Saturday, April 30, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 5 -- Cracked

“That should be some sort of art installation.”

So suggested Remko Rinkema, speaking of the cracked window there to the left. One of a few looking out the media room onto the Mediterranean Sea, it has been cracked in this way for as long as anyone can remember, and there are a lot of lengthy memories among those who have been covering EPTs over the last dozen years.

Was a little overcast today, making for a less stunning view through those cracks. More often the sky is a light shade of blue and the water a deeper one, with cruise ships typically passing to and fro to create an animated postcard constantly in motion behind us as we work.

The window takes on a symbolic significance with each passing day, too, as everyone tries to hold it together while the festival unrelentingly marches onward. In truth, aside from a few sore throats and a cough here and there, everyone seems to be managing just fine as we approach the halfway point of this year’s European Poker Tour Grand Final.

Five days are done, and six more are left. Today’s fifth day was a long one for your humble scribbler who again was helping cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event. Meanwhile the EPT Main got started, the €100K Super High Roller finished up (won by Ole Schemion with Mustapha Kanit part of the heads-up chop, natch), and a myriad of other side stuff was going on as well to make for another crowded time at the Sporting Club.

Our tournament started with 1,261 runners, 60 of whom returned for Day 3. From that bunch just six are left to play tomorrow, with France’s Stephane Dossetto the leader just ahead of the often entertaining British player Niall Farrell. They’ll be streaming “cards up” coverage of the final table on Sunday, so if you tune in over at EPT Live starting at 2 p.m. Monaco time (that’s 8 a.m. ET), you can watch this one play out to a conclusion.

None of the players seemed to crack up today, at least not in observable ways. A decision made near the end of the night to keep on playing down to six players (rather than stop at eight) was met with approval. It’ll make for a shorter day on Sunday, for certain, which I think also will make things a little easier for these final half-dozen if they wish to jump in the second Day 1 flight of the Main.

Check out yesterday’s coverage of all the big events over on the PokerStars blog, and tune in today for some FPS final table fun as well, as I’m sure James Hartigan, Joe Stapleton, and Matt Broughton of EPT Live will have viewers cracking up.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Days 3-4 -- If We’re Counting

Thought with yesterday’s anniversary post I’d combine a couple of days’ worth of base-touching regarding how things are going in Monaco this week -- days 3 and 4 here (out of 11, if we’re counting).

In truth, the two days weren’t all that different from one another, as both once again saw me spending most of my waking hours over at the Sporting Club at the EPT Grand Final helping cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event.

On Thursday the tournament played out Day 1b, which was énorme with 912 players coming out for that flight alone. The 1,261-player total for the event well exceeds the 993 who played it last year, and marks the second-biggest field in the six-year history of the FPS.

They ended up seating folks all over the place in a few different locations, which meant a lot of steps for your humble scribbler (and scrambler). We added still more to our total when going for a jaunt over the border to Nice for dinner at the same Vietnamese restaurant we enjoyed going to a year ago.

I wrote a post here then titled “Monaco is a Maze” describing the walk to the restaurant and featuring a picture of the steep stairwell going up about five flights to get to that eating establishment. Well, this year that stairwell was blocked, which meant a long, winding trek and a lot of uphill to get there this time, then we found a slightly shorter path involving a couple of mysterious elevators that helped get us back. (Over 16,000 steps that day, if we’re counting)

That night ended with one of those silly moments only those who do a lot of this tournament reporting thing find fun. Having literally eyeballed a player’s stack for no more than one-third of a second before the chips got dumped into a bag, I ventured a guess to my blogging partner-in-crime Nick they totaled 263,000 and turned out to have guessed the amount exactly. This story I then repeated at least a half-dozen times before leaving as joking self-promotion of extraordinary powers of perception.

Friday saw the bubble burst, as pictured above -- can you spot me in the crowd? (click to embiggen) -- after which the big field got carved all of the way down to 60 players. Again, it was mostly business as usual, reporting-wise, with Nick and I surviving the day in good shape and enjoying a surprisingly early finish as staff decided to cut things short by a level.

Poker-wise, it was interesting to see the Brazilian Leonardo Pires enter the day as the chip leader, more than double his stack during the first two hours to sit with over 700,000 when no one else had half that, then in a little over two hours more get knocked out with a min-cash. Pires was the same fella who led several days in a row at the PCA this year before going out in 13th.

I’ve actually already slept a couple of hours tonight (and yes, I’m counting), and so am gonna try not to distract myself looking at score updates from Game 6 of Hornets-Heat and go back to sleep right now. I mean all these mouton aren’t going to count themselves.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Decade of Hard-Boiled Poker

Ten years of blogging?! What kind of applesauce is that?

It’s true. Ten years ago today, inspired by other poker bloggers, some podcasts, and a love of poker and writing, I decided on a whim to begin this blog. No shinola.

I write today from the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. I suppose ten years ago I could have imagined coming here for some other reason, perhaps. Vera Valmore and I did spend a whole year in France once before, during which we loved visiting Nice. But I couldn’t have then pictured a scenario where I’d be here writing about poker.

Nor would I have imagined going other places to do the same, as I’ve done a lot over recent years. And all because of this here blog. Amid my other posts on Hard-Boiled Poker, I’ve been submitting dispatches from tournaments all over the globe, including from Las Vegas, Ukraine, Peru, Morocco, Atlantic City, Uruguay, Macau, Pennsylvania, France, Connecticut, Florida, Spain, Niagara Falls, Chile, Canada, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Bahamas, Monaco, Brazil, Ireland, and even my home state of North Carolina (at Cherokee).

Such “Travel Reports” have been just part of the story, of course, among the 2,750 posts (including this one) that have appeared here. For the first five years (up through Black Friday), a lot of the focus was on my own low-limit poker adventures, mostly online. Other topics -- film, literature, music, television, politics, law, business, history, science, math, philosophy, psychology, and (more recently) life on a farm -- have been the focus of all of this relentless scribbling, too, with all of them somehow having something to do with poker the blog's leitmotiv, poker.

It was around Black Friday most of the other poker blogs all started going away. Their fading began a couple of years before, really, mostly in direct correlation to the rise of Twitter. I got my @hardboiledpoker account in 2009, and it was then most of the seats at the blogging tables began emptying in earnest. Still a few of us grinding along, though, for some reason finding it necessary to communicate in chunks lasting more than a sentence or two at at time.

The blog started as a hobby, then quickly became an unexpected entry into a large, fun, exciting community of others also enthusiastic about poker -- and about writing and reading about poker. Then came other opportunities and eventually a second, unexpected career for me, a life twist I described several years ago in a post called “Detour.”

The title of that post was an homage to the 1945 hard-boiled film starring Tom Neal as a down-on-his-luck hitchhiker. Neal’s character takes an unforeseen turn in that story, as did my own. I certainly didn’t see such a change coming ten years ago, back when I invented this “Short-Stacked Shamus” character and borrowed Neal’s image to use as a kind of avatar for it.

A “shamus” is a detective. And his being “short-stacked” suggests a down-on-his-luck context for his sleuthing, as though his situation mirrors in some way the desperate one Neal’s character (who becomes kind of a detective) endures in the film.

None of that really describes me or the adventure on which this blog has carried me. No, I’ve run especially well here, and it’s all thanks to those of you who have stopped by now and then or perhaps even more consistently. Friendly and generous responses kept me writing in the beginning. Continued good feedback kept me going in the middle. And the knowledge that some are still coming around even ten years on has kept me at it still today.

Thanks to everyone for making all of this traveling around -- both out into the world and the inner traveling that necessarily happens with every post -- so enjoyable for me. No shinola.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 2 -- Step by Step

Was a long one at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo today helping over the first Day 1 flight of the France Poker Series Main Event. Basically a noon-to-midnight workday this time, as it will similarly be for the next few days for your humble scribbler.

The poker went about as expected, with a big turnout of 349 entries -- well over the number who played Day 1a of this same event a year ago, which suggests tomorrow’s second and last Day 1 flight will be fairly massive. They managed to play down to just 91 tonight, although I expect tomorrow we’ll see the Day 1b field end with more than twice that still with chips.

Lots of steps today registered on the FitBit -- something like 14,000, I think, just about all taken going back and forth between the media room and the main tournament area. Started to flag near the end after having had only four or so hours’ sleep last night, but made it through more or less in one piece.

At least I didn’t start out the day playing a set of tennis as did my blogging colleagues, Stephen and Howard. They bought a pass to play over at the nearby Monte Carlo Country Club, something I believe they’ve done before in past years, and after playing happened to see none other than Novak Djokovic, currently the top-ranked men’s tennis player in the world (by a lot), working out on a nearby court. No shinola!

Not too much to report otherwise so I’m gonna cut it short and try to get some more rest tonight. Am a little tempted to stay up late for the Hornets-Heat Game 5 (which starts at 2 a.m. here, but I imagine I wouldn’t last very long even if I stayed up late enough for the tip.

Better to rest up for another day full of steps tomorrow. Meanwhile, check the PokerStars blog for all the scoop on what happened today both in the FPS Monaco and the second day of the 10K Single Re-Entry High Roller.

Photo: courtesy Jules Pochy/PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 1 -- Early Fireworks and a Side of lasagnaaammm

After sleeping a solid 12 hours -- from before midnight to almost noon -- your humble scribbler had more or less gotten his body clock in order here in Monaco and was ready for the first day of action at the European Poker Tour Grand Final at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo.

Thankfully today’s Day 1 of the €10,000 Single Re-Entry High Roller event wasn’t scheduled to start until 6 p.m., which gave me a chance to get a few things done and relax some more during the afternoon before heading over. The tournament drew a bigger field than I think was expected, with nearly 180 entries on the first day (and late registration open a couple of levels into tomorrow’s Day 2).

Aside from reuniting with several good friends and colleagues with whom I get to work at each of these EPTs, there were a couple of other highlights during the day.

One was an unexpected fireworks show happening out over the Mediterranean late in the evening -- loud, bright, and majestic. Our work area has a few large windows looking out over the sea, each framing a nice view of the show. (That’s a shot by Rene Villi of the PokerStars blog up above, taken from the outside.)

The other came via Marc Convey, my longtime blogging partner with whom I’ve been working on events for something like eight years now. Knowing how I enjoy the personality of the Italian player Mustapha Kanit, a.k.a. “lasagnaaammm,” Convey -- without my knowing it -- got Mustapha to deliver a personal update of his chip count for me:

Gonna cut it off there and hit the hay now, as I’m looking at a much shorter night’s sleep tonight before getting back at it tomorrow starting at noon. I’ll Moving over to help cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event, where the field will be considerably bigger. Meanwhile you can check the PokerStars blog to see what happened during today’s action.

Photo: courtesy René Velli/PokerStars blog.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Arrival -- From Green to Blue

Bonjour mes amis. I am writing late on a Monday night from a hotel in Monaco, having arrived here earlier today. It’s my home-away-from-home for the next couple of weeks as I’ll be helping with the reporting from the European Poker Tour’s final stop of Season 12.

Took the red-eye to London, then had another two-hour hop down to Nice. Both flights were fine, with the first half of the transatlantic one occupied by dinner and a viewing of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Had seen it long ago, of course, but this time through watched with a much more thorough understanding of the different conspiracies Stone weaves together to create his narrative. Also knew practically all of the bit players introduced throughout the story -- i.e., the historical versions, I mean -- and so was even aware of embellishments and omissions here and there.

The all-encompassing monologue delivered by Donald Sutherland’s “Mr. X” (based on L. Fletcher Prouty) is the great highlight, of course, signaling a recognition, I think, that the scope of the mystery is ultimately too great for any single person to be capable of tackling alone. In other words, a conspiracy of investigators (which now would have to involve members of several different generations) would have to come together in order to unravel fully a conspiracy that resulted in JFK’s killing.

A shuttle carried me from Nice to Monaco, one I shared with Jason Mercier and Natasha Barbour, both here to play, of course. Talked playoffs with Mercier a bit, as he’s a Heat fan and I’m for the Hornets, although I’m not too enthusiastic about Charlotte’s chances against Miami.

Took it easy during the afternoon, then met up with several of the fellas for a delicious dinner at an Italian place called Risotrante Mozza located not too far from where we’re staying. For an appetizer had insalata tiepida di polpo, that is, a salad with potatoes and octopus that was mouthwateringly flavorful. Then it was pizza for the main course, the tartufo featuring truffle and potato slices with rocket salad on top, also delicious.

Expect to have a few more nice meals along the way here, although there will be the occasional 20-euro cheeseburger thrown in as well.

Weather here is comparable to back home -- blue skies, sunny, and a light wind making it very spring-like. The deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea out back (see above) contrasts sharply with the green on the farm, though, which I’m already missing as Vera sends me another picture of Sammy, Maggie, and our yearling, Ruby (a.k.a., the “Roobster”).

It’ll be a late start tomorrow as the first big event, the €10,000 Single Re-Entry High Roller, doesn’t get going until 6 p.m. local time. You can follow reports over on the PokerStars blog.

Gonna try while here to provide some brief reports on the blog each night after things conclude. Have a big day, in terms of the history of Hard-Boiled Poker, coming up this Thursday, though, where I may have to write about something else, too. Any guesses what that might be?

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Poker vs. Chess in Russia

Interesting item from yesterday’s Chicago Tribune regarding the rise of online poker in Russia over recent years, one point of which is to suggest how poker has now more or less overtaken chess as the national game, at least in the view of certain observers.

The article’s title, “Online poker’s killing the Russian chess star,” kind of awkwardly reprises that of the Buggles’ prescient 1980 pop hit “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the effort to do so probably misplacing the article’s emphasis somewhat.

The article does include some generalized nostalgia about the Soviet era’s chess “celebrities” -- people like Mikhail Botvinnik, Garry Kasparov, and Anatoly Karpov (none of whom is actually named in the article). And it does remark on the growth of online poker in Russia, citing figures such as the fact that 16% of Russians in 2013 played poker (up from 11% two years before) and that Russians account for 8.4% of all players on online sites.

But it doesn’t really provide a convincing causal link between the fall of chess and rise of poker. That’s not to say there isn’t a link, but the article doesn’t dig too deeply and thus doesn’t really show how poker “killed” (or is “killing”) chess.

In fact, interestingly, the real emphasis of the article has to do with current legislative efforts in Russia to legalize online poker, which as happened many times over here in the U.S. has led to studies about potential revenue and debates about whether the game’s skill component sufficiently distinguishes it from other forms of gambling.

I say the link between the decline of chess and the ascent of poker isn’t so obviously established in the article, but there is one interesting connection described. Speaking of possible federal regulation of online poker, it sounds like some of the potential revenue would be earmarked to help reinvigorate chess among the country’s population.

“In a nod to sensitivities about the decline of chess,” writes the author, “the government plans to use the tax proceeds that result to fund the National Chess Federation, so that it can foster passion for the game once more.”

In any event, it sounds like the status quo isn’t going to hold much longer in Russia as far as online poker is concerned. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. And whether or not the government’s next move helps online poker continue to grow in popularity (and chess, too, I suppose). Or, as happened in the U.S., it has the effect of checkmating it away.

Photos: “Chess,” Tame M. CC BY 2.0; “Poker XII,” Bastian Greshake. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today

In a bit of a funk at the moment, not the good kind. Very similar to the one I was in back in January after David Bowie’s passing. Like you, I first started seeing the tweets about Prince earlier today, and after a few uncertain minutes saw it confirmed that he’d passed away at 57.

Like Bowie, Prince was one of those genre-blending artists that managed to capture just about all of us at some point or another. And in a similar fashion, once he did capture us we were destined to remain under his spell thereafter.

1999 would have been the first Prince record I heard, way back in 1982 when 1999 was the hard-to-imagine distant future. Soon after that I’d collected the earlier LPs, with Dirty Mind always getting the most plays, a record I once wrote about over on 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute.

Then came Purple Rain. Kind of like what happened a dozen years ago when everyone suddenly was playing poker, everyone suddenly liked Prince. It is simply a perfect pop/rock record, already cinematic in scope even without the accompanying film. I think at one time or another each of the nine tracks has had a turn standing out as a “favorite” for me on that particular disc, and each for different reasons.

Was writing recently about old concerts I’d seen, and in fact among those I did happen to see Prince and the Revolution during the Purple Rain tour in November 1984. I remember the white “cloud” guitar with the handle and (of course) his culminating a solo once with a stream of something flying out the top and out over the crowd as though it were a sexual climax. (There are certain things you just don’t forget.)

Vera Valmore happened to have seen Prince at that same show -- or one of them, anyway, during the three-performance run in Greensboro -- back before she and I had ever met. We were just talking about that concert last weekend when in Asheville, in fact.

During that conversation I mentioned how I probably wouldn’t be able to find online any audio files of those shows as I had with the Springsteen one from ’85. If you’ve ever looked for Prince stuff online or on YouTube, you’ve discovered it to be relatively scarce thanks to his considerable efforts to protect his product -- to have some measure of control over his art and how it was made available and received.

An exception is this performance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame from 2004, where Prince joined Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison’s son Dhani in a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the performance occasioned by Harrison’s induction. Prince takes over the song’s latter half, and you gotta love his wry whaddya-think-of-that look near the end after his preeminence has been well established.

Stuck close with Prince all of the way through the mid-’90s where (as with Bowie) I lost the thread for a while before picking it back up again more recently (with Musicology and 3121). Then went back even before the beginning for those ultra-funky, impossible-to-sit-still-through Loring Park Sessions 1977, recorded just a year out of high school.

As with Bowie, Prince has had a permanent spot for me in the ongoing life soundtrack, and will continue to do so. Many will spend the next few days describing his combining and reimagining rock, pop, jazz, fusion, funk, R&B, and other styles, as well as other elements of his many cultural contributions. I think the thing we connected with most, though, is the effort and production of a genuine artist, someone who (relentlessly) created and inspired.

And as a result added considerably to this thing called life, helping many to get through it.

Photo: “Prince playing MadCat, Coachella 2008,” Scott Penner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Now That’s a Lot of Cabbage

Something recently reminded me of that specialized “hard-boiled” lingo one finds in novels by writers like Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and others. I think it must have been a delayed echo from that Robyn Hitchcock show I was writing about a couple of days ago, specifically his tune “Raymond Chandler Evening” I’ve continue to hum all week.

I was going back through some posts on the blog recently -- just cleaning up some dead links here and there. Ended up lingering for a while, reading several including a few early ones where I tried (somewhat vainly) to write using that “hard-boiled” patois.

That didn’t last very long (thankfully), although a few phrases and words have stuck over the years, including using “cabbage” to refer to money. It wasn’t my normal voice, of course, and while my detective novel Same Difference has a few hard-boiled elements (including style-wise), I didn’t go for the lingo so much there, either, finding it hard enough to tell a story without giving myself that additional challenge.

I’ve toyed with another novel idea, a story set in the late 1920s, actually, where it would be not inappropriate to include characters sounding like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. So ripe for parody, that. Can only really be done with tongue partially in cheek.

Probably wouldn’t have made it to one year on here writing about poker had I tried to keep up that applesauce. Let alone ten, a milestone that’s coming up in just over a week. (No shinola.)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

GPL Moves Into Third Week

Was busy for much of yesterday although by late afternoon I was able to switch on the Global Poker League and watch the 6-max matches go by.

They’ve now introduced webcams for those (a couple of players at a time) as well as some “postgame” interviews with players, all of which adds considerably to what would otherwise be a fairly dry watch of an online sit-n-go. I also feel like there’s something genuinely interesting -- and perhaps even unique -- when it comes to the players’ attempts at analyzing hands on the fly.

I’ve never much gotten into watching the single-player streams on Twitch in which a player tries to do what he or she can to engage an audience, and perhaps offer some strategy advice along the way. Many of those often seem to be “about” cheering for a player to go deeper in a tournament or build a stack on a cash table, which can be interesting if you care about the player but otherwise is not terribly compelling.

Meanwhile on the GPL streams players are perhaps in a bit more vulnerable position when it comes to offering on-the-fly analysis. For one thing, viewers can see everyone’s hole cards (whereas the player obviously cannot), a big distinction from the Twitch streams in which those watching can only see the channel host’s cards. Thus we hear the player talking through decisions knowing whether or not his or her reads of others’ ranges are accurate, which in turn gives us a better idea how such decision-making works (or doesn’t).

I think also there’s much less of an “us-versus-them” feel to the GPL streams as opposed to other poker streams on Twitch. Sure, we might well have a rooting interest, and curiosity about outcomes and who wins and who loses also obviously motivates a person to watch. But I’m finding my attention shifting a lot as I follow the different players’ thoughts about the hands their playing, occasionally expressed by multiple players within the same hand.

The last couple of matches today (involving the “Americas Conference”) were fun, too, thanks in part to Tyler Kenney (Bryn’s brother) and Felipe “Mojave” Ramos both getting to heads-up and splitting the victories.

Both players were “wild cards” added to their respective teams (the New York Rounders for Kenney and the São Paulo Metropolitans for Ramos), and both were clearly very excited to do well in their GPL debuts. They both tended toward the “fit-or-fold” style of play (as noted by commentator Sam Grafton along the way), which I think many of us who consider ourselves recreational players also often employ, adding perhaps another layer of interest to following their progress.

The excitement level varies quite a bit, of course, with these GPL shows, and I’ll admit during certain stretches finding myself wandering away when it fails to engage. But I do think there’s something genuinely different about the shows compared to other poker TV, and so for now -- while the novelty remains fresh, anyway -- I’m continuing to dial them up.

Image: Global Poker League.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Robyn Hitchcock at the Grey Eagle

Took a nice, leisurely trip up to Asheville this past weekend with Vera Valmore, kind of a mini-vacation inspired by Robyn Hitchcock -- a longtime fave of mine -- having come to play a gig at the Grey Eagle on Saturday.

Hitchcock is someone I’ve been listening to for more than three decades, which means I started picking up his records not that long after he started making them. I wore out the Soft Boys albums, his solo LPs, and those he made fronting the Egyptians, picking up and studying just about everything right through the ’90s and after. And I have continued checking in on the more recent stuff as well, including his latest, The Man Upstairs, released a couple of summers ago.

I saw him play a couple of times way back when -- once during late ’80s, then another time around ’91 -- and in fact I even dragged Vera to the second of those shows. Since then he’s slowed down somewhat, having evolved from a loud, electrified rocker with psychedelic tendencies into a softer, acoustic-based act that strikes newcomers as a kind of weird neo-folk, although the inspired, surreal lyricism remains the most conspicuous common thread tying together the different eras.

Seeing him again kind of paralleled the experience I was describing last week when I located and listened to a boot of a Bruce Springsteen show I’d attended over thirty years ago. I say that because of the uncanny deja-voodoo I experienced as Hitchcock happened to play some of the same songs I’d heard him perform before all those years ago.

One I know he played at the earlier shows was the meditative “Raymond Chandler Evening,” a kind of homage to the hard-boiled writer filled with dark, gritty imagery that contrasts with the sweet arpeggios carrying its catchy melody. (Was delighted when he tossed in an extra verse I’d never heard before, introducing another crime scene into the proceedings.) He followed that Saturday with another one from the same 1986 album Element of Light -- “Bass” -- a song I’m also pretty sure he played when back when I last saw him.

Vera and I had to laugh when he began “Bass.” Earlier in the evening we’d enjoyed a very fun dinner with our poker-playing friends PokerGrump and CardGrrl, and Vera and I both happened to have ordered bass for our entrees. I joked then Hitchcock had a song by that name, though I doubted he’d play it... and then he did.

Someone’s already uploaded that particular track to YouTube, if you’re curious. In fact, I'm noticing other songs from the show on there, too, and have linked to each from the titles in this post. During one of Hitchcock’s many extemporaneous acts of word association used to introduce songs (a signature trait), he joked about skipping ahead in the YouTube video, fully conscious of the fact that many artists’ performances get instantly memorialized in this way.

Hitchcock actually split the bill with the comedian, Eugene Mirman. Hitchcock came on first, playing about 10 or 11 songs, with other highlights including “I'm Only You” and the Dylan cover “Not Dark Yet” with which he opened.

After that Mirman made us laugh for about 45 minutes, then the pair both carried on a suitably absurd conversation onstage for a while before Hitchcock closed the night with “My Wife and My Dead Wife” (another ’80s-era track I’d seen him play in the past). A great time, start to finish.

My only bit of chronicling during the show was to snap that poor-looking pic up above, one showing Hitchcock squinting out into the crowd in a fashion that seems to suit the photo’s lack of clarity. As I was telling PokerGrump and Cardgrrl after our dinner, I’ve lately found myself actively opposing the whole take-a-picture-of-everything urge that so often possesses us these days. (Not to mention the subsequent feeling of being obliged to broadcast those pictures via one’s preferred form of social media.)

I guess I archive plenty enough here on the blog, although that exercise is a little different. Here I force myself to translate experience into words, that act alone being enough to make whatever it is much more memorable than tends to happen when snapping a pic or shooting a short vid.

The whole weekend was like that, really, spent mostly unplugged -- like Hitchcock.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Five Years Later, Just Another Friday

Five years ago today I was in Lima, Peru helping cover the Latin American Poker Tour event there for the PokerStars blog. There we are to the left behind our laptops (the day before, I believe). It was my second trip to Lima, and the first and only time I’d partner up with my friend Dr. Pauly for such an adventure.

That fact alone might have helped make the trip stand out from the many others tourney journeys I’ve taken over the years. But something else happened that caused me to remember those days many times over the years since.

Was just another Friday. We all rolled into the Atlantic City casino late that morning, and had set up shop and were already reporting on Day 2 when the news reached us around 1 p.m. Lima time (if I remember correctly).

I don’t quite remember, actually, when the phrase “Black Friday” began to be used, although looking back through my travel reports here on the blog I can see the phrase already starting to appear in posts by Sunday. That means by the time Pauly, F-Train, Reinaldo, Carlos, and the rest of us left Peru it had already become the shorthand signifier for the end of online poker in U.S. as we knew it. And (so we thought then) the probable end of a lot of other things, too, including such trips to South America.

It turned out not to be quite as catastrophic as it seemed then, thankfully. Those reports from Lima share a kind of rapidly-told story arc reflecting the before, during, and after of the news hitting us and our efforts to absorb and understand it:

  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Arrival
  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Pregame
  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Day 1
  • Thunderstruck: The Day It All Changed for Online Poker
  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Day 2
  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Day 3
  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Day 4
  • Travel Report: 2011 LAPT Lima, Departure
  • Another one written about three weeks after getting home is actually my favorite “Black Friday” post, the one describing the game of Big Deuce our group played our final night in Lima, a.k.a. the Last Game:
  • 2011 LAPT Lima Postscript: Plotting in Peru
  • And for more looking back, earlier this week I wrote up a more clinical, less personal rundown of what poker life was like before April 15, 2011, the events of that day, and the long, frustrating aftermath in an article for PokerNews. If you haven’t seen it you might take a look as it likely will trigger some “oh-yeah-I-forgot-about-that”-type memories:
  • Black Friday: Reliving Poker’s Darkest Day Five Years Later
  • Now it all seems oddly unremarkable, as though (in hindsight) there was something inevitable or even predictable about what happened on April 15, 2011 and everything that followed. Of course the DOJ was going to unseal the indictments and civil complaint that day -- it was just a matter of time before they did. And certainly the targeted sites would then depart the U.S. in short order. And surely we could’ve (should’ve?) seen the funds-related troubles following, too. Right?

    Even the long, dreary, battle-with-inertia marking individal states’ efforts to reintroduce online poker -- successful so far in only three, and with desperately modest results -- seems from today’s perspective to have been an inexorable consequence of it all. As do the still dim prospects for online poker in this country going forward (if we’re going to be realistic).

    You’d think all of that might make it less easy to remember the shock of the day itself, with the dot-coms going offline, Twitter exploding and “#pokerpanic” becoming a favorite hashtag, Two Plus Two crippling and flatlining under the weight of traffic, and so on. But the surprise was so pure and fresh -- even if it shouldn’t have been -- the impression remains lasting, even today.

    Five years plus a couple of leap days makes April 15th a Friday once again. The symmetry has an effect, and the time removed now enough to suggest some kind of finality. It’s a period of time once considered adequate to accommodate Soviet planning, or to help illustrate a David Bowie-imagined apocalypse. Like we’re now even more fully sealed off from what it was all like before.

    As though finally, we’re all of the way back, and it’s just another Friday.

    Photo: courtesy Carlos MontiPokerStars blog.

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    Thursday, April 14, 2016

    The Attraction of Audacity

    We love audacity. Love it. Of that I am convinced.

    There are many different types of human behavior or accomplishment that fall under that heading, of course -- boldness, courage, outlandishness, novelty... even rudeness (when not directed toward us personally). But all of it fascinates and therefore attracts our attention, and often our approbation, too.

    Think about it. Audacity is often attractive. It’s true in politics. It’s true in entertainment. It’s true in poker, too -- why else would we all have become so infatuated with such a long sequence of daring, intrepid players with “alligator blood”?

    It’s true in sports as well.

    I sat up late last night with a lot of you watching those two regular season-ending NBA games -- the one in which Golden State defeated Memphis to finish 73-9 and set a new standard for wins in a season behind Stephen Curry’s out-of-this-world shooting, and the other in which the L.A. Lakers came back to beat Utah behind Kobe Bryant’s jawdropping 60-point performance.

    Both Curry and Bryant were utterly audacious, although in different ways.

    Curry hit 10 three-pointers and in his usual effortless-seeming manner tallied 46 points in just three quarters before sitting the fourth. He also finished the season with 402 three-pointers, breaking his own record set last season of -- get this -- 286! That’s a Bob Beamonesque leap ahead. Outrageous!

    Then there was Kobe, shooting 50 times last night (!), something he’d never done in 20 years in the league. In fact, no one has shot that many times in a game in 33 years. (Again, outrageous!) Sixteen of those shots came in the fourth quarter, during which he reached the 40-point plateau, then hit 50, then after hitting a go-ahead basket finished with 60 even, the most of any player this season.

    Different degress of audacity -- Curry’s more smooth and masterly, Bryant’s kind of stubborn and ferocious. But similar in that in each case an individual played and performed in a way that completely transcended the idea of a team game. (Or “undermined,” I suppose some might say of Bryant’s unembarrassed and endorsed-by-all ball-hog-itude.)

    Both were a lot of fun to follow, too, and almost impossible not to enjoy.

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    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    The Time I Saw Springsteen in Greensboro

    You might have heard about this “transgender bill” the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, signed into law about three weeks ago. The part of the legislation getting the most attention prohibits transgender individuals from using public bathrooms for the sex they identify as. The other less regarded part gives the state power to override cities’ attempts to pass their own nondiscrimination laws (as Charlotte had done, thereby prompting the legislation’s last push).

    At the time, McCrory -- who as governor so far has made his mark by cutting education spending and joining other governors in taking an abhorrent (and impotent) stand against the state accepting Syrian refugees -- described the bill as “bipartisan,” although it was mostly Republicans voting for it in the House and, in fact, the Senate Democrats (a minority) walked out on the vote entirely, a highly unusual move.

    You might’ve also heard about certain businesses either threatening to avoid NC going forward or having already made such moves. For example, PayPal announced it has halted its plans to create a global operations center in NC in response to the new law. A handful of other events have been canceled, and the NBA is starting to talk about moving the 2017 All-Star Game somewhere other than Charlotte.

    There’s also a lot of negative vitriol being directed the state’s way. For example, in a humorous short piece yesterday, Charles P. Pierce of Esquire reported how a porn site is now blocking IP addresses from NC, a development he jokingly suggested would be the final straw to force NC to change the new law. Coincidentally or no, McCrory did, in fact, announce yesterday an intention to try to modify the law.

    I normally enjoy Pierce’s political musings, although I have to say I’m getting a little tired of blanket statements about the state being mostly populated with crazed bigots such as the one he uses to begin his porn piece: “We all know that Bruce Springsteen has declined to play in the now almost entirely insane state of North Carolina due to the enactment of its Urinal Cooties Protection Act of 2016,” Pierce begins.

    Okay, it’s a funny line. But the state is not “now almost entirely insane,” okay? I’m reminded of some of the response three years ago to Greg Raymer’s bust for soliciting a prostitute in Wake Forest, when support for the 2004 WSOP Main Event champion quickly bled over into damning acid-spewing aimed at the entire state.

    Pierce mentions Springsteen skipping NC, deciding to cancel with just a couple days’ notice his Greensboro show that had been scheduled on this past Sunday. I don’t begrudge the Boss in the least, and in fact I’d suggest his decision likely had a lot to do with McCrory’s attempt to start backtracking a bit yesterday.

    The news of Springsteen’s canceling his show caused me to think back to the one time I saw him and the E Street Band perform -- in Greensboro, in fact, way back during the Born in the U.S.A. tour (no shinola). I admit I wasn’t a big fan of his then. I was in high school and had a friend who went to Elon who had an extra ticket, and I tagged along. Over the ensuing decades I have remained only a casual fan, having just a couple of titles on my iPod that I only occasionally dial up.

    I was curious to remember details of the show I’d seen, though, and so did some searching online. With only a few clicks was able to pinpoint the performance -- January 19, 1985. It was a typically monstrous show, lasting three-and-a-half or four hours, I recalled, and the setlist confirmed for me how it had gone on for 28 songs.

    Clicked around a little bit more and was surprised to find audio of the actual performance on a site full of Springsteen shows. I downloaded and listened, and was kind of floored by how fantastic the show was. There’s just something about Springsteen playing live. I suppose it has to do with the stories he tells between songs and how they draw the listener’s attention more specifically to the songs’ messages. Or maybe there’s something else there that energizes the performances, something less simple to describe. In any case, hearing Springsteen live is always much more affecting (to me, anyway) than happens with the studio versions of the same tunes.

    There’s a theme that runs through just about all of Springsteen’s songs -- call it a chase, a search, a journey, what have you. The songs’ protagonists are often on the move, trying to figure out where they’ve been, make sense of where they are, or get some idea of where they’re going. They’re all looking for something -- meaning, love, self-identity, self-worth -- with the thread connecting them being the quest. And, it goes without saying, “Born to Run” stands as the wholly appropriate anthem for the whole cast of characters Springsteen creates.

    Kind of a weird, nostalgic trip listening to the show. During a long, funny intro to “Glory Days” he mentions getting a note from the assistant manager of the Greensboro Hornets (then the minor league baseball team), which then leads into a story about his failed baseball career (abandoned as a teen in order to “devote my life to rock and roll!”).

    Then comes the song, which is, of course, all about being nostalgic. I couldn’t help but think back to being a teen myself, there at the show, with a whole life ahead of me and every possibility still open. It goes on and on and on, with the whole track (including the intro) lasting nearly 12 minutes, prompting this surprising feeling in me that I never wanted it to end.

    There are many other great moments. Perhaps the one bringing me most quickly back to the present was the intro to “My Hometown” in which he delivers a short soliloquy about how tangled things like patriotism or pride in one’s state or place can be. He describes how as a teen he often wanted to leave his home and never go back, not wanting to be identified with the small town and its many seemingly “narrow-minded” folks populating it.

    But as he got older, he realized just taking off and running away wasn’t such a simple matter.

    “I guess one of the things when I was a kid that I was afraid of was... belonging somewhere,” he explains. “When you belong somewhere, that means you have some responsibility to that place, whether it’s your family, or your town, or your country. You know, if you stand up and say ‘I’m an American,’ that means you got some responsibility to America.”

    Predictably, they (we?) cheered at that line. But just as “Born in the U.S.A.” is hardly the patriotic paean some occasionally mistake it to be, Springsteen wasn’t delivering an uncomplicated invitation to dance a jingoistic jig.

    “Here in this country, you know we’ve got so many things to be proud of, and we’ve got a lot of things to be ashamed of. And it’s the things that we ought to be ashamed of that need some taking care of by all of us.”

    Listening to that three decades later -- reliving it, in a way -- it’s no great surprise that Springsteen would skip Greensboro this time around. Obviously he viewed the decision as a way perhaps to help take care of something that needed taking care of.

    North Carolina is where I’m from, and no matter how far I travel away from NC it’ll always be where I belong. I want others -- all others -- to feel like they can belong here, too.

    It sounds like a simple desire, but in truth it’s pretty complicated.

    Photo: “Bruce Springsteen,” Thomas Uhlemann. CC BY-SA 3.0 DE.

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    Tuesday, April 12, 2016

    Nolan Dalla Interview, July 2010

    This morning I noticed a bit of conversation over Twitter regarding this petition that has appeared online. The petition seeks to encourage the World Series of Poker to eliminate all rake from the Main Event as well as to start a “revenue-sharing program to supplement the prize pools” with money generated from ESPN and other sources.

    It’s a pipe dream, no doubt, although the petition did cause some to recall how, in fact, the WSOP Main Event was not raked as recently as 2002 (when it was still under the Binion’s Horseshoe aegis). That historical tidbit reminded me of a conversation I’d had several years ago with Nolan Dalla who for many years served as the Media Director for the WSOP. (I believe his current title is “ Senior Writer.”) Actually the conversation was an interview I did of Dalla during the 2010 WSOP for Betfair Poker.

    We started that interview talking about the WSOP circa 2002, in fact, just before the “boom” happened and Harrah’s acquired the WSOP. After a little hunting around I found that like other older articles I’d done for Betfair the interview with Dalla also is no longer available online. It took some more hunting, but I eventually found the sucker, and as I’ve done before here with some of those items that have disappeared I thought today I’d share the Dalla interview here.

    I like this one a lot, not just because of the nostalgia it evokes thinking back to 2010 and the various WSOP-related topics of interest back then. I think my favorite stuff comes at the end where we get into the topic of tournament reporting and the relative place of writing about poker.

    * * * * *

    “The Betfair Poker Interview: Nolan Dalla”
    [Originally published at Betfair Poker, 7 July 2010]

    The WSOP Main Event is now underway, and I remain at the Rio both this week and next to help cover the Series for PokerNews.

    Anyone who comes to the World Series of Poker to report on it likely comes into contact at some point with Nolan Dalla, Media Director for the WSOP, and -- I would venture to add -- likely benefits immensely from having done so. As one of my colleagues noted just a day ago, “Nolan Dalla is better at his job than anyone I know is at theirs.”

    I had the opportunity this week to sit down with Dalla to ask him a few questions about his involvement with the WSOP over the years and about how this year’s Series has gone.

    Short-Stacked Shamus: You’ve been WSOP Media Director since 2002. Let me start by asking -- how did you end up in this role?

    Nolan Dalla: Well, quite by accident, really. I was in the middle of a perfect storm, so to speak. Back in 2002, we really didn’t have many media here coming to the World Series. There were a few poker writers, and 300 or 400 people played in the Main Event -- nothing like the scale of today. Then everything pretty much changed my second year with the World Series working for Binion’s Horseshoe.

    I had moved to Las Vegas and was the Director of Public Relations for the Horseshoe. A lot of people don’t remember that right before Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003, the Horseshoe and the World Series were on the rocks. The World Poker Tour had just started and their numbers were enormous over at the Bellagio -- they were actually beating us. And here I was working at the Horseshoe and it felt like we were rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic and the ship’s getting ready to go down. That really was the prevailing attitude.

    SSS: Wasn’t the World Poker Tour talking about buying up the World Series?

    ND: They actually made a cash offer. I remember I was in the office when a fax came in. I can’t say what the figure was, but I remember that figure was looked at and considered, and boy, it was a bargain basement price at the time, considering what [the WSOP is] worth now. Nobody could really have foreseen how everybody’s life would change in May 2003 when Moneymaker won.

    When I talk about a perfect storm, it was ESPN’s first year [doing a multi-part series on the WSOP], Chris Moneymaker, the everyman, wins the Main Event, and I just happen to be the Media Director. I think I knew it was going to be a big moment, but I don’t think I realized how big a moment until I looked at my cell phone [after Moneymaker won] and I saw the David Letterman show, CBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, ESPN... it was like whoa! And everyone’s life, including my own, changed from that point forward.

    SSS: So here we are in 2010 and the Main Event is underway. From your perspective, how has the 2010 World Series of Poker gone thus far?

    ND: Well, the World Series is up. The economy is still bad in a lot of places, but the World Series just seems to be recession-proof. I have to admit that every year I think “When is it ever going to catch up?” You would think at some point that this momentum shift would stop, but again it appears that the [2010] World Series is going to be way up from last year. This Main Event could and should be the second-largest poker tournament in history. [Indeed, the Main Event drew a total of 7,319 entrants, making it the second-largest live poker tournament ever behind the 2006 Main Event.]

    SSS: A lot of us were curious about how the World Series would go after the departure of Jeffrey Pollack as Commissioner, who I think a lot of people felt like contributed quite a bit during his tenure. Is there anything that has been different without a Commissioner?

    ND: It’s a fair question. I think that most of us who worked with Jeffrey look at that period very fondly. He did enormous things for the World Series from 2006-2009, and certainly he’s left an indelible imprint upon the World Series. However, I will say that the new management team -- starting with Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky, Howard Greenbaum, and others -- have been around this game for many years and they have learned, as we all have, from some of the mistakes we’ve made years ago and we seemed to have gotten it a little bit better every year until we’ve reached this point.

    I think anyone who has come to the World Series this year has to say that the facility, the comfort level, the organization, everything about it is much better. Is it perfect? No. Can it get better? Yes. But I think that as far as the World Series of Poker experience goes, I don’t think it’s ever been higher in terms of satisfaction.

    SSS: I had a chance this year to help cover the Ladies Event, where there was some controversy when a few men entered. So I was there when you came and said a few words before the final table in support of the Ladies Event. Comment a bit on what you said there.

    ND: We need more women in poker. No one can disagree with that. That is a good thing. And women’s poker tournaments and the Ladies World Championship fosters that greater participation. No one can disagree with that. That’s a fact.

    I think for anybody to upset what I call a fragile balance that exists, I think that’s a bad thing and is counterproductive to the game -- not just to the women in poker, but to the game. I understand other people have their own agendas and they may have their political views with regard to equal rights issues and all of these things -- that’s all fine. But the bottom line is what is good for poker? What is good for the World Series of Poker? And that is to protect the integrity and tradition of that event. The Ladies event started in 1977 -- that is 33 years!

    Unfortunately we have to let this issue play out, maybe in the courts or wherever this fight and this discussion is going to take place next. But I think there are a lot of us who really want this tournament to continue and are going to do everything we can to make sure it continues.

    SSS: Back in February I enjoyed an article that you wrote about your most embarrassing moments at the World Series...

    ND: Ha ha.

    SSS: Not to make you draw attention to a particular embarrassment from this summer, but is there anything that’s happened here in 2010 that maybe would wind up on an a list like the one you compiled for that article?

    ND: As you know in this job there are a lot of hours you put in and if you see a lot of things it is kind of like the law of large numbers -- you make more errors. And I’ve sure made my fair share over the years. And sure, I’ve had a few more this year and I think that I’ll do a follow-up column and it won’t be the ten most embarrassing moments but maybe the 20 most!

    SSS: I can identify with this very strongly. You put in a 14-hour day and you do your best to be perfect and cover everything, but it can be a challenge.

    ND: Yes, and it’s a shame also that you just don’t have the mental capacity to talk to everybody you want to, to get to know everybody you want to. Because, really -- and I really believe this -- there are 65,000 people who have played in events this World Series so far, and there are 65,000 stories out there, if you go after them. Everybody has something to say. The problem is there are only 24 hours in the day.

    SSS: Even if you knew, I don’t think you could answer this next question. But where do you think the World Series of Poker is going to be next year?

    ND: Yes, everyone is speculating [about whether the WSOP will relocate from its current home at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino]. That is the big question everyone will probably be asking once this Main Event ends. It’s appropriate because people care where they are going to be playing. And I can tell you that anybody who thinks they know the answer to that question doesn’t know what they are talking about. The Harrah’s organization will examine all of the options, and those discussions really haven’t started that much yet. So anybody who thinks they have inside information, they really don’t.

    SSS: What I keep hearing is “A dealer told me that it was going to be...” and generally the sentence is finished with wherever it is that dealer is dealing.

    ND: Haha, yes. Any property in Las Vegas would love to have the World Series, with all the people eating in the restaurants, staying in the hotel, gaming, and the excitement and publicity that it generates. The World Series of Poker is really Las Vegas’ best infomercial. Forget about that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” campaign, the best informercial for Las Vegas is the WSOP. And so any casino would love to have this event at their place, and it is just a matter of seeing where it will end up.

    SSS: Okay, last question. You’re the WSOP Media Director, so you spend a lot of time helping those of us who report on the WSOP and try to give us what we need and make it so that the covering of the World Series is as successful as it can be. What is your impression about how the WSOP is covered currently and do you have any ideas about how it could be done differently?

    ND: Boy, that’s a great question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that. I had a very interesting conversation with a reporter from USA Today -- we were talking last night at dinner, in fact. And he said that he thought poker was tailor-made for the internet. And he’s right -- the immediacy of the internet, and people turning on a computer in 115 different nations and say -- bam -- Phil Hellmuth just busted out two seconds ago, that’s incredible.

    Really no other sporting event is quite like that. With football, you watch it live and after it’s over it’s done. But with poker afterwards you have these logs, and hand histories, and you can look it over and have this great amount of information. I don’t think that really exists in football or baseball or in major sports -- the detailed information of what goes on, which is really a testament to what the reporters do. To be able to detail all the hands, all the players, all the quirks, all the stories...

    So I agree that this is a game that is tailor-made for the internet, and I expect that to be the major focus [of WSOP coverage] as we move into the next few years.

    SSS: When you say that it makes me think that there is something about poker -- that ESPN can do what they do, and we can put cameras on people playing and watch it happen -- but there’s something about poker that almost requires it be narrated, that is, put into words. And the immediacy of the internet helps us tell those stories almost as they are happening.

    ND: You just nailed it there. If you watch something, sure it is interesting. But having someone there creating a mental picture of what happened... it’s kind of like how they say the book is always better than the movie.

    I’ll tell you something, I’m astonished the talent that has come into this game as far as writing goes, especially in the last three years. There are some really fine writers, and people who come from all walks of life, who have come into this game. We didn’t really have that five years ago. Not that poker writers were bad, but we’ve got some extraordinary talent and people who love and are passionate about the game and that really comes through in the coverage now. I mean on many sites, not just the news sites, but the bloggers, reporters, everybody.

    Much thanks to Nolan Dalla for taking the time. And speaking of good poker writing, if you are looking for a excellent read about one of poker and the WSOP’s most fascinating figures, let me recommend to you One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘The Kid’ Ungar by Dalla and Peter Alson.

    * * * * *

    Here are some other, older interviews I’ve reupped here, if you’re interested:

  • Catching Up With Kevmath (from February 2010)
  • Jesse May Interview, April 2011 (Part 1 of 2)
  • Jesse May Interview, April 2011 (Part 2 of 2)

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  • Monday, April 11, 2016

    Some Bad Hands Are Badder Than Others

    I was working yesterday afternoon and so while I had the teevee tuned to the fourth round of the Masters I wasn’t paying especially close attention to it. Besides, defending champion Jordan Spieth was up by five strokes with just the back nine to go, so it didn’t seem like there’d be that much drama in store as the tournament wound toward its conclusion.

    That means I didn’t quite live through the moment-by-moment agony of Spieth’s 12th hole, the par 3 that he quadruple-bogeyed. I looked up and saw he was strangely and suddenly down by three strokes, then caught up a bit to discover more details of what had happened.

    Perhaps it was because of my casual viewing, but I didn’t anticipate how the pundits today would characterize that hole and Spieth’s overall “collapse” as “the most shocking in golf history.” Part of me wants to react by talking about recency bias and hyperbole, although like I say I wasn’t as tuned in to the proceedings as many others were, nor do I have a command of all of golf history to provide me the needed authority to counter such a claim.

    I do remember Rory McIlroy’s less sudden but no less affecting “collapse” five years ago when he led the Masters heading into the back nine only to finish in a tie for 15th.

    As I wrote about here then, McIlroy’s fall was perhaps easier for many of us to identify with than what happened with Spieth yesterday, given Spieth’s utter dominance over the previous seven-and-a-half rounds’ worth of Masters golf. The lightning-bolt quality of Spieth’s single-hole nightmare also made it seem like too much of an aberration to recognize and empathize with as it was happening.

    Thinking again about the different ways players lose at poker, I guess Spieth’s “one really, really bad hand” probably happens a little less often to us than does the gradual series of small mistakes and lack of focus McIlroy demonstrated on his ill-fated back nine in 2011.

    It happens sometimes, say, in a tournament, where one especially poor decision overwhelmingly determines a player’s fate, bringing on elimination either right there and then or shortly thereafter. But usually it’s not so simple to pinpoint precisely where it all goes wrong.

    In poker I think it is easier to come back from the one really bad hand where one can focus on a particular error or misjudgment and correct it going forward. It’s a little less simple to overcome the bad habits and overall skill deficiencies that often lead to more gradual slides out of tournaments or to the felt in a cash game.

    Not sure it’s quite the same in golf or other sports, though. Thinking back, McIlroy did come back to win the U.S. Open -- the very next major -- just a couple of months after that Masters five years ago. Which variety of losing is easier to correct and/or overcome?

    Photo: “Golf ‘Lessen’,” JD Hancock. CC BY 2.0.

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    Friday, April 08, 2016

    GPL Week 1 Provides Fun, Instruction

    Just a quick follow-up today to Wednesday’s post in which I shared some initial impressions from the first day of the Global Poker League Week 1 shows.

    Have to admit I very much enjoyed watching the GPL on Wednesday and Thursday when the attention turned to heads-up matches. Having webcams on the players added a lot, and things got even better when some of them began talking strategy as the hands were playing out.

    I ended up writing something over on PokerNews about how watching the GPL Twitch stream, besides being occasionally entertaining, also appears to be a good way to learn a bit of strategy, too: “Strategy on the Stream: Learning by Watching the Global Poker League.”

    I know those who paid any attention at all to the 25 hours or so of poker they showed this week are moving quickly to make judgments on whatever bit they saw -- which more often than not seems to have been just a short bit of the first day -- and perhaps draw some conclusions about the whole idea of the GPL, too. It’s understandable, really, given the ambitious talk surrounding the league to respond with thoughts about whether or not those ambitions are going to be realized. (Or if they even can be.)

    Three hands in particular were great fun to watch -- one involving Daniel “Jungleman” Cates losing his stack in a cooler-type spot versus Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, another in which Justin Bonomo tanked for over four minutes following a river all-in by Timothy Adams (with both players sharing their reads during the tank), and third funny one in which Tom Marchese triple-barrel bluffed and hilariously walked away from the computer in a hand against Anthony Zinno.

    To me these hands provided actual laugh-out-loud moments in addition to some genuinely interesting strategy talk. I highlighted them in the PokerNews article -- if you watched, or even if you didn’t, you can read what I had to say about them there.

    The New York Rounders have taken an early lead in the Americas Conference, while the Hong Kong Stars sit stop the Eurasia Conference. Seeing how the teams fare going forward is another part of the story that I think might become increasingly interesting to follow going forward.

    I have no idea whether the GPL is having or will have any effect on the non-poker playing crowd, or if it will manage to draw any small part of that group over onto the poker-playing side. But I will say I enjoyed watching poker this week as much or more than any other recent examples, outside of the WSOP Main Event, anyway.

    By the way, everything is instantly archived over on the GPL site, if you’re curious to see any of it.

    Image: Global Poker League.

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    Thursday, April 07, 2016

    Three-Handed Horse Game

    I think I’ve mentioned here before how we have a new “yearling” on the farm -- that is, a horse who just turned one year old back in January, whom we’ve named Ruby.

    She’s kind of hilarious to watch, acting very much like a young child the way she races around the pastures sometimes, then curls up on the ground as though taking a nap at others. Quite a contrast to our older horses Sammy, Maggie, and our friend’s horse Shakan (who boards with us).

    That’s Ruby, Sammy, and Maggie pictured above, looking like a power trio on an album cover. Ruby is the one coming toward the camera, of course, being by far the most curious of the three.

    I remember writing a post here before about the interesting dynamic caused by the several barn cats, noting how it resembled the kind of thing you might see at a poker table with multiple personalities playing off one another. There’s something similar going on with our three horses who share a big pasture while Shakan usually has a smaller one to himself.

    The older horses are clearly running things, with Maggie the mare the captain and Sammy deferring to her rule. Ruby seems mostly accepting of the situation, although likes to take chances trying to see if she can get away with stealing from the other two horses’ feed. Usually they fend her off with a nip at her withers, like a player in the blinds three-betting to remind a late-position raiser who’s boss. But they get tired of that, too, letting her have their scraps occasionally.

    It’s a lot of fun, and a lot to learn, too, actually, as you can’t be quite so free and easy with a young horse as you can with more relaxed older ones. In fact, Vera and I have had some help with training -- both of Ruby and ourselves -- which has been very enlightening for me as far as becoming better educated about how and why horses respond to things as they do.

    So we’re learning, but Ruby is learning as well. It’s like she’s first started playing the game, and just can’t get enough of it.

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    Wednesday, April 06, 2016

    Calling Up the GPL Feed

    Major League Baseball had its opening day on Sunday, and for the first time I took the plunge and got the relatively cheap MLB At-Bat app that allows you (among other things) to listen to all the games. You even get to pick which team’s announcing crew you want to hear, and I’ve already had fun sampling a few of them.

    I’ve also already realized I’ll only occasionally have time actually to listen to baseball games, but given the relatively cheap price of the app I’m not too bothered by that.

    Meanwhile there was another opening day yesterday as the Global Poker League kicked off its inaugural season with live streaming of some six-max sit-n-gos played between representatives of the 12 GPL teams. I dialed up the Twitch channel on the Roku so it would play on the teevee while I worked on other things, and found it an enjoyable background hum that occasionally had me looking up as each of the SNGs got down to heads-up before concluding.

    Can’t say I focused too intently on Griffin Benger and Sam Grafton’s commentary, although it seemed enjoyable when I did. I thought Laura Cornelius and Eric Danis did well, too, in the studio between matches, with their contributions helping to lend the proceedings the feeling of some kind of sporting event (a goal, I know, of the GPL and its attempt to “sportify” poker).

    Watching an online tournament isn’t necessarily the most dynamic thing to witness, of course (and I say that as someone who has watched and reported on a lot of online poker over the years). The attention necessarily drifts, with only occasional hands standing out and most drifting past unnoticed.

    Davidi Kitai made what seemed a remarkable fold on his way to winning the first SNG yesterday for the Paris Aviators. Dan “Jungleman” Cates, playing for the Berlin Bears, came in sixth of six in that initial match to earn his team zero points, then in the second one made a weird call of an all-in push by the Moscow Wolverines’ Dzmitry Urbanovich to lose most of his stack before taking sixth again.

    Regarding the latter hand -- in which Cates instantly called the shove with J-8 (sooted!) -- Jungleman noted over Twitter that he didn’t mean to call the shove: “misread my hand in gpl, thought i had A9s somehow (j8s hand)... I was playing cash on side. Pretty tilting even though it's not for money...”

    Some responded to that tweet by observing that it seemed to undercut the whole idea of the GPL a bit to have a player not giving the matches his full attention this way. Kind of thing does make it hard to compare folks playing online poker to actual sporting events. I mean we don’t see outfielders missing fly balls because they were checking Facebook or playing some other game on their phones.

    In any case, it’s diverting and as I mentioned before my inner sports nerd delights in seeing early standings and statistics starting to build -- both for MLB and the GPL. Like baseball, it looks like from the GPL’s ambitious eight-month schedule they’ll be on the air pretty much all the time, too, for those of us curious enough (and having the time) to dip in to catch some of the action.

    We’ll see how often I sample both feeds.

    Image: Global Poker League.

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    Tuesday, April 05, 2016

    Not Being Results Oriented; or, What Can You Do?

    What a heartbreaker. It probably took me a full hour after the game was over for the heart rate to return to normal, and to be honest it wasn’t until this morning I felt actual disappointment that UNC wasn’t able to pull it out last night.

    Have to confess I expended a lot of negative energy during the NCAA title game frustrated at the refereeing. The Heels were likely the victim of a few more bad calls (or no calls) than was Villanova, although I felt as though the refs were bad all around. Was a classic example of “look-at-me” reffing with nickel-dimers frequently called up top and everything goes down low.

    But as the second half wore on, I found myself just as frequently shaking my head at ’Nova hitting yet another contested shot. Sure, they hit plenty of open ones, too (including treys), but at least a half-dozen times I had that “what can you do?” feeling at the end of a well-defensed possession that had concluded with the Wildcats hitting one more tough jumper.

    A drought on the offensive end late in the second half caused Carolina to dig that 10-point hole, and it didn’t surprise me at all to see the team’s leader, Marcus Paige, lead the way to help UNC climb out of it. The double-clutch three-pointer to tie with 4.7 seconds left was stunning, sure, but for those who’ve been watching the team all year -- and Paige for the last four -- it didn’t feel at the time like something too crazy to occur.

    It was a not improbable event, you might say. The one that followed was not improbable, either.

    When Kris Jenkins rose to shoot the game-winner, I actually blinked very slowly, kind of accepting before the fact that the shot -- unlike so many others, a clean, open look -- was likely to be a good one. It did hit the mark (doing so as time expired), and as happened with Paige’s shot, I was slow to react.

    So was Villanova coach Jay Wright. Have already seen a number of outlets -- including non-poker ones -- refer to his “poker face” following the shot. It was a good one.

    Wright watches the shot fall, and with zero expression at all turns to the right and begins walking to shake hands with Roy Williams. There might be a slight grimace there -- kind of a “what can you do?” look, now that I think about it -- then as he sees Williams walking towards him he holds his arms outward and looks like he’s about to shrug while assistants begin to hug him from behind.

    Here's a Vine of Wright's response, via The Cauldron:

    It very much resembled a poker player who was all in and hit a needed card to win, then immediately faced having to console the opponent whom he’d beaten. The shot could go in -- and as I said, it wasn’t improbable that it would -- and when it did, well, that was that. It was kind of an extreme mini-illustration of that oft-recommended advice not to be “results oriented,” or so it seemed.

    Such a cool shot. And a cool response, too.

    Like I say, I’m only now feeling disappointed, although that last note sounded by Wright -- so matter-of-fact, and sportsmanlike -- is somehow helping prevent the pain from feeling too intense. Sure, there are lots of “what if?” questions lingering, but the way the game ended really did feel like both teams played their hands pretty well. And the last card went ’Nova’s way.

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    Monday, April 04, 2016

    Second Guessing and the Media

    Gearing up here for this NCAA Final tonight between the North Carolina Tar Heels and Villanova Wildcats. I actually had Villanova making it this far in my bracket -- which is otherwise a dumpster fire -- although I didn’t think my Heels would be there, too.

    I can say “my” Heels as an alum and lifelong fan. Perhaps I was too close this year to recognize UNC’s strengths -- namely a deeper roster than most as well as a big size advantage that here at the end of the season has routinely translated into a big edge on the boards. Of course, ‘Nova has shot lights out over the last three weeks, a trend that tends to make rebounding less important. I’m leaning toward thinking the Wildcats have a small edge as tip-off nears, but who knows?

    Amid the lead-up came a diverting quote from UNC head coach Roy Williams, something that gave the sports talk shows something to focus on today. It came after the win versus Syracuse on Saturday night during the postgame presser, and it kind of reminded me of some of the poker-related jibber jabber from last week.

    Williams actually started the press conference in a bit of an ornery mood, early on cutting off any questions about whether or not the 65-year-old coach plans to retire any time soon. (The answer is no.) Later, after the players took their questions, it was Williams’s turn, and the first question came from John McCann of the Durham-based newspaper The Herald Sun.

    McCann began by saying “we love to second guess you, coach,” then asked kind of a pointed question that if you think about it more or less challenged the idea that the coach has has any idea at all about the decisions he makes.

    Noting how Williams had “stuck to [his] guns” as far as line-up choices went this year, McCann asked “How much of that during the season was total confidence in your guys versus a coach hoping that his guys would get it together?”

    “Well, John, take this the way it’s intended,” Williams began. “Not to be as critical, but I’m a hell of a lot smarter about basketball than you guys are. I mean, I’m serious. What do you do after basketball season’s over with? You cover baseball. What do you do after baseball’s over with? You cover football. I don’t take any breaks.”

    From there Williams stepped back to add a more general observation about the media’s relationship to the sports they cover, in particular with regard to college hoops.

    “This year more than ever I heard announcers and writers question things... more than I’ve ever heard. And one of the other guys said ‘you know, we’re not in the locker room, we’re not at practice every day....’ If you asked me if I’m as smart a sports fan as you, I’d say probably not, ’cause I don’t work on those other sports. But I do see our guys in the locker room every single day....”

    From there Williams pointed out how the team has had 98 practices this year, and after polling the room he determined a couple of the reporters had each been to one of them. “I would never criticize somebody about something that they know a heck of a lot more about.... But it is, it’s journalism to a certain degree today.”

    “So it wasn’t stubbornness,” he concluded, alluding back to the larger question about line-up decisions. “It was intelligence.”

    As a UNC fan, I find myself questioning Williams’s coaching decisions plenty of times. A lot, even, and certainly a lot more than I questioned Dean Smith when he was on the Heels’ bench. But all fans do that, especially when it comes to the teams for which they root and therefore (likely) have a kind of inherent bias affecting their judgment. It’s part of what makes following sports fun to do.

    I do like his point, though, about the sports media tending toward “hot takes” and angrily forwarded criticisms that more often than not aren’t based in well intentioned argument supported by good reasoning and supporting evidence, but rather just designed to “stir the pot” (and perhaps gets some extra clicks online).

    I say Williams’s response got me thinking a little of some of the back-and-forthing from last week regarding the so-called “poker media” and its relationship to those they cover. That’s a discussion I couldn’t care less about, really, and not just because I consider myself a guy who writes about people who play cards (to again evoke Benjo DiMeo’s line) and not full-fledged “media.”

    No, I don’t find the topic that meaningful because I instinctively adopt the position of humility being recommended by Williams, at least when it comes to reporting on poker players and what they do at the tables. One of the detours in last week’s convo had to do with the relative poker knowledge among those reporting on tourneys. I’d agree it’s a requisite. I’d also agree that possessing something less than the knowledge of those being reported about should automatically suppress the impulse to “second guess.”

    Not only do I not second guess, I don’t guess anything at all. Doing so would be more akin to reporting on yourself than someone else.

    Photo: “Roy Williams at a Press Conference for the University of North Carolina Tarheels” (adapted), Zeke Smith. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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