Kind of interesting -- and not that surprising -- how the story of the first woman to win a WSOP open event appears to involve ideas of traditional “gender roles” as well as (in the Amarillo Slim story) men showing some resistance to the idea of women playing and succeeding.

Times have changed, certainly. The general enthusiasm about Boeree’s win yesterday -- from both men and women -- is evidence of that.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Metaphysical Check Up

Reminder: you have a physical scheduled for this afternoonJust now happened to recall that I scheduled a physical for this afternoon. Have a little reminder card by the monitor here that was supposed to guarantee I wouldn’t forget, but it very nearly slipped my mind. I set up the visit a week ago, and when I told Vera she complimented me for having done so.

“You’re growing up,” she cheekily added.

I guess it wouldn’t have seemed so mature to have forgotten the appointment, so I’m glad I’m remembering it now. Could well be I blocked it out somehow, subconsciously not wanting to endure the close inspection of my current status.

In a recent post titled “Mental Mazes,” the one physician whom we actually look forward to visiting -- Dr. Pauly -- offers some thoughtful ideas with regard to this business of self-assessment. The post starts with a discussion of Tiger Woods, moves on to a short catalogue of character types most of us tend to exhibit (at the poker table and elsewhere), and ends with a breakdown of breakdowns in which the Doc classifies a few different kinds of tilt.

All good stuff, though I especially like the middle section in which he talks about the “five or six versions of ourselves” we present to others as we make our way through our jobs, our relationships, our poker games, and elsewhere. Pauly explores in particular how we present ourselves as various types at the tables, including the “nebbish goober,” the “reckless gambler,” the “confident warrior,” or the “fraidy cat.”

Tao of PokerAs Pauly’s descriptions of the types suggest, when it comes to presenting one of these “versions of ourselves” at the poker table, our selection usually isn’t wholly self-guided. Usually we’re reacting to how the game is going, and a rush of cards or a sour sequence often dictates which type we become. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that it sometimes takes just a single hand to produce such a change in character.

For example, yesterday I was cruising along in what had been a nice, comfortable session of six-handed limit hold’em in which I was mostly “confident warrior,” taking the initiative, forcing folds, and making hands frequently enough to reinforce my feeling of having an edge.

Then came a funny hand in which a player who had distinguished himself to me as a “reckless gambler” raised from UTG. I three-bet with KcJc from the cutoff, and it folded back around to my opponent who capped it. I called, of course, and together we saw a flop of 8d6dJs.

He bet, I raised, and he reraised. Unsure about my top pair but having seen him get out of line before, I capped it and he called. The Qc on the turn brought another bet from him, and feeling less well about the whole situation I just called. The river was the Ts. Once I again I called his bet, and he showed TdJd for a rivered two pair and took the pot.

Somewhere in the middle of that hand I had clearly changed from “confident warrior” to “nebbish goober,” a transformation that became more evident over the next few orbits as suddenly I became more passive and self-doubting. Might have even let myself be temporarily affected by that “why-me-how-unfair-I’m-a-victim” applesauce that we all sometimes feel after an unfortunate river card takes a hand from us.

As Dr. P. also suggests, this stuff happens away from the poker tables, too. And there, also, we often let outside forces -- i.e., that which we cannot control -- dictate which of the “versions of ourselves” we become.

Hopefully we figure out how to manage those changes and get along well enough, a process that involves being willing to look at ourselves more closely, to see and accept the flaws, and to do what is necessary to be the best self we can be. Or at least a version with which we can be comfortable.

And then, if you’re lucky enough, someone may point out to you that you’re growing up.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NAPT Debuts on ESPN2

North American Poker TourWatched some of that NAPT Venetian $25,000 “High Roller” Bounty Shootout event on ESPN2 last night. Only saw the first hour before I had to hit the sack, but I recorded the rest. It appeared they were devoting both hours to the first round of that event -- i.e., the seven seven-handed tables, the winners of which met a couple of days later at the final table. Looks like next Monday there will be a couple more hours devoted to the NAPT Venetian -- one hour showing the Shootout final table, then one showing the Main Event final table.

Wasn’t sure what they were going to do with the three hours for the High Rollers, but it didn’t surprise me to see ESPN2 showing all of this first round action, given all of the big names among the field. I helped cover both “flights” that first day -- the afternoon one (which was shown during the first hour) and then the evening one (second hour). Wrote a little about how that long day went here.

From what I saw of that first hour, the coverage of the three simultaneous tables was pretty good, although necessarily a bit choppy (and, of course, dominated by the all-ins). That feature table match in which Hoyt Corkins eventually outlasted John Duthie to win actually took about seven hours, with Duthie pretty much dominating Corkins during the couple of hours of heads up, only for the cowboy to get very lucky to hit a runner-runner hand to survive, then beat the Brit. Didn’t necessarily see that narrative develop quite that way during the show last night, given the need to edit down.

I kind of wonder how the show went for those who weren’t already familiar with how those tables had played out. Seemed like ESPN did a decent job with the graphics updating the number of bounties folks had captured and chip counts on each of the tables, but my sense was all of the back-and-forthing probably made the show seem a bit different from your usual poker tourney show.

There was a piece over on PokerNews a few days ago by Matthew Parvis in which he pointed out how the “High Roller” event at the recently-completed NAPT Mohegan Sun (also a $25,000 buy-in) had seen a dip in the number of entrants (from 49 to 35), and that the future of that event may be in doubt moving forward. Of course, the Main Event there drew a healthy 716 players, following up on the NAPT Venetian having attracted 872 to its Main Event (both $5,000 buy-ins).

As Parvis notes, online qualifiers are helping big time here, and while I like the prospects of the NAPT moving forward, I think its continued success hinges greatly on that part of the equation remaining unchanged. In other words, looking at the World Poker Tour and WSOP-Circuit events and their respective struggles with declining fields, it seems clear the NAPT probably needs those online qualifiers to keep flourishing.

We still await word on future NAPT events. I am sure some are in the works, though I’ve no guess when the announcement of those stops may come. I am not sure whether the looming deadline for banks and financial institutions to start enforcing the final regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (on June 1) is necessarily a factor here, but I suppose it could be.

Obviously the UIGEA being enforced might prove something of a fly in the ointment for the NAPT, but I do hope it doesn’t overly affect the tour’s growth.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

The Skill of the Players, the Skill of the Game

Girls Like Guys With SkillsPlayed in the first of those invitationals in the Battle of the Bloggers Tournament 5 last night. There were 79 runners in this one I believe, and the top 15 spots paid. Thanks again to Sir AlCantHang for pulling the sucker together!

After a couple of hours and around 150 hands, I hadn’t been running particularly well though I felt okay about how things were shaping up. I sat with a little over 4,000 chips, which was below the average (about 5,000) with 47 players left. Blinds were 100/200, and I had just been moved to a new table that had several short stacks, plus a couple of folks in the top ten with about 10,000 each.

Soon I picked up pocket kings in the small blind, and it folded around to one of the big stacks who raised to 450 from the cutoff. The button folded, and I decided to put in a hefty reraise to 2,850, essentially saying I was ready to put the rest of my stack in here. The big blind folded and the LP player called.

Flop looked all right to me -- Q-7-7. My opponent had just called off nearly a third of his stack preflop, so for him to hold a seven felt unlikely. A queen seemed very possible, and as I went ahead and stuck the rest of my chips in the middle it occurred to me he’d probably have to call with a lesser pair or maybe even worse. He did call.

Alas, he did have a seven. Actually, he had two of them.

“Oof,” I typed, seeing he’d flopped quads. “Rigged,” he responded sympathetically. Two community cards later I was on the rail.

The hand made me think of a few weeks ago when I managed to flop quads a few times in short stretch while playing limit hold’em (wrote about that here). I remember looking around then to see the chances of doing so was something like 1 in 408 or something. The Poker Grump had calculated this once.

The hand also made me think about an exchange on The Poker Beat from a couple of episodes ago that I had meant to write about but forgot to -- one concerning that age-old “skill-vs.-luck” debate in poker. It was on the 4/8/10 episode, during the panel’s discussion of that recent ruling in a Pennsylvania appeals court that poker was “predominantly a game of chance.”

Host Scott Huff came up with what I thought was an interesting approach to the topic, even if it didn’t sound quite right when he proposed it. “Is it possible,” asked Huff, “that the way these courts are looking at it is that ‘Yes, while poker may be a game of skill, most people -- and I think we can all agree on this -- most people play poker as if it is a game of chance?”

Huff suggested going down to Hollywood Park Casino at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning to see how much “skill” was being employed in the games. Huff wondered if this state of affairs helped create the impression to non-players that poker really was “predominantly” luck-based. “Because in order for poker to be a game of skill,” concluded Huff, “you must be skillful at it. You must study the game.”

Like I say, it sounded like an interesting approach, although I remember at the time sensing there was something a little off about it. Gary Wise brought up one of those studies that shows most hands aren’t shown down -- not quite answering the question. B.J. Nemeth said it was a good point and jokingly wished Huff wouldn’t give poker’s opponents ammunition like this. Finally, Dan Michalski said that while he agreed poker was a game of skill we nevertheless “have to acknowledge that there’s so much chance involved, and when it comes to the politics of it, they are always going to be looking at it as gambling because it is something that is run by casinos.”

I didn’t think too much more about it, but then was reminded of Huff’s question again a couple of days later when I looked at the PokerRoad forums and saw that a poster had challenged his thesis that “in order for poker to be a game of skill, you must be skillful at it.”

You see the logical fallacy there, yes? A game can require skill regardless of how people play it. Indeed, how can one be skillful at a game if it does not require skill?

Such was the 6th Wilbury’s point on the forums, which included his noting that the presence of bad players in fact “supports the argument that poker is a game of skill” insofar as the difference between them and the skillful players is discernible.

Even so, I do think that when it comes to considering how non-players sometimes perceive poker, Huff probably has a point. Heck, even a game like golf can look mostly chance-based to the non-player. Makes sense to suggest that to those who don’t play the game -- who are often the ones drafting legislation or presiding over cases in which the question comes up -- poker sure can look like luck sometimes.

Especially when dudes are flopping quads on you.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

BBT5 Begins, Betfair Interview

Battle of the Blogger Tournaments 5Hello, Friday. Has been another busy week here. I haven’t had the chance to play a heckuva lot lately -- just short sessions here and there -- although I always tend to do better when that is the case, so I ain’t complaining.

One bit of news this week was the launching of the Battle of the Bloggers Tournament 5, which gets underway this weekend. I’ve landed a spot in the invitational portion of the sucker, which means for the next few Sunday nights I’ll be playing some deep-stacked no-limit hold’em tourneys against my fellow scribes in the hopes of winning a seat into the Tournament of Champions that happens at the end of May.

There are other events associated with BBT5, too, to which all are invited to participate, with a bunch of goodies -- over $50,000 in cash and some WSOP seats -- up for grabs. Click here to read more about BBT5 and see the full schedule. And look for updates here regarding my efforts in those Sunday tourneys.

Matthew HilgerIn other news, earlier in the week I enjoyed talking to the poker author and player Matthew Hilger. I interviewed Hilger for Betfair -- check it out.

Hilger runs a publishing company, Dimat Enterprises, which has put out several quality strategy books, including Hilger’s own Internet Texas Hold’em, a limit HE book of which I am a big fan.

Hilger also co-wrote The Poker Mindset with Ian Taylor, another book I like and have written about here before. A few times, actually.

Hilger and I discussed his books, the Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand a Time series by Eric “Rizen” Lynch, Jon “PearlJammer” Turner, and Jon “Apestyles” Van Fleet, and other forthcoming titles from Dimat, including Jeff Hwang’s next PLO book. We also talked a bit about the state of poker book publishing, generally speaking.

I’ve really enjoyed the interviews I’ve done thus far for Betfair. I had done a couple for PokerNews previously as well. I am thinking at some point perhaps pulling together a list of the various interviews and articles I’ve written for other sites and posting them here somewhere, if only to keep track of ’em all. Always interesting to talk to the pros to get their insights and thoughts, and I also get a special kick out of talking to authors about the writing/publishing game, too.

The BBT5 awaits. Now I’m realizing I should’ve asked Hilger for tips on deep-stacked NLHE tourneys. I suppose patience will be in order. I think I’ll only open with suited pairs until the antes kick in.

Enjoy the weekend, all.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Picking Out a Bluff

'A Bold Bluff' by C.M Coolidge“Bluff is the essence of poker,” writes David Spanier at the start of his 1977 collection of essays Total Poker (reviewed here). “It is lurking in every single hand of the game. Has he or hasn’t he got what he says he’s got?

Bluffing indeed separates poker from other card games, and as Spanier suggests is for some the tell-tale feature that defines poker. In other words, it ain’t “poker” if you cannot pretend to have something other than what you have -- and, perhaps, win by doing so. Like the dog on the left there in C.M. Coolidge’s “A Bold Bluff” is trying to do in one of Coolidge’s “Dogs Playing Poker” series (which you can read more about here). In fact, one finds in some early references to poker the game actually being called “bluff” -- a nod to the poker’s most salient characteristic.

So the word “bluff” being used to indicate someone trying to represent a hand other than the one he or she is holding has a long, long history -- extending back almost as far as does the word “poker.” But the word itself was around before poker was, having other meanings.

A 'bluff' along a coastlineThe Oxford English Dictionary introduces “bluff” as a “a nautical word of uncertain origin” that once indicated “a broad flattened front,” although could be used when describing a number of possible objects, including part of a ship, a shore or coast-line “presenting a bold and almost perpendicular front,” or even a person’s face or forehead. From there the word took on figurative meanings as well, suggesting someone standing firm (e.g., “he stood bluff”) or being notably direct or blunt in one’s manner.

The word turns up in a couple of other contexts as well prior to becoming part of the vocabulary of poker. Stemming from that reference to the look of a shore or coast-line, the term starts being used to refer to any “cliff or headland with a broad precipitous face.” Among the representative OED quotes is one by Washington Irving noting “the wild and picturesque bluffs” as part of his description of a landscape. From that usage come even further references to river banks or any steep incline.

According to America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America by Allan Metcalf and David K. Barnhart, it is this topographical meaning of the word that got picked up and transferred over to poker. “Since a bluff puts up a high imposing front,” write the authors, “someone or something that put on a show of intimidation was [said to be] bluffing, a use attested as early as 1839.” The authors note that it was only a few years before that the first instances of the word “poker” turn up in the U.S.

A horse with blindersThere are other explanations for the word’s origin that have challenged that one. Another less prominant usage refers to “a blinker for a horse” -- that is some sort of cover for the eyes (also called “blinders”), say for horses drawing a carriage to keep them from getting distracted and running about. The OED says that appears to have led to a slang usage of “bluff” to mean “a false excuse intended to blindfold or hoodwink,” a connotation which then got picked up with reference to card games.

However, “the etymology [here] is quite unknown” says the dictionary, as that particular meaning “does not appear to have any possible connexion with BLUFF... [and] is probably one of numerous cant terms... which arose between the Restoration and the reign of Queen Anne” -- that is, the late 17th and early 18th centuries (well before poker came around). “It looks as if recent users have imagined a connexion,” adds the OED, making that explanation seem even more dubious.

Sounds as though the connection to an imposing looking cliff or steep hill is the one that has been given the most credence. That one does evoke that other, commonly known meaning of “bluff” still used today, making it seem even more persuasive.

But I can’t help wondering if that’s really the origin of the term. It’s not that it sounds too good to be true, but not good enough. Then again, I suppose that’s why the story is somewhat believable. So I guess I’ll believe it.

I don’t have enough information to challenge it, anyway. Not even a bluff-catcher.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What We’re Hearing About the Hearing

House Hearing Scheduled, then PostponedA hearing to consider Barney Frank’s two bills -- H.R. 2266, the Reasonable Prudence in Regulation Act & H.R. 2267, Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act -- had been scheduled for this Friday, April 16. The meeting of the House Financial Services Committee (which Frank chairs) was announced late last week, but soon after was postponed with no makeup date scheduled.

Both of those bills were proposed by Frank (D-MA) last spring. H.R. 2266 is a very brief bill that simply seeks to delay compliance with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 until December 1, 2010. That one currently has 55 co-sponsors (all but five of whom are Democrats). H.R. 2267 is a much more comprehensive bill proposing the licensing and regulation of online gambling in the United States -- a version of Frank’s earlier, failed IGREA from the previous Congress. H.R. 2267 currently has 66 co-sponsors (all but four Democrats).

The Poker Players Alliance is saying a new date for the hearing should be announced soon, although whenever the committee does get together, it doesn’t appear there will be any debate or “mark-up” of the two bills at that time. Rather, the primary purpose of the hearing looks to be to invite the feds (i.e., representatives of the Federal Reserve and Department of Treasury) to come and address the situation in broader terms -- that is, to discuss “Governmental Perspectives” on the issue of online gambling in the United States (as the scheduled hearing had been titled).

Two years ago there was a hearing in which two such representatives -- Louise Roseman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Valerie Abend of the Department of Treasury -- came to answer questions about the feasibility of enforcing the UIGEA. I wrote a long summary of that hearing (from early April 2008) here, titled “UIGEA Regs: Burden without Benefit? Without a Doubt.

That meeting came at a time when the regulations for the UIGEA were still being worked out, and Roseman and Abend both made it clear that those trying to put together the regulations were finding it quite difficult thanks to the vague nature of the UIGEA as it is written. Following that meeting, it appeared the UIGEA might well have finally been sunk under the weight of its own inconsistencies and impracticality. But the feds pushed on, and by the end of the year had come up with the regulations which were then finalized (in November 2008).

Technically speaking, the UIGEA went into effect on January 19, 2009 -- the last full day of George W. Bush’s presidency -- though compliance was not made mandatory until December 1, 2009. In other words, banks and financial institutions can if they wish go ahead and try to enforce the UIGEA now and block transactions between their customers and online gambling sites, although they aren’t required to do so. It was during the last week of November 2009 that the feds decided to push forward that mandatory compliance date to June 1, 2010, having been encouraged to allow further discussion of the UIGEA, Frank’s proposed bills, and perhaps other possible avenues to handling the issue of online gambling in the U.S.

A hearing followed soon thereafter during the first week of December, and once again it appeared there was some genuine momentum gathering to stop the UIGEA from finally being enforced. But that momentum died down quickly, and we find ourselves now just a month-and-a-half away from the deadline.

My sense is that online poker players in the U.S. have already come to accept that the UIGEA is going to go into effect on June 1. Among those who pay any mind to it, that is. A lot of those who play aren’t really fretting over the UIGEA too greatly, believing that even with the law in place there will always be another way to get funds on and off online poker sites.

Having already decided the UIGEA is a done deal, it becomes difficult to get too excited over the possibility of another House hearing. Indeed, my sense perusing forums, blogs, and other sources of online poker talk is that few are paying much mind to any of these legal machinations, including the craziness happening here and there on the state level (e.g., Kentucky suing Full Tilt Poker over the rake).

Rather, as poker players have always tended to do, we play on. The game requires too much of our mental capacity for us to spare any on things we cannot control, anyway. In other words, it seems like news of these hearings being scheduled and/or postponed mostly fall on deaf ears.

Then again, I have a feeling that as we get closer to June 1 this here legislative chatter is probably going to get a bit louder. Indeed, it might well become impossible not to start listening.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Watching the Big Game

PartyPoker Big Game IVLooks like PartyPoker’s Big Game IV’s -- that nonstop 48-hour cash game being played at Les Ambassadeurs in London -- will be wrapping up within a few hours.

A couple of players, David “Viffer” Peat and Neil Channing, have been there from the start (although I believe Channing might have gotten voted off the table). Others who have been coming and going include Tony G, Luke “FullFlush” Schwartz, Jennifer Tilly, Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt, Isaac Haxton, Justin Bonomo, Roland de Wolfe, Andrew Feldman, and a few more.

I believe there were about 20 players altogether scheduled to play. For details on all of the action, including who is up and who is down, you can check out Adam “Snoopy1239” Goulding’s excellent live reports from the event over on the PartyPoker blog: Day 1 and Day 2.

Of course, the big story from the Big Game during the days leading up to it was the announcement that Isidur1 would be playing, thanks to the backing of Tony G. Such was thought to be the case up until the eve of the event when Tony G informed us on his blog that despite various arrangements having been made -- including allowing for the possibility of letting Isildur1 play while wearing a mask (no shinola) -- online poker’s international man of mystery had decided not to play.

Tony G makes his entrance on a bicycle at the Big Game IVTony G -- who rode into the Big Game on a bike to the accompaniment of Queen’s “Bicycle Race” (natch) -- also notes that Isidur1 will be in Monte Carlo for the EPT Grand Final (scheduled at the end of April). We’ll see if that pans out.

While no official “outing” has happened yet, most seem to agree that Isildur1 is the young Swedish player Viktor Blom. Tony G said as much in late November 2009 (“I can reveal to all it is Viktor”), though later would equivocate and suggest he wasn’t as certain. Blom himself apparently denied being Isildur1 then, though soon it was determined the fellow issuing the denial wasn’t the poker player but another Viktor Blom. Speculation continued, with Luke “FullFlush” Schwartz adding his two cents last month in an interview for PokerPlayer U.K., saying he was indeed Blom.

Last month I wrote a post about Mike Matusow’s interview on the TwoPlusTwo Pokercast in which “The Mouth” offered some thoughts regarding Isildur1 and the high-stakes games in which he’s been participating over on Full Tilt. Had a comment on that one from Jeremiah (Smith, I believe) who’d spoken with Barry Greenstein about Isildur1, and the Bear told Jeremiah that he’d played with him in a tourney. Seems safe to say there are many in the poker community -- esp. among those who play high stakes -- who know who Isildur1 is.

Kara Scott has been there at Les Ambassadeurs hosting the televised coverage of the Big Game that will be airing later this year in the U.K. before being shopped around internationally. Once she’s done with that, I’ll be talking with her for an upcoming Betfair piece. Definitely plan to ask her about the Big Game as well as “High Stakes Poker” and see what she has to say about our fascination with these high-stakes games.

The fact is, while the “Who is Isildur1?” thing is no doubt interesting, even when we know the players’ names and what they look like, they still often tend to captivate a lot of us who aren’t playing for the highest stakes. Indeed, the very fact that they are playing for such high stakes necessarily makes them mysterious to us (in a way), adding a layer of intrigue that they may or may not deserve, but which nevertheless often grabs our attention.

As Al Alvarez puts it in The Biggest Game in Town, when it comes to high-stakes players, “It is a question not just of a different level of skill but of a different ordering of reality.” In other words, they are not like us. They see the world in a different way. They do things we wouldn’t do.

You know, like ride a bicycle indoors.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Women and the WSOP

2010 NAPT Mohegan Sun final table, photo by Joe GironAs I said I would do on Friday, over the weekend I ended up following the NAPT Mohegan Sun online, reading along to find yesterday afternoon that Vanessa Selbst had won the sucker, besting the field of 716 to take it down. (That there final table photo was taken by the great Joe Giron, by the way, who was there helping cover the event for the PokerStars blog.)

With that win, the Deuces Cracked instructor and Yale law school student earned $750,000, moving her career tourney earnings over the $1.65 million mark.

It sounded like the tournament played out in a similar fashion to the way the 2008 WSOP $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event did that Selbst won. There Selbst also built a big stack early on, then led the tourney almost wire-to-wire, using her chips and aggressive play to keep opponents from gaining any momentum against her.

I helped cover that PLO event for PokerNews in 2008, and it was probably the most exciting one I saw that summer. Some might recall that tourney (Event No. 19) was the one in which Jamie Pickering began ordering drinks for himself and the rail as soon as they had reached heads up, then started raising pot without looking at his hole cards, helping create a wild scene. Here’s a HBP post that discusses some of the craziness: “Reporting from the Eye of the Hurricane.”

I covered several PLO events that summer, and began noticing how women tended not to show up for those tournaments. The PLO event that Selbst won had 759 entrants, and I recall there being perhaps no more than a dozen women in the starting field total, if that. With 100 players left, Selbst had a huge chip lead, at which time I believe there were only two women left -- Allyn Jaffrey Shulman (who finished 41st) and Kathy Liebert (72nd). (EDIT [added 4 p.m. ET]: I should have also remembered here that the BwOP finished 86th in this one, as described in her recap of the event here.)

As Selbst won yesterday, a few of us on Twitter began discussing what her victory perhaps might signify in terms of women and poker. Like some of the other NAPT events, the Mohegan Sun Main Event will get an airing on ESPN in a few weeks (on May 10th, according to the schedule), so Selbst will get quite a bit more publicity for this one than she did for the 2008 WSOP win which was not televised.

As folks were tweeting comments back and forth, it was noted that Selbst was the last woman to win an open bracelet event at the WSOP. That’s when a question occurred to me. Who was the last woman to win an open no-limit hold’em event at the WSOP? Besides Annette Obrestad, that is, who won the 2007 WSOP Europe Main Event.

I posed the question, and pretty soon it became clear that perhaps I had asked a trick question. Had a woman ever won a NLHE bracelet at the WSOP that wasn’t in the Ladies, Seniors, Casino Employees, or Mixed Doubles events?

I could be wrong, but the answer seems to be no. Looks like a total of 12 women have won WSOP bracelets in open events. (Again, not including Obrestad’s 2007 WSOPE win here.) Jennifer Harman is the only one to have done it twice. Here’s the (unofficial) list:
Vera Richmond (1982, $1,000 A-5 Draw)
Barbara Enright (1996, $2,500 Pot-Limit HE)
Linda Johnson (1997, $1,500 Razz)
Maria Stern (1997, $1,500 Seven-Card Stud)
Jerri Thomas (2000, $1,500 Seven-Card Stud)
Jennifer Harman (2000, $5000, NL 2-7; 2002, $5,000 Limit HE)
Nani Dollison (2001, $2,000 Limit HE)
Cyndy Violette (2004, $2,000 Seven-Card Stud/8)
Kathy Liebert (2004, $1,500 Limit HE Shootout)
Annie Duke (2004, $1,500 Omaha/8)
Katja Thater (2007, $1,500 Razz)
Vanessa Selbst (2008, $1,500 PLO)
Enright’s win in a PLHE event looks to be the closest thing here. Enright has two more bracelets (in ladies-only events) plus that 5th place in the WSOP Main Event -- the best ever by a woman -- in 1995. Nani Dollison also has two more bracelets in ladies-only events.

One other interesting bit of WSOP trivia: The year Maria Stern won her bracelet in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud event (1997), her husband, Max, also won two bracelets, including one in Seven-Card Stud/8.

Who will be the first woman to win a WSOP bracelet in an NLHE event in Vegas? Will it happen this year? Favorites would have to include Selbst, Obrestad, Liebert, and Vanessa Rousso, I’d think, though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else breaks through to be the first.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Baseball, Poker, and Taking Your Time

Baseball clockFound myself tuning in to baseball on a few occasions this week, actually getting involved in a couple of games more earnestly than I have in quite some time.

As a preteen I couldn’t get enough of baseball. Collected cards, pored over stats, even scored games I watched on television sometimes (hopelessly nerdy, I know). But somewhere in there amid the work stoppages, the exploding contracts and free agency gone wild, and later the steroids and other whatnot, my interest waned. Lately I’ve only really paid attention come playoff time, and even then it hasn’t been something I’ve gone out of my way to follow.

Every April, though, I tend to recall those days when Opening Day seemed like a big deal. And so, following some faint vestige of an earlier instinct, I took a look this week to see what games were on and ended up getting involved in a few, including a couple of those Red Sox-Yankees games this week. The one on Sunday, won by Boston 9-7, was a thriller from beginning to end. And the 10-inning pitchers’ duel on Wednesday in which New York prevailed 3-1 was some good fun, too.

All of the insta-stats now provided with televised coverage of the games -- not to mention the wealth of stuff one can get online at ESPN, the site, or other sites as the games are happening -- makes watching games a lot different than when I was a kid. Man, I would’ve really dug all of this stuff if I were 11 years old again. (I guess I still do, a little.)

As I say, the games were quite compelling, I thought, and I’m finding myself looking at the sports page again and perhaps might pay attention to baseball beyond mid-April this year. I know baseball isn’t everyone’s favorite game to watch. Fans of basketball or football often don’t care for baseball’s relatively slower pace. But for me those gaps between pitches where strategies are formulated and decisions made -- and anecdotes and other color shared by commentators -- are a big part of the game’s attraction.

Having watched those Red Sox-Yankees games, I was intrigued by a story on ESPN this week in which the long-time umpire Joe West complained about the slow pace of games, specifically targeting Boston and New York as prime culprits in the dragging out of play. West -- who has been around since I was a kid watching those games way back when -- said he thought the constant delays caused by stepping out of the batter’s box, mound visits by players, and so forth were “pathetic and embarrassing” and “a disgrace to baseball.”

Joe West says 'Hey, let's get on with it already!'The game I saw Sunday night apparently lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes -- definitely on the long side, but the high score (9-7) meant lots of drawn-out innings and pitching changes. The Wednesday night game that went an extra inning took 3 hours and 21 minutes. I hadn’t really felt like either game had been overly long nor did I think players were being unduly deliberate. But apparently West (who was working those games) felt like the players were wasting too much time.

There was a lot of feedback to West’s comments. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera called his complaints “incredible,” saying if West “has places to go, let him do something else.” Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling also weighed in with some criticism of West, too, saying that “part of the reason the games are slower is because their offenses are so deep, and so good,” praising how many of today’s “hitters never give away at-bats.” If you’re interested, you can read more about West’s comments and these reactions here.

This latter point is the one I would make as well. It is a characteristic of good teams -- and the Yankees and Red Sox are both good -- that they have a lot of hitters who are very selective when it comes to choosing a pitch at which to swing. They’re also often good at fouling off pitches and extending at-bats, all of which helps tire the pitcher and increase their chances of succeeding. Sure, they step out a lot, but that’s part of the game, too -- i.e., finding one’s own rhythm and perhaps disrupting that of your opponent. There’s no clock in baseball, so all of this gamesmanship is essentially within the rules.

We can, of course, liken this situation to what we find in poker. In fact, the rhythm and/or pace of poker sometimes uncannily resembles that of a baseball game.

Each hand is like an at-bat, with every betting round another pitch in the sequence. Hands often resolve into heads-up confrontations, with the two players adopting “offensive” and “defensive” positions relative to one another not unlike that of a pitcher and hitter. (I recall the poker player Gabe Thaler, a former catcher, pursuing this comparison on an old ESPN WSOP broadcast, from 2004, I think -- anybody else remember that?)

And the good players -- like the good hitters -- never give away anything. They think before they act. Sometimes that means it takes longer to decide things, but that’s part of the game.

Unlike in baseball, one can “call the clock” in poker if the delays become too protracted. I suppose that’s what West is trying to do with his comments, in a way -- to try and get hitters back in the box more quickly and/or reduce those trips to the mound by catchers. I don’t believe this tactic is going to work very well, though. You can’t hurry baseball too much. If it’s going to remain baseball, that is.

North American Poker TourWill probably try to watch some more baseball this weekend. I’ll also be following the action at the NAPT Mohegan Sun event. They completed Day 2 yesterday, with Jordan “iMsoLucky0” Morgan ending the day with the most chips of the 125 players (of the original 716) remaining. Between innings, I’ll be clicking over to PokerNews and the PokerStars blog for updates. I will also check in over at ESPN’s Poker Club for Andrew Feldman’s reports, as well as Tao of Poker for Dr. Pauly’s “dispatches.”

Have a restful weekend, everybody. With no hurrying.

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