Thursday, January 31, 2013

More from New Jersey

I remain in blog-on-the-go mode this morning as Vera and I are planning a quick day trip over to New York City. By the way, that to the left is a little house-of-cards art piece found in one of the buildings we visited yesterday at Princeton.

As I was talking about yesterday, this week we’ve been visiting New Jersey, the place where some in the poker world -- at least here in the U.S. -- have been directing their attention of late in anticipation of Governor Chris Christie’s decision regarding that online gambling bill.

Wrote some last week about the bill (A2578) and how it had been passed by both the NJ State Assembly and Senate and for a while now has been sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting either a signature to make it law, a veto, or no action at all (which would make it law by default). The deadline for Christie is a week from today, so soon we’ll know whether or not New Jersey will be following Nevada and Delaware into the world of intrastate online gambling.

Then again, we might not. Was reading around on a couple of local sites up here to see what the latest scuttlebutt might be, and saw some talk regarding the possibility that Christie could actually respond with a “conditional veto” of the bill. That suggestion comes primarily from Richard Gros who publishes Global Gambling Business magazine and who has some behind-the-scenes sources in Atlantic City feeding him info.

Gros tweeted about the “conditional veto” possibility yesterday, and John Brennan elaborated further on the idea for his “Meadowlands Matters” column. There Brennan explains how a conditional veto is just what it sounds like -- a veto of a bill that isn’t quite final, but rather objects to part of a bill and might also propose amendments, then gives it back to the legislators to perhaps pass it again and give the governor another opportunity to sign the bill into law.

In other words, a conditional veto wouldn’t quite mean starting over from scratch for the bill, but it would still probably add at least a few more months here to the process (maybe more) before any sort of bill might become law.

Brennan’s speculation goes on to consider the possibility that Christie might in fact want to pare the sucker down to just online poker. Taking those reservations about problem gambling he expressed during that “Ask the Governor” program last week, Brennan thinks maybe Christie might “prefer to tip just one toe in the water at first” with online gambling and allow an online poker-only bill before committing to anything more significant.

Then again, the delay could also just allow Christie to “tank” a little longer on this one -- or perhaps to continue pretending to tank -- which might also be in his interest as he’s up for re-election this fall.

In any case, I wonder how much the bill’s proponents would be excited by a poker-only bill, given how the revenue created by such would necessarily amount to only a small percentage of what a broader law permitting other casino games to go online would draw. A2578’s proponents -- including State Senator Raymond Lesniak -- are all about job creation and the economic benefits of the bill (as Lesniak talked about with PokerNews last week). Having online poker in the state might amount to something, but like the poker rooms in the casinos it ain’t gonna be that much of a cash creator on it’s own.

Will continue to stay tuned on this one. Meanwhile like I say Vera and I will probably end up in a museum or two today over in NYC, looking at paintings and sculptures and thinking about the past. Not the recent past in which online poker was part of the picture, that is, but earlier.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In the Reading Room

I am writing today from an unusual setting -- the reading room of the Firestone Memorial Library at Princeton University. I tagged along with Vera on a trip up here and have been enjoying running around campus and meeting various folks so far today, including sharing with a few of them the strange story of my detour from the academic life into one of poker writing.

Any college campus is a nice place to be, never mind one as packed with resources as Princeton. And by resources I mean both books and other research materials as well as a community of intellectually curious and interesting people with whom to share ideas and develop them.

I have spent a great deal of my life on college campuses, both as a student and as a teacher. Even before that, actually. I’ve mentioned here before how my father taught physics at a college, and thus even as a kid I was on a campus quite a bit, getting introduced to libraries and gymnasiums and administrative buildings. And long, quiet hallways and people sitting under trees with books and so on.

Not going to be here long enough to explore much, I’m afraid. And I didn’t even think before I came of perhaps contacting someone from the Princeton Poker Club, which operates here as a chapter of the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society (GPSTS). Not sure how active the Princeton Poker Club is these days -- online the announcements and seem to have died down a bit over the last 12 months or so. But imagine I might’ve found someone with something to say about the games here.

Plenty else to do, though. Earlier I wandered down to Nassau Street to visit the Labyrinth Bookstore, one of those ultra-cool college bookstores that seems to have everything. Resisted spending too much, just picking up one old Philip Dick title I’d read long ago and always wanted to read again. (And wished I had on my shelf.) But I did linger a bit before the literature and lit. crit., running my finger over the spines of familiar names and titles, pulling a few off the shelves here and there to remind myself of this or that.

Anyhow, I only have a moment to check in here, and so must sign off. Think Vera and I might try a quick day trip over to NYC tomorrow, a place we’ve been before several times but not for many years. And then Friday I’ll be back on a plane and headed to France for next week’s EPT Deauville.

As much as I enjoyed it, I don’t really miss teaching full-time. That is to say, having just the one class at present suits me fine. And I’m happy and grateful for the current life that came along to replace the academic one.

But I do sometimes miss the libraries. And the bookstores and coffee shops. And just hanging out and talking and thinking about it all without having to worry too much about being somewhere else.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Playing in Different Languages

Looking at spending some more time in airports and traveling around here in the near future.

First up this week is a short trip back up to the New England area with Vera for a couple of days, during which stretch we may make a quick visit to NYC for the first time in a while. Then later this week I’ll be tripping over the Atlantic to join the crew helping cover the EPT Deauville event in France.

I’ve mentioned here a few times before how Vera and I spent a year living in France some time back. We lived in Lille (in the north, near Belgium), which isn’t that far from Deauville (still the north, but on the west side).

French is actually the only foreign language I’ve ever seriously studied, other than Latin (which doesn’t really come up so often). I can muddle through an article written in French or kinda sorta follow a television program or movie. During our year there I could sometimes even follow a conversation if the speakers weren’t talking too fast. Thus was I able at least to get what I needed at the tabac or pâtisserie, although I remember usually having to repeat myself a few times.

I can’t really claim to have learned the language, and a lot of the time my trying to speak or follow others felt a little like playing a game. Thankfully Vera is fluent, and so more often than not that year she would be speaking for me.

It was a fun year we had in France. We were in graduate school at the time, and I was pretending to work on a dissertation but in fact spent the time writing most of what became the first draft of Same Difference. Meanwhile Vera taught at the university and I was essentially a house husband, a job which I recommend highly.

Whenever I’ve traveled on any of these other poker-related trips and find myself in non-English speaking countries, my first instinct is to think of French words and phrases even though the language spoken in these places hasn’t been French (except in Morocco, here and there). I suppose that’s a fairly common experience -- that is, when in a foreign land, involuntarily thinking of the only foreign language one knows even though doing so is of no particular use.

Such an instinct might apply when being exposed to new poker games. You have a “native” game (say, no-limit hold’em). Then you try to play a new game (say, pot-limit Omaha or fixed limit HE) and your first instinct there might be to “speak” or pursue strategies learned in your native game. Eventually you discover those strategies don’t work so well and you begin to learn that second game.

Anyhow, the phenomenon I’m describing would surface when you move on to try still more games. Say you started with NLHE, then learned limit hold’em. Then you moved on to try stud, and initially find yourself “speaking” LHE until you start figuring out the significant differences between those two games.

Perhaps the games have something in common (e.g., stud and LHE both featuring fixed limit betting) that help you a little, just as I might hear some Spanish words when I’m in Lima that resemble French enough to seem familiar. But eventually if you really want to “communicate” in that game you have to learn its special “language.”

Anyhow, like I say I’m most looking forward to my upcoming voyage back to France. It will be fun going back and being reminded of things I experienced before.

Indeed, I’m sure to experience a lot of déjà vu.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Mouth, The Brat, and Poker on the Tube (Again)

Like you I heard about Mike Matusow winning that NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship over the weekend, outlasting Phil Hellmuth in the final to win the sucker. Was somewhat intriguing afterwards to follow some of the reactions to these two having made it to the final and thus securing themselves starring roles when the tourney makes it to air this spring.

Seemed as though responses covered the entire spectrum. Some were impressed. Others dismayed. Some saw in the result reason for optimism regarding poker’s popularity going forward and/or future prospects for televised poker. Others were considerably less enthused about “The Mouth” and “The Poker Brat” finding their way back into the poker spotlight.

The “Is good for poker?” question was posed again in different ways (and with different degrees of sincerity). In some cases I thought it was just a kind of instinctive response, caused by a vague memory of having at one time cared about who played poker on television and whether that person was skilled or not. Or entertaining. Or well behaved or well groomed or well spoken or well... whatever.

Like... how do I respond here, again? Oh, right. Poker needs this because....

Still, even those who seriously desired to stake out a position on the issue seemed cognizant of how televised poker has most certainly become much less meaningful, especially in the United States where online poker remains (essentially) positioned beyond American players’ reach.

Most appeared aware that the stakes are much, much lower. That is to say, whether the ratings for NBC’s poker show are high or low matters about as much as the difference between being dealt a pair of deuces or a pair of treys. Or should I say, 9-4 or 8-3. The game is probably going to play out similarly, either way.

When both Hellmuth and Matusow made the final four of the NBCHU, I was reminded of the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event in which both made deep runs before Hellmuth finished 45th and Matusow 30th. They’d lasted long enough for people to begin considering how interesting it would be should they both make it to what was going to be the first ever “November Nine.” But neither did, and a couple of days later came the discussions of how there weren’t any “names” among the final nine (and whether or not that was “good for poker”).

When the two of them subsequently made it through to the finals, I then thought of how some viewers happening upon the shows later on might think they were watching a rerun from years ago. Incidentally, it sounds like the schedule will involve six two-hour episodes, with the first three coming on consecutive Thursday evenings (9-11 p.m. ET) starting in March, then the last three airing on Saturday afternoons (1-3 p.m.) in April. (Those prime-time shows in March will be up against the NCAA men’s basketball tourney on 3/21 and 3/28.)

I’ve written here before about both Hellmuth and Matusow on many occasions, including noting more than once that neither seem to me to be especially great ambassadors for poker. Then again, just repeating that assertion makes me want to rethink the whole idea of what such an “ambassador” really is (or should be). Clearly some are better suited than others when it comes to representing poker in a favorable, constructive way that ultimately might prove beneficial to increasing its popularity and acceptance among the general public.

I suppose in the end, those who serve the game best will find a way to do so. And it won’t require them to win the one tourney that happens to be on the teevee, either.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Correcting the Zoom

Noticed a little earlier today that PokerStars has responded to complaints regarding that Zoom Challenge event at the PCA. As some may have heard, an issue came up near the end of the event regarding the tourney’s fairness, and it appears Stars is now giving out a number of additional cash prizes in order to try to make things right.

Others have reported on the snafu at length, most inspired to do so following a thread having been started on 2+2 by a player who was unhappy with how the event played out.

To give a quick thumbnail... there was a $1,025 buy-in “Zoom Challenge” event among the 40 on the PCA schedule this year. Unlike a regular multi-table tourney, this one involved having players sit down with an iPad for 12 minutes and play a quick session of no-limit hold’em Zoom on Stars (for play money). The idea was to try to run up a starting stack of 20,000 as high as possible during the allotted time, and in the end those accumulating the biggest stacks divided the prize pool according to a traditional MTT payout schedule.

Players could take part over the course of five days, and near the end of the fifth day trouble arose when several wanted to play at once just before the event was to conclude. A couple of groups of players were subsequently allowed to play at the same time, and in fact there were instances of Challenge players occasionally being seated at the same tables and playing against one another.

Such wouldn’t necessarily have been as big of an issue if not for the fact that play money players on Stars generally play a tight game (you’d be surprised how protective they are of their play money chips), thus making it difficult for the Zoom Challenge players to run up their stacks. But with multiple Challenge players playing against one another, that ensured a better chance for them to find opponents (i.e., each other) willing to shove their stacks.

As it turned out, four of the players who played at the end under these favorable circumstances ended up cashing, although none managed to outchip David Williams (who had played earlier in the week) who ultimately won the event.

Anyhow, after hearing the complaints PokerStars is now awarding prizes to four players who just missed cashing, plus giving some more cabbage to three who did make the money. For a full rundown of what happened and these additional “goodwill payments” being doled out by PokerStars, see Lee Jones’ post in the 2+2 thread.

I followed the reports about the PCA Zoom Challenge with some interest. Back in November when I was in Macau, I had a chance to participate in a kind of trial run of the Zoom Challenge. They had a similar set up there with a “mobile lounge” situated near the tournament area where the Asia Championship of Poker events were playing out. Among the offerings was a version of the Zoom Challenge in which people could play for free with an iPod going to the player amassing the biggest stack, and I took a shot.

I wrote a post on the PokerStars blog about my Zoom Challenge attempt. (That’s a picture of me to the left playing, courtesy Kenneth Lim Photography.) I didn’t win, but did enjoy trying. If you read my post, you’ll see that when I played I busted one time but was allowed to “rebuy” (so to speak) and continue.

I had actually been under the impression that when it came time to run the actual Zoom Challenge at the PCA, there wouldn’t be any rebuying -- that is to say, if you lost your original stack of 20,000, you ended the tourney registering a score of zero. Thus when those complaints came up at the PCA, I was a little surprised to hear how players there were in fact able to continue even after busting their original stacks.

It sounds like from Lee Jones’s post that if they were to try another Zoom Challenge down the road, they’ll get rid of the unlimited rebuy option (or limit players to one rebuy). Seems like that would be a good idea to me.

There may have still been issues at the PCA with multiple players simultaneously participating in the Zoom Challenge even if no rebuys were allowed (e.g., collusion possibilities), and I think they’ll be working to keep that from happening going forward, too. I still think there’s probably something a little weird about having players play events for real money against random play money players on Stars. But I’m glad to see Stars trying to fix a past slip-up and getting things in place to try to avoid any similar mistakes in the future.

Speaking of playing for play money on PokerStars, the first two tournaments of Season 3 of Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games are happening this Sunday night. See the sidebar for more information on this week’s events and joining the league. Season 3 will run through the end of March, and once again I’ll be awarding prizes to the top three finishers in the season’s standings.

Good luck to all. And just so you know, no matter how much you complain, don’t expect any “goodwill payments” to those finishing outside the top three.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

What If Farha Calls?

A couple of days ago, our friend Kevmath casually tweeted a question to his followers that had been inspired by a conversation between himself and his BLUFF colleague Tim “Timtern” Fiorvanti, a.k.a. “tim00.”

“Me and @tim00 were discussing this in #BluffHQ,” wrote Kev. “What are some of the biggest ‘What if’ moments in poker?”

The thought experiment inspired a lot of response with possible examples, with Sam Farha calling Chris Moneymaker’s “bluff of the century” (rather than folding) during heads-up play at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event by far the most commonly referenced “What if?” moment.

You remember it, of course. We’ve seen it so many times...

That was also the first “What if” moment that came to my mind upon reading Kevmath’s tweet, but by then a few minutes had passed and a half-dozen others had already suggested it, so I didn’t bother. I spent a couple of minutes idly trying to think of others, but to be honest all seemed so much less meaningful when compared to Farha’s fold I soon stopped trying.

So I thought back to the hand itself. If Farha had called, he would not have won the tournament right there, as Moneymaker had him covered. Indeed, for Farha to have called and discovered Moneymaker had better than his top pair of nines would have meant elimination for the pro, a factor that obviously influenced his decision. But his nines were good, and so calling would’ve meant a big double-up for Farha.

The pair had begun heads-up play with Moneymaker leading with 5.49 million to Farha’s 2.9 million. I believe the blinds were 20,000/40,000 when they began (with a 5,000 ante, unless they’d jettisoned the antes for heads-up), meaning Moneymaker had about 130 BBs and Farha more than 70 BBs at the moment Dan Harrington had gone out in third.

Ultimately heads-up play lasted for 28 hands, just three of which made it to TV. We see Farha win a 570,000 pot, then we are told what the stacks are just before the big bluff hand begins -- Moneymaker 4.62 million, Farha 3.77 million.

The pot Moneymaker won in that hand ended up being 1.8 million, and as a result essentially put their stacks back to where they were to begin heads-up play. If Farha had called, he would have had a stack of more than 7.5 million while Moneymaker would’ve slipped all of the way down to 850,000.

At some point later came the final hand (the third shown) in which Farha flopped top pair of jacks but Moneymaker made bottom two pair with 5-4. The money went in on the flop, and Moneymaker’s hand held up, improving to a full house by the river.

All of which is to say, one answer to the question “What if Farha calls?” is that Farha very likely would have won the 2003 WSOP Main Event.

But the mind can’t help but leap from there to consider other possible answers as one begins imaginatively to construct a Philip K. Dick-like alternate past in which the popularity of poker and the online poker industry followed a different course post-2003. And some of us -- including your humble scribbler -- can’t help but think about how what had once been a hobby strangely evolved into a full-time profession, and perhaps wonder whether that would have been the case had Moneymaker finished runner-up in 2003.

I suppose a lot of what did happen following Moneymaker’s win probably would have happened anyway, though perhaps less quickly. The WSOP would have continued to attract larger turnouts, online poker would have continued to expand, and televised poker would have probably evolved similarly, too. One can’t help also but contemplate whether or not the UIGEA would have become law in 2006 had there not been such rapid, conspicuous growth in online poker’s popularity in the U.S. during the three years prior. And whether some other legislative course might have been taken instead.

Poker is always presenting us with these seemingly crucial moments that inspire thoughts about how a particular card or action becomes yet another turning point in the garden of forking paths. Only makes sense, then, that we’d sometimes be inspired to think about poker’s history similarly and ask “What if?”

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tankers Always Fold; or, Gov. Christie and the NJ Bill

One sorta-truism a person comes to recognize after years of observing poker tournaments is how players who tank for a long time very often will fold their hands. I’m pretty sure F-Train was the one who long ago first articulated the maxim to me as we both were watching a player take several minutes to decide on his action...

“Tankers always fold.”

I’ve been to Atlantic City on a couple of occasions over the last two years to cover poker tournaments. The first was in March 2011 when I helped report on a WSOP Circuit event at Caesars. Then I went back last month to Harrah’s Resort AC for another WSOP-C event. Both times there was a lot of buzz going around concerning possible online gambling legislation in New Jersey and its prospects for being signed into law.

Actually, the first time I was there the conversations were all centered on the fact that Governor Chris Christie had just a few days before vetoed an online gambling bill, having waited until the last possible moment to do so before it would have become law by default. Both the NJ State Assembly and Senate had passed the bill by wide margins, with more than 85% of legislators voting in favor in both cases. But Christie was not ready to make New Jersey the first state to pass its own online gambling bill, and so all the talk was of the what-might-have-been variety.

At the time the governor -- a former U.S. attorney -- cited several reasons for his reticence regarding the bill, including questions about its constitutionality within his state. Many commentators additionally believed Christie was unwilling to sign the bill without some assurance that doing so would not conflict with federal laws concerning online gambling, including the Wire Act.

Months passed, and in December 2011 that memo emanating from the offices of the U.S. Department of Justice surfaced, a memo that revised an opinion regarding the Wire Act. The memo indicated that it was the DOJ’s position that the half-century old law only applied to sports betting, and thus when 2012 began efforts were redoubled by legislators in many states to try to forward online gambling legislation, including in New Jersey.

Nevada had already by then become the first state to get a bill signed into law (in mid-2011), and so when the DOJ memo arrived that state was already in position to begin fielding applications to grant licenses. Delaware followed suit in June 2012, and a few other states have been considering various kinds of online gambling legislation as well.

Meanwhile, at the end of the year New Jersey was again considering another online gambling bill during my visit early last month. Soon afterwards legislators again passed a bill, the vote being nearly unanimous this time, and as 2012 concluded most of the reports regarding the bill were suggesting that without the Wire Act obstacle, Christie was “likely” to sign the bill into law in short order.

But three weeks into January that likelihood has begun to dim, and now Christie has but a couple of weeks left in the 45-day period within which he is to act on the bill (i.e., sign or veto it) or not act and see it become law by default. He gave a state of the state speech a little over a week ago without mentioning the issue, prompting consternation by NJ state senator Ray Lesniak, the bill’s leading sponsor. Lesniak then told Card Player a couple of days ago that while he doesn’t know what Christie will do with regard to the bill -- other than likely wait until the last minute again -- he isn’t terribly hopeful.

Last night Christie did finally opine publicly about the bill and online gambling, and his comments added further reason not to be optimistic about the governor’s signing A2578 into law.

Each month, Christie appears on a Trenton FM station to field questions for an hour on a show called “Ask the Governor.” Not too surprisingly, a lot of the questions during last night’s show concerned rebuilding efforts in the state following Hurricane Sandy. But toward the end of the hour, a caller named Joseph did manage to get through to ask about Christie’s intentions regarding the bill.

Christie said he was still tanking on that one, adding that when it came to online gambling, there are “two things I’m concerned about.”

The governor’s first concern is that legalizing online gambling “may drive traffic away from Atlantic City” brick-and-mortar casinos. “If people can gamble in their own homes on their laptops, why are they going to Atlantic City?” That’s an idea we’ve heard brought up before (and roundly refuted by the bill’s proponents).

His second concern had to do with “setting up a whole new generation of addicted gamblers.” Echoing a sentiment voiced by the ultra-conservative wing of his party with whom he’s been more than willing to butt heads in recent weeks, Christie suggested that “if you can sit on the edge of your bed on your laptop and gamble away the paycheck, that’s a lot different than making the decision to go down to Atlantic City to gamble in a casino.” We’ve heard that one many times before, too. (I’m remembering Jay Leno follow a similar line of argument on his show back in the fall of 2010 when Barney Frank was his guest.)

Christie noted that these two concerns were “in part the reasons that I vetoed the bill before, in addition to some ways that it was constructed that made no sense, either.” He then concluded his response by saying that he’ll probably be making a decision regarding A2578 “in the next couple of days.”

Christie didn’t say whether or not he had problems with the bill’s construction this time around, nor did he mention anything about its constitutionality or any potential conflicts with the feds. Rather Christie’s concerns have more to do with less specific, hard-to-prove notions about the bill’s possible effects on the New Jersey economy as well as what would happen to a certain percentage of its citizens whose problem gambling may lead them to self-inflicted ruin.

Christie is up for re-election this coming November. He also has become a national figure and potential Republican candidate for president in 2016. He’s a popular figure both locally and nationwide. Whereas the two concerns he raised last night regarding online gambling were somewhat vague, the potential political consequences of his supporting an online gambling bill perhaps seem more clear. Signing A2578 would become something he’d have to answer for on the campaign trail. In other words, the former lawyer would not only have to change his apparent position on the issue, but he’d have to become much more convincing when arguing against the very objections he’s currently raising regarding it.

All of which is to say, I’d be more than surprised if a veto weren’t coming, perhaps even sooner than just before the Feb. 7 deadline. Thus New Jersey will not be challenging Nevada’s leading status when it comes to online gambling in the near future, or perhaps for many years to come, either.

I suppose we might step back from this story and remark on how the idea of gambling online has perhaps reached a stage of cultural acceptance, just like doing other things online (communicating, banking, shopping, receiving news/entertainment, etc.) has become customary and even second nature to many. Thus might high numbers of legislators be willing to vote in favor of bills that would allow for the activity (within the highly circumscribed parameters of government-imposed licensing and regulation, of course).

But are we at a point where a would-be presidential candidate -- one who is legitimately positioned within one of the two major parties to be forwarded as their representative on a national scale -- might gamble his future on online gambling? I don’t think so.

No, if Christie was going to do something other than fold this hand again, he would’ve acted already.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Heads-Up on the NBC Heads-Up

Most readers of this blog probably have been hearing about the rebooting of the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship happening this week. After running from 2005-2011, Black Friday came along to turn the lights out on poker for a while, and the NHUPC went dark during 2012. But poker’s prospects are brightening here in 2013, and the event is returning.

As before, 64 players will compete in a “March Madness”-style series of heads-up matches. The names of the competing players were announced last Friday (save the one qualifier), and a draw party will be happening tomorrow at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to determine the brackets.

The event will play out this Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 24-26. A $25,000 entry fee is being put up for each participant (either by the player or his or her sponsor). In the past, the entry fee was $20,000, with the prize pool then topped off further to total $1.5 million. Those who won two matches to make the final 16 were guaranteed $25,000, those losing in the quarters got $75,000, the semifinalist losers each earned $125,000, the runner-up took $250,000, and the winner made $500,000.*

Here is a list of who’ll be competing:

As was the case in previous years, the announcement of the list of invitees inspired a lot of conversation about who was chosen and who was left out. Donnie Peters posted a comprehensive breakdown on PokerNews over the weekend addressing all of the “snubs” and further commenting on the selections.

Like happens with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament every spring, such debates regarding the NHUPC are inevitable. And of course with poker there’s always that additional layer of discussion focusing on marketing the game and players being more or less “good for television.” As if ranking players isn’t hard enough, that additional issue regarding entertaining audiences and representing poker in the mainstream gets evoked as well to complicate further the conversation.

It’s all fairly diverting, though, and I think most agree that getting poker back on a major network represents a positive development for all. (The matches will begin airing in March.)

When I heard about the selections, I thought back to the criteria that had been previously employed for choosing players. If you recall, it was a pretty involved list that changed from year to year but usually included the previous five champions, the previous two runners-up, anyone who had cashed four consecutive years in the NHUPC, the previous three WSOP Main Event champions, and so on. The WPT Player of the Year, the EPT Grand Final winner, the BLUFF magazine POY, and others who’d achieved recent, significant poker successes were usually invited, too.

It appears that with the one-year hiatus these criteria for selecting players were probably jettisoned or at least modified considerably. For example, of the last five NHUPC champions -- Paul Wasicka (2007), Chris Ferguson (2008), Huck Seed (2009), Annie Duke (2010), and Erik Seidel (2011) -- only Seed and Seidel will be among the 64 this time.

We don’t necessarily know if Ferguson and Duke were invited or not, but I would think given both players’ current status in the poker community, it’s quite likely they were not. In fact, other than noticing a few of the more conspicuous omissions Donnie discusses in his article, the non-appearance of these two names in the list probably stood out the most for me as I first perused it.

While I know some would like the NHUPC to aspire to be more like the NCAA tourney and feature poker’s elite players and ultimately a worthy “champion,” the event obviously cannot ever realize such a goal. Even with ultra-rigorous vetting and/or selection criteria in place, the process will necessarily be imperfect. And to be honest I think it is better that there be no pretense to following some sort of quasi-objective criteria for selecting players.

(*EDIT [added 1/25/13]: Payouts for this year’s NHUPC are following a different schedule, with a total prize pool of $1.65 million: 1st, $750,000; 2nd, $300,000; 3rd-4th, $100,000; 5th-8th, $50,000; 9th-16th, $25,000. In other words, winning three matches only wins one his or her money back, and just $50,000 has been added to the entry fees.)

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Slow Starters

I am moving a little slow on this fine MLK day. And now I find myself on a tight schedule as I’m planning to head over to watch the Charlotte Bobcats game this afternoon versus the Houston Rockets.

My poor Bobcats enter the game with a woeful 10-30 record, and while the Rockets haven’t exactly dominated their opponents this year (they’re 21-21 at present), they are understandably favored and I’ll be surprised if they don’t take care of the ’Cats. It looks like the present line has Houston giving six-and-a-half points, despite the fact that they are coming into the Time Warner arena with a seven-game losing streak.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Bobcats game -- at least a couple of years, I think. Has been hard to muster the energy to go during what has now become an inordinately lengthy stretch of bottom-feeder play by the team we sometimes affectionately refer to as either the “Bobkittens” or the “Boobcats.” I wrote something over on Ocelot Sports not too long ago discussing “The Bobcats’ Blues” we’re all sharing around here regarding the local squad.

I do nonetheless tend to tune in frequently to watch most of the games as we get all of them on the teevee. So I know the players and find myself having a rooting interest despite the knowledge that there’s little likelihood of a favorable outcome.

One trend that has happened all season for Charlotte is to start games slowly, often digging an early hole of 10 or more points, then playing from behind the entire game. Sometimes they’ll close the gap and make things semi-interesting in the fourth quarter, but more often than not the opponent’s lead will continue to hover around 10-15 the entire way, thus making for a less than compelling contest to watch.

In fact, by my unofficial count through 40 games the Bobcats have only led seven times at the end of the first quarter. They are 5-2 in those games. Also, in their most recent victory last Friday versus Orlando they were tied after one period, so it is obvious that starting well has a lot to do with their chances of finishing well, too.

But unfortunately they are almost always playing catch-up. It’s a little like starting every cash session by losing a big chunk or getting stacked right away, thus ensuring that the primary goal thereafter isn’t so much to leave a winner as simply to get back to even.

I would go on about it some more, but obviously it is important for me not to get there late and miss the tip-off. After all, that will be the moment when I know for sure the game will be close!

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Friday, January 18, 2013

When Momentum Takes Over (Armstrong and FTP)

Like many, I clicked over last night to watch a little of Lance Armstrong’s tell-all with Oprah Winfrey, the first part of which aired on her network, OWN. (And like many, I had to do a little bit of searching up and down the menu of channels to see if I received OWN.)

At some point early in the evening I saw Matthew Parvis of PokerNews had sent out a funny tweet alluding to his interview last September with Howard Lederer, the circumstances and dynamic of which did kind of resemble the Armstrong-Winfrey convo:

“Lance, were you doping during the Tour de France? ‘I remember one time at a party...’ #TheArmstrongFiles.”

I lol’d. And as the interview continued, I found myself involuntarily thinking further about how one might compare the motives of the two interviewees, with the idea of performing some kind of reputation repair perhaps foremost for both.

That said, I don’t really want to perform such close analysis of either of these two characters beyond simply noting that both were frauds, both were living a lie (so to speak), and both acted in ways that proved highly destructive and hurtful to others. Both also had others abetting their causes significantly, helping them to perpetrate their respective “schemes” further and further, and thus dig their respective holes deeper and deeper.

There was one moment in the Armstrong interview, however, that I did want to point to as having resonated especially strongly with the whole Full Tilt Poker fiasco, a fiasco which (I should point out) was obviously not just one man’s fault but the result of a kind of communal dysfunction (among the FTP BOD, owners, and marketers/PR people) and as well as a consequence made possible by an industry (online poker in the U.S.) that had evolved in such a way as to encourage exploitation by those willing to take advantage.

“Listen, all the fault and all the blame here falls on me,” Armstrong tells Winfrey. “But behind that picture and behind that story is momentum. Whether it’s fans or whether it’s the media or whether it’s... it just gets going. And I lost myself in all of that. I'm sure there would be other people that couldn’t handle it, but I certainly couldn’t handle it....”

When Armstrong talks about “momentum” taking over, it’s hard to avoid thinking about a riding a bicycle. Anyone who has done so has experienced that moment when the bike kind of feels as though it has “taken over,” giving the impression of moving on its own. Whether by the force of your pedaling or having found yourself on a downward incline (or both), enough impetus has been given to the bike for it to continue moving forward without any further action required of you. And as a rider, your task then shifts over to steering (and, if necessary, braking) rather than making the sucker go.

Perhaps because of Parvis’s tweet, when hearing this talk of “momentum” I couldn’t help but think of Lederer and FTP. Specifically I thought about Lederer speaking of having lost control of the “company culture” and how “something weird happened” and “clearly things got out of hand.” Sort of like the FTP bike could no longer be stopped and was recklessly hurtling down a steep incline toward an unavoidable crash. And that crash would be taking down others, too.

Like I say, I’m not too inspired to scrutinize this comparison too deeply. It does seem, though, that when Armstrong evokes that idea of momentum he isn’t primarily trying to deflect blame as much as to explain his own thinking and what might have been additionally influencing him to continue to cheat and lie (although that motive could be intermingled in there, too). However when Lederer evokes the same idea of momentum taking over, it’s pretty clear he’s mostly hoping to direct our attention to others’ culpability for the FTP situation getting “out of hand.”

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The WSOP Invites You to Australia

“Opportunities are available in all walks of life in Australia!”

So sang the Kinks at the start of “Australia,” the tune closing out the first side of their 1969 LP Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), one of the records in that collection I was writing about yesterday. Another of their concept LPs, the song alludes to the intentions of the title character’s son whose family is about to emigrate to the continent down under.

As that first line suggests, Australia represents a kind of highly-desirable utopia from the perspective of the down-trodden characters who populate Arthur’s story. It's a place thought to have “no class distinction” and “no drug addiction,” where “everyone walks around with a perpetual smile across their face.”

Like in that other Kinks song “Shangri-La,” though, there's some tongue-in-cheek involved here, too, with little chance that reality is going to match the imagined ideal.

I was reminded of that tune when earlier this week the World Series of Poker announced the schedule of events for the first ever WSOP Asia Pacific series coming up in April, including the five bracelet events that will play out at the Crown Melbourne. Here’s the line-up (all $ are AUD, close to equivalent to USD):

  • Event No. 1: $1,100 No-Limit Hold’em Accumulator
  • Event No. 2: $1,650 Pot-Limit Omaha
  • Event No. 3: $2,200 Mixed Event
  • Event No. 4: $5,000 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em
  • Event No. 5: $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em (Main Event)

    A couple of things jump out from the schedule, one being the inclusion of a “mixed event.” The press release doesn’t spell it out, but I did notice WSOP VP of Communications Seth Palansky tweeting that it will be an “8-game” event such as has happened at the WSOP in Las Vegas in recent years. Thus unlike has been the case at WSOP Europe, there will be at least some non-hold’em or Omaha played at WSOP APAC.

    The first event’s designation as an “accumulator” event also draws the eye, and the press release does explain what that signifies. The event will have three starting days, and in fact players will be able to buy in each of those days if so desired, regardless of whether they happen to bust. In each case, the player buying in to play a given Day 1 flight will begin with the same starting stack, then whatever they end the day with will be bagged as usual. However, if the player plays and survives multiple Day 1 flights, he or she will get to begin Day 2 with those stacks added together.

    It sounds like yet another variation on the “rebuy” format that was jettisoned from the WSOP following the 2008 Series, as well as another variation on the “re-entry” format that has become the standard for Main Events on the WSOP Circuit and has been turning up more and more frequently elsewhere, too. I assume there will be a decent number of players who bust on Day 1a who’ll come back to try again, and perhaps a third time should they bust 1b. But I’ll be curious to see how many will see value in re-entering after surviving an earlier Day 1 flight.

    Sort of intriguing, also, to consider how the buy-ins for the five events gradually increase as the Series goes along (not counting the possibility of entering Event No. 1 three times).

    The timing for the announcement of the WSOP APAC schedule is also interesting. Kind of a last-minute deal, actually, as I think most assumed the WSOP APAC would be announced prior to the start of the Aussie Millions so as to give players a chance to size up both tournament line-ups in order to decide whether to attend one or both. The Aussie Millions began today, in fact, with the first of 26 events having already gotten underway.

    Neither the WSOP nor the WSOP Europe schedules for this year have been announced as yet. Last year the WSOP awarded 61 gold bracelets, plus one more to the WSOP National Champion, while the WSOPE saw seven bracelets won. If the 2013 schedules are similar, then, a total of 74 bracelets will be awarded in 2013. Also, the WSOP APAC will count toward the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year race, the story of which has grabbed increasing attention over the last couple of years due in part to Phil Hellmuth’s successive challenges for POY honors. (He’s finished twice each of the last two years.)

    Turnouts were down at the 2012 WSOPE -- significantly so -- and thus folks will be watching to see what happens at the WSOP APAC in April, including how many players decide to participate in both the Aussie Millions and WSOP APAC events.

    I’m sure there will be plenty of Aussies and others from that part of the world who are there for both. But it’s such a long trip for those from the Americas or Europe, one has to believe a lot of those players will be choosing one or the other, with most likely opting for the Aussie Millions both for its familiarity and longer, more varied schedule of events (including multiple mixed-game events and Chinese poker).

    Then again, come spring, “if you’re young and you’re healthy, why not get a boat and come to Australia...?”

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  • Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    Exploring Obsessions in Alan Zweig’s Vinyl

    Took a break yesterday afternoon to watch this 2000 documentary about record collectors I’d been hearing about lately called Vinyl.

    Made by Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig, the movie delves deeply into the obsessive and/or compulsive tendencies of the several collectors interviewed by Zweig in an effort to reveal something about their motives and behaviors. Intertwined throughout are numerous short monologues delivered by Zweig into a mirror in which he tries to address similar questions about himself, ultimately performing a kind of lengthy self-diagnosis regarding his own record collecting and its possible connection to an inability to form meaningful social connections or find a romantic partner.

    After hearing about it, I dialed up the film primarily because of my interest in music and records. I grew up on LPs and still have the three or four hundred or so I mostly accumulated as a teen and young adult, all stacked neatly in plastic sleeves and sitting in alphabetical order on some shelves in a medium-sized closet also dedicated to housing cassettes, CDs, videocassettes, and some DVDs.

    Have a record player, too, right on my desk next to the computer, although in truth I probably only pop a disc on there once or twice a month at most.

    The set up was originally designed to accommodate my making digital copies of what I had on vinyl, although like I say I’ve only been pulling out records to play on an infrequent basis, and even though I have everything hooked up to do so I haven’t even bothered much with capturing the LPs and converting them to .mp3s.

    Music is so easy to come by these days, also making it hard for me to be moved to go back and bother with the LPs. And while I do have a kind of nostalgic fondness for the 12-by-12 cardboard sleeves, cover art, and groovy grooves, I don’t come close to sharing the extreme fetishism toward the objects themselves of those featured in Vinyl. For me the tunes are really all that matter. I could easily imagine jettisoning the whole lot without much anxiety at all, as long as I had copies to which to listen if I so desired.

    That said, I will admit to sharing some of the same obsessive tendencies on display in the film. I would imagine most others probably do as well, which might even work as a way to recommend Vinyl to those who aren’t particularly interested in records or the stories of a bunch of lonely dudes who collect them.

    In fact, if I were to sit down and think about it earnestly, I’d probably have to conclude that one of the attractions of poker (for me) is the fact that the game probably satisfies some of those same tendencies, most of which amount to a desire for order. Or ordering.

    I suppose I’m partly talking about the constant counting and keeping track that can go on during a session (we’re constantly stacking and restacking our chips) and for some of us continues afterwards (with record-keeping). And the highly ritualistic component to game play certainly provides all sorts of opportunities for one’s obsessions to manifest themselves as certain behaviors, too.

    My buddy the Poker Grump recently passed along the news that he’s soon moving from Las Vegas and thus will likely slow down or stop posting on his excellent, inspiring blog. While I’m sorry not to have the posts to read, I’m also quite glad about the fact that his move will land him closer to Cardgrrl and to me, too (just a couple of hours up the road, actually).

    When I think about Poker Grump’s blog, I realize that some of my favorite posts from him over the years have been about poker chips, including (but not limited to) posts about stacking them, counting them, collecting them, manufacturing them, and now selling them.

    Those posts perhaps partly help illustrate what I’m getting at here regarding poker being a game that provides lots of opportunities for humans to turn their minds upon material stuff, exploring it in numerous ways including how we can arrange and manipulate our stuff into arrangements that please us.

    (Incidentally, with regarding to collecting, my sense is that Poker Grump’s relationship to chips is also a far cry from the obvious extremism on display in Vinyl. He’s mentioned many times his casual approach to collecting, including a self-imposed regulation not to go too far out of his way -- generally speaking -- when it comes to obtaining new, different chips.)

    Like I say, I liked those posts by the Grump, probably because I found myself identifying a lot with his desire for order. And with his wanting to chronicle that desire, too. Hell, we might step back and look at these lengthy, dedicated poker blogs the two of us have been creating all of these years and talk about another example of obsessive behavior the two of us obviously share.

    Getting back to Vinyl, even though those featured in the documentary might strike most of us as being more than a little off-the-deep-end with their collecting -- e.g., one guy sincerely lists as a goal to collect every record ever made (no shinola) -- I think it’s still possible to recognize a lot of their impulses and behaviors in ourselves.

    The film that Vinyl reminded me of most frequently was Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 doc Crumb that intensely delved into the life and personality of the cartoonist Robert Crumb (who also happens to be a pretty serious collector of records). Both adopt a similarly invasive approach to their subjects, at times almost uncomfortably so. Both feature some bleak moments, too, although on the whole Vinyl is much less grim than Crumb.

    There’s another connection of sorts, too, in that Harvey Pekar pops up (with zero fanfare) as an interview subject in Vinyl. Pekar, of course, authored the autobiographical comic book series American Splendor illustrated by Crumb.

    Anyhow, like I say, I recommend the movie to those for whom any of this sounds interesting. (It is available in its entirety over on YouTube.) I see there are also a couple of sequels and some sort of “alternate take” version of Vinyl out there which I might seek out at some point. But I’m in no hurry to do so.

    I mean, I enjoyed the movie, sure. But it’s not like I’m obsessed about it.

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    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    Selbst in the Lead

    My first experience watching Vanessa Selbst play in person was at the 2008 World Series of Poker when I happened to help report on her bracelet win in the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event. It remains a memorable tournament for me, punctuated by a crazy finale that saw her heads-up opponent, Jamie Pickering, raising pot blind hand after hand in an effort to gamble his way to victory.

    That actually marked Selbst’s fourth WSOP final table in three years, and she’d go on to add a semifinal (or third-place) finish in that year’s $10,000 World Championship Heads-Up No-Limit tournament. In other words, out of seven WSOP cashes she’d had up to that point, five of them were eighth-place finishes or higher.

    As Shawnee Barton wrote about late last week in her terrific (and timely) article about Selbst for The Atlantic, Selbst usually employs a “relentlessly attacking, boom-and-bust style” that finds her often either accumulating chips early then making a deep run or falling shy of the cash altogether. Barton evokes Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi as a suitable comparison.

    Such was the case in that PLO tourney back in 2008 where Selbst essentially led wire-to-wire. The first long day saw the field shrink from 759 all of the way down to 46, with posts about “Selbst Soaring” already starting to appear by late afternoon. I remember her having the chip lead for certain with about 100 left, maintaining it overnight and throughout Day 2. In fact she’d start the final table with more than 1 million chips while the nearest challenger (Pickering) had but 329,000. She’d then lead for most of the final table, too, before ultimately winning.

    Since then Selbst has enjoyed numerous other victories and final-table finishes, among them a $1.8 million-plus score at the 2010 Partouche Poker Tour Main Event, back-to-back Main Event victories at NAPT Mohegan Sun in 2010 and 2011, and a second WSOP bracelet last summer in the $2,500 10-game event.

    And yesterday Selbst added another huge line to her poker resume by winning the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25K High Roller event (photo above courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars). Thanks to a larger than expected field plus numerous re-entries, the prize pool ballooned up close to $5 million in that one, thereby meaning Selbst’s victory earned her an eye-popping $1,424,420 first prize.

    Selbst outlasted a final table that included Micah Raskin (who also final tabled the Sands Bethlehem last month), Tobias Reinkemeier, Bryn Kenney, Shaun Deeb, online star Ole “wizowizo” Schemion, Mike “SirWatts” Watson, and finally the Russian Vladimir Troyanovskiy who also final tabled the PCA $100K Super High Roller last week where he finished seventh.

    Now Selbst’s career earnings have inched over the $7 million mark, more than $6 million of which has been won since the start of 2010. A quick scan of the top earners over the same period shows only a handful of players earning more than that, and most of those finished first or second in either the WSOP Main Event, the “Big One for One Drop,” or that $2 million HKD High Roller event in Macau last August.

    Excluding those guys, it looks like only Erik Seidel ($7,338,543), Michael Mizrachi ($7,130,635), and Phil Hellmuth ($6,508,181) have earned more than Selbst in tourney winnings since 2010 (unless I’ve missed someone), and of course Hellmuth got a big boost by earning more than $2.6 million for taking fourth in the “One Drop.” Meanwhile, on the overall “All-Time Money List,” Selbst is now listed in 40th place, just ahead of Scott Seiver who jumped up when he won the $100K Super High Roller at the PCA last week.

    And of course, as many have been reporting, with her finish yesterday Selbst catapults past Kathy Liebert and into the top spot on Hendon Mob’s “Women’s All-Time Money List.”

    I was saying yesterday how I was finding it hard to get too excited over Viktor Blom’s big online swings, but such is not the case here. While bigger payouts and more high-roller events have obviously skewed these all-time lists considerably, Selbst becoming the all-time leader in tourney winnings among female players nonetheless seems like a moment worth noting.

    Liebert first grabbed the lead in that race way back in 2002, lost it to Annie Duke in 2004 after Duke won $2 million in that invite-only, single-table Tournament of Champions freeroll, then reclaimed the lead in early 2006 and had held it for nearly seven years before Selbst pushed in front. (Chart via Hendon Mob.)

    Selbst now has a big lead in that race, more than $1 million ahead of Liebert (2nd, $5,855,655), with Duke (3rd, $4,270,549), Annette Obrestad ($3,780,520), and Vanessa Rousso (5th, $3,471,293) following.

    In other words -- just like happened in that 2008 WSOP event -- now that she’s pushed into the lead on that list, chances are good Selbst will be remaining in front for a good while.

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    Monday, January 14, 2013

    Blasé About Blom

    Had one eye on that PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event playing out to its conclusion this weekend, with Dimitar Danchev of Bulgaria ultimately triumphing to land the $1.859 million first prize. I’ll admit, though, to having been more distracted by the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Three of the four games were above-average entertaining, and even the fourth (between New England and Houston) had enough drama attached to it to keep the majority of my attention.

    It’s become something of a habit for me when watching sports to keep Tweetdeck open on my laptop and follow folks’ comments as the game goes by. Both poker and football work well for that sort of thing, actually, as the pause between hands/plays allows people enough time to compose and fire off reactions to what is happening. Was suggesting on Friday how Twitter isn’t so great for more involved carving out of positions and argumentation, but I do like sometimes to learn others’ immediate response to a live event we’re all watching together.

    From @hardboiledpoker I follow both poker people and sports fans, and thus there was a lot of talk in my feed regarding both the PCA and the football games intertwining throughout the weekend. (I’d sign off just as the Golden Globes got going in earnest later on Sunday, thereby taking over Twitter.) Amid those conversations, though, I kept seeing the @BluffEurope feed butting in with references to an article about Viktor “Isildur1” Blom.

    The tweets had begun on Saturday and continued into Sunday. After a while, I had to check back to confirm that I wasn’t just imagining seeing the same tweet over and again.

    I suppose, technically, it wasn’t exactly the same:

    I finally had to poke fun with a responding tweet of my own. “Hey, @BluffEurope,” I began. “Has Blom’s 2013 start been phenomenal, amazing, or fantastic?”

    The short article -- yes, I finally did succumb to the unsubtle strategy being employed and clicked through to read -- noted how Blom was up $4.6 million so far in 2013 on Full Tilt Poker, and more than $5 million overall since the FTP relaunch in early November. For a more thorough report on Blom’s success, I then tripped over to the High Stakes Database website and read all about it, including how Blom recently took more than $600K off of Ben “Sauce1234” Sulsky in a three-hour session.

    It was almost exactly a year ago that Blom -- then a PokerStars Team Pro -- achieved his first major live score at the PCA by winning the $100K Super High Roller and earning a $1,254,400 million payday. But this time around the games on FTP were too good for Blom to be bothered by a return to the Bahamas. Responding last week via his @RealIsildur1 Twitter account to someone asking about how he was doing at this year’s PCA, Blom explained “I don't participate in this years PCA. I have already made over 3 times as much money as I made last year playing in PCA.”

    When I think about Blom’s phenomenalamazingfantastic run, I can’t help but follow a certain, cynical chain of associative thought.

    I think about how Gus Hansen’s start on Full Tilt Poker 2.0 has also been remarkable, although there the story concerns how big he has been losing -- more than $3.5 million on the site since early November.

    I also think about Blom’s sudden rise and precipitous fall on Full Tilt Poker back when we first started hearing about him in late 2009. Remember that swift saga that ended with Blom losing $4 million-plus to Brian Hastings, then talking about filing a formal complaint regarding allegations of of data mining? (Blom never did file such a complaint.)

    Finally, even though I trust the new PokerStars-managed FTP to be above board, I can’t help but think about how those millions passed back and forth on the previous iteration of the site were in many ways bogus, and indeed during the latter stages of the site could have been said to represent non-existent funds.

    I can’t put my finger on exactly how it all adds up, but there’s something about the combination of Hansen’s slide, the Blom-FTP backstory, and the formerly fraudulent machinations of the old Full Tilt that significantly mutes my response to Blom’s fast start as a newly-sponsored FTP pro. I don’t mean at all to suggest anything untoward, but am rather just pointing out that it’s hard for me to respond to the swingy Swede’s current adventures with anything close to the same sort of astonishment as I did three years ago.

    There was another tweet in my feed last week that came from the @FullTiltPoker account, sent the same day as Blom’s response regarding his non-participation in this year’s PCA.

    My first instinct was to think the tweet might have been a joke, but it fact it was not. I took a look, confirming that Blom really was playing at a table named “Yawn.” And then I yawned and logged off.

    No, after what has happened over the last few years, it’s harder than ever to get too excited about Viktor earning the spoils. Heck, this morning I am seeing yet another report that Blom apparently managed to drop a milly to Phil Galfond yesterday. Ho hum.

    On the other hand, that Baltimore-Denver double-overtime game Saturday night... now that was phenomenal. And amazing. And fantastic. (Unless you’re a Broncos fan, that is.)

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    Friday, January 11, 2013

    Good Read: The Atlantic on Vanessa Selbst and Women in Poker

    On Twitter, sometimes one discovers messages pointing to online articles with an accompanying declaration “#goodread” or some other terse recommendation of a particular landing spot on the endlessly-distracting interwebs.

    I’ll send out such tweets sometimes when I haven’t the energy to provide a more detailed recommendation, say, in a blog post. I’ll also admit to experiencing some vain satisfaction whenever someone on Twitter points to something I’ve written in similar fashion, such as happened yesterday with something I wrote for Ocelot Sports “On the Baseball Hall of Fame Shutout.” (Sorry for the shameless Shamus plug.)

    With character limits, there usually isn’t much space left in a tweet to say much if one is also including a link. Nor is Twitter really a great place (in my estimation) to deliver meaningful critiques of anything, really, although some use the medium regularly to deliver such commentaries on movies, books, TV shows, music, politics, news of the day, Justin Bieber, and/or just about everything else. And a select few are even good at delivering such evaluative assessments in 140 characters or less.

    In any event, I usually rely a lot on my knowledge of the tweet’s author before automatically clicking through when encountering such a recommendation. Earlier today, Change100 delivered such a message, referring to a new piece on the Atlantic website by Shawnee Barton profiling Vanessa Selbst. Trusting Change100’s taste generally speaking -- and in particular regarding a mainstream outlet’s discussion of poker (and a woman in poker, at that) -- I didn’t hesitate clicking through.

    Unsurprisingly, the piece by Barton titled “What It’s Like To Be a Woman Who Plays Professional Poker” is indeed a worthwhile read for anyone interested in poker, Selbst, or issues concerning men and women and how they interact.

    There are a number of aspects of the article that recommend it, one of which being an obvious awareness on the part of Barton of both Vanessa Selbst’s background and playing history as well as of recent trends in poker, generally speaking. Indeed, at no point in the article did I find myself questioning Barton’s knowledge of the game or the historical context for Selbst’s story -- kind of a rarity when it comes to poker articles emanating from non-poker outlets.

    And -- also refreshing -- I not only learned new things about Selbst, but feel like Barton made some insightful observations about cultural expectations for men and women and how those expectations often get amplified in the context of the male-dominated world of poker. Barton also adds a good point near the end regarding the possible impact of Black Friday and the relative absence of online poker in the U.S., noting how it might be affecting women’s participation in poker.

    But go read the article yourself, and forgive my going on a little longer than 140 characters in my recommendation of it. As a fan of both Selbst and solid poker writing, I’m glad I followed Change100’s suggestion.

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    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    Perusing the PCA’s Progress

    Busy week. When it comes to poker, I’ve been doing a lot more reading about the game than playing it or writing about it these last few days, including following events down at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure where the Main Event is now well underway.

    There’s a ton of coverage emanating every day from the Atlantis resort. Have spent the last few days reading about Scott Seiver taking down the $100K Super High Roller event and a $2 million-plus first prize, Peter Jetten winning the first ever Open Face Chinese tourney (which saw 59 entries), and the first few days of the Main Event.

    Indeed, for the ME the coverage has been especially extensive. For example, just yesterday the PokerStars blog team churned out more than a dozen features discussing the Main Event, covering both the action on the tables and other contextual color.

    Among my favorite posts on the PS blog from yesterday were a couple from Stephen Bartley describing the surrounding environs, including the hallways and the poker kitchen. Brad Willis wrote at length about Jason Mercier and Shaun Deeb’s late morning Q&A focusing largely on Open Face Chinese, then later pointed readers to Sarah Grant’s interview with 18-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps who played the ME before busting late on Day 2. And those two, Sergio Prado, and Rick Dacey additionally provided updates regarding the action as the field continued to shrink from the original 987 entries down to 166 players.

    Meanwhile over on PokerNews one finds the usual hand reports and chip count updates to help readers keep up with the tourney’s progress. Amid their coverage yesterday, Josh Cahlik managed to sneak in “An Orbit with an Olympian,” reporting a sequence of hands involving Phelps prior to the swimmer’s being eliminated later in the evening. And of course Joe Giron is there adding further to the coverage with his photos, not to mention the other videos with Sarah and Kristy Arnett.

    PokerListings and Bluff are there, too, frequently filing reports. And there will be live streaming of the PCA Main Event final table (with commentary) on Sunday over on

    It sounds like the money bubble will likely be bursting today, with the real drama reserved for the weekend when a champion will be found. As I was saying last week, it would be nice to be there, but it’s not too bad being able to follow it all from afar, either.

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    Wednesday, January 09, 2013

    Empty Hall

    Moving kind of slowly this morning-slash-afternoon following a late night of writing. Have been a little distracted today by some of the lead-up to the announcement of this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote, with a lot of the discussion concerning the candidacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa.

    The story reached its climax just a few moments ago with the announcement that in fact no player had earned the needed 75% total of votes to be elected this year. For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers Association of America didn’t see fit to elect anyone to the HOF.

    Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa all made their last appearances in the majors in 2007, which means after five years of non-activity this was the first year they were eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bonds won seven MVPs during his career on his way to establishing a new all-time home run record. Clemens won 354 games as a pitcher and seven Cy Young Awards. And Sosa was a seven-time All-Star on his way to becoming one of only eight MLB players ever to hit more than 600 home runs.

    Of course, thanks to allegations regarding all three players’ use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during their careers, all three were likely considered essentially ineligible by a large number of voters. In the end Clemens only earned votes from 37.6% of the 569 BBWAA voters, Bonds only got 36.2%, and Sosa 12.5%.

    There were a few other players whose named appeared on this year’s ballot who’ve also had their reputations tarnished by allegations of PED-use, including Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire. While the allegations have more or less substance in each instance, all four of those players have what most observers regard as “HOF numbers.” But none of them were voted in this year either.

    “This is the best pitcher and the best hitter that any of us have ever seen, and they’re only getting one-third of the vote” said a somewhat baffled-sounding Tim Kurkjian on ESPN just now. The MLB analyst was referring to Clemens and Bonds, of course. “At some point the relevancy of the Hall of Fame is going to come into question... when the best players of a generation are not voted in,” Kurkjian added.

    Baseball Hall of Fame voting follows a complicated process that many regard as flawed even without the impossible-to-quantify variable caused by the “steroid era” that plagued the game from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s.

    For the last three years I’ve had the great privilege of being invited to participate as a voter for the considerably less controversial Poker Hall of Fame. The process we follow is also not perfect, although I think has ultimately produced some worthy inductees of late.

    There are certainly players and other individuals who are not presently in the Poker Hall of Fame who deserve such recognition. And there are probably a couple in there who shouldn’t be. But I think the institution (as such) does nonetheless retain a modest level of veneration, with those who have earned their way into the PHOF justly regarded as having achieved something significant.

    I wonder about the Baseball Hall of Fame, though. While I certainly belong to the large group of fans who lament the influence of PEDs on the game, I tend to share Kurkjian’s consternation that baseball’s HOF may be rapidly descending into a state of irrelevancy (if it isn’t already there). Yet another, only recently realized casualty of the steroid era, you might say.

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    Tuesday, January 08, 2013

    Instant Games


    So said the grocery store manager or assistant manager or whoever it was manning the front counter. I had brought him a winning lottery ticket to redeem, and as he handed me my bounty -- a cool five bucks -- he was concluding our transaction with that one-word acknowledgment of my good fortune.

    As I walked away, I realized how jarring his declaration had seemed. It failed to resonate with the usual “have-a-good-day”-style parting phrases I’d usually hear when departing the store, the goodbyes often additionally containing some form of thanks for my having shopped there. Something about the situation faintly echoed the feeling of cashing out chips after a session of poker, although there, too, it didn’t exactly fit as in that spot cashiers normally refrain from such felicitous statements, not knowing (usually) whether the customer has won or lost.

    I wasn’t leaving the store, actually, as I needed to pick up a couple of items (light bulbs, milk) the cost of which would exceed my winnings. I slid the bill into my front pocket, mentally noting how I wouldn’t use it to make my purchase. I’d use a debit card instead, and hold onto the cash. My winnings.

    As I passed through the aisles, I continued to meditate on my lottery experience.

    I almost never play the lottery. Amid the “Mega Madness” from last spring I did end up buying two $1 tickets, one for myself and one for Vera. Neither ticket had won anything.

    If you recall, that was when the prize for the multi-state Mega Millions lottery was being advertised as having ballooned up over $600 million (a record), and by the end the total was something like $656 million. Three winning tickets were ultimately sold for that one, with all three winners ultimately taking the “cash option” (i.e., getting paid all at once rather than in installments) and thus would split a total of $474 million.

    So I can’t really say I’ve never played. And in this instance, I hadn’t even bought the ticket, but rather had been given it as a Christmas gift. It was a holiday-themed scratch-off game -- an “instant game” -- for which the largest possible prize was $100K and the lowest was $5. The overall odds for winning any prize were 1 in 3.97. As a poker player, I know better than to want to get my money in with those odds.

    The price of the game had been $5, in fact, so I had won back the cost of the ticket. In other words, if my brother (who’d given me the ticket) had just given me five bucks as a gift, it would’ve worked out exactly the same.

    Then again, by giving me the ticket he did give me something more than the cash I’d won. There was the mild anticipatory excitement that came with scratching off the little pictures of gift boxes to see if I’d won, plus another small bit of pleasure that came from actually winning even the smallest possible prize. Then came still more fun from later sharing the story of the ticket -- as mundane as it was -- with my brother and a few others.

    “I won the lottery,” I had joked with Vera and others. “I am a winner!” And while the fellow at the grocery store was being sincere with his congratulations, there was something kind of tongue-in-cheek about it all, too, in his acknowledgment of my having successfully broken even on the game.

    The process of cashing the ticket was a novel one for me, too, and I’m tempted to add that experience to the list of items that perhaps “enriched” the gift further for me (so to speak). Never having cashed one before, I had approached the counter with some sort of tentative, questioning address -- “Can I cash this here?” -- and was met with a nod and a swiftly-handled conversion of my piece of cardboard into a fiver.

    During the brief period in between, I looked upon the other “games” available to “play,” that is, the other “instant games” people can purchase. I can’t help but use scare quotes, perhaps betraying my own, personal definition of a game as something that requires elements that in this case are not present (e.g., competition, skill or strength, etc.). There were about 15 varieties from which to choose. Looking on the North Carolina Education Lottery site, I see that in all there are more than 70 different “instant games” currently being offered, with tickets costing from $1 to $20.

    There’s no legalized poker in the state, other than what’s being spread at a few tables up at Harrah’s Cherokee in the mountains. (There’s actually going to be a WSOP Circuit event there in April, a first for North Carolina.) Nor is there really much in the way of other (legal) forms of gambling, either, outside of the usual games in that casino. But the lottery is everywhere here in North Carolina. And in 42 other states and the District of Columbia, too.

    And it’s so easy.

    It was that latter thought that carried me through the rest of my visit to the grocery store -- the ease with which one can play the lottery, and how utterly trivial the process is by which one can win or lose money this way. I passed by the front desk as I left, moving toward the exit and into the path of the electric eye that would trigger the doors opening for me. There was a vending machine full of lottery tickets sitting just to the left of the doors, kind of resembling an oversized slot machine.

    I realized the effort needed to pull that five-dollar bill from my front pocket and slide it into the inviting slot would be only slightly more than what was required of me to make the doors open. Just another small step, really.

    But I resisted. I kept walking. Do I deserve congratulations? I don’t even know.

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