Monday, April 30, 2012

“Amarillo Slim” Preston (1928-2012)

Amarillo Slim Preston (1928-2012)We had heard a couple of weeks ago that Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. -- a.k.a. “Amarillo Slim” -- was nearing the end, his friend and fellow poker icon Doyle Brunson having tweeted that he was “in critical shape,” then last week again reporting he was “at death’s door.” Preston passed at age 83 during early Sunday morning.

Preston’s significance to the modern history of poker is impossible to ignore.

In my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class we cover the entire history of poker, going back to the early 19th century. By the time we get to the latter part of the story Preston comes up again and again.

We read and talk about the World Series of Poker and Preston’s win at the third ever WSOP Main Event in 1972. We even discuss the possible deal-making that occurred at that final table that resulted in Preston’s victory, since that story helps show poker’s still uncertain place in American culture. And we talk about Preston’s subsequent publicity tour, including his many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where he was, for all intents and purposes, the face of poker in America and the game’s chief spokesperson.

I wrote a “Poker & Pop Culture” piece for PokerNews a few years back detailing that part of Preston’s story -- check it out for a fuller treatment of how Preston uniquely combined the Old West cowboy image with modern ideas about poker and gambling while advancing the message of poker to mainstream America.

I save the films in my class until the last few weeks. I feel like the students get a lot more out of them after having studied poker’s fascinating history, as well as after having thought a lot about poker’s place in American culture. They are, I believe, uniquely positioned to interpret and critique the movies after having gone through such study previously.

Amarillo Slim Preston makes a cameo in 'California Split'As I mentioned in a post last week, we just watched the 1974 film California Split, in which Preston has a memorable cameo near the end, essentially playing himself. His appearance immediately communicates a huge change from the games back at the California Club we see at the beginning of the film, announcing at once that this is high-stakes, serious poker.

This morning I’m rewatching Rounders (1998) for today’s class, and of course there are numerous references to Preston in that film, too, the script for which is packed with lots of knowledgeable allusions to poker’s past. In fact, the movie’s famous opener -- “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half-hour at the table, then you are the sucker” -- is often attributed to Preston.

“I had this picture in my head,” explains Mike (Matt Damon) early on, after having been gutted by Teddy KGB in the film’s opening sequence. “Me sitting at the big table, Doyle to my left, Amarillo Slim to my right, playing in the World Series of Poker.”

For at least three decades, Preston was most certainly a symbol of poker greatness, the mention of his name in a film like Rounders instantly conveying a young player’s aspirations.

I never met Preston, although I did cover him in a few events at the WSOP, and searching back through I am seeing some posts of a few hands here and there. He didn’t play in that many during the years I’ve covered events (since 2008), usually showing up for the Seniors event, the Main, and perhaps a few others.

Of course, Preston’s place in the poker world changed dramatically just as the poker world itself began to change following Chris Moneymaker’s dramatic win at the 2003 WSOP Main Event and the subsequent “boom” in poker’s popularity.

In the summer of 2003 Preston was indicted on charges of indecency with a 12-year-old child (his granddaughter), charges later reduced to a misdemeanor to which Preston pleaded no contest. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the case, addressed by Preston in a two-part interview with Nolan Dalla in 2009 for PokerListings titled “A Legend Lost” (part 1 & part 2).

Last week in my class we talked about Preston’s place in poker history when discussing his scene in California Split. We necessarily talked about the indecency charge, too, which I summarized as a factor that had already affected his place in the poker world presently, and would certainly complicate how people would remember him once he had died.

In any event, for anyone with an interest in poker’s history, Preston’s passing is certainly worth noting. As I’m sure we’ll be doing in class this afternoon.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Someone Figured Out Two Plus Two

Two Plus Two has been down over 24 hours?!?Like most of you, I’ve noticed the popular Two Plus Two forums went offline yesterday afternoon, having fallen victim to a hacker who “has displayed the ability to access e-mail addresses and encrypted passwords” as well as “the ability to decrypt passwords” (to quote from 2+2’s statement on the matter).

The site was taken offline as a precaution, with 2+2 advising users that if they happened to use their password for the forums for other accounts, they should change them as the hacker potentially has that info. NoahSD published a helpful post on his blog yesterday afternoon discussing the situation and providing advice.

The forums have been down for over 24 hours now, which means just about everybody who frequents them has become aware. The situation reminds me of that little brouhaha that erupted just about a year ago -- in late March, just before Black Friday -- which inspired a lot of talk about 2+2’s true significance to the poker community.

2+2At issue was the revelation of still more questionable information regarding the insider cheating scandal (and subsequent cover-up) at UltimateBet. You might recall how during the first weeks of 2011, Joe Sebok -- at the time still a sponsored pro as well as UB Media and Operations Consultant -- was stirring things up a bit with interviews as well as some wars over Twitter. Coupled with some other new revelations about UB, the clamoring for answers was starting to become louder, with some wanting in particular to hear what UB’s COO Paul Leggett had to say about it all.

That’s when 2+2 “Grand Poobah” Mason Malmuth suggested in a thread that if Leggett were to come forward to address any questions, “He should answer them here,” since “2+2 is where the poker community is.”

That suggestion of 2+2’s centrality to the poker community -- or, perhaps even that 2+2 was “the poker community” -- got a lot of response, including many pointing out that the poker community includes a lot of people who have little or nothing to do with the forums, among other rejoinders.

I wrote a post here at the time in which I noted that in poker we really have multiple, overlapping communities (plural). I also got a little abstract and talked about how the whole idea of “community” in sometimes hard to imagine in poker given how the game necessarily pits us all against one other.

Phil Hellmuth riding a giant hot dog on waterI suppose the longer 2+2 stays offline, the more its significance within the poker community will be clarified to us. It isn’t hard to imagine us all congregating somewhere else to share news, spread rumors, discuss strategy, insult and troll, earn warnings and bans, and imagine different scenarios in which Phil Hellmuth would ride a giant hot dog on water.

Then again, since Black Friday a lot of us have been wandering around somewhat detached from “the” poker community for many months now. Could make it that harder to get back together....

I expect 2+2 will be back soon enough, though. Which is good, ’cause I don’t have time to keep making my own photoshops.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sources Are Reporting

Anonymous sourcesContinuing to follow this possible acquisition-slash-settlement story involving PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Yesterday afternoon, Wicked Chops Poker published a brief post titled “Confirmed: PokerStars Acquires Full Tilt Poker.” The post looks like it might have been hastily written (“We’ve been working various sources...”), and doesn’t offer too much beyond the declaration in the headline. The “scoop” here is that having spoken to unidentified people in the know, “the deal is in fact done.” Also confirmed is that $750 million purchase price we saw ChiliPoker CEO Alex Dreyfus tweeting a couple of days back.

The use of anonymous sources is common, of course. Some news organizations defend them as utterly necessary, while others resist using anonymous sources, adopting a code of ethics that forbids their use.

In poker we encounter it a lot, most often because of the myriad conflicts of interest that exist in the poker industry, including those involving poker media. Indeed, just yesterday I was referring to two different articles in which anonymous sources were used.

One was the article in The Wall Street Journal by Alexandra Berzon in which she spoke to “a person familiar with the matter” who confirmed the rumor that Stars was indeed pursuing the purchase. The other was by Diamond Flush in which she, too, shared information provided to her by unnamed sources regarding Groupe Bernard Tapie’s hare-brained scheme to “repay or otherwise make whole” ROW players’ accounts on FTP. (Heck, in the latter case, even the writer is anonymous.)

I assume in both articles that those providing information to the reporters did so on the condition that they not be identified as sources. Such was also likely the case with Wicked Chops’ “various sources,” although sometimes reporters will make such decisions for other reasons than the sources’ own desire for confidentiality.

Consequently, we readers are invited to decide for ourselves how much we trust the reporter’s judgment when relying on sources whose identities he or she cannot or will not share. Our trust is usually based on the information being conveyed and its believability (measured by its fitting with other established facts) as well as the writer’s credibility (measured by past reporting, including past uses of anonymous sources).

There’s a kind of irony here, actually. When we read something -- a news article, a blog post, a poem, a novel, whatever -- our idea of the “author” is of particular significance depending on the genre. In some cases, it matters a lot who the author is; in others, it does not. When it comes to reporting, it matters, thus when an anonymous source is being used, we tend to be skeptical, and can usually only be assuaged by our knowledge of the reporter -- in other words, the less we know about the source, the more we need to know about the one citing the source.

Just two days ago the whole Stars acquisition story “broke” with an entirely anonymous post on a poker forum. Practically no one paid the post any heed until another known poster (NoahSD) who has established some credibility confirmed that he’d spoken with others -- not named -- and was led to believe there may be something to the anonymous poster’s claim. And off we went.

This whole way of communicating information piecemeal, with wildly varying levels of corroboration and verification, is kind of fascinating, really.

With this particular story, it’s like we’re halfway through a poker hand in which we’ve been given various bits of information upon which to base our response. Some of that information is reliable and unambiguous. Some is not. So we go with our “reads” -- both literal and figurative. We read the lines as they are written. And we read between them. And then we decide what we believe.

My usual play in these spots is to be tentative and not risk too much without more concrete information. Do I believe these reporters’ claims as based on their anonymous sources? Sure. But I wouldn’t go making big bets on any of it just yet, nor would I venture to waste too much energy speculating what may come of it all.

And sure, you can quote me on that.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seeing Stars, Tapie Taps Out

Stay TunedWe awake this morning to little new information regarding yesterday’s bombshell that PokerStars may be looking to purchase Full Tilt Poker as part of both sites’ efforts to reach some kind of settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Several mainstream sites have picked up on the story by now, including the Wall Street Journal where Alexandra Berzon, having spoken to “a person familiar with the matter,” can confirm “PokerStars In Talks to Buy Full Tilt Poker.”

Those of us who have seen the new documentary All In: The Poker Movie recall Berzon as one of the many interviewed for the film. She reported on Black Friday and its aftermath for WSJ, and thus was able to fill in some details on that as well as share other interesting observations about Full Tilt Poker’s “bluffing” and the whole poker “boom” being manufactured (in part) by the online poker sites and their loose-aggressive marketing campaigns. I wrote a little about her comments in a post here a few weeks ago.

The unidentified person to whom Berzon spoke confirmed that the purchase “would be part of a broader settlement of a civil case brought by the DOJ against the two companies.” In other words, the civil complaint seeking money from PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker could be settled here; however, Berzon notes, “the deal would likely not affect criminal charges pending against the Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars executives not in the U.S., according to the person with knowledge of the matter.”

The rest of Berzon’s article fills in further background regarding the indictment, the civil complaint (and its later amendment), as well as a reference to past history when “PokerStars and Full Tilt were once fierce rivals.” That latter point was the one that dominated my thoughts about it all yesterday -- the fact that for so many years we saw Stars and Tilt as not just distinct but opposed to one another. For me, that was a context that made the thought of one acquiring the other so wild to contemplate.

Given Berzon’s experience covering the story, I’m going to assume the person to whom she spoke is a well placed source and that we can trust from her reporting that indeed something is going on with regard to these negotiations.

Interestingly, the abrupt failure of the Groupe Bernard Tapie bid has grabbed relatively less attention, despite the fact that the efforts of the French group to acquire FTP have been so closely documented and reported on over the last seven months. Never mind that with that story individuals from both GBT and FTP (with names) have come forward with statements about the failed deal.

Laurent and Bernard TapieI always thought that GBT sincerely wanted to acquire Full Tilt -- that is, they were serious about doing so -- but their offer and method of negotiation never seemed legitimate. Diamond Flush’s detailed breakdown of “The GBT Repayment Plan, Fact vs Fiction” (posted on her site late yesterday) chronicles in detail the group’s mostly unrealistic ideas about repaying “ROW” (rest of world) players. Seems like just one of several aspects of GBT’s negotiating strategy that indicate the deal was mostly doomed from the start, thanks largely to the buyer’s non-willingness to spend.

All along GBT never seemed like they were bringing much at all to the table. Was like they had come to buy something, but in reality Tapie was pretty much tapioca.

There was some talk yesterday floating around about the GBT-FTP deal having somehow fallen victim to “sabotage,” an idea first suggested by an early tweet by iGaming France stating that “Laurent Tapie confirms deal is off for FTP buyout, insinuates external sabotage over DOJ negociations [sic].” iGaming France’s follow-up article mainly shared Tapie’s official statement that the deal was off and brief explanation of the reasons why, including a last acknowledgement that a Stars-FTP-DOJ deal was apparently in the works.

It is that reference to the Stars deal that apparently “insinuates external sabotage,” the implication being the possibility of Stars stepping in here weakened GBT’s negotiating position to the point of ruining their candidacy as purchasers. Unlike GBT, PokerStars is able to offer a lot more for the purchase and thus also better able to repay all players (including those in the U.S.) as well as perhaps settle with the DOJ regarding civil charges. (That $750 million figure we saw ChiliPoker CEO Alex Dreyfus tweeting about early Tuesday is repeated in the iGaming France article.)

No ideer, of course, of the order of things or who has been talking to whom and when, but it seems a little cynical for a non-legitimate suitor to claim (or imply) “sabotage” when a legitimate one comes along to knock them out of the running.

Groupe Bernard Tapie, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStarsSort of like GBT was sitting at the table with some trash hand and was vainly trying to bluff Full Tilt Poker off a monster... you know, like K-K. (We have to give FTP pocket kings here, right?) Then PokerStars reraises with A-A, forcing GBT to give up on the hand. Yet GBT still complains while folding, as though they should have won somehow.

Am certainly intrigued to see how the rest of this plays out, as well as to discover ultimately Stars’ true purposes for striking such a deal -- which I’m sure we’ll all learn if and when it gets done.

Because unlike the amateurish GBT who always seemed like they needed to get lucky to win anything, PokerStars generally plays just about everything like a pro, with each move made for a specific reason, and as part of a larger plan.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Developing: PokerStars to Buy Full Tilt Poker?

Developing: PokerStars to Buy Full Tilt Poker?I remember a little over a year ago pulling together a lengthy feature article for a poker magazine for which I spent several weeks researching and interviewing players and industry figures regarding the “cold war” between online poker’s then-superpowers PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

The article was primarily focused on poker television shows and how top players representing the two sites were unable to compete against one another because the sites wouldn’t allow it. Most of the players I talked to hated the fact that they couldn’t play against one another on the shows.

Seemed kind of a one-sided thing, actually, with Stars being perfectly willing to let the FTP guys onto their shows, but FTP being less interested in such desegregation. Meanwhile, the shows’ producers (with whom I also spoke) had no restrictions regarding players -- that is, they certainly “cast” the shows, but didn’t follow any guidelines about not picking players based on which site they represented.

The due date for the article was April 15, 2011. No shinola. I managed to submit it a few days early before heading down to Lima, Peru for the LAPT event. That’s where I’d be when Black Friday happened. I knew shortly after hearing the news that Friday afternoon that my article had instantly become anachronistic, something I wrote a little about here a couple of months afterward in a post titled “From the Annals of Bad Timing.”

I was reminded of all that this morning amid this rumor-slash-news regarding PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Let’s back up a couple of days first.

“Recently heard some very promising news regarding full tilt,” tweeted Dan “jungleman” Cates this past Sunday afternoon. “Can't share it because it's confidential, but things looking very good :)”

Cates, of course, has a particular interest in all things Full Tilt Poker, given how he reportedly had somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million in his account when Black Friday struck a little over a year ago. Stories since then have suggested he may have sold a good portion of that balance, but obviously he’d still be one to take a sincere interest in the fate of FTP.

Then early this morning, before the sun rose here on the east coast, a brand-new poster at Two Plus Two named “PS<3FTP” provocatively started a thread in the News, Views, and Gossip forum titled “Big News: PokerStars Purchases FTP(?)

The brief post declared that Stars “has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to buy FTP.” Additional bullet points include players getting “refunded 100%” as well as “both sites back online.” (The latter seems an odd thing to say as only one of the two sites is currently offline.) “Expect more news today,” is the signoff.

Moderator NoahSD (formerly of Subject:Poker) correctly responded with cynicism, deleting the thread, but reinstated it after “a number of inside sources” told him there might be something to the report. So the thread remains, with posts being added at a clip of a couple hundred per hour -- none containing any additional news thus far, natch.

About four hours after the post appeared, Alex Dreyfus, CEO of ChiliPoker, tweeted an unambiguous declaration: “Pokerstars buys FullTilt for a consideration of $750m, including settlement with DOJ and full balances of players (330m). I'm impressed.” That got retweeted a lot, of course.

A few minutes later, iGamingFrance tweeted they had asked the Laurent Tapie group about the rumor and the response was they had no comment and would be sending out a press release later today.

Now PokerFuse has posted an article the title of which appears to confirm the story once and for all -- “PokerStars Reaches Agreement to Buy Full Tilt, Settles with DOJ” -- although they, too, are still seeking confirmation from the parties involved. However, the PokerFuse article does indicate that the Tapie group has apparently tapped out of the game, quoting a source at e-Gaming magazine confirming that “efforts to obtain final DoJ approval to acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker have ended without success.”

The general tenor of the gradually building hysteria is that all are awaiting word from PokerStars and/or the DOJ in particular one way or the other regarding the possible deal. Meanwhile, a few have begun speculating about the reasons why Stars might possibly care to involve themselves in the FTP saga at all.

Indeed, our memories of the situation from just over one year ago remain fairly vivid, with the two sites standing side by side, towering over the rest of online poker as wholly separate entities with seemingly little interest in joining forces, even for a televised sit-n-go.

All of which makes this development -- actual or not -- all the more intriguing to envision. That is, an actual winner in that old “cold war” as a possible consequence of the U.S. government’s having used its own legalistic weaponry to drive both from American soil.

Will keep an ear to the ground here, and perhaps come back to update this post as we learn more. In other words, as the news sites say, developing...

EDIT (added 12:30 p.m.): Shortly after noon Eastern time, the GBT indeed announced “that after seven months of intensive work, our efforts to obtain final approval of the United States Department of Justice of the agreement to acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker have ended without success.” The statement goes on to explain the deal failed primarily for two reasons -- an inability to settle on a plan with the DOJ to repay “ROW” (rest of world) players, and FTP’s U.S. legal morass which the GBT characterizes as “unresolvable.”

The statement additionally refers to “press reports that the DOJ may have entered into an agreement with PokerStars” regarding the acquisition of Full Tilt Poker. In other words, the GBT here is merely confirming that it has heard what the rest of us have. You can read the full GBT statement at iGaming Post.

EDIT (12:45 p.m.): Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu tells PokerListings he has no information regarding the story, adding that “the idea of PokerStars buying Full Tilt for $750 million seems impossible to me.”

EDIT (1:30 p.m.): Picking up on the “cold war” theme, Brian Balsbaugh, the founder of Poker Royalty (the agency representing a number of poker pros), sent a tweet a short while ago in which he imagined how the PS-buying-FTP scenario might appear from the perspective of the latter: “It's hard to explain the level of corporate hatred btw PS & FTP. PS w power/control over major FTP shareholders is their worst nightmare.”

EDIT (3:15 p.m.): Andrew Feldman of ESPN Poker spoke with PokerStars and tweeted just before 3 p.m. “there is no comment from them at this time.” A little after that, Team Full Tilter Andy Bloch cryptically tweeted “This might just be ‘Super Tuesday.’”

EDIT (4:00 p.m.): A statement from PokerStars finally came a little after 3:30 p.m. with a note from Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications for PokerStars, explaining that the site couldn’t comment on either its ongoing settlement discussions with the DOJ or any of the other rumors swirling about. “As soon as we have information to share publicly we will do so,” said Hollreiser.

EDIT (5:30 p.m.): As the afternoon wore on, Shaun Deeb stirred the pot a bit by starting a new Two Plus Two thread suggesting he had some inside dope about the matter that “the deal is already done” along with some other semi-surreal-seeming stuff. Meanwhile, a Full Tilt Poker lawyer spoke with Diamond Flush about the failed GBT deal, noting that the site continued to hope that players were repaid. That statement ended with a reference to “settlement discussions with the US Department of Justice” and the need to be confidential, as well as an indication that “as soon as we have information to share publicly we will do so” -- i.e., language uncannily identical to Stars’ earlier statement.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Selling Stories in California Split

'California Split' (1974)Last week I mentioned how I had rewatched The Cincinnati Kid and had noticed a connection I hadn’t necessarily picked up on before. Just a similarity in a couple of hands that seemed like it might have been intentional enough to read into somewhat.

Was looking back at another great poker/gambling film this week -- California Split (1974) -- and noticed another interesting thread I hadn’t necessarily thought about too much before. (Both of these films are ones I show in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class, which explains why I keep watching them over and over.)

I’ve written about California Split here numerous times before, including writing a somewhat formal review and an appreciation of a speech by Charlie near the end in which he sizes up a table full of players just by looking at them. Thus I won’t go back over the whole story or the film’s several themes here other than to say it’s an amazingly realistic, thought-provoking look at the psychology of gambling as well as a cool chronicle of poker-room culture circa mid-1970s.

As a Robert Altman-directed flick it carries an unorthodox style that might put some movie-watchers off, but to readers of this blog I recommend it without reservation as one of the best “poker movies” you’ll find. Anyhow, let me quickly share the new thread I noticed during this umpteenth viewing.

Early on Charlie (Elliott Gould) mentions very briefly to Bill (George Segal) over Froot Loops and Budweiser how he once had a job selling ad space in a labor union magazine that actually did not exist. “Just get on a telephone and call people and say ‘Hey, you wanna buy some space?’” He explains further how he got to keep 45% of what he sold.

Charlie tells Bill and Barbara about a job he once had in 'California Split'“How come you don’t get to keep all of it if it’s non-existent?” asks Barbara (Ann Prentiss), also at the breakfast table with the pair. “I’m not picking nothing up,” answers Charlie. “I’m just talking on the telephone.”

She then asks Bill what his job is and he answers that he’s a writer -- for a magazine, actually. In other words, he legitimately sells stories for a living. We later see him kinda sorta working his job, although after having met Charlie he’s constantly finding excuses to get away and go gamble.

That little exchange about Charlie’s less-than-ethical former job is one of dozens in the film that add lots of depth to both the characters as well as increase the overall believability of the world Altman creates in California Split. It seems incidental, and in fact most watching the film for the first time or even after several viewings probably wouldn’t remember the anecdote afterwards.

Like I say, though, I’m seeing something more significant in the story this time around, thanks to a connection I saw between Charlie’s former job and a contentious conversation Bill has later with his bookie, Sparkie, portrayed by Joseph Walsh who wrote the film’s script. (As Walsh talks about in his 2008 memoir Gambler on the Loose, the story is somewhat based on his own rambling, gambling adventures with Gould.)

Earlier Sparkie had given Bill an extra 10 days to pay him what he owed, but instead Bill put him off, then ran up even more debt. Now they are having a meeting at a restaurant, and Sparkie explains to him that he presently owes $2,200. Bill still doesn’t have the money, but it appears he has an explanation.

“I tell you, this guy Lloyd Harris,” Bill begins, “who's the honcho where I work... we had a very good Christmas season and what he's created now is a slush fund out of which we are gonna be able to withdraw..."

Sparkie doesn't want to hear Bill's story in 'California Split' (1974)From the start Sparkie is shaking his head, utterly impatient with Bill and not at all interested in hearing about his boss or how he plans to pay him at some later date.

“You're not telling me a story now, are you?” asks Sparkie. Bill acts a little offended, saying “I don't know what you mean by ‘story,’” but it is clear that’s exactly what he’s trying to do -- to tell his bookie a story to delay further his paying.

The story might be true or it might be a complete fiction, although from Sparkie’s perspective it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. It’s a story, being offered here as a stand-in for the cash Bill owes.

The exchange reminded me of Charlie’s job selling ads to a non-existent magazine. Like Bill, Charlie had to invent stories to persuade others into parting with their money. You can readily see how this theme applies to poker, too, where we’re constantly doing something similar with one another in an effort to “negotiate” our way into getting others to buy our “stories” at the prices we set with our bets and raises.

This particular theme also makes me think a lot about American culture, generally speaking. (Of course, viewing the film in the context of an American Studies course makes me think along those lines, too.) I’m thinking about how so many of the jobs we have and look upon as legitimate means to earning a living essentially boil down to getting others to buy our stories.

Wouldn’t you agree? Or should I say, are you buyin’ any of this?

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Positively Pauly

'The Doctor Is Out'When I read Dr. Pauly’s post on Monday announcing he was stepping away from Tao of Poker -- not necessarily for good, mind you, but likely for a good while -- I knew I’d want to say something here about it. Thought at first I’d take a day or two to think on it. Then I looked at the calendar and figured I’d wait until Friday. Don’t ask me why, but 4/20 just seemed like the right day for such a post.

The good doctor had been quiet over at Tao for the last three-and-a-half months or so, taking a much deserved break from the poker blogging grind. His last post of 2011 began with an admission he was “burned out beyond belief,” something we regular readers kept in mind as his early 2012 hiatus stretched all of the way into the spring.

In Monday’s post, Pauly writes “A Letter to Ndugu” in which he explains his recent silence while also ending with a suggestion that “this will probably be my last letter.” Textual evidence suggests Ndugu to be the overseer of a foster program in Tanzania which Pauly had supported with monetary donations in the past. However, knowing Pauly’s literary leanings, we know better than to take such statements literally.

“Ndugu” means “brother” or “comrade” or “friend.” Pauly goes on to say it has been 111 days since his last letter -- i.e., the span since his last new post on Tao. Doesn’t take a shamus to figure out who Pauly is really addressing. Us.

Dr. Pauly's unique point of viewThe themes emerging from what follows include self-loathing (“deep down we all know what we’re doing is complete bullshit anyway”), a lack of inspiration (“my schtick is nothing more than a derivative of something I already said much better years before”), and uncertainty about the worth of “promoting the genius of degenerate gambling” or “preaching salvation via online poker” or having “distracted the masses from the maelstrom of evil that has engulfed the world by churning out misogynist rhetoric about the glamorous rockstar lifestyle of a professional poker player.”

Pauly also discusses sin, and humans’ predilection toward such. In particular, greed. “Poker is a game of skill,” he writes, “but greed is a deadly drug.” From there, the hard-to-resist influences of capitalist thinking are explored, including the relentless nature of the quest to accumulate more, its lack of conclusion leading to thoughts of that other, inevitable conclusion -- death.

“What difference did I really make in this world? What have I contributed to this society?” Pauly asks Ndugu. He asks us. “Nothing,” he answers, not waiting for a reply. “I failed.”

Before signing off, though, Pauly admits to having enjoyed “the long strange trip,” noting that while it is hard -- maybe impossible -- to find meaning in what we do, that shouldn’t prevent us from enjoying ourselves while failing. He offers himself up as an object lesson to others not to be a “selfish tosser” like him but to “live a life of integrity” and “try to make a positive impact in this world.”

“Be good,” advises Pauly. “Do good. But most importantly... be yourself, Ndugu.”

The considerable 'vault' at Tao of PokerIf it is a goodbye, it is undoubtedly one in which Pauly has done precisely what he’s advising his reader. Been himself. Like most everything we’ve read on Tao of Poker since way back in early 2003, it’s unique. It’s inimitable. It’s Pauly.

I feel almost self-conscious using a word like “inimitable” here. After all, reading Tao of Poker essentially inspired me to start my own poker blog. As I’m sure it did others. To see if writing about poker might be as fun and interesting and maybe even enlightening as playing it. Or more so.

I think most of us reading “A Letter to Ndugu” also know better than to diminish Pauly’s poker writings as “bullshit” or “schtick” or a mere distraction from more important things. Good, solid, intelligent, reflective writing and storytelling about any aspect of human experience -- even the silly card games we play with each other -- is of value. And Dr. Pauly has generously supported us all with a plentiful supply.

I share many of the doubts Pauly expresses in his letter. Some of the cynicism, too. But I know there’s something worthwhile happening here. Something that matters.

I mentioned earlier this week how I’d found myself going back through Vladimir Nabokov’s books. I got distracted and wrote about something else, but the passage I was really searching for came from the opening to his 1966 memoir Speak, Memory, the first sentence of which goes “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

'Speak, Memory' (1966) by Vladimir NabokovFrom there Nabokov lyrically describes how we all fear death, but we often fail to consider with equal terror the time before our birth when the world existed without us. “Nature expects a full-grown man to accept two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between” he writes. “Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.”

That is to say, it’s easy to think this business in between the beginning and the end -- this “brief crack of light” -- is not to be taken too seriously. But we do. We must. As does Nabokov. “I rebel against this state of affairs,” he says.

Sure, we’re all trapped in this “prison of time” (as Nabokov calls it). But we do what we can to endure. We enjoy ourselves and each other. We can’t help but marvel at all of these “extraordinary visions in between” the two voids, and some of us are inspired from time to time to share what we’ve seen.

This Pauly has done. With integrity, and in a way that has made a positive impact. He’s done good.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Poker Table Ratings Notes Recent Spike in PokerStars’ Aggression Frequency

Steffen Peters' scores on CenterLine ScoresYesterday Vera Valmore was showing me a site -- a relatively new one, I think -- that compiles dressage scores in a comprehensive fashion. The site is called Centerline Scores and describes itself as “a tool to assist the United States Dressage community.”

Dressage is a sport in which riders compete at various levels as outlined by the United States Dressage Federation. There are beginner levels (introductory, training, first), intermediate levels (second, third, and fourth), and what are called “FEI” or international levels (Prix St. Georges, Intermediate I & II, and Grand Prix).

If you ride in a USDF test, then, you get judged and receive a score, and like I say you can search for and view such results at Centerline Scores. They apparently have everything going back nearly a decade, plus lots of rides/scores going all of the way back to 1993. I think some or perhaps most of this stuff comes from the USDF website’s own posting of results, but Centerline Scores has sorted it all out for easier access.

You can search the database according to rider or horse. Thus, if you are thinking about hiring a rider as an instructor, you can go find out what sort of scores he or she has gotten and at what levels. Or if you are looking to purchase a horse, you can see whether the horse has competed and how the horse has done at various levels, too. “We’re all about accuracy and transparency,” the site explains.

As Vera showed me the site, I couldn’t help but think of the news this week regarding Poker Table Ratings, that website that for the last few years has made a business out of collecting hand histories from online poker sites and marketing the data to players. In addition to collecting hands, PTR tracks all sorts of statistics from the cash games, too, including results and win rates as well as a host of other items such as a player’s overall skill rating, preflop looseness, aggression frequency, showdown frequency, “tilt tendency,” and on and on.

SorryAs you probably heard, PokerStars sent PTR “cease and desist” letters and threatened lawsuits over things like infringing intellectual property rights and other violations of the site’s terms and conditions. Yesterday PTR went offline for a little while, then came back with all of its info on PokerStars players having been removed.

Here’s the latest on it all from PokerFuse. Lee Jones, who currently heads up PokerStars’ Home Games program, also contributed an op-ed over at PokerFuse discussing data-mining sites like PTR and their influence on “the health of the online poker ecosystem.”

Jones brings up a few negatives associated with data-mining sites, including creating unfair advantages for those players who use the data as well as occasionally contributing to an unpleasant experience at the tables when players start citing opponents’ stats in chat boxes. I think most of us who have played online poker at all since the advent of PTR have seen the latter come up now and then.

I first became aware of PTR in 2009 or thereabouts, I believe (the site first went online in early 2008). I remember noting at the time how PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker both tried to forbid players from using PTR while playing, although that was essentially another one of those unenforceable items in the sites’ TOC.

Looking back I see I wrote a post back in January 2010 in which I mentioned having discovered PTR had a pretty thorough, mostly accurate record of my play on their site. I emailed them then to ask that my accounts be removed from searches, but they responded “that feature is not available at this time.” They also told me my request “has been sent to our development team as a possible future enhancement” which I’m guessing inspired a little bit less activity than did PokerStars’ more recent threats.

Poker Table RatingsIt’s interesting to compare the site compiling all those scores from USDF rides and something like PTR. Seems like the former is a great asset to riders of all types for a number of reasons, while the latter is just the opposite for most online poker players, in particular the so-called “recreational” ones.

Another obvious difference, of course, is the fact that Centerline Scores provides all of its info free of charge while PTR gave away only some of its data for free while charging for more comprehensive access (thus the intellectual property-related allegation from Stars, I suppose).

That said, tracking sites do potentially provide a kind of independent audit of what’s happening on online poker sites, thus perhaps making it easier to discover any sort of funny business like collusion or bots or “super-user”-like applesauce.

A tough call, I think, trying to find a way to achieve “transparency” for what is by definition a partial information game.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sexton’s Scolding

Sexton's ScoldingThe rightly-revered Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton posted an op-ed of sorts today over on his PartyPoker blog, titled “Poker Pros -- Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.” The post kind of echoes calls by others to encourage players to act professionally, most obviously a post by Matt Glantz from about three-and-a-half months ago titled “Responsibility in Poker.”

Like Glantz, Sexton is primarily speaking to “poker pros” whose success garners them more attention than most, including securing television spots and other chances to speak out and thus represent poker to large groups.

In Glantz’ post, after carving out a balanced position from which to speak (“I am not here to bash or scold you guys”), he explains to his readers that “how you act or speak out in any public forum or media outlet” has significance, since “the things you say and do reflect on all of us.”

Glantz then speaks broadly about poker’s negative image in mainstream culture and how that fact alone should encourage those given the chance to represent the game to accept the “responsibility” he’s recommending -- that is, “to make a consistent and conscious effort to always do our best to publicly present poker in a positive light.”

I think Sexton essentially shares Glantz’ view and wanted to say something similar in his post. And given Sexton’s influential position in the industry, it doesn’t hurt for him to repeat what another has already said, if only for the fact that the message will undoubtedly reach a wider audience.

That said, Sexton’s post adopts a much different, less balanced tone than Glantz’. Nor does it share Glantz’ broad perspective on the game and its place in the culture, instead focusing much more narrowly on the need for pros to embrace television shows like the World Poker Tour and recognize the financial reward for doing so.

A WPT final table“I’ve been disappointed and, frankly, disgusted by a lack of professionalism by some poker pros,” Sexton begins. He notes that these bad-behaving pros “don’t see the big picture” and “just live in their own little worlds.” Sexton then presents two quick examples of such bad behavior, one being a pro failing to appear for a scheduled WPT interview and the other being players dressing too casually for a televised WPT final table.

As Sexton explains, the player who missed the interview apparently overslept -- he’s “a nice guy who just spaced out” -- and apologized. The slovenly-dressed final tablists consisted of four T-shirt wearers and another in a sweatshirt, the sight of which leads Sexton into a digression about a dress code for poker.

As I say, it is clear enough that Sexton essentially agrees with Glantz, but unfortunately the Ambassador of Poker is himself probably being a little too narrow in his thinking when it comes to finding examples to support the larger point. As a result, the argument is less convincing, since it could sound a bit like the WPT host complaining about players failing to support his show rather than a larger argument about representing poker in a positive light.

The fact that Sexton keeps coming back to sponsorships as a reward for good, conscientious behavior isn’t really that effective either, since for the great majority of players -- even among the top performers -- sponsorships aren’t really a meaningful consideration. Sexton is really talking about sponsors of the WPT show (and other poker shows), and the indirect -- and real -- benefit that has for those who participate in WPT events, but even that is a somewhat narrow point to be making in this context.

All of which is to say, I’m fine with the position and argument, but feel like Sexton would have been more persuasive had he left off complaining about a few instances of players missing appointments or wearing T-shirts and adopted a broader perspective on improving poker’s place in the culture, generally speaking (as Glantz did). And really, when it comes to bad behavior reflecting poorly on the poker community as a whole, there are a lot more egregious examples to cite.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Act of Attention

Vladmir Nabokov, and a pencilOne my absolute favorite fiction writers is Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), author of Pale Fire, Lolita, The Defense, 14 other novels (in both Russian and English), a ton of essays and short stories, an incredible memoir titled Speak, Memory, and many lectures on literature, too.

I’ve written here about Nabokov before, including in a post titled “Poker ‘Reality’” where I talked a little about a parenthetical point he once made that the word “reality” is “one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes.” As the title implies, the post takes a stab at applying Nabokov’s point about the subjective nature of “reality” to poker.

I found myself hunting down another quote from Nabokov this morning -- the reason for which I’ll probably reveal in a post later in the week -- and had a kind of mini-revelation while doing so. It has been a long time since I read all of those novels and stories. And truthfully, now that I think about it, I was probably much too young to understand them much at all when I did.

That got me thinking about other writers I once studied in earnest, and how it’s similarly the case that when I read them I also was much younger, much less experienced, and much less equipped to respond to their messages. To their art.

You recognize what I’m referring to, I’m sure. Think of reading Hamlet in high school. Were you really ready to understand the prince’s plight? Maybe you read it later, as a young adult perhaps closer in age to the protagonist. Your ideas about his situation and struggle were better informed then, your responses more thoughtful.

But now you know even more. Now you’d recognize still more angles to consider, more ways to judge the young Dane. You’d see more, including all that you glossed over before as not immediately apparent. And if you read it tomorrow you would realize what you had missed today. And so on.

When I think of Nabokov’s books I think of an artist crafting jaw-droppingly clever, stunningly elaborate worlds out of the smallest details imaginable. Sticking out is the memory of a lengthy description of a pencil, an outrageous digression in Transparent Things (one of his last novels). I’m pulling the book off my shelf right now to find the passage...

Ah, there it is. Hugh Person, the main character, opens a desk drawer and the pencil spills out.

“It was not a hexagonal beauty of Virginia juniper or African cedar, with the maker’s name imprinted in silver foil, but a very plain, round, technically faceless old pencil of cheap pine, dyed a dingy lilac. It had been mislaid ten years ago by a carpenter who had not finished examining, let alone fixing, the old desk, having gone away for a tool that he never found. Now comes the act of attention.”

'Transparent Things' (1972) by Vladimir NabokovWow... I am seeing how the history of the pencil and the description continue for a couple of pages, taking up the entire short chapter. A chronicle of Hugh Person’s act of attention. I’d forgotten.

Details escape us. And even when they don’t, we often miss how they relate to everything else. How they mean. Think about all those hands of poker you played, and all that you missed while playing them. And all you’d see now, if you could play them all again. If you could reread.

It’s a short novel. I think I’ll reread it right now. You know, to see what I missed.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Does the Kid Know Jack?

'The Cincinnati Kid' (1963)A long while ago I wrote a series of posts about The Cincinnati Kid -- both the 1965 film and the Richard Jessup novel. In one of those posts I talked at length about the final hand in the climactic, heads-up match between Lancey Howard (a.k.a. “The Man”) and Eric (“the Kid”).

I was rewatching the film recently and noticed another clever bit of foreshadowing that I thought I’d point out today. If you’ve never seen the film, this post won’t be so interesting as I’m going write with an assumption that you have. Also, even though we are nearly 50 years down the line here, I might as well say “spoiler alert” to those who still plan on seeing The Cincinnati Kid and don’t want to know how it ends.

Okay, so for those of us who’ve seen the movie... we all remember the last hand, right? The game is five-card stud. The Man (Edward G. Robinson) turns over the Jd, showing that he has a straight flush, beating the full house of Eric (Steve McQueen) to bust him. You might not remember another, earlier hand, though, that bears a kind of interesting relationship to the last one.

Recall how the game begins with six players -- Eric, Lancey, Shooter, Doc Sokal, Pig, and Yeller -- before eventually all drop out to leave Eric and the Man to play heads-up. When they are still six-handed, a big hand develops between Lancey and Pig in which Lancey wins most of Pig’s money, then Pig beats a retreat.

In that earlier hand, Lancey (Edward G. Robinson) is showing a pair of jacks on third street and bets, and Doc Sokal calls. Then Pig raises with Q-7 showing. Both Lancey and Doc call. Fourth street is dealt -- apparent blanks to all three -- and this time Pig boldly bets the pot -- $980. Lancey calls him, and after making his calculations Doc calls too, chasing both a straight and a flush.

Fifth street is then dealt. Doc has missed both of his draws and he essentially bows out of the hand out of turn. Pig is showing Q-7-7-9, while Lancey shows J-J-10-3. Pig bets $1,500, then Lancey calmly raises to $4,000. Pig only has $1,100 left, and Lancey agrees to reduce his raise to that amount.

Pig wants a lookAfter fretting a bit, a highly agitated Pig decides to fold his hand. He then lurches across the table to get a look at Lancey’s hole card, but he’s stopped by the others. Pig then storms out with a great deal of petulance.

“Not very lucky, is he?” says Lancey with a deadpan look.

It’s hard to know exactly what the players had. Pig could have had a queen in the hole for queens and sevens and folded out of fear that Lancey had a third jack as his down card. Seems more likely, though, that Pig was trying to bluff Lancey out of the hand, his boldness on third and fourth in the face of Lancey’s pair of jacks part of a story he was trying to build about having a queen underneath. Thus he had no choice but to fold his worse hand at the end and save his last $1,100.

It doesn’t matter too much what the players had, though. In the end, Lancey had either a better hand -- or more nerve -- and thus broke Pig’s resolve.

After the hand comes that neat, short scene in which Lancey and Kid have a short talk. Among the topics they discuss is the hand with Pig that had just concluded.

“You know, that was a sweet thing you did to the Pig with those jacks,” says Eric. “You saw that coming, did you?” says Lancey. “Yeah, I saw it coming,” answers the Kid. “Before I raised?” asks Lancey. “I saw it coming, Lancey,” Eric confirms.

Like I say, we don’t know precisely what Lancey had in the hole, although Eric here speaks self-assuredly as though he did. Either Eric is saying he knew Lancey had trip jacks and was sandbagging, or -- more likely, I think -- he’s saying he knew Lancey didn’t have the jack and set up a fifth-street bluff that he knew Pig couldn’t call.

In either case, Eric is here confidently telling the Man that he knew for certain what Lancey had as his down card. And the only real issue regarding that hole card was whether or not it was a jack.

Notice how this relates to the final hand of the film? Recall all the spectators murmuring to each other when Lancey surprisingly reraises Eric on fifth street.

“My God, he’s got the jack,” says Slade. “He couldn’t have the jack!” says Shooter. “He hasn’t got the jack, the Kid’s got him,” he adds.

Lancey turns over the JdAlas for Eric, the Man does have the jack. Of course, it’s the one jack he needed here -- the Jd -- to complete his straight flush. Nonetheless, the situation kind of echoes that earlier hand in which the Kid so boldly declared he knew what the Man had.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Year Later

April 15A year ago today I was in another hemisphere. Seems like another world.

On that day I was in Lima, Peru, helping Dr. Pauly, F-Train, Reinaldo, Sergio, Carlos, Lynn, Will, and others cover the Latin American Poker Tour event.

A couple of nights before we’d attended a pre-tourney party at the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana which included a neat tour of these adobe and clay pyramids that surrounded the restaurant. Built something like 15 centuries or so before, the intricate structures were part of a canal system but also used for various ceremonies, including sacrifices.

Pauly shot a short video during our rumble through the ruins:

The previous day, Thursday, the tourney had started, and we had a super long, 15-hour-plus day running back and forth gathering stories and hands and reporting the action. We all slept well that night before making our way back over to the Atlantic City Casino on Friday for Day 2.

I got there early, around 10:30 a.m. I wanted to take care of some business -- including posting something here about the previous day -- before the noon start. I’m noticing my time stamp on that Day 1 post was 11:58 a.m. That was Eastern time, meaning it was almost 11 a.m. Peru time when I’d posted.

After posting I got a cup of coffee and relaxed. The tourney was set to resume in about an hour. We were also just about an hour away from finding out the U.S. Department of Justice had unsealed its indictment and civil complaint targeting PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/UB. An hour from the onslaught of text messages, DMs, and other panicky back-and-forthing that would continue that afternoon and evening.

We were about an hour or so from realizing the domains had been seized, too, replaced by those mean-looking FBI and DOJ seals. Dr. Pauly and I were there blogging for PokerStars. It even crossed our minds briefly to wonder about our prospects for getting back home. Not that we were ever really worried... but damn. Seemed like something pretty huge was going down.

Blogging at 2011 LAPT LimaThe tourney started as scheduled, and after an initial, unsuccessful attempt to process what exactly was happening, we set it all aside for several hours as we covered the event. We’d pick it all back up again later that night, of course, by which time we knew everything had changed as far as online poker in the U.S. was concerned.

I’ve written an overview of sorts for the Betfair poker blog, “Black Friday, One Year Later,” where I talk about what has happened over the last twelve months and speculate a little at the end about what’s to come.

At the conclusion I say it could well be the case that when we think about 4/15/11 some years hence we might look at it not as an “end” but as a “beginning.” That is to say, while the day certainly marked the end of one era, it seems pretty clear that we’re edging toward something new as far as online poker in the U.S. is concerned. And depending on how that goes, we might then consider the dramatic field-clearing that happened a year ago to be a first step toward whatever comes next.

But today we can’t help but look back, not forward. Sort of like hiking around those ruins in Lima and imagining what once was. And thinking about all the associated rituals and behaviors, now of the past.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Big Fun with The Big Game

The Big Game VIHave been very much enjoying the live stream and commentary of PartyPoker’s Big Game VI from Vienna, Austria over the last couple of days. Looks like they have about four or five more hours left to go in what has become a more-than-48-hour cash game.

I’ve been watching the feed via the PokerNews page, where one can also follow and participate in moderated chat over to the right. The picture and sound have been clear and without any glitches whatsoever. Commentary has been useful and entertaining, with Jesse May among those having contributed. And the chat has even been a nice add, too, thanks in part to the fact that it has been moderated with some of the PokerNews folks serving as hosts along the way.

I watched for a few hours yesterday, and have it on again today as I write. The game has been highly compelling to watch. During the hours I’ve seen, Tony G has been present throughout with lots of table talk and relatively loose play. Dan “Jungleman” Cates has been struggling, down nearly €100K at the moment. And iron man Phil Laak has of course been there, too, the only player to play the entire session.

By the time I picked up the feed yesterday, Laak was already up the most of anyone, nearly €150K ahead. The most amazing hand to watch by far came last night, sometime after midnight Vienna time, one involving Laak and Andy Moseley.

From the live feedThey were playing six-handed at the time. Not sure what the situation was with straddles and so on, but there was €500 in the middle to start the hand. Laak was dealt Ac6h and opened with a raise to €700. Tony G called from the small blind with 7d3d, then Andy Moseley reraised to €3,400 from the BB with AhKh.

The action back on Laak, he made a loosey-goosey four-bet to €10,200, forcing out Tony G. Moseley then shipped for €31,425 total and after thinking for a while Laak decided to call.

Laak didn’t turn over his hand, following a fairly common practice in cash games. You could hear him explaining to the others that those watching the live feed could already see his hand, and he thus didn’t feel obligated to show his ace-rag to the table. He also sounded a little like he was unhappy with himself about getting into such a spot.

“Look, when a guy’s melting off his money, you don’t have the right to see his hand,” Laak said with a grin. “That’s the way it is in a poker room.”

The flop came 2cTs2d, then the turn brought the 6d to pair Laak, who didn’t react at all to the card. When asked, Moseley said “I feel like 6 out of 10 comfortable” regarding his prospects at that point with ace-king -- without, of course, knowing that Laak had just binked his six.

Meanwhile, adding to the fun, it was at that moment Tony G offered to bet €3,000 that Laak had the best hand, with both Alec Torelli and Scott Seiver taking him up on it and taking Moseley’s hand.

Laak mucks a winner!The river then brought the Jh, and all waited for Laak to signal whether he’d won or lost. But rather than turn over the winner, Laak just grimaced and mucked his cards!

The dealer pushed the pot to Moseley -- like €64K or thereabouts -- and Torelli, Seiver, and Tony G made lots of noise off to the side as a reaction to their side bets.

“What’s happened?!” asked Jesse May. “A 60,000 Euro mistake! Oh my God!” said Scott Baumstein, his commentating partner at the time. “That means officially he’s been playing the game too long!”

They went on to explain excitedly how usually in such situations if a player made a mistake by mucking a winner, he’d never know. But with the televised presentation of this game, Laak would find out -- a half-hour later, that is, when the delayed feed aired the hand and showed he’d mucked the winner.

Wild stuff, that. Kind of recalls that time Phil Ivey mucked a winning flush when they were down to three tables in the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. Remember that?

Tuning back in today, it appears Laak recovered well enough from his mistake, having built back up to almost a €180K profit at the moment. We’ll see how well he holds up during this final stretch run. Me, too, although I’m plenty rested. Oh, and I don’t have thousands of Euros at risk.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Epic URLs; or, Something Wicked That Way Went

Epic URLsGot a lot out of PKRGSSP’s latest podcast, the one from Tuesday featuring Steve “Chops” Preiss of Wicked Chops Poker, pro player Jon Aguiar, and Pokerati’s Dan Michalski. Interesting discussion throughout regarding the current state of things in poker, with Dan throwing in some interesting thoughts about legislation and the so-called poker media, too.

Chops was there, of course, to talk primarily about the Epic Poker League’s recently-updated bankruptcy filings, including the revelation of those hundreds of internet domains the league purchased. And, of course, to discuss how Wicked Chops had in fact been recruited early on by the FS+G crowd to be part of the whole enterprise, though eventually did not get involved.

When those URLs became public last week, I tweeted how someone writing a book about the whole EPL saga could pick chapter titles from the web addresses, among which one finds indications of all sorts of behind-the-scenes ideas, strategies, and/or paranoid fantasies.

You’ve probably at least heard about the list, I imagine, if not skimmed it yourself. Haley Hintze wrote a post for Kick Ass Poker last week titled “Hundreds of LOLs: Federated Sports & Gaming’s Domain Registration Stash” in which she transcribed all 451 of the URLs. She also added some commentary pointing out how the grabbing of so many domains illustrates “paying way too much attention to image, and not half enough to the ABCs of getting the job done and getting the business set up right.”

Over half of the domain names include “epic” in one form or another, including matching “epicpoker” with various country suffixes as well as putting the word “epic” next to all variants of poker as well as other games (e.g., Other domains cover all sorts of misspellings (to prevent typosquatting), envision potential product tie-ins (e.g., or partnerships (e.g., and so on.

Also listed are URLs like,, and, some of which were among those I had in mind when suggesting the use of the web addresses as chapter headings. Such would be chosen as titles for the last chapters of such a book, I’d imagine.

Wicked Chops PokerWhen I made that comment I was also thinking about the nearly 100 URLs involving the word “wicked” or “wickedpoker,” the reason for which Chops discussed on the PKRGSSP show and in a recent blog post over at Wicked Chops. A most curious part of the story, too, that would rate at least a chapter, maybe more.

As Chops explains, an earlier idea by FS+G had involved naming the professional poker league the “Wicked Poker League.” Thus do we see all of those URLs appearing in the list, but that is only part of the story.

Interestingly, the plan to give the league this obviously terrible name was being pursued independently of FS+G’s effort to recruit Wicked Chops as a media content provider, although it seems clear the two were connected. It sounds a lot like FS+G was looking to co-opt whatever value the Wicked Chops Poker brand has for its own purposes, apparently trying to do so without letting the Entities know what was up. Listen to the PKRGSSP show and read Chops’ post for further details about the order of events and how it all went down.

To summarize it all, there was some negotiating happening between WCP and the FS+G to partner up in some fashion early on, and eventually those talks evolved into WCP simply managing web content for the new league. However, the FS+G asked for certain conditions regarding the ownership of intellectual property to which the WCP couldn’t cater, and that deal fell through.

Meanwhile, the FS+G had apparently decided to call its league the Wicked Poker League, a decision that was made without any consultation with WCP. Upon being informed of the plan, WCP “lawyered up” (to use Chops’ phrase) in an effort to protect their brand, and at some point shortly afterward the idea was dropped in favor of going with Epic Poker League as a name.

Having heard a little about all of this before -- though without many specifics -- I knew when I saw the list of URLs that there was a reason for the inclusion of all of the “wicked” and “wickedpoker” addresses. I also knew last year that there had been some sort of related falling out between the Wicked Chops guys and the EPL crowd that perhaps partly explained WCP’s antipathy toward the league as expressed in some of its reporting about it.

That said, if you go back and read WCP’s posts about Epic you can see occasional, tempered expressions of hope regarding the league appearing amid all of the cynicism. The fact is, a lot of people wanted to see the thing survive somehow and perhaps even realize some of those ambitious goals to help influence mainstream culture’s view poker in a positive way. I was hopeful, too, having been recruited to help contribute to the blog that appeared on one of the few URLs ( that actually got used.

But like Haley says, there obviously was way too much attention being given to HTTPs than ABCs, not to mention a ton of other failures in planning, organization, money management, and just about everything else having to do with the enterprise.

Epic PokerI’m imagining another book, a fiction, portraying a world in which all 451 of those URLs were put to meaningful use. A sprawling, episodic adventure in which an “Epic” empire rose to prominence, taking over not just the gaming world but all areas of culture.

Just imagine! A world in which citizens of the Federated Poker Union would closely track the Global Poker Index to follow their favorite Epic Poker Players. Where adults would buy Epic Poker Lottery tickets and gamble at the Wicked Sports Book, the younger crowd would earn degrees at Epic Poker University, and the children would happily play with their Tickle Me Danny dolls. Meanwhile, the creators would toast each other, clinking Brunson Cups filled with Epic Scotch while collecting royalties from the Epic Cashier.

Went a different direction, though. Too bad. Would’ve been, you know... like really, really big.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Take the Fun Pass

Caine's ArcadeYou might’ve seen this video that has been passed around the web a bit lately, a short film about a nine-year-old boy named Caine who built his own cardboard arcade in his father’s auto parts shop in East Los Angeles.

Using old boxes and other materials in his father’s shop, Caine invented a bunch of arcade games and sold tickets. He charges $1 for four plays. Or you can get a cool “Fun Pass” for $2 that gets you 500 plays. What a deal!

He even invented a clever security system using calculators to ensure all Fun Passes were genuine. And he designed a shirt he wore showing he was “Staff,” too.

Caine spent most of summer vacation creating his arcade, but didn’t get too many customers. Then a fellow named Nirvan stopped into the shop looking for a door handle to his 1996 Corolla, and he was intrigued enough by Caine’s arcade to buy a Fun Pass.

Eventually Nirvan got the idea to make the film about Caine and what he’d created, which included his having organized a flash mob last fall to descend upon his arcade, thus giving Caine a huge surprise as well as a sudden jump in business. Here’s the film:

The film demonstrates what is really a fundamental desire most humans possess to be creative. Caine obviously exemplifies this with his arcade, and the story reminds me of being a boy creating similar games.

I once built a baseball game out of a piece of wood, a few nails, and some rubber bands. I drew an elaborate field on the board, diving it all into little boxes where I wrote in “OUT” or “2B” or “BB” or whatever. I can’t remember exactly, but I think you shot a coin or little paper ball with a rubber band out into the field and moved players around the bases according to where it landed. I even constructed a scoreboard to go with it.

I’m remembering other, similar efforts like creating little flipbook cartoons with stapled-together pages, building a two-hole miniature golf course in the back yard, and so on. I haven’t thought about a lot of that stuff for a long time, but watching this video brought some of it back.

Of course, the creative impulse continues for a lot of us even after we become adults. We keep on building things, just like Nirvan did by making his film. We make these things to use or enjoy, but we also get a lot of use and enjoyment out of the process of making them.

Caine plays soccerThe film also highlights our love of games. Nirvan’s enthusiasm about Caine’s arcade is utterly understandable, as is that of the many people he got to come play. I suppose some of us lose some of the desire to be creative as we get older, or at least find it harder to find ways to do so as we face other obligations. But just about everyone continues to want to play games and/or watch others play.

Poker kind of brings together both the desire to be creative and our love of games and competition. The game itself requires imagination, and of course there’s always something satisfying about building a bigger stack of chips from a smaller one. And it’s fun to play, too, although it can be hard sometimes to remember that.

Anyhow, if you haven’t seen the video, check it out and be inspired. And remember to keep an eye out for Fun Passes.

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