Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hard-Boiled Poker 2011 Year in Review (3 of 3)

The clock is ticking. Just a few hours left in 2011. Just enough time to wrap up the wrapping up and resolve to start resolving.


September September began with still “More Full Tilt Poker Chatter.” About three weeks later came the DOJ’s amendment of the civil complaint, a moment almost as withering and disappointing as was Black Friday. Ended up writing a short sequence of posts then in response: “Full Tilt Poker a ‘Ponzi Scheme’ Says DOJ,” “What Does ‘Poker’ Mean Today?,” “Talk About Red Pros (More on the DOJ vs. Full Tilt Poker),” and “The Culture of Poker.”

A few September posts were inspired by visits to other’s blogs. I wrote “Talking Black Friday & Blame” after reading an interesting post on Bill Rini’s blog. Along similar lines, I responded to a post by Jesse May later in the month concerning Full Tilt mess and the sorry state of online poker, generally speaking, titling mine “What May Said.”

A Subject:Poker report about another possible DOJ action prompted “Another Online Poker e-MERGE-ncy.” And a tip by Brad “Otis” Willis sent me to Derrick Goold’s blog and a post about computer-generated content, after which I wrote “On ‘Roboreporting.’”

Weighed in on yet another online poker-related brouhaha in “Stop Counting Me! Bodog vs. Pokerscout.” The month then concluded with the Alderney Gambling Control Commission revoking FTP’s license, talked about in a post half-jokingly titled “Full Tilt Poker: Chapter the Last?” A day later came the possible buyout by Groupe Bernard Tapie surfaced, noted in “It’s Alive.”


October 2011There’d be more FTP talk in October, of course. Kind of filled the space left by the lack of online poker and the waiting around for the November Nine.

In “The Perils of Learning As You Go,” I thought a little about the situation at FTP in which a number of folks kind of stumbled into running a multi-million dollar company. Badly. Some of those who’d been jettisoned from the Full Tilt family since Black Friday started piping up, and in “From the Department of Redundancy Department: Full Tilt Poker’s Ex-Employees Speaking Out” I chronicled some of that talk before a lot of it got deleted from the forums.

A long-awaited feature about online poker in the U.S. finally appeared in The New York Times that unfortunately fuzzed over or got wrong a number of aspects of the situation and story. Tried to explain why I thought so in “NY Times Online Poker Piece Misplays Hand” and “More On Skill-Vs.-Luck.”

October marked “Five Years of the UIGEA,” that ill-conceived law that has successfully twisted the poker world into the most tangled knot imaginable. Has certainly affected just about everything to do with my experiences writing about poker, something I reflected on some more in a post “On the ‘Industry.’

Speaking of legal machinations, there was some talk on the Hill not long after that UIGEA anniversary passed, summarized in part in “House Hearing on ‘Internet Gaming’ Shows U.S. Online Poker a Complicated Game.” As we know, nothing would ultimately happen on a federal level in 2011, although the chatter today suggests we might be seeing some so-called “intrastate” online poker happening sooner than later.


November 2011That said, I began November “In a Subjunctive Mood,” kind of a cynical response to all of the not-a-matter-of-if-but-when talk floating around with regard to the future of online poker.

Perhaps thankfully, the November Nine finally arrived, allowing us to focus on actual poker for a change. Leading up to the finale, I wrote about the “almost live” presentation of the final table. I also participated in the ESPN conference call a couple of days before. Then I did my own “almost live” blog of the play on November 6, added a few further “Impressions” of what happened as they played from nine to three, then added another “almost live” blog of the final day (November 8) when Pius Heinz won it all as the first German ever to take down the WSOP Main Event. Added one further post speculating about how the comprehensive coverage might have played to broader audience, titled “Making Stories That Make Sense.”

Looking back through the rest of the month’s posts, I’m seeing a wide variety of topics popping up, as reflected by post titles like “On Subscription Sites; or, A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “Strip Poker, Art, and Cultural Commentary,” and “The Rebranding of Poker.”

I lamented the passing of a great poker writer and good guy in “Barry Tanenbaum (1945-2011).” I won some small change in a couple of freerolls on Carbon Poker and looked upon the prospect of building my roll with an ironic reference to “The Chris Ferguson Challenge” (remember that?). And I wrote yet another post about poker’s embattled image in the broader culture in “Poker’s Stick-to-it-iveness.”


December 2011Another month, and more scandal and controversy, variously discussed in “Talkin’ Bitar, Facebook, and Bodog,” “UB Data Leak,” and “A Man-Made Monster Is On the Loose! (Black Friday).”

Bodog kind of stepped forward to try and usurp Full Tilt Poker’s rightful place as online poker’s most bewildering site in December. For more on that development, see “Bodogoholics Anonymous” and “The Bravado of Bovada.”

In “Please Be Patient” I meditated a bit about the “wait and see” attitude I realized was starting to creep into a lot of my posts -- my non-conclusive way of concluding discussions about various topics with loose ends that couldn’t be tied. And speaking of patience, a late, late night following a tourney on PokerStars and hand-for-hand reports from the latest Epic Poker League main event inspired post titled “Unlimited Hold’em” -- again kind of wondering aloud how much the detailed, comprehensive coverage of poker tourneys can possibly appeal to all but hardcore enthusiasts.

The big news from the final week of the year concerned this apparent reversal of position by the Department of Justice regarding the Wire Act, a shift which many are thinking might well herald a return of online poker in the U.S. I commented on the development in “Talkin’ the DOJ Letter and Nevada (The State of Online Poker)” and “Reports and Opinions (The DOJ Letter).”

Always a lot of interesting off-the-felt stuff to discuss in poker. Such is the game’s nature, producing a multitude of interesting characters and plots that often extend well beyond hands played and into other areas where we find ourselves interacting with one another.

Shamus says 'Happy New Year'Still, seemed like 2011 saw us all thinking and writing more about such extracurricular activities than in past years. Here’s hoping we all get back to the tables in 2012 and have the chance to remember why it was we all got into poker in the first place.

Thanks again to everyone for coming back here time and again to read my musings about it all. See you on the other side.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Hard-Boiled Poker 2011 Year in Review (2 of 3)

Getting back to the reviewing business. Speaking of, if you visit Betfair Poker today you’ll find me taking a shot at recounting the top stories in poker for 2011, one of those I-know-I-am-forgetting-something kind of posts.

What a crazy year, really. I mean when we step back and consider how different everything seemed twelve months ago, then think back further just a bit more to those first few post-“boom” years for poker following Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP win in 2003, I can’t imagine anyone being able to come close to imagining all of the drama that has ensued since.


May 2011Was still fairly well mired in the Black Friday funk as May began. I wrote one post titled “We Leave the Sites, the Sites Leave a Legacy” in which I noted how PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet would remain influential for years to come thanks to their prominence during online poker’s early heyday. Followed that with “My Mind Is Going... I Can Feel It...” in which I talked about how I already knew whatever meager poker skills I possess were starting to erode from not playing regularly.

I then wrote what is probably my favorite post of the entire year, “2011 LAPT Lima Postscript: Plotting in Peru,” in which I told one last story from the Lima trip about Dr. Pauly, F-Train, Reinaldo Venegas, and myself enjoying one final game of cards in Lima before departing.

While I cashed out from PokerStars -- and didn’t from Full Tilt Poker -- I did manage to continue playing online. Sort of, anyway. I won a few bucks in a freeroll on Hero Poker to give me a little something with which to goof around, as I described in “The Urge to Merge; or, Zero to Hero.” In “J’Accuse! Tekintagmac at WPT Championship” I wrote about an accused cheater turning up to play the big $25K event at the Bellagio. And in “The ‘Boom’ Eight Years Later” I noted the anniversary of Moneymaker’s big win and marveled at how much has happened since, a topic I got to talk about some more a few days later when “Crashing the Two Plus Two Pokercast.”

The WSOP began, and this time I arranged to hold off going out to Vegas until about three weeks in. That meant continuing to monitor the whole Full Tilt saga, including the worrisome news that the site was having to raise capital before paying back players.

As it would happen, that was just the start of it as far as the Full Tilt fiasco was concerned.


June 2011We all remember Phil Ivey’s stunning announcement that not only would he be skipping the WSOP, but was suing the site he’d represented since it first opened in 2004. In “Ivey to Full Tilt Poker: The Writing’s on the Wall” and “Following the Action” I shared initial reactions to the eight-time WSOP bracelet winner going to Facebook to make public his plans.

It sounded from afar as though the mood at the WSOP was less than pleasant during those first few days of play, with a lot of anxious, “Angry Poker” being played. That same topic came up in a different way on others’ blogs, as I discussed here in “Poker in the Wild: Jesse May and Brandon Adams on Chaos & Order.”

Meanwhile, I reflected on the strange state of online poker in the U.S. in “Lost in America,” what it was like to follow the Series from home (for a change) in “WSOP and POV,” and incited a lot of interesting response and debate with what I had considered a mostly trivial observation in “The Order of the Flop.”

Just before I made my way to Vegas, I asked “How Do You Figure? WSOP Attendance Is Up.” Soon your humble scribbler made it “To Vegas, To Friends,” arriving on June 21, “The Longest Day of the Year.”

Once there I met Kevmath and James McManus, laughed at some railbird hooting at Phil Hellmuth, and was influenced by the huge “Mothership” to believe I was watching “Game Shows in the Desert.” Pretty soon the long workdays started adding up and I was “Getting Loopy.”


July 2011In “Coincidences” I wrote about meeting Julius Goat, who, as it turns out, doesn’t look much like a goat at all. Or a Julius, for that matter.

A post “In Which I Lose to Joe Hachem Playing Chinese Poker” is self-explanatory. I then became a bit self-reflexive about the whole reporting thing in a few posts over the next couple of weeks, such as in “Snapshot,” “I See What You Are Doing, But What Are You Thinking?,” and “A Glimpse,” the latter probably ranking as my second-favorite post of 2011.

Vera visited just before the Main Event began. “Exploding Floats and Missed Flush Draws” chronicles one of the most fun days during the time she was there. Once the ME got going I shared a few more stories, including one titled “The Lottery” regarding a player from my home state of North Carolina who won his way into the WSOP ME via the lottery, then busted on Day 1 in spectacular fashion, and another fun one about a player barely squeaking into the money, “A Short-Stacked Story.”

I met Andrew Foucault and titled the post about our meeting after his blog, “Thinking Poker.” Finally we made it down to the November Nine and our summer’s work was done, by which point we could all “Smile.” Once back home, I collected all of the WSOP posts into “A Reporter’s Notebook” for handy reference.

It was time again to ask “Now What? Online Poker in the U.S., ca. late July 2011.” It was hard not to be affected by “The Impression of Darkness” when it came to the dim prospects surrounding the game’s return. So we waited, occasionally visiting Full Tilt Poker where we were always told “Please Check Back Later.”


August 2011August began with another trip to South America, this time all of the way down to Punte del Este, Uruguay to help cover an LAPT event with Brad “Otis” Willis. Told about that in Pregame, Arrival, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Departure.

By the time I returned the Epic Poker League had finally launched, and soon I was given an opportunity to contribute a column for the Epic site about poker and pop culture called “Community Cards.”

The rest of the month was relatively uneventful, aside from a rare earthquake which we felt here on the east coast. “Was It Just Me?” was the question we all asked each other. I started “Watching the 2011 ESPN Main Event on ESPN.” And I kept wondering like everyone else about those hard-to-fathom “Full Tilt Priorities.”

Of course, when it came to Full Tilt, September would bring us a heck of a lot more to contemplate. Which we’ll remember together tomorrow.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hard-Boiled Poker 2011 Year in Review (1 of 3)

Dr. Pauly among the ruins at Huaca Pucllana, Lima, PeruHas it really been a year already? Seems like we were just all yammering on about SuperStar Showdowns, the so-called Reid bill failing to attach itself to some last-minute legislation in 2010, and arguing whether online poker in the U.S. could or could not continue with the “status quo.”

Then again, those days also all seem far, far away. You know, back when we were still playing online poker all the time, taking part in a global community of players and lovers of the game. A time which we now must necessarily refer to as a different era.

I’m going to handle this here review business in the same fashion I’ve done in past, taking three final posts to compile references to past posts as a way of reflecting on what has been. Will cover four months per post, meaning this first one will carry us up to April 15 -- the day everything changed -- and a little after.

As I’ve been doing here since the start of 2008, I manged to post at least once each weekday during 2011. I posted on the weekends from time to time, too, such as over the summer when I again was in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. All that added up to 280 posts thus far this year, with three more to come.

I remember in those weeks following Black Friday wondering whether or not I’d see fit to continue with the weekday posting. The fact that I’ve always been able to pepper the blog with posts about my own play -- those “on the street” posts -- has made it easier to post more frequently. It has also added a certain variety to the kinds of posts I can write, making it more fun on this end, and hopefully making things more interesting on the reader’s side, too.

But as it turned out, there was still plenty about which to write. More than plenty, really.

I don’t know yet what my plan for 2012 will be. Am seriously considering scaling back just a tad, mainly because I’m also nearing the end of a first draft of another novel and would like to devote more of my limited brain power to revising that and getting it out into the world. It’s a murder mystery, though not strictly a detective novel like Same Difference. It’s also more closely matched with my own experiences than that story was, although again, as with the first one, there’s no poker.

’Cos you know, I write enough about poker as it is.


January 2011This year I began teaching a college course in American Studies titled “Poker in American Film and Culture.” I shared my original syllabus here at the start of the spring semester, although I’d revise it somewhat when I taught it again in the fall and am changing a few more things this spring. I’m planning to create a permanent page here on the blog soon where I list all of the readings and films I’ve included in the course over its several iterations.

Those SuperStar Showdowns on PokerStars I mentioned did manage to intrigue us somewhat in January. You remember those, don’t you? The heads-up matches pitting Isildur1 -- who finally confirmed what we all already knew by “revealing” himself to be Viktor Blom at the PCA last January -- against a rotating cast of opponents? The Tony G match was particularly fun, as recounted here in “A Farce, a Tragedy: Tony G in the SuperStar Showdown.”

We were also somewhat “Captivated by the PCA” in January, where my friend Change100 won the Ladies Event! Meanwhile it was less simple to meet “The Challenge to Follow the Durrrr Challenges.” There also came the announcement of the new Epic Poker League in January, considered here in a post titled “A League of Their Own.”

And speaking of poker being played in a different league, all of those six-figure tourneys at the PCA and the Aussie Millions had us scratching our heads, too, and focusing “On the All-Time Money List,” players with deep pockets “Ordering Twice at the 100 Grand Bar,” and how it was all “Hard to Relate: On the $250K Aussie Millions Super High Roller.”


February 2011One of the most viewed posts on the site this year was one from early February titled “Beyond Belief: The Bellagio Bandit” in which I discussed a thief’s audacious -- and ultimately failed -- attempt to accumulate himself a stack of chips without going through the hassle of playing for them.

Seemed like I was writing a lot about criminals at the start of the month, such as in “Two of a Kind: W. Joseph Johnston and Russ Hamilton” (about two poker cheaters, one from the early 20th century and one from the early 21st) and “A Couple of Saab Stories” (in which I discuss David Saab -- who was arrested in early 2011 in Australia for drug trafficking -- and recall some of his antics from the 2008 WSOP).

In “Sick Bet: Griffin, Qureshi, and ‘The World of Poker Players’” I wrote about what probably turned out to be the most famous (or infamous) prop bet in poker in 2011. I joined others mid-month bidding “Farewell to The Poker Beat,” the long-running poker news podcast. And I fretted about the appearance of a new movie, Unknown, in which the title character shared my name in “Hey, That’s My Name!

My “Poker in American Film and Culture” course was inspiring some posts about our readings, including “Breakfast and Poker” (a chapter in David Spanier’s Total Poker), “David Hayano’s Poker Faces,” and “Placing Poker in American History” (reflecting again on James McManus’s Cowboys Full and the whole idea of a course such as mine).

I was writing a bit about televised poker here and there, including commenting on “Changes at ‘High Stakes Poker’” and sharing impressions as “World Poker Tour Season 9 Debuts.” And speaking of posts written before April 15 that read a hell of a lot differently post-Black Friday, I offered one titled “Man Power: The BLUFF Power 20” reflecting on the magazine’s annual list of powerful figures in poker, a list destined to become ironic-seeming in short order.


March 2011Further inspired by my American Studies class, I decided to write six posts amounting to a detailed reading of Chapter 3 of Al Alvarez’s 1983 classic poker narrative, presented under the heading “Rereading The Biggest Game in Town.” Following a “Prelude” those posts discussed “Poker’s Challenge to ‘Reality,’” “Losing,” “Playing Jimmy Chagra,” “Reality and Romance,” and “America, Where Gambling is a Form of Patriotism.”

From there I took a trip to Atlantic City to help cover a WSOP Circuit event with my buddy Rich Ryan. I reported on the trip in a sequence of posts -- Prelude, Arrival, Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 -- then wrote about playing a short low limit session at Caesars AC.

My course continued forward, inspiring posts like “Hold’em’s History Makes a Good Mystery” and “Bluffing and Nothingness,” the latter talking about the great “kick a buck” scene in Cool Hand Luke, one of my all-time favorite poker scenes in film.

What else was occupying our attentions in March? Various twitter gripes involving Prahlad Friedman, Justin Bonomo, Isaac Haxton, Joe Sebok, and Jon Aguiar, discussed here in a post titled “Ambiguous Images.” A crazy-ass -- and, of course, doomed -- new high roller series to be sponsored by Full Tilt Poker, “Another Level: The Onyx Cup Series.” And increasing attention on UltimateBet and its myriad failures as well as some “who am us”-type discussion about the poker world, chronicled here in a post “On Poker Communities.”

Funny how March looks now, ain’t it? Like the last moments of a wild, out-of-control party or something, just before the cops finally arrived to break it up once and for all.


April 2011By now in my class we were discussing poker films in earnest, and so the month of April began with various posts sharing some thoughts inspired by those discussions, including “Experience and The Cincinnati Kid,” “California Split and First Impressions,” and “Reflecting on Rounders.”

A week before Black Friday, I wrote a post titled “Some Rambling About the Rumble (Online Poker in the U.S.)” which mentioned some of the legal machinations happening in the U.S. with regard to online poker as well as the various “joint ventures” then being struck between online poker sites and land-based casinos in the U.S. The point of the post was essentially to say that it appeared likely some major shift was about to occur with regard to online poker in the States, although I had no idea exactly what.

Would like to claim now I had some foresight of what would occur seven days later, but I obviously did not. Indeed, while I shied away from being too bullish in the April 8 post -- preferring rather just to say (vaguely) “that something is going to happen, perhaps sooner than later, on the legislative front” -- I confess that when I wrote the post my mood was generally optimistic about the situation, and not at all fearful of anything close to what would actually turn out to happen a week later.

In other words -- as the blog shows -- I was as surprised as anyone, having failed like most to read how the U.S. government would be playing its hand.

I had another travel gig in April, a return to Lima, Peru to help cover a Latin American Poker Tour event. Was paired with Dr. Pauly for this one, which in and of itself would have made the trip memorable. But it was while we were down in South America all hell broke loose back home.

I filed my reports on the LAPT Lima trip here -- Arrival, Pregame, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Departure -- those posts probably sounding increasingly apocalyptic as they go. After all, it was hard not to shake the sense that we were covering what seemed like the Last Poker Tournament while among the ruins in Lima. (By the way, that pic at the top of the post is Pauly playing at being a shade at Huaca Pucllana.)

I did write one quick reaction on the night of April 15 to the U.S. Department of Justice unsealing its indictment and civil complaint targeting 11 individuals and PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/UB, a post titled “Thunderstruck: The Day It All Changed for Online Poker.” And of course there’d be more posts regarding the significance of what had happened and speculating about what was to come, including “The Game of Outlaws: Poker’s Image in America,” “The Hustler, the DOJ, and Online Poker in the U.S.,” and “Bharara’s Hammer.”

By month’s end I was marking “Five Years” of Hard-Boiled Poker. In that anniversary post I wondered a little about the whole idea of continuing the blog, my mind still somewhat clouded by the heavy Black Friday fog.

But I saw my way clear to keep it going. And so the blog -- and the game -- continued.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reports and Opinions (the DOJ Letter)

Reading the NewsHas been interesting over the last few days to peruse “mainstream” (or non-poker) outlets reporting on that memo from Assistant Attorney General Virginia A. Seitz that was made public last Friday. That was the one sharing the Department of Justice’s revised opinion regarding the Wire Act as applying to online sports betting only, a view that many have taken as possibly heralding a new era in online gambling -- including poker -- in the U.S. (See Monday’s post for more.)

The Wall Street Journal and Forbes were among the first to report the story on Friday.

In “Justice Opinion Finds Room for Online Gambling,” the WSJ summarizes the opinion and speculates briefly about its significance. The article actually quotes a lawyer who represents Absolute Poker (Dennis Ehling) speaking of the opinion as "a clear change" in the DOJ's stance toward online gambling and "a boon for a lot of operators." Of course, I can’t really see how it helps his client all that much at present.

Meanwhile on Forbes Nathan Vardi (who has been reporting on all things Black Friday and/or online poker-related for quite some time) borrowed language from the current presidential campaigns for the title of his piece: “Department of Justice Flip-Flops on Internet Gambling.” Vardi points out how as recently as 2007 the DOJ was insisting the Wire Act covered not just sports betting but other forms of gambling.

Vardi also notes how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada received a letter on Friday from another Assistant Attorney General, Ronald Weich, which clarified that “in states that ban various forms of gambling -- including Internet poker -- the Department will be able to investigate and prosecute those gambling businesses” as before, using the UIGEA and other laws to do so.

I didn’t see too much about the story over the holiday weekend, although like most I wasn’t online as often then to check. The New York Times did report on the DOJ letter on Christmas day in an article titled “Ruling by Justice Dept. Opens a Door on Online Gambling.” A few more “mainstream” articles popped up over the last couple of days which discussed the opinion some more.

On Monday the Christian Science Monitor reported on the story in "Boom in Internet gambling ahead? US policy reversal clears the way." The piece notes "gambling critics see[ing] the move as another major crack in America's moral foundation," and speculates whether Congress will further move to pass legislation aimed at curbing addiction and preventing minors from gambling online.

The CSM piece quotes I. Nelson Rose’s recent editorial about Seitz’s memo, makes the connection between the DOJ letter and Nevada's approval of online poker regs, and also notes Sands casino owner Sheldon Adelson's recent statement of opposition to online gambling.

Yesterday The Boston Herald reported on how the letter has encouraged state representative Daniel Winslow to hope Massachusetts soon gets its own online poker game going. “Rep hopes ruling puts web poker back in play.” goes the title. The article reports how the state’s treasurer is already convening a task force to look into getting the lottery up and running online.

CNN weighed in yesterday as well to opine that “Ruling increases odds for online gambling legalization”, a short piece that essentially passes along Rose’s optimistic interpretation of things. (Incidentally, a lot of these articles are calling the letter a “ruling” rather than what it is -- an “opinion.”)

MarketWatch had a piece today titled “The online poker gold rush” characterizing the DOJ letter as indicating “the Obama administration may be moving towards legalizing online poker.” The article goes on to suggest keeping an eye on Bwin-Party Digital Entertainment’s stock, referring in particular to the deal Bwin-Party struck with Boyd Gaming and MGM Resorts International a couple of months ago.

The piece concludes with writer Brett Arends cyncially noting how the real reason behind any possible shift in stance regarding online poker is the need for revenue and not a recognition of “freedom, [the] pursuit of happiness, or the absurd hypocrisy of our gambling laws.”

Those are just some of the articles I’ve been reading over the last few days on non-poker sites which are considering the possibility of online poker’s return to the U.S. Almost prefer keeping up on such things from outside the echo chamber that the usual poker news sites and forums can sometimes be -- where even a small rumble can swiftly be made to seem an earthquake.

Of course, that is not to say the non-poker folks aren’t prone to make a lot of a little, especially where online gambling is concerned.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Light Reading

The Kindle TouchVera gave me a Kindle Touch for Christmas. I like it.

When I first heard of these e-readers my initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. I’m one of those people who has lived a life fairly devoted to books and reading, enough to have developed a strong affection for page-turning and the physical pleasures of books -- their feel, their look, even the way they smell. Even the weight of a book seems meaningful to me, like the literal weight of a book somehow represents its figurative “weight” or significance, too.

Meanwhile, this Kindle weighs just 7.8 ounces. Barely anything. Feels like small picture frame. Looks like a notepad. And smells like... well, nothing.

It took me about fifty tries before I stopped touching the screen a couple of lines before reaching the bottom of the page. I never realized it before, but I suppose when reading a book I had the habit of lifting the page a moment or two early, readying to flip the moment I had read the last word. Can’t do that with the Kindle.

I’m getting used to it, though, and I think it will probably lead to my reading more contemporary fiction and nonfiction in the coming year. Would be cool to be able to read blogs on this sucker, but it doesn’t appear to be set up for that. (I can get on the web via wi-fi with it, though, if I want.)

We have Amazon Prime, too, which means I can take books out of the “Lending Library.” Like many new Kindle users, I started out by taking out Suzanne Collins’ best seller The Hunger Games, and I have read about a hundred “pages” so far.

'The Hunger Games' (2008) by Suzanne CollinesI had actually been mildly curious about the book even before I saw it at the top of the list of suggested titles, mainly because last year we’d heard a lot about a film adaptation being shot not too far from where we live. In fact, there was a short period in there somewhere when I’d even considered going to a casting call for extras, but ultimately decided it would take too much time were I chosen to participate.

The book pretty obviously lifts its premise from Shirley Jackson’s famous New Yorker short story from 1948, “The Lottery.” Also borrows a lot from Stephen King, especially his early one The Long Walk (1979) which I once wrote about here, a book also clearly influenced by Jackson’s tale.

The story is entertaining enough so far, though. The set-up is rapidly delivered. It’s the U.S., only different. We’re a little ways into the future, following some sort of civil war that resulted in the Capitol wielding totalitarian-like dominance over the other twelve “districts.” Once a year two adolescents from each district are selected to participate in a barbaric fight-to-the-death from which only one survives (the “games” of the title).

The reason for the contest seems pretty sketchy -- they are “a yearly reminder” from the Capitol of their power over the districts and that any sort of rebellion like “the Dark Days” of the previous uprising “must never be repeated.” Erm, okay. I assume-slash-hope there is more back story to come.

The set up and story actually remind me somewhat of a freezeout multi-table tournament. I made a similar analogy in that post about The Long Walk during the WSOP Main Event a couple of years ago.

Like with an MTT, it’s a similar sort of scenario in which only one can possibly “survive.” And like in a poker tourney, the players in the “games” come to it with differing levels of preparedness and skill. There’s even talk of sponsorships perhaps unduly affecting players’ competitiveness, another detail that is making me think of the professional tourney circuit.

We’ll see where it goes, and whether or not I’ll be inspired to read more than just the first book of Collins’ trilogy.

'Same Difference' (2009) by Martin Harris (for the Kindle)Meanwhile, I’m seeing a lot of other cool titles for the Kindle. My novel Same Difference is in there, too, by the way, if you’re looking for something to add to your new Kindle. It’s a detective novel set in mid-1970s NYC amid the grindhouses and other sordid Times Square fare. I purposely priced the Kindle version on the low side, so if spicy murder mysteries are your thing, check it out.

I’ve had a few people tell me my book is a “page-turner,” which I’ve liked hearing. No way you can say that about the Kindle version, though.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Talkin’ the DOJ Letter and Nevada (The State of Online Poker)

Welcome to NevadaHope everyone enjoyed the weekend festivities. I know I enjoyed seeing family and eating more than I should. Turkey sandwiches on the menu today.

Was enough to make us forget about that burst of poker news that happened last Friday. You remember, how in the afternoon a memorandum emanating from the U.S. Department of Justice momentarily grabbed the attention of the poker world thanks to its apparent connection to the legality of online poker in the U.S. Early reactions over Twitter and on certain sites made it sound at first as though after an especially rough year for online poker players we’d all been delivered some sort of nifty early Christmas gift by our otherwise Grinchy government.

Alas, the news turned out to be not as immediately significant as those early indications suggested. Sort of like reaching in your stocking, pulling out an intriguingly-shaped package, tearing it open and discovering you’d been given a box of dental floss.

That said, it might come in handy at some point. You know, like after you finally finish with the barely-used box of floss you got last year.

The memo -- an opinion regarding proposals made in New York and Illinois having to do with state lotteries -- is dated a little over three months ago (September 20), although it only became public on Friday. In fact, the timing of the memo becoming public is quite interesting and most certainly noteworthy (more on that below). It is signed by Virginia A. Seitz, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, and you can read it in full here.

The opinion shows Seitz -- and, by extension, the DoJ as a whole -- weighing in on a question regarding those two states selling lottery tickets online to residents who might not physically be within the state at the time of purchase. The opinion essentially says such sales are okay, thanks mainly to the fact that they do not violate the Interstate Wire Act of 1961.

In asking for the opinion, the states had argued that selling state lottery tickets in this manner (over the web, across state lines but to their own residents) shouldn’t violate the Wire Act since that federal law applies only to sports betting. The states also argued that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 also allows for this sort of online gambling (i.e., lotteries).

The memo describes how in the past the DoJ’s Criminal Division had interpreted the Wire Act to cover other types of online gambling than just sports betting. Previously, the Criminal Division had taken the position that what the Wire Act prohibits “is not limited to sports wagering and can be applied to other forms of interstate gambling.” But Seitz also spells out how this particular way of reading the Wire Act “creates tension with [the] UIGEA, which appears to permit out-of-state routing of data associated with in-state lottery transactions.”

The Wire ActSo there are a couple of different issues being discussed here. One is the DoJ’s prior view that the Wire Act applies not just to interstate online sports betting, but other kinds of interstate online gambling, too. The other is the UIGEA clarifying that it is permissible for states to sell lottery tickets online to its own residents, even if those sales involve transactions that could be said to cross state lines (i.e., could perhaps be called “interstate” transactions in a technical sense).

On the first issue, this new opinion says that the DoJ’s Criminal Division’s previous interpretation of the Wire Act was “incorrect” and that the law “prohibits only the transmission of communications related to bets or wagers on sporting events or contests.” The explanation of this differing view takes up the majority of the memo (Sections II and III, starting on page 3 and continuing to the end of the letter on page 13).

As far as the second issue is concerned -- i.e., the UIGEA’s allowance for states to sell lottery tickets online to its own residents (even if those transactions happen to cross state lines) and whether that presents some sort of conflict or “tension” with the Wire Act -- that is set aside by Seitz as not really relevant because of the way this new opinion interprets the Wire Act as not covering lotteries.

“In light of that conclusion,” writes Seitz, “we need not consider how to reconcile the Wire Act with UIGEA, because the Wire Act does not apply in this situation. Accordingly, we express no view about the proper interpretation or scope of UIGEA.”

And that is that. So what we have is a fairly notable revision of the DoJ’s earlier stance regarding the Wire Act. And while the letter ends with that note saying that no view is being expressed regarding the UIGEA, it does along the way quote a passage from the UIGEA emphasizing that individual states can pass their own laws to allow intrastate online gambling: “The UIGEA specifies that ‘unlawful Internet gambling’ does not include bets ‘initiated and received or otherwise made exclusively within a single State’... and expressly provides that ‘[t]he intermediate routing of electronic data shall not determine the location or locations in which a bet or wager is initiated, received, or otherwise made.’”

So what are we looking at here? Well, as Grange95 helpfully explains in his post “Why the DOJ’s Wire Act Opinion is No Big Deal for Online Poker,” the opinion regarding the Wire Act is significant insofar as “it removes one federal criminal statute from the weapons prosecutors can wield over online poker companies.”

Just my opinionThis is the reason why the Poker Players Alliance quickly issued a press release last Friday in which it “applauded the ruling” represented by the DoJ’s memo. (Of course, the letter isn’t really a “ruling” but rather an “opinion,” though it is still significant for the DoJ to weigh in like this.) The PPA is excited because getting the Wire Act out of the way would certainly be helpful when it came to passing federal legislation to license and regulate online poker (à la Joe Barton’s H.R. 2366).

Also important here is the way the opinion quietly defers to states when it comes to legislating intrastate online gambling. This is what the UIGEA says, too, although any state that might have been interested in pursuing such legislation was understandably hesitant in the same way the New York and Illinois lottery folks were -- not wanting to get carried away with allowing online gambling in their state without having some sort of okay from the feds first.

In his post, Grange95 further describes what he sees the memo representing as far as individual states offering online gambling is concerned. As he points out, no state allows it just yet. But that could change. Which brings us back to the interesting timing of the memo being made public last Friday.

Recall how it was just one day before -- on Thursday -- that the Nevada Gaming Control Board approved regulations for intrastate poker. In fact, six companies have already filed applications for licenses to operate online poker sites (Bally’s Technology, Caesars Entertainment, Cantor Gaming, International Game Technology, Shuffle Master, and South Point). Check out this CardPlayer interview with a member of the NGCB for more particulars of the vote and its implications.

This approval comes about six months after the passage in May Assembly Bill No. 258 in Nevada, approved by Governor Brian Sandoval and made effective on June 10. That’s the law enacting provisions governing the licensing and operation of online poker in Nevada.

In allowing for the licensing and regulation of online poker in Nevada, A.B. 258 includes a couple of provisions designed to keep the state from appearing to step on the feds’ toes. Before any licenses can be issued, says the bill, one of two things must first occur: “(1) A federal law authorizing the specific type of interactive gaming for which the license was granted is enacted; or (2) The United States Department of Justice notifies the Board or Commission in writing that it is permissible under federal law to operate the specific type of interactive gaming for which the license was granted.”

It appears that the memo that we all learned about on Friday would be an example of that second provision. Thus is the timing of last week’s events all the more interesting. (Thanks to Scarlet Robinson for her help sorting through some of these connections.)

The United States of AmericaI’m not completely clear on the extent to which we’re looking at the possibility of not just intrastate online poker (e.g., in Nevada), but interstate online poker as well, e.g., via agreements between states that have individually legalized intrastate online poker to form agreements and start sharing player pools, but that’s certainly part of the discussion here. Grange95 talks about the possibility of multi-state consortiums a bit in his “Wire Act” post as well as in a second post “Online Poker Legalization Will Ultimately Be a State by State Fight

My Dad just called me about an hour ago to say he saw something crawling across the bottom of the screen on CNN about online poker. Something about it being legal again, he said. I said, yeah, something is happening.

But it’s complicated. And it will take a while. A lot of behind the scenes politicking going on, and probably some state-vs.-state battles having already developed over the issue of online poker. And as far as our getting to play again goes, that is going to take some time, too. Indeed, for anything to get done, it’ll probably seem like pulling teeth.

Which reminds me, now that I’ve finished another turkey sandwich... I think I’ll go floss.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Poker and Telling Stories on TV

from a 2009 episode of 'Law and Order: Criminal Intent'Had some fun this week with a new Community Cards column for the Epic Poker Blog. There I’m writing about various instances of poker turning up in “mainstream” popular culture.

The other night I happened to be switching channels on the old crystal receiver and during the course of the evening ran into not one, not two, but three different shows in which poker was featured. These were otherwise non-poker shows, mind you -- one a “reality” show, another a sitcom, and the third a crime drama.

I ended up rewatching all three shows, then put together a brief discussion of how each “used” poker to help with the business of storytelling.

One idea that struck me as I wrote the column was how poker can provide show creators a kind of short cut when it comes to character development, advancing the plot, or communicating themes or messages. As anyone who has played the game well knows, poker is a story-producing activity, instantly providing contexts for characters to emerge, conflicts to occur, and ideas about human nature to be explored.

Meanwhile, television shows are about as fast-paced a variety of storytelling as there is these days. Thus does the occasional poker game come in handy to move things along more quickly in between all of the Geico commercials.

Anyhow, if you’re curious go check the column out. The shows I discussed were “Basketball Wives LA,” “30 Rock,” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”

Got some more gift-wrapping to take care of, so I’m going to cut things short here today. Everyone enjoy them holidays, and thanks again for giving me some time now and then on this here blog.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Break-In, a Brouhaha, and a Beginning

News Round-UpHugely busy these days, trying to get everything together before all the gift-giving, family-visiting, and food-stuffing gets going in earnest this weekend. As a result I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to poker -- either playing it or giving a lot of attention to the various news items surfacing in the poker world.

I did get a chance to skim through a few stories standing out from the most recent cycle, though.

Truly hated to hear about 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel being the victim of what sounds like a harrowing home invasion this week. Two men broke into his Montreal home, tied him up and physically assaulted him, threatened to kill him, then left with money and other items including his 2010 WSOP Main Event bracelet.

2010 WSOP ME braceletOf course, that bracelet is a pretty damned conspicuous item -- hard to imagine the thieves being able to pawn such a thing with ease. It sounds like they also made off with a lot of 500 Euro notes that are also rare enough to raise eyebrows, should they try to use them. Here is a report about the incident from a Canadian news outlet.

I also found myself a little distracted the last couple of days by this multi-way spat that has arisen involving I. Nelson Rose, the Poker Players Alliance, Mason Malmuth, and Rep. Joe Barton.

Barton, as we know, has proposed a federal bill designed to provide a means to license and regulate online poker in the U.S. He’s also appeared a couple of times before the House committee that’s been discussing the topic of online gambling, speaking in particular about poker and his desire to see his bill or something similar move forward.

I. Nelson Rose vs. Joe BartonEarlier this month, the gambling lawyer I. Nelson Rose attacked Barton in a piece for Poker Player Newspaper, primarily aiming at Barton’s previous record regarding votes to prohibit online gambling (including his votes on the UIGEA).

The Poker Players Alliance took issue with Rose’s article, sending out a rebuttal of sorts on Tuesday. And Mason Malmuth stirred the pot some more by starting a thread on Two Plus Two in which he shared the PPA’s statement, then jumped in to criticize Rose himself. Then following Rose’s appearance on QuadJacks Radio yesterday, Malmuth appeared on QJ Radio as well to further discuss Rose, Barton, and everything else.

The result is a fairly noisy, overlapping discussion touching on a number of different issues, including the prospects of Barton’s bill, Rose’s political leanings, the PPA’s effectiveness as a representative of poker players’ interests, the possible editorial stance of Poker Player Newspaper, Malmuth’s status as a firebrand, among others.

Finally -- and not unrelatedly -- today we’re learning of Nevada moving forward as expected to adopt intrastate internet gaming regulations. A vote today confirmed that Nevada has agreed to rules for allowing entities to apply for licenses to operate online poker sites.

NevadaIt sounds like this vote means that should any sort of federal legislation come to pass, Nevada will be a place to go for those seeking licenses to operate sites. It also sounds like Nevada may be ready to go forward with in-state-only sites, too, but work will have to be done to ensure they'll be able to pull that off (i.e., successfully limiting play within the state's borders).

I still need to read up more on this latter item in order to grasp the particulars. Here’s a Wall Street Journal piece from yesterday describing what was voted on today, which as mentioned did pass. (EDIT [added 12/23/11]: Here is a report from PokerFuse about the Nevada vote and its possible implications.)

Definitely appears as though movement on the state level is going to be happening a lot more swiftly than on the federal level, as far as the licensing and regulating of online poker in the U.S. is concerned. And while it is hard to say just yet what the significance of today’s move in Nevada will ultimately be, it does appear to be the beginning of something.

Speaking of beginning something, these gifts aren’t gonna wrap themselves. Better go get started.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Man-Made Monster is On the Loose! (Black Friday)

'Black Friday' (1940)We keep talking about Black Friday. And we will for a long time to come, too.

Headlines yesterday regarding Brent Beckley, one of the 11 targeted as part of the “Black Friday” indictment and civil complaint unsealed back on April 15. Beckley pleaded guilty to a couple of the counts against him -- conspiracy to violate the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud. Here’s the DoJ’s press release announcing Beckley’s plea.

As Haley Hintze points out over on the Kick Ass Poker blog, Beckley wasn’t exactly one of the founders of Absolute Poker -- as was his stepbrother, the also-indicted AP founder Scott Tom -- although he did come in early on and served as the director of payment processing. Beckley now likely faces up 12-18 months imprisonment (or more) while also being made to give up $300,000. His sentencing isn’t scheduled to happen until April 2012.

Stuart Hoegner (a.k.a. “Gaming Counsel”) has a new blog post over on Pokerati in which he discusses Beckley’s deal, interpreting its terms to suggest that Beckley may not be cooperating with the DoJ in quite the same way another of those indicted on “Black Friday,” the payment processor Bradley Franzen (who pleaded guilty to three counts back in May) might be.

Meanwhile, two other “Black Friday” defendants -- Chad Elie (another payment processor) and John Campos (former Vice Chairman of the Board and part owner of SunFirst Bank in Utah) are fighting the charges at this point, having filed a motion earlier this month to have the charges against them dismissed. (See Subject:Poker’s report on that motion.) That probably ain’t gonna happen, meaning that barring any deal those two will be going to trial in March 2012.

One other indicted on “Black Friday,” the payment processor Ira Rubin, was arrested back in late April in Guatemala. I believe he’s still in custody and is apparently nearing some sort of plea agreement.

It seems doubtful at present that any of the others indicted will be coming to the U.S. either to make pleas or fight the charges against them any time soon. Those include Isai Scheinberg (PokerStars founder), Paul Tate (Director of Payments for Pokerstars), Ray Bitar (CEO of TiltWare/Full Tilt Poker), Nelson Burtwick (Director of Payments for TiltWare), Scott Tom (of AP), and Ryan Lang (another payment processor), all of whom remain “offshore” like the sites with which they are associated.

Remember the separate civil complaint targeting the sites -- the one amended back in September to add more allegations against Full Tilt Poker as well as the names/accounts of Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Rafe Furst -- seeks the forfeiture of a big bunch of cabbage (i.e., $3 billion) but isn’t bringing criminal charges or aiming to imprison anyone.

Also worth remembering is the fact that the still-pending deal involving Group Bernard Tapie and FTP -- the one “brokered” by the DoJ (and on which the DoJ hasn’t really commented, as far as I know) -- involves dismissing those civil claims against FTP but doesn’t affect the “Black Friday” indictment or amended civil complaint.

We’re coming to the end of 2011, and thus instinctively are encouraged to look back and think about the year’s top stories in poker. Obviously Black Friday will be topping all such lists this time around.

But really, just about every poker-related story from 2011 is going to be related in some fashion to the sudden shutdown of the online game in the U.S. following the events of April 15. Probably most of them in 2012, too.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ed Miller’s How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold’em

Ed Miller, 'How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold'em' (2011)Not long ago I had a chance to read and review Ed Miller’s latest book-length offering, titled How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold’em.

I’ve been a big fan of Miller’s ever since Small Stakes Hold’em (2004), a book he co-authored with David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth. That book focuses on limit hold’em and for me was kind of a formative text that especially helped me understand winning LHE strategy.

That was back when I’d generally be reading a new poker strategy book every other week or so. Can’t say I’m reading as many such books today, although the truth is books aren’t being produced at quite the same clip, either, having been largely replaced by various forms of online instruction, including videos, forums, and online coaching. But if you’re like me you still like to read, and perhaps respond well to smartly conceived and well written books of strategy. If so, then Miller’s book might be worth checking out.

Like SSHE, Miller’s new title is similarly aimed at low-limit players although it definitely assumes the reader has some experience with NLHE and understands basics like starting hand strength, the importance of position, and so on.

As the title suggests, Miller hones in on one particular aspect of the game here -- i.e., hand reading. That means that while other topics like bet-sizing or bluffing or more advanced methods of “leveling” versus tough opponents are touched upon here and there, the primary focus throughout is simply learning how to profile opponents at the low-limit games, then how to put them on hand ranges that you can narrow down as a hand progresses, then playing accordingly.

A few ideas stand out for me from the book, one being the way Miller groups the players at these tables into three categories -- nits, fish, and regulars. Nits are the easiest group to read, although as Miller points out a lot of us still have trouble letting go of hands in the face of nits’ bets. “A recent survey of small stakes poker games revealed that every eight seconds, somewhere in the world a nit is holding the nuts and getting paid on the river,” jokes Miller.

Regulars are generally more crafty, but they, too, play a relatively straightforward game most of the time. Meanwhile the fish are generally the hardest to read, illustrating as they do the principle that it is hard to interpret the actions of someone who isn’t clear himself regarding why he does what he does. That said, the fish will often play a range of hands that include a lot of weak holdings, increasing the chances that a solid player who uses discretion when choosing hands to play will be ahead of them and thus profit from playing hands against them.

Another point Miller emphasizes in the book is this tendency a lot of us have to assume the worst when engaged in post-flop hand reading. In other words, when faced with an opponent who doesn’t cooperate immediately by folding to our post-flop bets, we instantly assume he’s connected with the board in the strongest possible way. In other words, we aren’t really “reading” his hand, but letting our emotion (or fear) overwhelm us into imagining bad outcomes rather than using logic and an understanding of probability to approach the situation in a more rational -- and thus profitable -- manner.

Part of this effort to minimize emotion and maximize logic involves committing to some significant mental effort to construct hand ranges and be willing to do some math to figure out how to proceed. Miller offers advice about how to develop this skill so as to be able to take some shortcuts at the table when making these calculations, and his book includes some terrific suggestions for away-from-the-table exercises for doing just that.

There’s much more to talk about -- and to like -- in Miller’s book, but rather than go on further about it I’ll just point you to my more comprehensive review over on Betfair poker. You might also check out Bill Rini’s review of How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold’em as well.

As Bill notes, Miller kind of stands out from the crowd as far as poker strategy texts go, both for the clarity of his style and the originality of his thinking. I agree with Bill that if you are looking for a new NLHE strategy book to energize your thinking about the game -- and especially if you want to work on the art-slash-science of constructing hand ranges and reading opponents’ holdings -- Miller’s new title is a good one for getting back into reading and thinking about poker.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Unlimited Hold’em

Can, 'Unlimited Edition' LP (1974)Was up late last night, following both the finale of the third Epic Poker League Main Event and the $10,300 buy-in “High Roller” event on PokerStars.

The latter was part of the 10th Anniversary festivities over on Stars, running alongside the big Sunday Million that drew over 62,000 players and sported a whopping $12,423,200 prize pool. Meanwhile, the High Roller attracted 187 players, making for a $1.87 million prize pool over there, well above the event’s $500,000 guarantee.

The High Roller event featured deep starting stacks (200 big blinds) and 30-minute levels. Meanwhile, the last day of the Epic Poker League “mix max” event also found the final players super-deep, averaging nearly 167 BBs to start. On Sunday they played down from five to two players -- Andrew Lichtenberger and Chris Klodnicki -- at which point those two then played a best-of-three heads-up match.

They carried their stacks over to heads-up from when Joe Tehan busted in third, which meant Klodnicki started with 3.47 million and Lichtenberger 1.526 million. The blinds were just 6,000/12,000 when they began, meaning Klodnicki had almost 290 BBs and Lichtenberger a little more than 127 BBs.

Klodnicki beat Lichtenberger in their first match, taking more than three-and-a-half hours to do so. And then they reset the stacks and rolled back the blinds and did it all over again.

Such deep stacks of course allowed for more “play” at the end of these tournaments, which meant players were able to engage in a lot more post-flop challenges of one another. Most definitely got the sense in both tourneys that skill was at a premium, particularly at the very end.

I’d spent the better part of the day watching NFL football, enjoying the constant action of that game which also requires a great deal of skill but for which luck plays a role, too. As I followed the much more serene-seeming poker through the night, I couldn’t help but think what a tough sell these tourneys really were as “spectator sports.”

Kind of a paradox, I suppose, that in order to show most definitively the skill poker can require, one has to slow down the game to a point where only the most dedicated players or fans would be willing to watch.

I noticed a railbird at one point in the High Roller tournament jokingly refer to the game they were playing as “unlimited hold’em.” As the tourney dragged on into the wee hours of the morning, it did start to seem like it could go on and on and on -- as though not only was there no limit on the betting, but no limit on the amount of time they were willing to take to decide the sucker.

Eventually ends would come for both the High Roller and Epic Poker League events. And I guess both in a way demonstrated how the appeal of poker played at its highest level is certainly not unlimited.

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