Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last Post of the Year

A quick one to round out 2014. I might do some sort of “year in review”-type post tomorrow when I have a little more time, but for now I just wanted to check in with a final thanks to all who continue to stop by here day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

One reason why my time is short today is that Vera and I spent much of it putting the finishing touches on the fence we’ve been building on the “back forty” (something I’ve alluded to a couple of times already). We had wooden posts put in all around -- that above is a pic of the fellows hammering them home with the Bobcat -- then I pounded in the metal t-posts in between, added clips, and then strung up our braided poly-rope.

Was one of those jobs that initially looks very daunting, then becomes less impossible-seeming once you get started, then turns arduous when finally getting close to putting in those last posts. My arms felt like they were about to fall off by the end, making putting in that last post especially satisfying.

Has been another long year of posts here as well. Walking back through today, it looks as though this one makes 275 in all for 2014. Lot of miles traversed as well, with trips to Deauville, Niagara Falls, Viña del Mar, Montreal, Panama City, Lima, Jacksonville, and St. Kitts. (But no Las Vegas!)

Enjoy ringing out the old and ringing in the new, everybody!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Let’s Get Ridiculous

Last night Vera Valmore and I went to see the Charlotte Hornets play the Milwaukee Bucks.

Was our first game since the team dropped the Bobcats name to reclaim the old Hornets nick. Of course, we couldn’t help but be reminded of the Bobcats early on when Charlotte missed 16 straight shots in the first quarter (including several open, close-range ones) to fall behind by more than 20. They were down 17 at the half, then finally hit a few and made some stops to cut the lead to seven after three.

They then completed the comeback in the fourth to take the lead by two during the final minute, but the Bucks tied it to send the game to OT. Sadly the Hornets appeared to have expended all of their energy making the comeback, and never competed in the extra period to lose by 10.

Our lower level seats were fantastic, though, and we enjoyed every minute of the game despite the frustrating performance of the home team. Time Warner Cable Arena was packed, too, and the fans were enjoying all of the noise and craziness during every timeout, including the constant firing of t-shirt cannons, parachutes dropping Xbox games (pictured below), the “Bongo Cam,” the dancing of the Honeybees (the Charlotte cheerleaders), the blaring of “Rock and Roll (Part 2),” the Rocky theme, and other anthems, and so on.

There was one sequence in which the soundtrack pounding through the timeout was Redfoo’s dance hit from last year “Let’s Get Ridiculous,” which prompted a lot of fun silliness on the big screen. Heck, whenever bald-headed Bucks coach Jason Kidd would walk out on the floor amid the Honeybees and pulsating beats, I thought for a moment I was watching a Pitbull video.

It’s almost odd, if you think about it, how the loudest cheers and greatest excitement for many at such events are not responses to the actual game, but to the extracurricular activities. Some talk about “sportifying” poker, but meanwhile sports are being turned into something other than what they once were (although I can’t come up with a clever gerund to describe it). Still fun, though, and there’s something undeniably cool about seeing lots of kids dancing and laughing their way through an evening out with the family.

Driving home Vera and I chose not to play the radio, enjoying the quiet after what had been two-and-a-half hours of nonstop sensory overload.

Games weren’t always that way. I thought a little about how the filling of every moment with music and distractions was like other aspects of our lives today where the constant checking of phones for Facebook or Twitter updates, channel-flipping, web-surfing, and so on leaves zero “down time” regardless of one’s activity.

Made me think as well about playing poker and the often pleasurable, unhurried rhythm of that game -- I’m referring primarily to live poker, although even online one doesn’t have to play 16 tables or “fast-fold” games or turbos all the time.

It’s fun to get ridiculous sometimes. Fun, too, to slow down once in a while.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

End-of-Year Lists

With the end of the calendar year come a lot of those “top ten stories”-type lists to help us realize just how poor our short term memories really are. Have seen several poker-related ones, including the countdown of story recaps currently appearing one per day over on PokerNews.

I cast a vote for that PN list, and in past years actually compiled similar lists on my own (e.g., for Betfair Poker). Not as easy as it looks.

Like “best of” rankings, Hall of Fame votes, and other such exercises, lists of a given year’s top stories are always subjective and thus open to criticism and debate. That’s because they not only reflect the various predilections of those making the selections, but the criteria being followed when designating what a “top story” is can be pretty amorphous, too.

Poker, for instance, is a game around which several different subcultures exist, groups that overlap in some ways but are distinct, too, and thus can have very different interests or concerns. For example, the divide between online poker and live poker was once larger than it is today, but there still exist many issues which only affect one or the other, thus making stories exclusively about one either highly important or nearly irrelevant depending on the audience.

Stories about online poker legislation, then, might rate high on some lists or fail to chart on others, depending on who’s doing the listing. Same goes for poker tournament results -- they directly affect many who play poker and are of special interest to fans and those who follow it, but they can be largely meaningless to many others.

Industry news including items about casinos and online sites can often be more significant than many players and/or fans realize, but those stories don’t always capture the public’s attention. Meanwhile cheating scandals and other untoward activities always draw lots of rubberneckers, but sometimes aren’t as important as they seem. And while there may not be as many “poker celebrities” diverting us today as there were a decade ago, the words and actions of certain players and others still fascinate some, thus getting those “Did you hear what he/she said/did?!” stories a lot of play.

Looking back a few years, in 2009 Phil Ivey making the WSOP Main Event final table while winning two other bracelets was a consensus pick for top story that year. In 2010, Michael Mizrachi’s $50K PPC win and final-table run topped a few lists, although Harry Reid’s late-year failed online poker bill got a lot of play in the rankings, too (even topping some lists).

In 2011, Black Friday was the unchallenged choice for top poker story by practically everyone. In 2012, the PokerStars-DOJ-FTP deal provided a significant sequel that many rated that year’s most important poker story. Last year Daniel Negreanu’s big year topped some lists, while the reintroduction of online poker in the U.S. headed others.

So what poker story tops your list for 2014?

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Friday, December 26, 2014

WSOP Guarantees Debate

The announcement of next year’s World Series of Poker dates came on December 23, just in time for this next week-and-a-half or so when the tournament poker circuit goes relatively quiet until the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure cranks up. Thus those who tend to give a lot of attention to the WSOP have plenty of down time right now to discuss and debate what was included in the presser.

I guess it didn’t matter much what the WSOP announced in its annual teaser -- that there would be criticism and debate was pretty much a guarantee, anyway.

The WSOP will run from May 27, 2015 through July 14, 2015, with the “November Nine” format for the Main Event again in place for an eighth straight year. There are a couple of new events listed, the most notable being a $565 buy-in tournament with a $5 million guarantee dubbed “The Colossus.” That one will have multiple starting flights and re-entries available (one per flight), and will come at the very beginning of the summer (starting May 29).

The Las Vegas Sun has reported that “organizers expect more than 13,000 entries” in the Colossus. I assume they’ll need at least 10,000 to meet that guarantee -- that will be more than sufficient to set a record as the largest field in a WSOP event ever.

Searching back through WSOP history, I think the last time there was an “open” bracelet event with less than a $1,000 buy-in -- i.e., not the Casino Employees event, the Ladies event, or the “Mixed Doubles” event they had for a few years -- was 1980 when there was a $500 seven-card stud event on the schedule. Even the Seniors event has always had a $1,000 buy-in.

Speaking of the Seniors event, the announcement mentions it will be returning again (along with the Ladies Championship), with another $1K buy-in “Super Seniors” event for players 65 and older also to be added this time around.

Other events returning include the “Millionaire Maker,” the “Monster Stack,” the “ONE DROP High Roller” (for $111,111), and the “Little One for ONE DROP,” all following previously employed formats. Also back is that first-place prize guarantee of $10 million for the Main Event winner, a decision which appears to have elicited the most fervent discussion among those chattering about the announcement in my Twitter feed.

As I recall, that idea to guarantee $10 million for the Main Event winner last year was tied to the WSOP celebrating its 10th year at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. It was in 2005 that the move from Binion’s to the Rio was made, although they did finish out the last couple of days of the Main Event back at Binion’s that year (when Joe Hachem won).

The connection to the 10th year anniversary made it seem as though the change to the payouts might only be a one-shot deal -- kind of like that $40K no-limit hold’em tournament added to the schedule back in 2009 that corresponded to the 40th year of the WSOP and wasn’t brought back again thereafter.

But the $10 milly first prize is back again. And now there is a lot of back-and-forthing going on about whether or not that’s a good or bad thing.

With that first-place prize guarantee in place a year ago, the overall turnout for the WSOP Main Event increased from 6,352 to 6,683, the first increase since 2010. While it’s hard to say how much the $10 milly up top mattered to those who entered without surveying them, it isn’t too much of a reach to think the WSOP saw some correlation and thus were encouraged to bring back the first-place prize guarantee.

According to the payout schedules the WSOP has been using over the last few years, the first-place prizes have typically been hovering around the $8.5 million range. In 2013, Ryan Riess won $8,359,232 for topping a field of 6,352; in 2012, Greg Merson won $8,531,853 for coming out on top of 6,598; in 2011, Pius Heinz earned $8,715,638 for winning a Main Event in which 6,895 played. Estimating a similar turnout in 2014 meant adding around $1.5 million then to eventual winner Martin Jacobson’s take-away.

That $1.5 million or so obviously was shaved off of what the other 692 players who made the money earned for their cashes. Second-place finisher Felix Stephensen won $5,147,911, approximately $150,000 less than he would have made according to the payout schedule used the year before. Meanwhile those who min-cashed the Main Event in 2014 earned $18,406, which I believe was a little under $1K less than they would have made via the old model (e.g., in 2011 when 693 also made the money the min-cashers made $19,359).

Those objecting to the $10-million-up-top idea are expressing doubts about the extent of it being a real selling point to would-be players, especially the non-pros. They are also criticizing the lessening of payouts for spots No. 2 through No. 693 (or whatever the total number of players cashing turns out to be in 2015). Some are petitioning for a payout schedule in which everyone making the final table would earn at least $1 million (something only possible according to the current structure if around 8,000 play the Main Event, I believe) and/or one in which the top 1,000 finishers get paid (which would obviously make it difficult also to have guarantees up top).

I can’t really pretend to feel all that passionately one way or the other on this one. I don’t play the Main Event, and while I have been reporting on it for many years now, the difference in payouts caused by the $10 million first-place guarantee doesn’t have much effect on the tourney’s narrative or the many reasons why it’s such a compelling event.

On the one hand, I’m not enthused about making the Main Event even more unlike other tournaments via a skewed payout structure. However, looking back at the history of the Main Event the payouts were pretty much always skewed in a similar way up until 2007 with the rounding off of first-place prizes, including many years (1991-1999) of making it $1 million regardless of the number of entrants. So arguing for “tradition” doesn’t really work for those opposed to the first-place guarantee.

Here’s a chart the WSOP put out showing how the payouts would work with variously-sized fields, and it shows how they need at least around 6,400 to play for second-place prize money to be greater than $5 million or half what the winner gets. The chart also shows the big problems that a steep decline in the turnout would create with that guarantee in place, making for a very top-heavy payout schedule.

Perhaps more than any other poker tournament, the WSOP Main Event highlights the divide between pros and amateurs (or recreational players) thanks to how much of the field is usually comprised of the latter. It is interesting how having the first-place prize guarantee seems for some to highlight this divide even more, and how it has drawn extra attention to the importance of keeping poker interesting and attractive to non-professionals (a subtext much of the debate thus far).

We’ll see how the conversation continues over the next 10 days until the PCA comes along to distract everyone.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Getting Creative with Card Games, and Remembering Benny Binion

Happy Xmas, all. Has been a busy day here running around seeing family, including my five-year-old nephew -- or “five-and-a-half!” as he points out -- who appeared to have the best day of all.

He and I continue to play cards whenever we get together, having now evolved from our default game of War into a new one of his invention. It’s kind of a version of concentration whereby he takes four cards (or sometimes five), shows them to me face up, then turns them over and slides them around rapidly as though he were a three-card monte hustler.

After a couple of minutes of that I was charged with guessing which was the highest card. If I’d been paying closing attention, I’d be able to pick out the ace or king (which was usually the highest one), although it wasn’t always easy to keep closely trained on the cards.

Before that we’d played some War, and even there my nephew was introducing variations. Same goes for the game of golf we played in the front yard with the plastic set I’d given him, where instead of trying to hit the ball into the little colored ring that represents the hole, he’d race around holding the golf balls instructing me to say “Yay!” at which point he’d drop them for me to strike them one by one.

Speaking of constantly wanting to tinker and innovate, you no doubt saw that announcement from the WSOP this week of the dates for next year’s Series, including a couple of interesting additions to the schedule. They’re also keeping some ideas from last year, too, about which I’ve seen a lot of debate over the last couple of days on my Twitter feed.

Today’s actually the 25th anniversary of the death of Lester Ben “Benny” Binion, who passed on December 25, 1989 at the age of 85. Among the many things Binion is remembered for, of course, is having been there along with his son, Jack, to start the WSOP at the Horseshoe back in 1970.

Was reading a little today from the oral history Binion provided to Mary Ellen Glass back in 1973, available in two parts over on the UNLV Center for Gaming Research website here and here.

“The poker game here gets us a lot of advertisement,” Binion explained then while making the oft-quoted claim that “seven thousand newspapers” had reported on the previous year’s Main Event which had drawn just seven players. “This year we had thirteen,” he goes on to say. “I look to have better than twenty next year. It’s even liable to get up to be fifty. Might get up to be more than that; it will eventually.”

“We improve it every year,” he adds. Such has, of course, become a mantra of sorts for those who now run the WSOP. Might write a little tomorrow about a couple of the ideas they’ve already shared regarding the 2015 WSOP. None are as radical as my nephew’s innovations, but they’re intriguing nonetheless.

Going for another mug of egg nog now, though. Hope that like my nephew you all got what you wanted this year.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Making a List and Checking It Twice

A quick holiday post here as Vera and I have plans today involving family, gift-giving, and turkey. In other words, it’s the usual, although this being the first Christmas on the farm we’re not going to stray too far away from our little red barn and four-legged friends who live there.

Am looking at a whole week coming up here where I’m largely free from my usual work assignments. Almost unsure how to handle such freedom from deadlines and obligations, although something tells me I’ll find ways to fill the time here on the farm, including finishing putting up that fence I mentioned yesterday.

The calendar is making me think back to previous years when I’d spend these last days of December doing a lot of final tabulating of my previous 12 months’ performance playing poker online. The whole year I would spend making a long list of how each session had gone, then these final days would be taken up with checking back over it.

I know I would often put more meaning into that final total for the year than I really should have, dividing it by day, week, and month, examining all the different trends and patterns, and subsequently using it as something against which to measure the coming year. Pros know that December 31 is an arbitrary cutoff point, but it’s hard for most of us to resist the year-over-year measuring of one’s poker progress.

Heck, it’s hard not to do similar self-evaluation about other things, too, when that last week of the year arrives. I guess having some time off allows our minds to wander in that direction a little more freely.

Today, though, I’m not going to worry too much about how things added up this year. The only counting I’ll be doing will be to keep track of how many horse cookies are left.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Catching Up with Kevmath

Spent the afternoon in the cold and wet, driving posts around the perimeter of the “back forty” as part of the new fence we are building back there.

The conditions are actually ideal, as the ground is soft and thus easier to breach with the tall, green metal T-posts I’m hammering down into them. Got about halfway around the sucker before the skies opened up for real, chasing me from the pasture and under cover.

Progress was made, however slowly, one post at a time. Kind of like this blog, I suppose, where I have been planting post after post after post for a good while now.

Listened to tunes for much of the time I was working, although early on I finished listening to the latest installment of the Thinking Poker podcast hosted by Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis. They’re up over 100 eps now, and this week after talking strategy for a while (as usual) they had Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers on as a guest.

On the show Kevin tells the story of how he first got involved in poker in the early 2000s, as well as the interesting path that led him to become known as the “answer guy” on Two Plus Two where he posted frequently and eventually became a moderator. It was a post-after-post-after-post life for Kevin, too, for several years before he finally found his way into poker media, eventually becoming the Manager of Poker Information for BLUFF.

Along the way Kevin tells about being interviewed by Tatjana Pasalic back in the fall of 2010, the first time a lot of us finally got to see him after years of interacting with him online. He also describes the experience of covering the 2011 WSOP for BLUFF. I remember getting to meet Kevin in the person for the first time that summer, although I knew him well before that. In fact, when listening to him talk about that interview with Tattytats I remembered having interviewed Kevin some months before for Betfair Poker.

I went searching for that interview today, but discovered it doesn’t appear to be on the Betfair Poker site anymore. So as a supplement to this week’s Thinking Poker podcast (and as a quick trip down memory lane), I thought I’d repost that interview here.

Thanks again, Kevin, for the interview! And thanks as well for everything else you do to for the poker community.

* * * * *
“Kevmath Adds It Up: A Chat with the Poker Forum Moderator”
[Originally published at Betfair Poker, 19 February 2010]

The internet provides endless opportunities for people with common interests -- like those of us who enjoy poker -- to find each other and swap stories, share information and strategy, and engage in other types of socializing. Just as the online game has affected how live poker is played, the internet as a whole has changed the way poker can function as an occasion for social interaction, too.

Online poker forums are one such example of a place where poker people can virtually mix and mingle, with those over at Two Plus Two being far and away the most popular choice for many.

I occasionally participate in the discussions over on 2+2, though when visiting I’m more likely to read than post. I tend to follow forums such as News, Views, and Gossip (or NVG), Beats, Brags, and Variance (BBV), Tournament Circuit, Internet Poker, Poker Legislation, Televised Poker, and Books and Publications. I’ll also occasionally stop in over in the Limit Hold’em section and Small Stakes PLO forum to eavesdrop on strategy talk, or goof around in the Other Topics section where one can easily waste a lot of time.

Like just about everyone who visits the 2+2 forums, I often run across contributions by the poster “Kevmath,” a.k.a. Kevin Mathers, a frequent poster and moderator at 2+2. Mathers can also be found posting from time to time over at the especially-informative Pokerati blog, and has additionally written articles for PokerNews. Last summer I had the chance to work a few times with Kevmath during the WSOP when he did some behind-the-scenes stuff to help out those of us who were reporting on the Series.

It only takes reading a few posts from “Kevmath” to recognize him as a highly reliable “answer man” when it comes to all things poker. As such, I thought he’d be a good person to field a few questions, both about 2+2 and the poker world in general.

Short-Stacked Shamus: What forums do you moderate over at 2+2?

Kevin Mathers: I moderate the TV poker forum, the Tournament Circuit/WSOP forums, and with others moderate News, Views, and Gossip (NVG).

SSS: NVG is the most popular, yes?

Kevmath: Yes, News, Views, and Gossip is considered “the forums” by most people, as that’s where most of the discussion of events going on in the poker world takes place. It’s a mish-mash of information from the poker media, public opinions, and other hilarity all rolled up into one central location.

SSS: What exactly is a moderator’s responsibility at 2+2?

Kevmath: Posters who make valued contributions to a particular forum are often considered for elevation to moderator status if they are interested. My role as one of the moderators is to help enforce the rules in the forum, and attempt to keep things in control without being too overbearing. NVG in particular generates a lot of traffic, and sometimes two or more people come up with the same idea for a thread, or someone decides to spam or post something really inappropriate. So it’s the moderator’s job to merge threads, delete threads that are just really stupid or inappropriate, or move them to a more appropriate forum.

SSS: Kind of like herding cats at times, I’ll bet.

Kevmath: Yeah, it’s often difficult to moderate effectively, as you’re trying to keep things as civil as possible without being too overbearing to those who are likely to be negative about a certain topic.

SSS: Poker forums -- and 2+2 in particular -- obviously play an important role in poker today. How would you characterize 2+2 forums’ contribution to poker?

Kevmath: 2+2 is great for just about everyone who has an involvement in poker. If you’re looking for strategy, there are plenty of forums dedicated to all forms of poker, and broken down even further by the stakes you’re playing. There are forums dedicated to major tournaments, as well as finding information on tournaments that are focused more towards players at a casino near them. Another large part of 2+2 are the many forums about topics unrelated to poker (sports, politics, business and investing, health and fitness, travel, Vegas, etc.).

SSS: What sort of topics tend to get the most attention? That is, which threads end up attracting the most posts and views?

Kevmath: Probably the monthly High Stakes threads, especially if someone who is unknown makes an appearance (Martonas, Isildur1, etc.). The latest antics of FullFlush, Hellmuth, Negreanu or any major poker professional also usually get a lot of looks.

SSS: What is the most memorable or significant thread since you joined 2+2?

Kevmath: Definitely the ones detailing the scandals at Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker (summarized in the UB sticky in NVG).

SSS: How about the funniest or most outrageous thread?

Kevmath: The funniest threads I’ve read have been the various photoshop threads that turn up in NVG, such as “If They Never Played Poker...“ or “French businessman in Bobby’s Room“ (a.k.a., the “Cyril” thread). Since I’m not as familiar with the strategy side of 2+2, I’d suggest readers to take a look at “The Best of Two Plus Two“ forum, which features several classic threads from across 2+2.

SSS: In what other ways do you follow the latest poker news?

Kevmath: I’m usually following the larger poker blogs, poker news sites, and stuff that turns up on my Twitter feed.

SSS: What are your thoughts about the current state of “poker media”?

Kevmath: Too often, the poker media appears to be more focused towards the sites that fund the magazine through their advertising, and avoid being too critical. Another part of poker media I’m not a fan of is the need to be the “exclusive” provider of live updates. While it helps draw traffic to the site, the updates often focus on a select group of players (e.g., people they know, etc.). When those players are gone, they’re struggling.

SSS: Okay, one last question... speaking of the media, what poker stories and/or issues do you foresee being the most written about and discussed in 2010?

Kevmath: The regulating of online poker worldwide, especially the U.S., will be a big one. It will be interesting also to see how the World Series of Poker will do without Jeffrey Pollack as Commissioner. Other stories to watch should include watching how PartyPoker does with the World Poker Tour, seeing whether PokerStars can continue their world domination of tournament poker with the new North American Poker Tour, and Annette Obrestad’s WSOP debut this summer. And whatever major scandal (real or perceived) may come to light.

Much thanks to Kevin Mathers for taking the time.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Gould, Segal, and Walsh Look Back at California Split 40 Years Later

I continue to include Robert Altman’s 1974 film California Split as one of the features I assign in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course. I’ve taught the course for several years now and have been including Split among the assignments since the beginning (along with The Cincinnati Kid, Rounders, and clips from about a dozen other films).

As anyone who has ever taught before well knows, whatever it is that comprises the subject matter of a class becomes a topic of intense study for the teacher, too. I’ve had the experience before of teaching certain texts dozens of times over, practically memorizing them as well as the various themes or ideas discussions about them tended to evoke.

The first few times teaching a given text typically require a lot of rereading (or rewatching in the case of a film), with the lecture notes going through a few drafts along the way as points get added and dropped. Usually, though, after teaching something several times the general shape of the conversation settles into a familiar groove, and while students might introduce new ideas or carry the conversation into unexpected places, as far as the text itself goes I’ll know the sucker backwards and forwards.

That is to say, if I’m going to stand before a group of people and lead a conversation about some assigned reading or viewing, I want to know the assignment better than anyone else in the room. (This would be true even if I didn’t have this more-than-slight tendency toward obsessiveness.) So yeah, I’ve seen California Split many, many, many times by now. And unlike some other texts with which I’ve studied in similarly comprehensive ways, Split continues to remain interesting to me even after having essentially committed it to memory.

Thus was I intrigued last week when Dr. Pauly drew my attention to a new three-part interview with California Split co-stars Elliott Gould and George Segal and the film’s writer and co-producer, Joseph Walsh. Kim Morgan conducted the interview for the Los Angeles Review of Books, and it can be read by following these links: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The interview is long and full of digressions, and in a prefatory note Morgan suggests how “the conversation is flowing almost like an Altman film,” which is a fair assessment. The trio swap anecdotes and trivia about various Hollywood personalities throughout, and in fact don’t even really get into discussing Split until the latter section of the interview’s first part.

Having read Walsh’s memoir Gambler on the Loose which includes some discussion of the making of Split, I knew some of these stories. And in fact one story Walsh shares about Amarillo Slim Preston he had told me a few years ago. But there are several items in the interview I’d never known before, as well as some genuine insight about the characters of Charlie and Bill (based in large part on Walsh and Gould) that goes beyond what we’ve been able to come up with in our classes when discussing the film.

I like very much an idea that Morgan tosses out during the first part comparing casinos to movie sets with each being “an enclosed world of playing, making money, losing, performing,” an analogy strongly suggested by the tenuous, risky circumstances under which Split was made. And the group’s discussion of the enigmatic ending is especially enlightening, I think, with the stories about how it changed as they were filming it making it all the more intriguing. (That discussion comes in Part II of the interview.)

The ending of Split actually makes it an especially good film for the classroom, opening up all kinds of questions worth discussing and thinking about. I feel the same way about The Cincinnati Kid‘s ending, which also inspires a lot of interesting response from students who are invariably surprised by it. (Meanwhile, the ending of Rounders, though satisfying in some ways, doesn’t necessarily invite the same depth of existential rumination.)

If you’re a fan of California Split -- and whether you’ve seen the film once or dozens of times -- check out the interview with Gould, Segal, and Walsh and think further about an especially interesting text to study.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

WPT Alpha8 Revs Up to 55

Was kind of marveling at the turnout for the $100,000 WPT Alpha8 event happening at the Bellagio this week.

I’d just been down to St. Kitts to help cover the last one where only 11 players participated with there being 15 total entries after a few of them rebought (including Antonio Esfandiari buying in three times). That small turnout was anticipated, though, as was a bigger field for the one in Las Vegas this week.

But I don’t think most expected quite as many to participate as they ended up drawing.

They made it a three-day event (starting yesterday), and kept late registration open until the start of Level 9 (a couple of hours into play on today’s Day 2). In the end there were 55 entries total -- I’m not sure how many unique players -- which means a total prize pool of $5,395,500. The top six finishers split the cabbage, with $2,104,245 going to the winner.

Those 55 entries crush the previous high of 28 for an Alpha8 event (from last year in St. Kitts), showing the benefit both of staging the tournament on the heels of a regular WPT event and putting the sucker on in Las Vegas. I guess for some the event represented an attractive last chance to earn a big score before the end of the calendar year as well.

Gonna have to follow both that and the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic over on the WPT site today and this weekend. (Photo above by Joe Giron for the WPT.)

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Folding Their Way to the Playoffs

Haven’t been writing here too much over the last couple of months about the Pigskin Pick’em pool in which I participate, largely because I fell well out of contention by about Week 8 or 9 this year, and so haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about my picks or the race.

I have goofed around a little with some fantasy football this year. I mentioned a few weeks back how I’d won some cabbage in a couple of freerolls on the new Fantasy Draft site, and have intermittently been playing with that money since then although not every week. They still don’t have NBA games up on the site, so I assume they are still in a longish ramp-up mode over there.

The fantasy sports thing has yet to capture my fancy much, I must continue to report. I find it intriguing in a theoretical way, much like I am very interested in the logistics of sports betting without really being too keen on actually placing bets. And I suppose I’m also a little curious about the business behind these daily/weekly fantasy sports sites and the decisions they are making as they try to build themselves up, but even there it’s only a marginal interest for me.

Meanwhile my Carolina Panthers have had a woeful season, yet still somehow find themselves alive for a playoff berth thanks to being located in the worst division in the NFL, the NFC South. Was hilarious during the day on Monday to see them 5-8-1 and leading the division until New Orleans won their game Monday night to go 6-8.

Had to joke on Twitter how it felt like the Panthers were trying to fold their way into the playoffs, since even if they do somehow manage to win the division and get there, they’ll surely get KO’d right away much as happens to the player who survives the bubble bursting with only a few chips.

Will still be watching and rooting, though. A min-cash is better than going home empty-handed.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Online Poker Today: VP$IP, PFR, and DDoS

Was writing a little last week about what appeared to have been a deliberate attack of the “DDoS” (Distributed Denial of Service) variety over on Carbon Poker that caused the site to crash repeatedly.

Most discussions of those crashes connected them to a user who found a means to cheat by casuing the site to crash, timing the shutdowns to come after the player had raised in a hand, thus guaranteeing others in the hand couldn’t respond and the pot would be slid his way.

Since then there have been more reports of such attacks on online poker sites, in particular those on the Winning Poker Network including during its recent $1 million guaranteed tournament last Sunday. WPN includes Americas Cardroom, Black Chip Poker, and about a dozen other sites. The CEO of the Winning Poker Network, Phil Payton, was on Twitch earlier this week delivering some apologies and commentary about the attacks.

The Equity Poker Network (which includes Full Flush Poker and a handful of other sites) has also been victimized by such attacks. It doesn’t appear the attacks against WPN or EPN have to do with efforts to cheat but rather seem motivated by other purposes.

All of these sites serve U.S. players. In other words, the risks taken by Americans depositing on these sites has become even greater. Not only are they having to avoid the various obstacles to depositing and withdrawing, but now the sites themselves are becoming less reliable in terms of simply being able to remain online and functioning thanks to the attacks.

I don’t know what kind of customer service these sites provide nor really anything about the experience of playing on any of them, but it appears as though it must be getting increasingly hard to endure. I heard a player on Americas Cardroom call in to Todd Witteles’ Poker Fraud Alert show this week to describe some of that frustration. Interesting stuff, and worth a listen if you’re curious to find out more about what has been going on.

We often spoke of the pre-UIGEA world of online poker as being like the lawless Old West, although those days seem tame relative to what some are enduring these days dodging virtual bullets on the “rogue” sites.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One Decision After Another

Kind of back in spectator mode at the moment while following the tourneys currently in action.

As usually happens when I’m home and a European Poker Tour event is playing out, I’ve had the EPTLive stream on without interruption the last few days as EPT Prague has now worked its way down to a final table with just seven left to return for tomorrow’s last day of play.

The Frenchman Remi Castaignon is one of those still in the hunt, although he is now the short stack among the players who are left. He won EPT Deauville back in Season 9 (when I was there), and so aims to join Victoria Coren Mitchell in the two-time champs’ club -- a club in which she is currently the only member.

I’m also now dipping in occasionally to follow the updates over at the World Poker Tour site as the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio is now underway. Am thinking about last December when I was there for that one, always a big event which looks like it’s going to even bigger this time around.

Meanwhile today I clicked over to read an interview with Erik Seidel in which he discusses similarities between the challenges faced by poker pros and startups. Most of the points covered are pretty familiar, although I liked how Seidel mentions the performance of Martin Jacobson when winning this year’s WSOP Main Event.

“You could watch at home on ESPN and see how Martin Jacobson made one great decision after another and eventually that all added up to him taking home the world championship and $10 million,” explains Seidel.

That reminded me of Darrel Plant’s PokerNews article from a few weeks back in which he went through all 19 instances of Jacobson going all in at the final table in “Pushing His Way to a WSOP Main Event Title: A Look at Martin Jacobson’s All-Ins.” Even if Jacobson had to enjoy some good fortune to survive all of those all-ins to win, the article nonetheless illustrates just what Seidel is saying about how Jacobson proved himself as a great “manager” of his “business” at that final table.

It’s that constant stream of decisions -- many familiar, but all in fact unique -- players are forced to make that keeps poker interesting for me, both to play and to watch.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

On the Importance of the The

I was thinking this morning about a Wallace Stevens poem and a class in modern American poetry I had as an undergraduate.

Like a lot of what we read in that course, the poem was especially challenging for someone barely 20 years old to appreciate. The professor was fantastic, however, and successfully convinced me over and over why the problems these poets were exploring -- linguistic, artistic, historical, psychological, philosophical -- were worth considering. And were, in fact, often fascinating.

The poem I thought of is called “The Man on the Dump” and like a lot of the poetry we read in that course features a great deal of physical description, in this case of seemingly scattered shards of items in a trash heap. Besides a fairly constant feeling of befuddlement, the main, decades-later impression I retain from that course was the unending stream of stuff in those poems -- all of the descriptions of things like Eliot’s yellow smoke or Williams’s red wheelbarrow or Frost’s wall with a frozen-ground-swell erupting at its base.

I’m not going to pretend to possess any special insight about these poems. After being sincerely intrigued for a semester by Pound’s puzzles, Larkin’s larks, and Plath’s plight, I made a hasty retreat back to the 18th century in grad school to study long novels and satire instead. But as I say, a few of them stand out starkly for me, mostly because of those images like the withered flowers strewn among the dirt and tin cans and old mattresses in Stevens’s poem.

The real reason I thought of Stevens’s poem was because of the way it finishes. It ends with one of those weird poetic punch lines -- you know, like a question about telling the difference between the dancer and the dance. Coming at the end of a series of rhetorical questions, the speaker asks “Where was it one first heard the truth?” He then concludes with a two-word sentence that either answers the question or perhaps clarifies it somehow: “The the.”

No, that’s not a typo. The first “the” is a definite article, and the second “the” is (seemingly) a noun. That explains the grammar of the sentence, anyway. Meanwhile, to pinpoint what the the is referring to -- a physical location? a point of origin? objective truth? -- is hardly as simple a matter. As I recall we took the better part of an hour working on that problem in class.

Later I’d think back fondly on that discussion. The particulars of it have long faded, but I still get a kick out of the sheer audacity of spending that much time talking about a single word -- and perhaps the most mundane, pedestrian word in the English language at that.

The poem and the class rushed back to mind today after having had a quick back-and-forth with someone about whether or not to include the word “the” in something he had written. I liked that exchange. It proved something I already knew about both of us, namely, that we both cared about language and thought a word like “the” to be worth discussing.

After all, deciding to use the “the” takes a stand, to give a different, more particular status to the noun coming after the article. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made casually.

It’s an all-in push. It’s the the.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Field Report; or, I Shinola You Not

Here on the farm we have a decent amount of land, including what are essentially three separate pastures in which our horses can roam and graze.

Two of the three already have adequate fencing, but the one in back -- the “back forty,” we jokingly call it -- needs some work on a couple of the sides. We’re going to do that over the next couple of weeks, getting some help putting wooden posts in to make that happen.

Meanwhile, we’ve been sectioning off part of the “back forty” with some temporary fencing and letting Sammy and Maggie hang out in part of that pasture. That’s me above wielding a couple of the plastic posts used to put up the temporary fence.

I tweeted that picture a few weeks ago, adding “I AM THE LORD OF TEMPORARY FENCING,” then following to say “WITH MY STEP-IN POSTS AND BRAIDED POLY-ROPE I SHAPE WORLDS.”

One response shared a warning about putting an eye out should I fail to temper my excitement adquately, to which I responded “GOOD POINT. PUN INTENDED.”

Speaking of puns, I was back out in the “back forty” today collecting some of the many prizes Sammy and Maggie had been leaving up there over the last week or so. If they were in a larger space it wouldn’t be so big of a deal, but in that makeshift paddock it’s good to clear things out now and then so as to ensure they don’t cover the whole sucker over with their land mines.

After filling a couple of carts’ worth, I found it hard not to think my task of collecting in poker terms. “Spending afternoon gathering lots of small piles into one big one,” I tweeted. “It’s basically a poker tournament.”

“I’m seeing lots of flops,” I continued. “Mostly having to muck. Actually glad to have a big rake.”

A little later I reported I “just scooped several more in this horse event. I have heaps! Gonna keep watching my step, though.”

Eventually the task was done, as was my punning. Afterwards the PokerGrump chimed in to remind me of a relevant piece of wisdom from one of our favorite poker writers:

“Remember Tommy Angelo’s advice,” he wrote. “Don’t play POOP (passively out of position).”

Good point. (And pun intended.)

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Browsing the Global Poker Index

During the World Series of Poker this summer one of my PokerNews assignments was to compile the weekly column reporting on the updated Global Poker Index rankings. I picked that duty back up back in September and have been delivering that news each week for the last several months.

Has been kind of interesting to pay a little closer attention both to the 2014 Player of the Year race and the overall GPI rankings.

The current standings show Daniel Colman leading in the 2014 POY race, a spot he’s held for six weeks running. Ole Schemion -- who won the 2013 GPI POY -- picked up a couple of big finishes at the Master Classics of Poker in Amsterdam recently to surge up to second behind Colman. With EPT Prague and the WPT Five Diamond Poker Classic still left to go, there ought to be more movement in that race before the calendar reaches December 31.

Meanwhile in the overall rankings Dan Smith has led the way for 16 straight weeks. He just lost some points, though, after his victory in last year’s WPT Five Diamond Main Event (which I helped cover) became more than 12 months old and thus now counts less for him points-wise. Schemion is number two in those rankings as well, now just a small cash or so away from surpassing Smith.

The GPI has been around since the start of 2011, and some may not even remember it was created along with the ill-fated Epic Poker League as a means to decide which players would qualify for EPL events. From the ashes of that dumpster fire arose the GPI, surviving as not only an interesting discussion-starter but also as an increasingly relevant part of the poker tournament circuit.

I was thinking today how the GPI should perhaps go back into the past and apply its formula -- or a modified version of it -- to pre-2011 tournament poker. Records are fairly complete for a lot of the tours going back at least into the early 2000s, making it possible perhaps to perform a kind of retroactive ranking of players and naming of POYs.

Obviously there are pros and cons to the ranking system as far as its worth as an indicator of players’ ability. I also understand well the cynicism of those who are not on board for the whole campaign to “sportify" poker (as the GPI rankings could be said to attempt to do). But the lists are still quite diverting and if anything help bring some publicity to a lot of players -- and the game, generally -- that might not otherwise happen.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Railbirding RAWA

A few months after I started this blog -- more than eight-and-a-half years ago, if you can believe that -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed into law. Suddenly I found myself writing about a host of other topics besides simply playing poker, among them legal matters affecting my ability to play the game online.

As we’ve been reminding each other over and over again since the UIGEA was passed -- kind of like repeatedly relieving a bad beat -- that bill was snuck onto another one in the dead of night just before that Congress adjourned for the final push of campaigning prior to the ’06 elections. Thus did it become law without going through what many would rate a legitimate process of thoughtful debate and decision-making -- that is to say, via a process other than one in which our elected representatives would appear unequivocally to be representing the wishes of those who voted them into office (not that such an ideal is so often realized).

From there followed several years of mixing in posts in which I’d write about various legal developments that followed the UIGEA, including the long, drawn-out process of the regulations getting finalized by late 2008, as well as the many rival federal bills introduced by Barney Frank and others hoping to legalize and regulate online gambling in the U.S.

Then came Black Friday, which I might call a game-changer but in truth more or less stopped the game altogether, at least for most online poker players in the U.S. Before then, though, I remember somewhere along the way finding an analogy between poker and legal machinations surrounding the online game, the parallel having to do with both involving a combination of luck and skill.

That’s a generalization, but the point was that when it came to legislation regarding online poker, the process was in some respects controlled by the “players” (i.e., legislators, judges, lobbying groups, plaintiffs and defendants and those representing them, and so on) and also -- seemingly -- by what often appeared “chance” elements insofar as the combination of individuals and circumstances would result in lots of unpredictable outcomes.

Some “players” in the legislative game -- like in poker -- have a lot more influence than others, with money often making the difference in both contexts. Such is what we’ve been seeing happening over the last couple of years with Sheldon Adelson’s ongoing efforts to curb online gambling of all kinds. The CEO of Las Vegas Sands (parent company of the Venetian Macao Limited) is purportedly the 10th richest person in the world (as of this past summer), thus it hasn’t been difficult at all for him to toss chips various legislators’ way in order to lean on them to play his way.

The most recent orbit of this game has involved Adelson backing this new Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) first introduced in both houses back in March of this year. This federal law would rewrite the Federal Wire Act of 1961 (which the DOJ opined in late 2011 only applied to sports betting) to prohibit most forms of online gambling in the U.S., including making current state-regulated online gambling (in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware) illegal. (Horse racing and fantasy sports would still get a pass.)

RAWA has gotten some co-sponsors but not huge traction this year, but during this “lame duck” session some surmised it could be tossed into this huge $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, with a lot of talk about how the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) was being goaded by Adelson (and his money) into sneaking it in there in UIGEA-like fashion. You’ll recall how during an earlier lame duck session (in 2010), Reid was introducing a federal bill to license and regulate online poker while curbing other forms of online gambling. Well, now he apparently is sitting behind someone else’s stack.

During the day yesterday I noticed Rich Muny, Vice President of Player Relations for the Poker Players Alliance, noting how on his most recent webcast a former member of the House, Jon Porter, said it was “50-50” the RAWA would get added to the spending bill. The bill finally dropped last night without RAWA, and as one commentator in a Two Plus Two thread about the situation noted, “we went from about a 50% chance of being safe, to about... 85%.”

Again, just following the story makes it hard not to think of poker analogies. In this latest hand, those not wanting to see a federal bill outlawing online gambling across the U.S. were all in preflop with Q-Q versus an opponent’s A-K-suited, and now have faded both the flop and turn to have a big edge with one card to come.

The problem with those analogies, though, is that most who oppose RAWA aren’t even sitting at the table, never mind making decisions about pushing their stack in behind a premium hand. They’re on the rail, watching others with big stacks keep buying back in and playing the game on their own.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Crashing Carbon

In the post-Black Friday era, I was still playing online for a couple of years thanks to winning some cabbage in a freeroll over on Hero Poker. Those funds I had transferred over to Carbon Poker once Hero decided to step aside in December 2012, where I played a few months longer although sadly saw my small roll dwindle down to next-to-nothing.

I believe the last hand I played over there was probably sometime in the spring or summer of 2013, which now that I think about it had to have been the last hand of real money online poker I’ve played.

In any event, my memory of briefly goofing around on Carbon for a few months isn’t especially enduring. That said, I found myself trying to remember the games when hearing about this recent story of the site experiencing frequent crashes and disconnections, including some weirdness involving players subsequently logging back on and having access to other players’ accounts, having hole cards change on them in the middle of hands, and other oddities occurring.

It sounds like the site might have fallen victim to a hacker who figured out a way to crash the site (like a “distributed denial-of-service” or DDoS attack). You can read more about what’s known and what’s being speculated about it all in this article by Steve Ruddock for PokerUpdate.

Ruddock uses the story as an occasion to argue again for legalized, regulated online poker in the U.S. He’s right that in a regulated environment players are theoretically going to be protected from fraud, theft of funds, or other consequences of site-hacking, even if the regulated sites aren’t necessarily going to be immune to such attacks.

Meanwhile... that business of the hole cards changing mid-hand -- how many of you have had that bad dream before?

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Everything In Its Right Place: Watching Open-Face Chinese

Vera and I made it home in reasonably good shape, finally pulling up to the farm around midnight last night. Liked getting up today to feeds the horses and barn cats and see all were doing well. Felt like everything was where it was supposed to be again.

Spent some time this afternoon watching the livestream of this TonyBet Poker-sponsored €10K High Roller Open-Face Chinese Poker tournament playing out today in Prague in advance of the upcoming European Poker Tour stop. They are playing the Pineapple variant of OFC. That’s a screenshot from earlier today above, when Jason Mercier -- fresh off winning the WPT Alpha8 in St. Kitts -- was at the feature table. Pretty cool, and very fun to follow with the commentary by David Vanderheyden.

My appetite for all things OFC has been whetted somewhat over the last few weeks by some recent PokerNews articles by Nikolai Yakovenko. Yakovenko is a poker pro who was involved with creating the popular ABC Open-Face Chinese Poker app, and he’s been contributing strategy articles about OFC to PN for a while now.

A few weeks ago Yakovenko wrote a two-parter on the current state of OFC, then last week he both introduced how to play 2-7 Pineapple then offered some strategy for that variant.

It’s perhaps a narrow niche as far as topics go, but Yakovenko is a very good writer who explains everything well and keeps it interesting, too. If you’re at all curious about where open-face Chinese poker is (or is heading) at the moment or the “Deuce Pineapple” variant, check out those links.

Meanwhile, I dipped back into that High Roller live stream a short while ago to see Jennifer Shahade and Ilya Bulychev now heads-up for the title. Sounds like they’re working out a deal to end things fairly soon, so I’m gonna sign off and head back over. There will be another two-day €1K OFC Main Event starting tomorrow with the final table again being streamed on Wednesday, so that’ll be another chance to watch some live OFC.

Something surprisingly pleasing about watching players set their hands -- like they are putting everything where it belongs, sort of like the feeling we had when coming home.

(EDIT [added 12/9/14]: Jennifer Shahade won the €1OK OFC High Roller -- story here.)

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts 2, Day 2 -- Come Open! Up Here!

Am sitting in the small St. Kitts airport with Vera Valmore as we wait to board the first of two flights that will take us back home. Looks like our first one is delayed a bit, but we’re hopeful of making the connection in time to get home late tonight.

Yesterday saw the World Poker Tour Alpha8 St. Kitts event finish up with Jason Mercier ultimately taking away the trophy and $727,500 first prize. He outlasted a couple of non-pros at the end who claimed the other two cashing spots, Kathy Lehne who finished second (for $436,500) and Tony Guglietti who took third (for $291,000).

I know Lehne is the president and CEO of Sun Coast Resources, one of the nation’s biggest petroleum marketing companies that operates out of Houston. The first woman ever to play in a WPT Alpha8, I think Lehne has a home at St. Kitts not far from where the tournament was played at Christophe Harbour. Don’t know as much about Guglietti’s background, other than he played Alpha8 at St. Kitts when they first went there a year ago and didn’t make it past the first day.

There were some dramatic hands that led to that threesome occupying the final spots. Lehne spiked a four-outer against Olivier Busquet (who’d later bubble in fourth) once to survive, then in hand against Antonio Esfandiari won with A-K versus his pocket queens after a tantalizing 4-3-J-5-2 runout gave her a wheel.

Once Guglietti went out in third, Lehne battled with Mercier for a short while before they took a dinner break, with Mercier chipping up to increase his lead without too much resistance. Then after the break Lehne had a more aggressive approach and in fact had rattled off a streak of hands won before finally losing the last of her stack to the pro.

The weather was glorious for much of the day, with blue skies and warm temps all around. That increased the mosquito count a bit, although we all endured. Later came an afternoon shower, then the weather cleared as night fell. That’s when the whistling tree frogs came out, their squeaky chorus having by the third night become quite familiar to hear.

Got back to the hotel to reunite with Vera who spent the day at the pool, the beach, and exploring elsewhere as well where among the sights she saw was the warm invitation at left for a “Monkey Donkey and Horse Tour.” Despite the enticing exhortations (“Come Open,” “Up Here”), Vera didn’t take the tour, although we did spot a couple of monkeys during our stay, which I heard someone say outnumber the humans by about two-to-one on the island.

With our late flight out today we had a chance to hang out at the pool a bit, which is where Vera snapped the pic of me up top. Was a nice, relaxing finish to a busy, fun few days, made even more so by the friendly folks everywhere we turned while here. A great time, but we’re both anxious now to get back to our four-legged friends on the farm.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts 2, Day 1 -- Pants on the Ground

More rapid-fire posting this morning as we’re only about a half-hour away from the start of Day 2 of the WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts here at Christophe Harbour.

It rained fairly heavily yesterday, which scattered the mosquitos but dampened the view a little all around the resort. The tournament provided a lot of fun and interesting moments, though.

There were 11 players total, with a couple re-entering once and Antonio Esfandiari ultimate buying in three times after he was knocked out twice before the cutoff point. Esfandiari’s last re-entry made for an interesting twist as they had gone to a single nine-handed table, then when he returned they had to redraw and go back to two five-handed tables -- as though the tourney was running in reverse.

Esfandiari also provided some grins by going pantsless for most of the day, shedding them early on thanks to the heat. The five non-pros in the field -- Bill Perkins, Talal Shakerchi, Kathy Lehne, Michael Singh, and Tony Guglietti -- additionally made for some fun hands and a lot of enjoyable banter about the tables as the discussions ranged all over the place.

It was fun, too, to witness the large crew of WPT folks pulling together the show again as the tournament progresses. So much creativity all around, and you get the sense that everyone is constantly coming up with new ideas as it goes for ways to shape the program that will later be aired on Fox Sports.

Today the skies are a deep, rich blue and the forecast calls for sun all day, which is making for a nifty view from our perch here as we’ll watch them play down to a winner. Come over to the WPT live updates today to see Joe Giron’s photos of what we’re seeing and to follow the reports as they play down to a winner.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts 2, Arrival -- Cruising to the Caribbean

The flights down to St. Kitts were on schedule and without hassle, and Vera and I made it through customs and to our hotel in time to meet a group from the WPT heading out for a scheduled “sunset cruise.”

The drive took us over to Christophe Harbour, where the tournament is scheduled to play out, a long, winding voyage through the green hills and overlooking the lapping ocean waves. Alas by the time we got there the gathering clouds had conspired to produce some precipitation, and after a short while it was decided to scrap the cruise.

All was not lost, however, as we were able to enjoy some finger food and good conversation among those who had come along. Vera and I had fun chatting with Alec Torelli and his wife, with Vera and Alec finding a lot of common ground between dressage and poker. Both have a keen interest in sports psychology, and Vera was able to recommend several titles she’s enjoyed.

We got back to the hotel and after a short rest made it downstairs for a little get-together for the players and staff, eventually getting back to the room for what turned out to be a full night’s rest.

I write today from Christophe Harbour where the set is being constructed and we’re in the middle of getting everything together to report on the first day of action from the WPT Alpha8.

Stunning views all around here (see above), and it’s definitely a different vibe to be covering a tourney in shorts with a warm wind wafting through rather than in a cold casino. Sun’s coming out today, too, making for an even more picturesque setting.

Check over at the WPT site for live updates today to see who ends up participating and how they fare.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Skedaddling to St. Kitts

Quick post this morning just to report I’m heading south once again, this time to St. Kitts to help cover the World Poker Tour Alpha8 event. This’ll be a first trip there for your humble scribbler, and while it will be a quick one (it’s just a two-day tourney), I’m especially looking forward to it as Vera is accompanying me.

I’ve covered one Alpha8 before, the first one that took place at the Seminole Hard Rock in Florida in August 2013. That one drew 18 players and 21 total entries for the $100,000 buy-in event (with re-entries), and I imagine it’ll be a similar-sized field this weekend in St. Kitts. They’ve been there once before and in fact had 28 entries total, which I believe is the most they’ve drawn for an Alpha8 thus far.

Gonna be a busy one and I doubt I’ll have too much time to spare for reporting here along the way, but I’ll try to stop in some and perhaps once I get back will be better able to share some pictures and stories from the trip.

Meanwhile, as you can see above, I’ve packed three buy-ins for the tournament. Wish me luck!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

On What Happened

“What happened?”

So read the subject line of an email I received a little earlier today. Not the kind of subject line you like to see, especially if your life is complicated by various deadlines and assignments -- like mine, and like that of just about everyone else, too, who’s checking email regularly.

Looking closer, the sender’s name was vaguely familiar, then after I opened it I realized it was one of those regular mailings the Poker Players Alliance send out, I think on a weekly basis. The letter explained how I’d been sent a note recently asking me to contribute to the PPA. As I had not done so, now I was being chastised for not responding to the request to help “protect poker from DC politicians seeking to ban our game” by sending in some cabbage for the cause.

Have to say I didn’t like that feeling the subject line gave me, namely to think for a moment I might’ve lost track of some important assignment or other obligation. Not appreciating that, I found the link to unsubscribe from the mailing list, and did so.

I thought a little afterwards about both the “cause” -- that is, the fight to “protect poker” from those who wish to prohibit the game from being played (online or elsewhere) -- and the extent to which I am obligated to fight for it.

I obviously feel strongly that I should be allowed to play poker when and where I wish, and thus I am also obviously especially dissatisfied that is far from the case at present. I also appreciate the efforts of those who are working to change the current status quo.

That said, when it comes to online poker here in the U.S., it is impossible for me to be at all hopeful about that particular cause either in the near future or long term.

I was mentioning yesterday listening to that poker podcast from seven years ago. So strange to go back like that and hear the discussions and ads all reflecting a time when online poker was mostly taken for granted, with the associated issues (the first big cheating scandal and “ghosting” concerns) seeming like relatively minor problems that could be fairly easily endured while the games continued unabated.

A different world, that. What happened? I guess I more or less know what happened. And knowing that, it’s hard to be optimistic about anything that might happen next.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Listening Back to Back in the Day

There’s a lot that’s interesting swirling around with regard to online poker and where it’s going these days. (Or not going, if you’re here in the U.S.)

But that’s standard -- that is, for there to be all sorts of stories, scoops, sensations, and scandals associated with the online version of the game. Has been the case ever since I started writing this blog more than eight-and-a-half years ago.

In fact today I took a break from reading the latest to look back a little at some of the issues being discussed not long after I started this sucker, thanks in part to my having randomly happened on a folder on an old computer full of poker podcasts.

The shows are all from late 2007 and early 2008, back when I remember having to download podcasts in order to hear them. That above is a crude screenshot of the folder -- if you’re curious you can click the pic to enlarge it. Looks like more than 40 different shows represented in the folder. Just by chance I decided to dial up one from exactly seven years ago today -- the 12/2/07 episode of “Big Poker Sundays” hosted by Scott Huff and Haralobos Voulgaris which aired on the now-defunct PokerRoad site.

The show covered various topics of the day, including a story about an infamous instance of “ghosting” involving the soon-to-be-let-go Managing Editor of BLUFF, Chris Vaughn, and Sorel Mizzi. Shane “shaniac” Schleger called in, too, to talk more about the state of online poker including current worries about multi-accounting, ghosting, and what was then a recent development regarding cheating on Absolute Poker. (I was even surprised to hear a quick reference to Hard-Boiled Poker in there, something I hadn’t remembered at all.)

Listening to the show sent me back to some articles online as well as some old posts here, including this post written the day after the BPS show that mentions some of what was discussed. Think I’ll probably next have to back up a few weeks with these and listen again to the first discussions of the Absolute Poker cheating scandal as it was just starting to break.

Speaking of, during my clicking around through some old HBP posts I landed on this one from February 2008 compiling lots of early articles about AP. Talk about a rabbit hole.

I’ll spare you all the little twists and turns I’ve been clicking my way through tonight, though will say I had a chuckle over this article (from mid-September ’07) from someone expressing utter disbelief that any cheating could have happened on the site, as well as this follow-up (written a week later) adamantly confirming that position, then adding the following:

“I've also spoken with an anonymous source who has had contact with individuals at Ultimate Bet and a few other sites, who notes that no such super user exists on those sites, either. Why, then, would Absolute Poker be the lone site that finds a need to create a super user?”

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Is The Last Deal the First Poker Movie?

For a good while I’ve been under the impression -- and have written and said so on more than one occasion -- that the 1912 short A Cure for Pokeritis was almost assuredly the oldest “poker movie.”

A couple of years ago the 12-minute silent film starring John Bunny and Flora Finch was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 25 films they pick each year to be added to the National Film Registry.

The selection was done mostly because of Bunny starring in the film, I believe, to help underscore the comic actor’s important place in film history after having starred in more than 150 productions during the silent era. But as I’ve written about the movie also helps highlight poker’s prominence in the early-20th century, another reason why A Cure for Pokeritis might like other selected films be said to have “enduring significance to American culture.”

You can read more about A Cure for Pokeritis plus watch the film embedded in a post here. Meanwhile, I was snooping around recently to find at least one poker-themed film to have predated that one.

It’s called The Last Deal and was written and directed in 1910 for Biograph by D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation, Intolerance). Running about 11 minutes, it tells a story not unlike the one told in A Cure for Pokeritis, although apparently in more of a dramatic than comic vein.

Like in Pokeritis, The Last Deal presents poker and gambling as a kind of illness in need of curing. A character is introduced as an addict whose poker-playing threatens to lose him his job and family until his brother-in-law comes along to help him with his “gambling fever” (so go the synopses). There’s also a classic (or clichéd) four-aces-versus-four-kings hand somewhere in there, too, I’ve discovered.

The Last Deal stars Owen Moore who appears in a lot of Griffith productions and was secretly married to Mary Pickford with whom he appeared in several films.

Not really seeing The Last Deal as readily available online as is Pokeritis, although I think there are existing copies including on VHS. It was included as part of a series of RKO shorts in the 1940s called Flicker Flashbacks, albeit in an imperfect form. That series (created in the 1940s) involved chopping up old silent shorts and adding soundtracks for comic effect, so one would only get a partial glimpse of the film there. It also might pop up in one of the many compilations of Griffith shorts out there.

I’ve only just started looking in earnest for it, though, so perhaps there’s a more obvious way to get ahold of it of which I’ve yet to discover.

(Faux title card above aided by CopyCatFilms.)

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