Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Positions and Juxtapositions: Nine Years Later, the UIGEA Then and Now

I’m just going to juxtapose a few items here today, inspired both by an anniversary and some items I’ve read and heard this week.

On this date nine years ago -- just a few months after I started the Hard-Boiled Poker blog -- I wrote a post here called “Deals in the Dead of Night” noting how the night before, after midnight in fact, a federal bill had passed through both houses that thereafter change the course of online poker in the United States once it was signed into law by then-president George W. Bush a couple of weeks later.

As it happened, that same bill -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 -- helped pave the way for the birth of a new online industry, fantasty sports.

1. “Senate Passes Bill on Building Border Fence” (The New York Times, Sept. 29, 2006)

“At the urging of conservative groups and the National Football League, among other interests, the port security measure carried legislation cracking down on Internet gambling by prohibiting credit card companies and other financial institutions from processing the exchange of money between bettors and Web sites. The prohibition, which exempts some horse-racing operations, has previously passed the House and Senate at different times but has never cleared Congress.”

2. “Frist Statement on Passage of Internet Gambling Legislation” (Sept. 29, 2006)

“U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.) made the following statement after the Senate passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act:

‘Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society. Congress has grappled with this issue for 10 years, and during that time we’ve watched this shadow industry explode. For me as majority leader, the bottom line is simple: Internet gambling is illegal. Although we can’t monitor every online gambler or regulate offshore gambling, we can police the financial institutions that disregard our laws.’”

3. “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006” (Oct. 13, 2006)

“The term ‘bet or wager’... does not include... participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization....”

4. “NFLPA Adds DraftKings to Partnership Lineup” (Sept. 25, 2015)

“The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), via its licensing and marketing arm NFL Players Inc., and DraftKings, a leading destination for daily fantasy sports (DFS), today announced a group licensing partnership that will allow some of the NFL’s top-rated players to participate in DraftKings’ marketing efforts this season.... The NFLPA licensing partnership will provide DraftKings the right to employ active NFL players for in-product and promotional campaigns across broadcast, print, social media, digital and mobile properties, as well as via experiential, memorabilia and content activations....

As the popularity of fantasy sports continues to grow with more than 56 million players in 2015, a nearly 40-percent year-to-year increase according to global market research company Ipsos, the deal provides DraftKings with a new degree of connectivity by directly involving a group of active NFL players in the marketing and promotion of its daily fantasy sports experience to fans.”

5. “Fantasy Sports Sites DraftKings, FanDuel September Spend Tops $100 Million” (Advertising Age, Sept. 30, 2015).

“According to estimates, DraftKings and FanDuel together have funneled $107 million into the networks' coffers since Sept. 1. Nearly half ($50.3 million) of that outlay was spent on national NFL broadcasts on CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and NFL Network....

DraftKings ads have aired a skull-clutching 16,259 times over the course of the month, which works out to 135 hours and 25 minutes of 30-second spots. That's more than five-and-a-half days, or a full work week, of commercial messaging that's been hammered out in the span of a 29-day period.... By iSpot's reckoning, FanDuel ads have aired 9,463 times since Sept. 1. That translates to nearly 79 hours of total airtime, or a little north of three days.”

6. Dan LeBatard and Jon Weiner (Stugotz), The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz (ESPN, Sept. 29, 2015)

LeBatard: “DraftKings is spilling money all over the place, and now they have made an allegiance with the NFL Players Union where they are able to put players in their advertising. And I’m trying to find exactly the right analogy here, because what DraftKings and FanDuel and what the fantasy phenomenon has captured here is, it’s not quite legalized cocaine... because cocaine has a stigma with it.... But we are in an area right now where DraftKings and FanDuel... and their ilk have found this place.... They’ve found a place where it’s gambling -- it’s obviously gambling -- [and] they’re able to spill and sponsor everything in sports and everyone is taking their money.... People want it.”

Stugotz: “I agree with you about the stigma, but wasn’t online poker... didn’t they ban that?”

LeBatard: “Yes... but online poker is a little sketchier, not nearly as popular as this is....”

Stugotz: “I agree, but I’m just trying to figure out the difference between the two.”

LeBatard: “Oh, there is no difference. One’s legal and one’s not.... One is legal because it’s a game of skill, the other is illegal because, poker players will tell you, it, too, is a game of skill, but it’s the same thing.... It’s amazing to watch the arbitrary moralities that we have with this.”

LeBatard: “I just think it’s weird that we are always applying arbitrary moralities, and in this case we are doing it with our legal system and we’re doing it with our government. It doesn’t make any sense to me that this is legal and online poker isn’t.”

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Great Deal of Fun in WCOOP Finale

Fun stuff earlier tonight railing the final table of the World Championship of Online Poker Main Event on PokerStars, mainly because of the ongoing deal discussions that began even before play got going today with nine players left.

The $5,200 buy-in tournament drew 1,995 players which meant it came just five players shy of reaching the number needed to match the $10 million guarantee for the prize pool. A total of 243 players cashed in the sucker, but over half of the prize pool -- $5.446 million -- was still up for grabs with nine left.

During the minutes leading up to today’s restart, the table’s short stack, a Belgian going by “Coenaldinho7,” was proposing to everyone a hilarious nine-way chop in which (if I remember it correctly) each would take half a million, leaving the rest (nearly another milly) up top for the winner. No one even acknowledged that he was saying anything.

The deal requests continued from Coenaldinho7 thereafter, pretty much after each knockout, and finally with five left they got to talking seriously about the possibility. No deal happened then, but one finally did with four remaining -- you can read details over in the recap on the PokerStars blog.

Interestingly, once the deal was made both Coenaldinho7 and beertjes79 (also from Belgium) willingly gave up money to ensure the chop would happen. In fact, beertjes79 -- then the short stack among the four -- volunteered to give up over $50K (taking $800K). Coenaldinho7 meanwhile readily gave up about $27K to ensure a guaranteed payout of $1.1 million. Watching that made it easy to root for both of them going forward, and it was kind of amusing in the end to see Coenaldinho7 take it down to earn a $1.3 million score.

Have written here before many times about the sometimes fascinating psychology of final table deal-making and how it really becomes in many cases an extension of the game itself. As the WCOOP ME final table was progressing, I noticed talk reviving on Twitter about the WSOP and its draconian prohibition against final table deals (again).

The WSOP changes its line regarding this policy from time to time, and depending on who is addressing the subject and when, you’ll hear different explanations. Sometimes they say it has to do with regulations from Nevada Gaming, which doesn’t really make sense. Other times they’ll suggest not allowing deals protects the players, although that, too, seems counterintuitive, given that the policy forces deal-making “under the table” (so to speak).

Meawhile in the WSOP Conference Call last May it was suggested the policy actually has more to do with spectators and fans than with players. “The general public really doesn’t want to see skill-based games played that way,” explained WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. “I can tell you ESPN producers and viewers [also] don’t want to see poker played that way,” he added, suggesting perhaps the prohibition has more to do with what ESPN wants than what the WSOP does.

But as we saw today -- and at many EPT Main Event final tables, too -- the deal-making can sometimes be as entertaining or even more so than the poker itself.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Packers Are Freerolling

Sitting here with Monday Night Football on the teevee, watching Aaron Rodgers exert his mastery once more as the Green Bay Packers are rolling over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Not to get too carried away with a fast-crowding bandwagon here during Week 3, but the Packers look great and Rodgers in particular has become kind of incredible as one of the more dominating quarterbacks around. This has been building for a couple of years now, with Rodgers’s ability to see the field and react insantaneously to what is happening around him giving him an edge even we non-experts can see unfold in real time.

The MNF crew just made a persuasive comparison between Rodgers and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, highlighting how quickly each is able to translate thought into action.

Rodgers similarly makes me think of other sport-transcending players like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky -- guys who could survey a scene filled with more variables than most of us can track, “chunk” them somehow (as psychologists talk about) into manageable units, then act accordingly with precision and efficiency, seemingly “one step ahead” of everyone else.

A favorite play of Rodgers’ that I’ve enjoyed tonight and during recent weeks is the “free play” whereby he is able to induce the defense to go offside with a hard count, then call for a quick snap that allows him to fire deep down the field without any fear of a negative outcome. It’s something no other team aside from the always edge-seeking New England Patriots even seems capable of trying, let alone executing. But Rodgers and the Packers have done it multiple times already tonight, with a TD pass and another 52-yarder resulting from a couple of them.

In poker we are familiar with the concept of “freerolling,” say, when you’re all in with AcKc against AdKd and two clubs come on the flop. You can’t lose, but you could win big. Don’t see that scenario so often in football or other sports, but Rodgers and the Pack have found a great example of “freerolling” in football. And there’s something exceedingly enjoyable about watching it work.

(EDIT [added 9/29/2015]: Here’s an article discussing the eight “free plays” Rodgers and G.B. have enjoyed so far during the season’s first three games.)

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Friday, September 25, 2015

On Predictive Reviews; or, “It Probably Sucks”

Earlier tonight Vera and I decided on dinner and a movie. Was kind of spur of the moment, with no particular idea in mind when starting out for either half of the date.

For dinner we ended up at a burrito place down the road a bit that we like but hadn’t visited lately. For the movie we traveled over to a small theater located just around the corner from the restaurant, and of the available offerings decided The Intern starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway appeared the most inviting of the choices.

Apparently others were thinking similiarly, as the showing was sold out. We drove a few miles up the road to another, larger theater where we discovered another showing was also sold out, but another one a half-hour later was not. We bought tickets for that one, spent time at a nearby Barnes & Noble looking at magazines, books, and vinyl records (I was surprised to see), then got back over in time for the movie.

I’m not going to provide a review here other than to say it was an enjoyable couple of hours, with both DeNiro and Hathaway giving solid performances (as usual).

For DeNiro such roles are obviously a million miles away from his finest work. I had to chuckle a little at one kind of silly sequence when he was looking at himself in the mirror and testing out lines he’d deliver in a later meeting with Hathaway’s character, thinking back to the severe contrast of Travis Bickle threateningly asking himself “You talkin’ to me?” in another mirror long ago. Meanwhile Hathaway is more obviously portraying a character that evokes an earlier one, here playing the boss rather than the personal assistant as she did in The Devil Wears Prada.

One observation I’ll share about the film has to do with the music, which I realized about halfway through was kind of relentlessly designed to keep the mood as light as possible at all times. Every transition and most empty auditory spaces within scenes were filled non-invasive snatches of “easy listening” that helped lessen any sort of apprehension about what was coming next. It was the exact opposite of, say, better horror soundtracks (of which I’m a great fan) that produce the opposite effect of making it impossible to relax.

In any case, the main point I wanted to make about The Intern in this non-review has to do with how when it comes to movies so many are so quick to fire off reviews without having seen the film at all, usually forming those judgments on either the trailer (or a 30-second TV spot), what the “Rotten Tomatoes” site is saying, or both.

For example, there is a new piece on FiveThirtyEight currently discussing “The Three Types of Anne Hathaway Movies.” The article begins with a one-sentence summary of the The Intern’s premise (DeNiro portrays an elderly intern working for the younger Hathaway) followed by the flat judgment “That’s the extent of the joke.” A total, unambiguous dismissal.

Then comes the next sentence: “And judging by the trailer, the movie doesn’t get any more sophisticated than that.”

That’s right. The author, Walt Hickey, hasn’t even seen the film he’s just dismissed. (From there he goes straight to Rotten Tomatoes, natch, for supporting data.) It’s like deciding a hand isn’t worth playing before you even get a look at your hole cards.

The article goes on to share another one of those catalogues of subgenres 538 likes to create, then analyzes each category according to box office and, of course, Rotten Tomatoes ratings (which somewhere along the way has become an unquestioned quantitative measure of cinematic value). The conclusion then suggests Hathaway’s track record “means ‘The Intern’ may suck (and it probably sucks, barring a brilliant twist or a terrifically inaccurate trailer).”

I guess that’s the point of the 538 site which tries to use data to predict outcomes of all kinds -- politics, sports, entertainment, business, and so on. So maybe it isn’t entirely fair to complain about someone on the site providing a kind of “predictive review” of a film before actually seeing it.

I’ll agree the trailer for The Intern didn’t exactly enthuse me much when I saw it a couple of weeks back. Nor did it suggest the film was going to be anywhere near as brilliant and moving as Interstellar (the last film with Hathaway I’ve seen). Now that I have actually seen the move, I’m not going to defend it too vigorously as an especially remarkable achievement in film, although as I said it was entertaining and even somewhat thought-provoking despite its efforts to avoid challenging the audience too aggressively.

But think about it. How often does “it probably sucks” essentially stand in for reviews by those who actually watched a film? Or really listened to an album? Or carefully read an article on which they’re commenting (something I’m remembering coming up here before)?

I guess in a way the film itself is trying to explore that common phenomenon of preconceived ideas -- in this case about age and about working women -- overwhelming our ability to exert fair, unblinkered, informed judgments.

How well or deeply does it explore this phenomenon? That’s something you can judge a lot better if you see it.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bernstein, O’Rourke, Politics, and Zero Sum Games

Had Richard Nixon in mind yesterday, the anniversary of the “Checkers” speech. Was thinking about Nixon again today thanks to a visit to the campus of UNC-Charlotte by Carl Bernstein and P.J. O’Rourke. The pair appeared as part of UNC-C’s Chancellor’s Speakers Series, with the event called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House.”

Bernstein, of course, is half of the famed journalist team with Bob Woodward heavily involved in reporting on the Watergate case as detailed in their All the President’s Men and depicted in the film of the same name. O’Rourke, meanwhile, also has a four decade-plus career writing about politics, dating back to the early 1970s when he was part of the National Lampoon.

O’Rourke was there with Nat Lamp when they were doing a fave of mine, the National Lampoon Radio Hour, which ran from late 1972 through the end of 1973, a period exactly corresponding with the evolving Watergate scandal. Thus did the NLRH often feature Nixon and Watergate-related material, with The Missing White House Tapes LP (released in early 1974) compiling some of the best bits.

The presentation was pretty wide-ranging, and while I was disappointed there was very little said about Nixon or Watergate during the 75 minutes, there were a lot of interesting points made by both, most of which concerned contemporary politics and the current presidential race.

O’Rourke arrived late, actually, which gave Bernstein a chance to talk about Pope Francis’s current U.S. visit and contrast his message of humility with the “grandiosity” of current politics. Once O’Rourke showed up, though, he grabbed a lot of attention with various one-liners such as “I’m not stupid, but I’m a student of stupidity... I’m a political reporter.”

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got a lot of attention during the discussion. Bernstein’s latest book was a biography of Clinton, and so he had a lot to say about her “server issue” (although made no comparisons to Nixon and the tapes, which many others have). Meanwhile O’Rourke made the point that Trump can’t be called a demagogue, because “a demagogue is someone with a bad idea who is good at selling it, and Trump has no idea.”

The only time Watergate came up at all was after a questioner asked how the scandal would be covered today amid all of our social media, the internet, and other differences since the 1970s.

“The web is a fabulous reportorial platform,” said Bernstein (with some surprising optimism), who describe the current era as a “golden age of investigative reporting.” O’Rourke’s rejoinder was that while there’s a lot of reporting being done, it has become harder to decide about how authoritative it is. O’Rourke also added that if Watergate happened today, he guessed the scandal might have been discovered sooner since “the conspirators would have been more leaky.”

O’Rourke made one other point about politics I found interesting, describing it somewhat cyncially as a “zero sum game” in which no one benefits without someone else suffering. “What I got is something you can’t have,” is the phrase he used to describe the politician who has earned a vote or some other bit of power via whatever means are at his or her disposal. Nixon most definitely thought of politics in this way -- as a “zero sum” game -- which for me makes it all the more inviting to compare Nixon’s politics with his poker playing (as I have been doing in earnest for some time now).

Bernstein wasn’t as ready to give up hope when it comes politics and the possibility of good leadership, even though he largely agreed with O’Rourke that the crop of presidential candidates at present leaves a great deal to be desired. And in the end Bernstein’s liberal leanings and O’Rourke’s conservative coloring were mostly balanced out, which made for a thought-provoking afternoon on campus.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The “Checkers Speech”: When Nixon Bet and Dared Eisenhower to Call

Fifty-three years ago -- September 23, 1952 -- California senator and vice-presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon went on national television for a full half-hour to defend himself against accusations that he had inappropriately used campaign funds for his personal use. The presentation was positively received by the American public, and as a result thoughts about replacing Nixon with another VP candidate on the Republican ticket were swept aside.

Early on in the half-hour Nixon tells how an independent audit had been ordered to examine the fund and that it had determined no improprieties to have existed regarding it. He then provides numerous details about his personal finances, sharing practically every bit of trivia regarding his modest upbringing and the money he and his wife Pat had made and saved over the years, right down to exact amounts owed in mortgages and loans, details regarding his life insurance policy, and the fact that he owned a 1950 Oldsmobile.

It’s quite a tale, this financial autobiography provided by a politician on a national stage. Nixon omits one interesting item, though -- the money he won at poker while a Naval officer serving in the Pacific during the latter stages of WWII. He does mention how at the end of the war he and Pat had about $10,000 saved with which he was able to launch his first Congressional campaign, but in truth some (perhaps even most) of that total came from his having cleaned up in games of stud and draw on Green Island.

After defending himself, Nixon goes on the offensive, speaking about the Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s own campaign fund (bigger, and less well monitored), then moves on to praise the candidate at the top of the Republican’s ticket, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He concludes the speech with an invitation to viewers to send their judgments to the Republican National Committee, and as noted the response was quite favorable, showing that Nixon’s defense had succeeded.

The most famous passage of the speech comes at the very end of that catalogue of items regarding personal finances, beginning with Nixon saying “One other thing I should probably tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too.” He describes the family having been given the gift of a dog, a cocker spaniel, while on the campaign trail. He explains how Tricia, their oldest daugher (then aged six), named the dog Checkers.

“You know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog,” says Nixon. “And I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.”

It’s certainly an attention-grabbing moment in the speech. It’s jaw-droppingly maudlin, too, and one of several points during the half-hour that seem almost comic in retrospect. It’s part of a somewhat complex rhetorical strategy employed during the presentation, a stirring of the emotions to go along with the more rational-seeming presentation of facts and other attempts to establish credibility so as to persuade the audience that Nixon was not at fault, was honest, and could be trusted going forward.

Incidentally, the reference to a dog in a defensive political speech had a precedent, something Nixon was well aware of at the time. Exactly eight years before, on September 23, 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had responded to accusations that during a tour of the Pacific -- right after Nixon had left, in fact -- he had left his dog (named Fala) on one of the islands and had ordered a destroyer to go back to get it (at great expense).

The story was false, and FDR jokingly talks about how he personally didn’t mind the Republicans attacking him, but that his dog was much more sensitive. “His Scotch soul was furious... he has not been the same dog since,” Roosevelt cracked, adding that he felt it incumbent on him “to object to libelous statements about my dog.”

Given that he was speaking on the anniversary of the “Fala speech” and was making a pretty deliberate allusion, I can’t help but think Nixon had his tongue in cheek somewhat with his decision to highlight Checkers in a similarly humorous bit of self-justification. But the move meant more in Nixon’s speech, and came to be remembered much more vividly thereafter when people throughout his career would point back to the “Checkers speech.”

One aspect of the speech I find fascinating is how it can be viewed as a strategic move by Nixon in a conflict not against the Democrats or the press who were raising concerns and attacking him for the fund, but rather a part of a kind of “heads-up match” between himself and Eisenhower -- also a fine poker player, as it happens, although there are no stories of Nixon and Ike ever actually playing against each other.

Eisenhower -- a five-star general and war hero, but not really a politician -- was being led by his advisors, who had suggested he choose Nixon as his VP, then were suggesting he find a way to remove him from the ticket once the “fund crisis” broke. In fact, Ike’s advisors likely helped make the crisis bigger than it should have been insofar as they didn’t encourage the presidential candidate to step in and defend Nixon early on when talk of the fund first arose.

How, then, to move forward? Ike didn’t want to ask Nixon to step off, preferring instead that Nixon make the decision himself. But Nixon didn’t want to be the one to make the decision, either -- he wanted Ike to decide.

They had reached impasse, and by going on TV and asking the American public to weigh in, Nixon cleverly forced Eisenhower’s hand (so to speak). It was as though Nixon made a big bet on himself and was daring Ike to call it.

I like how Garry Wills describes the situation in his 1970 book Nixon Agonistes. Says Wills, Nixon “knew this was not what it appeared -- Nixon against the press, or the Democrats, or the people. It was Nixon against Ike -- a contest that... no one can be expected to win” because of Eisenhower’s enormous popularity. Nixon, explains Wills, “was reaching out across [the viewers’] heads to touch swords in a secret duel with Ike.”

When I watch and consider the “Checkers speech,” then, I think not of the board game after which the cocker spaniel was named, but the card game both Nixon and Eisenhower played successfully. And how early in his career Nixon found a way to win this particular, crucial pot.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Learning

There was a time years ago when I’d read any poker strategy book I could find. I scribbled about many of them here, and ended up writing reviews of dozens for various outlets over the years, too.

My consumption of such titles has slowed down considerably of late, as I imagine it has for most of us here in the distant wake of the poker “boom.” But I’ll read one every now and then, and will review them occasionally, too.

A couple of days ago Daniel Negreanu wrote a blog post offering to answer the question “Which Poker Books Should You Buy?” in which he makes a few different points about how to judge strategy texts, most of which make sense to me.

Negreanu spends some time in the post distinguishing between “mental game” books or those that might be filed with other sports psychology texts, and nuts-and-bolts poker strategy texts. He notes how when it comes to the former category, the author’s own record as a player isn’t necessarily a crucial issue. After all, people can help you become mentally stronger without necessarily even being poker players themselves.

However, when it comes to strategy texts or “books that teach you how to play the game better,” Negreanu maintains that “it is essential that the author is a successful, winning player over an extended period of time.” Thus does he strongly advise readers to check the credentials of the strategy authors -- i.e., their results -- before considering reading their books.

It’s reasonable advice, and I tend to agree with the distinction Negreanu makes between poker and other sports in which successful coaches need not have been players themselves.

Negreanu doesn’t really focus on the fact that there are plenty of very good players who aren’t so great at writing strategy books. (I’m remembering a few of examples of such books, some of which still gather dust on my shelf today.)

Thinking back, I’m remembering I actually reviewed a couple of Negreanu’s books back in the day -- his Power Hold’em Strategy (compiling chapters from many contributors) and More Hold’em Wisdom for All Players (which collected syndicated columns he’d written). I liked both books, although I’m remembering there were some sections of Power Hold’em Strategy I liked more than others, including Negreanu’s own good explanation of his “small ball” strategy.

Poker is also unlike other sports in another important way, one not irrelevant to this topic.

Most of us know instinctively whether or not we are expert enough at basketball, baseball, football, tennis, golf, or other sports to advise others. In poker, though, where accurate self-assessment can be more elusive, it can be a lot harder to arrive at such certainty.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

My, My, My Such a High Roller

So that $51K World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars finished a little while ago. Not just a high roller, but a “super high roller.” Or so the official name went. Saw it also referred to here and there as an “ultra high roller,” which I guess it was, relatively speaking.

It ended up drawing 46 entrants, making for a $2.3 million prize pool. Decent-sized turnout, it seemed to me, although it sounded like some thought there would be even more taking part.

Ben “Ben86” Tollerene took it down, earning over $616K after a three-way chop at the end. Tollerene has won a high roller ‘COOP before (a $21K heads-up SCOOP event), and is a regular in all of these high buy-in events on Stars.

José Ángel “Cejakas14” Latorre finished runner-up. As I mentioned on Friday, PokerStars offered betting on players in the event, and looking back at a list of odds from yesterday, Latorre was on there (at 16-to-1), as was the third-place finisher Nikita “fish2013” Bodyakovskiy (at 20-to-1).

Nopaleva who finished fourth -- and who won his way into the event with FPPs -- was on there, too (at 50-to-1). Meanwhile Mike “Tîmex” McDonald (who finished fifth) and 2014 WCOOP Main Event champ Fedor “CrownUpGuy” Holz (who finished sixth) registered late (like Tollerene) and thus aren’t on the list. They had final table betting, too, I believe. (All of that is a little fuzzy for those of us here in the U.S., of course.)

Will be curious going forward to see whether or not the $51K thing is tried again, or even bigger buy-in events, as well as whether betting on online events will become more common. In any case, the WCOOP continues to rage on, doing well as usual without the Americans.

Meanwhile, every time I see another one of these high rollers come around lately, can’t help but think of a certain Cheap Trick track:

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Have a Spare $51K Lying Around?

There’s a $51,000 buy-in online poker tournament this weekend. No shinola.

I’m sure you’ve heard about it. PokerStars’s annual World Championship of Online Poker is nearing the end of week number two (of three), and on Sunday comes a special “Super High Roller” with the $51K price tag. It’ll be the biggest buy-in online tournament ever on Stars, and I think ever, period.

They’re even trying out letting folks bet on the outcome over on the Casino side on Stars, with the opening lines listing Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu, and Chris Moorman as favorites.

If betting on a winner were an option for me, I wouldn’t take it -- not because the lines don’t seem so favorable, but the sheer fact that betting on any individual to win a poker tournament, even one with a small field, is inherently going to be a longshot play.

Speaking of the field size, if I were betting on how many might participate, I’d look back at the last $21K buy-in heads-up event from the Spring Championship of Online Poker back in May where 33 players took part. Could it draw that many? More? (Many seem to think more, actually.)

It has a $1 million guarantee (20 players), which will surely be met. It also will most certainly feature many of the usual super high-rolling suspects who populate the small fields in the World Poker Tour Alpha 8 events and other live SHRs on the schedule.

Should make for some decent railbirding, I’d imagine. That costs nothing.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Early Polling, First Levels

Watched some from those GOP debates last night. I had the early “undercard” on for the last half-hour, kind of passively following. Then I watched more attentively the second one -- the one with 11 candidates all vying with one another for air time -- for an hour-and-a-half or so before growing weary enought to shut down the teevee for the night.

Thanks in large part to this “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics” course I’m currently teaching, I’ve been more aware than usual of parallels between poker and political campaigns. Thus did I sit up for a moment after Scott Walker tossed out that line that he’d “love to play cards with [the president]... because Barack Obama folds on everything with Iran.”

That’s a line the Wisconsin governor’s been using for a while now, and it didn’t necessarily earn him much in the way of “chips” last night, given how several other candidates immediately stepped on it by, pleading “Jake! Jake” to get moderator Jake Tapper to pick them next.

Meanwhile -- thanks again to the class -- I continue to be more focused on the presidential races from 1960, 1968, and 1972 than on the 2016 one.

In 1968 Nixon won the presidency with 301 electoral votes, not a lot more than the 270 needed to be elected. Hubert Humphrey finished with 191 and George Wallace 46; if those two had picked up a couple of states between them, Nixon would have come up short and the decision would have been thrown to the House of Representatives.

The popular vote was also close between RMN and HHH, with Nixon finishing with about 31.78 million to Humphrey’s 31.27 million, while Wallace picked up about 9.9 million votes.

The polls were kind of remarkable during the last few days leading up to the 1968 election, with Nixon leading relatively comfortably until Lyndon B. Johnson’s “October surprise” announcement of a halt on bombing in North Vietnam on the Wednesday before the election.

For a day or two, the prospect of peace seemed imminent, and Humphrey surged. Then all was thrown into doubt when word emanated from South Vietnam that they weren’t necessarily on board with the agreement. “Saigon Opposes Paris Talk Plans, Says It Can’t Attend Next Week” went the headline in The New York Times that Saturday. Voters didn’t know what to think.

(Nixon, of course, is alleged by many to have had a direct role in South Vietnam’s sudden about-face, with Nixon campaign contributor Anna Chennault acting as an agent in what LBJ would describe as a treasonous act by RMN.)

The polls went kind of wacko from day-to-day, with Nixon up, then he and Humphrey even, then Humphrey even up briefly before Tuesday arrived. If the poll numbers were extrapolated to estimate the ultimate number of votes each would receive, the totals would resemble chip stacks at a tournament final table, with each enjoying the edge briefly until the vote finally froze the “stacks” once and for all.

The analogy only works, really, if we think of these final “players” as engaged in a cash game from which they have to leave at a preappointed time, with Nixon having finished up just enough to be declared the game’s winner. It’s hard not to resist thinking of the race in tourney terms, though, with one player effectively finishing with all the chips (even if that player doesn’t even enjoy a majority of the popular vote).

Right now the Republicans have 15 players left. (There are more declared candidates, but it appears only 15 have “chips” at present, with several of those on very short stacks.) Meanwhile Democrats have five candidates who are being recognized as “in the game,” with Biden sounding as though he may be taking a seat after all.

That’s still multiple tables’ worth of players. It’s the early levels, though, and so, like in a tournament, the stack sizes don’t mean very much as yet.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The DFS “Boom”

Heard on the radio what I thought to be a remarkable statistic today regarding the fantasy sports site DraftKings and its ubiquitous advertising campaign. Went looking online afterwards to find out more, and found’s list of the “Top 10 Spenders in TV Advertising this Week.”

That’s a screenshot of the top of the list at left (click to embiggen). Over the last seven days, DraftKings has spent more on TV ads than anyone else in the U.S. -- a whopping $16,488,346 on 4,910 commercials. Also in the top 10 at No. 7 is DraftKings’ biggest DFS rival FanDuel who spent $11,467,852 on 2,710 ads.

In truth, the last seven days haven’t been the biggest for DraftKings of late. During the first week of September they spent over $24 million on 6,749 TV ads, according to Legal Sports Report. That article points out how DK had suddenly ramped things up here with the start of the football season, having spent about $82 million during the first eight months of the year. There’s more than TV ads, too, of course, as anyone listening to the radio or surfing online well knows. I’d estimate they’ve already spent more than half that total here in September alone.

The stat I heard on the radio, though accompanied by some of these figures having to do with the amount DK has spent on ads, was a different one -- namely, that over the last week more than 1 million had opened new accounts on DraftKings.

This New York Post article from yesterday notes how DraftKings had 1 million users total back in April, so a gain of a million more this week is something else. With the recent surge, DK now has 4.5 million accounts. It’ll be interesting to learn how many it has by the end of the month.

For those of us who were playing online poker every day over a decade ago, all of this seems more than vaguely familiar. That the law that led to the eventual destruction of the game for American players -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 -- in fact today serves as a kind legislative linchpin around which the fantasy sports phenomenon currently revolves suggests another connection of sorts, in an ironic way. (See this interactive timeline of DFS history, with the UIGEA marking the industry’s origin.)

The online poker “boom” saw a game that had already been played for nearly two centuries suddenly explode in popularity over just a few years, not long after the internet had become part of all of our lives. Televised poker -- in particular the first World Poker Tour shows and ESPN’s World Series of Poker coverage from 2003-2005 (discussed some yesterday) -- contributed mightily to the game’s growth, too.

Online poker attracted many live poker players, a segment of those who enjoyed other kinds of gambling, and a lot of others who didn’t otherwise play poker or gamble at all. It also drew in a few sports fans lingering after the game had concluded to watch the WSOP shows.

Meanwhile “fantasy sports” per se has been around for just a few decades, more or less starting with those “rotisserie” baseball leagues in the late 1970s and 1980s (a tiny, tiny niche), then growing in popularity more recently with the season-long contests and leagues. The “daily” games only began popping up over the last few years. The first DFS site to launch (Fantasy Sports Live) came online in June 2007. FanDuel started up in July 2009, while DraftKings staged its first contests in January 2012.

The online poker ads were pretty frequent back during the “boom,” but I’m going guess none of the sites ever came anywhere near to topping biggest ad spenders lists the way DraftKings has over the last few weeks. Would be curious to learn how much the poker sites did spend on TV ads back in the day, and try to draw some meaningful (adjusted) comparisons.

The DFS growth is getting noticed by legislators. One -- Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat Congressman from New Jersey -- just this week requested the House Energy and Commerce Committee on which he serves to look into the legality of fantasy sports. There’s one more thread that will be interesting to follow. Other less-than-sanguine stories about the DFS are circulating now, too, including several about how hard the game can be for the casual players and others about how everyone is growing tired of all the damn ads.

I’ve mentioned here before several times how no matter how I try, I just can’t make myself get that interested in playing DFS. But I can’t help but be interested in the fast-moving story of DFS at present.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuning In: The 2015 WSOP Main Event Begins on ESPN

Saw our friend Kevmath tweeting a little earlier about viewers for last night’s initial two episodes from ESPN of their 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event coverage.

I was watching ESPN last night, although not the WSOP. Looking over at Sports TV Ratings’ numbers from Monday night, I was part of the group of 13.56 million watching the night’s first NFL game (Philadelphia at Atlanta) as well as part of the 14.33 million looking in on the second one (Minnesota at San Francisco).

I was also enduring some of that agony I was talking about yesterday after having picked both games incorrectly (in both cases going with “consensus” picks). (Argh!)

The episodes of the WSOP aired over on ESPN2 at 8 and 9 p.m. Looks like 245,000 were watching that first hour, then 414,000 tuned in for the second hour.

Instead of watching live, I DVR’d the poker and watched this afternoon. Was entertaining, I thought, in large part because of Phil Hellmuth being on the feature table for the entire two hours, then Daniel Negreanu getting seated there for the last 45 minutes or so of hour no. 2.

I also liked the snippets of talk from various players talking about what it meant to play the Main. That helped broaden things in such a way that it was possible to think of the larger context for the various hands that were shown. (Otherwise, it was hard -- as usual -- to think about how the tournament as a whole was going.)

Speaking of the number of people watching, at the end of one hand during the first part of the first hour, Hellmuth made a reference to his hand after being folded to, and when asked if he was telling the truth he said if he weren’t he’d “just lied in front a million people.”

Then he recalculated.

“Gonna be five million people watching this, at least.”

I believe last year’s Main Event final table -- the “almost live” November Nine, that is -- drew something like 1.15 million viewers, with the episodes leading up to it drawing considerably fewer. About a month ago I looked up some of these stats, finding that the 2008 WSOP ME final table had 2.364 million watching (the most of the Nov. 9 era).

This old PokerNews article from a decade ago lists some stats for ESPN’s WSOP episodes from back in the glory days. The article says in 2003 the average was 1 million viewers (for those seven Main Event episodes), in 2004 it was 1.5 million (for 22 hrs. of coverage, including non-ME shows), and in 2005 it was 1.1 million (for 32 hrs. of coverage).

No surprise to find that five million people watching a poker show didn’t happen even at the height of the poker boom. Nor is it to hear Hellmuth imagining five million are watching him.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Pigskin Pick’em; or, the Agony and Ecstasy

The NFL season has begun, and with it another foray into the agony and ecstasy of Pigskin Pick’em, a.k.a. “the pool.”

As I’ve covered here many autumns before, we pick games straight up (not versus the spread). All 256 of them. I came out of the weekend having gotten 10 of 14, and since that wasn’t 14 of 14 I am necessarily full of second-guesser’s remorse.

I was thinking this afternoon about the relative degrees of pleasure and pain these picks produce. Poker provides a starting place for such a discussion.

It’s a common aphorism in poker to talk about how winning a pot produces less pleasure than the pain produced by losing one. Also relevant, of course, is the extent to which one’s winning or losing is the product of having made a good or bad decision as well as how much luck (also good or bad) affected the outcome.

There’s a lot of luck involved with how NFL games go. But when it comes to picking them, I can’t really blame bad luck on having chosen this team or that one. That is to say, I think I play each “hand” here with equal “skill” (or lack thereof), with some being more difficult than others but my own action (the pick I choose) entirely determining whether I am successful or not.

Thus when discussing how the pleasure and pain of each game compares, I’ll divide the games and outcomes into four groups as follows:

  • most pain: making non-consensus choice (usually an underdog), being wrong
  • least pain: making consensus choice (usually a favorite), being wrong
  • least pleasure: making consensus choice (usually a favorite), being right
  • most pleasure: making non-consensus choice (usually an underdog), being right
  • On the one hand, these rankings are essentially emotion-based. However, they also directly correspond to the actual value of the picks, relatively speaking.

    The most painful example of going against the grain and being wrong (as I was when I picked Oakland yesterday -- why!?!) hurts worse than missing a game everyone else does, too (as when I picked Seattle, like nearly everyone else). Meanwhile the most pleasurable outcome of going it alone and being right (as when I took Buffalo, as few others did) helps me more than getting the same game right everyone else does (such as when we all took Green Bay on Sunday).

    I’ve written before here about the “hero pick” (i.e., the non-consensus selection). I suppose if I wanted to lessen the emotional “swings” of the game, I’d avoid those or at least minimize them. But who wants to play that way?

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    Friday, September 11, 2015

    The Serena Stunner

    Was working this afternoon with the U.S. Open playing on the teevee, pretty much the way it has gone for the last 10 days or so after my return from Barcelona.

    Tennis probably ranks fourth or fifth on my list of favorite sports to watch (with the NFL and NBA up top). As with golf, it is really only the majors that encourage me to tune in when it comes to tennis. I’ll happily leave the set on all day and night during the two weeks of Wimbledon, the French, and the U.S. Open. (Not so much during the Australian, because of the time difference.)

    My viewing goes back and forth between passive awareness of how matches are progressing and concluding and active following of every point near the ends of sets or matches.

    Today I can’t say I even really paid much attention at all to Flavia Panetta’s quick handling of the No. 2 seed Simona Halep in the day’s first match. I’d seen several of Halep’s matches leading up to today’s, and considering her high seed I’d guessed she was going to be a finalist, so the 6-1 6-3 result was kind of eyebrow-raising.

    Then came Serena Williams’s match with Roberta Vinci. I looked up for a while before it began to hear the commentators talk about “David versus Goliath” and speculate how quickly the match would be completed, none thinking for a moment that Williams could possibly lose to the unseeded Italian.

    The first set was over in a flash, won by Williams 6-2, and I’d moved fully into passive mode as they moved through the second set. Saw Vinci -- who at age 32 is older than the average player although a year younger than Williams -- was up a break, then watched as she managed to hold on to win that one 6-4, and suddenly I was setting work aside to see what was going to happen next.

    The third set was a strange one, with Williams breaking Vinci early to go up 2-0 and seemingly in position to cruise into yet another major final. But Vinci broke back right away and seeing her rallying herself and the New York crowd it suddenly became obvious she wasn’t going to be an easy out. Soon she was up a break, and after Williams missed an opportunity to break back (having a couple of break points to do so), it was all crazily pointing to one of those huge, impossible-to-have-foreseen upsets.

    The last game was almost an anticlimax, with Vinci clinching the set 6-4 to stop Williams’s run at the grand slam. Stunningly. The Italian’s post-match interview was terrific. “Today is my day, sorry guys!” she said, and it was impossible not to grin in response.

    Maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. After all, Vinci’s name literally means “win.”

    Afterwards the commentators tried to find examples from other sports with which to compare the magnitude of the upset, with the usuals (Villanova over Georgetown, Douglas over Tyson, etc.) being highlighted.

    From poker I was harkening back to Hal Fowler defeating Bobby Hoff heads-up at the 1979 WSOP as a closer analogue than Moneymaker over Farha. This evening I saw Pamela Maldonado make what was probably an even better comparison over Twitter, bringing up Joe McKeehen’s knockout of Daniel Negreanu two spots shy of the November Nine back in July and noting McKeehen’s similarly sympathetic-while-competitive response afterwards.

    The favorite-underdog dynamic makes poker an exciting game, since in every hand the dog still has a chance. In sports, too, it adds a layer of interest as we watch to find out how what happens compares to what was thought would happen. And there, too, do the favorites -- even the greatest ones -- sometimes fall.

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    Thursday, September 10, 2015

    The Angle Shooters of the NFL

    Am I ready for some football? Yessir.

    Will be right there with everyone else tonight to see the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have picked the Pats tonight, the first of 256 picks I’ll be making in the Pigskin Pick’em pool.

    Why the Pats? Two reasons. One, I saw the Steelers look only so-so in their last preseason game versus the Panthers. And secondly, I always pick the Pats.

    Was today reading ESPN’s big investigative feature from a earlier this week, “Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart,” which does a fairly substantial number on New England’s frequent skirting the edges of what’s allowed when it comes to competitive fairness over the last decade-plus.

    I’ve mentioned my current American Studies course, “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics.” Just this week we were starting to get into Nixon’s image and reputation, and how everything is necessarily colored by the lens of Watergate and the resignation. All of the many episodes from Nixon’s life and presidency -- including his poker playing -- is practically impossible to think about without thinking about his terrible judgment, abuse of power, and the disgrace caused by his spectacular fall from power.

    In making that point, we of course had to observe how the “-gate” suffix is now readily employed to create abbreviated terms standing for any scandal. It’s a way of communicating something complicated and difficult to explain in a single, made-up word -- handy, but usually obfustactory and often full of prejudice, making it seem as though guilt or innocence is as easily applied to the figures involved.

    That ESPN’s headline contains not one but two examples of such usage is impressive. I’m referring not to the headline writer (who didn’t coin either term) but that the Patriots have managed to be at the center of two such scandals. Heck, there’s a lot else in the story that recalls Watergate, in particular the systemic nature of the Pats’ shenanigans which reminds me a little of the various “operations” in effect (with varying degrees of commitment and/or effectiveness) during the Nixon administration.

    But my takeaway is hardly to say the Patriots are cheaters, even with all of the unsavory evidence compiled to suggest as much. I was writing earlier in the week about poker terminology turning up in non-poker contexts. Here’s a place where I think a poker analogy would be especially appropriate to employ -- that is, to refer to New England as “angle shooters” rather than cheaters.

    Like Nixon, they’ve employed “dirty tricks” that some would readily describe as unethical, others unsportsmanlike, and still others outright illegal and thus deserving of punishment. But to me all of it falls under the heading of the angle shot, which in poker sometimes can be regarded as unethical, sometimes unsportsmanlike, and sometimes against the rules (if the floor is called over and decides in that direction).

    I like our friend Robert Woolley’s pair of articles over in the PokerNews strategy section outlining various examples of sort of angle shooting, “Seven Dirty Poker Tricks (and How to Fight Back)” and “Still More Angle Shooters, and How to Defeat Them.”

    The actions described in those articles are the analogues to what the Patriots have done over the years. And what others could have tried to do, too, if they wished to play the game that way.

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    Wednesday, September 09, 2015

    For Historical Purposes

    Was scrolling through the music on my iPod today, thinking about that funny line by Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation when marveling at how such a small portable device can hold thousands of tunes.

    “The songs just play one after another. This is an excellent rectangle!”

    I found myself searching a little longer than usual for something to play, experiencing something I imagine a lot of others carrying around rectangles sometimes do. Among this large catalogue of .mp3s -- distilled from decades’ worth of cassettes, LPs, CDs, and music more recently acquired in various formats, all more or less representing my personal preferences -- nothing was really standing out as an attractive choice.

    As I was scrolling, I realized there were a few titles in there I am essentially never inclined to click. Why are those titles on there? At some point along the way, I must have deemed them worth having, but after years of passing them over I still am hanging on to them like some sort of digital hoarder.

    I enjoy reading reviews of music. I’ve even tried to write a few myself over on a blog that one day I’ll start contributing to more often.

    On many occasions have found leafing through old record guides or poring over another “top 100” (or “top 500” or top “1,000”) list online an enjoyable pastime. I realize that a few of the titles on my rectangle turned up there after I had been convinced by someone arguing for their historical importance. Some I took to, others I didn’t, but all remain on there undeleted as yet.

    I suppose with any category dealing with that which cannot be quantified like the “best” albums ever made -- or the best poker players, for that matter, as we were talking about yesterday with the new Poker Hall of Fame nominees -- even the “consensus” constituting what a majority of those making subjective judgments have determined is going to be hit-or-miss for the individual.

    The real reason why I keep those titles on the rectangle is that I want to remain open to the possibility of learning something new -- namely, what it was that made others like this or that record so dadgum much. Kind of like the way certain books stubbornly remain on my bookshelf that I’ve always meant to read but never quite got around to doing so.

    One day I’ll get to them. For now, though, they sit there like so many rectangles. All excellent, or so I’ve been told.

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    Tuesday, September 08, 2015

    2015 Poker Hall of Fame Nominees Announced

    The 10 finalists for this year’s Poker Hall of Fame have been announced, prompting a few in the poker world to spend a little effort once again thinking about what the PHOF represents and perhaps to debate once more about the challenge of trying to measure the worthiness of an individual to be recognized as a PHOFer.

    There are currently 48 inductees, with Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland being the most recent to be awarded the honor last year. I believe something like 23 or so of those in the PHOF are still living. That group gets to vote on the 10 nominees along with an appointed group of poker media, with two nominees at most able to get the nod.

    For several years I had the opportunity to vote for the Poker Hall of Fame and so have a bit of familiarity with the process. The 10 names are given to the voters, chosen by a group of folks at the WSOP from those submitted online. They aren’t the 10 most-nominated by the public, but rather the ones whom those doing the selecting think deserve to be finalists.

    From there the “Blue Ribbon” committee of PHOFers and media have 10 points they are allowed to distributed among one, two, or three nominees. The points are then tallied, and the two getting the most are elected.

    As I say, I had the privilege of voting for a few years there, and in fact if I hadn’t missed an email sent to an old, dormant account, I might still be part of the group voting. I didn’t mind losing my spot, however, for a couple of reasons. For one, I think any committee is benefited by changing members occasionally, if only to assure bringing in different views and perspectives. Secondly, people come and go a lot when it comes to the so-called “poker media,” which would also be a reason to revisit who is being included in that half of the group of voters.

    I was also told at the time the WSOP was interested in getting more European media represented as voters, which I also thought was a good thing. In any case, it’s clear from the 10 names presented to voters this year that the WSOP is pushing to try to get some non-Americans voted in to the PHOF.

    This year’s nominees are Chris Bjorin, David Chiu, Bruno Fitoussi, Jennifer Harman, John Juanda, Carlos Mortensen, Max Pescatori, Terry Rogers, Matt Savage, and Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott.

    Bjorin’s a Swede, Fitoussi is French, Pescatori is Italian, and Mortensen was born in Ecuador and grew up in Spain. The two deceased nominees Rogers (Ireland) and Ulliott (England) are also non-U.S. Chiu was born in China and Juanda in Indonesia, though both are American. Meanwhile Harman and first-time nominee Matt Savage are both U.S. natives.

    The idea of inviting the public to nominate 10 individuals for the PHOF and then have a committee vote to select inductees from that list began in 2009. Just for fun, here’s a rundown of who the finalists were for the six years prior to this one. The asterisks denote those inducted, and clicking the year gets you to a post written here about the PHOF class/winners from each:

  • 2009: Tom Dwan, Barry Greenstein, Dan Harrington, Phil Ivey, Tom McEvoy, Daniel Negreanu, Men Nguyen, Scotty Nguyen, Erik Seidel, Mike Sexton*

  • 2010: Chris Ferguson, Barry Greenstein, Jennifer Harman, Dan Harrington*, Phil Ivey, Linda Johnson, Tom McEvoy, Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Erik Seidel*

  • 2011: Annie Duke, Barry Greenstein*, Jennifer Harman, Linda Johnson*, John Juanda, Marcel Luske, Jack McClelland, Tom McEvoy, Scotty Nguyen, Huckleberry Seed

  • 2012: Chris Bjorin, David Chiu, Eric Drache*, Thor Hansen, George Hardie, Jennifer Harman, John Juanda, Tom McEvoy, Scotty Nguyen, Brian “Sailor” Roberts*

  • 2013: Chris Bjorin, Humberto Brenes, David Chiu, Thor Hansen, Jennifer Harman, Mike Matusow, Tom McEvoy*, Carlos Mortensen, Scotty Nguyen*, Huckleberry Seed

  • 2014: Chris Bjorin, Humberto Brenes, Bruno Fitoussi, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harman, Bob Hooks, Mike Matusow, Jack McClelland*, Daniel Negreanu*, Huckleberry Seed
  • In 2009, Sexton was the only inductee. The voting process was different then, but a stipulation requiring a nominee to get at least 75% “yes” votes (like the MLB Hall of Fame) made it hard for more than one to get in that year (and in fact almost made it so no one could get in).

    Also noteworthy from 2009 was how Tom Dwan -- then just 23 years old -- got picked by the public, and then was removed from the ballot by the WSOP.

    In 2011 the so-called “Chip Reese Rule” was added, meaning no one under 40 years old could be nominated. That’s why Ivey and Negreanu were on the ballots before that date, and Negreanu only showed up again last year after turning 40. Ivey turns 40 next February, will be on the ballot next year, and will be inducted, no doubt.

    Also, in 2012 Brian “Sailor” Roberts was not picked by the public to go on the ballot, but was a “write-in” nominee submitted by a PHOFer (I believe).

    Gonna guess Ulliott, who passed away in April, gets in this year, with either Mortensen or Juanda nabbing the other spot. Who would you vote for, and who do you think gets in?

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    Monday, September 07, 2015

    All In All the Time

    There are some in the poker world who seem to get bothered by the use of poker vocabulary in non-poker contexts, and especially the misuse of poker terms.

    Regarding the former, some will roll their eyes at yet another reference to someone “upping the ante” or having an “ace in the hole,” mainly because such poker allusions often sound trite or unimaginative, an obviously clichéd use of language. Meanwhile the latter will earn even more vitriol -- just watch the next time you see someone make reference to holding a big poker hand and then deciding to double down (crudely mixing poker and blackjack).

    For me, I tend to appreciate any instance of poker-related language popping up in non-poker contexts, primarily because it often reinforces the prominence of America’s favorite card game in the larger culture -- which (in turn) supports a main argument of the “Poker in American Film and Culture” class I’ve taught many times over the last several years. Even when the terms are being used imprecisely or incorrectly, I still find it interesting how the language of poker bleeds over into all sorts of areas that have nothing to do with card playing.

    The poker term “all in” has become one of the most popular in non-poker contexts over recent years. On a sports talk show I listen to regularly, they probably use the phrase at least once every two shows or so, usually when the hosts are arguing some point and are challenging one another to commit to a certain position.

    “Are you all in with that?” one will ask the other, and sometimes the answer will be in the form of valuing the point according to hand rankings. “This is pretty good... these are two queens I’m holding here,” will come the response.

    Those guys understand what the term means and are more or less using it correctly. Meanwhile, as discussed in a new article in The New Yorker appearing today, it’s frequent use in politics is often not used correctly.

    The piece by Ian Crouch, titled “Going All In on ‘All In,’” was prompted by Jeb Bush’s “All in For Jeb” campaign slogan. Crouch points out how the phrase is used a lot in politics, and almost never does it actually mean a candidate is fully committed behind whatever it is he or she is said to be “all in” about.

    He concludes as well that Jeb Bush in particular seems less committed than most at this early point of the presidential campaign, and not so inspiring to others seeking a candidate on whom to bet their vote and go “all in” themselves.

    The article is worth a read, both for the political insight and for a quick-and-easy history of the term and how now, suddenly, everyone seems to be going “all in” all the time.

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    Friday, September 04, 2015

    WCOOP Returns This Weekend

    The World Championship of Online Poker returns this weekend on PokerStars, the 14th year of the festival. There are 70 events this time around -- up from the previous high of 66 the last two years -- with the guarantees adding up to $45 million.

    In truth, this year’s WCOOP technically began several days ago. Event No. 1, the $109 NLHE “Kickoff” event, is being staged in two phases, with there being several “Phase 1” flights -- two per day, in fact, from last Sunday through today, then five more tomorrow and another Sunday morning to make 18 total.

    It somewhat resembles the Barcelona Cup I was covering not long ago which had six different initial starting flights, each of which played down to 15% of the field, then all the survivors combined for a “Day 2” and stuck together thereafter. In the Barcelona Cup players could keep entering subsequent flights if they busted; similarly can players keep trying different Phase 1s until they make it through one of them.

    I was writing earlier in the week about my personal preference for freezeouts over reentry events, although I do think there is something kind of fun about these sort of tourneys that experiment with formats and create unique conditions without altering strategy too greatly.

    In the Barcelona Cup, everyone making it through an initial flight made the money -- i.e., the “bubble” always coincided with the end of each starting flight. Such is not quiet the case for the WCOOP “Kickoff,” as each “Phase 1” plays fourteen 15-minute levels (taking about four-and-a-half hours), then after the fields are combined the money bubble will burst at some point during “Phase 2,” probably early.

    Phase 2 (taking place on Sunday) will then consist of fifteen 20-minute levels, then survivors from that will return on Monday to play it out to a winner, making it the first three-day WCOOP event (technically) I believe there has ever been.

    The schedule is a monster, with buy-ins ranging from $109 to three different $10,300 events plus that $51,000 “Ultra-High-Roller” (starting September 20) which will surely draw a lot of eyes when it comes around.

    Here’s the full schedule.

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    Thursday, September 03, 2015

    Bright Ideas: Some Recommended Reading

    Wanted today just to point to a few items over in the PokerNews Strategy section published this week that I think are especially interesting, for different reasons.

    One is Bob Woolley’s lengthy response to the recently-revised Poker Tournament Directors Association rule book, titled “New Poker Tournament Rules You Need to Know.”

    Bob (a.k.a. the Poker Grump) highlights 14 of the new additions/edits to rules for comment, serving both to inform readers of the rules and to give us something to think about when judging the changes as positive or otherwise. In most cases, Bob is in favor of what the Poker TDA has done, although there are a couple of exceptions. Check it out.

    Another article I enjoyed was Nikolai Yakovenko’s discussion “Game Theory Optimal Solutions and Poker: A Few Thoughts.” It’s another long one, but well worth it if you’re at all interested in learning more about what “GTO” really is and what it has to do with poker.

    Nikolai keeps it interesting throughout, and the discussion at the end about three-handed play between Daniel Negreanu, Dan Colman, and Christoph Vogelsang at the conclusion of the 2014 Big One for One Drop is enlightening, not to mention a helpful example with which to highlight some of the article’s main points.

    Finally, I also liked Carlos Welch’s article from yesterday titled “Note to Self: If You’re Gonna Lose a Flip, At Least Lose It Right.” Carlos explores an interesting theory in that one, namely that since position is so important in poker, if you’re going to lose chips it is better to lose them to players on your right against whom you’ll have position and thus a better shot subsequently at getting those chips back.

    Like the other two articles, there’s some genuinely original thought going on in Carlos’s article as he pursues this idea, the kind of thing that is sometimes hard to come by these days when it comes to poker strategy.

    Indeed, for me all three of them feature actual “light bulb” moments. Check ’em out and see if they do for you, too.

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    Wednesday, September 02, 2015

    Reentry or No Reentry?

    Yesterday the tournament director Matt Savage tweeted to his followers a fairly straightforward question, presented as having to do with a bet between himself and Allen Kessler.

    “Do you prefer reentry or no reentry in your poker tournaments?” he asked.

    I replied “no reentry.” Scrolling through others’ answers, it appeared responders were divided between preferring reentry, not liking reentry, or wanting to ignore the question and propose other options (e.g., single reentry or other qualifications).

    I was answering as a player. I have always preferred freezeouts to tournaments that allow multiple entries. I think the main reason for me has to do with bankroll management and being on the nitty side. It’s not that I’m unwilling to fire more than once in a reentry, but I just feel more comfortable knowing at the start how much I am in for.

    I think I also just prefer how the game is played when there is no possibility of coming back after busting -- both as a player and when following or reporting on events. In one unlimited reentry event a couple of years ago, I recall reporting “bustout” hands for the same player six times (no shinola). Talk about Groundhog Day. In such an environment, it’s like nothing that happens prior to the close of the reentry period has much meaning at all.

    Reentry tournaments remind me of back yard wiffleball games as a kid and the “do over” play. You know, the old “I wasn’t ready” plea that seemed like it would come up at least once every game. They also remind me of all the challenge flags in the NFL, something I’ve complained about here before as making it necessary to withhold response to any play until after the opportunity to call it back has passed.

    Of course, we could step back even further and talk about the culture as a whole as one constantly in the process of appealing every decision or judgment, never seeming to settle on anything in a satisfactory way. In this postmodern world, there’s always another perspective, another version of the “truth” to challenge the one that had been previously accepted.

    That 72-event EPT Barcelona festival from which I’ve just returned featured a few reentry events scattered in the mix, but the great majority (including the Main Event) were freezeouts. In other words, in most cases if you wanted to buy back in and play more, you entered a different tournament.

    I’m aware, of course, of how reentry events (in some cases) give players with bigger bankrolls an edge, and also how they can be especially advantageous for those staging the tournaments for potentially producing a lot more rake per player. I’m also aware of how in some cases making tournaments reentry genuinely adds to the fun, as in the case of the media event last week where having reentries meant no one had to leave within the first hour.

    Forced to choose, though, I’m going with “no reentry.” And I’m sticking to that choice, too -- i.e., there will be no reasking or reanswering.

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    Tuesday, September 01, 2015

    Volem Dormir

    That to the left is a photo of a building located not far from the Casino Barcelona, snapped during a brief walk on Friday morning over in the nearby Barceloneta district. It’s an apartment building with bedsheets hanging out of the windows, all bearing messages complaining about noise and expressing the need to sleep. (Click to enlarge.)

    Stephen Bartley wrote a little something about the messages in a post on the PokerStars blog last week. We had noticed during late dinners how there was a ton of activity late at night, even after midnight. The beaches were full of people, as was the boardwalk and many of the establishments near this building.

    As Stephen wrote about, there were demonstrations Friday and Saturday night, which if I follow things correctly were conducted by the locals protesting what the influx of partying tourists has done to their sleeping patterns. I would see some of those protests walking back to the hotel around 2 a.m. that night -- lots of cars blaring their horns cruising up and down the avenue, with a heavy police presence all about.

    Reading around I see the whole “Volem Dormir” (“we want to sleep”) campaign has been around for a while now, with the bedsheets a not uncommon sight around Barcelona recently.

    Sleep was what I sought during my long voyage home yesterday, although it proved as elusive for me as it has been for the tenants of that building in Barceloneta. Even so, some four thousand-plus miles later I’m safely back home on the farm, not a bad place at all to recuperate from such a long and intense trip.

    The flights back were fine, although as I’d picked up some sort of sinus-related bug those last few days I wasn’t necessarily feeling my best near the end. In fact it still feels a little like I’ve got a cotton ball stuck in one ear, which is a little worrisome. But things are finally starting to loosen up I think, and I’ve got the requisite meds to get me back on the mend.

    Wanted to doze during my trip home, but on the long flight from Barcelona to Philly I was seated next to an extremely chatty retiree on his way home after visiting a sibling in Spain. By the time we landed I knew most of the pertinent details of his lengthy biography, plus had received some advice about cooking for women. “It’s best to have a signature dish,” he explained, noting his was salmon with a side of asparagus.

    “The key is the Hollandaise sauce.”

    With my voice mostly shot from the sore throat, I confined myself to responding with eyebrow raises and nods. He also recommended Listerine for my cough. “Twice a day... will knock it right out.”

    On the shorter flight home from Philly I did have a row to myself and stretched out a bit, although the pressure in my noggin’ made it impossible to sink into anything close to slumber.

    What a start to the EPT season it was, really, with record-breaking fields all around and some genuinely interesting stories surrounding the event, including with the way the high rollers and Main played out. Malta comes up next in late October, and it’ll be interesting to see if the momentum continues there.

    Meanwhile my momentum has slowed to a crawl. If you don’t mind, I’m just gonna put the seat back a little here and try to relax. You can keep talking, if you want.

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