Friday, July 29, 2016

First They Support You, Then They Attack

There’s a new article appearing on the ESPN site today about Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese-born baseball star who is closing in on 3,000 career hits in the major leagues.

Suzuki had already had a significantly successful career in Japan before making his Major League Baseball debut in 2001 at the age of 27. He played nine years fro the Orix Blue Wave of the Nippon Professional Baseball league, accumulating 1,278 hits while batting .353 and winning the league’s MVP award three times.

This is his 16th season in the majors, and today he sits with 2,998 hits in the MLB. That means all told he has 4,276 hits across his entire career. A few weeks ago when his overall total surpassed Pete Rose’s MLB record of 4,256 hits in the MLB, there was small bit of back-and-forth over whether or not Suzuki had really broken any record or not.

I’ve written here about Rose before, a hero of my youth who at age 75 is now still a controversial figure thanks to his ignoble, forced exit from baseball. Around the time Suzuki’s cumulative hit total reached and then surpassed Rose’s in mid-June, Rose was quoted in USA Today making kind of a snarky comment about the notion that Suzuki could be considered the hit “king.”

“It sounds like in Japan they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen,” Rose told USA Today. “I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting his high-school hits.”

Getting back to today’s ESPN article, Suzuki was asked if anything bothered him about the coverage from when he passed Rose’s total. The question wasn’t specifically about Rose’s comment, but that’s what Suzuki addressed in his response.

“I was actually happy to see the Hit King get defensive,” says Suzuki, unsubtly acknowledging Rose’s crown. “I kind of felt I was accepted.”

He goes to explain how about five years ago he’d heard Rose had said some positive things about him, even saying he wished Suzuki could break his record. “Obviously, this time around it was a different vibe,” adds Suzuki.

That’s when Suzuki adds an interesting comment about American culture that kind of explains his point about feeling as though he had been accepted upon hearing Rose’s comments last month.

“In the 16 years that I have been here, what I’ve noticed is that in America, when people feel like a person is below them, not just in numbers but in general, they will kind of talk you up,” says Suzuki. “But then when you get up to the same level or maybe even higher, they get in attack mode; they are maybe not as supportive. I kind of felt that this time.”

That observation actually made me think of poker, a game which more than a few people have recognized parallels various “American” ideas and characteristics. I’m thinking on a “macro” level about how the game works and continues to sustain itself, not about particular strategy or even game mechanics.

In poker, the good players often try to encourage the bad players to remain in the game -- or at least that’s what the good players who have some clue about how the game actually works are doing. They compliment and even nurture (to an extent) the lesser-skilled in order to keep them playing, which in turn helps keep the “economy” of the game healthy.

Then, once the not-so-good players become good themselves, they aren’t treated quite the same way. To put it in Suzuki’s terms, the good ones don’t “talk them up” as often, and in fact may well go into “attack mode” (so to speak), having recognized their own status being legitimately challenged.

I hadn’t thought all that specifically about this process occurring on a cultural level, and in fact being a distinguishing characteristic of American society. But I think Suzuki is probably onto something with the observation.

He’s 42 now, and says in the article he wants to play until he’s 50. I suppose if he did there exists an outside chance Rose’s crown as MLB hit king could be threatened for real, although the chances are heavily against that happening. In any case, ornery old Rose will certainly let us know if he thinks there’s ever a real threat to his title.

Image: “Ichiro Suzuki at bat in St. Louis, 2016” (adapted), Johnmaxmena2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Plotting a Getaway

Was sincerely contemplating making a run over to Cherokee early next month to play in one of the World Series of Poker Circuit preliminary events, but I’m not sure it’s going to work out schedule-wise. Even if it doesn’t, the WSOP-C now comes to Harrah’s Cherokee multiple times a year, and so I’m sure there will be another chance before long to go.

The World Series of Poker Global Casino Championship is running there from August 4-16. Here is the schedule.

The idea of making the trip got me thinking about how infrequently I’ve played live poker of late, never mind tournaments. That would necessarily put me into a certain category of player, say, in a WSOP-C event or one of the lower buy-in events in other tournament series (including the WSOP) -- the player for whom the tournament is a relatively unique occurrence, not part of a longer “grind” or more involved commitment to the game.

In fact, that category is a fairly big one -- probably the biggest by a decent margin, as far as the lowest buy-in tournaments go. In other words, at any given table in (say) a $365 event at Cherokee next week, there will be several seats occupied by folks for whom the buy-in level and status (for want of a better word) of the event is about as high as they’ll ever play.

Such players necessarily approach such tournaments much differently than do those occupying the other seats for whom it’s small change, or just one of dozens (or even hundreds) of events they’ll play over the course of a year. From a strategic standpoint, then, dividing everyone into one of the two major camps -- regs and recs (you could call them) -- would be an important first step to make when it comes to player profiling and reads.

We’ll see -- I may be able to get off the farm for a day or two yet. Would be fun to try to shovel some chips instead of stalls, even if only for a short while.

Photo: Visit Cherokee, NC.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

No Money in Wacky Usernames, Everyone Is Solid

Chuckling here over the latest report of a big winner on PokerStars’ Spin & Go game, this time over on the French site where a trio of players entering a €25 game hit a lucky spin and got to play for €300,000, with €250K of that going to the winner (and the losers each getting a nice consolation prize of €25K).

The story is interesting in part because the fellow who won the sucker, a Russian player, was streaming on Twitch at the time, and so the entire short tournament he was on camera, going through the emotions of first realizing how big the prize was, then talking to himself (and his viewers) with increasing animation as the tournament played out.

In its report on the win, PokerStars has embedded a short video of the fellow’s Twitch stream showing the Spin & Go, with Team PokerStars Pro Online’s Mikhail “innerpsy” Shalamov providing commentary and translation.

It’s a fun watch. He luckily wins a big all-in with 7-6 versus K-Q, then soon has the other opponent at risk with pocket fours against his A-2. The flop comes 3-5-K, then a four on the turn gives him a straight. The river is a blank, and he wins the €250K (pictured above -- click to enlarge).

His reaction is pretty great, as you might imagine -- literal jumping for joy, followed by some genuine tears as his tremendous fortune starts sinking in. I’ve seen references to it being the biggest single online poker win ever streamed on Twitch -- in fact, I think it breaks the previous high by a wide margin.

The part of the story, though, that has gotten the most attention is the fellow’s username on the site -- “SolidPenis.”

No shinola. Not since “RectalRash” won a SCOOP five years ago -- the win memorialized by Dr. Pauly in a post headlined “RectalRash irritates field en route to Triple Draw victory” -- has there been a more embarrassing username that had to be reported.

Just as the Russian fellow this week apparently set a new standard for online poker-playing Twitch streamers, he’s also probably established a new, hard-to-surpass standard for ignominious IDs.

Image: PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Not the Madman Theory

I’m only finally getting around to this much-derided article from Wired last week titled “How Poker Theory Explains Ted Cruz’s Convention Speech” by Jason Tanz.

The speech was quite something, by the way, with Cruz very deliberately withholding a specific endorsement of the party's nominee, smirking all the way.

Saw a number of responses to the Wired piece last week, most of which seemed to find the poker analogy weakly presented. Also saw several eyeball-roll references to the article’s reliance on Phil Hellmuth’s “animal types” theory as presented in his 2003 book Play Poker Like the Pros.

You remember Hellmuth’s idea, don’t you? As a way of presenting certain categories of players according to playing styles, Hellmuth described the mouse (squeaky tight), the lion (aggressive and bluffy), the jackal (loose and maniacal), the elephant (unmovable calling station), and the eagle (soaring over the rest as “one of the top 100 players in the world”).

In actuality, the idea to explain different playing styles in such a manner isn’t such a bad one, particularly when addressing relatively untutored players (as most readers of Hellmuth’s book were). The presentation in the book is kind of rushed and a little vague, though, making the “animal types” idea a bit less useful than it could have been.

Meanwhile for someone in 2016 to bring it up as a seemingly unchallenged bit of “game theory” as Tanz does is not nearly as brilliant an idea as the author probably thought it was. He identifies Donald Trump as a jackal, then tries to argue that Cruz is one, too, with his RNC speech showing his willingness to play wild and loose. He then tries to give Cruz some of the characteristics of the lion as well, crediting him in a guarded way with having at least some strategic know-how.

Tanz does successfully highlight the importance of position in poker, noting how Cruz’s place in the speaking order (before others) was disadvantageous. But concluding by saying “maybe Cruz mis-bet” again belies the author’s understanding of the game. (Who says “mis-bet”?)

There’s one other problem in the article, though -- a passing reference to Richard Nixon that also misses the mark. Here’s the line:

“Jackals can be difficult to play against because, as in Nixon’s Mad Man theory, they don’t abide by the rational rules of poker.”

That’s more or less what Hellmuth says about jackals, but that’s not what the “madman theory” actually was. Rather than being an example of someone recklessly betting and raising without any seeming logic, the madman theory concerned projecting the image of someone who “played” that way, but who in actuality did not. It was, at its core, a strategy of bluffing.

Via others, Nixon wished to convince foreign leaders that he was irrational and ready to bomb away on a whim. For example, during the prolonged and mostly unsuccessful negotiations with the North Vietnamese, there were multiple instances of Nixon having National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger try to represent RN in this way, hoping it would frighten the North Vietnamese into a truce.

The comparison in the Wired article is thus entirely misleading, suggesting the “madman theory” wasn’t an actual strategy, but just a literal description of Nixon’s “mad” style of dealing with certain, unfriendly opponents.

Nixon was kind of mad, mind you. But the “madman theory” wasn’t this.

Image: Play Poker Like the Pros, Phil Hellmuth, available via Amazon.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Asynchronous Audience

Over the last few days I’ve gradually been listening to the final PokerNews Podcast of the 2016 World Series of Poker (episode #406) -- of the summer portion of the WSOP, anyway. Kind of just the way things worked out in terms of my listening opportunities, although there wasn’t such an urgency to listen right away as there was with earlier episodes since this one recapped the action as it concluded on that final day when the Main Event played down from 27 to nine.

That’s where the Main Event will remain, of course, for approximately 100 more days until the “November Nine” (which starts at the end of October) finally gets going.

There are a lot of good interviews in this episode -- the ones with Gordon Vayo, Cliff Josephy, and Griffin Benger stand out as especially interesting. Again, I’ve said it before (and recently), but Remko Rinkema is terrific with these.

Along the way Remko and Donnie Peters talk through that last day, recounting highlights and big hands. Which is how most of us will be experiencing that day (and the couple preceding it) once ESPN begins airing its coverage -- not until Sunday, September 11, actually.

In other words, the WSOP shows won’t begin on ESPN until after the NFL has already begun, as the network is obviously once more using poker as a kind of “counterprogramming” to football. Doesn’t matter too much, though, as I imagine many will go the DVR route, watch “on demand” via the WatchESPN app, or view the episodes online in some other fashion when and where they wish. Kind of like the way I’m listening to the PNPod.

If you think about it, those of us who like to follow the WSOP Main Event now experience this particular tournament very much like other “series” people watch on demand -- i.e., dramas, comedies, etc. That delivery method also creates conditions for the same sort of “asynchronous” dialogue about the tournament we often have online via various social media outlets and discussion forums.

All of which means our talk about the tournament so far has been necessarily scattered and strung out. Even when the episodes start airing seven weeks from now, they’ll only serve as vague points of reference for the discussion as it goes forward -- apart, perhaps, from a big hand or two (such as Benger’s aces-over-kings ouster of the talkative William Kassouf in 17th) which might get us all on the same page for a brief moment.

Not saying this is good or bad, just different from most major poker tournaments and sporting events that are covered live (or essentially live), and perhaps more like other facets of entertainment culture that are not collectively experienced at once. At least the final table will give us a chance to witness and respond to the WSOP Main Event as a group.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk about the WSOP Main Event, well, go right ahead. We’ll catch up eventually.

Image: “Scattered Time,” dommylive. CC BY 2.0.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Pay Dat Man Hees Mahney

Some of you have probably seen this already, but I thought I’d end the week by sharing it here, anyway.

A tip of the fedora to our buddy, Remko Rinkema, for having tweeted about it yesterday -- a short three-minute clip from a longer interview Matt Damon recently gave to BBC Radio 1.

During the clip Damon talks about the 1998 film Rounders with which most of us in poker are still obsessed after all of these years.

Damon starts off by noting how when the film was made, the skill element in poker wasn’t appreciated by the larger public nearly as much as is the case today. He also chats a little about having gotten the chance to visit the underground clubs in New York on which the ones in the film were based.

From there Damon moves on to share a hilarious anecdote about John Malkovich, a.k.a. Teddy KGB. I won’t spoil the fun if you haven’t seen the clip yet, other than to say it involves Malkovich appearing to confess to a major bluff to Damon while actually only making a smaller one:

Image: Rounders (1998) (dir., John Dahl), Amazon.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wild Bill’s Last Hand

Over in the “Poker & Pop Culture” series on PokerNews I’ve reached the end of a section focusing on “saloon poker” during the 19th century, mostly focusing on some of the more notable names associated with poker of the era.

This week’s column is all about James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, covering his story in brief including his famous murder at a poker table in 1876. From there, though, I move on to talk more broadly about the idea of the “dead man’s hand” as it has played out in popular culture over the almost 140 years since.

Hickok, as many know, was said to be holding two pair, aces and eights, at the time he was murdered. In the column I talk about how in fact there were several other poker hands designated the “dead man’s hand” before a book about Hickock in the 1920s helped solidify the association between the term and his hand.

I also get into some -- not all -- of the later references to the dead man’s hand and/or aces and eights, a catalogue that includes John Wayne, R.P. McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Motörhead, and Bob Dylan among others.

Here are links to all the “saloon poker” posts, if you’re curious to explore any of them:

  • Digging for Gold (and Aces) in California
  • Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, A Premium Pair
  • The Many Versions of Bat Masterson
  • Lady Gamblers and Poker Alice
  • The Long, Strange Life of the Dead Man’s Hand
  • My primary goal with these articles is to highlight the many ways poker enters “mainstream” popular culture, and not necessarily to write a straightforward history of poker as others have done (including most recently James McManus in his 2009 book Cowboys Full). However, particularly during these early installments of the series, I have nonetheless spent some time narrating the game’s early history to set up a useful context for what’s to come.

    The next few articles come under the heading of “steamboat poker,” then after a brief discussion of poker in the Civil War I’ll be moving on to consider the game as it appeared in a variety of contexts -- in early clubs, on the bookshelf (with the first poker strategy titles), and in homes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Photo: Wild Bill Hickok, public domain.

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    Wednesday, July 20, 2016

    On Plagiarism and Selfhood

    Way back when I taught my first college courses while still in graduate school, the internet was only just starting to become a significant part of our lives. In fact, I made it all the way through the Ph.D. before the change really happened, meaning I was part of the very last group of dissertation writers who didn’t have the web as a significant resource.

    In other words, if I wanted to follow some avenue of inquiry relevant to my topic, I couldn’t type a few keywords in a box and be swiftly delivered answers to questions and sources to consult. That’s not to say there weren’t any resources online for me then (the mid-to-late 1990s). But they were quite limited, usually only providing some general direction for my journeys back into “the stacks” at the library where I spent countless hours (years, actually) tracking down leads, gathering evidence, and supporting the four-hundred-page-plus argument I ended up making about 17th- and 18th- century British literature.

    For undergrads, the early web provided a lot of tempting “short cuts” when it came to essay writing, including a few very popular and notorious “paper mill”-type sites that provided ready made three-to-five page compositions for download, sometimes for purchase. Students could find plenty of other sites enticing them to cut-and-paste their way through an assignment, and unsurprisingly more than a few from that era gave in to the temptation.

    Teachers had to adapt to the new technology, and so very early on in my teaching I had to make a special effort with students to address both what plagiarism was and how to avoid it, with the penalty for being guilty of plagiarism being severe -- zero credit for the assignment for a first offense, and a failing grade for the course for a second. (That said, many colleges and universities have honor codes that make even greater punishments necessary for plagiarism, including even being expelled.)

    Also, as I explained to my students then, when it came to plagiarism -- i.e., presenting someone else’s words and/or thoughts as if they were your own, without attribution -- intention didn’t affect how it would be handled. Whether you meant to plagiarize or not, you still got the penalty.

    Therefore it was critical for students to learn both how to use sources effectively and how to cite properly. In fact, over time, I came to view this very skill as the most important one students learned in college, and the one that distinguished college-level writing (or “academic” writing) from pretty much every other kind of writing they had been asked to do before.

    I’ll never forget one of the first instances of plagiarism I encountered from a student. I believe the essay was about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It was about halfway through the semester, and the essay had been submitted by a young woman whom I had already come to regard as one of the brighter ones in the class. She participated actively in class discussions, had done well on quizzes, and was clearly thoughtful and articulate.

    The essay she had handed in, though, was much too sophisticated in its approach to have been written by an undergrad, and a quick check online revealed it had been lifted entirely from a website. I asked the student to meet me in the office I was able to use that semester -- I was kind of “office-sitting” for a faculty member away on a sabbatical -- in order to discuss her essay.

    After she arrived, I told her there was a problem with her paper, doing so in a way that gave her an obvious opening to go ahead and confess what she’d done. When she didn’t, I eventually pulled out a printout of the web page and her essay, setting them down side by side on the end of the desk. It wasn’t overly dramatic -- I wasn’t acting like a triumphant attorney catching a defendant having made a guilt-confirming contradiction. In fact, while I can’t remember exactly what I said, I remember being very careful not to seem too accusatory or upset.

    I just wanted to give the student a chance to admit what she’d done so we could move past it. Whether she confessed or not, she wouldn’t be getting credit for the assignment, and I wanted it to be very clear how important it was for her not to make the same mistake again.

    What do you think happened next? I remember having spent some effort thinking ahead of time of a couple of possible responses the student might have. But the one she gave I did not expect in the least.

    She didn’t confess. She didn’t make excuses. She denied it. Over and over.

    Eventually her voice began to falter and a few tears even showed, but she kept right on professing her innocence. She had no idea how it came to be that the thousand or so words of her essay were identical and in the exact sequence as the ones appearing on a website she claimed never to have seen before. It was an incredible coincidence, sure, but she had no explanation for it.

    I don’t remember much else about the episode, other than the fact that after the student received zero credit for that assignment, all of the subsequent essays she turned in were all very obviously her own. The meeting was a learning experience for me, too, and would affect how I would approach the issue going forward.

    Of course, I’m reminded of all this thanks to the brouhaha this week over Melania Trump’s speech on Monday at the Republican National Convention and its frankly incredible inclusion of passages (some verbatim) from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In particular, the initial denials and rationalizations put forth by various party representatives made me think back to my student and her refusal to admit any wrongdoing.

    We have a belated explanation of it all today from a speechwriter who likely has successfully scapegoated herself into causing the embarrassment to fade away for the Republicans. I was kind of incensed, though, by all of the excuse-making beforehand, including Chris Christie’s asinine defense it wasn’t plagiarism since most of the speech was original.

    To be specific, Christie was asked on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday whether or not the speech was an example of plagiarism. “No,” he responded, “not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different from Michelle Obama’s speech.”

    As a teacher, I detest this statement. It’s a bit like defending the player who cheats on only a small number of hands in a poker tournament, playing the other 93% on the square. It’s nonsense. It also helps further the idea that when a person speaks in public or writes for an audience, being clear about sources and claims about the originality of your ideas isn’t that big of a deal.

    This might seem like a small issue, but to me it’s much broader and potentially damaging. When I teach students how to write, I’m teaching them also about taking responsibility for what they say when entering public discourse. How they must be able to stand behind everything they communicate, including giving clear, unambiguous credit when borrowing ideas or words from others. Christie and others this week have been suggesting that taking responsibility for what we say is not important -- that we can be selective about when and where we have to stand behind our words, abandoning such responsibility if needed.

    I realize that Christie himself wholly operates within the poisoned context of political discourse in which the idea of being held to account for one’s words is laughable. Like many other politicians, Christie only occasionally has demonstrated such a sense of responsibility for what he says, and in fact over the last year has frequently contradicted himself so blatantly so as to confirm he has less concern than most politicians in this regard.

    If you are my student, when I’m reading your paper about Heart of Darkness I want to know what you think of the book and what it means. I don’t want to hear what others think about it, and I sure don’t want you to share what others think about it as if those words and ideas are your own. That’s more important to me even than the thoughtfulness or depth of insight you have to share.

    Plagiarism is a mean-sounding word. It almost seems rude. And maybe for a certain segment of the population, it sounds like something that should only concern eggheads and bookworms -- people who have spent too much time in libraries or classrooms and not enough in the real world.

    But consider this. Stealing another’s ideas and words and presenting them as one’s own is obviously harmful to the uncredited source. But it’s much more harmful to the person doing the stealing. It’s a denial of self, an admission that a person has decided it is better to pass off someone else’s point of view as that person’s own.

    Sure, the internet has confused things for many. It’s hard to know what is real, what’s being fabricated, and who is cutting-and-pasting. The idea of “authorship” has gotten complicated and perhaps even become less meaningful to many, what with so much borrowing and so little attribution happening everywhere we look.

    Even so, don’t plagiarize. Even a little bit. Or maybe the recommendation would be more effective if I put it another way.

    Don’t give up yourself.

    Image: “PlaGiaRisM,” Digital Rebel. CC BY 2.0.

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    Tuesday, July 19, 2016

    The Return of the American Online Grinder

    Have to confess I hit the sack early last night, only following those hand-for-hand updates from the World Series of Poker Main Event until they’d gotten down to just under two tables. Looks like they managed to hit the nine-handed final table right at midnight (judging by the time stamps at, so it wasn’t a short final day but not too outrageously long either.

    Eyeing the final nine players, I can say for sure I’ve covered four of them previously in tournaments -- Cliff Josephy, Kenny Hallaert, Vojtech Ruzicka, and Griffin Benger. I probably also reported on Jerry Wong at some point, though don’t remember him quite as well.

    Probably the most interesting, obvious thread when looking at the final nine is the extensive and well known online background of Josephy (“JohnnyBax”), Hallaert (“SpaceyFCB”), Benger (“Flush_Entity”), Ruzicka (“Vojta_R”), Wong (“hummylun”), and Gordon Vayo (“holla@yoboy”).

    There were other big online winners who nearly got there, too, like James Obst (“Andy McLEOD”) who ended in 13th, Tom Marchese (“Kingsofcards”) who took 14th, and Jared Bleznick (“Harrington10”) who finished 16th.

    Of course for guys like Josephy, Vayo, Wong, and Marchese (Americans), online poker hasn’t been that much of an option for the past five-plus years. (Bleznick, of course, has been the focus of a lot of multi-accounting speculation in the past, including post-Black Friday.)

    Sam “@SamSquid” Grafton -- Benger’s co-commentator on the Global Poker League -- tweeted today how he was looking back on the entire series as having signaled a next, belated chapter in the story of U.S. online pros.

    “This year’s WSOP seems to confirm the reinvention of the last generation of US online regs into the dominant force in the post-BF live arena,” suggested Grafton. He went on to list Andrew Lichtenberger, Tony Dunst, Ryan D’Angelo, Paul Volpe, Kyle Julius, Shaun Deeb, Michael Gagliano, and Josephy as players who did well this summer in Vegas who formerly played prominent roles online -- all “top names on P5s and on training sites” when Grafton first started playing online.

    “Real impressive the way these guys have survived and thrived after being stripped of their main source of income,” Grafton concluded.

    It does seem like kind of a milestone of sorts being passed, perhaps given even more emphasis by Josephy being chip leader among the final nine. As he noted in his interview with the PokerNews Podcast a couple of days ago, Josephy “retired” the “JohnnyBax” nickname back in April 2011, having been made to step away from that version of himself.

    Josephy’s extensive backing of other players also makes him the hub of a huge network of others, many of whom likewise transitioned from online to live. He made reference to his backing of others in this year’s Main Event in the PNPod interview, too, saying how they’d all busted and joking “I guess sometimes you gotta do the work yourself.”

    These players represent a small subset of the most skilled and successful U.S. online pros, although they do (as Grafton suggests) represent a larger group who have managed to make the online-to-live transition. Of course, a much larger group made the online-to-something-else transition, but it’s still interesting and notable to consider the significance of the success of these few.

    Image: Full Tilt Poker.

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    Monday, July 18, 2016

    The Last Long Day

    The World Series of Poker Main Event has long been a special one in terms of its structure, with the two-hour levels being more or less entirely unique when it comes to tournament poker. I can’t think of another live tournament that has ever employed such lengthy levels.

    I don’t know when the WSOP first instituted the two-hour levels. I know they were in place in 2003, and perhaps before that as well. Of course, a starting stack back in 2003 was just 10,000 chips (one chip = one dollar).

    In 2007 they moved to what they called “double stacks” for many events including the Main, which meant ME players began with 20,000. Then in 2009 they upped it again to “triple stacks” of 30,000 where it stayed until 2015. Then this year Main Event players (still paying $10K to play) began with 50,000, superficially turning the event into a “deep-stacked” tournament.

    Of course, the schedule of increases for the blinds and antes have been adjusted as well, which diminishes somewhat the depth of the stacks in a relative sense, making them more comparable to what has been used before.

    Today is the last day of the summer for the WSOP and the Main Event, with 27 players returning and a plan to play down to a final table of nine. Looks like they are partway through Level 31, where the blinds are 100,000/200,000 with a 30,000 ante. The average stack with 27 players left is about 12.475 million, or just over 63 big blinds.

    Last year when Day 7 began there were also 27 players left. They had about 40 minutes left to go in Level 30 to begin that day, where the blinds were 60,000/120,000 with a 20,000 ante. The average stack to begin the day was 7,133,333, which meant they were on average a little over 59 big blinds deep, not too far off where they will be to begin today.

    They made it just over halfway through Level 35 on Day 7 last year -- i.e., just about 10 hours’ (or five levels’) worth of poker. Could go a little longer today, I suppose, and just eyeballing the blinds/antes increases over the next half-dozen levels (and comparing them to last year), they’ll go up just a little more slowly this time; e.g., five levels in today and the blinds will be three times what they are now; last year they went up 3.33 times over that stretch.

    I can’t quite remember which year it was -- I believe it was 2009 -- that we all expected a marathon final day thanks to the 27 players returning to super-deep stacks. As noted, 2009 was the first year of the “triple stacks,” and looking back at the coverage the average stack was more than 72 big blinds to start that last day (although the level was about to end).

    I think that was the year I actually brought my suitcases to the Amazon room, half-expecting to be cabbing it straight from there to the airport as I had a very early flight at 6 a.m. or something. But the day ended up going by in a blur, finishing in around four levels, and I was able to take my stuff back to my apartment for one last night.

    It’ll be a reasonable-length day for those covering the sucker today and tonight, I expect. Then again, let’s not say that out loud and jinx it for them.

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    Friday, July 15, 2016

    Checking in the Dark

    I have been idly checking in on where things stand in the World Series of Poker Main Event from time to time today. Mainly I’m just noting who is leading and players left, while occasionally being moved to look a little more closely at the updates after noticing someone tweet about the tournament.

    As I was talking about earlier in the week, for those not at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino right now, it’s like the entire Main Event is being played in semi-secrecy. Sure, updates and chip counts give us the stats and essentials, but that can be a lot like watching a self-refreshing box score of a live game on the ESPN site or Yahoo! Sports. Or a scrolling stock ticker. Or the clock on your microwave oven ticking down.

    Don’t get me wrong -- I’m a huge proponent of “live updates” (or whatever you want to call them) and their centrality to poker tournaments. I’m also a big fan of the folks on site there right now churning them out hour after hour, day after day.

    I partly value updates for their historical value and the way they capture and chronicle these very stats and essentials I’m referring to (like a box score). But I also think when done well they enable interesting storytelling, and can even help underscore what makes poker a special game to so many.

    I’m remembering writing a post here nearly five years ago in which I was praising good poker reporting. I quoted James McManus making a reference to Al Alvarez and his high-watermark reporting on the WSOP from years ago. In the quote, McManus noted how Alvarez proved a well-crafted “prose account of poker action is quite a bit more exciting than watching the game in person, or even on television with hole cards revealed.”

    In that earlier post, I expressed agreement with McManus, although today I’m realizing I’d like to add a qualification to my agreement.

    I think when looking back on reporting from a tournament, a rich, detailed narrative recounting hands and other goings-on really can potentially be as engaging and entertaining as any televised broadcast.

    That isn’t so much the case for hyper-literal recounting of action minus any color whatsoever (which really is more or less like reading old box scores). But when the updates manage to incorporate elements of strong storytelling -- well-drawn characters, a sense of plot, mindful scene-setting, an interesting style, and so on -- I absolutely believe they can challenge or even exceed the excitement level of televised poker.

    Meanwhile, when it comes to following an event as it is happening, the live stream (or “almost live” stream on a slight delay) is always going to be a preferred way to experience a tournament.

    Five years ago live streams weren’t nearly as prevalent. Nor were they as trivially easy both to produce and to consume. But today they are the norm, and even small tournaments wishing to attract an audience routinely post some kind of video in order to provide those not on site a way to follow the action.

    I’ll make do, as will others who are fans of the game. But we’ll also keep on hoping one year the WSOP will figure out a way to let more people enjoy the early, middle, and penultimate stages of its marquee event as they are playing out.

    Image: “SMPTE Color Bars - Test card,” Denelson83. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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    Thursday, July 14, 2016

    Another Reason to Not to Hate the Eagles

    There’s a point somewhere during the first half of The Big Lebowski when the title character stops for a moment to lay down on his coveted rug -- the one that “really pulls the room together” -- and while getting high listen to some tunes on his headphones.

    The song playing on his stereo is by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. As a devotee of all things Beefheart, I perked up the first time I saw the film in a theater nearly 20 years ago. I think by that point in the film we’d already been introduced to Lebowski’s love of CCR (whom he refers to simply as “Creedence”), but hearing the Beefheart helped shape his character in a slightly different way for me.

    Later in the movie comes the much remembered scene in the taxi when after getting kicked out of the Malibu the driver is playing the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” There’s a pause in the dialogue and you can see Jeff Bridges starting to exhale loudly, acting a little petulant.

    I knew what was coming.

    “Jesus, man. Could you change the channel?” he whines, and the driver refuses to do so with surprising ferocity. But Lebowski can’t sit still. “I had a rough night and I hate the fuck!ng Eagles, man,” he says. The driver immediately pulls over and hilariously jettisons his complaining customer to the curb.

    The Beefheart tune earlier had been a cue for me, helping me anticipate that even though with most things the dude abides, he wasn’t going to abide the Eagles’ warmed over, soft country rock. I knew this because I also like Beefheart, and I also don’t very much like the Eagles.

    That said, even though I don’t own a single Eagles LP, I’m still kind of fascinated by the band’s story. I listened to FM radio a lot as a child of the ‘70s, pored over Rolling Stone and other rock mags, and still today find popular culture from that era endlessly fascinating.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the sprawling 2013 documentary The History of the Eagles, which I found compelling all of the way through its three-plus hours. I even appreciate the talent and craft demonstrated by their six studio records from the ’70s, and kinda-sorta have to give props to the weird, spooky narrative and dueling guitars of “Hotel California,” an undeniably inspired slice of rock art.

    But for whatever reason, there’s always been something about the Eagles flavor that has never been satisfying for me. Like Lebowski, whenever they come on I’m instinctively reaching to change the channel.

    Like I say, though, I find the band’s story interesting, and since I’m also a sucker for any stories about poker turning up in contexts other than the usual ones, I comfortably stuck with Dr. Pauly’s new article “Life in the Fast Lane: Poker and the Eagles” all of the way to the end. The piece is over on the PokerStars blog, and is fun stuff for fans of ’70s music, interesting tales of home games, odd poker variants, analyses of poker-themed lyrics, and movie trivia.

    And yeah, well, if you like the Eagles, it’s pretty cool, too. Not that I do... but now there’s one more reason why I can’t quite hate ’em with Lebowski-like intensity.

    The invented game of “Eagle Poker” described in the article struck me as a little symbolic of the band itself -- a three-card game in which you bet on whether the third card’s value landed in between the other two. I say that because of the way the band always had multiple songwriters and candidates for “leader,” with Glenn Frey and Don Henley permanently occupying two of the top spots and various third men (Randy Meisner, Don Felder, Joe Walsh) kind of standing in between them as fellow front men-slash-rivals.

    (The game also made me think of my still-in-development Beatles-themed poker variant, Sgt. Pepper.)

    When you get a few minutes, go read the article, which you can check out any time you like.

    (Trivia question: A five-suited, 65-card deck was produced during the first half of the 20th century. What was the fifth suit called? Click here to find out.)

    Image: Eagles (1972), Eagles, Amazon.

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    Wednesday, July 13, 2016

    Ladies at the Saloon Tables

    Another “Poker & Pop Culture” entry I wanted to pass along today.

    Am still amid the Old West in the survey, working my way through some of the more celebrated examples of players of “saloon poker.” I’ll move over to the steamboats soon, as well as to the Civil War battlefields for a quick stop before moving forward into the 20th century in earnest.

    This week’s entry is titled “Lady Gamblers and Poker Alice” and compiles a few stories of women who were known to gamble and play cards during the Old West era. Alice Ivers -- a.k.a. “Poker Alice” -- generally grabs all the headlines when it comes to pre-1900 women poker players. But there are a ton of others with equally interesting stories, and so I included references to several in what amounted to a little survey.

    The culture’s response to the women who dared take seats at those saloon table games is intriguing as well, something I only get into briefly in the column. Many were predictably “punished” (in different ways) for their boldness, with a few even losing their lives as an indirect result. But some were also made into heroic figures (like some of the male gunslinging gamblers of the day), their stories celebrated and embellished greatly even while alive, and especially after death.

    Image: “Beware Poker Players and Loose Women” (adapted), Debra Drummond. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Tuesday, July 12, 2016

    The Biggest (Friendly) Game in Town

    I’m trying to remember just how many Cirque du Soleil shows Vera Valmore and I have seen.

    Having spent a number of summers in Las Vegas with the WSOP -- with Vera coming out to visit each time -- I know we saw a few. I believe O was the first, then Mystère. And of course Love, the Beatles one. There might have been one or two others in there, but I forget.

    Was thinking about those shows again today while reading the story of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté announcing this new “Big One for One Drop”-branded festival of cash games and tournaments scheduled to happen in October, called the Monte Carlo One Drop Extravaganza.

    The marquee event will be a third “Big One,” albeit this time the tournament will sport a €1 million buy-in (even more the the $1 million buy-ins for the first two). Again a big chunk of each buy-in (€111,111) will go to the One Drop charity, and once again the entries will be capped (at 48 players).

    A key difference, though, is that professionals won’t be allowed to enter the event, with the plan being instead to reserve all spots for “recreational” players -- i.e., the businesspersons and philanthropists who have made up a percentage of the previous “Big One” fields.

    “Right now there is no poker tournament in the world of this magnitude that is strictly for recreational players,” Laliberté told PokerNews, using a decent-sized magnitude of understatement. The pros will be welcome to play the side events and cash games, but the main event will be strictly for amateurs.

    It’s curious to think whether such an event will be as interesting to follow with no “name” pros in the field (although there will be some familiar folks in there, for sure).

    Again, I think back to those Cirque du Soleil shows. All were highly entertaining, although to be honest I don’t recall coming close to being “moved” at all at any of them. Each had somewhat abstract themes and/or messages (with “Love” being the most obvious example), but each was also more or less overwhelmed by spectacle -- thrillingly so, mind you, but in an ephemeral way, at least for me.

    This rec-only million-euro tournament seems like it’ll be a similar spectacle, without too much deeper meaning in terms of its place in poker’s story and developing culture. About that I could be wrong, though. And of course, the charity component ensures it will have meaning beyond poker, for certain.

    Will be curious when it comes around. Laliberté usually does put on a good show.

    (EDIT (7/13/16): Looks like the schedule for the sucker is out now -- you can see it here.)

    Image: Laliberté during a press conference at the Johnson Space Center, public domain.

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    Monday, July 11, 2016

    Tuning into the Main Event

    The World Series of Poker Main Event is now well underway, and in fact the last of the three Day 1 flights is already edging over into its latter levels.

    Back at the start of the WSOP I had predicted 6,613 for a total number of entrants this year, and for a while this afternoon and early evening it was looking like that might have been an uncannily close guess. They pushed past that mark, though, hitting 6,737 overall after a monstrous Day 1c field of 4,240 -- the largest single flight ever.

    As has been the case the last three summers, I’m realizing as the WSOP Main Event gets underway that without any sort of live streams or anything beyond the hand updates and chip counts, it feels as though there’s a hole in the coverage. Too bad they cannot have an EPT Live-style stream running these first several days of the event -- say, up until Day 4 or whenever edited ESPN shows are going to pick up the story once they start airing later in the summer.

    This is a point that keeps coming up every single summer. Matt Glantz tweeted about it a year ago (earning himself a block from the WSOP account for doing so). “Players would tell you that an absence of live streaming, in an event so big to the game, is a huge mistake that needs to be turned around for the upcoming year,” wrote Glantz. Alas, such a move didn’t happen, likely due to preexisting agreements with ESPN. Instead it’s almost as though with the Main Event the WSOP is already kind of over for the summer for those following from offsite. I’ll still eagerly check in on how things go from here, of course, particularly once the field shrinks to less than 100 and the pre-final table excitement starts to build. But it’s almost like mentally I’m recording everything to watch later, not fully focusing on it right now.

    I’ve had fun again this summer listening to the PokerNews Podcast with Remko Rinkema and Donnie Peters, catching it nearly every day while doing barn chores or other outdoor activities. Has been a fun way to follow results, while also including a lot of interesting discussions about various topics having to do with the current state of tournament poker. (Remko’s also terrific with interviews -- I marvel at how good he is.)

    The “PNPod” made me think some sort of live audio from the Main Event each night could be an entertaining and different way for audiences to experience the tournament. The final day in particular -- when they play from 27 to nine -- could be covered from start-to-finish as a radio show, interspersing interviews. I know I’d listen.

    Then again, I might be a bigger fan of radio and “theater of the mind” than the average content consumer. Still, it’s starting to feel like in this age of the live streaming and all of our nonstop “feeds” that live updates might finally be slipping over into anachronistic status.

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    Friday, July 08, 2016

    General Eisenhower’s Calculations

    In late 1943, a story regarding Dwight D. Eisenhower was circulated in the country’s newspapers. This was right about the time he was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, beginning preparations that would lead to the invasion of Normandy six months later. A little less than a decade later, Eisenhower would be elected the United States’ 34th president.

    It was a poker story, and not one usually told of Eisenhower. The more frequently shared poker-related anecdotes concerning Ike appear in his 1967 collection of autobiographical anecdotes At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. At least these are the ones that get repeated most often whenever Eisenhower’s poker playing is discussed.

    Early in that book Eisenhower tells of learning poker as a young boy. He also talks about his time at West Point, and how he only attended cadet dances “now and then, preferring to devote my time to poker.” At another point he refers to the game as “my favorite indoor sport.”

    He relates how when he played poker at West Point, he meticulously kept track of wins and losses. “The financial results of the games were always recorded in books with debts to be paid after graduation,” he explains, noting as well how he eventually had to stop playing with others because of their failure to pay up after he beat them.

    A bit later in the book he tells of playing in a twice-a-week poker game at Camp Meade where he served under George S. Patton, where again he was a consistently winning player. That’s the setting for a much-repeated anecdote of Eisenhower winning a sum off a particularly unskilled player who paid him in war bonds, causing Ike to feel sorry for his opponent. He then conspired with others to lose on purpose to the fellow in order to get him his money back without embarrassing him.

    “This was not achieved easily,” Eisenhower explains. “One of the hardest things known to man is to make a fellow win in poker who plays as if bent on losing every nickel.”

    Like I say, these stories are fairly well known. There’s one other discussion in the book of a fellow named Bob Davis who served as an influence over a young Eisenhower, including teaching him about “poker percentages.”

    “He dinned percentages into my head night after night around a campfire,” tells Eisenhower, “using for the lessons a greasy pack of nicked cards that must have been a dozen years old.” They played for matches, and the experience provided significant intellectual stimulation to the youth. “So thoroughly did Bob drill me on percentages that I continued to play poker until I was thirty-eight or forty and I was never able to play the game careless or wide open,” he adds. He also notes that since many of those whom he played against weren’t so knowledgeable about odds and probabilities, he was thus a consistent winner.

    That episode in which the officer paid Ike with war bonds actually discouraged him from playing poker, as he eventually concluded “it was no game to play in the Army.” Especially after he had risen up the ranks, Eisenhower felt bad about beating those under him. “When I found officers around me losing more than they could afford, I stopped playing.”

    However, Eisenhower still thought about the game from time to time, which brings me back to that somewhat obscure story from when Ike was well past his poker-playing days in his early 50s.

    The story emanates from Naples, Italy, dated December 9, 1943. “Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s popularity has skyrocketed throughout the Fifth Army as a result of one of his recent pronouncements,” it begins. But the pronouncement had nothing to do with calculating military strategy -- rather it concerned a problem involving “poker percentages.”

    A soldier had written to Eisenhower, having “heard that the commander in chief has a hobby of mathematically computing odds on poker hands.” The letter writer, a GI named Simon Davis, asked him what the chances were of drawing exactly three kings and two jacks when dealt a five-card poker hand.

    The article only summarizes Eisenhower’s reply, although the letter itself is quoted directly in Play the Devil: A History of Gambling in the United States from 1492 to 1955 (1960) by Henry Chafetz. Here’s what Eisenhower said:

    “Although I’m afraid my power of gauging percentages in filling poker hands is a bit overrated, I do like to figure them in my spare time. I haven’t had time to go too deeply into the exact figures of your chances of drawing three kings and a pair of jacks -- but I’d say they are about 1 in 1,082,900 times. Any mathematician will prove I’m completely wrong, but, anyway, don’t count on doing it in a pinch.”

    Going back to the newspaper article, we learn that “Since then doughboys through Italy have been doing heavy pencil and paper work. Scores of them wrote letters to the Stars and Stripes declaring ‘Ike’ almost hit it on the nose with his estimate.”

    Clearly it was a great morale booster for Eisenhower to have answered the letter so thoughtfully. The article concludes with a quote from one “doughboy” saying “I’ve always thought a lot of the general, but now he’s tops on my list of great greats.”

    Not to doubt Eisenhower, but just fiddling around a bit with this I’m pretty sure he’s a bit off with his answer, despite the support of those doughboys who checked his work.

    If there are four ways to be dealt three kings and six ways to get two jacks, that would mean 24 different ways to be dealt kings full of jacks. Meanwhile there are 2,598,960 distinct five-card hands, which actually makes it 1 in 108,290 to be dealt three kings and two jacks.

    In other words, I think Ike might have added an extra zero to the correct answer. I’ll be like Ike, though, and modestly invite anyone who wants to correct me to please do so.

    Incidentally, while scouting about regarding this story, I ran across one attempt to summarize it that identified the GI as “Bobby” Davis (not Simon). I decided that had to have been a mistake by the author who probably conflated Eisenhower’s story of learning “poker percentages” from Bob Davis with the latter one about the GI’s letter and his question.

    I mean, really, what would be the odds of that?

    Photo: General of the Army, February 1, 1945, public domain.

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    Thursday, July 07, 2016

    Teaming Up

    I mentioned yesterday how I’d be keeping an eye on that $50K Poker Players Championship, and indeed I ended up spending some time with it seeing Brian Rast win his second career PPC.

    Had a chance to chat a little bit with Rast last year at the LAPT Grand Final in São Paulo and find him a friendly, likable guy, so was glad to see him take it down in the end. The fact that Howard Lederer essentially bubbled the event (finishing 17th when 14 paid) made Rast’s win a suitably karmic bookend, you could say.

    To be honest, though, I gave nearly as much attention to that first-ever “tag team” event that started yesterday, the $1K buy-in tournament in which teams of two to four players are allowed to “tag” in for one another. I thought this sounded like a potentially interesting format to try, and to hear what those who participated were saying it sounded like a winner all around.

    The event appears to have attracted a healthy mix of top pros and absolute beginners, with the teams themselves in many cases being a mix of the two.

    Jonathan Little and his parents formed a team, as did George Danzer, his girlfriend, and his father. Rast played, too, on team with Jeff Gross and Antonio Esfandiari.

    The Mizrachi brothers formed a team, natch, while Jamie Gold and Montel Williams entered together. David Williams, Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Selbst, and Maria Ho all entered as a group.

    Probably one of my favorite team-ups was Niall Farrell teaming up with Safiya Umerova who just a couple of nights ago beat him heads-up for a bracelet. “If you can’t beat them...” he tweeted, letting his followers know he’d entered with her.

    Over and over players tweeting from the event kept repeating how it was the most fun they’d ever had in a poker tournament, and it was easy to guess why that might be the case. Poker is fundamentally an individual sport, of course, but the “tag team” idea seems a reasonable way to add in the camaraderie of competing with others as well as against opponents.

    Thinking Poker Podcast co-hosts Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis also entered as a team, and Andrew wrote up a nice summary of how positive the experience was over on his blog -- check it out.

    Image: “Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept,” lumaxart. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Wednesday, July 06, 2016

    The Return of the $50K

    The $50K “Poker Players Championship” event has circled back around at this year’s World Series of Poker, and in fact has already played down to a six-handed final table from a starting field of 91 players. Will probably have to tune in to watch the live stream a bit later today with this one.

    A couple of former PPC winners are still in the mix -- Michael Mizrachi (who has won twice) and Brian Rast -- while Justin Bonomo is the chip leader.

    That 91-entry field represents a slight increase from the 84 who took part last year when Mike Gorodinsky topped the smallest field ever for the tournament which began in 2006. Entries over the years (since 2006) have been 143, 148, 148, 95, 116, 128, 108, 132, 102, 84, and 91. (See this post from last summer for a summary of results from the tournament’s first decade, minus Gorodinsky’s win).

    The tournament was switched back to an eight-game mix this time after experimenting with the 10-game format a year ago, with Badugi and 2-7 NL draw being dropped again from the rotation after being included for one year.

    Hard to believe, actually, that the “$50K” (as it’s often called) has been around for more than a decade now, given how well I remember both the announcement of the first one and watching the final table play out on ESPN where David “Chip” Reese outlasted Andy Bloch in a marathon finish heads-up.

    Was an altogether novel thing suddenly to introduce a preliminary event featuring a buy-in five times that of the Main, with a lot of talk at the time about how it could eclipse the Main in terms of prestige and even thoughts about who exactly would be considered poker’s “world champion” for a given year.

    That latter discussion faded away long ago with regard to the $50K, despite the introduction of that “Poker Players Championship” name for it back in 2010. It’s now mostly regarded as another “high roller” -- one of many on the tournament calendar, although the only one to step outside of the no-limit hold’em circle to include other variants in the mix.

    For that reason alone it continues to pique my interest, as I’m sure today’s finale will grab the attention of many.

    Photo: PokerNews.

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    Tuesday, July 05, 2016

    Grocery Run (It UP)

    Had kind of a funny thing happen this afternoon.

    Made a quick trip to the grocery store just to pick up some milk and a couple of other items, and as I was walking down an aisle I thought I saw a fellow pass on the other side wearing a black t-shirt with the “Run It UP” logo across the front -- that is, the name of Jason Somerville’s popular Twitch channel.

    I actually doubted I had seen it at first, thinking it very likely I’d imagined it. But me and the fellow ended up circling around to meet again over in dairy, and sure enough I was right.

    I had to say something. After all, I’m not exactly writing to you from a hotbed of poker, located as I am a little under 2,200 miles from Las Vegas where everyone’s attention is trained these days.

    I asked the fellow if he played poker, and he said he did although considered himself more a fan than a player. He’d actually just gotten back from Vegas where he’d played some low buy-in daily tournaments and railed a bit at the WSOP. I shared with him a very short version of my poker story, and we talked a bit further about Somerville’s Twitch stream, Jason Mercier’s hot summer, the ongoing $50K event, and the upcoming Main.

    The encounter made an otherwise mundane trip to the store more enjoyable, and I think he got a kick out of the conversation, too. I had to let Somerville know over Twitter, and he liked hearing about it as well.

    We get so spread out -- even if we’re all connected online as we are -- it’s easy to forget how poker can provide that avenue to meeting new people and building communities (something Somerville has managed with great success via Run It UP).

    Image: Run It UP Store.

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    Monday, July 04, 2016


    Coming off a busy weekend here, having traveled 300-plus miles and back by car for a wedding, getting home yesterday evening.

    As I’ve noted, our horse farm is located in a fairly rural area. Our neighbors aren’t that far away, but we’re still pretty well isolated, with nice views in every direction and the big, big sky to enjoy each day and night.

    Being out in the country, it wasn’t surprising at all to hear fireworks last night, although as the evening wore on Vera Valmore and I marveled a bit and just how relentless the various amateur shows were.

    We could hear them better than see them, although occasionally a burst would flare up over the tree line. They seemed to be coming from all four sides of the property, and were quite loud and intense at times.

    Of course, that was only the third of July, and tonight the boom-boom-crackle has started up once more. We are fretting a little about the horses, although they seem to have dealt with it all without much problem last night and are doing so again tonight.

    You get used to the noise after a while, but it does make a person think about how nice the more typical calm and quiet can be. I was just now thinking how it reminded me of “poker Twitter” a little, in particular the constant chip updates and mood swings that noisily burst up through the usual chatter, catching your eye for a moment before dissolving into the past without trace.

    Happy Fourth, all.

    Image: “Fireworks,” Andy Rogers. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Friday, July 01, 2016

    What Mitchell Towner Did On His Summer Vacation

    I’m kind of chuckling at this result from one of the World Series of Poker bracelet events this week, the so-called “Monster Stack” event that cost $1,500 to play and which attracted a huge field of 6,927.

    A fellow named Mitchell Towner won the sucker, collecting a $1,120,196 first prize that will end up being one of the biggest cashes anyone makes all summer at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.

    Towner is an Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Arizona, which means he hasn’t gotten tenure yet and might have had to dodge teaching during summer session in order to take a Vegas vacation. Towner is a self-admitted amateur; in fact, he said afterwards (as reported by PokerNews), “I really don’t play poker.”

    The WSOP’s official report elaborates a bit more on Towner’s story, including his sharing how he only devotes about an hour a week to poker, and had only twice before played events with buy-ins of more than $100.

    Gotta love Towner’s Hendon Mob page, listing exactly one cash worth $1,120,196.

    I was listening to Remko Rinkema and Donnie Peters chatting about Towner’s win on the PokerNews Podcast, and Remko pointed out how players can safely assume the $1.12 milly Towner won was now gone for good from the poker “economy,” not likely to be put back in play by the 29-year-old teacher.

    Indeed, with a Ph.D. in finance, he probably has a good idea how smart it would be to put nearly all of those winnings away, perhaps only to play other small buy-in events here and there during the breaks between semesters.

    Am doubly glad to hear of fellow teacher and fellow amateur being the one to tame the “Monster Stack.”


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