Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Travel Report: LAPT6 Peru, Arrival -- Returning to the Scene

A quick post to report I arrived safely in Lima, Peru and am this morning readying for the first of five days of writing about the Latin American Poker Tour Main Event happening at the Atlantic City Casino in the Miraflores district.

The trip down was about as smooth as one would hope for, with both my flight to Miami then the one into Lima being without any great drama. Had all sorts of intentions to “work on the plane” (scare quotes intended), in particular during the five-plus hour trip from Miami International Airport to the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. But I found myself ground down by some leftover fatigue and ended up just zoning out on the plane listening to music and some rips of old comedy LPs I’d picked up before leaving.

We were about a half-hour late landing in Lima, and with a few other big flights also arriving that meant an especially long wait in line at immigration (probably close to an hour). Was a little anxious during that wait only because I had a ride waiting to meet me once I was able to work my way through that line, then also through the quicker customs gateway to reach ground transportation. There was outside chance my ride might not wait for me should I be overly late meeting him.

As I finally pushed through the doors to the spacious lobby with windows facing the Lima night sky, I searched a throng of drivers holding up signs until I happily spotted my own name printed on one of the white boards. I acknowledged my savior with a pumped fist which he returned in kind -- an international symbol for “our wait is over” -- and a little while later I was being driven south toward Miraflores.

I recalled earlier trips down the same road as we went, especially once we reached the coast with the tall cliffs on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

I remembered the last time I’d come to Peru and traveled down that same road back in April 2011, riding with Dr. Pauly. That trip was during the day, and traffic was halted for some time as we encountered a horde of police cars and some yellow tape to the side at the base of the cliffs marking some sort of crime scene. As we passed we realized someone had fallen the 300 feet or so to his or her death, and the cabbie explained that in fact there were two victims.

Felt more than a little ominous, that, then a couple of days later Black Friday arrived to cast another long shadow over the entire trip. I thought about mentioning the story to my driver this time, but decided against disturbing the relative quiet forced upon us by neither of us knowing that much of the other’s native tongue.

Arrived at the hotel after 11 p.m. and was settled in shortly thereafter. Then this morning I enjoyed the El Puruano Huancaino downstairs, an egg-and-potatoes dish, and am now about to pack up to make the short walk over to the Atlantic City.

I’ll be posting regularly throughout the day over at the PokerStars blog, so check over there for today’s reports on the first of two day 1 flights, which I trust will go as smoothly as my two flights down.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Leaving for Lima

Still feels like the WSOP has only just concluded, but today I’m heading back out for another long distance trip to go watch people play cards. This time out I’m making a return visit to Lima, Peru for the Latin American Poker Tour Main Event that starts tomorrow.

This makes a third trip to Lima for your humble scribbler. The first was back in June 2010 during Season 3 of the LAPT when Jose “Nacho” Barbero won his second straight title on the tour, for which Brad “Otis” Willis was my blogging partner on the PokerStars blog. Then the following spring I went back for the Season 4 stop, that time with Dr. Pauly.

That second trip coincided with Black Friday, which meant when we left we Americans were all still regular online poker players, but by the time we returned everything had changed. Still seems like such a short time ago, and yet so much has changed since then with regard both to online poker in particular and live tournament poker, too.

Like other tours around the world, the LAPT has been thriving and by now has built up its own tradition with this Lima stop coming midway through Season 6. I’ll be performing solo on the Stars blog this time around, although I look forward to working with my buddies and Reinaldo and Sergio who handle the Spanish and Portuguese blogs for PokerStars, respectively, as well as many others who run the LAPT and whom I’ve gotten to know while reporting from various stops over the years.

Gotta full day of travel ahead and need to ensure I’ve remembered to pack my passport, so I’ll sign off here. I expect to be back, though, to file a few travel reports this week, and to point you to the PokerStars blog for more. See you all on the other side.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Where I’m @

Last week I finally decided to get rid of an old email address -- one I’d had for about seven years -- in favor of moving over to a new Gmail addy.

The primary reason for the move is the added memory Gmail gives for free (15 GB, I believe), whereas on my old account I was actually limited to a measly 100 MB and couldn’t get more without paying for it. Thus for several years now I’ve been constantly backing up messages offline and deleting so as not to go over that absurdly small limit.

When I decided to make the switch, I sent a mass email to everyone in my address book announcing the change. I knew there were a lot of dead emails in there, and indeed I’ve received a lot of bounce-backs since sending out the note. I’ve also enjoyed hearing from lots of folks emailing me back, including some whom I haven’t corresponded with in years.

In a weird way, between the responses and failed messages it’s been a little like reviewing a sorta-skewed history of poker and poker media from the past seven years, with my inbox flooded with reminders of various now-defunct sites and outlets, of how certain individuals have moved on from one place to another, and of how fast everything has evolved over that period.

Making the switch also caused me to remember how I had first created the email address shortly after starting the blog (in April 2006), using the “shortstackedshamus” name for it. It was probably only a couple of years later that it became the primary email for me; that is to say, for a long time it had been the email I checked first and most often, rather than the couple of email addresses I had which were associated with my actual name.

But despite the frequent inconvenience of the email provider, I stayed with the address mostly out of stubbornness. I’d compare it to how I often used to play online poker, sticking with the same game and stakes for months or even years even after I’d grown tired of doing so, if only because of a non-specific resistance to change borne from several causes, among them risk aversion and simple indolence.

Anyhow, I finally got up from that lousy table and have taken a seat at this new one, email-wise, so for those looking to get in touch, that’s where I’ll be.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Fled Is That Tourney:----Do I Wake or Sleep?

A player bet...Utterly swamped at the moment with various assignments, and thus without a lot of time for posting here today, I’m afraid. Indeed, after enjoying a day or two of rest upon my return home from the WSOP, I have been just about as busy during the days since as I was while there.

In fact, it looks like I am going to have a few different trips coming up over the next several weeks, including a return voyage to LAPT Lima a few days from now.

I’ll surely be sharing details about all of those trips here as they come up. All of the many different tours are ramping back up now that the WSOP has finished for the summer, and so suddenly after weeks of focusing on Las Vegas the game goes global once again as events play out all over.

I am still occasionally dreaming about watching and reporting hands. Usually we’re talking mundane stuff -- like most hands in poker tournaments, or like most dreams often go -- although occasionally weird, panicky moments will arise in which something strange happens in the hand or with the reporting, and I’ll wake up glad none of it was real.

As a sports fan, I’m realizing I’m kind of glad still to have poker first and foremost on the agenda here during this relative down time for sports. Am waiting on the NFL to start, still my favorite sport to watch and follow. Basketball will also occupy my attention once it comes back around later in the year, too, but baseball simply doesn’t work for me anymore, with the multitude of scandals having seriously damaged the game beyond a point where this fan cares to go.

The whole A-Rod saga has become a kind of emblem for the sport, bringing together all of the problems related to high salaries, PED use and abuse, and absurd attempts to self-legislate into a single pathetic package.

That’s not to say poker doesn’t have its share of problems, too. But for the most part the game tends to provide plenty of entertainment for those who play and watch. Can’t say I was overly moved by ESPN’s presentation of the WSOP Asia Pacific final table earlier in the week, but that’s probably more a consequence of my being a little overfed with poker of late than the presentation of Daniel Negreanu’s victory not being compelling.

Anyhow, back next week with more and like I say I’ll be talking further about the LAPT Lima trip and subsequent adventures soon.

Meanwhile, for those with an interest in hearing people talk about reporting on poker tournaments, check out the latest episode of the Thinking Poker podcast on which Gareth Chantler comes on to talk about his upcoming trip to cover UKIPT Galway for the Full Tilt Poker blog. There is also some interesting talk about that unique situation from the WSOP Main Event involving David “Doc” Sands you might have heard about, namely a strange hand Sands played that has evoked the issue of “the ethics of accepting an unsolicited chip dump” (to employ the Thinking Poker guys’ phrasing).

While you do, I’ll see if I can’t get a little more rest before these trips come up. And if I can keep these poker-related dreams from returning me to consciousness.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Post-WSOP Number Crunching (Re: Canada, Women)

As the World Series of Poker Main Event drew to a close, the WSOP published some statistics regarding the 62 events of this year’s series, including various information regarding the demographics of those who participated. The report informs us that there were 79,471 total entries for the 62 events this year, then goes on to share further data regarding the age, nationality, and sex of the players.

The information about entries by country pretty much follows what has been the case for the last several years at the WSOP with the U.S. providing most of the entries (57,040 this time), Canada a distant second (4,118), and the U.K., Russia, and France rounding out the top five.

This year there was extra attention given to the performance of Canadian players thanks to the fact that 10 of the bracelet winners (out of the 61 preliminary events) were identified as being from Canada. That was a huge jump from the three bracelets Canada won in 2012. Indeed, since players from Canada managed to claim four bracelets during the first week of the Series, people were paying extra attention the results of Canadians throughout the Series. Some even made some seriously bad puns about the phenomenon.

Looking strictly at percentages, 71.8% of the entrants were from the U.S. while 5.2% were from Canada. Players from the U.S. won about 65.5% of the bracelets this summer, which comes close to matching the participation percentage. Meanwhile Canadians won 16.4% of the prelims, which is more than three times the participation percentage.

As Canadians kept collecting bracelets this summer, I remember hearing a few people speculate about whether or these winners were actually Canadian or if they just happened to be American players in Canada who had moved north of the border in order to be able to play online. Such has absolutely been the case with regard to recent WCOOP and SCOOP results at PokerStars, something I mentioned last fall when noticing how Canada was performing especially well in last year’s WCOOP.

Leafing through the 10 winners’ bios, though, shows that with these particular players none appears to fall into the category of the exiled American online player.

Event No. 3 winner Charles Sylvestre was born in Montreal and still lives there. Event No. 6 champ Benny Chen is from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island where he manages a restaurant. Michael Malm, winner of Event No. 8, is a marketing specialist from Coquilam, Ontario.

Levi Berger, who won Event No. 11, is originally from Ottawa although is a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada. It sounds like he definitely played a lot online (in the U.S.) prior to Black Friday, though I don’t believe the 22-year-old moved back to Canada afterwards in order to continue to play.

Mark Radoja, winner of Event No. 16, is from Guelph, Ontario, the site of a thriving poker scene and also where Gavin Smith grew up. Calen McNeil, who won Event No. 20, like Chen is a restaurant owner in Victoria (in fact he owns three there). Event No. 28 winner Jason Duval is a 23-year-old student who was born in Quebec where he currently goes to school at Laval University.

Justin Oliver won Event No. 38. He’s a 37-year-old jeweler who was born in Toronto and still lives there. Dan Idema, Event No. 39 winner and brother of Two Plus Two Pokercast co-host Adam Schwartz, is from Vancouver. And Kristen Bicknell, who won the Ladies event (Event No. 51), was born in St. Catharines, Ontario and still resides there.

Speaking of women who played at the WSOP, the report also notes stats regarding their participation this summer, sharing how of the total entries 75,447 (94.94%) were men and 4,024 (5.06%) were women. Of course it should be noted that 954 of those entries by women came in the Ladies event, so after doing a little additional subtracting and dividing, the participation of women in open events this summer was right at 3.9% (3,070 out of 78,517 entries).

There were 298 women in the Main Event this year, which represented 4.69% of the total field of 6,352. That’s a big jump from last year, when 211 of the 6,598 entries were women (almost 3.2%). Women notably won two open events this year, both large-field no-limit hold’em events with Dana Castaneda winning Event No. 54 ($1,000 NLHE) and Loni Harwood winning Event No. 60 ($1,500 NLHE).

The WSOP also reports how men earned 7,462 of the cashes at the 2013 WSOP while women earned 343 of them. I’m not completely sure about these figures since the “total cashers” being listed is 8,454, which is more than the total of men and women cashers. In any case, when comparing those two totals, women have almost 4.4% of the cashes, which would roughly jibe with the overall participation total, although again we should probably consider how women earned all 117 of the cashes in the Ladies event (which I assume is being included here).

All of which is to say, I think the percentage of women cashing in events when compared to the percentage of women who participated isn’t really all that out of whack. Even the percentage of women bracelet winners in all of the preliminary events except the Ladies event (two of 60, or 3.33%) is pretty much in line with the overall participation of women in those events.

On the other hand, the Canadians’ percentage of wins this summer is remarkable when compared to their participation. Dunno what the overall percentage of cashes by Canadians turned out to be, although that would be an interesting stat to see.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Place of Patches

Was reading through a few WSOP-related pieces yesterday including some concerning the Main Event and final table, and I found myself thinking briefly about how online poker sponsorships have receded considerably from being part of the story of the WSOP.

I suppose it was looking at pics of the November Nine and how inconspicuous, really, the patching of the last nine players seemed to be that got me thinking about how little we’ve been paying attention to the subject, especially when compared to the pre-Black Friday era.

Of the final nine, Mark Newhouse had an Ivey Poker patch (recently acquired, I believe), Sylvain Loosli had the Winamax logo on the front of his hoody, J.C. Tran had one for, and Jay Farber was wearing a couple of 888 patches on that last day. Meanwhile I don’t believe the other five players were sporting any logos, although I imagine by November all nine will probably have some sort of sponsorship.

I remember doing a quick circuit of the tables during Day 2 of Event No. 59, the $2,500 2-7 Triple Draw event that concluded just before the Main Event got started. There were about 75 players left at the time and during my tour of the tables I consciously looked for patches just to get an estimation of how many I saw. I even jotted down the sponsors, although I didn’t keep track of the list.

I saw about a dozen patches overall, although not all of them were poker-related. In other words, there was an average of about one patch per six-handed table in the 2-7 tournament, although as I think about it the average was probably skewed a bit high thanks to fact that that particular event had attracted a number of well-known players.

For example, Tom Schneider had his LoudMouth Poker patch and matching crazy cap and shorts; he’d go out shy of the cash in this event after winning two bracelets earlier in the Series. Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi (who’d finish 16th) had three or four of them, I recall, including one for the Mizrachi Dealer Academy and another for the Turlock Poker Room in Turlock, California. Team PokerStars Pros Naoya Kihara and Daniel Negreanu were still in, too, and of course they were both patched up. Kihara would squeak into the money to finish 28th while Negreanu went on to finish runner-up.

Eventual winner Eli Elezra had a patch advertising a site called Attack Poker, one with which I’m not too familiar but which sponsored a few players here and there during the 2013 WSOP, including Black Friday indictee Chad Elie, the payment processor who only recently was released from prison and who Attack Poker signed and put into the Main Event. (By the way, for more news regarding Elie and his ongoing legal battles, see Haley Hintze’s latest articles for Flushdraw.)

Like I say, though, all of these patches and sponsorships were well off most folks’ radar for much of the Series and the Main Event. The only time I remember sponsorship even becoming a topic of conversation was on the final day (Day 7). Jackie Glazier had gone out in 31st the day before as the highest-finishing woman in this year’s Main Event, and throughout her run had been wearing an Ivey Poker patch as one of that site’s many signed pros. The next day, however, 888 poker had signed Glazier and thus she had on their logo when doing an interview with Kara Scott for the later ESPN telecast.

If you pick up Dr. Pauly’s Lost Vegas (covering the WSOP from 2005 to 2008) or even watch the BET RAISE FOLD documentary which I was discussing some on Monday, you see how prominent the idea of a sponsorship once was in poker, something almost akin to getting called up to the big leagues in baseball in the way it provided concrete financial assurance as well as a kind of symbolic stamp of approval for one’s talents (deserved or otherwise).

In some cases and with a few sites it is still obviously a big deal to get sponsored, but it is hardly a goal for most tournament players at present. Still, it was kind of interesting to see a few players during that next-to-last-day of the Main Event (when they played down from 68 to 27) be handed patches as they’d picked up a small bonus for having gotten that far. And to remember how much more prevalent such a scene was not that long ago.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

That’s What’s the Deal We’re Dealing In

Pretty much since returning home from Las Vegas and the World Series of Poker, I’ve been occupied for much of each day following these MicroMillions 5 tournaments on PokerStars. This is the online series that features teeny weeny buy-ins -- usually only a buck or three -- and huge fields, thus enabling players who make deep runs and/or win often to enjoy thousandfold returns on their investments (and then some).

Unlike the Sunday Millions, Super Tuesdays, or other higher buy-in, regular weekly events on the site, these MicroMillions events generally don’t feature too many recognizable usernames at the end. Not coincidentally, they don’t usually feature too much talk of final table deals, either, although occasionally some players making it to the final few will manage to talk about chopping and even cut some deals here and there.

Was watching one event yesterday -- a $1 no-limit hold’em event with rebuys and a turbo structure -- in which the final three players did succeed in pausing the tournament to discuss dividing up the remaining prize money.

The tourney had attracted more than 27,000 players, and the chip stacks at that point were humongous with all of the rebuys and add-ons. The leader had more than 622 million, second-place had about 245 million, and the guy in third had 86 million. The blinds were big too, though -- about to go to 6m/12m, and increasing every five minutes thereafter -- so we’re talking stacks at that point of about 52 big blinds, then about 20 BBs, then just over 7 BBs.

“Chip chop” figures were produced (leaving $2,000 for which to play) which would’ve guaranteed the guy in first about $13,600, the next one about $9,700, and third place a little more than $8,000. Meanwhile, the scheduled payouts at that point were $15,184.64, then $11,051.44, then $7,170.05. (“ICM” numbers -- also an option -- were not discussed.)

The players in the top two positions were amenable to the proposed payouts, but the guy in third said he figured the $800 or so difference between third-place money and what he’d be guaranteed with the deal wasn’t enough to justify going with the chop. “I might as well take my chances,” he typed, and as it happened he’d end up finishing in third shortly thereafter.

Watching this play out, my first thought was that he was right to refuse the deal, even though it ended up costing him the $800 or so. If he had taken it and then come back to win, he still would have earned less than second-place money. Was kind of an interesting spot, I thought, given that the tournament really had reached a stage where it had become an all-in-or-fold affair and thus the skill component had been minimized, yet for the third-place player a deal still seemed like a less than attractive option to take.

Not being that well-versed in deal-making -- and perhaps because I’m also somewhat risk-averse, relatively speaking -- I usually watch these deals play out and think it often better to take guaranteed money than chance losing out, although I know there are often various dynamics in play that can make it less favorable or even incorrect to take a deal. Thus did I find it interesting to watch this one and find myself siding with the guy holding out.

What do you think? Would you have held out, too, if you’d been in the third-place player’s position?

(Title, of course, from Frank Zappa’s “The Torture Never Stops.”)

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Monday, July 22, 2013

20 Feet From Stardom and BET RAISE FOLD

Over the weekend Vera and I had the chance to have a nice evening out grabbing some Thai food and then taking in a movie, the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom that debuted at Sundance early this year. It was an entertaining and edifying movie, full of great music and some thoughtful commentary about a variety of topics, including the way we choose our roles in this life and/or our roles choose us.

The film focuses on the lives of background singers, compiling both performances and many interviews with musicians and industry types in order to highlight various challenges faced by those who make a career on stage performing in front of audiences yet not being the center of attention. Many different singers appear or are mentioned along the way, but ultimately the film concentrates on presenting the stories of five women in particular, all of whom have had lengthy careers backing major pop, rock, and R&B acts for many decades.

Like I say, the music was terrific and especially well utilized in the film, and we left the theater talking about certain sequences in particular such as the story of Darlene Love’s many contributions to various girl groups 45s of the 1960s and Merry Clayton’s stirring turn on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

One theme of the film is how the backup singers often fail to get credit or notice for their work, with one obvious purpose of director Morgan Neville being to right a wrong in this regard. But the movie also shows how some who choose the path of the background singer do so deliberately, finding more pleasure and satisfaction in that role than in stepping out in front to be leader.

That latter point is one that probably connects more readily with a wider audience, I think, namely, the idea that not only is it not possible for us all to be stars, but the fact is a lot of us are content not to be in the spotlight. Such an idea transcends the subject matter, really, connecting with a wider audience most of whom may like (or love) music but who aren’t artists or musicians. The movie also ably makes the point that some -- perhaps many -- prefer to harmonize with others, rather than sing alone (both literally and figuratively).

I won’t go too much further into the film, as I don’t really intend to write a full-fledged review here. You can find plenty of those on the web, anyway. Here is the trailer, though, to give you more of a taste:

After watching 20 Feet From Stardom I additionally found myself thinking again about BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker, which happens to be the most recent documentary I’d seen prior to this one. I’ve mentioned that movie here a couple of times, and I did write a full review of that film for Flushdraw last month.

Both films seek to present a subculture to their audiences, although 20 Feet From Stardom enjoys an advantage in this regard as the world of rock and pop music is much more familiar to most than is that of online poker. Both kind of follow a similar trajectory, too, in the way they touch on broader historical contexts (i.e., online poker and the music industry) but ultimately spend more energy profiling individuals and their experiences within those contexts, in both cases highlighting the hardships of their career paths.

Even though I’m an online poker player -- or was, at least -- and therefore very familiar with the world being presented in BET RAISE FOLD, I strangely found it a lot easier to identify with the background singers in 20 Feet than had been the case with BET RAISE FOLD, although Danielle Andersen’s story involving her family does give viewers plenty with which to connect.

I suppose both films could be considered as “defending” the career paths taken by their subjects, and as I suggest above in both cases the films suggest that in many ways those paths “chose” them and not vice-versa. Both also pursue a tried-and-true tactic of documentary film by introducing audiences to direct their attention into places where they might not have looked otherwise, not only portraying a subculture but also perhaps introducing the whole idea (to some viewers) of such a subculture existing.

As I’ve already pointed out, the makers of 20 Feet From Stardom dealt in much more familiar territory in this latter regard, one of many advantages they had over those who pulled together BET RAISE FOLD. In any case, I recommend both. You might be able to catch 20 Feet From Stardom in a theater near you, while BET RAISE FOLD is now available for purchase online at the film’s website.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Turn Changed Nothing

At one point a couple of weeks ago I was helping cover a pot-limit Omaha event at the World Series of Poker with my friend and colleague Rich. A hand arose in which a player was all in before the flop and at risk, and someone commenting on the hand amused us greatly with his narration as the hand played out before us.

Not to get too caught up in specifics, the grins began with the commentator uttered the phrase “the turn changed nothing” when in fact the turn card had given the at-risk player a flush draw with one card to come. Rather than changing nothing, the turn had greatly improved his chances, giving him nine more outs to survive.

To make a short story even shorter, we laughed afterwards about the phrase being misused, then I began repurposing it in various ways.

“The turn changed nothing,” I’d say, then, adopting the character of a not-so-savvy player and/or observer, I’d add: “I’m still a moron.”

I suppose in just about every work environment there will develop a special language between workers used both to describe their assigned tasks and perhaps to comment on them, too, sometimes sarcastically. Thus did we start to employ the phrase “the turn changed nothing” as a kind of shorthand for anything worthy of criticism or that struck us as at all funny.

You know, a little emblem of absurdity, added to the catalogue. Every workplace has got ’em.

I realize what I’m describing might not make much sense out of context, and now that I’m back home and in an environment where I doubt I’ll ever encounter a spot where I might say “the turn changed nothing” I’m starting to think of the phrase a little differently.

In truth, in hold’em or Omaha the turn always changes something, except in those rare instances when a player is already drawing dead after the flop, in which case you could say nothing changes with the turn or the the river, at least as far as the outcome of the hand is concerned. I think that was part of the reason why the phrase seemed so funny to us, namely, because it so rarely applies.

Of course, even in those situations when the flop utterly decides who is going to win a hand, the turn card still brings a hand one step closer to its conclusion, even if only as a formality. When players are drawing dead on the flop, the dealer still deals a turn and a river as though running out a grounder even after being thrown out at first. Although the cards don’t affect the outcome, they are somehow needful nonetheless.

Last night I was talking to someone about my summer in Vegas who at one point began asking me if it had been a worthwhile, positive experience. At first I wanted to answer jokingly, to laugh at the idea of self-reflection and dismissively characterize the whole time as having “changed nothing.”

But in fact it was a positive experience, and entirely worthwhile. And besides, it’s never true that what we do changes nothing, even if it seems otherwise.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 WSOP, A Reporter’s Notebook

Over the last few posts I keep bringing up the topic of “tradition” at the World Series of Poker, in particular the establishment of what has become a new tradition of sorts at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino since the WSOP made its move there from Binion’s in the mid-2000s.

Now that I’m home from a sixth year of reporting from the WSOP, I’m becoming more conscious of my own traditions regarding my experiences there as well as how I’ve been communicating them on Hard-Boiled Poker. Am following one of those again today by compiling all of my “travel report”-type posts into one here, partly to have a single place to find all my 2013 WSOP-related posts and partly to enable me to move on mentally to something new going forward.

I noted in last year’s “Reporter’s Notebook” post how my HBP posts about the WSOP had become increasingly personal over the years, and I think that trend mostly continued this time around as well. You can check back to previous years -- 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 -- and compare and then decide for yourself if that holds true.

To Vegas, Again! & Hello Vegas
A couple of preliminary posts coming just prior to departing for Las Vegas and soon after my arrival. Speaking mostly of the conspicuous signage for Ultimate Poker and that greets one at McCarran as well as a few early reunions with friends and colleagues in the latter.

2013 WSOP, Day 21: Min Cash, Max Fun
My first full day in Vegas was mostly spent playing a low buy-in ($125) event over at the Golden Nugget where I managed to make the money. Looking back I rue the missed opportunity to have gone deeper at the end, but in truth I was almost utterly spent mentally by the time I was felted some 11 hours after the sucker had begun.

2013 WSOP, Day 22: Step Right Up
I jumped quickly into the fray, helping report on the second day of Event No. 32, the $5,000 NLHE 6-max. event that featured many top players (both live and online). The post includes an interesting reference to T.J. Cloutier’s somewhat unusual bustout hand in the event that involved him miscalculating what an opponent had left behind.

2013 WSOP, Day 23: Divided Attention
Rather than finish out the $5K 6-max., I moved over to help with Day 2 of another event, the $3K PLO event (Event No. 35) which coincided with Game 7 of the NBA playoffs between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. Players and media alike were greatly challenged to keep their minds on the cards as the game’s exciting conclusion played out on the big screens surrounding the tables.

2013 WSOP, Day 24: Year of the Player of the Year
2006 WSOP Player of the Year Jeff Madsen ended up winning Event No. 35, partly inspiring the title and focus of this post. Madsen, Tom Schneider, Daniel Negreanu, and Erick Lindgren -- all former WSOP POYs -- each won bracelets this summer (with Schneider winning two of them).

2013 WSOP, Day 25: Is That Who I Think It Is?
Moved over to cover another PLO event -- Event No. 41, the $5K PLO 6-max. -- and in this post was reflecting on seeing Sammy Farha making his 2013 WSOP debut and not recognizing him at first. Interestingly aside from that first day on the $5K NLHE 6-max., I would end up covering all non-hold’em events my entire time at the WSOP this summer until the Main Event arrived.

2013 WSOP, Day 26: Cold
Players complain every summer about how cold the conditions are in the spacious ballrooms where the WSOP is staged, but the complaints had become so prevalent by the midpoint of the Series this year the temps had become an unavoidable topic of conversation. And so I bundled up and talked about it as well.

2013 WSOP, Day 27: What Does This Stand For?
An amateur made the $5K PLO 6-max. final table, with some of his comments and actions adding to the fun of covering that event’s finale. I shared a little about him in this post while reflecting a little about how the WSOP means different things to different people.

2013 WSOP, Day 28: The Old-Timers’ Game
After working six days straight I had one off, and spent part of it sitting in on the afternoon low-limit hold’em game over at the Palms. As it would turn out, that’d be the only other poker I’d play this summer other than the Media tournament.

2013 WSOP, Day 29: Zombies, Bodies Sawed in Half, and Other Hallucinations
Vera Valmore arrived for a visit of a few days, and we had great fun going out to Red Rock Canyon as well as checking out the Penn & Teller show at the Rio.

2013 WSOP, Day 30: We Will Rock You
Somehow Vera had never taken in the “Fremont Experience,” and so we managed to get over there during the evening to enjoy the modest spectacle one finds there on a regular basis.

2013 WSOP, Day 31: Mixed Games, Vegetables
Back to work for me, as I was assigned to help with Event No. 50, the $2,500 10-Game Mix which caused me to reflect some on differences between flop, stud, and draw games.

2013 WSOP, Day 32: Heaps of Headlines
There was a lot going on at the WSOP as the final week prior to the Main Event began, and here I tried to make reference to all of the different events playing out as well as acknowledge I’d recently seen and reviewed the new online poker documentary BET RAISE FOLD.

2013 WSOP, Day 33: Doyle Takes a Seat
It was already July, and I’d moved over to help report on the first day of the $50K Poker Players Championship in which Doyle Brunson -- whose 80th birthday is coming up in August -- made his 2013 WSOP debut.

2013 WSOP, Day 34: Motoring Through
In this post I discussed continuing to help with the $50K PPC for another day, an event that not only attracts lots of poker’s best (and best-rolled) players, but is especially interesting to cover thanks to the increased “play” afforded by the event’s deep structure.

2013 WSOP, Day 35: Talking Tells
Got to enjoy another rare day off, this time spending part of it with Zach Elwood, author of Reading Poker Tells.

2013 WSOP, Day 36: Breaking a Hand
Once again I was covering a non-hold’em event, this time Event No. 59, the $2,500 2-7 Triple Draw. Found myself contemplating what is really a somewhat unique situation in poker, namely, the instance of a player “breaking a hand” in 2-7 (i.e., after having stood pat on an earlier round, deciding to draw on a subsequent one). Even went so far as to draw an analogy between breaking a hand in 2-7 and the detour I took career-wise that carried me away from one apparent destiny into a life of poker writing.

2013 WSOP, Day 37: Look Away
Here I briefly touch on a useful skill for tourney reporters to learn -- i.e., not to look when players squeeze their hole cards.

2013 WSOP, Day 38: Number One and Number Two
Eli Elezra ended up beating Daniel Negreanu heads up to win the bracelet in Event No. 59 ($2,500 2-7 Triple Draw), making the event even more fun to cover as both are not only great players but engaging personalities as well.

2013 WSOP, Day 39: Nitcast Meet-Up, Shuffling Up and Dealing, and Turtling Up
The Main Event began with the first of three Day 1 flights, and I reported a little on the scene as things got underway. Also had a fun time meeting with the Thinking Poker podcast hosts and some their guests and listeners on this day. Finally I joined the coverage of Event No. 61, the $10K PLO event in which NBA star Paul Pierce managed to stick around for much of Day 2 before busting shy of the cash.

2013 WSOP, Day 40: Connectivity
Sharing a little here about the wild finale of Event No. 61 that saw the tourney play down from 32 players to just one -- Daniel Alaei -- on a super long day that didn’t end until after 4 a.m.

2013 WSOP, Day 41: Where There’s Smoke
On July 1 lightning struck the side of Mt. Charleston, located about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and a huge, out-of-control wildfire resulted. A week later I finally had a chance to get a good look at the massive waves of smoke visible from LV, and so shared some pictures and other reflections on the fire here. (Click that pic to the left to enlarge... frighteningly.) Also got to enjoy a fun dinner with Pokerati Dan and his girlfriend Trish on this day.

2013 WSOP, Day 42: Running Good, Catching Hands
Finally joined the coverage of the 2013 WSOP Main Event, starting with Day 2a/2b. Here I talk about the tourney reporter’s travails when racing around amid a huge field looking for interesting hands to report.

2013 WSOP, Day 43: Folding Kings
Discussing Day 2c of the WSOP Main Event in this post, focusing in particular on a most interesting hand from very late in the day that saw Jackie Glazier fold pocket kings before the flop in the face of a Chris Tryba seven-bet. Indeed, he had aces, and the hand became all of the more interesting to consider in retrospect as Glazier would go on to finish 31st in the ME.

2013 WSOP, Day 44: Working in the Amazon
This is the post where I started talking about “tradition” and how the Rio has by now begun to establish itself as the home of the WSOP. I spent all but a couple of my working days this summer in the Amazon Room, and so used my post on this day as occasion to reflect on my “office” that I share every summer with thousands of others.

2013 WSOP, Day 45: The Past, the Future, and Doyle
Doyle Brunson cashed in this summer’s WSOP Main Event, finishing 409th. It marked the fifth decade he’s done so after having made the money in the ME in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, too. He hadn’t cashed in the ME since 2004, and when he was eliminated on Day 4 this year I suppose it went through the minds of many how it could be the last time he does. In any case, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on how inspiring Brunson continues to be to many of us.

2013 WSOP, Day 46: Finding a Final Nine
Day 5 of the Main Event saw the tournament play down to just 68 players, and already certain storylines were starting to emerge as we all began thinking about which nine might emerge to come back in November.

2013 WSOP, Day 47: The November Nine is Nigh
They quickly played down from 68 to 27 in just four levels on Day 6, which led to the decision to stop play a level early. Was looking for all the world like the young German player, Anton Morgenstern, had locked up a spot in the final nine as he enjoyed a big lead at the end of this day, but that proved not to be.

2013 WSOP, Day 48: The Last 633 Hands of the Summer
We did hand-for-hand reporting from the final three tables onward at PokerNews and thus reported on 633 hands as the tourney played down from 27 to nine. I talk some about Morgenstern’s fall, J.C. Tran’s rise, and other details of Day 7.

2013 WSOP, Postlude: Unfinished Business
Finally I added one last afterthought yesterday regarding my always leaving the WSOP before the Main Event has finished. I also reflected on that half-constructed building sitting within sight of the Rio parking lot that we’ve all seen over and over for the last several years -- which happens to have my name plastered on its side.

Thanks again to everyone who has taken the time to read some or all of these posts over the last month, which I hope added at least a little something extra to people’s enjoyment when following this year’s WSOP.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 WSOP, Postlude: Unfinished Business

I am home again after a thankfully uneventful voyage back across the continent yesterday. Got to sleep around 11 last night and didn’t wake until just a couple of hours ago.

I admit the first few minutes of consciousness this morning were filled with confused thoughts regarding my whereabouts and duties for the day. I wasn’t completely sure at first that I wasn’t still in my room in Vegas, and that I didn’t have another day’s worth of reporting ahead of me.

“Am I really done?” I asked myself. Couldn’t help it.

In 2008 I was first recruited to go out to Las Vegas to help cover the WSOP for PokerNews. I’d signed on in the spring, then a couple of weeks later the announcement came regarding the whole “November Nine” idea. I remember then being disappointed I wouldn’t be there to see the Main Event final table finish and a winner emerge, and as I wrote here at the time, I thought delaying the final table four months was mostly a lousy idea, even if I understood some of the potential benefits of doing so.

Like most, I’ve more or less come around to accepting the delayed final table now. Do anything six years running and it’s hard not for folks to get used to it. As I was saying last week about the Rio having become the WSOP’s new home, what was once novel became custom, and now what was custom has edged over into a kind of tradition.

Thus for those of us who are in Las Vegas every July for the Main Event’s play down to nine, we’ve come to accept the moment when the 10th-place finisher gets eliminated as a kind of climax of the summer. For reporters, that’s the moment when the “end” of the story can finally be chronicled, even if the last tournament of the Series hasn’t really concluded. There’s always some more to do after that last hand plays out, but soon the WSOP fades from view as other business comes to occupy us.

I’ve actually never gone back out for the final table, having always followed it from home. I had a desire to do so those first couple of years, but that’s waned over time. It would still be fun to witness the spectacle in person once, I think, but having seen and experienced so much else at the WSOP over the years, I don’t feel so much like I’m missing out on something I absolutely need to see.

That said, each year when I have come home from the WSOP and finally woken up in my own bed again every mid-July, I do so with a sense of incompleteness. Part of that feeling stems from the Main Event being artificially paused as it is, but there are other factors, too, that increase the sense of work left undone.

I’ve written here before about tournament reporting and how in the end no matter how comprehensive one is -- or a team of reporters are -- there’s always so much left unsaid. Even doing the hand-for-hand reporting as we did that last day leaves out a lot. All of the bets and raises and folds and cards are there, but as anyone who’s ever played a hand of poker knows, there’s a lot more happening every single hand than can be seen and passed along.

I was chatting with Mickey after all was over early Monday morning (around 3:30 a.m.), and he was still thinking about the night and wanting to go back over everything to make sure all was finished. So was I.

Mickey likes to be as accurate and exact as possible, his famously precise chip counts being just one example of this trait. During the short break before the start of the 10-handed final table night before last, he took on the task of counting Carlos Mortensen’s creatively stacked chips and I wasn’t the only one taking a picture of him doing so. His work ethic has inspired many of us over the years, but I think a lot of us also share his same wish to be as complete as possible with what we do.

There happens to be a construction company based in Las Vegas the name of which coincides with mine. One sees the name around here and there, and in fact on a few occasions when introduced to Vegas-based folks I’ve had them react by mentioning the company. It’s not the only time I’ve experienced such coincidences with my name.

For the last several years, those going to the WSOP have been seeing a building going up near the Rio on Twain Avenue. Construction on Wyndham Vacation Resorts Desert Blue (a 19-story, 281-unit timeshare) began about five years ago and was originally scheduled to be completed by 2010. But they’d only really gotten started on the project when construction was shutdown. Some recession-related reason, I think.

So the building has been standing there within view of the parking lot for years now, and the fact that my name has been emblazoned on a large banner attached to the side of the edifice has inspired a long-running gag. “When are you going to finish your building?” I’m asked, and I usually respond that I’ve been so busy at the Rio I haven’t been able to find the time.

After something like three years of no movement on the project, construction finally resumed a couple of months ago, and so this summer some have commented to me about perhaps my building being completed sometime soon.

The last few times people mentioned the building and my name hanging on it, I’ve responded by saying that by now it had evolved into a kind of symbol to me. For weeks I’d park my car and walk into work, and every time I did I’d glance over to see this large, conspicuous reminder of the many unfinished projects in my life.

In his piece about Doyle Brunson last week, Brad “Otis” Willis touched on the problem of getting older and this feeling that increases with each year that we aren’t accomplishing what we should. “I look at what I’ve done and know it’s not enough,” writes Brad. “I look at what I’m doing and know it’s not enough.” I’m probably not the only one who reads such lines and thinks “I know what you mean.”

And so another summer in Vegas ends, and once again things still aren’t finished. There was so much more to write about this summer than I was able to do here on the blog. There always is. In fact, I still intend to write one last post here about Carlos Mortensen’s amazing run that also ended with him not quite finishing what he set out to do.

I’ll get to that eventually. But I’ll post this today as a kind of final postlude to the summer’s reporting, realizing again that this sense of incompleteness is just something I have to accept, just as we never really get to finish all that we set out to do.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 48: The Last 633 Hands of the Summer

It’s over. The last hands of the summer have been played. Just nine players remain of the 6,352 who started the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event, and now they’ll wait another four months to play again.

There were a number of instances during yesterday’s Day 7 of the Main Event that I found myself thinking back to last year and making comparisons, with the memories probably being most vivid near the very end of the night once the field had been whittled down to 10 players and they’d reassembled around the not-quite-final final table to play down to nine.

Before that, I’d thought of how many of those who led with 27 players left last year weren’t able to survive to the end of the day. As I mentioned yesterday, just two of the top nine in the counts were still in the tournament at night’s end of Day 7 last year.

This time, just three of the top nine made it -- J.C. Tran (started fourth, ended first), Jay Farber (started eighth, ended fourth), Sylvain Loosli (started second, ended sixth). Meanwhile, David Benefield began yesterday 27th of 27 players, and he’s still in the tourney in ninth position.

The precipitous drop of Anton Morgenstern from the big start-of-day chip lead to a 20th-place finish reminded me of what happened with Daniel Strelitz last year who began second in chips and went out quickly in 24th. I was assigned to the secondary feature table yesterday and since Morgenstern was on the main feature table I didn’t really follow his day very closely, although looking back it appears two big hands versus Mark Newhouse led most directly to his fall.

One was a big preflop all-in versus Newhouse in which the latter had A-Q and Morgenstern pocket eights (Feature Table, Hand #81). Then just a little over an orbit later Newhouse doubled again through Morgenstern after flopping deuces full on an A-A-2 board while the German held an ace for trips, and they got it all in on the turn and Newhouse’s hand held (Feature Table, Hand #90).

Actually that latter hand was kind of like the one that saw Greg Merson knock out 2012’s start-of-day-7 leader Marc-Andre Ladouceur in 13th place, with Merson flopping an underfull while Ladouceur had trips, although in that hand all of the chips were in before the flop.

Once they’d gotten to 10 players thoughts went back to last year’s crazily dramatic finish that saw the two remaining women -- Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann -- go out in 11th and then 10th, respectively. This time it was Carlos Mortensen kind of surprisingly slipping during 10-handed play to become the short stack, then getting bounced by Tran.

Last year they played 15 hands once they’d gotten to the 10-handed table; this year they played 21. That picture above is one I snapped during that stretch (click it to enlarge).

Like in 2012, many were disappointed by the finish. The story of a former champion getting back to a final table would have obviously been a good one going forward (Mortensen won the Main Event in 2001). But I think that disappointment was mitigated somewhat by the fact that so many strong, well known players did make it -- with leader Tran the foremost among them -- and folks are already looking forward a little more to the finish this year than was the case last July.

Tran has won two bracelets before at the WSOP, and back in 2008 I happened to have covered his first win for PokerNews in a $1,500 NLHE event. Looking back at that coverage I’m recalling how we did hand-for-hand reporting from the final table, which is something PN brought back again this summer for the NLHE and PLO events.

Yesterday we actually did hand-for-hand throughout the day as the tourney played down from 27 to nine, and adding up the tally it looks like we reported on 633 hands of poker all told. Was very interesting to notice how the secondary table was moving so much slower than the other two from the start. In fact, we only saw 30 hands during the first two-hour level at the secondary table, while there were 48 played at the main feature table and 55 at the outer one.

Things picked up a little at the secondary table thereafter, but the rate of hands per level continued to lag behind. The slower pace at the features tables in part was due to ESPN’s shooting them more intensely than the outer one, but the players were really the main factor at the secondary table as several of them took a lot of time to make decisions at all stages of hands played there.

I liked how the coverage played out yesterday and hope it was interesting to follow for those with an interest in doing so. I have a few more thoughts to share about Day 7 and about these last four weeks, but I’ll save those for a postlude tomorrow as I need to start packing and ready to fly home today. I will say, though, that working with the PokerNews folks was again a rewarding experience, with the teamwork and mutual support from everyone involved making these 15-hour days or whatever they add up to be much less arduous and more fun than one might expect.

The Main Event isn’t over, but the story of the summer nonetheless ended with an exciting final chapter yesterday. Let me fly another 1,900 miles and think another 24 hours, and we’ll see what more I can say about that story tomorrow.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 47: The November Nine Is Nigh

Another intense day yesterday at the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event as the field quickly reduced from 68 starters to just 27 in four two-hour levels. In fact, play proceeded so quickly that the decision was made to stop a level early last night rather than play out the scheduled five.

The last four eliminations came within the space of just a few minutes right at the end of Level 29 last night, and in fact if they had not gotten to 27 by the end of that level, I think play might not have been stopped.

But 27 becomes a convenient point to pause proceedings because there is a scheduled redraw to place players in seats around the last three tables. And as I mentioned yesterday, ever since 2008 they’ve been playing down from 27 to the final nine on the last day of the summer, so it kind of follows tradition to do so again. (EDIT [11:30 a.m.]: Jess Welman reminds me that once a couple of years ago they did return for the final day of the summer with 23 left.)

One of those four last-minute eliminations provided what was the most dramatic hand I watched yesterday, the one that saw Sylvain Loosli eliminate Danard Petit in 30th place. Here’s the hand report, which describes how the pair got all of Petit’s chips in on the turn with Petit holding an overpair with his pocket aces and Loosli having a lesser pair of jacks and an inside straight draw with his Q-J.

Even before the river card came, several who were watching were remembering to each other the Matt Affleck-Jonathan Duhamel hand from 2010 in which Duhamel busted Affleck in 15th by filling a straight on the river to crack Affleck’s aces. Sure enough, that’s what happened in the Loosli-Petit hand, and while I resisted making any puns on Loosli’s name, I did allude to the Duhamel-Affleck hand in the write-up.

Last year there were 246 more players playing the Main Event and so an extra 7.38 million chips in play, and with the same structure in place they made it about halfway through Level 34 before Gaelle Baumann was eliminated in 10th place and play ended. Play will begin at the start of Level 30 tonight.

The current chip leader, Anton Morgenstern, accumulated a ton of chips during the last couple of levels yesterday and seems one obvious choice among the final 27 to make the final table. That said, last year neither the chip leader going into Day 7 (Marc-Andre Ladouceur) nor the player in second position (Daniel Strelitz) made the final nine. In fact, only two of the top nine going into the last day of play made it, with Steve Gee coming all of the way back from 22nd of 27 to get there.

Somewhat amazingly, Gee is back again to play Day 7 this year, in 23rd place this time with 27 left, and so provides a primary storyline for today. J.C. Tran returns to a big stack, and will surely get a lot of attention. So will Carlos Mortensen, who likewise has above average chips and looks to earn a second WSOP Main Event title after having won back in 2001.

I’m not going to try to predict how long the day will go, although I keep remembering how many times in the past we’ve begun a Day 7 thinking it would last until dawn and we end up finishing around midnight. Stacks are deep, but the blinds and antes will get big fast today and I think some players find playing so many long days of poker in a row to be fatiguing enough to encourage them to play faster here at the end.

We’ll see. Follow along at PokerNews to find out how it all goes.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 46: Finding a Final Nine

They are down to 68 players now in the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event, having played five more two-hour levels yesterday. That’s 25 levels in the books, or 50 hours’ worth of poker so far for these players, who now represent just over 1% of the starting field of 6,352.

Early in the day yesterday we started hearing that the plan will be to have the players play five more again today, regardless of how many are eliminated. Every year I’ve been at the WSOP (since 2008), they’ve played down to 27 on the penultimate day, then down to nine on the last. Looking back at 2007 -- the last year before the November Nine -- it appears they began the next-to-day with 36 players and thus had a super long one to get down to the final table.

It’s a better plan, really, to go the full five levels today and increase the chances tomorrow won’t be a marathon. Last year at the start of Level 31 there were still 25 players left, but I would not be surprised if they get below that total tonight. In 2012 they’d end up reaching the final nine midway through Level 34 (with nearly 250 more players having entered).

The chip leader going into today is a fellow named Sami Rustom, one of a number of players left that most poker fans (and reporters, too) will not have known about prior to the Main Event. I first started to notice Rustom on Day 3 when I saw him knock out both David Benyamine and Jeff Shulman early in the day. Then later on Day 3 I saw him play a hand in which he raised from early position, got a reraise and another reraise behind, then come back over the top with a five-bet that got the others to fold. As the chips were pushed his way, he then cheekily turned over 7h3h.

I also remember hearing some table talk from Rustom in which he noted he was more of a cash game player than a tourney guy, and his Hendon Mob page certainly suggests he’s not one to play big buy-in events that often. But he continued to be aggressive throughout the last couple of days and I’m not too surprised to see him at the top of the counts this morning. (He is on the left wearing shades in the pic above, courtesy PokerNews.)

Jackie Glazier made it to Day 6, thanks largely to one big hand yesterday that saw her all in on the turn and needing either to fill a flush or hit one of her two overcards, which she did. She’s the only woman left, with three others having made the top 100 before being eliminated yesterday -- Kima Kimura (who finished 100th), Annette Obrestad (89th), and Beverly Lange (86th).

Fortune was on Glazier’s side in that hand, but earlier in the tourney at the very end of Day 2 she played a memorable hand that I watched and reported in which she folded pocket kings preflop. I wrote about that one here, too, which is a hand I continue to think about the further Glazier gets in the tournament.

Looking up and down the list of the remaining 68, I can say of about a quarter of the remaining players that I definitely knew of them prior to this week -- Ryan Riess (currently in 7th position), Yevgeniy Timoshenko (11th), David Benefield (18th), Noah Schwartz (20th), Jonathan Jaffe (21st), J.C. Tran (28th), Carlos Mortensen (35th), Yann Dion (37th), Mark Newhouse (41st), Jim Collopy (42nd), Bryan Pellegrino (46th), Steve Gee (55th), Vitaly Lunkin (59th), Jaime Kaplan (60th), Rep Porter (61st), and Brett Richey (65th).

There are a few others in there whom I know I’ve covered in tourneys before, and some of the remaining players have become familiar to me over the last couple of days. Mortensen is, of course, the lone remaining WSOP Main Event champion left (he won in 2001) as last year’s winner Greg Merson was eliminated in 167th. Steve Gee finished ninth last year, and so he is gunning for a second straight ME final table, which would obviously be noteworthy.

Not too many other obvious storylines in play yet, though, although like every year, some will certainly emerge as they get closer to then actually reach the final nine. There are a lot of interesting characters left in the field, and the table talk at many of the outer tables was engaging as players appeared to be having a lot of fun.

At one point yesterday I chatted briefly with WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla who noted how players tend to get quiet up on the two feature tables, especially in the “mothership,” as many likely find it hard to relax in such a setting. But he also agreed that a lot of the players seemed to enjoying themselves and indeed were acting much more relaxed than you’d expect at this stage of the Main Event, something he attributed as perhaps being a consequence of having a higher percentage of players with live poker backgrounds (as opposed to online only), which seemed a good theory to me.

Play picks back up at noon Vegas time today, so again, head over to PokerNews to see who makes it through to tomorrow’s final day of the summer.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 45: The Past, The Future, and Doyle

Was kind of a manic day yesterday at the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event with the cash bubble arriving quickly after less than an hour of play, the drama of hand-for-hand play lasting another half-hour or so before the final two eliminations before the money arrived (Yuri Dzivielevski in 650th and Farzad Bonyadi in 649th), then about 400 more players busting out over the course of the day.

With the field getting smaller, tables were broken down as usual to create more space in the Amazon Room, although the ones that remained were still positioned very close to each other which meant the space in between them became increasingly crowded with all the tournament staff, media, cocktail servers, and massage therapists.

Today that congestion should clear up some, I imagine, as tables will likely be moved farther apart to start the day. Just 239 players are left, meaning there should be 27 tables’ worth of players, including the main feature table (in the “mothership”), the secondary feature table, and the four tertiary feature tables separated out from the others in a row down the middle of the big ballroom.

At one point yesterday I was standing smack in the middle of the maddening crowd among the outer tables when I began to hear people clapping from the main stage, and I knew even before I looked up why they were. I peered into the distance to see the leaned over figure of Doyle Brunson rising from his chair, his wide-brimmed cowboy hat gleaming under the lights, and knew he’d been eliminated. (The photo above is by Joe Giron for PokerNews/WSOP.)

Brunson cashed in the Main Event yesterday for the eighth time, finishing in 409th. His cashes have been spread out enough for him to have made the money in the ME at least once each of the last five decades (1976, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1997, 2004, 2013).

At the previous break some of us had been discussing a few of the storylines emerging in this year’s Main Event, and we all agreed the further Brunson went, the more exciting it would be. Indeed, I think we all were carrying in the back of our minds the same thrilling thought all day right up to the point of his elimination -- Doyle is still in!

The applause began to spread from the main stage throughout the Amazon Room as Brunson moved slowly from the table and off the stage, and play stopped for a moment as players stood from their seats around me to join in the spontaneous standing ovation.

It was a genuinely moving moment, weirdly providing a brief, calming respite amid an otherwise chaotic day. I realize the moment concerned a particular poker player having achieved something in a poker tournament, but it nonetheless had the effect of recalling to us all how there are more important things in this life than winning or losing money at cards.

While I quickly became occupied with gathering hands being played at the tables around me -- and dodging the occasional horde of ESPN crew members dashing back and forth to catch hands in progress -- I thought a little about what Brunson represents to the poker community, part of which includes that connection back to the early days of the WSOP I was mentioning yesterday.

The connection to the past goes back even further than the WSOP’s origins, as far as Brunson is concerned. His days of “fading the white line” during the 1950s and 1960s to play underground games in the South mark one era of poker’s history preceding our own, while he and the characters belonging to that time harken back even further to the Old West and the many deep-rooted connections between poker and American history.

But as much as Brunson reminds us of the past, I think he makes most of us think about the future as well, with his longevity and perseverance -- and continued success doing what he does (which happens to be playing poker) -- providing tangible hope to many. At the start of the WSOP, Brad Willis wrote a nice piece for the PokerStars blog that touched in part on how Brunson affects us in this fashion.

As my colleagues and I had been discussing during that break yesterday, there are a lot of intriguing stories emerging this year. But I have a suspicion when I leave Las Vegas next Tuesday, Brunson’s Main Event run and the various emotions and thoughts it inspired in others will be the one I return to the most going forward.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 44: Working in the Amazon

For most of my reporting from this year’s World Series of Poker I have been stationed in the Amazon Room. It’s become a very familiar work environment for me, to which I’ve returned every summer for six years now.

A couple of nights ago I was stationed at a table in the corner of the Amazon. It was around 1 a.m., I think. Play had concluded and I was finishing tying some loose ends before packing up. A security guard with the familiar bright yellow shirt and black patches ambled over to where I was sitting.

“Who do you work for?” he asked, and I told him. He chuckled and said “You’re f*ckin’ here more than I am!”

The Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino has several big ballrooms it has employed over the years in which to stage the WSOP. This year once again the Brasilia and Pavilion rooms were put into service throughout the Series. But the Amazon is where the WSOP’s most memorable moments have tended to occur since the move from Binion’s to the Rio completed in 2006. I’m speaking of the summer, that is, as the delayed Main Event final table (in place since ’08) shifts the action down to the Penn & Teller Theater.

I was reading Vin Narayanan offering a list of 10 observations about the WSOP for the Casino City Times a few days ago. One of his points was that “the Amazon Room in the Rio hasn’t just replaced Binion’s,” but has “made it a distant memory.” Narayanan is mostly right, I think. The WSOP has been completely transformed from what it had been at Binion’s, having been at the Rio long enough now to develop its own, related but unique tradition.

Yesterday Day 3 of the Main Event played out, with 1,753 players starting the day. They’d gotten down to 954 by dinner. During that break, Doyle Brunson drove his scooter over to a quiet space in the Amazon and snoozed for a short while. After waking up he tweeted how he’d been napping underneath the big banner of Puggy Pearson, hung in recognition of his Main Event win long ago. “Can’t believe it’s been 40 years since he won WSOP,” he wrote.

Brunson, of course, is the one who ties the new to the old, as far as the WSOP goes, and who perhaps alone is keeping Binion’s and what the Series once was from becoming entirely “a distant memory.” The almost-80-year-old returns to a top 40 stack today, and I don’t think there’s anyone -- players included -- who is not rooting for him to continue his run.

It was near the end of the night that the last tables were broken in the Brasilia and WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel made the announcement that all of the remaining players -- about 680 at that moment -- were seated in the Amazon. “The next World Series of Poker Main Event Champion is in this room!” said Effel, and there was a kind of distracted cheer in response.

I say distracted because the tournament had gotten to the point where many were wondering if perhaps the cash bubble might burst before the night concluded, as the final 648 will be making the money. Effel then removed doubt regarding that question by assuring all that the tournament would not be reaching that stage before play concluded, and indeed by the time the last level ended there were still 666 players left.

It was probably a good thing the night ended when it did, as the atmosphere had built to an almost unsettling mix of anxiety and excitement about the bubble’s approach, with tons of media filling empty spaces around and in between tables. The Poker PROduction guys are now working full blast to capture footage for the later ESPN broadcasts (which will begin with Day 3 of the Main Event again). So not only are the additional cameras and crew adding more bodies to fill the available space in the Amazon, they’re also adding to the tension a bit as everyone is aware that not only is a tournament playing out but a reality show (of sorts) is being constructed as well.

I suppose at the moment Effel made his announcement, the Amazon -- or, my office -- was as packed as it has been all summer and as it will be going forward. You could barely see the carpet, its criss-crossing lines all covered by people criss-crossing back and forth themselves. As the field whittles down from 666 to two hundred-something today, tables will be removed and there will be more space in which to move around.

It was about an hour before the announcement came that I found myself doing another circuit through the tables in the Orange section, experiencing an almost dizzying moment of déjà vu as I thought about walking the exact same route, time after time after time, as people played poker around me.

Some of those people playing are the same, some are different. Some of those who are walking the route with me are the same, too, while some are new. But there was something intensely uncanny about walking through my own footsteps like that again and being so aware of doing so -- the familiar becoming strange.

Such a feeling happens in any work environment. I’ve worked other jobs long enough where I’ve suddenly become conscious of doing something I’ve done before hundreds of times, and thus been made to think of the action differently, if only for a moment -- as though viewing it from without, if that makes sense.

It’s a weird place to work, the Amazon Room in the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in mid-July, alongside hundreds of others filling the space doing what they’re doing. Kind of different, I suppose, compared to most jobs. But kind of the same, too.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 43: Folding Kings

Day 2c of the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event wasn’t too different from Day 2a/b. More players started and ended the day, and while there were still some interesting hands here and there and a few diverting episodes, the stacks are still deep enough and money bubble far enough away that only the most unusual situations tended to generate special drama.

The WSOP’s reports are showing 1,753 players having survived two days of poker out of the 6,352 who entered. Here’s how the three flights for Days 1 and 2 went as far as how many started and how many survived each day:

  • Day 1a: 943 started; 584 survived
  • Day 1b: 1,991 started; 1,296 survived
  • Day 1c: 3,418 started; 2,306 survived

  • Day 2a: 584 started; 238 survived
  • Day 2b: 1,296 started; 562 survived
  • Day 2c: 2,306 started; 953 survived
  • The top 648 finishers get paid, meaning the money bubble will not burst until tomorrow’s Day 4, although the tension will certainly increase as the field gets whittled down further during today’s five two-hour levels.

    Last year 6,598 played the Main Event and uncannily there were exactly 1,753 to start that Day 3 as well. Of that group 720 made it to Day 3, which if today follows suit similarly that means they will still be around 70 spots off the cash at the end of play this evening.

    Probably the most interesting hand I watched yesterday came right at the end of the last level involving Yevgeniy Timoshenko, Chris Tryba, and Jackie Glazier. All had well over average stacks when the hand began (i.e., more than 100,000), and with the blinds in Level 10 still just 600/1,200 they were plenty deep, too.

    Here’s the write-up of the hand, which started with a Timoshenko open from the hijack seat, a Tryba three-bet from the cutoff, then a four-bet by Glazier from the button. Timoshenko got out, Tryba raised again, Glazier raised again, then Tryba put out a big stack for yet another reraise and after a lot of thought Glazier pushed her hand face downward to the dealer.

    The hand probably took six or seven minutes total. After Glazier finally folded Tryba showed his A-A and Glazier explained she’d had K-K. Tryba had had Glazier covered, which surely factored into her decision to fold. She ended up losing only about a fourth of her stack in the hand, and still would end the night with just over 100,000.

    As I mentioned in the report, the table had been especially jovial throughout the day and night, with the personable Tryba in particular having lots of fun engaging others in conversation about many different topics. Thus the contrast was all the more stark when this hand began to play out thanks to the grave seriousness of the back-and-forthing between Tryba and Glazier as they silently kept reraising each other.

    The fold was impressive, and made me think a little of the media tourney that started during the dinner break and in which I lasted a couple of hours before falling shy of the final 30 or so. As in the past, the tourney had a fast, turbo-like structure, and when I picked up pocket kings early on there was no question about my shoving all in over a raise and call. The hand also made me think of my K-K-vs.-A-A exit from a tourney at the Rio a couple of summers ago.

    Covering the Day 2 flights I’ve already seen players calling off stacks in spots that seemed more obviously bad ones, in particular after the flop when an aggressive opponent pushing on a ragged, non-drawy board seemed likely to have a set and the caller goes down in flames with an overpair. Of course, finding those folds is always easier said than done.

    Every summer we hear the cliché repeated that those making it through the big Main Event fields have to be lucky along the way to do so. But it’s also true that no one makes it to Day 7 and the final 27 or to the November Nine without having made some smart decisions along the way as well -- likely many, many times.

    Back at it today for Day 3. As always, follow along over at PokerNews.

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