Friday, September 30, 2016

Are We Watching Poker or Bridge?

As I was in Punta del Este earlier this week, I wasn’t home to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I did keep an eye on the agitated Twitter response via which highlights-slash-lowlights were comprehensively conveyed -- with added commentary and snark.

Since coming home, I’ve watched the first part over on YouTube and plan to get through the rest at some point before the next debate comes around on October 9. I’ve also perused some of the post-debate commentary, the exhaustive fact-checking of transcripts, and other response including the semi-hilarious spinning regarding who “won” the sucker (most of which is coming from the side most seem to agree did not “win”).

Meanwhile, it’s again interesting to see the pundits evoke poker when discussing debates. It’s almost inevitable, I suppose, given the way both debates and poker games involve an interplay of actuality and impression -- of real, tangible actions and reactions and of the image produced by those actions and reactions in the minds of those observing them.

For example, the New Republic is writing this week about how “Donald Trump Is About to Go Nuclear on Hillary Clinton,” evoking a different, more unsettling analogy (and obviously meant to grab web surfers’ attention).

The article begins with reference to another commentary on the first debate that Clinton easily outperformed Trump in the first debate “without even playing some of the heaviest cards against him.” The New Republic writer takes that as encouragement to speak of Trump likewise not playing all of his “cards,” in particular the one Trump immediately would bring up after the debate regarding Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities.

Then again, now that I think about it, this talk of holding back certain, especially powerful cards to play and choosing the right spots to produce them isn’t really poker at all, is it? It’s more like bridge or spades or hearts, games in which players play their cards one by one and do often “hold back” strong ones like the high cards and -- inevitable pun coming -- the trump cards.

The poker analogy is additionally being evoked as well by the suggestion that the “players” are keeping cards hidden from others’ view as they might in a game of five-card draw. It’s all so much theater, though, since all of these “hidden” cards are already in full view of everyone, it seems, making one or the other’s decision to “play” them just another bit of theater meant to produce an effect on those watching and commenting.

Are they bluffing us? Will we be bluffed? That’s the real poker game.

Image: “Adversaries” (adapted), Bill B. CC BY 2.0.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Looking for Meaning in the Ocean Below

Made it all 5,200 miles or thereabouts from the windy, cool shores of Uruguay to the warm, humid farm, pulling up mid-morning following my red-eye flight to Miami, then the short second leg up to Charlotte.

The flight was only around half-full, which meant I enjoyed a short row to myself allowing for an opportunity to grab a few hours of not-entirely-restful-but-adequate sleep along the way.

As there weren’t any back-of-the-seat, in-flight movies coming down, I correctly anticipated that would be the case going back as well, and so planned ahead a little by loading a copy of the 1972 sci-fi film Solaris onto the laptop. It’s an adaptation of the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem, a book and writer I’ve always liked.

I’ve written here before about Lem, in particular about the Polish writer’s 1968 novel His Master’s Voice, whose stories and novels encourage the reader to think a lot about what exactly makes us human, how we communicate with one another, the role of technology in our lives, and the place of humans in the larger context of the universe. In other words, wholly appropriate stuff when hurtling in a metal tube over land and water seven miles high.

Solaris is a curious book, involving the exploration of a planet (Solaris) that has been determined to be “sentient.” Its distinguishing feature is a huge ocean covering it that throbs and seems to be alive, and which additionally seems capable of affecting the thinking of those studying it, including inducing hallucinations causing them to experience all sorts of weirdly vivid, psychologically troubling phenomena.

Again, kind of appropriate while flying over an ocean.

The film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky has a lot of affinity in style and tone with 2001: A Space Odyssey, similarly featuring spacemen in trouble. There’s a lot of long, slow passages with a mix of classical and electronic music (and sounds) making up the soundtrack. And like 2001, it’s long (nearly three hours) and a bit challenging perhaps for some viewers.

As it happened, I couldn’t quite meet the challenge. It kept my interest, but around two hours into it I found myself starting to lose the battle to stay awake while watching an extended shot of the protagonist, Kris, sleeping. It was too suggestive, I’m afraid, and I had to give in to my own need for rest. Thankfully my dreams weren’t as disturbing as his were, though.

I’ll watch the last hour soon, and probably go back to the novel again as Lem’s books always seem to reward rereadings. Seems like I’m pulling them back off the shelf for these poker tournament trips a lot, too, which end up encouraging a harmonious kind of reflection on similarly “deep” questions.

The world can seem smaller to you when you’re hopping from one point to another 5,200 miles away. But so, too, can such traveling about encourage rethinking your sense of self in relation to it.

Image: “IMG_0093” (adapted), Lucy Gray. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Departure -- One Last Hand

I’ve noted here before how very often these tournament reporting trips don’t leave a heck of a lot of time and/or mental energy for much beyond actually reporting on the tournaments.

With each of the places I’ve gotten a chance to go to over the years, I’ve been successful in getting at least some time away to experience the locations a little and do some genuine sightseeing at least -- on some occasions more than others. The trip to Dublin earlier this year, for example, was one where thanks to a little help from my friends I got out multiple times and felt like I’d gained a lot of from the experience.

The players who travel to these things face the same challenge to get out of the poker room and/or casino and see these places they’re visiting. It’s hard to do for a variety of reasons, but definitely worthwhile.

During this trip to Punta del Este I was kept busy with the tournament as usual, but as it happened I had a lot else to take care of on the side, which meant I pretty much didn’t get outside for the duration. But we ended early Tuesday night, and with the shuttle back to Montevideo not leaving until late afternoon on Wednesday, that gave my partner Will and I a chance to put in a few miles walking about and enjoying a nice, cool, clear day filled with a lot of great views.

Punte del Este is way down on the southern tip of Uruguay, a small peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic. We stayed in the Conrad located on the west side of the peninsula, the one referred to as the “Mansa” side which means “tame” (as I was talking about a couple of days ago). A short walk across the peninsula to the other side takes you to the “Brava” side, meaning “fierce.”

Indeed, we had a great view of the ocean from the hotel, and as I was describing before it really was more like a bay than an ocean, the waters being mostly still. Meanwhile on the other side was a real beach with rough waves crashing on the sand and rocks.

We walked across the peninsula earlier today, stopping of course to take several pictures of the highlight of Brava Beach, the great sculpture called La Mano de Punta del Este created in the early 1980s by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal -- a.k.a., “The Hand.”

I’ve written about this sculpture here before on an earlier trip. Irarrázabal very deliberately chose the “Brava” side for it, as part of its symbolism has to do with warning swimmers with the image looking like a last wave before drowning. (Recalls a certain Stevie Smith poem, that.) Such a warning is apt given the rough waves on that side, and would be much less so over on the calm Mansa side.

My last trips to Uruguay were in 2011 and 2012, and it was during the first year I visited “The Hand” with Brad Willis, though at dusk when the picture-taking conditions weren’t ideal. This time Will and I got there just after noon and took turns snapping shots of each other standing around the unique work. (I say unique, but I believe Irarrázabal would later create similar versions of it in Spain and a couple of other places.) Click that pic above to see a bigger version of it.

From there Will and I walked down the Brava side to the marina and enjoyed a delicious outdoor lunch at the water-facing Restaurant Artico before circling back for our ride. All in all a nice, relaxing way to round out the trip.

It was great just to slow down and look around, even if only for a few hours before waving goodbye.

Long night of travel ahead. More from back on the farm.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 4 -- A Final Final Table

A quick one here before readying for tomorrow’s travel day.

The tournament wound up in short order, with the final table lasting about seven hours -- about average for these Latin American Poker Tour Main Events, if not a little longer. Pedro Claus of Argentina ended up taking it down, leading for most of the way and only slipping out of first position briefly on a couple of occasions for a few hands.

Probably the most interesting moment came when they were down to three players -- Claus, another Argentinian Manuel Vuotto, and Fernando Araujo from Brazil -- and the trio stopped the tournament to make a deal.

Araujo had a decent-sized chip lead, although the blinds and antes were high enough to make it less meaningful, relatively speaking. In any event, the players instantly chose to chop up most of the remaining prize pool evenly ($70K apiece), leaving a little over $20K on the side for the winner. Had to have been about the smoothest and simplest deal discussion I’ve ever witnessed, aside perhaps from a few heads-up ones that went similarly.

As I try to think of interesting hands from the final table, I realize I skipped over mentioning one from Day 3 with 11 left when a Julio Alberto Grimau was all in on the flop with ace-high versus Araujo’s top pair of queens.

The turn then brought another queen, giving Araujo trips and meaning Grimau was drawing dead. But weirdly a small heart on the river -- the third on the board -- sent Grimau into a brief celebration. He was shouting and walking away from the table as though he’d won the hand, but everyone at the table was beckoning him back to show him that Araujo had in fact won.

Alas for Grimau, he looked at his cards again and to his dismay realized he didn’t have two hearts in his hand, but only one. In fact looking back through the action, he had shoved the flop thinking he had a flush draw when in fact he didn’t, so it was sort of half-humorous, half-painful to see him go out that way.

No such egregious mistakes today, as far as I was able to see. And Claus was a deserving winner, doing well to use his big stack to pressure the others and increase his chances of winning start-to-finish. Check the PokerStars blog for all the final table updates and more.

I guess that was my “last” LAPT final table, as I won’t be going to Brazil later this year. I expect to be back to some of these same stops in the future though, even if they won’t be called LAPTs starting next year.

We were able to enjoy one last good meal at the Conrad -- yet another steak for your humble meat-eater -- before hitting the sack. As I mentioned before, gonna do a little wandering around the peninsula mañana before the evening flight. Will tell you about it all afterwards.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 3 -- Mansa & Brava

I’m writing from Uruguay, which is located way, way down on the southeastern coast of South America, on the Atlantic side.

We’re in Punta del Este, the small resort city with a population of somewhere around 20,000 where the Latin American Poker Tour Uruguay festival is playing out at the Conrad Punte del Este Resort & Casino. The city is itself located on the southern coast of the country, comprising some of the inland area and a little peninsula that juts out into the water.

The Conrad (where we’re staying) is located on the west side of the peninsula, on what is called Playa Mansa (or Mansa Beach). Not far from the coast is a small, oblong-shaped land mass called Gorriti island covered over with greenery. Between the coast and the island is what is essentially a still, calm bay with little or no waves, and the sand on the beach is thick and yellowish.

Meanwhile the east side of the peninsula is Playa Brava (or Brava Beach), which is directly exposed to the Atlantic (i.e., without an island out there blocking the water). Thus the waves are a lot more evident crashing along the shoreline made up of finer, whitish sand and lots of rocks and shells.

Mansa means “tame” while Brava means “fierce,” words that describe the character of the water on either side. In between them is the Puerto de Punta del Este where lots of boats of varying sizes dock with a few restaurants, a yacht club, and other things to see. It’s one of the bigger ports around on this part of the continent.

Hoping on the day we leave to go explore all of this a little, including the great sculpture on the Brava side of the giant hand sticking up out of the sand, La Mano de Punta del Este, which anyone who comes to Punta del Este typically remembers as a distincitive feature of the place.

Sitting in between the “Mansa” and the “Brava” reminds me a little of what it’s often like at the poker table when caught between an aggressive and a passive player. You’d like for the more brava one to be on your right, meaning you have position on that player most of the time. Then again, it’s sometimes frustrating having a mansa or passive player on your left who seems to stick around with calls every time you try to bet or raise.

You have to adjust, whatever the seating assignments happen to be. Kind of like here in Punta you can just walk over from one beach to the other, should you prefer either the tame waters or the fierce waves.

Today it was the Argentinian Pedro Claus proving most successful at negotiating his way through Day 3, and he’ll carry the chip lead to the eight-handed final table tomorrow. Six of the eight are from Argentina, not too surprising given how 25 of the final 32 were from the neighboring country. The other two are from Brazil, the other country bordering Uruguay.

Neither Team PokerStars Pro Leo Fernandez (who finished 29th) nor two-time LAPT winner Mario Lopez (who finished 14th) were able to make it to the final table island without crashing first.

Play gets going at 12 noon. Sail over to the PokerStars blog to find out which man wins the last mano.

Image: Google maps.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 2 -- Summit of the Americas

Was reading a little today and happened across a reference to Lyndon B. Johnson having come right here to Punta del Este, Uruguay back in 1967 for a summit meeting with around 20 different Latin American heads of state.

Other U.S. presidents have come to Uruguay, although the others all primarily stayed in Montevideo for their visits. Franklin D. Roosevelt came to meet with the Uruguayan president in 1936; Dwight D. Eisenhower did the same in 1960 near the end of his tenure. Both of the Bushes came to Montevideo, too, although after a little searching around it looks like George H.W. did stop by Punta del Este briefly as well (in late 1990). In fact, Reinaldo is telling me George H.W. Bush either once had a home in Punta del Este or maybe still does.

LBJ’s visit here in April 1967 was by far the most significant one by a U.S. president. It lasted for three days and was called the “Summit of the Americas,” and from it resulted a detailed declaration signed by all of the presidents who attended detailing intentions regarding economic integration, industrial development, multinational action for infrastructure projects, measures to improve international trade, improvements to education and “modernization” of all nations, and reduction of military expenditures.

Here’s an interesting article from 1994 from the Los Angeles Times looking back on that ’67 summit and contrasting it with an upcoming one in Miami involving President Bill Clinton and other Latin American heads of state. The point is made how back in the late 1960s some of those at the Punta del Este summit were dictators (unlike in ’94). And, of course, the Cold War was still raging, with Castro and communist Cuba representing a constant threat to the rest of Latin America (from the perspective of the U.S.).

At the summit Johnson was very insistent that absolutely everything said by anyone be taken down and transcripts made available to all -- an indicator of the historic nature of meeting. Sounds like LBJ got along with pretty much everyone, save the president of Ecuador who was a little too conspicuous with his criticism of the U.S. for the Texan’s tastes.

I might be tempted to draw some sort of an analogy between an international summit and a Latin American Poker Tour Main Event such as the one here in Punta del Este I’m helping cover. After all, players from 16 different countries are making up the 438-entry field, and they’re also doing a lot of “negotiating” you could say, as they try to get what they want from each other.

Of course, no one here can win unless everyone else loses, so it’s not like these negotiations are aimed at producing some sort of harmony going forward. And there’s not a single U.S. player in the field, so that also might make the comparison seem less persuasive.

All but a handful of the players are from the “Americas,” though. More than half of entries (237) were made by Argentinians, and in fact there are still 25 players from Argentina left among the 32 who made it to tomorrow’s Day 3, with one of them -- two-time champion Mario Lopez -- enjoying the overnight chip lead.

We’ll see how things go for him and everyone else tomorrow as Day 3 of this poker summit continues. Go to the PokerStars blog where we’re not necessarily taking down everything said and done by everyone, but enough of it to create an adequate historical record for future researchers.

Photo: “Meeting of American Chiefs of State,” LBJ Library photo archive (public domain).

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 1b -- Going for Three

The second and last Day 1 flight for the $1,500 buy-in Latin American Poker Tour Uruguay Main Event was bigger -- no surprise there -- with the ultimate number being 438 entries, making a prize pool of $571,590 with $110,870 up top (barring a final table deal).

I mentioned how the event is a re-entry, and today it was Oscar Alache busting just prior to the dinner break (after which late registration concluded and the re-entry option ended), then he bought in again and in just four levels spun up a tournament leading stack heading into Sunday’s Day 2. Both he and Nacho Barbero made it through today on what was each player’s third entry in this sucker (both entered once on Day 1a, then twice on Day 1b).

Alache, of course, has won two LAPT titles before, as has Mario Lopez who’ll return to a top five stack and Barbero (who is sitting just outside the top 20 with 155 players left. Only Fabian Ortiz is missing from the two-time champs club, as he didn’t make the trip this time. No player has ever won three.

I suppose these references to all-time records during the nine seasons’ worth of LAPTs will be set aside starting next year, although we’ll probably find a way to keep bringing back what has become a fairly invovled history of events in the various LAPT stops.

And from what I’m gathering, they’ll probably be going to back to all of the current ones next year, mostly as “PokerStars Festivals” with the one in Panama being a “PokerStars Championship.” In other words, while the LAPT may technically be ending this year, the “tour” of Central and South American stops will continue as usual, only as part of the larger global tours.

It strikes me that the players who typically populate the fields in these events in places like Chile, Uruguay, Panama, and Brazil (and Peru, Argentina, and a few other places in the past) are all still likely going to come to the newly-branded series when they come around. (Truly, if you step back and take a look, when the LAPTs come around they fit into ongoing, year-round tournaments being offered at all of these stops, anyway.) And if the new “Championships” and “Festivals” work to draw a few more players from North America, Europe, and elsewhere, so much the better.

More mañana. Check that PokerStars blog to see if any of these two-timers really get close to making it tres.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 1a -- Getting to the Meat of It

The first of two Day 1 flights is in the books here in Punta del Este at the LAPT9 Uruguay Main Event.

It was a standard noon-to-midnight day of reporting, with the prep and loose-end-tying adding up to a typical 13-hour day of work. We were able to work in meals along the way, including a dinner where along with Sergio, Reinaldo, and Will we made quads with our orders of steaks.

I tweeted out the picture above, captioning it “Meat and Greet” thanks to the four of us having all ordered the same entrees.

As far as the tournament is going, that word “entrees” always seems to threaten to rise up and make for a humorous typo whenever I’m aiming for the word “entries.” As in, there were a total of 176 entrees on Day 1a, which would make sense if catering some sort of huge get-together, but would be strangly surreal at a poker tournament.

Make that 176 entries, counting some folks buying in twice, a few three-timers, and at least one who fired four times. The tournament has a $1,500 buy-in -- half what it was last year -- which encourages the re-entering for many. Of that starting group, 59 made it through to Sunday's Day 2, with Fabian De La Fuente leading and his fellow Argentinian and two-time LAPT winner Mario Lopez with a big stack as well.

Should be a bit more than that tomorrow, when we’ll see how big this last LAPT Uruguay Main Event turns out to be. And after that get to the money (on Day 2) and the “meat of it” heading towards Tuesday’s final table. Head over to the PokerStars blog to see how it goes.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Arrival -- Hemispheres

Hello from Uruguay!

My flights down to Montevideo were fine. No movies for the super long one from Miami, I’m afraid. Just the words “Fasten Seat Belt While Seated” stitched on the back of the seat in front of me to look at the whole nine-plus hours we were on there.

My neighbor removing his shoes (and -- horror -- not wearing socks) before we even backed out of the gate didn’t necessarily help improve the situation much. But all in all, it could have been worse.

Actually shared that flight down with my blogging partner for the week, Will, so the two of us had fun catching up during the long shuttle to Punta del Este. Had to wait a little while before rooms opened up, but it wasn’t too bad. By the time of unpacking I was around 20 hours or so removed from having loaded up my suitcase back on the farm.

Always marvel a little at how it is possible to traverse the globe this way, traveling from the middle of the northern hemisphere down deep into the southern hemisphere -- like 5,200 miles, as I was calculating yesterday -- in less than a day. Probably challenges these two cerebral hemispheres knockin’ around in my noggin more than it should.

Then later we met up with Sergio for what turned out to be a delicious dinner at Las Brisas, one of the restaurants in the Conrad Hotel & Casino (shown above) which will be our home away from home for the next several days.

Capped the day off with some NFL football at the large, comfortable hotel lobby bar, and with the Patriots’ win over Houston I managed to nudge into an early lead in the Pigskin Pick’em pool, making for a nice conclusion to the long day.

On the drive in and during the short bit of walking around I did today, I found it hard even to remember having been here before. It has been three years and I’m staying in a different part of the city, so that’s part of the reason. Also the Conrad is a big contrast (a good one) from the earlier digs, and so the whole feel has changed in part because of that, too.

Gonna hit the hay now and try to recuperate a few of those lost hours of sleep from the flight before the tournament gets going tomorrow.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Long Yardage Down to Punta

Hastily sharing a message here from the Miami airport, having flown down this evening on my way to Punta del Este where I’ll be helping cover the Latin American Poker Tour Uruguay stop that runs from Friday through next Tuesday.

This’ll be my third trip to Punta del Este, if I’m counting correctly, although it’s been a while since I’ve made the lengthy voyage all of the way down to the southeast coast of South America. I’ll fly to Montevideo, then it’ll be another couple of hours or so via shuttle to get to my ultimate destination.

Ultimately I’ll be traveling something like 5,200 miles from the farm to get where I’m going. That’s more than nine million yards.

I’m looking forward to this one, thinking a little about how it will technically mark the last LAPT festival, at least in terms of the full-fledged, dozen or so tournaments they usually run at each stop. There will still be one more event with the LAPT name attached to it -- the Grand Final in São Paulo -- which won’t be an entire series but just one cross-listed event (the BSOP Millions High Roller, I believe).

That said, this really isn’t the “last” anything as far as these PokerStars tournaments in Central and South America are concerned, as they’ll continue going to just about all the stops they are currently, making each of them into a “PokerStars Festival” and at least one -- Panama -- a larger “PokerStars Championship,” starting next year.

Won’t have a lot of time during the upcoming tournament to run around that much (or write here, I’m guessing, although I’ll try nonetheless to keep checking in). I do have a day at the end where I don’t fly back until the evening, though, and so anticipate getting to sightsee a bit on that day for sure. It’s a pretty place with especially good eats, as I recall, and fun to explore even during the offseason (which is where we are at present).

More soon. Talk again from the other hemisphere.

Image: “Port of Punta del Este,” Daniel Stonek. CC BY 3.0.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Judgment Calls

Been watching the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN again which finally got going a week-and-a-half ago. There have been four episodes thus far, picking up the action on Day 4 (post-bubble) and now already around halfway through Day 5 with just 140 players left.

This week’s episodes featured a ton of table talk, thanks largely to Alex Keating being on the feature table where he was engaging everyone fairly constantly, and William Kassouf drawing the cameras’ attention at other tables.

A bit of buzz this week over Kassouf’s performance, in particular in a couple of hands with Stacy Matuson. Both involved Kassouf pushing all in and putting Matuson to a test for the rest of her stack, and in both cases -- after an avalanche of disorienting chatter from Kassouf -- she folded (once correctly, once after being bluffed).

I remember when these hands happened back in July, in particular the one following which Kassouf was actually given a one-round penalty by WSOP tournament director Jack Effel for “taunting” (as Effel described it).

Following it online at the time over Twitter and then via the hand report on, an admittedly partial view of the affair. Seemed perhaps as though Kassouf must have crossed some not-so-obvious line somewhere with his behavior, but it was hard to say.

The way things were shown on ESPN revealed more of the interaction, but it remains incomplete evidence for those of us who weren’t there. Indeed, even the two hands featured between Kassouf and Matuson are only partially shown, with the action only being picked up postflop when the “speech play” (as Kassouf refers to his table table) began in earnest.

It’s interesting following some of the belated back-and-forthing about it happening thanks to the ESPN coverage finally being shown (here, some two months later). Deservedly or not, Kassouf is clearly being set up to fill the “villain” role for ESPN right through to the final table which starts in late October.

Hard for me to make any profound judgments about those Kassouf-Matuson hands, though, or about how the WSOP staff chose to respond to them. From afar I want to say everything we witnessed is “part of the game” and shouldn’t be proscribed, but who knows, really? Just too much we can’t see or be sure about here -- including a lot of obviously relevant context -- although that doesn’t make the speculating any less interesting.

Kind of like how poker works -- we know what we can see, and have to guess about a lot else.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Panels and Processes

Was reading this curious article earlier today by someone who had been part of the group of “poker media” who voted for the Poker Hall of Fame in which he says he’s giving up his spot on the panel.

The author is from the United Kingdom, and after talking about how he generally doesn’t vote (e.g., he passed on Brexit), he’s giving up voting for the PHOF, too, because he doesn’t feel informed enough about the nominees to be able to vote in a way that wouldn’t be overly biased toward his personal, limited experience.

In his case, he says, he’d cast all 10 of his available points for Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, mainly because of having met him early in his poker writing career and having a personal liking for him.

While he says “a Hall of Fame means jack diddly squat to me,” he also notes how he’d felt honored to be part of the PHOF voting process. But he’s giving that up, mainly because of that feeling he’s not quite qualified to assess the nominees adequately, while also adding some doubts about the process by which the nominees are selected (which might have discouraged him further).

I suppose it’s a good move for the fellow to step away and let someone else who cares more about it all to get involved. Kind of weird how it comes off as vaguely suggesting some kind of criticism of the process, but I don’t think that’s the intention.

I’ve mentioned here before how I used to be part of that group of “poker media” who voted for the PHOF. The votes come both from the writers and from living Poker Hall of Famers, and from 2010 through 2013 I spent a lot of hours each fall going through the nominees and deciding how to fill out my ballots.

Before the 2014 vote I had switched email accounts and missed a note regarding that year’s PHOF, and as a result ended up not being part of the voting process anymore. In other words, I think my losing my spot was mostly inadvertent, although I did talk with the WSOP then and learned how they were interested in getting more Europeans involved in the voting, which made sense to me.

I also feel like it is good for the panel to have at least some turnover as a general principle -- after all, “poker media” has a lot of people coming and going constantly, and thus isn’t necessarily represented so well if the exact same people are involved every single year.

I wouldn’t have given up my spot as a PHOF voter willingly. I have too much interest in the game and history of poker, and I always felt like my vote was well informed and a positive contribution to the process.

But as I say I didn’t mind letting others get in there and have a crack at it, too -- if they wanted to, that is.

Image: “Personal preference,” Kevin Dooley. CC BY 2.0.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

A Super High Roller “What If?”

I started the week recommending some poker podcasts. Gonna sign off here talking a little about another one, the PokerNews podcast.

Today I was listening to the most recent episode of the “PNPod,” now hosted by Sarah Herring and Matthew Parvis. Among the topics covered was that $102,000 buy-in World Championship of Online Poker event that went off earlier in the week on PokerStars, the biggest buy-in event ever for online poker.

I followed that one a bit last Sunday in between watching football, then again on Monday when it finished up with a two-way chop involving “bencb789” and Fedor “CrownUpGuy” Holz, both of whom ended up earning seven-figure paydays.

Holz had won that much online before, taking away $1.3 million for winning the WCOOP Main Event two years ago. He’s also won more than $1 million in live tournaments no less than four times in 2016 alone, and a fifth time in December 2015. Just nuts.

Frank Op de Woerd did live updates on the $102K event for PokerNews, and he appeared on the PNPod to talk a little about the tournament. He brought up an interesting point about how the event began with only five players there at the start time. That’s a screenshot up above of the five-handed action, included in Frank’s coverage.

Late registration (as well as the ability to re-enter) lasted five hours on Sunday. As I recall they were still only at a single table after three hours or so, then finally the field filled out to the 28 total entries. That made the prize pool $2.8 million altogether, comfortably over the $2 million guarantee.

Frank wondered what would have happened had the five players who began the event went all in on a hand, thus “ending” the tournament even before late registration was over. With that $2 million guarantee, the players had contributed only half a million total to that point, which (theoretically) would have meant a crazily huge overlay if all $2 million were paid out.

Frank’s wondering about that five-way all-in scenario made me think of others -- say, one where only a couple of players showed up for the start of the event, then one felted the other before anyone else signed up (a much less implausible scenario than a five-way all-in).

I’ve got to imagine there was some provision in place for the event that would have prevented it from being decided in this fashion. In fact, the very first item listed among PokerStars’ “Tournament Rules” would, I suppose, allow the site to come up with some procedure to avoid any of these imagined scenarios from affecting how the $102K Super High Roller played out:

“We will, at all times, consider the best interests of the game and fairness as the top priority in the decision-making process. Unusual circumstances can, on occasion, dictate that decisions in the interest of fairness take priority over the technical rules.”

Still kind of funny to imagine those other possibilities. I suppose when constructing them, we should by matter of course have Holz winning in all instances.

Image: courtesy PokerNews.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Looking Back Along the Long and Winding LAPT Road

Was just reading a nice post from my friend Sergio Prado for the Brazilian PokerStars blog in which he looks back at nine years of the Latin American Poker Tour.

I’ll admit I had to use Google translate, as my Portuguese is essentially limited to a single word. That said, I think I can make out what his title means well enough: “Minha homenagem ao LAPT.”

Sergio has been an important part of the LAPT for the entire way, ever since the first LAPT event took place back in May 2008 in Rio de Janeiro. As he recounts in his post, tournament director Mike Ward and Reinaldo Venegas (who like Sergio has blogged while also serving other roles with the tour) have both been there throughout as well. A number of others have been there for much of it, too, and Sergio does a nice job remembering them while sharing some nice photos along the way.

My first time visiting the LAPT was way back in June 2010 during Season 3 when I went with Brad Willis to Lima, Peru and we helped cover Jose “Nacho” Barbero’s second straight LAPT Main Event win. I believe that was my first time ever in South America, and the trip was followed by more visits to Peru, as well as to Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, then also to Panama a couple of times and to the Bahamas where the LAPT likewise added an event.

Sergio’s post got me thinking again about the new branding by PokerStars of its tours and how the introduction of the new PokerStars Championships and PokerStars Festivals will mean the end of these regional tour designations like the EPT, the LAPT, the APPT, and so on. In some ways it’s just a change of name, but then again it signifies something more, given the way each of these tours developed its own history and character as shaped by the players and personalities involved.

I’m slated to go to Punta del Este next week where I’ll meet up with Sergio and along with others we will report on the LAPT9 Uruguay stop, which I’m only today realizing will be the very last regular LAPT series. There’s still the LAPT9 Grand Final to go in Brazil in November, although that will only involve a single main event, not an entire festival. I won’t be making that November trip, as I have other things happening, so the long voyage down to Uruguay will represent my last LAPT ride.

I imagine I’ll be having my own homenagem to share afterwards once that’s done, given how much I’ve valued the experience of covering those tournaments and most importantly getting to meet and work and laugh with the people Sergio lists in his post. To him and all them I gratefully deliver my only Portuguese word...


Photo: courtesy Carlos MontiPokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Talking Versus Listening

I’m a social person. I generally enjoy meeting new people and love having conversations, sharing stories, and joking around. I’ve also been correctly pegged by others as “laid back” or hard to get upset. A “Type B” personality, some say. I suppose I’d have to accept that as a label, and don’t mind it a bit.

I remember once teaching an especially challenging summer school college course, one for which the students had all been admitted for the fall but on a contingency basis. It was a program for which this particular population of students -- ones who were on the margins for having the qualifications to be accepted -- had to pass three courses that were essentially meant to be preparatory for college work, and mine was one of them.

The idea was both to get them ready for the real thing and to see if they could handle the daily demands and responsibilities of being college students. It was a weird “college-but-not-quite-college” kind of situation -- I suppose the closest I’ve come to teaching high school.

I thankfully never had to deal too greatly with unruly students during my full-time teaching days. But this class was probably the nuttiest in terms of in-class behavior, and I often had to exert a lot of extra energy to keep everyone focused and prevent the sucker going off the rails.

We were several weeks into the course when a student called out over the mild roar to say something I still remember. I guess I regard it as an unwitting compliment about my teaching style, although it also said something about my personality as well.

“I wish just once you would get reeeeally mad!” she said.

Everyone suddenly grew strangely quiet to hear what I’d say in response. I just smiled and shook my head, and everyone laughed. I had already well established that my getting upset or angry just wasn’t going to happen -- that no matter how crazy and loud they became, they weren’t getting me riled up enough to yell and scream in response. For better or worse, that just wasn’t my style.

When playing poker, I tend to keep quiet, too, particularly when involved in hands. I’ll speak up and be social, but mostly stay out of the way of “table talk,” finding it easier to reveal less myself than to try to get others to spill more.

On Monday of this week I had surgery on my vocal cords, which if I remember correctly is the first time I’ve had any kind of surgery since I was a child. Had some kind of bothersome growth appear over on one side that for much of the summer actually made it hard for me to talk at all. I was always hoarse-sounding, and sometimes I’d open up my trap and nothing would come out whatsoever.

The surgery went very well. I don’t remember a thing, of course, having been knocked out well before and only waking up after being wheeled back out of the OR. Still have to sweat a biopsy of what got clipped out of there, but the chances are very high it isn’t anything to fret.

Anyhow, as part of the post-op instructions I’m now on what they call “voice rest,” which means I’m not allowed to talk for five days. I found a cool free text-to-speech app for the phone I’ve used some, and I’ve also found out how to do the same on my laptop, so with Vera I’ve been conversing that way.

Otherwise, since I work at home I’m not having to speak much anyway, and so I haven’t missed being able to talk. Weirdly, I’ve discovered it hardest to keep quiet when with our cats and horses. I’m realizing I constantly talk to them when I’m around them, usually just saying their names over and over. But I’m having to stifle that urge this week.

Another thing I’ve realized this week is how much more I value being able to hear over being able to speak. It would be a devastating choice to have to make -- whether to give up talking or listening -- but for me it would be a trivially easy decision. Perhaps most would choose the same way, I don’t know.

Anyhow, no talking for now. And no singing for four weeks (say the instructions)! I’m not much of a singer, but if you want to hear me singing you can on my newly-released album, Welcome to Muscle Beach (one of seven albums I’ve released and the only one with vocals.)

Wish me well as I quietly wait out my five days here. Meanwhile, talk among yourselves.


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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bert Williams’s “Poker Pantomime”

Today’s installment of “Poker & Pop Culture” shares a bit from a collection of stories I found a few years back -- actually a couple of collections -- about the invented Thompson Street Poker Club originally written for Life magazine way back in the 1880s by Henry Guy Carleton.

I’m discussing the books as part of a short series of articles about early “poker clubs” (both real and fictional), but they are probably most notable because they involve the earliest “poker books” featuring African American characters.

As with all of these columns, there are long, interesting detours that I usually need to cut out both because of space considerations and because those side roads tend to be a little too obscure or too far off the beaten path.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Bret Harte’s 1869 story “The Poker Outcasts of Poker Flat” and near the end got into some of the many film adaptations. One such adaptation came in the 1970s from the Italian director Lucio Fulci, a film called Four of the Apocalypse that actually draws from two different Harte stories and adds a lot else to fill out the plot.

Fulci is better known for several horror films, including some “giallos” and gore/exploitation films like Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead and others that have been met with varying degrees of controversy. As someone curious about some of these films, I had to resist going too far down the non-relevant-to-poker road of exploring how this latter-day “spaghetti western” fit into Fulci’s overall oeuvre. (I still couldn’t resist mentioning his background, though.)

I ended this week’s column about the Thompson Street Poker Club bringing up the 1914 song by Bert Williams, “The Darktown Poker Club.” It’s a legitimate reference, as the song was said to be inspired by the stories. Doing so also gave me a chance to mention in one article both the earliest poker books about African American characters and Williams who was the first black American to appear on the Broadway stage.

I’d known about the song for a long time. In fact, I included it in the very first episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show (from over eight years ago) -- which, by the way, I still don’t regard as having been abandoned altogether (even though it has been three years since the last episode).

When revisiting the song and Williams career a little for today’s column, I found a cool clip of a famous routine of his, called the “poker pantomime,” that he first performed on Broadway in a 1908 production called Bandanna Land and which became an oft-repeated part of his act in other contexts.

The routine was later included in a silent two-reel film called A Natural Born Gambler (released July 24, 1916), Williams’s first film that was longer than a short. I’ve not seen the entire film, but reading the synopsis it is clear this poker pantomime scene comes at the very end as a kind of tacked-on postlude -- it’s Williams pretending to deal a hand of poker in jail.

Like I say, this was intriguing but a bit out of the way for today’s column. In fact, to have included the clip would introduced the need for a lot of contextual discussion both about the film, Williams’s career, and -- as anyone looking at the clip can see -- the Williams’s use of blackface.

Those familiar with early 20th-century film know about white performers famously using blackface makeup to portray black roles, a practice dating from minstrel shows of the mid-19th century and lasting into the the middle of the 20th century (and occasionally afterwards).

Al Jolson’s turn in blackface in 1927’s The Jazz Singer is probably the most widely remembered instance. I remember once seeing the 1936 film Swing Time in a theater -- an amazing movie, really -- in which Fred Astaire appears in blackface for one scene (and thus kind of makes it hard to recommend the movie without an additional disclamer).

Whites’ appropriation of black identity is troubling enough, but blackface almost always tended to exaggerate racist stereotypes even further. Meanwhile black performers’ use of blackface -- done in part to assuage white audiences -- adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

In any event, I say all of that as I introduce this clip featuring Williams doing his poker pantomime, to which the uploader has conveniently (and appropriately) added his singing “The Darktown Poker Club” as a soundtrack.

It’s a genuinely funny clip, offering as it does a glimpse of Williams’s larger talents. I wanted to share it here -- not that long after the 100th anniversary of its release -- as an interesting cultural expression of poker.

Photo: Bert Williams, public domain.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Podcast Recommendations: Alan Boston on Thinking Poker & Kara Scott on the Remko Report

Had a chance over the weekend to listen to a couple of poker podcasts which I found very interesting and entertaining, so I wanted to pass them along here.

One was the most recent episode of The Thinking Poker Podcast, co-hosted by Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis. I’ve mentioned the TPP show here many times before -- and in fact appeared on that one a couple of times, once very early when they had just started, then again more recently.

Last week they had as a guest the poker player and sports bettor Alan Dvorkis -- better known as Alan Boston. I’ve often enjoyed hearing Boston talk about sports betting on other podcasts, and he’s an entertaining follow on Twitter for sure, especially when expressing misery and/or vitriol regarding bets gone wrong.

Other than exchanging a few tweets with him about Todd Rundgren on Twitter, I haven’t really interacted with Boston that much -- one hilarious exchange at the WSOP from a few years back comes to mind -- but I’ve always found him an interesting, thoughtful guy whenever he’s interviewed.

On the TPP show the interview was divided between some stud strategy talk (including some anecdotes about Danny Robison and Stu Ungar), and discussion of helping others with mental issues (and dealing with one’s own). All pretty engaging and not what you typically hear on poker podcasts.

The other was the latest “Remko Report” on which Remko Rinkema interviewed Kara Scott. Besides being friends with both Remko and Kara, I’m a big fan of both as well. As you might imagine from two people so good at talking and expressing themselves, their conversation is highly enjoyable.

The first half or more of the episode is poker-focused, with some good discussion about various things including the ongoing struggle to introduce poker to larger audiences, some good talk about Joe McKeehen and this whole (overdone) topic of WSOP Main Event champions needing to be “ambassadors” (Kara and I agree they don’t), and some further discussion about how the WSOP Main Event is currently covered and what could be changed.

They also share notes on the challenges of interviewing poker players, something I think both do very well in part because they are both so interested in examining more closely what goes into making a good, engaging interview. (It’s a lot harder than it looks or sounds, as they both are well aware.)

From there they cover some of Kara’s life before becoming a poker presenter. Some of this story I knew before, in part from having interviewed Kara myself several years ago for Betfair Poker. (That’s another one of those interviews that has now disappeared from the internet -- and which I may try to recover and republish here at some point, as I’ve done with some of the other ones.)

I knew about her background as a teacher, something I very much enjoyed talking to her about given how that’s an experience we have in common. I knew a bit about her growing up in Canada and moving to England, as well as her transition from teaching to training in Muay Thai and then becoming a presenter for a martial arts show. Which eventually led (along with some acting gigs on the side) to her getting involved with poker television.

There were other things discussed with which I was less familiar, including some having to do with how getting involved with poker and the poker community helped Kara at a time in her life when such help was really needed. Here the show reminded me a little of Boston’s appearance on TPP, if only for the way both interviewees got across the message of how important it is to have support from others, especially during difficult times.

If you have a couple of hours when you’re driving or cleaning barn stalls or doing something else where you need some interesting audio to fill that noggin’, check out both shows:

  • Thinking Poker Podcast Episode #186: Alan Boston
  • Remko Report #45: Kara Scott Opens Up About Her Life Before Poker
  • Photos: Alan Boston courtesy PokerNews; “Kara Scott at the Main Event of the World Series of Poker 2015,” Dutch Boyd, CC BY 2.0.

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    Friday, September 09, 2016

    Poker Hall of Fame Talk (Again)

    Today the World Series of Poker announced its 10 “finalists” for this year’s Poker Hall of Fame, and the chorus of criticism has already begun over Twitter and elsewhere.

    Following a procedure first adopted in 2009, the WSOP invites the public to nominate players, but then has a Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council go through those nominations and select 10 names to include on the final ballot.

    That second step was introduced into the process in 2010 after the public managed to stuff the ballot box that first year with nominations of Tom Dwan. It was a bit hilarious for Dwan to be among the 10 PHOF nominees, given he was only 23 years old at the time. (This was before the “Chip Reese Rule” was instituted in 2011 requiring nominees to be at least 40.)

    In fact, the powers that be took Dwan off the list, thus forwarding along only nine names to the voters, a group consisting of living Poker Hall of Famers and a “blue ribbon panel” of poker media members. The voting process was a little different in 2009, requiring a nominee to get 75% “yes” votes from voters to get in. That resulted in only one inductee that year (Mike Sexton), and so going forward they tweaked things again, essentially assuring that two of the 10 would get in each year. (If you’re curious, you can read this post from a year ago for a little more about how the voting is done.)

    Obviously there were problems with having the public choose nominees. That said, with that PHOF Governing Council stepping in to select the 10 finalists, that creates other issues, opening the door to some of the complaints people fire off each year regarding who gets picked and who gets left out.

    The 10 finalists this year are Chris Bjorin, Humberto Brenes, Todd Brunson, Eli Elezra, Bruno Fitoussi, Chris Moneymaker, Carlos Mortensen, Max Pescatori, Matt Savage, and Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott. Seven of the 10 have appeared on ballots before, the new names being Brunson, Elezra, and Moneymaker.

    No surprise, really, to see Moneymaker -- who turned 40 last November -- on the list. In fact it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him voted in, even if some might argue others should be getting in before him. Meanwhile Elezra is not a great surprise either as a nominee, although Brunson seems like it could be a stretch. Can’t see either of those two being voted in, though.

    Some are wondering where Phil Ivey is on the list of nominees, but in fact he doesn’t turn 40 until early next year.

    If I had to predict, I’d say Mortensen and Ulliott get the votes this time (if Moneymaker doesn’t). Who would you vote in, and who should be nominated who isn’t on this year’s list?


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    Thursday, September 08, 2016

    Football, Finally

    I’ve been guilty more than once here over the last couple of months of grumbling about the relative paucity of televised sports entertainment. It’s my own fault, really. Imprisoned by my own tastes.

    Sometimes the whining has come under the heading of pining for more poker on the teevee -- such as during the WSOP Main Event (which still hasn’t begun to be aired on ESPN and won’t start until Sunday). Definitely feel like there’s a valley here in the summer that poker could fill for a certain segment of sports watchers.

    I realize there are sports to watch during the couple of months that follow the NBA finals. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching the occasional tennis match, fourth round of a golf tournament, soccer match, or baseball game. Or even (this year) the panoply of Olympic sports from last month, which I spent some hours enjoying during the first week at least before taking off for Barcelona halfway through the sucker.

    But for me the most enjoyable sport to watch on television is football, and I mean professional football. College is an okay diversion, but it ain’t nearly as engaging to me as the pro game.

    This year begins uniquely for a Panthers fan like myself, given how Carolina gets to play in tonight’s Thursday kickoff game in a Super Bowl rematch versus the Denver Broncos. It’s not an ideal spot to begin a season -- on the road, on a short week, and versus an above average opponent. But it’ll give us all an early idea how bullish we should be on the team this time around.

    Tonight’ll mark the first of 256 attempts at picking winners again as well as I jump back into another Pigskin Pick’em campaign. Hard to have much perspective with tonight’s pick, as we’re pretty well overwhelmed with unreasonable optimism regarding the Panthers around these parts. No Peyton for the Broncos (and an untested fellow in his place behind center) is encouraging many to go with Carolina as well, although I don’t necessarily think the QB situation will hurt Denver all that much.

    Ah well... no more fussing over it. Time to make a pick. The second-guessing is just hours away!

    Image: “Pigskin,” Eric Kilby. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Wednesday, September 07, 2016

    Championships and Festivals

    Been thinking some this week about how PokerStars has decided to change up things with regard to their several live tours, jettisoning the distinct tours in favor of a new series of PokerStars Championships and PokerStars Festivals.

    It’ll be hard not to keep referring to the European stops as “EPTs” or the ones in Central and South America as “LAPTs.” I’ve had the great fortune to help report on several tournaments from both of those tours over the last few years, and even got to do an “APPT” over in Macau once.

    I just got back last week from Barcelona for what is now going to be one of the last “EPTs” (technically speaking), although they’ll continue to go back to Barcelona for these PokerStars Championships going forward. At the end of the month I’ll be going to what I think will probably be my last “LAPT” down in Uruguay.

    Those are the two PokerStars tours I’ve had the most experience with, and while on one level every poker tournament or tournament series is similar, they’ve always been kind of distinct in my mind, mainly because of the different player pools they attract. A few of the better players show up on both tours, but I’d have to guess a high percentage of players only play one or the other.

    Since I’m not playing myself, I can’t really comment too much about player-related concerns, although my impression has always been that all of the PokerStars-run events have been especially well run. I’m going to guess there won’t be a lot of change going forward, with the same folks running the events in the same locations.

    From my perspective, I’ll be most curious to see where the new global tours end up going -- that is to say, which stops remain, which go away, and how they’ll be divided among the “major” Championships and “minor” Festivals next year and thereafter.

    Looks like during the first part of the year the Championships will include the Bahamas (January), Panama (March), and Macau (March-April). Meanwhile the Festivals get a head start this year in New Jersey (October-November) then in London (January). The PokerStarsLive site has details.

    Like many, I’m someone who likes routines and familiarity, but also is attracted to novelty and change. So I’ll miss the old tour names and some of the continuity they provided, but I’m kind of intrigued to see what these new tours and events will be like.

    Image: PokerStars Live.

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    Tuesday, September 06, 2016

    Underground Poker in New York: Then and Now

    With this week’s installment of “Poker & Pop Culture” I am moving over to talk about some early poker clubs that pop up late in the 19th century and early in the 20th. Really my focus is more so on the stories that emanated from these clubs, with a new, literary form being created -- the “club report” compiling stories of poker hands and other events happening in these games.

    Today’s column highlights David A. Curtis’s collection from 1899 called Queer Luck, one of the better examples of these story collections. Most of the stories have to do with an unnamed club in uptown New York City.

    The NYC poker clubs remained prevalent and popular throughout the 20th century, of course, with places like the Mayfair Club providing important inspiration for the 1998 film Rounders, something I mention that in today’s column.

    I also mention a recent feature in The New York Post that appeared last week focusing on the NYC poker clubs. The article has the enticing headline “Inside the seedy world of underground NY poker clubs,” and begins as kind of an undercover bit of gonzo journalism with author describing himself entering an illegal game much like Mike McDermott and Worm do in Rounders.

    The piece kind of moves away from that angle, though, and instead we get some quotes from Mickey Appelman, Erik Seidel, and a fellow named “Johnny M.” regarding the clubs’ history over the last few decades. It’s a fun, relatively brief read, if you’re curious.

    Meanwhile, if you want to go back a century for some other stories of underground games in New York, check out the Poker & Pop Culture column:

  • Poker & Pop Culture: Card-Playing Characters in Early Poker Clubs
  • Image: Rounders (1998), Amazon.

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    Monday, September 05, 2016

    Something in the Wind

    Took some time this Labor Day to take care of something I’d been meaning to do for a long time.

    Ever since we moved to the farm a little over two-and-a-half years ago, we’ve been gradually making improvements to the property, including the barn. It’s a constant process, and it always seems like something needs added to or repairing.

    You’d think perhaps you could just set everything up from the start and have a routine you can follow that takes care of everything, but there are always unexpected obstacles or challenges forcing you to do things differently. Or, more often, forcing you to learn how to handle something you haven’t had to deal with before.

    The poker analogy is probably obvious -- I’m referring to the need always to work on your game and be ready for unexpected tests and situations as they arise at the tables. There’s also that feeling of just trying to break even and “stay in the action,” making sure everything is working as it should and -- most importantly -- the horses are all comfortable and getting what they need.

    Anyhow, as that picture up top suggests, we’ve been missing something from the barn ever since we moved in -- not an essential item, but one that now that we have it makes the barn seem somehow more complete.

    “Presently trying to find some direction,” I tweeted when sharing the above pic.

    “I think your search is in vane,” quipped my buddy the Poker Grump in response.

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    Friday, September 02, 2016

    California Dreaming

    I’ve vaguely followed the less-than-riveting saga happening out in California over the last few months with regard to the state perhaps becoming the fourth in the U.S. to pass some sort of legislation favorable to online poker. I think I’ve been reading such stories off and on for the last decade, at least, reaching back at least as long as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 and perhaps even before.

    The news this week wasn’t good for those wanting to see California get on board, as the legislative session ended with nothing being passed. A summary of the situation can be read over at PokerNews in “Dreams of a California Online Poker Bill Passing in 2016 Are Dead.”

    There are numerous groups involved in this battle, including several tribes (with differing agendas), a few casinos, and, of course, Amaya and PokerStars.

    As the PokerNews article explains, there remain differing opinions about the UIGEA as well as the significance of PokerStars continuing to serve U.S. customers following its passage in October 2006.

    The sponsor of this latest bill, the Assemblyman Adam Gray, had run into difficulty getting traction without any sort of “bad actor” clause that would ban PokerStars from getting in the game right away. So he added one (a five-year “hard ban”), but that didn’t help get things moving, either. Even if a bill were passed without such a clause, regulators could step in and introduce one later (like happened in Nevada).

    Anyhow, it’s all moot for now. They got further down the legislative road this time than in any of these other instances over the last decade-plus. There are genuinely “interested parties” this time, too, when it comes to getting some sort of online poker up and running in the state, although their interests are necessarily aligned.

    Feels a long way away, though. And looking at it from afar here on the east coast, makes it feel even further.

    Image: “Welcome to California” (adapted), Ken Lund. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Thursday, September 01, 2016

    Releasing My Seven Albums

    I mentioned on Tuesday a “creative project” I planned to “publish” this week. Today’s the day -- I’ve made live my Bandcamp page where I’m sharing a bunch of music I recorded over many years.

    As a youngster I learned guitar, and during college and grad school played a lot with others while also doing a lot of home recording on a four-track cassette recorder. Over the course of nearly a couple of decades I amassed a ton of material -- mostly instrumental songs although some include vocals with original lyrics.

    I would compile these into “albums” and share them with friends and others via cassette. Some of it got played on college radio stations and in other contexts, but it was mainly just a very small, mostly private thing done for fun. And once the poker thing started in earnest during the early 2000s (along with my full-time teaching career), the music-making slowed down considerably. I still play guitar, but haven’t recorded anything of note since, well, this blog started back in 2006.

    The Bandcamp site enables DIY-types (or former DIY-types) like me to share music easily, and so after a lot of archival work I’ve reconstructed seven “albums” and am releasing all of them today. Streaming is free and I’ve set it up to allow folks to download the albums for free, too, only paying if you’d like. I’m obviously not looking to start a career or make any cabbage from this, but rather just want to share.

    The number of hours I put into these recordings is kind of staggering to think about -- it really is the product of years of creative activity. All the songs are original, and there’s a decent mix of styles throughout. Six of the seven albums are entirely instrumental, the exception being Welcome to Muscle Beach which I’m calling my “pop album” containing vocals and original lyrics.

    Here is a little bit about each of the seven albums:

    Daisy Hawkins

    These are the earliest 4-track experiments -- 10 tracks, eight of which are (mostly) guitar-based with the other two centered around keyboards. The initial, title song multi-tracks lots of guitars playing an arpeggio melody that kind of signals the thematical style of most of the music throughout the seven albums, with percussion done by hammering away on a manual typewriter.

    Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

    Eleven more instrumentals, kicked off with a short one featuring a melody spit out by an effects rack following minimal input by me on an electric guitar. Mostly guitars with some keyboard here (plus a toy piano cameo), this might be the “quietest” or most ambient of the seven LPs.

    Perpetuum Mobile

    Just two tracks, both of which involved me collaborating with my friend Ash Bowie of Polvo fame. The first is a two-and-a-half-minute piece with Ash on guitars and me on fretless bass. The second is a nearly 26-minute opus I spent months putting together, with Ash coming in for a ripping three-minute solo during the second half -- a crazily ambitious experiment in layering guitars, keyboards, and piano that I’m kind of dumbfounded looking back ever got completed.

    The Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator

    The first seven songs comprise “Side 1” with more guitars, keyboards, some synth and drum machine, ukulele on a couple of tracks, and one song with sampled vocals (that sound like an alien children’s choir). The last 21 songs (“Side 2”) comprise a long suite that was called “Dominoes” when it was released on cassette. Here I get into a lot of midi sequencer stuff, which continues through the rest of the albums.


    Kind of follows the same style of OBR with guitars, keyboards, and more sequencing, as well as some samples and sound effects. One track called “Repeating Then Is In Everyone” samples Gertrude Stein reading from The Making of Americans, kind of delivering a kind of oblique summary of the musical style both of that track and a lot of others.

    Welcome to Muscle Beach

    Features 13 “pop songs” with lyrics, plus one instrumental (the title track). I’m jokingly referring to this one as my Revolver or Another Green World, and in fact the Beatles and Brian Eno are probably obvious influences. There’s a Stevie Wonder/Earth, Wind & Fire homage (or spoof, depending on how you look at it). There’s a song about a customer comment card, another about Thomas Edison, and another evoking Robert’s Rules of Order and parliamentary procedure. Toward the end comes a three-song suite describing an illness (“Medicine”) then a doctor’s visit (“Waiting Room,” then “The Physician”). The cover features a picture of me aged 10 (I’m on the right). (You can click on all of these covers to view larger sizes, btw.)

    Circular Logic

    Ten more instrumentals, almost entirely done on a midi sequencer. Most are relatively short, although the last one, titled “Infinity,” goes on for more than 12 minutes and represents an earnest attempt at something like Steve Reich or Philip Glass, though probably veers into a different, less minimalist kind of composition.

    Like I say, I’m sharing all of these “albums” mainly for fun and with the hopes that someone might enjoy them. Would love any feedback anyone has, obviously.

    Also, while I’m at it, let me throw this out there. If you’re someone who enjoys shooting and editing videos for fun -- say, abstract ones of nature scenes, time-lapse stuff, or anything at all, really -- and would like to match any of my music with a video, let me know as I’d love to do it. I will eventually do some of that myself, I think, if only to have a few short vids on YouTube that I could point people to in order to hear some of the tracks. But if you have something and would like some music to match with it, get in touch.

    Like I say, it’s all free, so go get the whole seven-album box set, if you like! And if you do listen to any of it and have any thoughts about it at all, let me know.

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