Monday, June 30, 2014

One Drop Drop

So the second installment of the $1,000,000 buy-in Big One for One Drop kicked off on Sunday, with 42 taking part.

That’s a smaller field than the first time the event was staged two years ago when they drew 48, thus meaning the $37,333,338 prize pool and the $15,306,668 first prize are both less than what we saw in 2012.

Seems strange to look at figures like those and regard them as thought they are somehow disappointing because they aren’t bigger, but such is the way of comparisons. And hype, too, as it certainly sounded like expectations were they’d be nearing or perhaps even hitting the 56-player cap for the event.

Besides being a smaller field, there are also a higher percentage of pros taking part this time around, as several of the amateur businessmen who played in 2012 likely viewed the event as a kind of one-shot deal and thus aren’t coming back for more. The relative toughness of the field increasing thus certainly prevented a few from playing.

Just glancing over the names of those involved, there only appear to be five or six who are not full-time pros with most of the others being part of the same group we’ve seen routinely taking part in the “high roller” and “super high roller” events over the last three-plus years.

Thomas Keeling (SrslySirius) interviewed Phil Hellmuth for BLUFF who sounded as though he was going to play, but was too slow to get his backing in order by the time late registration ended. Meanwhile Frank Op de Woerd spoke with Haralabos Voulgaris -- another of those who played the One Drop in 2012 but decided not to this time around -- and he provided some insight regarding why others might have chosen not to play this time.

As he’s bought significant pieces of several players, Voulgaris obviously has an interest in seeing who makes the final eight to cash and who wins the event. But he was noting on Twitter yesterday how in truth “nobody cares who wins,” which I think on one level is probably true, even if the poker world will get increasingly curious about how it concludes once they get to a final table tomorrow.

That is to say, while the charity element is of course significant, the spectacle is all. And as with most sequels, there’s necessarily going to be a decrease in the impact earlier enjoyed by the novelty of such an event.

I’ll still be following along though.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

WSOP Stories Getting Big

The World Series of Poker seems to be building to a kind of crazy fever pitch at the moment. So many headlines and “big” events happening at once.

The $50K Poker Players Championship just concluded, normally a big highlight of the WSOP. Some interesting narratives came out of that one, including Melissa Burr becoming the first woman ever to cash in the nine-year history of the $50K (going back to its H.O.R.S.E. days) and winner John Hennigan cashing for a third straight year.

But really, the $50K is getting eclipsed by all of these other big stories building at the moment.

Today there’s the continuation of this crazily huge “Monster Stack” event that drew an amazing 7,864 players. That made the tournament the third-largest live event in history in terms of participants behind the 2006 WSOP Main Event (8,773) and this year’s “Millionaire Maker” (7,977). And it was the biggest ever for a tourney with just one starting day, although they split it up into a couple of flights on Thursday to make it physically possible to seat all of those runners.

Meanwhile the Ladies event gets going today, which usually draws a lot of headlines. Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu are both in the hunt with just 14 left in the $1,500 Eight-Game Mix (Event No. 50). And the “Big One for One Drop” is just around the corner, starting on Sunday.

And sheesh, the Main Event is almost here, too, starting just a week from tomorrow. The summer is flying by -- seems even faster, I think, than when I am out there, when the days always do zip by pretty quickly.

It’s going by so fast, it’s almost hard to stop and take stock of how it’s all going, and how the WSOP might be reflecting the overall health and growth of poker, a favorite topic each summer. Seems as though while some events are down in terms of numbers, overall the Series is clicking along at a similar pace to previous years and all will be considered another successful year in the desert.

Right now, though, it’s all kind of a blur. A big, big blur.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Goal Differences and Different Goals

Like everyone I’ll be watching the U.S.-Germany match today, intrigued not just to see how the American side responds against a favored opponent after Sunday’s emotion-packed draw but also by how all of the various scoring outcomes in both Group G matches can affect who advances should the U.S. lose today.

You’ve probably seen this grid, one that’s been passed around a lot this morning showing what would happen with a U.S. loss according to lots of different final scores in the two matches (click to embiggen). A quick glance shows a Portugal win over Ghana would be preferable, although even in that circumstance there are ways the U.S. misses advancing.

The grid makes me think of one of those how-to-play blackjack cards that spells out when to hit, stand, double down, or split according to your own cards and what the dealer is showing. For poker players, it perhaps also recalls either those starting hand charts considering hole cards and position that advise whether to fold, call, or raise, or the grids produced by those equity calculators comparing a hand or range versus an opponent’s hand or range.

Interesting how not only do the various scenarios for advancing alter with each completed match, but so, too, do the perceived goals for the teams involved. The U.S. started with modest expectations, but that first win versus Ghana swiftly changed expectations and then the prospect of a win during Sunday’s match changed it even more. While some may think a game without a lot of scoring suffers from a kind of stasis compared to other sports, the truth is nothing ever stays the same in the World Cup.

While I’m not a huge soccer fan, I do watch occasionally and always follow the World Cup pretty closely, regardless of the U.S.’s involvement. A Spanish friend asked me the other day which teams I root for (besides the U.S.), and I replied that I’m mostly swayed to pull for teams from Europe and South America, mainly because I’ve traveled to both places a lot and am friends with people from the countries involved.

I was in France in 1998, actually, having lived there for a year and actually left just before the World Cup got started that summer. Was impossible not to get caught up in the lead-up while there, and of course followed closely upon returning to watch France earn the win.

Speaking of charts and grids and sorting out possibilities, I’ve always liked the World Cup’s method of working out how the 32 teams play down to a winner, with the three-game “regular season” among the four-team groups with its tie-breaker scenarios involving goal differences. The system creates a lot of satisfying symmetries while also working as a system that seems a fair way to balance the rewarding of skill while still allowing for the vagaries of chance.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that the best 16 teams advance from the 32 who start. But what would be the fun in that?

Enjoy today’s matches, all.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Couldn’t Have Played It Any Better, Mike

Heard that recent announcement that Mike Johnson, the longtime co-host of the Two Plus Two Pokercast and before that Rounders, the Poker Show, is going to be stepping away from the poker podcast game in mid-July following the end of festivities this summer at the WSOP. His co-host Adam Schwartz started an “Official Mike Johnson retiring from the Pokercast thread” over on 2+2 where many are chiming in with appreciations and other grins inspired by Johnson.

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve written here about either the old Rounders show (which I began listening to shortly after it came on the air way back in April 2005) or the Pokercast (which started at the beginning of 2008). Those shows have inspired countless topics over the years that I’ve taken up here, with Mike and Adam both consistently presenting thoughtful, interesting takes on innumerable issues affecting the always interesting poker world.

Last year I had a chance to interview the two of them for Betfair Poker, and they shared a lot of great stories about the history of the show as well as thoughts about the place of it within our little idiosyncratic world of “poker reporting” (or whatever you want to call it).

I’ve also had the chance to meet Mike a few times at the WSOP over the years, including covering him occasionally when he played in events. The most memorable such instance of the latter concerned what was probably one of the more painful moments Mike ever endured at the WSOP.

It was 2011 and Mike was playing in the Main Event, and right near the end of one of the Day 1 flights he got involved in a big hand versus the Russian player Yury Gulyy. In the hand Mike successfully got Gulyy to commit his entire stack on the turn on a 10-high board, at which point Gulyy then turned over Q-Q and Mike showed his K-K.

It was a huge pot, one that would’ve placed Mike right near the chip leaders to end the day. But alas for him a queen came on the river, knocking him almost all of the way back to the starting stack.

“Did you see that, Shamus?” I remember Mike calling out to me that night, just after the hand had ended and the chips were being shipped to his opponent.

It was during the end-of-night scramble for counts and other loose-end-tying activities, and for some reason I just happened to have been passing through his section on my way to where I was stationed on the other side of the Amazon Room. That’s when he related the hand details to me, which I’d report for PokerNews and then write-up a more detailed story of later on Betfair. Regular listeners of the Pokercast might well recognize that hand, as it continues to come up from time to time.

As we talked about a little in that Betfair interview, I think Mike and Adam have provided an incredible service to the poker community over the last almost-decade. Sure, they’ve been doing something they love to do -- it’s obvious -- but while doing so they’ve given a valuable voice for players and everyone else who cares about the game with their reporting and interviewing. They’ve also kept us plenty entertained, too -- check that 2+2 thread for dozens of memorable instances proving that. That pic above, by the way, is a still from Bet Raise Fold containing a shot of Mike (left) and Adam (right) doing their show.

As someone who has stuck with them pretty much without interruption since the very beginning, I’ll miss Mike and what he’s given to us over the years, although as someone who has also been plugging away at discussing poker for nearly as long, I can definitely sympathize with wanting to take a break. It’s an endlessly fascinating game and subculture, but it can be exhausting, too -- it just never stops!

Anyhow, wanted to use some space here to wish Mike Johnson well and encourage everyone to tune in for these last few shows with one of the poker podcasting greats.

“Oh, I couldn’t have played it any better!” said an exasperated Mike after that painful Gulyy hand. Looking back at his long, consistently high-quality career helping create Rounders and the Pokercast, I’d have to say the same thing about that performance, too.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Following the $50K

Been following the $50,000 Poker Players Championship this week (Event No. 46).

This is one that over the past few years I generally have spent at least a couple of days covering, although I don’t believe I ever covered the five-day event from start to finish. Always an intriguing one both because of the rotation of games -- they play it as an “8-game mix” tourney -- and the collection of big names who necessarily populate the field.

Just 102 took part this year, well down from the 132 who played a year ago. Donnie Peters wrote an article for PokerNews about the PPC this week, looking closely at who didn’t play -- including the usuals like Erik Seidel, Huck Seed, and Barry Greenstein -- while also talking to a few players about possible reasons for the drop-off in entries.

The cash games are cited as one reason, with some thoughts about the current state of the poker economy also considered. Seidel had a funny response when asked about not playing, noting “I don’t play triple draw so I thought I would save $48,500 and play this instead,” referring to a $1,500 event playing out this week, too.

The example of Seidel skipping the $50K makes me think also of the steep rise of “high roller” and “super high roller” events over the last three years in which he frequently plays. When the $50K H.O.R.S.E. event was first introduced back in 2006, the buy-in made it the biggest game in town, but nowadays there are two or three dozen events on the calendar with bigger price tags, not to mention that “Big One” coming up this weekend.

Still a compelling event, though, even without all the usual suspects being involved. Gonna check back over at PokerNews to see where it stands.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Slow Response

The ending of the United States-Portugal match was remarkable, no question, with an improbable race up the field over the last half-minute of action culminating in that crossing pass from Cristiano Ronaldo to Silvestre Varela who headed in the tying goal on what was essentially the last play of the match.

It was almost disorienting, actually, as I think the delayed reaction of U.S. fans shown afterwards seemed to attest. So tightly wound up for a stress-releasing celebration, the initial reaction was disbelief, as though the their eyes deceived them.

Then came the weird, also slow-to-occur acceptance of the result, with a draw -- itself a foreign concept to fans of the “big three” North American sports -- only adding further to that confused, unsatisfied feeling.

The game well exemplified the rapid reversal of emotions that will happen in poker when an all-in player goes from winning to losing on fifth street. The now famous clip of Carter Gill’s bust from last summer’s WSOP Main Event provides a ready example:

I had actually been thinking of this clip just yesterday after watching Frank Op de Woerd at this year’s WSOP interviewing Gill -- and bringing it up.

I had a chance to talk to Gill as well back in the spring at the LAPT Chile -- friendly, engaging guy who was happy to talk about anything, including that unfortunate hand. “I still think about that a lot, actually,” he’d said to me almost wistfully, although some significant tourney success during the intervening months -- including a victory at the LAPT Grand Final last year -- had done a lot to soften the sting.

The ending of the match was similar in that there had to be at least a 93% chance of victory for the U.S. before that final mad dash by Portugal (if not greater). Also, that seemingly-imminent victory had been unexpected -- just like David Paredes’s call of Gill’s all-in on the turn seemed like a pleasant surprise to Gill. Gill’s slowness to react and leave his seat following the unlucky river was likewise mirrored by the stunned feeling following the Portugal equalizer.

But the ending was different in a couple of ways. The result was a tie, not a loss and elimination. And while the U.S. might have outplayed Portugal prior to those final frenzied seconds, there was nothing lucky about Ronaldo’s pass, Varela’s finish, and the Americans’ slow response to both.

Still didn’t make it any easier to believe at the time.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

The World Series of Poker Sweet Sixteen

Okay, guys.. . here is the complete heads-up bracket for the World Series of Poker, reflecting all of the remaining matches (click to embiggen).


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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Long-Distance Rail

They are approaching the halfway mark now of this year’s World Series of Poker. If I had followed the pattern of the last three years, this would have been right about the day I would have been flying out to Las Vegas to start another four-week stint in the desert helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I’m sticking close to the farm this time around. A good thing, too, as there’s a lot to take care of around here and it wouldn’t have done very well to leave Vera to all of it.

Snapped that picture above the other day of one of our neighbors. The four-legged ones, I mean. Sticking her head right through the fence like it isn’t even there. They often will come over to the edge of our property for a snack, being very “grass is greener” that way.

I haven’t necessarily missed being away from home -- never really something I liked having to do for such extended periods -- although I do miss being there and hanging with all of the many cool cats (including a lot of good friends) who work and play in Las Vegas every summer. I feel very in tune with it all, however, thanks to keeping in close touch with a lot of those who are there.

I’ve also been writing up daily recaps and previews (among other tasks), which has led to my being a lot more aware at this point of the summer what has happened thus far in all of the events than I probably would’ve been otherwise.

Been kind of intrigued by all of these $10K events thus, particularly the non-hold’em ones.

George Danzer -- winner of Event No. 18, the $10,000 Razz Championship -- is going for a second bracelet today in another of the $10K events, the Seven-Card Hi-Low, and has jumped out in front in the WSOP Player of the Year race as well. Kind of glad to be seeing Danzer break through this year after having come close to bracelets many times before. Or not “seeing” I guess, but following from afar.

I remember covering one of his near-misses two years ago when the German took runner-up in the $2,500 Omaha/Stud Hi-Low event to Oleksii Kovalchuk of Ukraine. Every spring and fall he also routinely final tables (and sometimes wins) SCOOP and WCOOP events, so wasn’t surprised at all to see him going deep in events again.

As I write they’ve just gotten down to seven players and the official table of Event No. 38, the $10,000 Stud Hi-Low Championship, meaning out of 11 career WSOP cashes Danzer has made eight final tables.

Norman Chad finished 10th in this one earlier tonight, reminding me also of that same event from 2012 where he final tabled along with Danzer, going out in sixth. Was tweeting a couple of funny hand reports from that night earlier this week that involved Chad -- the “fortune cookie hand” and the “credit card hand” -- that are worth clicking through to read for some grins.

Speaking of the “credit card hand” (in which Chad jokingly tried to raise with his Visa), the Poker Grump contributed a good article to Learn.PokerNews recently that referred to it as well as part of his discussion of table stakes. Check it out: “No, You Can’t Bet Your Covered Wagon: Talking ‘Table Stakes.’

Okay, gonna get back to the virtual railing. Would be fun to be there, but the grass is plenty green here, too.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Beat More Rare Than a One-Outer (And No One Noticed)

Kind of an odd one from the WSOP yesterday. You might have heard about this.

Over in Event No. 37, the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event, a player busted after dinner in one of those hands that was unique enough he felt inspired to snap a photo (pictured at left, click to embiggen).

After getting to the turn with the board showing 2c7cQhAs, the player got all of his chips in the middle holding AcAdJh5c for top set plus the nut flush draw against an opponent holding QsQcJd7h for the second-best set.

Alas for the all-in player, a queen fell on the river to give his opponent quads, thus knocking out the player just shy of the money, and he took the picture just before departing.

Indeed, the one-outer was remarkable enough to inspire the player to post his picture on Facebook, then a friend looking closely at the picture discovered something to make the beat even worse.

That last queen... was the Qh! Just like the one that had fallen on the flop.

A fouled deck had produced a duplicate card, and the player ended up getting in touch with WSOP staff to see about possibly being refunded his buy-in.

It was still more bad news for him, unfortunately. As he told a friend who then posted the story on Two Plus Two, he “could not get any form of compensation since attention was called to right away despite the picture evidence.”

Curious stuff, and while posters are skeptical about everyone missing the duplicate card, such a collective oversight doesn’t seem too hard to accept. Weird things go unnoticed sometimes, like this Manu Ginobli pass in Game 1 of the NBA finals from a year ago:

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Return of the Champ

Joe Cada’s victory last night in Event No. 32, the $10,000 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em Championship, marked the first time one of the last 12 WSOP Main Event winners -- dating back to 2002 champ Robert Varkonyi -- has been able to follow his ME title with another WSOP bracelet win.

Carlos Mortensen was the most recent champion to follow his ME title with a win in another bracelet event, having won his second (and so far only other) WSOP bracelet in 2003 in a $5K limit hold’em event.

That was a big year for former Main Event champs, actually, with no less than six different ME winners collecting bracelets in 2003. In addition to Mortensen, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, and Johnny Chan each won two events apiece, while Doyle Brunson and Huck Seed won events as well. (Ferguson finished runner-up in another event that year, too.)

There hasn’t been as good a year for former ME winners at the WSOP since, not by a long shot. Chan and Brunson would each win bracelets in 2005 -- the last for both. Scotty Nguyen would win the $50K H.O.R.S.E. in 2008. And Phil Hellmuth won WSOP events in 2006, 2007, and 2012, while also winning the 2012 WSOP Europe Main Event.

The period since 2003 has seen fields expand dramatically, although the number of bracelet events has essentially doubled, too, since 2003. And while there have been a lot of ME winners playing a lot of events, getting all of the way back to the winner’s circle has proven difficult for nearly all of them.

Cada was a likely candidate to break through to get that second bracelet, having come close several times recently with two fourth-place finishes last year and a runner-up in 2012.

Greg Merson has cashed three times already this WSOP and seems capable of being the next WSOP ME winner to win a bracelet. I’d say Jonathan Duhamel probably would be a good choice, too, to win one, even though he’s off to a rough start at this summer’s Series.

Then again, Hellmuth is 11th of 38 in another event to start today (Event No. 36, $1,500 NL 2-7 Draw), and so perhaps he’ll be the next ME winner to grab more gold. Again.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Just Play; or, the Work Is Its Own Reward

The Heat-Spurs series -- like the most recent Super Bowl -- turned out quite anticlimactic with San Antonio’s three straight blowouts to clinch.

Was certainly intriguing to watch the Spurs team handle the ball so flawlessly, and that crazy 19-for-21 start to Game 3 was simply stunning. It shouldn’t have seemed so surprising, really, given the Western Conference’s clear edge over the East throughout the year, but it still was kind of amazing to watch one team dominate the other so thoroughly on basketball’s biggest stage.

While recalling the previous four championship teams San Antonio has had since 1999, the victory also kind of reprised the 2004 Detroit Pistons insofar as the “team” concept as exemplified by the winners so obviously overrode all other narratives to become the story of the series. You might remember Detroit’s coach Larry Brown speaking of “winning the right way” a decade ago, alluding to the promotion of team over individual, and the Spurs obviously demonstrated something similar during their season and playoff run.

To a man so uniformly humble, the talk that came from the Spurs perhaps sounded a little at times like generic sports-speak. Still, one theme I found kind of interesting -- and with obvious connections to poker -- was the Spurs’ repeated insistence upon “just playing” and not worrying overly about results.

The guiding quote from coach Gregg Popovich from several years back insists “You don’t deserve anything. You just go play. You start thinking about what you deserve and what you don’t deserve and it just makes you soft. You just go play the game.”

In practice, such a principle translates into focusing on performing as well as possible and not fretting over outcomes, in particular not fooling oneself into thinking certain outcomes are “deserved.” In poker terms, we think of doing our best to “get it in good” -- i.e., with a favorable chance of being successful -- then not being overly affected by results, be they positive or negative.

Kevin Arnovitz focused on that theme last night in his post-series column for ESPN titled “The work speaks for itself,” speaking of “commitment to process” as an emblem for the Spurs, a formulation that sounds a lot like a different way of saying not to be “results oriented.”

Luck did play a role in this series -- though perhaps not as conspicuously as happened between the same two teams a year ago. But so did skill, with the Spurs playing their hand about as well as it could be played. And, as happens more often than not, the favorite came out on top.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

The Reunited States: Amaya To Bring PokerStars Back?

Found it a little uncanny that on the very day I finally got my Full Tilt Poker money back -- three years and almost two months after Black Friday came along and the games ended both there and at PokerStars for United States players -- news broke that PokerStars (and the new FTP) may actually be coming back to the U.S. sooner than later.

You’ve no doubt heard about this mammoth deal struck between the Canadian-based Amaya Gaming Group and the Oldford Group Limited, parent company of the Rational Group which in turn owns PokerStars and Full Tilt 2.0. After six months’ worth of negotiations between the two entities, Amaya will be purchasing the online sites, the live poker tours and events, and other associated assets belonging to Rational for a hefty $4.9 billion. Seems hefty, anyway, although some are noting the price tag could have been a lot higher.

A few final steps have to be taken before the deal is finalized (e.g., Amaya shareholders have to okay it, some other approvals have to come), but it sounds like everything is in place for all that to happen.

Amaya already has one online poker platform -- Ongame -- and thus will soon have three. And most notably Amaya is also already licensed to as a service provider for online casinos in New Jersey. Amaya is a “B2B” provider while Rational is a “B2C”; thus, as Amaya says in its presser, “the Transaction combines complementary businesses with minimal overlap.”

The Rational Group had to this point failed to get licensed in the state thanks to its relationship with Isai Scheinberg and his being named in the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint. I believe it was late last year that New Jersey said they’d be waiting another two years before considering Rational’s application again. The change up top thus helps Amaya potentially introduce the Stars platform into NJ much sooner.

Chris Grove over at the Online Poker Report does well to explain both the deal and some of the other possible implications, including what it might mean with regard to PokerStars finding its way into other states (including those yet to pass online gambling legislation). Grove even speculates about the potential for Caesars and Stars somehow to get together down the road with Amaya now in charge.

Among the “Key Transaction Highlights” also listed in the Amaya presser, it is mentioned that “Rational Group’s executive management team will be retained and online poker services provided by PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker will be unaffected by the Transaction, with players continuing to enjoy uninterrupted access to their gaming experience.”

While Stars, FTP, the tours, and everything else will be left to the Rational Group guys to continue to manage, it sounds like Amaya has visions of adding what it already has to help “expand the nascent Full Tilt Poker casino platform” while also planning to “support Rational Group’s growth initiatives in new gaming verticals, including casino, sportsbook and social gaming, and new geographies.”

Everything remains “wait and see,” especially until the deal is finalized once and for all, but prospects shift immediately, particularly here in the U.S., when it comes to online poker.

And here we are on Friday the 13th, too, which also recalls another landmark day in the twisty history of online poker in the U.S. Uncanny.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Finally, Full Tilt Funds

Did a double-take earlier today while making a cursory check of my banking account online. Wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but rather needed to conduct a little business when I noticed something new coming through -- one of those “Pending Transactions” indicating that a credit was coming through.

I had to look again, just because I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading the first time. I slowly eyed the line of all caps to the right of the figure.

“DOJ POKER STARS POKERPAY01 ******* 061214.”

No. Really? I guess it’s true. At long last, I have cashed out from Full Tilt Poker.

My first thought was to compare the three years and almost two months it took to recover those funds to the couple of weeks it took to get what I had over at PokerStars. (I had jumped ship from both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet way, way, way before in late 2007 when the first insider cheating scandal at AP broke.)

That wasn’t too revealing of a comparison, though. One event was more or less a pleasant surprise. The other was delayed to such unreasonable lengths and buried under so many inconsequential subplots, false leads, long-smoldering outrage, and abject resignation that it hardly seemed like they belonged to the same category. Besides, it took too much mental work even to remember the earlier one, let alone view it in terms of the latter one.

So I thought further about it. Was it more like getting some kind of surprise discount after having already paid for something? Receiving unexpected tax refund for overpayment? Winning a raffle when I hadn’t realized someone else had dropped my name in the hat?

Or how about being pushed a pot unexpectedly after getting my river bluff called, then finding out I had the best hand after all?

Nah, I thought. More like the faintest of echoes, like a letter reminding you of something you used to do -- a camp you once visited, a vacation from long ago -- something meaningful once upon a time, but that you haven’t thought about for a long, long time.

Then I just stopped thinking about it altogether. Just like I’d gradually stopped thinking about the old Full Tilt Poker, too.

Good luck to everyone else getting theirs.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nitsche’s Niche

The young German player Dominik Nitsche won another WSOP bracelet last night in Event No. 21, a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event. That makes three for him as he just won the WSOP National Championship a few weeks ago (which counts as a bracelet event), and he’d won his first back in 2012 in another $1,000 NLHE tourney.

I was there two years ago to help cover Nitsche’s first bracelet win. That one had a big field of 4,620 take part -- it was one of the last events of the summer. I remember it had originally been scheduled as a four-day event. There were 51 players who came back for Day 3, and Nitsche blitzed through so quickly they were able to end a day early. He picked up a lot of big hands at that final table, I also recall, which helped hasten things at the end.

Nitsche bested another big field of 2,043 to win last night. Looking back through the coverage, the heads-up portion of play provided some interesting moments, including some good fortune for Nitsche on more than one occasion.

Dave D’Alesandro was Nitsche’s heads-up opponent, and he enjoyed about a 2.5-to-1 chip lead as they began. They’d end up playing about 90 hands, with Nitsche doubling up no less than four times before grabbing the advantage and then eventually knocking D’Alesandro out the first time the latter was all in and at risk.

The first of those double-ups was the most fortunate for Nitsche as he’d committed with 10-9-suited versus D’Alesandro’s A-Q and hit a ten on the river to survive.

Nitsche’s obviously a talented no-limit hold’em tourney player -- aside from these three WSOP wins, he has tons of other results totaling more than $3.7 million. He also has both an LAPT title and a WPT title, too, so when he eventually gets around to winning an EPT they’ll have to invent a name for the feat (the Quadruple Crown?). And no, to reprise yesterday’s topic, none of the 25K Fantasy teams drafted him.

He’s just 23 years old, and in fact wins a third bracelet some three years faster than Phil Ivey did, who had gotten to three faster than anyone previous to Nitsche. The fortunate flips and all-ins last night highlight what is likely a facile observation that variance has been kind to Nitsche in his brief WSOP career thus far.

That said, he’s put himself in good positions for good things to happen a whole lot already, and has found a niche of sorts at the WSOP, too.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rating the Recognizables

Heading into today, a total of 20 bracelets have been won thus far at the 2014 World Series of Poker. There have been a fair share won by “known” players to this point -- seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

I would imagine most of those who follow poker would recognize at least a third, perhaps half of the players who have won events to this point. I knew of 12 of these players before, a couple of them (Kyle Cartwright and Kory Kilpatrick) thanks to having seen them do well at WSOP Circuit events in the past.

Seems like a pretty high percentage of “recognizables.” I was curious to check that 25K Fantasy game and see how many of the bracelet winners so far were among the 96 players drafted.

Looks like five of the 20 winners were selected -- Vanessa Selbst, Paul Volpe, George Danzer, Brock Parker, and Justin Bonomo -- and really among the ones who weren’t taken, none really stand out as huge misses. No one drafted Ted Forrest or Davidi Kitai (both multiple bracelet winners coming in), but in neither case does that stand out as an alarming oversight.

Was wondering how that clip of picking winners compared to last year’s 25K Fantasy draft, and after a quick run through to compare the 112 players selected (by 14 teams) and the 62 bracelet winners, it looks like a total of nine champs were drafted -- Mike Gorodinsky, Mike Matusow, David Chiu, Erick Lindgren, Jesse Martin, Marco Johnson, Steve Sung, Eli Elezra, and Daniel Alaei. Looking over the undrafted 2013 bracelet winners, only Tom Schneider (who won two) seems like a big miss.

So their rate of drafting winners is better so far this year -- 25% to just under 15% in 2013 -- for whatever that’s worth.

I suppose it’s safe enough to theorize that the better the 25K Fantasy teams do drafting bracelet winners, the more likely it will be those who win bracelets will be recognizable players prior to their victories. That’s not to say that the 25K Fantasy drafters are perfectly representative of the WSOP-following public, but their picks do offer a general idea of who are the best known and highest regarded WSOP tourney players.

Meanwhile, it appears that a third of way into the summer Team Media needs a jump start and PDQ.

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Monday, June 09, 2014

The Favorite Underdog

Have written here a few times over the last several months about how Vera Valmore and I made a move and now live on a farm where we keep a couple of horses. Vera rides dressage, and in fact competed in a show not that long ago where she rode well in a musical freestyle for which she devised the music. Cool stuff.

So we’re horse people, although not really horse racing fans. The sport intrigues us somewhat, but Vera doesn’t like the way the horses sometimes get exploited and mishandled in a mercilessly competitive, high-dollar industry, which necessarily tempers our excitement whenever the Triple Crown races come back around on the calendar.

But we watch them, and were watching on Saturday to see if California Chrome could do what no other horse has done since 1978 and manage to win the Belmont Stakes after having won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

I was absolutely ambivalent about the outcome. Nor did I bet on the race -- which, illogically, I can legally do while I cannot play online poker except on sketchy, unreliable “rogue” sites located offshore.

But I was still fascinated by how the great majority of others were pulling for California Chrome to pull it off. We ended up watching a lot of the lead-up to the race, and without exception everyone who appeared on camera seemed excitedly to be pulling for Chrome, too, with all of them -- without exception -- predicting that Chrome, who ultimately set off as a big 4-to-5 favorite, would win the race.

I mentioned to Vera just before the race began how it was weird, in a way, that in this case the favorite had everyone’s support whereas in sports it is more often the case that the underdog gets more love. But she pointed out to me that I was miscalculating. Even though Chrome was the favorite odds-wise (which, of course, are dictated by the betting) and perhaps might even have been the horse with the best potential to win the race, 36 straight years of no horse winning the Triple Crown necessarily gives the impression that any horse is going to be an underdog to accomplish the feat.

In other words, in this instance, pulling for the nominal “favorite” was in a funny way like pulling for an upset.

It reminded me a little of what I was writing about last week with regard to Vanessa Selbst’s WSOP win and how we tend to be surprised even when “favorites” win at poker. Sure, a given player might be a favorite versus another (or all of the rest, even), but such a player will always be a dog to win a big field tourney.

Then Chrome lost, with Tonalist winning, and Chrome’s owner Steve Coburn swiftly destroyed a lot of good will and support with his complaint about the other horses taking “the coward’s way out” by not racing all three legs of the Triple Crown. Very Hellmuthian, that rant.

It’s a tough spot, I guess, being so favored while an underdog.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

On Mental Toughness

Well, I guess that finish to Game 1 of the Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals last night tended to support that point I was making yesterday about luck mattering in sports, wouldn’t you say? Sure, the Spurs might well have won even without LeBron James’s going down as he did in the fourth quarter, but it certainly appeared as though his cramping and being unable to continue had a lot to do with Miami suddenly being unable to guard anyone.

Watching that game play out, I was reminded of my own basketball days, including having on several occasions experienced leg cramps which would usually occur right at the very end of a game (or after a long period of play). Often they’d happen when I would be physically exerting myself, jumping one... last... time for a ball, then suddenly being cut down.

Cramps can be utterly debilitating, and while the pain usually subsides quickly (at least in my experience), those initial moments can be full of panicky fright. “Seize” is the verb that seems most appropriate to describe what happens, the wince required to say the word altogether fitting.

Reactions to James’s end-of-game distress have ranged from laughable to lamentable, with those wanting to use the occasion to question his “manhood” making spectacles of themselves by their demonstrations of inanity. Not only is it a silly observation, but it includes an assumption about masculinity and professional sports that while shaped by many years of cultural influence is itself misguided.

Such thoughts stem from the mistaken idea that James might have defied medical science somehow and willed himself to play through injury. Commentator Mark Jackson’s cliché-filled coachspeak late in the game when it appeared James might have to sit down -- “The great ones have a way of willing themselves past their bodies... they tell their bodies ‘No, no, not now... I’ll talk to you tomorrow, but not now’” -- serves as an emblem for such absurdity, and probably encouraged a lot the commentators, too.

The mistake a lot of James’s critics are making has to do with interpreting a physical injury as though it were a mental one. Sports commentators love to advance such psychobabbling analyses -- this is something I’ve complained about here before -- and so the talk is about James’s mind breaking down, not his body (or the AT&T Center’s air conditioning).

I think of how poker -- a game that also has a significant legacy of reinforcing gender-related stereotypes -- constantly provides occasions in which players’ mental toughness is genuinely challenged. The fortitude required, say, to run a bluff or suss out the willful misdirections of an opponent, is significant. And real. And (it might well be added) sometimes the way players handle such challenges gets connected to those same ideas of “manliness” or toughness that have been handed down to some extent by the legacy of poker’s past.

Assessing something like “mental toughness” is hard enough to do in a game like poker where it is so obviously being tested at every turn (and flop and river). I’d venture that performing such assessments is harder to do in sports like basketball, yet so many seem so willing to try anyway.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Luck Factor

Am readying for the first game of tonight’s NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Kind of excited to follow this one closely, since most summers I’ve either been in Las Vegas throughout the Finals or go during, and so haven’t always been able to follow them closely.

I’m remembering today being in Las Vegas last year and covering an event along with Rich Ryan while Game 7 between the Spurs and Heat played out. We were a little distracted, I recall, as were most of the players. (That pic above is from that night, with Mike Sexton watching and Rich in the foreground -- click to embiggen.)

I also remember last year being in Vegas and playing in a tournament at the Golden Nugget when that incredible Game 6 occurred. The tourney started at noon, but I ended up going deep enough that I was still at the table when that one ended with the Heat’s incredible comeback in regulation and victory in overtime.

I watched the end of Game 6 again yesterday, led to do so after reading Bill Simmons’s column about it over on Grantland. Actually, to be honest, I read the first part of Simmons’s column and skimmed most of it, as I’m rarely inspired to read his always-longer-than-they-need-to-be columns word-for-word.

The beginning of this one is kind of cool, though, in which he gives about a 100 words per second to a nutty sequence that ended with LeBron James hitting a three-pointer to cut the lead to two. He gives a similar treatment to the play that came shortly afterwards that ended with Ray Allen hitting another trey to tie the game with five second left.

Both plays involve some incredibly fortunate bounces for the Heat, and because of the huge consequences end up being worth the microscopic analyses Simmons gives to both. Of course, what fascinates us most about that sequence and series is the role luck played in affecting the outcome.

The teams were especially evenly matched, trading wins back-and-forth in zig-zag fashion until Miami managed to win a second one in a row after succeeding in a close Game 7. In poker when two equally skilled opponents square off, luck ends up determining which of the two gets the advantage in terms of cards and/or circumstances and thus the better result. So, too, did that seem to be the case in the Spurs-Heat series last year.

Luck mattered in the end -- as it always does, but was all the more apparent thanks to the equal skill level of the two opponents.

A lot of people discussing the upcoming series have been fairly preoccupied with the subject of luck in basketball. Those of us in poker are often able to see very readily how much luck matters in other games -- and in other contexts, too -- but I think some basketball fans have a hard time accepting that fact, wanting instead to believe that skill wins out without exception. And the Spurs-Heat series last summer was therefore all the more jarring because of the way it foregrounded the idea in such a dramatic way that luck mattered.

Feel like the Heat may need some good fortune to win this year. But then again, every team generally does.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

First-Place Guarantees at the WSOP

Jonathan Dimmig won Event No. 8 last night, the $1,500 buy-in “Millionaire Maker” event that drew a huge field of 7,977 entries -- the second-largest field ever for a World Series of Poker event behind the 2006 Main Event in which 8,773 participated. (That’s in terms of total entries, anyway, as the event did allow players who busted the first Day 1 flight to enter the second one, too.)

Dimmig picked up a cool $1,319,587 for the win. According to Hendon Mob his biggest previous cash was for $11,106 for finishing third in a WSOP Circuit event in San Diego. A decent boost to the career total, that.

The “Millionaire Maker” comes with a guaranteed first prize of $1,000,000, which clearly is a huge draw for players. Positioning the event early in the schedule rather than later (as was done a year ago) probably helps, too. The format was introduced last year, drawing a 6,343-entry field topped by Benny Chen who won $1,199,104.

They’re also experimenting this year with a guaranteed first-place prize in the Main Event -- $10 million, a figure ostensibly chosen because (1) it is higher than what recent Main Event first prizes have been (to make it the same or lower would make it less of a draw), and (2) because the number resonates with this being the 10th year the WSOP is being held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

The turnouts for both “Millionaire Maker” events have well exceeded what is needed for the typically-used payout schedule to award at least seven figures to the winner. In other words, no adjustments have been required that would take money away from other cashing spots to meet that $1 million guarantee for first.

That doesn’t appear at all likely for the Main Event, though, which I believe would have to draw something like 8,000 players or thereabouts in order for the traditionally used payout schedule to award $10 million for first. I’m thinking barely topping 7,000 entrants would be the most the WSOP could hope for this year. (Last week I guessed 7,039 for a PokerNews article on WSOP predictions.)

That means there is going to be something like $1-$1.5 million of the prize pool taken away from those finishing 2nd through 700th (or whatever) and given to the winner.

Very nice for the champ, but less so for everyone else.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Surprise! Selbst Strong

Been thinking about Vanessa Selbst and her big win over the weekend in Event No. 2, the $25,000 Mixed-Max No-Limit Hold’em event that kicked off this year’s World Series of Poker (pic via PokerNews).

I’ve written here many times about Selbst whom I happened to get to see win her first bracelet back in 2008 during my first summer helping cover the Series for PokerNews. That was one of the first tournaments I can remember having covered from beginning to end in which a single player seemed legitimately to have “dominated” the event pretty much from start to finish.

She’d taken the lead midway through Day 1 of the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event, kept it all of the way to the final table, then fairly ran over her opponents there, too, before running into a kind of unique situation heads-up in which Jamie Pickering began repeatedly raising the pot without looking at his cards. He actually managed to grab the lead briefly, I recall, but Selbst handled the situation and was able to prevail. (Read more about that wild finish here.)

I did not watch Selbst win her bracelet in 2012 in the 10-game event, but like the rest of us have followed her progress over the years as she became the highest-earning female tournament player in the world while now challenging for the top ranking in the Global Poker Index, too, where she is now second behind Ole Schemion.

It’s interesting how each year the WSOP tends to confirm our understanding that being skilled at tournament poker often translates into positive outcomes, with the successes of those we’ve seen win before being instinctively regarded as support for the skill argument.

That said, it’s also interesting how we tend to be surprised when we see, say, Selbst negotiate her way through yet another big field (or a small but tough one in the $25K Mixed-Max) to triumph once more. I mean perhaps only a little surprised, because we do, after all, expect good players to succeed. But surprised nonetheless whenever one of the repeat winners repeats and wins again.

That small little pleasure of amazement, though, is a big part of what makes following these events fun.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Rounders and Roundball

Just enjoyed listening to poker player, sports bettor, and good storyteller Haralabos Voulgaris do a turn on the Dan Le Batard show this afternoon. Been listening more and more to Le Batard, whose show is based out of Miami and becomes increasingly interesting (and fun) to follow the deeper the Heat go in the playoffs.

Voulgaris was on to talk NBA Finals, and he gave his reasons for favoring the Spurs to win. He was then asked to tell some poker stories, and “Haralabob” obliged.

Voulgaris shared an interesting story about playing poker with former NBA player Antoine Walker at the Bellagio who apparently showed up with a bag full of cash ready to play. Voulgaris actually paid someone $15K to give up a seat for Walker, who then proceeded to sit down for 14 hours or so and lose a fortune -- perhaps $400,000 or $500,000, Voulgaris estimated.

“Everyone at the table was like looking at each other thinking ‘Is there anything left in the bag?’” said Voulgaris. “He actually wasn’t that bad, now that I think of it,” he added. “He just wasn’t as good as the other players in the game.”

Fascinated, Le Batard and his co-host, Stugotz, asked for another poker story. “Who else have you taken money from in this kind of setting?” asked Le Batard, and Voulgaris proceeded to recall an instance of having once played in a game with another former NBA star, Charles Oakley.

“He was pretty cool, actually,” explained Voulgaris, “but I remember I bluffed him in a pot... he was like ‘You had it, right? You had it?’” Oakley wanted to see Voulgaris’s hand, and when he wouldn’t show Oakley actually reached over and grabbed the cards to turn them over.

“He saw that I was bluffing and he then started laughing. Then he picked me up by my armpits and carried me all of the way across the poker room and like slammed me against the wall. He was joking, but I was like scared out of my mind!”

The hosts were cracking up, as you might imagine. A hilarious picture to imagine -- Oakley hoisting Voulgaris up and carrying him across the room.

Bluffing him back, you might say.

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