Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Minding the Gaps in World Series of Poker History

Mind the GapExcitement continues over in London at the WSOPE. After Phil Laak’s victory in Event No. 1 (£2,500+£150 six-handed no-limit hold’em), Jeff Lisandro picked up his fifth WSOP bracelet in Event No. 2, the £5,000+£250 buy-in pot-limit Omaha event, coming from behind against Joe Serock heads up to win.

Today the final table for Event No. 3, the £1,000+£75 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, will play out. Indeed, it began just a few moments ago. You can follow the action online at PokerNews.

The big story today concerns English player J.P. Kelly, who won a WSOP bracelet in a $1,000 NLHE event last summer, then at the 2009 WSOPE won this same £1,000 event. J.P. Kelly is a PokerStars pro, incidentally, whom I was following over the weekend in that WCOOP heads-up event (No. 38) to which I referred yesterday. Kelly was the only PokerStars pro to make it to Day 2 of that one.

Kelly begins the final table third in chips, and thus has a chance to be the first player since Johnny Chan in 1987 and 1988 to “defend” a no-limit hold’em title in a WSOP bracelet event -- that is to say, to win the same NLHE event at the same buy-in in consecutive years.

At age 24, Kelly could also apparently become the youngest person ever to get to three bracelets. Nolan Dalla explains in his report from last night that if he wins Kelly would break Phil Ivey’s record for that (Ivey was 27 when he won his third bracelet in 2003).

Some of us were chatting on Twitter yesterday, trying to determine if yes, indeed, no one since Chan had defended a WSOP event in no-limit hold’em. Thang Luu went back-to-back in ’08 and ’09 in the $1,500 Omaha/8 event, and Phil Hellmuth won the $5,000 limit hold’em events in both ’92 and ’93. I scanned all of the multiple bracelet winners, checking who had won in consecutive years since 1988 to see if any had won their bracelets in the same NLHE events, and didn’t see any other examples of anyone winning the same no-limit hold’em event in back-to-back years during that stretch.

The Twitter conversation continued regarding the “youngest to three bracelets” question, and it occurred to me that while one can certainly find a lot of information rather quickly online to help one answer such questions, there isn’t a definitive “WSOP Records” site listing records like “youngest to three bracelets,” “title defenses,” and the like.

Later in the day the question arose whether or not a player from the continent of Africa had ever won a bracelet. Mehdi Senhaji of Morocco enters today’s Event No. 3 final table second in chips, and so the media was trying to figure out if that might be another bit of history, should Senhaji win. It doesn’t appear there has been, but there didn’t seem to be a simple way to look something like that up.

The official WSOP site has a ton of information, including info on just about every player who has ever played and cashed in a WSOP event, results for past WSOPs (all of the way back to 1970), and more. But there are gaps in the info there -- understandably, since it wasn’t until relatively recently people cared that much about any of this stuff and so record-keeping wasn’t always a priority.

The Hendon Mob site is another good one to consult for WSOP records, and in some cases has more complete info than the WSOP site does. But there is still a lot that is missing there, too.

Binion's HorseshoeIn fact, even just trying to find information about the final tables for the WSOP Main Event during the 1970s is a hit-or-miss affair. For example, who exactly was sitting at that first final table in 1971, the first year they held a tournament to decide a champion?

The WSOP site only gives us the winner, Johnny Moss.

Over at the UNLV Center for Gaming Research site, they don’t say who the six at the final table are, but list “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Brian “Sailor” Roberts, Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Crandall Addington, and Carl Cannon as “notable players,” and Moss as the winner.

In their book All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker, Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback say seven men played in the event -- Brunson, Moss, Pearson, Preston, Robert, Straus, and Jimmy Cassella -- but don’t identify the final six. “No one bothered to take notes or keep records,” they explain, conceding that “the details of what happened” during the two days of the event “have for the most part been lost to history.”

Over on Wikipedia, we find Moss, Pearson, and Bob Hooks at that final table, and the other three seats empty (“unknown”). At Hendon Mob, only Moss and Pearson (as runner-up) are listed.

Doyle Brunson writes about that event in his 2009 autobiography The Godfather of Poker. “There were only six players for this first tournament,” writes Brunson, “me, Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, Sailor Roberts, Jack Straus, and Jimmy Casella.”

I would be inclined to believe the first-hand witness, particularly his omission of Preston from the list of participants. Texas Dolly should remember if Amarillo Slim had played, I’d think. I mean, after all, Preston plays a pretty large role in Brunson’s story, having “faded the white line” with him and Roberts all those years.

Yet in Preston’s memoir, Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People (2005), he also refers to “six players each putting up the $5,000 to enter,” and includes himself as one of the six. In fact, Preston essentially takes credit for having come up with the idea of having a freeze-out tourney to determine a champ.

“I wouldn’t say I was a long shot,” writes Preston, “but very few people gave me much of a chance.” According to Preston, he finished third, with Straus runner-up to Moss.

Look elsewhere and you find still more variations, not just for the 1971 WSOP, but for others as well (especially for the 1970s). There’s probably a worthwhile historical project in there for someone. Even just an extended investigation of that 1971 final table could prove an interesting inquiry.

Those looking back at the 2010 WSOP and WSOPE won’t have these problems, of course, as every move is being watched and most every pertinent detail recorded many times over. And, like I say, I’ll be checking in over at PokerNews today to see how the history gets written.

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