Friday, November 28, 2014

Hitting Home Runs, Moving the Goal Posts, Putting on the Full Court Press, and Other Legal Maneuvers

Today while searching around I happened upon an interesting new article appearing in the Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law. The journal is published by the Harvard Law School, and the article by Megan E. Boyd is called “Riding the Bench -- A Look at Sports Metaphors in Judicial Opinions.”

For various reasons, not the least of which being my teaching a class called “Poker in American Film and Culture,” my ears always prick up whenever I hear poker metaphors employed in non-poker contexts. And it happens a lot, with poker terms and phrases popping up on a regular basis all over, especially in politics, sports, entertainment, and business.

As the title of Boyd’s article suggests, the use of sports lingo in legal matters is the focus of her article. She begins by noting how “the adversarial nature of the court system in this country mirrors the very nature of competitive sports,” thus making it unsurprising that sports analogies should be frequently employed in the courtroom.

Just wading into such a discussion makes it hard not to think about how legal matters are often covered by the media today -- that is to say, as if they were sports contests. In any case, Boyd makes some interesting observations about how ubiquitous sports-related metaphors are in legal arguments, with some of the most common phrases such as calls for “fair play” or to “level the playing field” evoking at once ideas of legal justice and rules for ensuring games’ integrity.

The article discusses metaphors drawn from boxing, baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey, billiards, rugby, track and field, wrestling, cricket, and car racing. And there’s even a section covering poker, too. “ESPN considers card playing to be a sport,” Boyd explains in a footnote, “and because of the interesting poker-influenced metaphors found in judicial opinions, I have included it here.”

In that section she runs through several examples including plaintiffs having to “reveal their hand,” attorneys using an “ace in the hole” to launch suits, or parties “sandbagging” by withholding evidence until more opportune moment.

Boyd also mentions how lyrics from “The Gambler” often get quoted in the courtroom, citing a couple of instances. She doesn’t mention there another reference to the song in a legal context from about three years ago when a couple of the Black Friday defendants, John Campos and Chad Elie, were still fighting to have their cases dismissed. (You know what I mean -- that Black Friday, not today.)

Amid that battle, federal prosecutors filed a response to the pair’s motion that spelled out the many reasons why the host of charges against them should stand, a statement that reaffirmed poker to be gambling and thus covered by the Illegal Gambling Business Act.

In a totally superfluous aside, the feds also included a reference to “The Gambler” identifying it as “Willie Nelson’s classic poker song.” We know Willie plays poker -- and can perform a good card trick, if you ask him -- but obviously they meant to refer to Kenny Rogers there.

Some gaffe, that, although I didn’t really matter much to the argument. Sort of like missing a fly ball with two outs with the two-base error not resulting in any runs scored.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks Again

Have the usual obligations today to feasting, football, and family, and so just wanted to drop a quick note here to express my thanks once again to all who find reasons to stop by.

Speaking of other obligations, it has become increasingly obvious to me that they’ve evolved to a point where I shouldn’t be able to post here at the same frequency (i.e., each weekday, at least) for much longer. I know I have said as much every few months for some time now. But there’s an impending poker-related project on the horizon I might have to devote myself to more earnestly very soon, at which point I know I’ll have to scale things back here once and for all.

As I’ve written about here before, the routine of regularly posting has become so deeply engrained for me it is hard to imagine not doing so. That said, I can easily picture the potential benefits, including perhaps an increase in quality as resulting from the decrease in quantity.

We’ll worry about that and everything else later, though, as today’s “obligations” are in truth all about setting the real obligations aside and relaxing. Hope it’s an enjoyable day and weekend for you and yours, too, and that you’re able today just to sit back and chill some as well. And thanks again for coming around.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Change for Good

Saw Marco Valerio (formerly of QuadJacks) this week proposing what I thought was an inspired idea.

Having gotten an email from Ultimate Poker informing him he’d be due a whopping $0.18 upon the closing of his account there in Nevada, Marco thought about how he probably wasn’t the only one cashing out for a small amount from the site. As I recall, when the news broke that UP was closing up for good there was a tweet from them confirming they had something like 25,000 player accounts with funds in them, then a follow-up noting how a lot of those accounts had only a dollar or less (I think). (Can’t look it up now as UP has already deleted its Twitter account.)

In any event, being a licensed and regulated site UP couldn’t make like Full Tilt Poker 1.0, UltimateBet, or Absolute Poker and just not bother returning funds, so everyone is getting his or her cabbage back, even if as with Marco it’s only a few pennies.

Marco’s idea -- delivered over Twitter a couple of days ago -- was to suggest players who were interested could pool those piddling returns to make something more substantial, then they could donate whatever amount that turned out to be to a charity. I don’t think a specific one has been picked out as yet, although Marco mentioned hoping maybe to collect “a hundred bucks to buy a child some toys” in an early follow-up tweet.

Within a couple of days the idea has already picked up a lot of momentum, with many chiming in wanting to donate to the cause. I told Marco I’d like to as well, even though I never deposited anything in my UP account. Now it looks like he’s already had more than $1K pledged altogether (including some “matching” pledges by some).

Anyhow, I thought it was a neat thought and Marco a good person to have had it, considering his well-connected place within the web of poker people. Here’s a webpage he’s set up describing both the idea and how things are progressing thus far that includes info about how you can get involved, too, with this “spontaneous act of poker kindness” ideer if you wish.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Poker and Other Gambling Games

Recent developments with online poker have inspired conversations (again) about poker’s relationship to other gambling games, especially other casino games.

When I first became serious about poker and broadened my knowledge enough to appreciate first-hand its strategic complexity, it wasn’t long before I found myself becoming similarly serious about wanting to distinguish poker from other types of gambling which I was much less inspired to pursue. Most who come to poker not via those other gambling games but by other routes (as I did) probably experience something similar, if they become at all serious about the game.

I have to admit I feel differently today, though -- still convinced of why poker is distinct from those games, but much less energized by any special need to point out the significance of that difference.

When the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was suddenly sprung upon us a little over eight years ago, responses from the poker community included a lot of hopeful talk about “carve outs” and how poker somehow shouldn’t be considered “a game subject to chance” (to quote the UIGEA) -- even if, of course, it is. That “skill argument” continues to invigorate some including the Poker Players Alliance, the lobbying group created in response to the UIGEA, despite the fact that legally speaking the argument that poker isn’t entirely “subject to chance” hasn’t really had any major influence.

Sure, there have been occasional rulings by judges sympathetic to poker’s skill component, including that one from August 2012 in which a federal judge maintained poker “is not predominantly a game of chance” while throwing out a conviction for illegal gambling of someone who’d run a poker game out of a Staten Island warehouse. But a year later the ruling in that case was reversed, and it doesn’t seem any occasional declarations in courts acknowledging that it takes a little more know-how to win a hand of poker than to hit your number in roulette has ever mattered all that much as far as the law is concerned.

Meanwhile in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware came the passage of online gambling laws that have made it possible for players within those states to play poker against each other (“intrastate”) while allowing for casino games, too. We in the poker community focus more on the poker side of things, but just like in live casinos, online poker is operating right alongside online slots, online craps, online blackjack, and so on. And relatively speaking -- also like in live casinos -- those other games are earning significantly more revenue than poker, to no one’s surprise.

Other recent developments with regard to online poker sites operating outside the U.S. have perhaps served to emphasize further poker’s connection to other gambling games, and I’m not just alluding to PokerStars recently following other poker sites to offer other casino games.

Games like the Jackpot Sit & Go tournaments on Full Tilt Poker and the Spin & Gos on Stars are still poker, of course, though incorporate elements from elsewhere in the casino like slots or the “wheel of fortune.” (Wrote a little about Spin & Gos here last month.) There are plenty of examples of video poker available online, too, a game that might be considered even more of a hybrid of poker and slots. Meanwhile something like live dealer casino holdem at Paddy Power actually changes poker into more of a blackjack-type game -- still incorporating some strategy, though it’s a game fairly distinct from traditional poker.

Makes me think a little of how you’ll often find dice wedged in there next to decks of cards inside a poker chip set. What are they doing there? Well, for one thing, they’re reminding you of traditional notions of poker being just another gambling game.

I still think it’s worth pointing out (when relevant) that poker is different from most gambling games, especially those in which you’re playing against the house rather than other players. But the game’s place in various cultures -- in the U.S., in other countries, and online -- has always been very closely aligned with other forms of gambling. And whenever poker gets pulled away from those games, it seems like it can never be for long before it gravitates back toward them again.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Catch That Catch?

After cashing in a couple of freerolls over on the new Fantasy Draft site -- winning some “Fantasy Bucks” which I cannot withdraw but with which I can enter real money games -- I jumped in one NFL contest this weekend and ultimately bubbled the money.

I’d built a decent roster and picked up some unexpected points from players like Cleveland Browns’ rookie running back Isaiah Crowell who scored a couple of TDs against the defensively-depleted Atlanta Falcons. But others who I’d expected to produce didn’t -- guys like the Colts’ Reggie Wayne and the Pats’ Rob Gronkowski, both of whom caught passes but didn’t reach paydirt -- and so going into the Sunday Night game I was already essentially doomed to finish outside the “Payout Zone.”

I did have one player left on my team, though -- Odell Beckham, Jr., the New York Giants receiver -- who I’d included as my “flex” player. And yeah, even though I was a bit too far out to make a run at the cash, he made things interesting.

Indeed, he even made it seem for a while like I might even get there. I mean, after that catch, anything seemed possible.

With two TDs, 10 catches, and 146 yards receiving, Beckham earned more fantasy points than anyone yesterday. He also earned a permanent spot in all NFL highlight reels going forward.

The play reminded me a little of Bob Beamon’s record-shattering long jump, something I’ve written about here before, mainly because of the way Beckham quickly hopped up and walked around afterwards as though he didn’t find anything especially surprising or unexpected in what he’d done.

Of course, the big difference was how Beamon (and most watching the ’68 Summer games) actually didn’t initially realize his achievement, in his case breaking the world record for the long jump by more than two feet. With Beckham’s catch everyone knew instantly it was something extraordinary, thus making his subsequent nonchalance all the more entertaining to see.

Folks quickly began passing around video clips of Beckham making similarly eye-popping one-handed grabs in other contexts such as receiving a kickoff or in warm-ups, though none amid such duress as was the case during the second quarter last night.

Those clips might’ve helped demystify the catch a little, but only a little. They made me think a little of watching a card trick, like Beckham had some secret knowledge about how to pull something off that had been previously hidden to the rest of us.

Super slo-mo replays from every angle likewise helped explain what couldn’t be appreciated live and at full speed, but that, too, didn’t take much away from the continued astonishment -- the surprise at being still surprised -- with each viewing.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Reading the Leaves

Vera and I recently purchased a leaf blower, kind of a heavy duty model designed for large yards. Never needed anything like that before, especially when living at our old place where we had exactly one small tree in the back yard. Now, though, with all of these acres and trees leaving their scattered piles all about, something must be done.

Wasn’t too hard figuring out how to assemble it, mix the gas, and set the sucker going. I pulled the straps over both shoulders and fastened the snap in front, then started moving about the perimeter of our largish front yard, moving tentatively at first as I tried to decide how exactly to begin.

At first it seemed kind of a futile pursuit, with the achingly slow moving of the first few leaves seeming to represent an aggravatingly trifling start to what was going to be an impossibly large task to complete. Eventually I found a “technique” of sorts that involved working with the wind, discovering the most productive patterns for waving the long plastic tube, and recognizing when a constructed wall of leaves had become too substantial to try to move further.

Another part of my self-tutelage was realizing early on there was simply no way to corral all of the leaves, not with the blower alone, anyway. With every pass a few were always going to remain stubbornly clinging between blades of grass underneath, a fact of physics that simply had to be accepted.

Perhaps even remarking that is a way of admitting to some latent obsessive-compulsive tendencies. In any case, for me the job started to become characterized by an inescapable feeling of compromise -- by the foreknowledge that being “done” wouldn’t necessarily mean utterly completing the idealized task of ridding the yard of every last crinkled leaf but rather reaching a state at which it would be at last acceptable to abandon further hopes of achieving such.

I was at it for hours and hours, long enough for the mind to wander and become convinced by the emblematic nature of what I was doing.

It was like a long writing project, messy and marked by fits and starts, with each circle about the yard another unfinished draft.

It was like a political campaign, full of urging and persuasion in an attempt to unite a hopelessly unwieldy and discordant group as one.

It was like a poker tournament, the gathering of those first few chips only a tiny step toward the ultimate and seemingly unfathomable goal of collecting every last one.

Eventually I stopped for the day, feeling as though I’d struck a deal with the yard allowing me to take off the harness for now. I walked back to the house, noticing the wind blowing as I did -- signaled, of course, by the leaves rustling and breaking free from branches overhead.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Charting and Graphing the 2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table

Darrel Plant who writes the Mutant Poker blog has a couple of nifty items over on the PokerNews Strategy section this week to which I wanted to draw your attention.

One is a post detailing all of the many times 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Martin Jacobson pushed all in on the first day of the final table (when they played down from nine players to three).

If you recall, Jacobson entered the final table eighth in chips out of final nine, and thus had few options early on besides open-shoving or reraising all in. Even after he’d accumulated some chips, he slipped back down under 10 big blinds again at one point and so had to revert back to a push-or-fold strategy.

Darrel goes through all 19 instances (!) of Jacobson going all in on that first day of the final table, sorting out what his equity would have been every time had opponents called (which by and large they did not). Check it out: “Pushing His Way to a WSOP Main Event Title: A Look at Martin Jacobson’s All-Ins.”

Darrel’s other piece this week is a groovy graph showing chip movement throughout the 328 hands of the final table, complete with annotations highlighting knockouts, double-ups, and other important moments along the way.

That’s a small version of the graph up above -- to see the big one in all its colorful glory, check out “Graphing the Changing Chip Stacks at the 2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table.”

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

WSOP Final Table Ratings

Saw over on Wicked Chops Poker today a short piece about the TV ratings for last week’s Main Event marathon on ESPN’s networks.

Interesting to read how the ratings on Monday night were actually up from a year ago and down only marginally on Tuesday when they played down from three-handed to a winner.

As the “Entity” notes for the second night it was kind of a “worst-case scenario” as far as the U.S. audience was considered with a Swede, Norwegian, and a Dutchman comprising the final trio, although I’d guess numbers wouldn’t have moved too markedly even if an American had still been in the hunt.

Also interesting to read how both the World Poker Tour shows (which I sometimes catch) and the Heartland Poker Tour ones (which I don’t know if I’ve ever seen) are doing okay, too, in terms of maintaining their audiences. WCP believes all of this points to greater promise for TV poker, and that “over the second half of this decade, there will be more, not less, poker on TV.”

I don’t know if I’m quite as optimistic, but I’d certainly like to see such a future play out. Also wouldn’t mind seeing a little more variety with poker TV, if possible, which may or may not figure into a strategy for maintaining or increasing viewship.

In any event after losing interest and becoming distracted from the whole run-up to the November Nine, I did enjoy the comprehensive coverage of the finale (as I mentioned last week), and so am glad a decent number of others appear to have, too.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Fill of Phil

Phil Hellmuth recently appeared as a guest on Rounders co-scriptor Brian Koppelman’s “The Moment” podcast which is part of the Grantland “pop culture” category of content.

I’d heard something about the appearance, but hadn’t got around to listening. Then after all of the ruckus regarding Daniel Colman’s comment in a Two Plus Two thread about the show calling Hellmuth -- or, at least, “people of his attitude and character” -- “a cancer to this world,” I decided to dial it up, perhaps to listen and weigh in here about it.

Hellmuth is no doubt a fascinating character in poker. He’s also one of a very few in the game known to non-players or casual observers of the game and its subculture.

Occasionally I’ll get asked about him by those who’ve seen his antics on television. “Is he really such a jerk?” the question usually goes. I can’t really answer without lots of qualifications. Yes, I’ll say, he’s awful at the tables. But those who know him best insist he’s a “good guy.” And he’s also highly diverting for those of us who report on tourneys, always adding an extra layer of entertainment (for better or worse) to what can sometimes be plodding proceedings.

I don’t go deeper into Hellmuth’s troubling association with UltimateBet or other possible marks against him. Or for him, for that matter.

I’ve written here before about my ambivalence toward the Poker Brat. A couple of years ago there was a lot of talk following his 13th bracelet win (in the WSOP Europe Main Event) that perhaps the WSOP would be signing him up in some capacity to represent the brand and/or the (then still-to-come) online site.

Some seemed weirdly enthusiastic about such a possibility, but I wasn’t. Referring both to his UB/Cereus past and consistently poor behavior at the tables, I concluded “the WSOP could do much, much better than to hire the world’s whiniest winner and poker’s poorest sport” as a representative.

All of which probably explains why I couldn’t even get through the first half-hour of Koppelman’s podcast, during which Hellmuth…

  • shares details regarding his extensive charity work,
  • suggests that he’s earned everything he’s got in poker without being backed,
  • insists “the only place to measure poker greatness is by bracelets won,”
  • brags “I’ve crushed people in the mixed games” and “I’m the biggest winner on Poker Night in America,”
  • notes how everyone respects him and he gets along with everybody,
  • laments how he missed out on a big contract with an online site worth $20 million-ish when Black Friday arrived,
  • drops names (including Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton),
  • reports “I’m under siege for autographs everywhere I go,”
  • and also -- repeatedly -- explains that he’s never cheated on his wife despite having had opportunities to do so.
  • Koppelman does gamely try during that opening blast to dig beneath the surface a little, and perhaps he gets there later on. But I found it too much of a struggle to give another moment to “The Moment,” having heard enough PR from PH to last a while.

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    Monday, November 17, 2014

    UP Goes Down

    Sour news to end last week with the announcement from Ultimate Poker they were folding for good. Brings to mind how often it seems those players who show up early for tournaments and get seated first end up being among the first to be eliminated.

    I’m looking at the website this evening the front page of which doesn’t even reflect the fact that UP is done. There’s the notice to New Jersey players, first posted less than two months ago to announce Ultimate Poker was leaving the Garden State, but one has to dig around a little to learn that the Nevada games ended today, withdrawals can be made as usual for the next week, and any remaining player balances will be refunded by check thereafter.

    The New Jersey pull-out had seemed primarily consequent to the troubles of Trump Taj Mahal Associates, the land-based casino with which UP had partnered up. Details of “multiple breaches” of their agreement on the part of the Trump group -- not the least of which being TTMA’s owing UP’s parent company some significant cabbage -- all colored that move as unsurprising and not necessarily indicative of Ultimate’s shutdown being imminent.

    That said, the prospects for Ultimate in Nevada were hardly rosy. The front page of the website not being updated to reflect the latest news seems kind of emblematic, in fact, of the feeling of stasis that has characterized Ultimate Poker pretty much from the get-go.

    The news caused me over the weekend to look back at what I posted here on April 30, 2013, the day Ultimate Poker dealt its first hand in Nevada. Seems hard to believe that was only a little over a year-and-a-half ago, but as often happens in “poker time” things move quickly. And for UP, it all moved much too quickly, and mostly in the wrong direction.

    In that post I was hopeful for UP, if not overly optimistic. My main concern then was that the site successfully operate “minus the scandals and other problems that became such a conspicuous part of our previous experience with online poker here in the States.”

    It did that, I suppose -- the fact that the funds in all of the 25,000 NV accounts with money in them will be reclaimed (as the UP account tweeted) is a kind of faint silver lining. But as the tweets and forum posts have been spelling out in bits and pieces, while there was an adherence to the regulations that permitted the site to serve U.S. customers, the company’s management perhaps wasn’t quite as disciplined.

    Terrence Chan’s thoughtful “post-mortem” video blog provides insight along those lines. Posts by “Union of the Snake” on 2+2 (here and here) provide some interesting reading as well, with the points made corresponding closely to those made by a “wise man” on a certain podcast just a few days before, one regular listeners know more often than not opens with an ’80s ear worm.

    The slow-moving story of Online Poker 2.0 in the U.S. will continue pretty much as it had even when Ultimate Poker was still sitting short-stacked at a table full of short stacks. But the inauspicious launch and fall of the first to the table can’t be much of a source of encouragement for those still in the game.

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    Friday, November 14, 2014

    Newhouse’s Ninth (Second Movement)

    Back in mid-July when I was churning out preview articles during the World Series of Poker Main Event, I noted before the start of Day 4 how of the 746 players remaining, the only November Niner from 2013 left in the field was Mark Newhouse.

    I made a reference in that day’s preview to Dan Harrington’s back-to-back final tables in 2003 and 2004, stubbornly suggesting the possibility that Newhouse could be the first since then to achieve the feat despite his being 131st of the 746 in the counts. I was as amazed as everyone else to see him sticking around through the next three days’ worth of poker -- even leading at the end of Day 5 with 79 left -- to make it to the final table again.

    In 2013 he was eighth of nine to start the final table, and so his ninth-place finish wasn’t too unexpected. This year he was third in chips with nine to go, encouraging most to expect a deeper run.

    On Monday night he’d suffer a setback in Hand #44 versus Andoni Larrabe. In that one Newhouse held pocket eights, but lost after Larrabe turned a set with his pocket fives -- a hand nicknamed “presto,” also the tempo performance direction of the second movement of Beethoven’s ninth.

    As it would happen, Newhouse would choose a speedy pace thereafter in what would prove his final hand.

    Newhouse would get back what he lost to Larrabe and then some right away, chipping back to 23.7 million (47 BBs) just a few hands before his showdown with William Tonking in Hand #56.

    I’d been following the updates on PokerNews beforehand, and so knew when watching the hand develop what was about to happen. Was still suspenseful to see play out, though, in that oh-no-don’t-go-in-there-that’s-where-the-boogeyman-is kind of way. Particularly during the 10-second interval between Tonking’s river check and Newhouse’s fateful shove.

    Newhouse had another middle pair -- pocket tens -- in the hand, and would bust in ninth when Tonking called his shove holding pocket queens. As it would happen, Martin Jacobson would be holding two tens as well in the hand that won him the bracelet a night later.

    Jonathan Grotenstein has written an entertaining account of the final table for All In that touches on Newhouse’s story (among others). He notes the contrast between the extensive preparation of the other Niners over the last four months and the hiatus from poker taken by Newhouse, a time spent “doing his best not to think about anything at all.”

    Speaking with several non-poker playing friends the last few days about what happened in the Main Event, Newhouse’s story is the easiest one to foreground. That would be true even if he weren’t from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, making his story kind of a “local” story, too.

    Chapel Hill’s Mark Newhouse stunned after early elimination at World Series of Poker” went the headline in The Charlotte Observer. The article describes him as “the man who said he wanted to finish anywhere but ninth,” though doesn’t mention that incredible-in-retrospect tweet from Newhouse from back in July (see left).

    I tell my friends about how remarkable it was for Newhouse to make the final nine of 6,352 one year then do it again in a field of 6,693 the next, never mind to finish ninth both times. Searching for analogies to help describe going out first at the final table both years, I reach initially for the Buffalo Bills’ four straight Super Bowl defeats, another example of an incredible achievement ending in defeat. Or the Patriots going 18-0 and then losing Super Bowl XLII.

    But neither seems quite right as a comparison. Newhouse’s second straight ninth-place finish in the WSOP Main Event is a unique feat, a wonder highlighting poker’s capacity not only to provide us with a head-spinning number of possible outcomes but sometimes also to produce the one result that would seem the least likely of all.

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    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table Hole Cards (Complete)

    As I did in 2012 and 2013, I’ve once more gone through the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event to chronicle all of the hole cards shown during ESPN’s broadcast. Unlike in the past, you can find this year’s list over on PokerNews in a handy table form with the added bonus of links to each of the hand reports. I have also added the players’ positions, something I didn’t do in past years.

    Here it is: “Complete List of All Hole Cards Shown During the 2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table.”

    This year ESPN handled the hole card thing a little differently, although some may not have realized it. In the past they’d only show hole cards after a hand completed, and only of the players who were still in the pot at the very end. This time they’d show cards whenever a player entered a pot voluntarily from the start of the hand.

    Thus there was no guesswork when watching the hands regarding what cards players held, which changed the nature of the commentary quite a bit. I saw a lot of divisive commentary on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday nights about Antonio Esfandiari’s analyses. While I only listened to it in bits and pieces as I gathered hands today, I’m gonna say he, Lon McEachern, and Norman Chad all acquitted themselves just fine once again on that front -- a very challenging task, really.

    While there could be errors in my list -- there were 328 hands all told -- I think it’s likely more accurate than my lists from the past two years, in part because I was able to use both my DVR recording and some backup from WatchESPN online to help with a few hands my recording didn’t catch. If you can believe it, I actually used an old school VCR before, which made putting the list together a lot more taxing.

    Anyhow, I hope the list will be of use to some looking to analyze more deeply the play at the 2014 WSOP ME final table. Excuse me now if I step away from the keyboard for a while, as my fingers are tired and brain is a big bowl of mush at the moment.

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    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 4 -- Turn 21, Win a WPT

    The last day of the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble was an enjoyable one, with Eric and I doing the hand-for-hand updates of the final table eventually won by Ryan Van Sanford who’d just turned 21 back on Saturday.

    This was a televised tournament, meaning they had the whole crew there including Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, and Lynn Gilmartin shooting all of the on-site footage that’ll end up going into the broadcast some months from now. That’s a shot of the trophy presentation above, with the WPT cup on which they etch the names of the champs appearing about as big as Van Sanford.

    Van Sanford had the chip lead going into the final table, and among the final six definitely appeared one of the stronger players left. I’d also pegged Jason Helder as a likely candidate to win, although he ran into series of really unfortunate hands during the first two levels -- e.g., flopping two pair versus a set, flopping trips and chopping with an opponent who had the same hand, running pocket queens into pocket aces -- that made it hard for him to avoid going out in fifth.

    Got a chance to talk to Helder some in the airport this morning who’s a friendly guy and a good player. He’s had some success over recent years including a dozen WSOP cashes and a final table, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him showing up at more final tables sooner than later.

    Despite his age, Van Sanford has also racked up a number of cashes this year playing in Florida where you can play poker if you’re 18 or older. I didn’t really talk to him too much -- just a brief chat about a hand once -- but he struck me as very mature for his age. I also heard other players saying the same at the tables, including Mike Gracz and Jacob Bazeley who were making a similar comment to him as they got down to the last 18 or so.

    On the dinner break the night before the final table I was sitting for awhile with Van Sanford and Farhan Madhani, the latter being another strong player who ended up finishing seventh in the tournament after clashing in a big hand with Van Sanford before going out (the one I’d asked Van Sanford about, in fact).

    I liked overhearing Madhani giving Van Sanford good advice about handling things going forward, especially if he were to go on to win (as he did). Very cool, I thought, for a guy with more experience to help out another like that.

    As I say, covering the final table was fun and as always it’s kind of a marvel to watch the WPT crew in action as they create all of the materials on the fly that will be put together in the edited show later. The fan boy in me can’t help but enjoy seeing Sexton and Van Patten seated over to the side -- just as they appear on the show -- delivering their commentary in bits and pieces along the way. It’s all impressive to watch, and highly entertaining as well.

    Speaking of watching poker, I did get back in the hotel room in time to watch the finish of the WSOP Main Event and Martin Jacobson’s remarkable win. I’d actually picked Jacobson despite his eighth-place stack going in, and he obviously had to withstand some risky spots on Monday night in order to get chips with which to battle. But once he did, “MJ” was certainly playing above the rim the whole way, and emerges as a most deserving winner.

    I managed to DVR all of it and so will likely have more to say about the November Nine once I get to sit down and watch it. Meanwhile, as much fun as Jacksonville was, I’m looking forward to getting back home. More to come this week from the farm.

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    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 3 -- Same Old Gold

    Have a couple of quick highlights from yesterday’s Day 3 of the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble to share.

    They played down from 27 to six players yesterday, starting at noon and winding up right around 10 p.m. to make it an much earlier finish than we had the first three days here.

    Ryan Van Sanford of Fort Lauderdale ended the night with the chip lead. I knew Van Sanford was young, and likely the youngest of the final 27 when play began. Heard someone say he was just 21 at one point, confirming that suspicion. Then at the end of the night when the final tablists filled out their bio sheets I learned he only turned 21 last Saturday. Couldn’t help but reflect a little after that on where I was back in late 1993 (i.e., in grad school already).

    Jamie Gold ended up making it to the final two tables before going out in 16th place. Again, as I was noting yesterday, there was lots of table talk from Gold and other evidence to support what Christian Harder tweeted earlier in the event when referring to Gold: “He played and talked exactly like he did when he won the WSOP.”

    Again, it was a kind of uncanny watching Gold perform, given how strongly it was echoing the behavior most of us saw back during the 2006 WSOP coverage. There were pretty much all of the same antics that both make watching the game more interesting but also drive some of the players kind of nuts with the way he pushes the boundaries of angle-shooting and rule-testing.

    Early yesterday I noticed him frequently saying “nice hand” whenever an opponent showed any resistance on an early street. That is, he wasn’t saying it after a hand completed, but during it, such as when he would bet the flop and an opponent would call. No idea what effect it was having on other players, but as a reporter it was jarring to keep hearing the phrase at the wrong moment like that when following the action.

    There was one fun hand that saw Gold fold on the turn in the face of an all-in shove from Harvey Vandeven. His fold was preceded by a lot of anguished talk as he revolved his hole cards in his hand, exposing them for those who were curious (which would warrant a penalty), though not exactly showing them. He also was saying what he held, though again, not exactly.

    Finally he folded, showing he indeed had what he was indicating he had. Then Vandeven showed one of his cards to reveal Gold was ahead when he folded, and that produced a lot of merriment at the table and some good-natured congratulations from Gold. Here’s the hand report, if you’re curious.

    He’s a character, all right. Definitely possesses what on the surface appears to be a lot of humility about himself and his game, yet his words and actions are often so ambiguous its hard to know what’s sincere and what isn’t. In any case, he added some extra entertainment to what has already been a pretty fun tournament thus far. (Photo of Gold above by Joe Giron.)

    Harder ended up getting all of the way to the final 10 before running pocket queens into not one but two players holding pocket aces. Before the community cards were dealt, Jason Helder cracked that it would be funny if Harder’s opponents made a set, and Harder quick-wittedly replied that he was pulling for that to happen (as it would mean a fouled deck).

    Others making deep runs included another blast-from-the-past of sorts, Mike Gracz (who finished 11th), Jacob Bazeley (15th), David Diaz (18th), Darryll Fish (21st), Shannon Shorr (26th), and Anthony Zinno (27th).

    They don’t start back until 4 p.m. today, so you can check over at the WPT site beginning then for updates to see if Van Sanford wins. I’m going to assume he’d be a youngest-ever WPT champion -- I believe Nick Schulman won one at 21, too -- but I don’t know for sure.

    We’ll probably be edging toward a conclusion by the time the WSOP Main Event picks back up tonight three-handed. I did end up watching some of that last night -- getting back in the room just in time to see Newhouse’s incredible bustout in ninth again. I’ll probably write more about that later in the week after I return, but for now my attention points back to the bestbet Jacksonville for one more day.

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    Monday, November 10, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 2 -- Chip in the Box

    Day 2 at the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble was a marathon of a day, lasting from noon until after 2 a.m. They played from 161 players down to 27, with Jason Helder who ended the Day 1 flights with the chip lead still the pace-setter with a leading stack.

    Jamie Gold is among those still in the hunt, too. In fact he was the first player to get to 1 million chips yesterday before coming back to the pack by night’s end. He again was the source of a lot of table talk and interaction, making things a degree more interesting for the observer than is usually the case. Can’t speak to how his presence and behavior affected others who were playing with him, but most seemed to roll with it.

    I was writing about reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 on the way here, a time-travel story. Indeed, there’s a “time travel” feel to watching Gold here doing all the same things we saw him doing back in 2006 during his Main Event run.

    Daniel Strelitz (54th), Zo Karim (49th), last year’s “Scramble” winner Jared Jaffee (47th), Matt Jarvis (45th), Mohsin Charania (44th), John Racener (39th), former NFL player Richard Seymour (37th), and last year’s third-place “Scramble” finisher Margo Costa (33rd) were among those cashing yesterday.

    Probably the most memorable moment yesterday came shortly after they’d reached the money. Matt Jarvis was actually the shortest stack in the room with 55 left, and only 54 paid. But he survived into the money, then shortly after had won a pot that saw the dealer sweeping chips afterwards to him seated next to him in Seat 1.

    The dealer got a little too close to the jackpot box in between them with the move, and a chip found its way into the box which led to a lot of hilarity and a little consternation as there wasn’t a key handy to get in there to retrieve it. (See pic above by the great Joe Giron.)

    In fact, it wasn’t clear at the time if just one chip fell in or perhaps more, and so when play continued while a key was fetched and Jarvis got involved in a hand, that created a somewhat intriguing situation. You can read about “Jarvis and the Jackpot Box” here.

    Gonna close it here as Day 3 is already almost here. Check the WPT site for updates today in between tuning into the November Nine and following the PokerNews coverage of that tonight.

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    Sunday, November 09, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 1b -- Scrambling from the Start

    These last two days have been two of the more enjoyable Day 1s I can remember covering in a poker tournament. There are a lot of factors leading me to say that, among them getting to work with great folks including a friendly and cooperative venue staff. Again, though -- as I mentioned yesterday -- having these bounties made the early stage of the tournament much more interesting both for the players and those covering them. And the “chip leader bonus” for the end-of-day leader once more provided a lot of excitement as things wound down, too.

    To clarify, there were a total of 40 bounties worth $2,500 assigned to particular players, some more than once after they busted and re-entered. There was also a $5,000 prize given to the player ending Day 1a with the chip lead, then another $5K for the Day 1b leader. The money for those prizes didn’t come from the prize pool, by the way.

    The bestbet Jacksonville also ran a ton of satellites for the $5K event, which definitely helped boost the numbers. Ultimately they drew 461 entries, which to be honest was probably about twice what I thought it would be before coming down here. Thus they’ve more than doubled the $2 million guarantee.

    I mentioned excitement at the end of the night yesterday associated with the “chip leader bonus.” Several players were bunched around the 280,000-chip mark, and in fact 2006 WSOP Main Event champion Jamie Gold -- with whom I ended up chatting a few times during the day -- was one of them. Then on one of the very last hands of the night there was a set over set over set situation (no shinola) that resulted in Corey Hochman surging up to 324,000 to end the day with the lead to win the prize.

    Gotta run as play is soon starting again. Check over at the WPT site for updates on Day 2 today where 161 players return, 15 of them bounties.

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    Saturday, November 08, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 1a -- Bountiful Action

    Just gonna share a couple of quick thoughts about the first Day 1 flight of the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble in Jacksonville that played out on Friday.

    One is to remark on how big the field was for Day 1a, with 196 entries altogether. That was way more than what I was expecting to see, given that a year ago I was here for a $3,500 buy-in event that had 358 entries total. Didn’t really think a $5,000 buy-in event was going to exceed that for a turnout, but such looks likely now.

    This one has a $1 million guarantee, which had suggested 200 players was a mark that would likely be met but didn’t necessarily indicate anything too far above that. But apparently they ran tons of satellites at the bestbet Jacksonville over recent days, with more than 100 winning seats that way. There are other cool things about the event -- besides the especially inviting atmosphere of the large poker room and the great staff -- that I think helped, too.

    Those other cool things comprised the other remark I wanted to make, actually. I mentioned earlier this week the “bounties” in play for this event. More than 30 players are being designated as such, with $2,500 prizes going to the players who knock them out. That money is coming from the bestbet, not the prize pool, and is paid right there at the table in cash.

    That added some extra fun to Day 1a, when 21 bounties were playing and I believe nine or so were knocked out by night’s end. It made following the action interesting right from the start -- which as a longtime tourney reporter I can say is unusual for a Day 1 -- while also creating some intriguing situations as far as decisions made in hands, both by the players seeking to collect bounties and the bounty players as well.

    Also adding some interest at the end of the night was the “chip leader bonus” of $5,000 awarded to the player ending Day 1a with the lead. (The same bonus will be in play today for Day 1b.)

    It was a tight race right up until the tourney clock was stopped with 10 minutes to go and the announcement made that seven more hands would be played. I went around and noted five players -- Jason Helder, Shannon Shorr Jonathan Little, Mohsin Charania, Jared Jaffee -- all sitting either a little over 200,000 or just below that mark. “It’s going to be close!” I wrote excitedly in the WPT blog.

    Then came a massive hand in which Helder knocked out Sean Winter -- a bounty, in fact, earning him $2,500 -- that catapulted him way up over 350,000, and he ended up finishing with just over 400,000, well clear of everyone else and easily enough to earn him the $5K.

    Like I say, these Day 1s usually aren’t so interesting, but the bounties, re-entries, and the “chip leader bonus” all helped make it more fun to follow. Will be back over there today, so check in at the WPT site to see what kind of numbers and/or drama Day 1b provides.

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    Friday, November 07, 2014

    One Thing Leads To Another

    From the house to the car to the plane to the car to the hotel I went, and here I am. Again

    It was a super quick flight down to Jacksonville late yesterday afternoon. I think we weren’t in the air but for an hour at most, meaning it took much longer just getting to the airport and then again getting all squared away with the rental car to drive to my home-away-from-home for the next few days just down the road from the bestbet Jacksonville.

    I’m reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 on the Kindle currently, knocking out another portion of the lengthy book yesterday to close in on the finish. I read every King novel there was as a teenager, meaning everything up through Pet Sematary (including the Bachman books), I think, then didn’t pay too much attention to his fiction thereafter, although I did enjoy his book about writing. Kind of like digging a band’s early records as a young person, then leaving off after both you and the band get older.

    You might remember I was talking about rereading Don Delillo’s Libra on a trip back in the spring, another speculative fiction about the Kennedy assassination. Since the 50th anniversary almost a year ago, I’ve gotten myself kind of hooked on JFK-related materials, including the endless trove of videos on YouTube both about the assassination and its coverage and all of the aftermath, theories, and other ephemera. An event the elusive truth of which will always be more head-spinning than any fiction that treats it.

    King’s book isn’t nearly as “literary” as Delillo’s, of course, although it’s kept me turning the pages. I like much of it thus far, and have even found a couple of moments quite moving (particularly early on). The time-travel conceit is interestingly handled, encouraging a lot of “What would I do?” kind of thinking along the way.

    Perhaps because the main character is an English teacher, I’m identifying with him a bit more than I would otherwise. That may also be a reason why I’ve found myself occasionally thinking along the way about how all forms of fictional storytelling -- and reading -- are kind of like “time travel” (and/or “place travel”), if you think about it.

    There are frequent references to the butterfly effect as this 2011 man wanders about during the late 1950s and early 1960s, a concept that often occurs to us during poker tournaments where every action has at least a small effect on everything else. There’s also some gambling here and there as the protagonist places some bets on the World Series and other sporting events -- sure things, because he actually does know their outcomes.

    I’m eager to finish the book, but will have to set it down for the next few days as I’m again going to be working some long ones as the WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble plays out. I’ll be stopping in here to add a few tidbits about that story over the next few days, too.

    Such is the chain of circumstance I find myself following, one that I control only somewhat.

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    Thursday, November 06, 2014

    Going South

    Writing in a hurry -- again -- as I’m gathering up what I need for this quick trip down to Jacksonville for the WPT event at the bestbet. Will be there for the next few days including while the November Nine is happening early next week, so I expect as that tourney is winding down I’ll likely have an eye on the PokerNews live updates and perhaps ESPN, too, if there’s a television screen nearby showing it.

    Not quite sure what to expect in terms of numbers for this $5K buy-in event. Here are the event details, if you’re curious. It looks like another one of those with unlimited re-entries plus a couple of starting flights. Additionally there’s that little-used option to play both Day 1s and then carry only one’s best stack forward (should a player survive both Day 1 flights).

    Darrel Plant wrote an interesting article on “The Economics of ‘Best Stack Forward’ Tournaments” for PokerNews a few weeks ago, concluding that if players were compensated in some way for abandoned stacks (as happens sometimes) that strategy could be profitable, though I don’t believe it really can be otherwise. (I don’t believe this tourney will award any cash for abandoned stacks.)

    This past spring there was a $3,500 WPT event at the bestbet that drew 258 entries, and a year ago I was there for the last WPT bestbet Scramble that was also a $3,500 buy-in tourney for which there were 358 entries all told.

    Should be a smaller group for this one, I’d imagine. There is a $1 million guarantee on the prize pool, making 200 entries the goal to exceed. There are some $2,500 bounties on selected players as well as that $5K chip leader bonus for the players ending Day 1a and 1b on top, a couple of elements that should add a little excitement during the early stages.

    As I mentioned, I’ll check in here when I can along the way. Will talk to you again from F-L-A.

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    Wednesday, November 05, 2014

    Scrambling Before the Scramble

    Was starting to look like “one of those days” early on yesterday. In the end, though, it turned out thankfully unremarkable (if you don’t count what happened in the U.S. Senate, that is).

    First off went to my local polling place to try to vote and discovered I was unable to. I suspected I might run into difficulty given that I’d only mailed in my new registration a couple of weeks ago, and I think the cutoff for getting that sucker in was 25 days out.

    Having moved to the farm about 10 months back, I’m in a new county now and so have to change my voter registration in order to vote here. But since it has been too long since I lived at my last address, I couldn’t go back and vote where I used to before. There might actually have been a way for me to vote yesterday, but after wasting an hour on it I had too much work to do to look into it any further, so unfortunately my efforts were thwarted there.

    After that excursion I ran an errand to pick up some items for the horses, but there was no one there and so that turned out to be a wasted trip as well. I drove back home, and upon arrival discovered I’d locked myself out of the house with another six hours or so to go before Vera got back home.

    Not good, I thought. Thankfully, though, Vera was able to save me from an afternoon of grazing with the horses, and I didn’t have to lose all those hours, work-wise.

    Am scrambling around trying to get a lot of things done before I take off tomorrow for a relatively short tourney trip down to Jacksonville. There I’ll be helping cover the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble, a $5,000 tourney with two starting days, $2,500 bounties on select players, and a $5,000 “chip leader bonus” for Days 1a and 1b.

    I had fun at the Jax bestbet a year ago where the venue is nice and inviting and the staff great, too. Will do what I can to provide the occasional reports here as it goes, although I imagine like with LAPT Peru last month all I’ll likely be able to manage will be a few quick hits along the way.

    I will be in Jacksonville during the November Nine, as this event’s final table will be next Tuesday when that will be finishing up. I might see if I can figure out how to DVR all that to see it after I return, but I won’t be there watching every hand this time as I have the last few years.

    Travel day tomorrow, then more to come from the Sunshine State after that. Here’s hoping all goes as smoothly as things turned out today despite the rocky start.

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    Tuesday, November 04, 2014

    Fantasy Draft and Relying on (Andrew) Luck

    If you read this blog you might follow me on Twitter, and if you follow me on Twitter we might follow a lot of the same people, meaning you very likely saw all of the poker pros and others tweeting about this $20K freeroll that happened over the weekend on this new Fantasy Draft website which is still in a “beta” stage and not quite up and running.

    I’ve written here before about how fantasy sports don’t exactly grab my interest, but like almost 2,200 others I decided to sign up and create a team for this past weekend’s NFL games in order to take a shot at the free cabbage due to go to the top 300 finishers.

    In truth what was being awarded was “fantasy cash,” not actual scratch, which I assume is money that can’t be withdrawn but which can be used to play in future tournaments (once the site starts having them).

    The site is actually very slick and easy to navigate, and it was easy enough to follow how things were going with my team on Sunday as the games played out. There are obviously some elements that are still in development, but I’ll confirm the site is simple enough for a relatively untutored fantasy sports player like myself to be plenty inviting.

    I had loaded up on some players in the Monday night game -- specifically Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and a couple of his receivers -- and so was sitting only in the middling range after Sunday’s games were over. But thankfully Luck had a big night versus the Giants, both my receivers caught TDs, and I grabbed enough points to make it into the money to earn $20 of “fantasy” cheddar. Was nice to win something, at least, as my Pigskin Pick’em entry this year is pretty much in shambles -- not quite #LOLJets bad, but close.

    We’ll see how things go with the site once it gets going for real, but if you’re curious about it you can sign up for an account by clicking here. Links to the site from this post contain my referral code, and it’s clear referrals are part of the overall strategy for the site -- a strategy that seems to be working somewhat well so far, actually, considering how many people already seem to be on it without the games having gone live yet.

    Still much prefer performing risk/reward calculations on flops, turns, and rivers than attempting the same with yards gained, receptions completed, and points scored. Feels a lot like making those WSOP predictions I was referring to yesterday -- a lot of shots in the dark.

    But given how fantasy sports are wholly legal here in the U.S. while online poker continues to be much less available, I might have to get over my aversion to the fantasy thing and figure out a way to make it palatable to me.

    Winning in freerolls is a start.

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    Monday, November 03, 2014

    PokerNews Predictions for the November Nine

    There’s a new article over on PokerNews sharing predictions of staff and contributors for next week’s November Nine which gets underway a week from today. Kind of a fun way to remind yourself who the final nine players are and some of the stories that’ll be in play when things get going again (finally).

    I participated in something similar at the start of this year’s WSOP when we made some predictions for the series. Can’t say mine were all that remarkable, although it’s kind of interesting to look back and compare all the prognostications with what actually happened.

    Looking back, none of us picked George Danzer to win this year’s WSOP Player of the Year. Several of us (including myself) said Ole Schemion would be the newcomer with the biggest impact (he didn’t cash).

    I said neither Phil Ivey nor Daniel Negreanu would win a bracelet, and Ivey snagged one while Negreanu nearly won two (getting two runner-ups). I did say “three final tables between them,” though, which turned out to be correct.

    When asked to guess the total number of entrants in the Main Event, I went a little high (7,039). Brett Collson got closest to the actual total of 6,683 by guessing 6,700.

    None of us guessed correctly who would win the “Big One for One Drop.” Meanwhile I got a couple of easy ones, guessing that neither Chris Ferguson nor Howard Lederer would be playing any events and selecting Michael Mizrachi as a “big-name pro” who would have a disappointing series (he had two small cashes).

    Among this new set of predictions, I chose Martin Jacobson to win despite being eighth in chips entering the final table. I also decided on 295 hands as the number needed to complete the final table with 71 hands of heads-up. And for a “bold prediction” I said two players would get knocked out on one hand.

    Head over and see the whole list of questions and what everyone else came up with in the way of answers.

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