Sunday, June 30, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 32: Heaps of Headlines

A lot happening at the Rio right now, with the WSOP Main Event now less than a week away. Last night I was busy with the last day of Event No. 50, the $2,500 10-Game Mix, and while I was locked in there I was still aware of lots else going on as well.

Event No. 50 rapidly whittled down from 20 returners to a final table of six -- faster than we’d anticipated, in fact. Once we reached that stage, my blogging partner Josh and I had a decision to make.

PokerNews has been doing hand-for-hand coverage at most hold’em and Omaha final tables this summer, though have not done so for non-flop games (e.g., stud and draw variants). For the 10-game mix we had a choice, then, how to approach the reporting, and we decided to do what might be called “round-for-round” coverage of the action.

We knew reporting hand-for-hand was neither feasible nor really desirable, with the stud games in particular being too involved to accommodate that sort of reporting. But we also wanted to try to give a somewhat comprehensive report on how the final table was evolving through the various games. So we each took turns reporting on the six-hand rounds of a given game, providing successive “round reports” that highlighted the biggest hands of each six-hand sequence while updating chip counts frequently.

I liked how it all turned out, and if you read through it all you can see how Brandon Wong eventually moved from the middle to the front, then maintained his advantage to the end including through heads-up play with Sebastian Saffari.

Was kind of funny at first as I had initially drawn PLO, NLHE, and other “easier” games to cover while Josh kept getting stud/8, Badugi, and the like. But after one cycle through the 10 games we found a way to switch off after a bustout so we each ended up reporting on all 10 of the games more than once during the nearly seven-hour final table (including a one-hour break for dinner).

A couple of U.K. players finished in the top three (Saffari and Philip Sternheimer), with the American Wong ultimately prevailing. Had a boisterous rail of supporters at the secondary feature table, too, most of whom were there for Saffari. However, the real “British rail” was next door whooping it up in the mothership over Barny Boatman’s win in Event No. 49, a $1,500 NLHE event.

Boatman, of course, is one of the original “Hendon Mob” along with his younger brother, Ross, Ram Vaswani, and Joe Beevers, a group of Londoners who became early pioneers when it came to getting sponsorships for poker players while also founding the famous forum and what has become a vital database of tourney results. The Mob’s story gets covered somewhat in Victoria Coren’s For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker (reviewed here).

Lots of joy being expressed in and around the mothership last night at Boatman’s triumph, as well as over Twitter where I’ve already seen dozens of congratulatory tweets aimed toward Boatman. The 58-year-old topped a field of 2,247 to win his first bracelet and a $546,080 first prize.

Indeed, when it came to Day 32 of the 2013 World Series of Poker, the 10-game mix finishing up probably ended up below the fold (so to speak) as there were at least three other more attention-grabbing stories unfolding. Boatman’s win was one. The completion of Event No. 47, the $111,111 buy-in One Drop High Rollers NLHE event was another. And the continued playing out of Event No. 51, the $10,000 Ladies NLHE Championship (with a $9,000 discount for women) was a third.

To be honest, the One Drop High Rollers event barely registered with me these last few days, as I wasn’t assigned to it and thus couldn’t really follow it that much.

I know the turnout of 166 players well exceeded expectations and made it necessary for the event to spill over into a fourth day of play. Antonio Esfandiari appeared primed at one point to follow his Big One for One Drop win from a year ago with another in this one, but fell in fourth. It was interesting to see businessman Bill Perkins break through to take third and notch a big cash in one of these, too.

In the end Anthony Gregg outlasted Chris Klodnicki to take the title and more than $4.8 million first prize, thus again disproportionately throwing out of whack all comparisons when it comes to the bracelet events, their prizes, and their significance. Klodnicki, by the way, has racked up close to $4 million the last two summers at the WSOP without even winning a bracelet. He won $2,985,495 last night after winning nearly $900K for finishing second in the $50K Poker Players Championship to Michael Mizrachi a year ago.

I suppose from the outside it just felt like another “high roller” event on the schedule, kind of a specialty tourney reserved only for a certain percentage of players at a given festival that have grown increasingly common over the last three years.

Meanwhile, I did get to witness a bit of Day 2 of the Ladies event as it was playing out nearby mine. In fact, on my break I even helped out those reporting on it a little, catching a couple of hands during the rapid sequence of bustouts that found that event reach a final table even before the scheduled end of play for the day.

The $10K buy-in for men did its job, apparently, as after three straight years of a handful of men playing in the event there were none among the 954 who registered this time around. That result helped support what seems like a commonly-held view now that the “ladies discount” idea was probably a good one.

I chatted briefly with WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla yesterday, and at one point in our conversation I noted how no men had played in the Ladies tourney this year. “You won’t have any stories to write,” said Dalla to me, and I nodded. Afterwards I thought how I was kind of tired of writing that story, anyway, and was glad I didn’t have to this time.

Barbara Enright was among those cashing in the Ladies event yesterday, finishing 25th. The Poker Hall of Famer won the Ladies event in both 1986 and 1994 (when it was a seven-card stud tournament), won a bracelet in an open event in 1996 (pot-limit hold’em), and is, of course, the only woman ever to make a WSOP Main Event final table, having finished fifth in 1995.

Also cashing yesterday was Danielle “dmoongirl” Andersen who finished 44th. Andersen is one of the three principal figures featured in the documentary BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker, which happens to be having its official release today.

I had a chance to view the film earlier this month, and wrote a review of it for Flushdraw a week ago. I enjoyed it very much, and appreciate the way director Ryan Firpo and his cohorts presented the world of online poker and in particular the experiences of those who have managed to make careers out of playing online.

I actually spoke at length with Firpo at one point over a year ago about the project, in particular about poker’s significant place in American culture. That point that is made early in the film with people like Dr. Pauly, Dalla, David Schwartz, and Jesse May among those helping with the explanation. So even though I’m not really directly involved in the film, I’m still kind of excited for Firpo and the others who are.

As my review points out, the film ultimately becomes more of an extended profile of Andersen and the two other players featured, Tony Dunst and Martin Bradstreet, than a full-blown history of online poker. I say that because there are certain elements of that story that are left to the side, most conspicuously the insider cheating scandals at Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet that had wide-ranging effects on the industry as a whole (neither mentioned in the film).

I think the film is successful in many ways, though, and spell out a few of them in the review. Andersen’s story is the most interesting, of course, getting the most attention during the film’s running time.

Incidentally, last Sunday morning I finished the last edits on my review and after it was posted I went to the Rio to get ready for a day of work. I was climbing the steps in back when I looked up to see Andersen sitting there with her smart phone as she waited to play an event that day.

I introduced myself and told her how I’d just reviewed BET RAISE FOLD and she already knew about it as someone had messaged her. Was kind of uncanny to run into her at that moment after having been watching and thinking about the movie for the previous several hours and days. She was very nice and told me a little about the whirlwind she’s experienced as the center of attention of a film of such particular interest to everyone at the WSOP.

Like I say, the film is being officially “released” today insofar as it will become available online some time this morning, so check out the BET RAISE FOLD site for information about ordering.

I’m back at the Rio later this afternoon for more mixed-game fun as I’m helping with Day 1 of Event No. 55, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. Just eight games to deal with in that one, with Badugi and 2-7 NL Draw omitted from the mix.

The $50K event was first introduced as a H.O.R.S.E. event in 2006, subsequently being dubbed the “Poker Players Championship” and awarding a trophy in memory of the first winner, David “Chip” Reese, who died in 2007. Here are the winners, first prizes, and entrants for the first seven of them:

With everything else going on – including the final days of both the Ladies event and the $25K NLHE 6-max. -- the $50K getting started probably won’t make it “above the fold” either for the day. Should feature all the big names, though, and again I’ll be curious to see what the turnout ends up being, especially coming right on the heels of that One Drop High Roller.

Click on over to PokerNews’ live reporting today to follow it all.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 31: Mixed Games, Vegetables

Back on the beat yesterday with Event No. 50, the $2,500 10-Game Mix. And yes, I did report some Badugi hands.

They’re down to 20 now from a starting field of 372, and last year’s 12th-place finisher in the WSOP Main Event Scott Abrams leads everyone at the moment. In addition to Abrams, Robert Williamson III returns to a healthy stack, while Greg Raymer, Bruno Fitoussi, and Konstantin Puchkov are among those on the short side who’ll need to gather some chips early.

The tourney was fun to follow, although frequently challenging. Tables all start with the same game but then change games every orbit, meaning it doesn’t take long for all to get out of sync and be playing different games as you move from one to the next. Thus is it necessary when sidling up to a table first to get a peek at the stack of black, rectangular placards indicating the different games and see which was on top, then follow the action from there.

At times one could tell players and dealers were having to slow down and remind each other what the games and stakes were. There were frequent references to laminated copies of the complicated structure sheet throughout the day and night. Comments were made about certain games being mostly foreign to some (especially Badugi). I’m sure there were errors made here and there as well, although we couldn’t always pick up on those.

Scotty Nguyen busted in 21st late last night in a stud hand, for instance, and I actually think from something he said on seventh street after looking up at the placard that he might have possibly thought the game was stud/8. Perhaps he did not, though, as I’m convinced with Nguyen almost anything is possible, baby, including feinting what might appear to be the making of such a slip.

That said, I do think it’s true that even the best players can occasionally get a little mixed up by the 10-game mix.

Of the 10 games, four are flop games (NLHE, LHE, PLO, O/8), three are stud games (razz, stud, stud/8), and three are draw games (2-7 NL single draw, 2-7 fixed limit triple draw, and Badugi).

As an observer, if you don’t get a glimpse of the placard right away it’s easy to be confused by what you’re watching as a hand play out, even though the larger categorical distinctions (flop, stud, draw) are stark enough. But it can still be challenging, say, to note all of the cards coming out in a stud/8 hand and the sequence in which they appear plus catch all the bets and everything else, especially if you start out with any uncertainty about which stud game is being played.

I found myself thinking a lot about the draw games, and how from the standpoint of an observer they appear a much more abstract form of poker insofar as it is only the drawing and betting that signifies and no community cards or upcards. We know nothing of the hands, and so the decisions made regarding bets and draws come to represent the terms of conflict between players, providing evidence of certain hand strengths but no actual cards onto which the viewer can fix.

From the players’ view, the draw games aren’t as abstract as they do have cards to look at in their hand and thus knowledge about what cards their opponents cannot have. I think on some level there exists a great deal of overlap between the 10 games for the players as far as making hands and the application of tournament strategy is concerned.

Was a long day and I enjoyed getting a chance to work with Josh before he leaves in a few days to start production on his film, Multiplex.

The day was pleasantly interrupted by an hour-long dinner with Vera for which we ordered some All American Dave for dinner, which was definitely as good as advertised by all of the players, staff, and media who’ve been championing it. I had the Dijon Almond Chicken while Vera got the Mango Wasabi Glazed Tuna, and there was a nice mix of vegetables to go along with our dishes including broccoli, asparagus, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, plus avocado slices and brown rice. Delicious.

The convenience of ordering -- they’ll bring the food right to the table, or you can walk out the back of the Rio and pick it up -- makes it a great option for players. It seems wrong, actually, that a healthy alternative such as this should be such a unique thing, but in any case it’s nice to have a not-so-difficult way to get a few veggies while working 14-15 hour days like this.

Vera and I got to pack a lot into the days she was here, and I was grateful for having a little time off to enjoy with her. Just took her back to the airport this morning, and so will be riding out these last couple of weeks solo. Hard to believe the Main Event is already right around the corner, starting a week from today (!).

Meanwhile, if you’re curious to see how the 10-game mix plays out and whether any more Badugi hands get reported, check the live reporting today on the PokerNews blog.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 30: We Will Rock You

In a little bit of a tight spot as far as posting goes today. I’m back to work this afternoon, joining with Day 2 of the coverage of Event No. 50, the $2,500 10-Game Mix event. I’ve been looking forward to this one, and in particular am curious to see and perhaps report on some Badugi hands, something I’ve yet to experience at the WSOP.

Can’t really write too much this morning, though, as I’ve had to deal with some unplanned stuff here at the home-away-from-home (short version: a room change was needed), and so time is tight. Thus I can’t really chronicle all that Vera and I did yesterday as we enjoyed running around Las Vegas.

We spent the afternoon shopping up at the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip, then in the early evening we were able to meet up with my cousin’s husband, Tim, who just happens to be in town this week for a conference. He also just happens to have been born in Las Vegas, having lived here as a child through the ’70s. Thus he had a few stories to tell about how Vegas was during those years, as well as some other second-hand anecdotes via his parents who had lived here from the early ’60s until their move.

From there Vera and I went to the Bellagio for some dessert, some people watching, and a well-timed trek outside to see the fountains do their thing. Vera then said she wanted to see Fremont Street -- somehow during all of these visits we’d never gotten her down there before -- and so we drove out to check it out, arriving around 10 p.m.

Our timing was again good, as we had just walked out of Binion’s when the lighted canopy show featuring Queen’s “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” was cranking up. After that we had fun walking up and down the street, taking in all of the crazily costumed characters and other mostly-mild-but-a-little-wild mayhem.

A partial list of the cast included a couple of Transformers, KISS look-a-likes, Spider-Man, Tickle Me Elmo, Hello Kitty, people in full-feathered, head-to-toe Native American garb, other unidentifiable Renaissance Fair-looking types, lots of skin, a few pasties struggling to cover, and a band (Arena) also sweatily covering (with a little less difficulty) Van Halen, AC/DC, and the like.

On our way back through Binion’s I also showed Vera the lonely poker room (trying but not succeeding to get one table going), and the walls full of pictures of WSOP winners (through 2005) and Poker Hall of Fame members (also through 2005).

It was another full day of fun for us, and kind of made it easier to deal with the room-change hassle today, which would have been a lot less pleasant had it come at the beginning of Vera’s visit rather than the end. The trip to the Strip then Fremont was kind perfect, too, demonstrating vividly the contrast between the two locales for Vera as she got to witness Vegas rocking its hardest. Was interesting, as well, to soak in Vegas today and think about how utterly different it was from when Tim had lived here.

Vera is around until tomorrow, so she will get to do some more shopping today while I work. I think also we’ll try to get her over to the Rio for my dinner break tonight so we can test out that All-American Dave food everyone has been raving about at the WSOP this summer. Meanwhile, as much as the time off has been great, I looking forward to getting back on the floor to see how the 10-game mix event plays out today and tomorrow.

If you’re curious as well, click on over to PokerNews for the live reports.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 29: Zombies, Bodies Sawed in Half, and Other Hallucinations

Vera is here, and I’m very grateful to be getting a bit of a mini-vacation for a couple of days while she is so we can spend time together. I’ll be back on the reporting beat on Friday, and she’ll be departing on Saturday, but in the meanwhile we’re getting to do a few things in and around Vegas together.

As I mentioned I might do yesterday, I took her over to Red Rock Canyon, the National Conservation Area located about a half-hour west of Las Vegas. We drove the 13-mile loop that goes counterclockwise around and through the site, stopping frequently to look at the various red rock formations, stone walls, desert flora (not so much fauna), and other amazing things to look at along the way.

That photo above is of the stumps sticking up out of the sand that dot the landscape throughout the site. Perhaps it is due to having watched too many horror movies as an adolescent, but to me they resemble hands reaching up out of the earth, a prelude to a zombie-led apocalypse.

We snapped a bunch more pics, of course, and I took a few tries at using that panorama function on the iPhone. Here’s one (click to enlarge):

Last summer F-Train and I hiked the Calico Tanks route which took a couple of hours to complete. But Vera and I mostly stayed in the air conditioned vehicle, the triple-digit temps making it less than desirable to be outside of it for very long.

Had a classic rock station on the radio which at times provided a kind of uncanny soundtrack for our journey, especially when “Stairway to Heaven” and “Us and Them” were playing. Could imagine Pink Floyd having set up and playing “Live at Pompeii”-style out in the middle of it, the “black... black... black... black... and blue... blue... blue... blue...” echoing all around us.

Then last night we took in the Penn & Teller show at the Rio, something we’d always sorta kinda intended to do but never had. Was entertaining and unsurprisingly full of “How did they do that?” moments, with their characteristic method of both performing so-called “magic” while denying magic actually exists providing both grins and some food for thought along the way.

They mentioned at one point how the show compiled bits performed over their entire career which by now must span three decades at least, and I realized I had seen at least couple of them before somewhere along the way, including the gory, seemingly botched sawing of a woman in half bit.

I guess between Red Rock Canyon and the show, the day’s theme was to challenge the senses, especially sight, with the uncommon or hard-to-comprehend.

Today the schedule includes seeing some more sights (and sites), including a trip downtown to Fremont Street where Vera has never been. We had thoughts of checking out the Librace Museum -- a site much recommended to us -- though have discovered it closed a while back.

I’m sure we’ll find plenty to see and do, however, including more visions that challenge the idea that seeing is believing.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 28: The Old Timers’ Game

I said yesterday how I was hoping to gather some color to report, having found myself with a day off after a week’s worth of 15-hour days reporting from the World Series of Poker.

Part of the plan also was to catch up on sleep, as I’d probably been averaging around 3-4 hours most nights during that first week. Unfortunately after finally hitting the sack around 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, the hotel phone was ringing promptly at 8 a.m. with some applesauce about the bill going forward not being paid.

“No, this room isn’t paid for,” insisted the person the other end, soon forcing me into full consciousness. Soon I was dressed and talking in person with my accuser, and while eventually all was settled (they were mistaken) I’d lost my chance to sleep away the morning.

Ended up doing some work in the room, then by early afternoon had enough energy to do some errands, including on a whim deciding to visit the Palms just to see what the poker room looked like now that they’ve moved it to a new location.

The room remains quite modest with only a few tables, although the ambience is better than it was previously. Instead of a closed in, smallish space, it now sits on the edge of the sportsbook which now features an amazing wrap-around screen that extends nearly 180 degrees left to right, positioned high on the wall overlooking the bettors (see above). Rather than being a series of connected screens, it’s one continuous one with all the games, races, and wagering opportunities on display.

It being the early afternoon, there were just a couple of $2-$4 low limit tables going, and I decided to sit down for a short while. The new screen was the initial topic of conversation, with a dealer opining that it would be fun to show the Super Bowl on it with a long, continuous, wide shot of the entire field end-to-end. I agreed it would be an interesting way to see a game.

The old timers were at the table, and I soon realized I was about to pick up some of that color I was looking for. Most played there frequently, perhaps every day, with many referring to each other and the dealers by their first names. One gregarious fellow kept starting conversations with people by asking them how old they were, which brought the whole idea of aging to the foreground as a kind of theme.

He’d bet and raise a lot, too, regardless of his hand, and the first couple of times I’d three-bet him he referred to me as “big shot” as he called my reraise. It was only after I saw him betting into a fellow on the river who’d already tabled his better hand that I realized he’d entered into the still-functioning-but-no-longer-comprehending stage of drunkenness.

At one point he was quizzing the fellow to my left about his age. “What year were you born?” he asked. “1953,” came the reply. “What month were you born in?” “September... I’ll be 60 in a couple of months.”

The interviewer was interrupted as he had to be reminded the action was on him. He folded, then continued. “September you say?! What day?” “September 21st,” was the answer.

“Ah, okay okay.” He leaned back, suddenly looking tired. “I ask because my father was born in September, too... September 8, 1932.” He’d pronounced the year like it had much more significance than anyone realized, enunciating carefully so as not to slur. Nine.. teen.. thirty... TWO!

It was evolving into the most trivial conversation ever had until my neighbor said something about wanting 20 more years to live. At that the drunken questioner perked up.

“Why?” he asked. There was a pause suggesting my neighbor hadn’t expected the question. “Twenty more years to play poker,” he said, the inflection of his voice making it sound like he was shrugging even if he weren’t.

“Ah well that’s all right then,” was the verbalized judgment, although the questioner didn’t sound too convinced. He’d already established that he, too, was 60, and he added something that sounded like he thought that was enough life to live, although I didn’t quite catch what he’d said precisely.

It wasn’t a competitive game, and without even picking up too many hands I managed to win a dozen big bets’ worth without much trouble. One of the ladies at the other end of the table said something like “I have a rule... no set, no bet,” indicating the general passivity of all. There were various promotions -- “aces cracked,” “high hand,” etc. -- occupying everyone’s attentions at least as much as the hands being played. One Asian woman made a straight flush and got a bonus for that, putting a lasting smile on her face and faint ones on the others, too.

At another point I found myself sitting between two other elderly Asian men. The one on my left was asking the one on my right the name of a female dealer sitting at another table. He knew her, but couldn’t remember her name. The fellow on my right was the oldest of the bunch, and the most feeble, too, and had difficulty understanding what exactly he was being asked.

Finally he figured out what the question was, and eventually the pair got a floorperson to supply the missing name. A moment later, the older man on my right leaned forward to ask a question of his own.

“What... do you wanna f*ck with her?”

The one on my left acted like he didn’t hear the question. As did I, although if anyone were watching me my widened eyes might’ve given away that I had.

I thought about the dealers a little, all of whom were fine at managing the game and amiable custodians of the little social club of retirees. They knew several of these players, too, and I suppose some of these people have become somewhat significant supporting cast in their lives as well.

On the one hand, the game exhibited a desperate seeming pointlessness that’s hard to ignore, the kind of thing that made the idea of “twenty more years to play poker” a decidedly less than attractive fate to consider. But there’s also something meaningful going on, too, in the time these people share together sitting around a table hoping to pick up aces and lose with them.

In any event, was interesting to sit in on the old timers’ game for a short while. I’d like to play more serious poker while I’m here, especially after having had some success early in the trip, but as the old guys kind of helped point out, time is limited.

I left after an hour, stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few items, then headed back to the home-away-from-home with an intention to do more work. But I was too tired to do much of anything. Got a decent night’s sleep this time, and am extra energized as Vera Valmore arrives for her visit today.

I’d like to take her over to Red Rock Canyon to see what I got to see last summer when F-Train and I visited there. But the temps appear unfavorable for hiking, so we may just drive through and enjoy the sights from within the comfort of an air-conditioned automobile. We might try to got to Penn & Teller tonight, too, one of those shows we’ve thought about seeing every summer but never have.

Whatever we do, I’ll be greatly valuing our time we get to spend together. ’Cos that’s where the meaning comes from in this life, I think -- the getting together -- as we each otherwise individually play our hands.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 27: What Does This Stand For?

After six straight days of reporting I’m looking at enjoying a little bit of time off here during mid-week and so am going to try to keep the posts short so as to get the most out of the down time. Vera’s arriving tomorrow, too, for a quick visit, which will help considerably to make the home-away-from-home a lot more homey.

Am moving slow today thanks to a long one yesterday covering the final day of the Event No. 41, the $5,000 short-handed PLO ultimately won by longtime online star Steve “gboro780” Gross. Kind of a first big live win for Gross who’s had some good cashes but no big breakthrough tourney win on the level of a WSOP bracelet event. A nice guy and super talented player, too, so it was fun to see him get there last night.

All of the players at the final table were likable, although the greatest character had to be sixth-place finisher Nader Arfai who was entertaining his tables throughout the tournament. Arfai was on the tight side and probably didn’t stand too great of a chance to get all of the way to the end and win, although weird things happen in PLO events sometimes.

Got the sense it didn’t matter too much to Arfai, though, that he came up a few spots shy of the ultimate goal in this one. He'd gotten more than his money’s worth already, I think.

I’d overheard the 54-year-old telling others more than once how he’d been coming out to the WSOP for several years with an intention to play an event, but always was called away on business and thus never did. Thus this event was the first one he ever managed to play, and he ended up final tabling the sucker. He seemed to be having a blast throughout as well, joking around with players and dealers alike in a way that all seemed to enjoy.

He got a big grin out of Gross at one point yesterday when they were between hands and he pointed down at the felt in front of them. They’d been playing together at that table for some time, seated side-by-side in the 3 and 4 seats. Arfai was drawing an imaginary line along the top of the WSOP logo with the big chip in the middle of it separating the first two letters and the last two. From their perspective the acronym was printed facing upside down, and Arfai was moving his finger back and forth over the “W” and “S” of “WSOP.”

“I’ve been trying to figure this out all day,” he said to Gross. “What does ‘SM’ stand for?”

Gross looked up from the felt at Arfai. “Are you serious?” he said, and when Arfai cracked a grin he immediately realized he wasn’t, and both laughed.

I thought a little while after about someone pointing at the WSOP logo and asking what it stood for -- not literally, but as in what did the World Series of Poker symbolize or represent to him or her. And how depending on the person replying the answer would probably be different in every case.

For Arfai, the WSOP stood for a chance to have fun and do something that absolutely was not business (whatever that was for him). In any case, it’s always fun to see players having fun, and by night’s end there was a significant rail of supporters for several of the players, most especially for Gross, that helped cause more grins and good times. Also cool was to see second-place finisher Salman Behbehani jump in to be part of the crowd behind Gross for his winner’s photo.

That’s a couple of final tables for me now since coming out, both of which involved reporting hand-for-hand coverage, something which PokerNews has gravitated back toward doing in the hold’em and pot-limit Omaha events when circumstances allow for it.

On one level doing hand-for-hand reporting can actually be somewhat fun and even satisfying, especially when the day is done and you’ve helped produce that comprehensive chronicle of everything that happened. But as I’ve discussed here before more than once (most recently here), there are pros and cons, I think.

In any case, like I say, there will be no reporting on hands today. Gonna spend the day looking for some color instead.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 26: Cold

“Is Daniel out?”

So asked Shaun Deeb of me with about 40 players left in Event No. 41, the $5,000 PLO 6-max. event. I glanced at Daniel Negreanu’s table and he was still there, albeit completely obscured by his long-sleeved hooded jacket. Uncharacteristically for him, he had the hood up over his head, as photographed to the left for PokerNews/WSOP.

I jerked a thumb in Negreanu’s direction. Daniel wasn’t out. He was in, both the tourney and a large, heavy plaid cocoon.

“Keeping warm,” I said. “Good idea,” answered Deeb.

When I landed at McCarran Airport last week, I tweeted that I’d arrived, noting how my first order of business was to remove the jacket I’d been wearing aboard the plane. The hot, dry Vegas air was immediately apparent upon my first exposure outside the airport, and as usual the temps have been hovering in the 90s or low 100s for much of the time I’ve been here so far.

Several responded to be prepared to put my jacket back on once I’d made it to the Rio. It’s cold, they said. Real cold.

People have complained about it being too cold in the spacious ballrooms of the Rio where the World Series of Poker and other associated tourneys play out every single summer I’ve come out, so no one was telling me anything I didn’t already know. Sure enough, when I visited the Rio that night and entered the mostly empty Amazon room where a couple of tourneys had reached their end stages, there was a chill in the air. But I had my jacket and a sweater, and as I was writing about last week, everything seemed in its place in an almost comfortable sort of way. Including the chill.

Last night we were stationed in the far right corner of the Amazon. Again, like just about every day I’ve been there so far, the Amazon was mostly empty with Day 2s playing out in the corners and Day 3s finishing up on the main and secondary stages.

Players started complaining about the cold mid-afternoon, and after a while it became apparent that it really did seem colder than usual. I started out in a heavy shirt, then added the sweater, then added the jacket. All of the players were wrapped up in jackets and hoods, and while no one in our event had taken to wearing gloves, we were hearing stories of some in other events who had.

I’d say Negreanu finally reached a boiling point, but the metaphor seems inappropriate. After talking to the TDs about the situation a few times, he’d return from the dinner break with a digital thermometer, just to get an idea how cold it really was.

I’d mentioned to my reporting colleague Matt W. at one point that I’d guessed it to have been at least 15 degrees’ difference between the hallway and inside the Amazon. “I thought walking in I could see my breath,” I joked, and while I couldn’t actually do that, the change was so abrupt it did uncannily feel like stepping outdoors during winter rather than coming inside during summer.

Negreanu later tweeted the results of his test. I think he might’ve deleted the photo since, but I believe it read 60 degrees. Not sure if it was actually that cold in there, but the lower 60s is likely.

No one it seemed could avoid talking about the cold. Nolan Dalla wrote a humorous post about the cold on his blog. AlCantHang compiled various tweets about the situation for PokerListings -- some serious, some less so. Jess Welman earned the highest grin-producing score by making reference to the nine bracelets won by Canadians this year, as passed along by Bryan Devonshire:

“There’s a reason why Canadians are winning all the bracelets: they’re more acclimated to the weather.”

Once Negreanu busted from our event in 34th yesterday, he voiced further complaints over Twitter, and the response was that someone had apparently fiddled with the thermostat yesterday -- that is, we weren’t all imagining things -- and that it would be set at 74 going forward.

I return to the Rio today to cover the third and final day of Event No. 41, currently led by Steve “gboro780” Gross. We’ll see if it is less cold inside the Amazon today. And if not, how well people keep their cool.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 25: Is That Who I Think It Is?

Was on Day 1 of Event No. 41 yesterday, the $5,000 PLO 6-max. that drew exactly 400 runners. That’s adds up to exactly 6 million chips in play, of which Sorel Mizzi ended the night with the most so far with 146,400.

A ton of familiar, top-level pros played this one, although to be honest my colleagues and I have been doing this long enough that sometimes it feels like everyone is familiar on some level. Just looking through the list of 117 players who survived to make it to today’s Day 2, I found myself thinking of how I’ve probably at least reported one hand on nearly every single one of them before (no shinola), thus ensuring their names are at least familiar to me, and for a lot of them their faces are, too.

Speaking of recognizing players, the theme of the day emerged early on yesterday after I’d made several rounds to gather names and start reporting. It was more than an hour into the event, perhaps even longer, when suddenly I realized I’d passed by a nearby table a dozen times without recognizing Sammy Farha sitting at it, playing his first event of the summer.

Every year a common question gets asked a few weeks into the WSOP: “Has anyone seen Farha?” He generally doesn’t play many preliminary events, although he always plays the Main. Last year he played just two prelims, and the year before four. Among the few he does play are always the bigger buy-in PLO events, though, and so it wasn’t a surprise at all to see him making his 2013 debut in Event No. 41.

What startled me, though, was how I didn’t trust myself initially that it was in fact Farha. That is him above, of course, as photographed by Joe Giron for PokerNews and the WSOP yesterday.

He was wearing a dark t-shirt and jeans and early in the day had sunglasses on. Later he’d remove those and occasionally wear dark-framed eyeglasses, and after being quiet for the first few hours he became more animated, eventually emerging as that Cheshire-cat-grinning, life-of-the-party character with whom many of us are familiar from his TV appearances. The fact that he began accumulating chips later on might have helped him suddenly seem more like himself, too (if that makes sense).

I realized later that while Farha looks great, he is like the rest of us a decade older than he was when he made that first, most lasting impression upon us all during ESPN’s coverage of the 2003 Main Event. We all look a little different than we did then, perhaps markedly so. I thought it was interesting, though, that I’d struggled initially to trust my recognition of him.

Soon after that I found myself doing a similar double-take with Andy Bloch. It’s been a couple of summers now since Bloch has donned his once signature big black cowboy hat and sported Full Tilt Poker logos, so like with Farha, Bloch’s current appearance doesn’t necessarily match the image with which most of us first got to know him.

After that it was Brock Parker who stymied us for a short while after having shaved his beard this week. Is that him, we asked? I covered one of his bracelet wins back in 2009, the year he won two, and like everyone else have grown accustomed to spotting his bald head and full beard in tourney fields. Took a moment or two extra, but again came recognition.

I think I might be feeling a kind of long-range effect of repeating the sequence year after year, with the Rio and specifically the Amazon Room being the only place in the world where I keep seeing a certain group of people over and over and over again. In any case, today I’ll get to see Farha, Bloch, and Parker again, along with many others for Day 2. Click over and follow along today, and see how many of the players are familiar to you.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

2013 WSOP: Day 24: Year of the Player of the Year

Was a late one on Friday as I was on Day 3 of Event No. 35, the $3,000 pot-limit Omaha event here at the World Series of Poker where Jeff Madsen led pretty much the entire last day as they played down from 19. Madsen won his third WSOP bracelet and first since winning two in one week as a 21-year-old back in 2006.

Afterwards my blogging partner Rich and I marveled a little at how many of the WSOP Player of the Year winners seem to be thriving in 2013. In fact, four of them have won bracelets, counting 2004 WSOP POY winner Daniel Negreanu’s Main Event win at WSOP Asia Pacific. Madsen won the WSOP POY in 2006, Tom Schneider (who has won two bracelets this year) won it in 2007, and Erick Lindgren (who won a bracelet this week) won WSOP POY in 2008. Additionally, after the event completed last night, Jess Welman tweeted that seven of the nine WSOP POY winners have made final tables this year.

I liked Rich’s way of describing the trend. “Year of the Player of the Year,” he said. That pic above, by the way, is from the start of the 2008 WSOP (via Pokerati) and shows Madsen’s WSOP POY banner on the right and Schneider standing in the spot where his poster eventually would be hung that year.

I’ve been on two events thus far since I’ve arrived, won by Lindgren and Madsen. Good players repeatedly performing well in poker tournaments always inspires lots of talk about the game’s skill component, with results such as the ones we’ve seen at the WSOP this summer often becoming cited examples in a long running argument that the rewards in poker ultimately correspond to players’ relative decision-making abilities -- i.e., that poker is, indeed, “a skill game.”

Such results do not, however, work as evidence to support arguments minimizing luck’s role in the game. As dominating as Madsen was yesterday, there was a hand in which he was not involved that saw a short-stacked Scott Clements fail to earn a double-up after getting his last chips in on the turn with a 90% chance of winning only to bust in fifth.

For a good while before that hand, it appeared somewhat likely that Clements -- who like Madsen had won two bracelets prior to this event, both in Omaha games in fact -- would be the one eventually to meet Madsen heads up. Besides being the most accomplished players remaining, they appeared the strongest, too, and so it was hard not to anticipate such a conclusion.

But Madsen wouldn’t have to worry about Clements from four-handed on down, and after losing his lead momentarily just as heads-up play began with Douglas Corning, Madsen retook the advantage and more or less rolled to the win. That is him on the left from last night, still exhibiting that same characteristic pending-action pose with his left hand on his opposite shoulder as was captured in that banner photo from seven years before.

Such is often the case, that even in tourneys where a winner’s skill appears to have been unequivocally demonstrated, one still can’t deny the chance element in poker, especially short term. Sure poker “aintluckentirely (as the poker news site says). But it ain’t all skill, either.

By the way, that Phil Hellmuth blow-up I alluded to in yesterday’s post was in fact directed toward Madsen shortly after the latter had eliminated him.

Amid Hellmuth’s petulance -- which included him calling Madsen the “worst f***ing player ever” -- Hellmuth asked a question of the tourney’s eventual winner.

“How do you even have all those chips?”

Madsen didn’t reply, but the actual answer to such a question is always complicated, no matter how good the player with the chips is.

I’m back on another PLO event today, picking up Day 1 of the $5K PLO 6-max. (Event No. 41) on which I’ll be reporting from start to finish, an event that no doubt will have Madsen and Clements in the field. The higher buy-in will ensure a number of other strong players will be there as well when play begins later this afternoon. Click on over if you get the chance.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 23: Divided Attention

Worked Day 2 of Event No. 35, the $3,000 pot-limit Omaha tournament that started with 640 runners, saw 137 come back yesterday, and would eventually play down to 19 before play was halted a little before 3 a.m.

Was kind of an interesting scene just as the tourney reached the money bubble with 55 players remaining. Hand-for-hand play had commenced, and as it turned out it would take probably 20 hands or so for another bust to occur. PLO is definitely an action game, but without antes the short stacks can endure folding hands between the blinds for a lot longer, especially when the game is nine-handed.

About halfway through that sequence came the tipoff of Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Nearly all 55 of the remaining players and pretty much every one of the reporters and staff as well were interested seeing how the game would play out, and so many were as much attuned to the large screen televisions on either side of the tourney as to the hands being played on the bubble.

During the break many of us assembled in front of one of the TVs, and I took a few pictures, including experimenting a little with the “panorama” setting on the iPhone:

That’s Mike Sexton in the middle with the red jacket. I asked him if he’d bet the game, knowing the answer would yes, and he told me he had a bet on the Spurs to win the series but had put something on Miami for this final game.

I believe the bubble finally burst around halftime, then the game concluded just before the dinner break arrived, meaning players, staff, and reporters all continued to be distracted by the thrilling conclusion that saw Miami prevail.

I was pulling for the Spurs, and in fact threw a twenty on the money line just for kicks as a San Antonio win would give me more than three times my money back. My blogging partner Rich, meanwhile, took the less risky path of betting Miami and giving the points, and he ended up earning a small profit.

It was actually kind of a fun way to experience Game 7. Not as absorbing as watching without working, but still entertaining to be around lots of others whose attentions were divided like mine.

As mentioned, they’d ultimately play down to 19, with Jeff Madsen taking a big lead to carry into today’s final day of play. Among those cashing yesterday was Tom Schneider, his seventh cash already this summer (and we’re just now crossing the halfway mark).

Schneider went out in 60th, but his name was coming up amid table talk much later on as both Will Failla and Sexton sung his praises. The subject of the WSOP Player of the Year race came up again, too, with both of them agreeing they’d prefer the non-Vegas WSOPs not count (and thus Schneider’s stellar summer make him the current leader rather than WSOP APAC winner Daniel Negreanu).

Another player who was being talked about after his exit last night was Phil Hellmuth who finished 26th. That’s because as usual Hellmuth made his customary show of petulance following his bustout, which Rich ended up including in the report of his last hand.

I was working on another post at the time and couldn’t be too bothered to pay much attention to Hellmuth’s antics. I won’t deny that they can be entertaining, even after witnessing them dozens of times before. But these days I find myself thinking more and more how poor they reflect on the all-time leading WSOP bracelet winner.

I’ve mentioned before here on the blog that rumor that has floated around off and on over the last few years regarding Hellmuth perhaps becoming some sort of spokesperson or representative of the WSOP once its online site goes live for real money. I have no idea whether that talk has any basis in reality or not, but I can say I’d be plenty disappointed if such ever were to come to pass.

Never mind Hellmuth’s self-serving, community-destroying, decade-long endorsement of the most thoroughly corrupt online poker site ever, I can think of hundreds of others I’d rather choose to introduce new players to the game.

When the night finally ended, Sexton came around to give me and Rich a “good work today” and wish us good night. I found myself thinking again about Hellmuth and his departure.

Sexton is of course known as the “ambassador of poker,” and the contrast between the two of them couldn’t be greater, in my opinion, as stark as the cheery red of Sexton’s jacket yesterday and the gloomy black of Hellmuth’s. To give my post title another meaning, when it comes to these two players, the attention of one seems always to be on others, while the other’s attention is always on himself alone.

Back at it today, where Rich and I will be seeing this sucker through and report on Day 3 of Event No. 35. Besides Madsen, Scott Clements, Ashton Griffin, Jarred Solomon, Christian Harder, and Sexton are perhaps the best known players remaining, although there are a number of other players of note still in the field including some other former bracelet winners.

Click on by and check it out, if you like, now that there’s no more basketball to distract you.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 22: Step Right Up

I was writing yesterday about playing a tournament downtown at the Golden Nugget, mentioning that momentary, minor feeling of trepidation I experienced sitting down to play a live event after not having done so for many months before.

Most years when I’ve come out to help report on the WSOP I felt something similar when stepping into the Rio that first day, especially early on. But I can’t really say I felt too much of that yesterday as I jumped in for my first full day of live blogging for PokerNews, helping out the team reporting on Event No. 32, the $5,000 NLHE 6-max. event.

I’ve mentioned to a few folks I’ve been reuniting with these last couple of days how it seems like the intervening months since the 2012 WSOP passed by more quickly than ever. Got to chat with both Jess Welman and Lukas Willems of the WSOP team yesterday and said as much to both of them, noting additionally how during this last year I’d been on a number of trips -- including several WSOP Circuit events -- which made coming out this year seem a little less momentous than in the past. Of course, both Jess and Lukas well knew what I’m describing, as they are both on the WSOP beat all year round.

So picking up with reporting on the second day the $5K 6-max. felt a little like stepping right back into something that hadn’t ever really ended for me. The PokerNews site had a redesign just before the start of the WSOP, and so there were a few small puzzles to solve yesterday to figure out how things were done. But none of it was too troubling, and I had both Jon and Mat to help me along the way, anyhow.

I’ve reported on this same $5K 6-max. event in the past, and it always proves to be one of the tougher events on the schedule, attracting both the toppermost tourney regs and the many online MTT and SNG grinders, too.

I remember well the 2009 WSOP when Matt Hawrilenko won this event, Josh Brikis took second, and Faraz Jaka third. There were 928 playing that year, with Hawrilenko earning over $1 million for first. The turnout slipped to 568 in 2010, though, and so for the past two years they’ve made it a $10K and drew fields of exactly 474 both times (with the winners each earning over $1 million).

Just 516 played the $5K 6-max. this year, meaning there’s a little over $600K up top for first. Of those 128 returned for yesterday’s Day 2, and 14 of them survived to night’s end, led by Jonathan Little, Allen Bari, and Vasile Buboi. Others still in the hunt include Ryan D’Angelo, Erick Lindgren, Andrew Robl, Jon Aguiar, and Lee Markholt.

There were tons of other notables among the eliminated and small-cashers yesterday. T.J. Cloutier was solidly in the mix right up until the money bubble, but he had a momentary slip-up to go out a few spots shy of the money. In his final hand, Cloutier four-bet jammed more than 60 big blinds with 8-7-suited and Mike Sowers was quick to call with his pair of kings.

“How’s that for ABC poker?” said Cloutier afterwards, as Jon reported. After losing the hand and during the counting down of chips, Cloutier expressed how he hadn’t realized Sowers had as much as he did and thus had him covered.

The table talk was generally engaging and fun for eavesdroppers. Lindgren was very chatty throughout the day and night, talking golf a lot with Craig Fishman near the end. Allen Bari could be heard occasionally sharing observations about life. Also Matt Glantz and Daniel Negreanu had a long, interesting conversation about the WSOP Player of the Year race and the inclusion of the WSOP Asia Pacific results.

Negreanu, of course, is at the center of that discussion currently as he leads the POY race thanks to his performance in Melbourne (including a Main Event win), with Tom Schneider’s second bracelet win this week putting him squarely behind Negreanu at the moment. Both Negreanu and Schneider are gunning for an unprecedented second WSOP POY title, by the way, with Negreanu having won in 2004 and Schneider in 2007.

The play was solid throughout, and obviously several steps up from what I experienced in my little tourney on Tuesday. There were a few situations like Cloutier’s bustout that perhaps appeared to ride that fine line between “move” and “mistake,” but as always I don’t think a person watching intermittent hands at a table can ever be wholly confident about such judgments.

It was a long day, and I suppose even after working a lot of events over the last several months I found myself dragging a bit as we crossed the 2 a.m. mark to work that 15th and final hour. Playing for 11 hours the day before probably didn’t help.

But it was a good day full of good poker. And some good eats, too, as B.J. Nemeth stepped up to make a dinner run to In-n-Out Burger for a bunch of us.

Will be back at the Rio today and the next several in a row, this time stepping over to join the coverage of Day 2 of the $3,000 pot-limit Omaha event in which 137 remain. Step over to the PokerNews live reporting page starting this afternoon to follow along.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 21: Min Cash, Max Fun

It was a day of poker playing yesterday for your humble scribbler, not necessarily what I’d expected to do during my one-day respite before joining the PokerNews live reporting team later today. But after arriving Monday night, Rich told me that several guys happened to be off yesterday and were planning a trip downtown to play in a cheap tourney at the Golden Nugget, and I snap-called, glad to have the excuse both to play as well as to hang out with some of the fellas.

Six of us made the trip -- Rich, Chad, Josh, the two Matts (Whitefield and Yorky Pud), and myself. Was a $125 buy-in no-limit hold’em tourney, part of the Golden Nugget’s month-long Grand Poker Series 2013 that features a ton of different games, including mixed games, a Chinese poker event, a Badugi/BadAcey/BadDeucey event, and other off-the-beaten-path fare.

Someone suggested a last longer between us at $20 per, and I agreed while insisting I was dead money among the group. I hadn’t played a live tourney in many months, while all of these guys play regularly. Hell, one of them had even won a WSOP bracelet this summer. (No shinola.)

I had played at the Golden Nugget once before, back in 2009 in a charity tourney hosted by Howard and Suzie Lederer that also involved their old “World Series of BBQ.” (Talk about a blast from the past.) That was the tournament in which I found myself in the embarrassing situation of having Dan Harrington come to my table while I sat with an “M” of 2.

We joked at one point about the sign advertising the Grand series and the non-specific “Big Chip Stacks” item listed as one of the tourneys’ selling points. The list also included “Great Structures,” and even though we were having some fun inserting those phrases into various absurd declarations (“Me? I only play events with Big Chip Stacks”), the tourney did in fact have a lot of play. Levels were 40 minutes, and with the $10 bonus buy -- “optional,” though everyone took it -- we started with 12,000 chips and blinds of 25/50.

After not playing for so long, I enjoyed getting reacquainted with the rhythms of tourney play. Was sort of like getting back in front of a class to teach after taking off for the summer. I knew what to do, but at the very start there was that tiny bit of anxiousness about it all that often characterizes such situations.

I settled in quickly, though, and enjoyed having Josh at my table a couple of seats to my left to chat with here and there. I chipped up a bit during the first three levels to get over 15,000 by the first two-hour break. Then in the fifth level I earned a boost when I came along from the button with a few others following a middle-position player’s raise after being dealt AsTc. The flop came JsQsKs, giving me Broadway and a nut-flush draw to boot. The original raiser -- an aggressive player against whom I’d already won a couple of small pots -- continued with a bet and only I called, then I called another bet from him after an offsuit four fell on the turn.

The river brought another king to pair the board, and my opponent shoved for 6,700 (about two-thirds the pot, I think). I thought a while before calling, he showed AcKd, and I had just about doubled my starting stack.

I continued to win a few small pots while mostly sitting tight, the next highlight coming in a hand in which I opened with 7h6h from late position and got a caller from the blinds from another aggressive, more skillful, hoodie-wearing player. Three overcards and two hearts came on the flop, which we both checked, then I turned my flush and ultimately got two streets’ worth of value from him and a surprised look when he saw my hand at showdown.

Meanwhile Rich busted early, re-entered, then busted again before heading off to play cash. Chad went out as well, with the two Matts also hitting the rail to leave just myself and Josh. I mostly just treaded water during the latter part of the afternoon, making it to dinner break with just over 27,000 which at the time was only around 16 big blinds. Out of the 166 entries about 55 other players made it that far, too, with the top 18 scheduled to get paid.

Josh was still in, too, with an above average stack, and the two of us met up with others for a dinner at the Hash House a Go Go located across the street at the Plaza. I had a reasonably sized (and tasty) portabello mushroom sandwich and fries, watching in wonder at the other mountainous dishes around the table including multiple orders of Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken and Bacon Waffle Tower. The meal resembled the tourney, with me short-stacked relative to others’ intimidating “towers.”

After dinner I managed to add chips without putting myself at risk, and with 30 players or so left was sitting at around 40,000 (by then only 12-14 BBs or so). Across the room the Spurs-Heat game was on and it was just about the time Ray Allen hit that game-tying three that I was four-bet jamming, watching the original raiser tank and then fold, then getting a call from the reraiser.

We both had ace-king and would chop the pot, kind of mirroring the game being tied and heading to overtime, and afterwards the original raiser noted he’d folded a pair and would have won the hand. Not long after we were down to about 25 players when I was all in again with A-K and this time was up against A-9. The board ran out a weird 4-4-4-K-K, and suddenly I was up over 80,000 and well out of the danger zone with an average stack.

Somewhere in there a highly unfortunate situation arose for one of my opponents. I was in the big blind, and the player to my left open-shoved all in from UTG for about 17,000. It folded around to an elderly gentleman in Seat 5 (the cutoff) with about 12,000 or so, and he declared he was calling.

He pushed his small stack of chips forward, his small, circular metal card protector sitting on top. It appeared he might have set his cards forward slightly, too, and unfortunately the dealer reached out and slid them into the muck. The player quickly noted what had happened, but it was already too late. The floor was called, and after some discussion it was determined the man’s hand was dead.

That inspired a torrent of what I imagine to be uncharacteristic language from the senior citizen before he departed, then lots of predictable table talk afterwards especially once the chagrined dealer had left. A few noted they’d seen such occur involving players in the 1 or 10 seats before, but never the 5. All agreed it was a crummy way to bust, but several also pointed out that if he’d used the card protector to protect his cards rather than as a chip stack ornament, it wouldn’t have happened.

A total of 23 of us made the next break. I had 82,300 while Josh had just taken a hit to fall to around 77,000. Then he had the bad fortune of running A-K into A-A following an ace-high flop to bust in 22nd, earning me the last longer in a fashion not unlike what Josh had endured in the Casino Employee’s Event when he’d finished 12th and Chad won.

It took a while, but the super-shorties finally ran out of chips and we hit the money around 10 p.m. I had about 15 BBs then, but lost a chunk after doubling up a short-stacked player. He’d pushed with Kd2d and I called from the big blind with pocket fives, and the flop came 8-2-2. Another player said he’d folded eight-deuce.

I endured a bit longer, then down to around 8 BBs I watched the table fold to a player in the small blind who limped, the same hoodie-wearing one from my first table, in fact. I then jammed from the big blind with A-J, he instacalled, flipping over A-K, and five cards later I was out in 16th for a $258 min-cash, my profit padded a little more by the hundy I’d won for the last longer.

I came away pleased and with a renewed appreciation for those who do this stuff more than just once in a while. I’d made a few small mistakes, and of course left with the inevitable second thoughts about my exit hand. But I was glad to have played reasonably well and most of all to have kept focused throughout, which is a lot easier said than done.

I cabbed it back to the home-away-from-home, the others having all long gone. I thought about how tourneys gradually evolve into these elaborate, fascinating puzzles to solve, with players’ approaches toward the task perhaps overlapping in several ways, but all ultimately being unique.

I probably only had two or three genuinely difficult decisions to make during the entire day and night. In the end, I was only all in and at risk those couple of times with Big Slick on the money bubble prior to my final hand. Of course, my ability to avoid too many crises along the way spoke more to my willingness to fold and patiently await less troubling situations than anything else.

Like a decent percentage of the field yesterday -- perhaps a third or so -- I have gray hair. And I’ll admit I play like gray-haired guys play a lot of the time. Ultimately it didn’t add up to a winning strategy, although I’d like to think I’d have been able to adapt had I gotten any further along.

Best of all, though, was I had a lot of fun playing a great game. Had been awhile.

Now I get to watch others try to figure out these things. I’ll be on the second day of Event No. 32, the $5,000 NLHE 6-max. with lots of big names among the 128 returning. Check over on the PN live blog today to read how the pros do it.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hello, Vegas

Have arrived at the home-away-from-home here in Las Vegas, having mostly unpacked and more or less gotten settled already. Was in a kind of serene state of mind flying out, with an hour-long delay, a super-sized neighbor sitting next to me, and a mother traveling with four children one row up all failing to cause any undue stress along the way.

The delay didn’t matter so much as I wasn’t needing to arrive at any particular time, the fellow in the next seat was amiable enough, and the kids (aged one to eight) did remarkably well keeping busy with coloring books and making faces throughout the five hours or so we were in the air.

Landed around seven-thirty local time and immediately noticed the Ultimate Poker and online poker advertising in McCarran. Got bag, car, and within an hour had reached my destination. Then I ran over for a quick visit to the Amazon Room in the Rio last night to pick up my credentials and see who was there.

Everything was pretty much where I’d left it a year ago.

Reunited with several folks including a lot of the PokerNews guys, some of whom were working and some of whom were not. I arrive during what is in fact a relative lull in the WSOP schedule with just four events running yesterday, two of which had shrunk down to a final table and the final three tables.

Those two were all that was playing out in the Amazon, which meant most of the spacious ballroom was empty last night. One was Event No. 29, the $5,000 H.O.R.S.E. at which Tom Schneider was sitting and in fact would end play late in the night with a big chip lead with four remaining. Going for a second bracelet of the summer after winning the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event just last week, is the Donkey Bomber, and a fourth in his career.

I shook Tom’s hand at the break, then also shook another 2013 WSOP bracelet winner’s hand soon after, my colleague Chad Holloway. I had grabbed a copy of Poker Player Newspaper from the hallway with Chad grinning on the cover and before saying anything to him asked him if he could sign it which got a laugh from the others.

Chad missed an opportunity, as he pointed out afterwards, as he might have grabbed the pen, scribbled his name quickly, and moved on as though he had more important things to do. In any case, he made the most of an opportunity a couple of weeks ago when he won Event No. 1, that’s for sure.

Ended up grabbing a late dinner with BLUFF writer and Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games Season 3 winner Tim and had fun getting caught up with him and with how the WSOP has been going thus far. Tim is playing the $2,500 razz event later today, for which I am sure the HBP Home Games have served him well as a valuable tune-up.

After that I headed back to get some rest, leaving the unpacking until this morning, in fact. Still need to make a grocery run and get settled for real, although today I think I’ve already got a full schedule as I’ll meet Jen Newell for breakfast, then run over with a bunch of others to the Golden Nugget to play the noon $125 NLHE tourney.

Hoping also to be able to get together with folks for Game 6 of the Heat-Spurs series tonight, on which I might just have to find a reasonable bet to make. (Can the Spurs do it? Can they?)

I expect I’ll soon settle into making some daily WSOP reports here as I’ve done in the past. More to come!

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Monday, June 17, 2013

To Vegas... Again!

I write today from an airport terminal (again), presently mired in full-blown what-did-I-forget mode as I await my flight to Las Vegas for another hot summer helping the PokerNews crew report on the World Series of Poker.

This will mark my sixth straight year at the WSOP, which means I’ve gone out enough times for the novelty to have long worn off and to have even developed a sense of routine when it comes to the whole idea of picking up and leaving for an extended period like this. That is to say, it doesn’t even seem like such a huge, life-altering thing to do anymore, having gone to Vegas so many summers before -- as well as made other lengthy trips, too -- in order to watch people play cards and report what happens.

Of course, it’s that feeling of routine that is probably heightening my momentary fretting over the possibility of having forgotten something. You know, like in poker when you find yourself getting used to certain patterns in your opponents or the game’s flow, then perhaps become less attentive and miss something -- perhaps even something obvious -- because you’ve become semi-hypnotized by the game’s rhythms.

To be honest, the list of essential items for me is quite short, anyway, even when making a month-long trip like this. Thankfully Vera is coming out for a mid-trip visit fairly soon, so even if I do discover I’ve forgotten something, she’ll be able to help out.

Meanwhile, I am eagerly looking forward to reuniting with lots of people, including the PokerNews and WSOP folks as well as many other players and media types whom I’ve gotten used to seeing every summer, and with whom I find myself interacting all year, too, in various ways such as via Twitter.

I remember mentioning to someone last summer how Twitter makes it feel like we’ve been passing each other in the halls for the last several months, occasionally saying hello and checking in with each other, so when we finally meet again face-to-face after a whole year it hardly seems like we’ve been apart at all. The familiar setting of the Rio also reinforces that sense that no time has elapsed between visits. Every year is different, of course. But so much is familiar, too. Comfortably so, I have to admit.

In any case, I greatly look forward to getting there. Having done it so many times before, I know how it will go, too. A month will pass quickly, and soon I’ll be packing back up and traveling home.

And wondering again if I’ve forgotten anything.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

The Pushing Strategy (Pushing Strategy Away)

Was reading a post this morning written for Betfair Poker by my buddy and colleague over there, Matthew “Yorkshire Pud” Pitt, regarding what he found to be a curious conclusion to Event No. 18 of the 2013 World Series of Poker, the second of the several $1,000 no-limit hold’em tourney on this summer’s calendar.

There the Pudster describes how the event which started with 2,071 players had gotten down to heads-up on Wednesday night between Taylor Paur and Roy Weiss. After playing for a while the pair went to dinner break with Paur enjoying a commanding lead with nearly 5.5 million to Weiss’s 715,000.

Looking at the PokerNews live blog (where Matthew was reporting), Paur apparently didn’t want to take the full hour for dinner, but Weiss said he wanted to and so they did.

Upon their return, Weiss shoved all in the first few hands in an effort to try to get back into contention. On the fourth hand he did manage to double up, meaning Paur had about a 2-to-1 chip lead. Then Weiss continued to shove all in hand after hand -- i.e., every single time.

Weiss eventually scored another double to take the chip lead, and then continued to open-shove every chance he could after that. Paur eventually was dealt A-9 and called to see Weiss had 6-3-offsuit. Paur won that hand to get the lead back, then on the next hand Weiss pushed with Kc8c and Paur called with Ad5d.

Both an ace and king flopped, then another ace came on the turn to give Paur trips. Paur then managed to fade a club flush draw on the river and won the event.

Kind of interesting to look back at the reporting of that endgame on the PN blog. This year PokerNews is providing hand-for-hand coverage from all final tables, and this is an instance where having the full blow-by-blow of what happened is especially interesting, I think. There you can see how out of 24 post-dinner hands, Weiss pushed all in before the flop 21 times, getting a walk twice and only one time checking his option after Paur limped from the button.

Weiss had not employed his shoving strategy during the 60-plus hands he and Paur had played against one another prior to the dinner break. They’d begun heads-up play with Paur well ahead, and during those pre-dinner hands Paur had whittled Weiss down further. Matthew speculates in his Betfair post that Weiss might have looked up Paur online, discovered his impressive tourney résumé, and thus adopted the new tactic with the thought that perhaps it was his best chance of beating Paur.

The story made me think immediately of that memorable 2008 WSOP event I covered in which Vanessa Selbst won her first bracelet, a $1,500 pot-limit Omaha tourney that ended with Selbst’s opponent, Jamie Pickering, adopting a similar strategy of raising or reraising the pot before the flop every hand, sometimes without even looking at his cards. (Read this post from long ago for details on that crazy finish.)

Paur in fact asked Weiss at one point if he was looking at his cards during his sequence of all-in pushes. That picture above (courtesy PokerNews) shows Paur’s frustration at having to deal with the fact that Weiss had effectively reduced the strategic element considerably, making their endgame much more chance-based because of his one-dimensional line of attack.

Again, Paur’s look reminds me a lot of how Selbst appeared when Pickering was playing similarly at the end of that 2008 tournament. Selbst had dominated the event all three days, leading nearly start-to-finish (including at the end of both Days 1 and 2) with a performance that provided a hard-to-refute argument for her skill at PLO. But that skill suddenly didn’t matter as much in the face of an opponent shoving (or raising/reraising pot, anyway) before the flop every single hand.

Matthew asks at the end of his Betfair post for readers to respond to Weiss’s strategy, evoking the question of whether or not it makes a “mockery” of the game or perhaps even raises ethical issues. To that I’d have to respond that while such play is clearly going to frustrate one’s opponent, it has to be regarded as acceptable, and even smart in certain contexts such as when the difference in skill level between the two players is unmistakably wide.

In other words, any problems with the strategy would have to be directed toward the tournament format and rules of play, not the player.

The situation calls to mind how Daniel Negreanu was raising the issue on Twitter yesterday of there being an unfortunate (to him) preponderance of no-limit hold’em events and not enough fixed-limit or non-HE tourneys on the WSOP schedule. I think the issues aren’t entirely unrelated.

An ending such as the one Weiss caused to happen in Event No. 18 is always going to be a possible consequence of NLHE tourneys, as the format allows for it. Such is a factor that can help make no-limit hold’em especially exciting, but also can frustrate those who seek to ensure poker (and the tourneys of the WSOP) remain primarily skill-based competitions.

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