Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Full Tilt Poker “Raising Capital,” Players Raising Hell

Full Tilt Poker Raising CapitalYesterday the mysterious “FTPDoug” once again passed along a missive from the higher-ups at Full Tilt Poker. Don’t ask me who FTPDoug really is. I’ve heard his name isn’t really Doug -- that he’s actually the new guy who has replaced the old guy who was named Doug.

Hell, don’t ask me who the higher-ups are, either. Not that it matters, I suppose.

Kind of symbolic, really, of the less-than-direct communication the embattled online poker site has had with its players ever since “Black Friday.” Rather than get a direct email from Full Tilt Poker, we get a post published to a poker forum in which an anonymous messenger delivers an unsigned note without any other explanation than “Here is a brief official update.”

The last message passed along by FTPDoug came on May 15th. That’s when we were told Full Tilt Poker was continuing to work “tirelessly” to address the “numerous hurdles and challenges” that were preventing the site from allowing its American customers to cash out. There was nothing more specific about when or how the cashing out was going to commence, however. Rather, we were told that FTP would “update our US players when we have more specific information to provide.”

The May 30th message did contain more specific information, though none of it concerned the procedure by which Americans were going to see our funds. (Incidentally, I am one of those U.S. players still looking to cash out the few hundy I have stuck on the site.) “We still do not have a specific timeframe for this,” says the note. Rather, we are here told that not only does Full Tilt Poker not have the funds available to allow U.S. players to cash out, but it is still an open question when -- or even if -- they will.

In response to questions about Full Tilt Poker being/going bankrupt, that is denied. “FTP’s worldwide business is healthy,” says the note, kind of glossing over the fact that the latest traffic report from PokerScout says the site experienced a 7% drop in activity last week, marking the fourth straight week it has declined.

News over the last week about accounts belonging to Full Tilt Poker having apparently been unfrozen is not addressed in this note. (EDIT [added 7 p.m.]: Apparently those reports of FTP accounts being unfrozen were without basis; see Subject: Poker.) Rather, we learn that Full Tilt Poker is currently “raising capital to ensure that the US players are paid out in full as quickly as possible.”

We kind of knew the site likely faced some sort of liquidity crisis, but it’s still unsettling to see this confirmed. I mean, we all understood to some extent there was risk involved when depositing funds onto any online poker site. But I don’t think any of us who deposited at Full Tilt Poker ever thought that when it came time to withdraw we’d have to wait for FTP to raise the money first.

We have known for some time that unlike PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker did not keep its players’ funds in segregated accounts, instead variously using that money for operation-related expenditures. No one knows for certain how that money was used, but one assumes it helped fund the site’s massive advertising budget (including the sponsoring of shows like “Poker After Dark”). The money might’ve also been used to help pay sponsored pros, including the members of Team Full Tilt at least a few of whom are thought by many to own pieces of the company as well.

All of which means that among those “hurdles and challenges” FTP faces we can list (1) the failure to segregate player funds; (2) the inaccessibility of seized accounts; and (3) the significant percentage (approximately 50%) of American players the site served prior to April 15th. The first two items mean less cash on hand, and the third means less is coming in. Other accounting missteps (e.g., allowing players to deposit and play with funds without having finalized the transfers, some of which were never realized) appear as though they are further contributing to the effed-up nature of things at the moment.

There are likely other “hurdles and challenges” of the legal variety of which we aren’t fully aware. Such is suggested by the statement’s concluding point that the Full Tilt pros have mostly been keeping mum because “they are constrained by the pending legal actions.” That’s understandable.

Team Full TiltBut today the World Series of Poker begins. Many American players who had hoped to participate in the Series this summer won’t be able to do so because of the fact that they cannot access their funds from Full Tilt Poker. Meanwhile, those Full Tilt pros -- particularly those 14 members of Team Full Tilt -- will all likely be buying into events and playing full schedules as usual.

Sort of thing will raise eyebrows, for sure, and perhaps legitimate complaints that in an indirect fashion some of these pros -- who encouraged a lot of players to deposit in order to “learn, chat, and play” with them -- are unfairly benefiting from the very company that has put so many of its customers in such dire straits.

I’m not saying the Team Full Tilters shouldn’t be playing. But I do understand the position that finds something unseemly about these guys high-rolling their way through another Series while so many of the site’s customers are stuck on the other side of the rail.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

2011 World Series of Poker Schedule (Day-by-Day)

2011 World Series of Poker Schedule (Day-by-Day)Last summer I posted a full day-by-day schedule just before things got going at the World Series of Poker, so I thought I’d do something similar this time around. Ended up consulting that post frequently throughout the summer in order to see what was happening each day, so I’ll probably post a link to this post here on the front page somewhere for increased handiness.

All is subject to change, of course, although usually the WSOP sticks closely to the announced schedule throughout. Also, I’ve included links to structure sheets whenever a new event begins.

Tuesday, May 31st
12:00 -- #1: Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em ($500), 1/2
5:00 -- #2: Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($25,000), 1/4

Wednesday, June 1st
12:00 -- #3: Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #1: Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em ($500), 2/2
3:00 -- #2: Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($25,000), 2/4

Thursday, June 2nd
12:00 -- #4: No-Limit Hold’em ($5,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #3: Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #2: Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($25,000), 3/4
5:00 -- #5: Seven-Card Stud ($1,500), 1/3

Friday, June 3rd
12:00 -- #6: Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #3: Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #4: No-Limit Hold’em ($5,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #2: Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($25,000), 4/4
3:00 -- #5: Seven-Card Stud ($1,500), 2/3
5:00 -- #7: Pot-Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Saturday, June 4th
12:00 -- #8: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1a/5
2:30 -- #4: No-Limit Hold’em ($5,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #6: Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #5: Seven-Card Stud ($1,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #7: Pot-Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #9: 2-7 Draw Lowball (No-Limit) ($1,500), 1/3

Sunday, June 5th
12:00 -- #8: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1b/5
2:30 -- #6: Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #7: Pot-Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000), 3/3
5:00 -- #9: 2-7 Draw Lowball (No-Limit) ($1,500), 2/3

Monday, June 6th
12:00 -- #10: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #8: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 2/5
3:00 -- #9: 2-7 Draw Lowball (No-Limit) ($1,500), 3/3
5:00 -- #11: Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Tuesday, June 7th
12:00 -- #12: Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #8: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 3/5
2:30 -- #10: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #11: Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship ($10,000), 2/3

Wednesday, June 8th
12:00 -- #13: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #8: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 4/5
2:30 -- #10: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #12: Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #11: Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship ($10,000), 3/3
5:00 -- #14: Limit Hold’em ($3,000), 1/3

Thursday, June 9th
12:00 -- #15: Pot-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #8: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 5/5
2:30 -- #12: Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #13: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #14: Limit Hold’em ($3,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #16: 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship (No-Limit) ($10,000), 1/3

Friday, June 10th
12:00 -- #17: H.O.R.S.E. ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #13: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #15: Pot-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #14: Limit Hold’em ($3,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #16: 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship (No-Limit) ($10,000), 2/3

Saturday, June 11th
12:00 -- #18: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #15: Pot-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #17: H.O.R.S.E. ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #16: 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship (No-Limit) ($10,000), 3/3
5:00 -- #19: Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($2,500), 1/3

Sunday, June 12th
12:00 -- #20: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #17: H.O.R.S.E. ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #18: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #19: Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($2,500), 2/3
5:00 -- #21: Seven-Card Stud Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Monday, June 13th
12:00 -- #22: Pot-Limit Omaha ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #18: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #20: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #19: Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($2,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #21: Seven-Card Stud Championship ($10,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #23: Eight-Game Mix ($2,500), 1/3

Tuesday, June 14th
12:00 -- #24: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout ($5,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #20: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #22: Pot-Limit Omaha ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #21: Seven-Card Stud Championship ($10,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #23: Eight-Game Mix ($2,500), 2/3
5:00 -- #25: Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 1/3

Wednesday, June 15th
12:00 -- #26: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($2,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #22: Pot-Limit Omaha ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #24: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout ($5,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #23: Eight-Game Mix ($2,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #25: Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 2/3
5:00 -- #27: Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Thursday, June 16th
12:00 -- #28: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #24: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout ($5,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #26: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($2,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #25: Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #27: Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #29: 10-Game Mix / Six-Handed ($2,500), 1/3

Friday, June 17th
12:00 -- #30: Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($1,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #26: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($2,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #28: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #27: Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #29: 10-Game Mix / Six-Handed ($2,500), 2/3
5:00 -- #31: Pot-Limit Omaha ($3,000), 1/3

Saturday, June 18th
12:00 -- #32: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #28: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #30: Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($1,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #29: 10-Game Mix / Six-Handed ($2,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #31: Pot-Limit Omaha ($3,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #33: Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Sunday, June 19th
12:00 -- #34: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #30: Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($1,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #32: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #31: Pot-Limit Omaha ($3,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #33: Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship ($10,000), 2/3

Monday, June 20th
12:00 -- #35: Pot-Limit Omaha / Six-Handed ($5,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #32: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #34: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #33: Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship ($10,000), 3/3

Tuesday, June 21st
12:00 -- #36: No-Limit Hold’em ($2,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #34: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #35: Pot-Limit Omaha / Six-Handed ($5,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #37: H.O.R.S.E. Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Wednesday, June 22nd
12:00 -- #38: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #35: Pot-Limit Omaha / Six-Handed ($5,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #36: No-Limit Hold’em ($2,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #37: H.O.R.S.E. Championship ($10,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #39: Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha ($2,500), 1/3

Thursday, June 23rd
12:00 -- #40: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($5,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #36: No-Limit Hold’em ($2,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #38: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #37: H.O.R.S.E. Championship ($10,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #39: Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha ($2,500), 2/3

Friday, June 24th
12:00 -- #41 Limit Hold’em Shootout ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #38: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #40: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($5,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #39: Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha ($2,500), 3/3
5:00 -- #42: Pot-Limit Omaha Championship ($10,000), 1/3

Saturday, June 25th
12:00 -- #43: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #40: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed ($5,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #41: Limit Hold’em Shootout ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #42: Pot-Limit Omaha Championship ($10,000), 2/3
5:00 -- #44: Seven-Card Razz ($2,500), 1/3

Sunday, June 26th
12:00 -- #45 No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #41: Limit Hold’em Shootout ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #43: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #42: Pot-Limit Omaha Championship ($10,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #44: Seven-Card Razz ($2,500), 2/3

Monday, June 27th
12:00 -- #46 No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed Championship ($10,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #43: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #45: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #44: Seven-Card Razz ($2,500), 3/3
5:00 -- #47: Omaha/Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($2,500), 1/3

Tuesday, June 28th
12:00 -- #48 No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #45: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #46: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed Championship ($10,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #47: Omaha/Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($2,500), 2/3
5:00 -- #49: 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) ($2,500), 1/3

Wednesday, June 29th
12:00 -- #50 Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em ($5,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #46: No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed Championship ($10,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #48: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #47: Omaha/Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($2,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #49: 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) ($2,500), 2/3

Thursday, June 30th
12:00 -- #51: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #48: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #50: Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em ($5,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #49: 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) ($2,500), 3/3
5:00 -- #52: Mixed Holdem (Limit/No-Limit) ($2,500), 1/3

Friday, July 1st
12:00 -- #53: Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($1,000), 1/3
2:30 -- #50: Triple Chance No-Limit Hold’em ($5,000), 3/3
2:30 -- #51: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #52: Mixed Holdem (Limit/No-Limit) ($2,500), 2/3

Saturday, July 2nd
12:00 -- #54: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1a/5
2:30 -- #51: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($1,500), 3/3
2:30 -- #53: Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($1,000), 2/3
3:00 -- #52: Mixed Holdem (Limit/No-Limit) ($2,500), 3/3
5:00 -- #55: The Poker Players Championship (Eight-Game Mix) ($50,000), 1/5

Sunday, July 3rd
12:00 -- #54: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 1b/5
2:30 -- #53: Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($1,000), 3/3
3:00 -- #55: The Poker Players Championship (Eight-Game Mix) ($50,000), 2/5

Monday, July 4th
2:30 -- #54: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 2/5
3:00 -- #55: The Poker Players Championship (Eight-Game Mix) ($50,000), 3/5

Tuesday, July 5th
12:00 -- #56: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 1/3
2:30 -- #54: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 3/5
3:00 -- #55: The Poker Players Championship (Eight-Game Mix) ($50,000), 4/5
5:00 -- #57: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($5,000), 1/3

Wednesday, July 6th
2:30 -- #54: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 4/5
2:30 -- #56: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 2/3
3:00 -- #55: The Poker Players Championship (Eight-Game Mix) ($50,000), 5/5
3:00 -- #57: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($5,000), 2/3

Thursday, July 7th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 1a/8
2:30 -- #54: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,000), 5/5
2:30 -- #56: No-Limit Hold’em ($1,500), 3/3
3:00 -- #57: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split-8 or Better ($5,000), 3/3

Friday, July 8th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 1b/8

Saturday, July 9th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 1c/8

Sunday, July 10th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 1d/8

Monday, July 11th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 2a/8

Tuesday, July 12th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 2b/8

Thursday, July 14th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 3/8

Friday, July 15th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 4/8

Saturday, July 16th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 5/8

Sunday, July 17th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 6/8

Monday, July 18th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 7/8

Tuesday, July 19th
12:00 -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), 8/8

November 5-7, 2011
TBD -- #58: No-Limit Hold'em Championship ($10,000), Final Table

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WSOP Fantasy Leagues and the “Sport” of Poker

WSOP Fantasy LeagueJust a little over 24 hours until the first bracelet event of this year’s World Series of Poker gets underway. At noon tomorrow comes the $500 buy-in Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em event (Event No. 1). Then later in the afternoon the first round of the big $25,000 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship will get started (Event No. 2). Soon after that the days are going to start filling up rapidly, with six different events happening on Friday. (Later today I’ll put up a post with the full day-by-day schedule.)

During the lead-up to tomorrow’s kick-off, there has been a lot of talk about so-called “fantasy” leagues for the WSOP. They generally work like other fantasy sports leagues insofar as participants each pick a team of players, accumulate points based on their chosen players’ performances, then whoever’s players collectively do the best wins the league.

Although I enjoy all sports, I never really got into the fantasy stuff and so have never participated in any football fantasy league or baseball “rotisserie” league or anything of that sort. I remember a couple of years ago joining a Full Tilt Poker (free) fantasy WSOP league, but you had to keep picking players every single day and so I quickly realized I hadn’t the time to bother with it.

Seems like most of these WSOP fantasy leagues we’ve been hearing about over the last week or so are designed in such a way that league members pick their “horses” at the start and stick with them (i.e., no trades or additions). There are different procedures for “drafting” players, and different ways of rating performance (e.g., WSOP player points, total amount in cashes, etc.), but the basic concept is the same for all.

ESPN’s Poker Club hosted its sixth annual WSOP fantasy poker draft last week. There folks picked eight players each and will follow a special scoring system. That one is just for the glory (i.e., no money is on the line). There’s a new site, OwnIvey.com, offering players the ability to join WSOP fantasy leagues and either play for free or for real money. And I’ve noticed a few other WSOP fantasy-type sites around, too.

Daniel Negreanu shoots some video at draft for 2011 WSOP Fantasy LeagueProbably the example of a WSOP fantasy league that got the most attention last week was the one organized by Daniel Negreanu. In that one, 15 teams were created, some of which are “owned” by individuals, some by two, three, or four players. I believe a total of 27 folks are involved. They held an auction-style draft, each team bidding on eight players total. You can read all about who participated and how it works in this blog post by Negreanu. Here is a short video as well that Negreanu took of the proceedings (from which comes that still).

Making Negreanu’s league more intriguing is the fact that each team is putting up $25,000 to play, which makes the total prize pool for the league a handsome $375,000. (I’m not sure, but I think the sucker is winner-take-all.) Also of interest is the fact that all 27 of those involved are players themselves, a lot of whom were bid upon and drafted to become part of their own or others’ teams.

That latter point got me thinking a little about how this sort of thing -- i.e., players gambling on themselves or each other such as in a fantasy league, or swapping percentages, or backing one another, or whatever -- necessarily makes poker different from just about all sports.

Last week I had also spent some time reading through the Official Media Guide for the 2011 World Series of Poker, and found myself thinking how all of the statistics and records in there really do create the impression that the WSOP is a sporting event. But unlike baseball, football, basketball, or any other organized sport, players routinely bet on themselves and each other at the WSOP. And that’s a pretty big difference, if you think about it.

If such extra-curricular gambling wasn’t already such a big part of poker, I could see someone raising an objection to something like Negreanu’s fantasy league as perhaps having the potential to affect the integrity of the tournaments.

One could imagine a scenario in which, say, we get to late June and Negreanu’s fantasy team has a narrow lead over the one owned by Frank Kassela and Shaun Deeb, with the other 13 teams way behind. Then comes Event No. 41, the $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout, an event for which the first prize is probably going to be less than $200,000. (Last year Brendan Taylor won $184,950 for first in that one.) Let’s say they get down to just three players -- Negreanu, Kassela, and an unknown, undrafted player.

As it happens, Kassela and Deeb have both Negreanu and Kassela himself on their fantasy team. Thus if Negreanu cannot win the event himself, he would probably rather see the unknown player win than for Kassela to win. And in fact, there’s more money on the line in the fantasy league than in the event itself!

Of course, I wouldn’t suggest participating in the high-roller fantasy league would cause any of these guys to play tourneys any differently. As I mentioned, the game is filled with examples of cross-booking, backing arrangements, buying “pieces,” and so forth -- all of which is accepted -- and I think the fantasy league would have to be considered similarly.

Money Money MoneyWe’ve seen examples in the past of how the amounts being wagered on various bracelet bets have sometimes dwarfed the prizes on offer in the events themselves. We all remember Tom Dwan finishing second in that $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Event No. 11 last year, earning $381,855 and missing out on a $614,248 first prize. And while few know for sure how much in side action Dwan had, rumors suggested he’d have earned millions had he won that event, perhaps even something close to the $8.94 million later won by Jonathan Duhamel in the 2010 WSOP Main Event.

Still, the existence of something like Negreanu’s WSOP fantasy league -- even though it might inspire analogies between poker and sports -- does point up how despite sharing various elements found in sports (competition, mental toughness, endurance, etc.), the WSOP and poker in general is always going to be fundamentally different.

You are always betting on yourself in poker, sometimes even more than the amount of the buy-in or the chips on the table. And you can bet on others, too.

Many sports, especially those of the big-time professional leagues, often involve big-time money, so much so that you can often say much of what goes on in those games is “about the money.” But when it comes to those other forms of competition, money isn’t specifically part of the game. Whereas in poker it always is.

(EDIT [added 5/30, 9 p.m.]: Someone has created a website to track the progress of the Negreanu $25K fantasy league: 25kfantasy.com.)

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crashing the Two Plus Two Pokercast

Two Plus Two PokercastShould have posted this earlier in the week... I appeared on the latest episode of the Two Plus Two Pokercast with Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz (episode 173, 5/24/11). I turn up during the first part of the show -- about 20 minutes after it begins -- and stick around for about 20 minutes afterwards.

Got a big kick out of being on the show. As the three of us discussed briefly right at the start of our conversation, I’ve been listening to Mike & Adam for a long, long time. I first picked up their old podcast, “Rounders, the Poker Show,” way back in late 2005 or early 2006, not too long after they started the sucker, actually. That was a time when the poker podcast landscape was relatively barren, with Lord Admiral on Card Club Radio and Ante Up! pretty much the only other weekly shows around.

I remember writing a little something here when they made the move over to 2+2 at the start of 2008. In that post I wondered a little about whether the move would affect the show in any significant way, concluding that I didn’t think it really would. If anything the show has gotten better and better over the last three years, expanding in both length and breadth of coverage. (I’m guessing those of you who remember the old “Rounders” show will probably agree.)

Shamus on the airThe guys have always been very good with interviews, I’ve thought, and they asked some good questions of me. We started out talking about the eighth anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s triumph in the 2003 WSOP Main Event -- the subject of my Monday post -- then moved on to discuss the upcoming WSOP as well as the experience of having reporting on the Series over the past few years.

Anyhow, if you’re curious do check it out. And if you somehow don’t already listen to the 2+2 Pokercast, let me recommend it as a definite “must-listen” when it comes to poker podcasts.

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Friday, May 27, 2011


FreerollingOver the last couple of weeks I have actually been playing online poker for real money. That followed a full month away from the tables, when like most American players I found myself without a site on which to play.

A few sites do remain available to us, though, and I mentioned here before how I’d manage to win myself some cabbage playing freerolls on Carbon and Hero Poker, both skins belonging to the Merge Network. (Hero has actually stopped taking U.S. sign-ups this week, although they continue to allow those of us who got accounts beforehand to play.)

On Carbon I played in one of the five daily freerolls Merge offers, each of which has $200 prize pools, although in truth most of that prizepool (all but $46 worth) is in the form of entries to other tourneys. The freerolls generally draw around 2,500 players with only the top 24 spots making anything, so the odds of success are fairly slim. Somehow, though, I weaseled my way into a min-“cash” in a H.O.R.S.E. freeroll, finishing 23rd to earn a $2.20 SNG ticket. There I managed to finish second and win a whole dollar with which to play on Carbon.

A roll of nickelsThat’s half a typical roll of nickels, which I have read is what patrons in Las Vegas casinos were sometimes given back in the 1950s upon arrival, which is where the phrase “freeroll” allegedly originated.

Meanwhile, on Hero Poker I played in that May 15th freeroll tournament for U.S. players that featured the generous $30,000 prize pool. A little less than 1,200 played, I believe, with top 300 finishers each receiving $100. I managed to get there in that one, too, and thus got myself a hundy on Hero without having to make a deposit.

I haven’t really played a lot over the last couple of weeks, although it has been nice to be able to jump into games now and then.

On Carbon my choices are severely limited with my teeny weeny total -- less than the minimum buy-in for most of the available cash games. I managed to start out squandering most of the original dollar fighting the crowd at the $0.02/$0.04 limit hold’em tables, dropping to just 14 cents at one point. But I won back some in a couple of six-cent tourneys, then tried a few of these $0.11 turbo SNGs where my ROI has been good enough to push my roll up to a whopping $1.24!

Yeah, I know... sick brag.

On Hero I’ve been mostly playing shorthanded PLO, trying to practice sound bankroll management by sticking with the max-$10 buy-in nickel-and-dime games. There I’ve done okay thus far, too, hovering around $115 for the last week or so. I’ll probably start exploring some of the lower buy-in MTTs with guarantees, as I think a few of those are having some nice overlays.

Carbon Poker and Hero PokerIt has been kind of interesting to alternate between a site in which my bankroll is mere pennies and another where I have 100 times that with which to play. (Since Carbon and Hero are both skins of the same network, I necessarily can only play on one site at a time.) Has kind of demonstrated to me how the significance of money in poker can be wholly relative, with my winning or losing a nickel on Carbon giving me a similar “high” or “low” as I get winning or losing five bucks on Hero.

That said, whatever emotions I’ve felt while playing over the last couple of weeks have been somewhat muted, a detachment I attribute directly to my not having any real, concrete thoughts at the moment about actually cashing out funds.

You could say I’m “freerolling” in a couple of ways here. Not only did I win the cash with which I’m playing via freerolls, but while playing I’m weirdly “free” of the various thoughts or feelings necessarily associated with playing with a knowledge that the result will involve tangible gains or losses.

That’s not to say I’m playing all that differently than I would otherwise (e.g., more loosely or aggressively). At least I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I’d say I’m actually playing a tighter game, for the most part, fearing the “risk of ruin” which in my case would mean having to leave the cash tables altogether.

The freerolling has been fun, though. Way better than free falling, anyway.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Electronic or Print? Same Difference, Either Way

'Same Difference' by Martin Harris (Kindle version)A while back I published my first novel, Same Difference, a hard-boiled detective story set in 1970s NYC amid the “grindhouse”/42nd street/Times Square scene. One of those things where after many years of reading similar kinds of fiction, I thought I’d give it a try myself.

The print version has sold modestly, and I’ve been fortunate to receive some nice feedback from those who’ve read it. I very consciously attempted to write it as a “page-turner” and not necessarily get too carried away with trying to shoehorn in there a bunch of deep, “literary” moves. There are a few attempts to sneak in some symbolism, allusion, imagery, various recurring themes, and so forth. (Maybe even a “hidden message” or three.) But like most popular fiction, I tried mainly to keep the plot front and center, and thus (hopefully) keep readers turning pages in order to discover what happens next.

The first line of the novel is “Everything started with the package.” My private detective, Richard Owen, receives an unsolicited mailing at his office, which come to find out contains a human bone. I always liked how whenever someone orders a copy of the book, that person, too, receives a package.

After putting it off for some time, I’ve finally created an electronic version of the novel. So no more “package” for those who buy it. Nor can we really call it a “page-turner,” either. I mean, what do we say? It’s constantly clickable? You’ll scurry through the screens?

'Same Difference' by Martin Harris (print version)The fact is, I’m old school enough to have resisted the whole “death of print” thing for a long time. I actually have never personally read a book on an electronic device like the Kindle or Nook or what have you. I don’t even like reading long pieces on the computer, preferring to print them out. And so when the novel first appeared, I didn’t even consider an eBook version.

But now I’m seeing how many people enjoy reading long fiction this way, and so I decided finally to offer up Same Difference as an eBook. And, you know, as much as I consider the sensory experience of holding a book in your hands and turning the pages part of what it means to read a novel, I guess in the end it doesn’t matter too much which way one reads the book.

As it turned out, I procrastinated long enough for it to have become especially easy to format and publish books this way. Took some time with the formatting, but the actual publishing process took less than a day to complete, if you can believe it. The Kindle version of Same Difference can be found on the Amazon site by clicking here. Good for the Kindle, obviously, but you can read it on your iPhone or iPad, too, by getting a free app. Meanwhile, I’m looking into making it available for the Nook and in other formats, too.

The print version remains available, too, of course, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and elsewhere on the web. You can also order a signed copy from me (see the PayPal thingy on the right-hand column). Do that and I’ll send you a package (and not charge for shipping).

For those who do check it out, I’d love to hear any feedback you might have. There are definitely certain elements of the book which in retrospect I’d try to handle differently and which I’m keeping in mind as I work on a second novel. But overall I’m pretty glad with how it turned out, and am grateful to Vera Valmore for having pushed me to get it out in the world like this.

One note for readers of this blog -- I think I’ve mentioned this before whenever I’ve brought up Same Difference here on Hard-Boiled Poker, but there is absolutely no poker in the novel whatsoever. Nor is there poker in any of the other fiction I’ve been working on of late. I could say I write so much about poker otherwise that I want a break from it when I try to write fiction. In truth, though, I’d have to admit I’ve been too intimidated by the idea of creating fictional stories about poker -- the true ones are often so compelling they’d be difficult to match!

Anyhow, thanks for indulging me this post about something other than poker. And big thanks, too, to those who have bought the novel thus far (both in print or as an eBook).

(Photo above by early Same Difference Kindle version purchaser Matt Waldron -- thanks, Matt!)

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Steering Clear

Your SpeedWoke this morning to an article in the local paper about NASCAR driver Kyle Busch. Busch is one of the sport’s top performers. He’s won a couple of races this year, finished in the top five a half-dozen times, and is currently third in points in the Sprint Cup series.

I don’t really follow NASCAR much at all, but it tends to dominate the sports page in my neck of the woods. Which means I am generally aware of guys like Busch who keep winning the races and getting a lot of press for doing so.

The article about Busch in today’s paper wasn’t from the sports page, though. Rather it was over in “Local & State” section.

Yesterday, just a few days before the big Coca-Cola 600 race this weekend in Charlotte, Busch was ticketed for speeding down Perth Road in nearby Troutman. The posted speed limit on this modest two-lane strip is 45 mph. Busch apparently got a little carried away while test-driving a fancy new yellow Lexus LFA sports car with his wife as a passenger.

How fast was he going? 128 mph. No shinola!

Busch could lose his driver’s license for 60 days, says the article, although that wouldn’t affect his ability to compete in NASCAR races. There is an editorial over in the sports section, though, calling for Joe Gibbs (for whom Busch drives) to suspend him from this weekend’s race. Like I say, I don’t really follow NASCAR too closely, but something tells me that ain’t gonna happen.

Sort of stuff happens a lot actually -- that is, lead-footed professional race car drivers getting ticketed for driving-related offenses, often for speeding. Ironic, sure. And perhaps even a little uncanny-seeming as we imagine these guys crazily taking their sport out onto public roads where they could send one of us flying as they accelerate through a turn.

The story made me think a little about the rarified world of those highest-stakes, “nosebleed” poker games online. And how even though they played right alongside our little dime-and-quarter games, they were nonetheless wholly separate. At a safe distance, you might say.

I’m thinking of those games that routinely saw players shipping five- and six-figure pots back and forth and how they could be said to resemble the spectacle of NASCAR races. Generally speaking, only “professionals” would dare wander into such high-risk situations, games which on the surface may have looked a little like what the rest of us low-stakes folks played, but which were clearly part of different world.

And, of course -- it must be said -- the prospect of seeing someone crash and burn added another potential thrill to the observer’s experience.

Ever dream you accidentally clicked your way into joining one of those games online? Where you’ve improbably got exactly one big blind with which to play -- your entire bankroll? Would probably feel somewhat similar to puttering out onto the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend in your little 4-door while Busch and his mates whizzed around at, I dunno, 140 mph? Faster?

Thank You For Driving CarefullyClearly we can’t have guys hurtling down country roads at those speeds. And while most of us were never really in any danger of getting mixed up in those big online games, I guess I can see how the U.S. government wouldn’t like the fact that we could (in theory, anyway). I suppose you could say the feds are further motivated by a desire to keep those “maniacs” off of our internet, too.

Of course, right now it feels a little like we all got our licenses suspended. Even those of us who were safe drivers.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blue Monday (How Does It Feel...?)

Blue MondaySaw various folks -- I believe Poker Scout was the first on my Twitter feed -- using the phrase “Blue Monday” with reference to yesterday, an attempt both to evoke “Black Friday” while distinguishing it from the events of that day, too. I liked the reference, for a couple of reasons.

One was the immediate reaction I had felt upon learning that a federal grand jury in Maryland had returned indictments against two gambling businesses (ThrillX Systems and K23 Group Financial Services) and three individuals charging them with illegal gambling and money laundering. The indictments, dated April 26, 2011, were unsealed yesterday, and also involved the seizure of 10 different domains, including at least a couple (TruePoker.com and DoylesRoom.com) that hosted online poker.

Was hard not to feel “blue” -- i.e., sad, even a little down -- about the news, especially when considered as an indicator of what appears to be an increasingly dim future for online poker here in the U.S.

Additionally, for some of us, “Blue Monday” also evokes that early ’80s synth pop hit by New Order, the one that begins with the self-pitying line “How does it feel to treat me like you do?” Again, as an American online poker player, it was hard not to respond in a similar vein -- like we’re getting treated badly here. And perhaps to think how we’re looking at the aggressive establishment of “new order” for our game.

My mood became a little less “blue,” however, as I learned more about yesterday’s indictments.

A press release appeared yesterday afternoon explaining the charges as well as the “impressive undercover work” performed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) that led to the indictments.

Agents set up a fake payment processor, called Linwood Payment Solutions, in order to learn more about how the businesses operated. A Maryland resident was then given $500 to set up an account (on BetEd.com), won some cabbage and used the fake processor to move winnings back to gambler’s bank account. That was back in November 2009. Subsequently, the fake processor went on to facilitate over 300,000 transactions for the two targeted businesses and involving the 10 sites, moving more than $33 million back and forth all over the globe.

In other words, there appear to be some significant differences here from what happened on April 15th when the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/UB were charged along with those other folks involved with payment processing.

For one, yesterday’s indictments only refer to money being moved around to faciltate sports betting -- not poker. Or any other forms of gambling, for that matter.

TruePoker.com and DoylesRoom.com domains seizedWith regard to TruePoker.com and DoylesRoom.com, the domains were seized, but the founders/operators of those sites were not targeted. I believe this resulted from the fact that Bookmaker.com -- a hugely popular sportsbook and one of the other 10 seized domains named in the indictment -- was part of the Yatahay network, a network to which both poker sites belonged, too. DoylesRoom moved there (from Cake) in late January. And speaking of recent moves, Doyle himself announced he was stepping away from DoylesRoom just last week, a move some are thinking might’ve been more than just another example of good timing by the “Godfather of Poker.”

In other words, for those of us in America who are variously invested in online poker (emotionally, financially, etc.), I don’t think yesterday’s indictments are necessarily to be regarded as a specific blow against online poker. Unless, I suppose, you were one of the few for whom TruePoker or DoylesRoom was a site of preference.

Still, yesterday gave us plenty to be concerned about.

The involvement of various governmental agencies here -- including ICE-HSI and the Internal Revenue Service -- suggests all forms of online gambling, including poker, are receiving a lot of scrutiny at present. As does a more-than-two-year-long sting operation set up to nab these two businesses.

Also of note from yesterday was the news that one of those named in the “Black Friday” indictments -- Bradley Franzen -- pleaded guilty in a New York court hearing to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, to accepting funds in connection with unlawful Internet gambling and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Unsurprisingly, the plea is reportedly part of a deal to try to lessen Franzen’s punishment in exchange for his providing “substantial assistance” to prosecutors in their continuing efforts to take down the other individuals and sites targeted in the April 15 indictments.

All of which suggests things are especially tenuous at the moment, both for those few online poker sites still serving American customers -- all of whom (one has to think) must be at least contemplating leaving the U.S. market, if not worrying about becoming the next to be targeted by the feds -- as well as for the so-called Big Three, two of which (PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker) still remain the largest in the world.

So I think I’ll stick with “Blue Monday” as a shorthand way to refer to what happened on May 23rd. I mean, perhaps we aren’t necessarily feeling “blue,” but it does seem like we’re getting knocked around pretty good. As Poker Scout wittily put it yesterday, “Only makes sense to pair black and blue in this context.”

(That image up top comes from an exhibit at the Amherst Museum in New York collecting various laundry-related artifacts, titled “Blue Monday: Washday and Women.”)

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The “Boom” Eight Years Later

Chris Moneymaker wins the 2003 World Series of Poker Main EventSaw a tweet from Bill Rini this morning reminding us all that today marks the eight-year anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker Main Event win back in 2003.

Yeah, I know. Eight years?!

At that time, the World Poker Tour was already on the air over on the Travel Channel, having debuted almost two months before. (Some time ago I wrote a little about the WPT’s debut here.) And really it wouldn’t be until later in the summer when ESPN aired its coverage of the 2003 WSOP ME in seven weekly installments in July and August that the “boom” truly ignited. At least that is how I remember it.

As we all know, Moneymaker -- playing as “Money800” -- won his $10,000 entry fee into the 2003 WSOP ME via a $39 satellite on PokerStars, the site for which he’d subsequently become a foremost representative.

You might have heard about this new documentary, BOOM: The Incredible True Story of Online Poker, currently in the works and scheduled for a 2012 release. It is an incredible true story. Will be especially challenging to tell it in just a couple of hours, too, I imagine.

That title, of course, is connected to Moneymaker’s triumph, a moment that brought together the truly awesome forces of Moneymaker’s everyman story (and convenient name), televised poker (newly energized by hole card cams), and the burgeoning industry of online poker.

It just so happens the first trailer for BOOM came out over the weekend, and it begins with Moneymaker’s magical moment. Check it out:

The trailer -- which I suppose represents an abridged version of the planned-for narrative of the film -- ends with Black Friday, a suitably dramatic twist to the story (and, perhaps, another possible meaning for the title). Here is the Facebook page for the film, for those of you who do the Facebook thing.

As it happens, I’ll be spending part of today’s anniversary following the Main Events of Stars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker. The three versions of the SCOOP Main Event attracted a total of almost 20,000 entrants (19,667) with the prize pools for all three adding up to nearly $8 million ($7,983,200). Interestingly, that total is almost the same as the prize pool for the 2003 Main Event ($7,802,700).

Looking back, eight of the nine players who made the final table at the 2003 WSOP Main Event were American, with sixth-place finisher Amir Vahedi of Iran the only exception. And 48 of the 63 players who cashed that year were from the U.S., too. Goes without saying that none of those cashing in the SCOOP Main Events or making today’s final tables will be American. Even Moneymaker, as a U.S. resident, has been precluded from participating.

By the way, Moneymaker’s colleague, Aussie Joe Hachem, the 2005 WSOP ME Champ about whom I was writing on Friday, is one of the final 22 in the “High” version of the Main Event, the one with an even bigger buy-in ($10,300) than the WSOP ME. (Worth noting, though, that recent scuttlebutt suggests online poker players in Australia may soon be encountering some difficulty, too.)

Seems like such a long, long time ago, the day Moneymaker won that last hand off of Sammy Farha. I was asked recently to try to picture what poker would be like ten years from now in 2021. I basically dodged the question, inviting the interviewer to think back ten years ago and consider how hard it would’ve been to predict the path poker took to 2011.

In that interview -- appearing over on CheckRaze -- I also admitted that while I always played cards, it really wasn’t until 2003 and after the “boom” that I got caught up in poker in a serious way. I can still remember watching ESPN that summer, like many being fairly well spellbound by what I was seeing.

Who knew how much the events of May 23, 2003 would affect the lives of so many of us? I sure didn’t.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Talk About the Passion

Talk About the PassionMentioned yesterday that “Inside SCOOP” show, the daily web program hosted by Joe Stapleton and Nick Wealthall throughout PokerStars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker. I’ve gotten a big kick out of following the show these last couple of weeks, surprised, really, that a show about an online poker series -- one in which I cannot even participate, no less -- is not just holding my attention, but making me laugh repeatedly, too.

For those of you who’ve watched it, you know what I mean about the funnies. If you haven’t, I’m not really going to try to explain why the show is so entertaining, but rather just recommend you check it out yourself. I will, however, mention one of my favorite parts of the show is when the pair offer faux strategy advice during the “Tough Spot” hands they present and at other moments here and there.

One great exchange came a few episodes ago when they were discussing upcoming events, one of which was pot-limit Omaha. “Omaha is great,” said Stapleton. “Four cards, a million combinations... you literally can play every hand!”

“You literally cannot go wrong,” deadpanned Wealthall in response.

Each episode also features brief interviews, often with Team PokerStars Pros but also with others who are having success in SCOOP events. On the 5/18 show the pair had 2005 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem on, and he was asked a question about what it has been like to have been an “ambassador” for poker for the last six years. In his answer, Hachem made an observation about how the poker world has changed over that period that I found interesting and thus thought worth sharing.

“From the very outset for me it was... I hate to sound corny, but it was like an honor, you know?” said Hachem, responding to the question. He added that he considered it a “privilege” to have been put into the position of having to represent poker, because he loved the game so much.

Stapleton cracked that Hachem was giving the “perfect ambassador answer,” but Hachem interrupted him, wanting to clarify what he meant.

“Let me tell you something fellas,” he began. “I think a lot has changed in the last few years in poker.... Most of the people who are in poker today are in poker for the wrong reason.” Hachem then made a distinction of sorts between his generation of players -- or at least those who had come into poker at some point prior to the “boom” of 2003-2006 -- and those who have come into the game more recently.

“We came into poker because we love the game,” said Hachem. “And eventually it turned into something that we could make money out of, like real money. [However,] a lot of the people who come into the game today are coming in strictly because... their friends told them they can make money out of it if they do A-B-C-D -- you know, they’ll be a profitable player [if they follow certain steps]. Where’s the passion in that?”

Joe HachemThe show’s somewhat rapid-fire format didn’t really allow for the trio to discuss the point further, and thus they moved on to a different topic. But I found myself thinking afterwards about what Hachem was saying.

It was kind of an odd-seeming statement, essentially suggesting that getting into poker for the money was somehow a less-than-honorable reason for doing so. If I understand his meaning correctly, I think his point was to emphasize the value of competition and challenging oneself -- that is, to think constructively about the game in terms that aren’t necessarily financially-based.

I don’t think Hachem was dismissing the goal of earning money altogether, just demoting it from its position as an all-encompassing goal -- i.e., pointing out that there is a lot else about poker to be enjoyed and from which we can benefit than making ourselves some cabbage. As he says, the “love” or “passion” for the game came first for him (and others like him), and only later did it “turn into something that we could make money out of.”

Some might recall an earlier, somewhat similar statement by Hachem about the young generation of players near the end his deep run in the 2009 Main Event (in which he finished 103rd). Kind of got blown up a bit, but Hachem was complaining about some players’ predilection for overly aggressive bluffs and risk-taking, even going so far as to say things like “these guys have no right being at the World Series” and “should be playing $2 sit-and-gos online.”

Hachem would scale back those criticisms somewhat the next day after he busted from the ME, referring to his genuine love for the game and how being so “passionate” caused him to be a little less than rational with his commentary the day before. “Everyone has the right to play poker however they want,” said Hachem, sort of recasting his previous comments inside the context of his petitioning for “respect for the game.”

All of that from a couple of years ago was perhaps a bit dubious, and while I think Hachem’s comments on “Inside SCOOP” were not unrelated, I feel like he’s was really making a different point there about what it means to be “passionate” about poker.

Hachem may well be correct to some extent when he says there are those who get into poker -- either as players or in other ways -- who aren’t necessarily in it because they love the game but for other reasons. And while there might be something lamentable about that, we all have to accept the fact that just as everyone has the “right” to play poker however he or she wishes, people can get into poker for all sorts of reasons, too.

In any case, as I say, I found that brief discussion on “Inside SCOOP” interesting enough to think about afterwards -- a momentary bit of seriousness amid the show’s shenanigans.

I dunno... I guess I am always intrigued when I hear someone talk about their passion. I’m sure Hachem knows, though, that not everyone can carry the weight of the world...

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Booked Up

persnal assistant kitteh says ur all booked upNot a lot of time today for posting, I’m afraid. Have been fairly occupied over the last two weeks helping recap various events in PokerStars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker, which has cut into both writing time and sleeping time here of late.

There have been some interesting moments along the way in these SCOOP tourneys, some of which have been discussed in the daily web-based show “Inside SCOOP” on PokerStars.tv. Hosts Joe Stapleton and Nick Wealthall are a riot, too, making the show even more fun to watch.

Meanwhile, when the time to do so finally becomes available, I have three new poker books to read. Well, one of them is new, anyway (as in recently published). But all three are new to me.

'A Rubber Band Story and other Poker Takes' by Tommy Angelo (2011)The one that is just coming out is Tommy Angelo’s second book, titled A Rubber Band Story and other Poker Tales. Following up his terrific Elements of Poker (reviewed here), this one collects several essays, articles, and blog posts that Angelo has written over the last decade-plus, also adding a number of new items, too.

Am really looking forward to this one, a book I first heard about from Angelo himself when I interviewed him for Betfair poker back in December 2010.

'Machiavellian Poker Strategy' by David Apostolico (2005)Another book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time is one of David Apostolico’s titles, Machiavellian Poker Strategy: How to Play Like a Prince and Rule the Poker Table, first published in 2005. The Prince is a book I am actually very familiar with, one that I not only studied in school but also had the chance to teach several times in various “Great Books” classes. It’s a great one for introducing that transition from the faith-based medieval period to the modern, secular age. It’s also strikes me as a book with a lot of immediately applicable precepts to poker.

I really like Apostolico’s introduction, where he suggests poker may well provide a “perfect arena” in which to explore the many ideas and lessons of the early 16th-century guidebook for would-be rulers. Am intrigued to see how Apostolico draws connections between Machiavelli’s advice and poker strategy/theory.

'Broke' by Brandon Adams (2008)Finally, I recently ordered a copy of Brandon Adams’ 2008 book Broke: A Poker Novel. I don’t know a lot about it, but was intrigued after hearing Adams on the Two Plus Two Pokercast back in April (Episode 167, 4/12/11) where the book did come up.

I’ll be teaching my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class again next fall, and while I plan to keep Jesse May’s Shut Up and Deal on the syllabus -- a book which Adams recommended highly on the 2+2 show, incidentally -- it’s possible I could add other novels, too, and so will be thinking about that possibility as I read Broke.

Like I say, though, I have a few other things to attend to before I can pick up these. Am eyeing that space between the end of SCOOP and the start of the WSOP (just a week-and-a-half away!) as a nice quiet space in which to curl up and read.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Spines, or the Lack Thereof

Bending over backwardsEarlier this week the latest issue of Card Player magazine appeared in the mailbox, the one with Gus Hansen on the cover (Vol. 24, No. 9). I had already skimmed through it and had left it on the counter where Vera Valmore spotted it one evening. Then she did something I couldn’t remember ever seeing her do before -- she picked up the issue and leafed through it.

Vera isn’t a poker player herself, and so generally isn’t too interested in what the poker magazines and books I have laying around have to say. I have shared an article or two from Card Player with her before, but I had no recollection of her picking it up without my having recommended something. I watched as she quickly flipped to the article on page 8, a one-pager in the “Inside Straight” section that briefly summarized the events of “Black Friday” and the immediate aftermath.

While the issue is dated May 24, 2011, it’s clear the article was probably written about a month before, as it only speaks of the indictment, relates a few of the initial responses (from PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, the PPA, and Rep. Barney Frank), and tells of the deals struck between the DOJ and Stars/Tilt to regain their domains.

“Is that all?” said Vera, flipping through the rest of the magazine.

I laughed and shook my head, saying that yeah, that was it. I added that it was a little funny to think that this was the third issue of Card Player I’d received since “Black Friday” and this was the first mention of it.

I pointed out one other interesting detail of this issue, the conspicuous lack of advertising for Stars, FTP, Absolute Poker, and UB throughout. I noted how it was 16 pages shorter than the previous issue, pointing to the staples on the side to show that the magazine had even been bound differently.

The 5/10/11 and 5/24/11 issues of 'Card Player'“There isn’t a... uh, it doesn’t even have a...”

“Spine,” said Vera, finding the word for me. Then she added, “It’s spineless.”

I chuckled at the word, remembering some of the criticisms that have been directed of late toward various publications and sites that report on poker. Some have felt certain outlets -- just about all of which have long depended on online poker sites for advertising dollars and in other ways -- weren’t going after the story of “Black Friday” with the sort of vigor it deserved, muting their coverage perhaps because of their relationships with the targeted sites.

I realize Card Player’s publication schedule likely prevented it from reporting on the matter sooner, though it was interesting to see the story finally appearing in the very same issue in which the ads for Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UB no longer appeared.

I pointed out to Vera how Card Player has always, even from its early days, been more focused on supporting its advertisers, which early on were mostly casinos and more recently the online sites. When explaining this, I was remembering having heard Linda Johnson -- publisher and owner of Card Player from 1993-2000 -- interviewed by Gary Wise way back in early 2008.

In that interview, Johnson explained to Wise how the magazine was never intended to be “journalistic,” but rather “was to support the poker industry,” one consequence of which being the avoidance of reporting on stories or events that reflected badly on the industry as a whole and/or their advertisers in particular. (Incidentally, I’m a big Linda Johnson fan, one of those who believes “The First Lady of Poker” deserves serious consideration for the Poker Hall of Fame.)

I wrote here a bit about that interview in a post titled “On Poker Mags,” discussing it in the context of considering Card Player’s tentative coverage of the insider cheating scandal at Absolute Poker during those early months of 2008. My conclusion there was to say that even though the magazine touts itself on its cover (still) as “the poker authority,” one obviously would want to look elsewhere for genuinely revealing news and/or unblinkered opinion about the industry.

All of which is to say I hadn’t necessarily been anticipating reading much of anything in Card Player about “Black Friday.” Indeed, that one-page summary of information we’ve all known about for more than a month now pretty much fit my expectations for what I’d find there on the matter. And I should add there are a number of interesting pieces in the issue -- as is often the case -- including the usual strategy talk, the columns and interviews, and that feature on Gus, too.

Understanding the magazine’s purpose, then, I suppose I’d refrain from using the word “spineless” to refer to it other than literally to describe its changed physical appearance. It is interesting to consider, however, how “Black Friday” has inspired renewed attention on the relationships between media outlets that report on poker and their advertisers -- relationships that in just about every single case have at least some significance when it comes to editorial content produced.

Indeed -- not to single out any one site or publication in particular -- when it comes to accommodatin’ those advertisers, some’ll bend over backwards.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

J’Accuse! Tekintagmac at WPT Championship

The headline from Emile Zola's famous 'J'accuse!' letterDay 4 of the World Poker Tour’s Championship event, a $25,000 no-limit hold’em tournament that once upon a time stood out as one of the few events on the calendar with a greater than $10K buy-in, gets underway later today at the Bellagio. Heading into today’s play, 52 of the original 220 players are still with chips.

Sam El Sayed is the current leader, with Nenad Medic close behind. There are a number of other familiar names left, including David Williams (gunning for a repeat of last year’s WPT Championship triumph), Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, Doyle Brunson, and several others.

However one player in particular, returning today to a short stack (45th of 52), has gotten an inordinate amount of attention over the first three days of play. I’m referring to Ali Tekintagmac, the German player who was disqualified just prior to the start of the final table of the Partouche Poker Tour Grand Final last November after being accused of cheating.

If you aren’t familiar with Tekintagmac’s story, I gave a summary of it here -- “No Cannes Do: On the Disqualification at Partouche” -- which was in fact a rundown of Benjo’s comprehensive report on the situation. Not only did Benjo cover what was alleged to have happened at Cannes back in September (when the Grand Final played down to a final table) and the disqualification of Tekintagmac in November on the eve of the final table playing out, but he also gives further background on earlier suspicions of Tekintagmac having cheated at events in Europe, too.

At Cannes, Tekintagmac was accused of having collaborated with a couple of faux bloggers during the event in order to gain a competitive advantage. After examining video evidence, PPT officials determined the reporters had been catching glimpses of Tekintagmac’s opponents’ hole cards, then signaling to the German. Many suspected a similar method had been employed by Tekintagmac at earlier events, stretching back (at least) several months into the spring of 2010.

Partouche Poker TourFollowing his disqualification at Partouche, Tekintagmac filed a lawsuit in February against the PPT for €1.5 million, an amount representing first-place prize money plus damages. A French court first considered the case on April 1st of this year, and Benjo was there to report on that preliminary hearing. Here’s his full report (in French), or you can click here for a list of highlights from Benjo in English.

The upshot of what happened at the preliminary hearing was that the PPT has to try to prove once and for all that cheating did occur before anything else can happen. If that can be done, the slander case gets dismissed; if not, it will proceed. Benjo surmises that it will probably be difficult for the tourney officials to prove the cheating, but he also thinks Tekintagmac isn’t likely to win his case either. They’ll be returning to court on June 24th to see how the investigation into the cheating has gone.

As I mentioned, there was a lot of suspicion surrounding Tekintagmac prior to Partouche, which likely led to his receiving closer scrutiny at Cannes. I haven’t seen any tapes or photos from the PPT event, although there have been other items -- such as this video from the final hand of the €3,200 WPT Spanish Championship in May 2010 (won by Tekintagmac, which, not incidentally, earned him his seat in the WPT Championship) -- that have drawn a lot of attention by those interested in what might have happened at Cannes. Players and reporters have shared anecdotes and photos, too, as they’ve considered the likelihood of Tekintagman’s guilt.

The allegations most certainly led to the somewhat altered guidelines for media for the 2011 WSOP which I mentioned last week. I’m guessing they also caused the WSOP to be even more vigilant with regard to handing out credentials, too.

Anyhow, over the last few days it sounds as though Tekintagmac’s appearance at the WPT Championship caused quite a fuss among some of the players and others who believed the “cheater” shouldn’t be allowed to play.

Daniel Negreanu, for one, appears to have embarked on a bit of a campaign at the Bellagio, tweeting about Tekintagmac’s presence, reporting how he’d “called him out,” and suggesting to those running the event that “he should be banned.” Negreanu even took a photo of Tekintagmac, sending it out with the note “This is a picture of the cheater.” Kid Poker then tweeted that he was going to talk to the WSOP officials to try to ensure Tekintagmac wasn’t going to be allowed to play at the Series this summer.

The outrage appears to have died down a bit since Sunday, although I imagine if Tekintagmac were to score a double-up or two early today and somehow make it deeper in the WPT Championship, it will probably revive.

Benjo decried the “mob mentality” being shown by Negreanu and others regarding Tekintagmac, and I tend to agree with that view. It’s definitely a lamentable situation, one that has succeeded both in increasing players’ discomfort and making the business of reporting on tourneys more complicated, too. But it seems to me that it would be even more lamentable to see officials at one event refuse a player’s entry based on yet-to-proven allegations that he cheated in another.

What’s your judgment? (No rushing!)

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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Urge to Merge; or, Zero to Hero

The Urge to Merge; or, Zero to HeroYesterday marked the one-month anniversary of “Black Friday,” the day the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed its indictment and civil complaint against the two biggest online poker sites in the world (PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker) and the third-biggest one then serving the U.S. (Absolute Poker/UltimateBet).

While some Americans have (incredibly) continued to play on AP/UB despite being no longer able to withdraw (see Friday’s post), both Stars and Full Tilt quickly ceased allowing us Yanks to sit at the real money games. Stars has already facilitated the withdrawal of funds by U.S. players, and by now most have done so. I mentioned on Friday how I’d requested a paper check from Stars and received it last week (about two weeks after I’d requested it).

Meanwhile, Full Tilt continues to drag its feet, issuing yet another announcement yesterday in the form of a thread-starting post on Two Plus Two misleadingly titled “FTP Answers 5/15.” (The “answers” also appear over on the FTP FAQ page for U.S. players.)

There “FTPDoug” passes along the site’s statement that they continue to work “tirelessly” to ensure both the return of funds to U.S. players and the continued operation of the site for non-U.S. folks. However, the announcement gave no indication of when exactly Americans would be allowed to withdraw, stating only that FTP “underestimated the time it would take to work through” the unspecified “issues” that are hindering their efforts and that Full Tilt “will update our US players when [they] have more specific information to provide.”

Not good. Especially for the many pros, full-timers, and shot-takers who had planned to enter WSOP events with money they currently have tied up on Full Tilt.

FTPDoug goes on to say that U.S. players will soon be able to use their FTP points to purchase items in the Full Tilt Store again -- currently we cannot -- but will only be able to buy merchandise, not cash bonuses or (obviously) tourney tickets. Interestingly, PokerStars also allowed U.S. players to use their FPP points, though restricted us to exchanging them for cash, not allowing the purchase of any of the other products.

This, too, is a bad sign, I think, perhaps further indicating Full Tilt Poker doesn’t have the funds available to allow Americans to cash out. On the other hand, FTP may well have an abundance of teddy bears and key chains.

Meanwhile, U.S. players like me who only had funds on Stars or Full Tilt have been mostly waiting on the sidelines over the last month, perhaps jumping in the odd play money game here and there and/or starting to explore the other remaining options available to us.

Poker ScoutAt the moment the Merge network of sites has become the most popular for U.S. players. According to Poker Scout, Merge, though still miniscule when compared to Stars and FTP, saw its traffic increase by 77% from April 15 to May 9. That makes Merge more than twice as popular as Bodog or the Cake Poker Network, both of which also still take U.S. players.

I have a Bodog account, though it is presently empty and I haven’t played a hand over there in many months. I did open accounts on the Merge network since April 15 -- one on Carbon and another on Hero Poker. Just for kicks I opened one over at Sportsbook.com (another Merge site), too, before they shut their doors to new U.S. players on May 1.

Since these are “skins” sharing the same network (and thus the same player pool), it isn’t possible for me to play on more than one of these accounts at a time. The sites look and feel very similar, although there are small differences here and there, including the various promotions each offer.

I did spend a little bit of time looking into depositing (at Carbon and also Bodog), but didn’t pursue it very far. It certainly looked like I could get it done, but like many recreational players I wasn’t too interested in taking the extra steps. Not just yet, anyway.

So I piddled around playing some of the daily freerolls on Merge. I was playing on Carbon, although you can play these from any skin. About 2,500 enter these, and you have to make the top 24 to cash, so the odds aren’t great. Actually I think you have to make the top four to earn any actual cash, as the other spots only reward tourney tickets.

I’ve mentioned already how I managed to min-cash in one of these, a H.O.R.S.E. tourney, earning a $2.20 ticket that could only be used in a six-max SNG. There I finished second, for which I earned one real dollar. With still very limited options, I managed to lose most of that at a $0.02/$0.04 LHE table, then won a little back in a $0.06 tourney. All of which is to say my “roll” on Carbon is now a cool 45 cents.

Meanwhile I unexpectedly had a couple of opportunities over the weekend to play in some pretty lucrative freerolls on Merge sites -- one on Carbon and the other on Hero Poker.

Carbon PokerI signed up for Carbon through Poker Source Online, thinking I’d eventually take advantage of a bonus they were offering once I finally deposited. When I logged on Saturday, I discovered I had a ticket to play in a special freeroll that afternoon just for new PSO folks, one with $2,500 prize pool. I joined the tourney -- a turbo-style NLHE event -- and was surprised to find only 34 players had registered. The top five spots paid, with $200 going to fifth and a cool grand to the winner!

Like I say, it was a turbo tourney, and so after the first few levels it quickly became an all-in-or-fold affair. I managed to hit a couple of hands early, and in fact enjoyed the chip lead with 20 left. I was still leader when it had gotten down to 15 or so when a hand arose in which I was dealt A-K. A super short-stack had pushed for about 2,000, then there was another reraise all-in for about 5,000 when the action got to me. I had about 15K at the time, and went ahead and reraised over the top. As it happened, the fellow with 5K had pocket aces, and so I slipped to 10K.

Some more misfortune ensued at the final table, and with seven left I found myself one of the two short stacks, watching the other five happily folding their way to the money. Ended up pushing my five-BB stack with K-10-suited to get bounced in seventh. Was kicking myself afterwards, mentally second-guessing whether or not I would’ve made the money had I turtled up earlier.

Hero PokerBy Sunday I’d gotten over that missed opportunity, though it was still fresh in my mind when I joined another nifty freeroll in the afternoon, this one on Hero Poker. It was for U.S. players only, and featured a $30,000 prize pool. The top 300 finishers would each receive $100 plus a bonus to earn $100 more with player points. In the end, I think the six-handed NLHE event drew something close to 1,200 entrants, which meant more than a quarter of us would be making the money.

It also featured a nice, slow structure with 15-minute levels, which was good for me since it took me a good hour-and-a-half or more to get anything going in terms of collecting chips. Had built up some, then lost a meaningful chunk when somebody outdrew me with 5-3 versus my pocket nines. At one point I was down around 1,000 -- just a third of the starting stack -- when for the first time I checked the lobby to see the standings. I chuckled to see I was almost dead last, in 394th with exactly 400 players left.

Soon after that I luckily won an all-in with 6s5s versus QhJh. Then I had some more good fortune when I rivered a full house in a BB-special scenario, allowing me to double up again.

I won a couple more small ones, then came a big hand in which an opponent with a big stack -- one of the top 10 at the time, I think -- minimum-raised from UTG and I called from the blinds with K-Q. The flop came K-K-3, and I check-called a smallish c-bet. The turn was a queen, and I checked again. My opponent bet about half the pot, I pushed, and he called with pocket aces. The river blanked and I was up over 10,000, which put me in about 110th with 350 players left.

My stack was above average, and while I wasn’t 100% sure I had the chips to do so, having the experience from the day before in mind I decided it was time to shut it down and start folding.

Early on I folded A-K, wincing a little as I did. I’d fold A-Q shortly after that. Then I folded A-K one more time. I folded a load of laundry during that stretch, too. Hell, I would’ve folded whatever you put in front of me -- paper, napkins, an omelet, you name it.

Turned out to be the right call, as I still had about 5K when a player went out in 301st. The tourney still played out, and I joked a little in chat with my neighbor on my left who had been short-stacked throughout the bubble period and in real danger of missing the money. “I’ll admit it,” I typed. “I tightened up my range there just a tad at the end,” as if folding 50-odd hands in a row hadn’t communicated that clearly enough. He responded with smiley faces -- the Merge games offer an amusing variety of them -- and something about being glad I did.

Yesterday’s tournament also featured something I’d never seen before on a site -- tourney-wide announcements that appeared as a speech bubble emanating from the small Hero icon on my Mac’s menu bar. Early on there were some jokes and welcome messages, then towards the end some timely announcements about how many players were left. I liked it, and found myself thinking about how more could be done with such a feature.

So now I have a bankroll, of sorts -- a hundy on Hero, plus a few coins on Carbon. I have to say I do like the interface at Merge. I’ve also used the live chat support a few times, which is a pretty cool feature for a site to have, too.

We’ll see how it all goes over there moving forward. Am nowhere close to that comfortable spot I was in pre-Black Friday when it comes to playing online, as I imagine is the case for most U.S. players. But for now I’m glad to be back in the game, even if only in a small way.

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