Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Global Poker League’s First Finale (Finally)

The Global Poker League’s first season is finally coming to an end with their playoffs running this week in “the Cube” in Las Vegas.

Way back when this first season of the GPL got going back in late March, the plan then was apparently to stage this finale at the SSE Arena, Wembley where (presumably) there’d be a big live audience on hand to watch it all.

There were a lot of particulars having to do with this first season that hadn’t been pinned down then, actually, and at the time I think most were a little skeptical that there actually would be some sort of season-punctuating event attended by thousands.

In May came news that the playoffs would be starting in late September-early October and be played at the TwitchCon 2016 event in San Diego, then finished up at Wembley in November. That plan was eventually scrapped, then in early August we heard the playoffs would be happening this week in a Las Vegas studio.

So it’s a decidedly less spectacular spectacle, but still all being streamed live on Twitch for those who are curious. Yesterday the sucker went on for more than 15 hours before the Montreal Nationals emerged as the Americas Conference champs.

I tuned in occasionally, and will probably do so again today as the Eurasia Conference gets decided, then tomorrow for the championship. It remains kind of a challenging watch for more than short stretches. Still, I’m glad to see them managing to see this first season through, and there something kind of entertaining about the playoff format.

Have to imagine Season 2 will be scaled back considerably, though, the eight-month grind (with the breaks) being a bit too lengthy to keep the attention of most. There remains all sorts of challenges, really, making it hard to imagine poker working as a genuine spectator sport, sans the “reality TV”-type bells and whistles that has made it work in other formats and incarnations.

Image: Global Poker League.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Wanted to share a note today about another bit of writing I’ve been doing lately. Actually I have kind of a big announcement regarding a long-time-in-the-works writing project that is just about to arrive at the “ready to order” stage. But meanwhile, here’s something else you can read right now.

Of course, I imagine it’ll only be a small percentage of you who’ll be that curious. You’ll need to be a music fan, and also a fan of music from the late ’60s through early ’80s -- in particular progressive rock, jazz and fusion, and/or ambient or electronic music. Those are some of the categories that overlap with so-called “Krautrock” music, about which I’ve been writing over on the Phish Coventry blog for the last several weeks. I’ve long been a fan of Krautrock, that somewhat hard-to-define subgenre that includes a lot of German prog starting around ’68 or so and lasting up through the early ’80s and after.

After many years of listening to bands like Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, and Popol Vuh, I came across Julian Cope’s history-slash-love-letter to Krautrock titled Krautrocksampler (first published in the mid-’90s). I like some of Cope’s albums, too, especially Fried and World Shut Your Mouth, and enjoyed his book a lot as well even if it is kind of over-the-top sometimes as he gushes over the bands he discusses.

When Cope wrote the book, many of the albums he talked about were relatively hard to pick up, only available as expensive imports. Nowadays just about all of them are easy to find online, which made it possible for me to fill in a lot of gaps as I tracked down records included in Cope’s overview of Krautrock.

A highlight of the book is Cope’s list of “50 Kosmische Classics,” records he designates as “essential” to those wishing to learn more about Krautrock. It’s a good list, even if I’d probably switch out several if I were to make my own top 50.

In any case, I decided to use Cope’s list as an excuse to try my hand at writing about Krautrock, and so have begun doing my own reviews of his “50 Kosmische Classics,” a list that’s arranged in alphabetical order. Here are the 10 I’ve written up so far:

  • AMON DÜÜL I - Paradieswarts Düül
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Phallus Dei
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Yeti
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Carnival in Babylon
  • AMON DÜÜL II - Wolf City
  • ASH RA TEMPEL - Ash Ra Tempel
  • ASH RA TEMPEL - Schwingungen
  • ASH RA TEMPEL - Join Inn
  • CAN - Monster Movie
  • Still to come are Krautrock titans like Cluster, The Cosmic Jokers, Faust, Harmonia, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and others.

    Writing about music isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s a bit like writing about poker, for me at least. In both cases I know how to play a little bit, and even feel like I’ve managed to enjoy some occasional “success” (relatively speaking). But it can be humbling sometimes to try to describe and evaluate what those who are obviously more agile and adept are doing.

    If this sort of thing interests you at all, take a look at some of the reviews and let me know what you think.

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    Monday, November 28, 2016

    Going Over Their Heads

    This week in my “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics” course the assignments include a viewing of Nixon’s televised resignation speech, delivered on the evening of August 8, 1974.

    Nixon begins the speech saying “This is the 37th time I’ve spoken to you from this office,” an opening move designed to suggest a kind of “transparency” that contrasted sharply with the whole idea of a “cover-up” which had led to the offenses listed in the articles of impeachment that had already been recommended by the House Judiciary Committee (obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress).

    There is conflicting information out there regarding just how many times Nixon delivered televised speeches from the Oval Office -- some places agree with him and say 37 times, others list fewer. Most agree, though, of all the presidents of the television age, Nixon used the medium as much or more than anyone else, with Ronald Reagan the only one to challenge him for such a title.

    Nixon considered such speeches a way for him to communicate directly with American citizens without having his words or ideas filtered through the interpretive lens of those reporting on him. Doing so enabled him to have more control over the response, or so he believed, and not have to rely on a press with whom he was on increasingly antagonistic terms as his career went along -- not to mention his steadfast belief in a bias against him shared by most media.

    A few of these speeches represented examples of Nixon’s greatest political triumphs, going back to the “Checkers” speech of September 1952 on up through the famous “Silent Majority” address on Vietnam in early November 1969. They also now retrospectively appear as some of his most ignominious moments, such as the three Watergate speeches (given in April 1973, August 1973, and April 1974), each of which present evidence of Nixon delivering what were later conclusively shown to be blatant lies and intentionally deceptive statements.

    In any case, Nixon always valued the idea of having what felt like a “direct” line of address to the American public. Writing about the “Checkers” speech and the role of television in politics in general in his 1990 book In the Arena, Nixon told of reporters then having “naturally found it very difficult to accept that by going over their heads to the country on TV, I had proved them wrong.”

    That’s how Nixon viewed such televised addresses -- a way of reducing the power of the press by “going over their heads” and getting his message to the people without any interference.

    Yesterday I couldn’t help but think of this notion of a president speaking “directly” to the people when reading president-elect Donald Trump’s barrage of tweets strangely calling into question the legitimacy of the election he won nearly three weeks ago.

    You’ve no doubt seen or heard about the tweets. The most wild-eyed and crazed of them refers to how Trump believes he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” (Trump won the Electoral College, but Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.2 million, according to the most updated counts.) In another he specifies Virginia, New Hampshire, and California (three states won by Clinton) as sites of “serious voter fraud.”

    “Why isn’t the media reporting on this?” asks Trump in the latter tweet. “Serious bias - big problem!”

    Trump provides no evidence to support such claims, nor does he refer to any sources that do. From the reporting of others it sounds as though Trump is repeating some unsubstantiated claims made shortly after the election by a conservative activist named Gregg Phillips (also delivered via Twitter) that were subsequently promoted on the conspiracy site InfoWars.

    InfoWars is a site identified with conspiracy theorist and talk show host Alex Jones and has provided a means for him to advance various fictions about historical events -- e.g., that the Oklahoma City attack, 9/11, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all “false flag” operations conducted by the government to increase its power; that the Sandy Hook school shootings didn’t even happen, nor did the moon landing in 1969; that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States (an idea Trump promoted and used as a gateway for his entry national politics); that global warming is a fiction invented by the Chinese and Muslims in New Jersey publicly celebrated on 9/11 (ideas Trump has also repeated); and so on. Jones even argued Mitt Romney really won the 2012 presidential election.

    Like Nixon, Trump’s antagonism toward media and its “serious bias” inspires his “going over their heads” to communicate directly with the public, although Trump appears to favor Twitter over television as a preferred medium. In his 60 Minutes interview the Sunday after the election, Trump described Twitter as “a method of fighting back” against “bad” or “inaccurate” reporting on him. (He also said he would be “restrained” -- or, rather, “do very restrained” -- when using it going forward.)

    But what Trump is presenting as his own, “unfiltered” message about what he thinks to be true is itself a kind of reporting being presented by sources that aren’t just biased in favor of a particular ideology, but seemingly unbound by reality, free to manufacture “info” out of whole cloth.

    Nixon lied and covered up and did all sorts of things an elected official -- never mind a president -- should never do. He often claimed he rarely bluffed as a poker player, but he bluffed a lot as a politician, including repeatedly at the very end when he was called down and went busto.

    But as paranoid and delusional as Nixon could be, he at least operated within a largely recognizable, shared actuality with others. These aren’t even “bluffs” Trump is tweeting out -- they don’t even meet the minimum standard of credibility to be characterized as such.

    I suppose some believe there’s a method to the madness, though that would be even scarier than what is more likely the case. It’s an instinctive response to Trump, I think, wanting to impose some kind of order on what seems utterly chaotic (and frightening, given the stakes in play).

    Tim Murphy tweeted an interesting comment yesterday. He’s a writer for Mother Jones, I’ll hasten to add, so as not to sound like some who simply tweet “I hear” and leave it at that.

    “People act like Trump’s playing like eight-dimensional wizard chess with his tweets,” began Murphy. In other words, for those who don’t understand the president-elect’s intentions, he is communicating “over their heads,” perhaps only to those who for whatever reason can follow what he’s doing.

    “But the much more obvious explanation,” added Murphy, “is he’s unstable.”

    Image: “Donald Trump” (adapted), Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Friday, November 25, 2016

    The Game-Watching Game

    Vera and I spent a nice quiet Thanksgiving on the farm yesterday watching a lot of football. Then today we spent some time driving around visiting family and enjoying leftovers.

    Got to hang a little with my nephew, which is always fun. He’s seven-and-a-half now, and as usual during our reunions he introduced me to his current interests.

    One was a new app he’s enjoying called My Singing Monsters which he insisted I download on my phone, too. Sort of a funny game with a creative element involving arranging “monsters” you’ve collected in ways that allow them to sing repetitive, catchy songs together.

    He’s also handy on YouTube these days, and introduced Vera and I to a couple of his new favorites.

    One is this nutty series of shorts called “The Annoying Orange” which I believe started out as a web-only thing before eventually becoming a series on the Cartoon Network. (And no, in case you’re wondering, it isn’t about the president-elect.) One of the videos just involved characters from the show playing a video game and commenting over it, my nephew giggling all of the way. That one is pictured above -- has over 6.8 million views!

    Another are these videos made by an English fellow (I didn’t catch the name) that seem to involve him just acting funny on camera while sitting at his desk. Kind of minimal, but super-popular apparently as indicated by the huge views he gets.

    I’m not sure what the standard format of the latter is, but the videos we saw all involved him kind of challenging himself to guess which of two choices would be the most popular in a “Would You Rather?”-type game. Stuff like “Would you rather spend five years in prison and then get a million dollars when released or never go to prison and not get any money?” He made his decisions entertaining by forcing himself to eat sour candy (and make lots of faces) should he choose the less popular of the two.

    My nephew thought he was hilarious, and while I wasn’t laughing as much I think the target audience has to be kids. I found myself thinking how similar the dude’s videos were to ones produced by those playing online poker on Twitch, at least formally.

    In both cases, the audience is basically watching someone play a game while trying to make it compelling viewing in some way. Both combine entertainment and education, too, via game show-like structures (or at least they can). And of course, in both cases the performer has figured out a way to monetize the performance.

    We play games for a variety of reasons. There are a lot of different motivations for watching others play them, too, some of which make the games themselves somewhat incidental.

    Something to think about, I guess, as I go back to watching football this weekend.

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    Thursday, November 24, 2016

    Have a Turkey Leg

    I am of the generation that grew into adulthood without the internet or smartphones. But I adapted pretty well, I think, and am as comfortable as anyone with these life-affecting innovations.

    I do realize occasionally, though, that I’m affected by some of the ornery-seeming resistance to change more typical those who older than I am. I’m referring to the way I’ll occasionally respond to certain technological advances with impatience or even outright opposition to having to learn how to use them.

    Took me forever to get on board with DVR-ing (for example), as I stubbornly continued to keep the VCR hooked up and in use. Was still using the sucker recording WSOP episodes just a few summers ago. (Finally came around on that one.) I still like using my iPod for music, too, which recently elicted a comment from someone referring to it as “old school,” although it still feels kind of newfangled to me.

    I’m handy with texting and tweeting, although don’t do either nearly as often as others. I’m also much less likely to incorporate emojis when I do deliver such messages, although sometimes will when it seems right to do so.

    I’m not at all versed in emoji-speak, though, like many of those who have grown up having incorporated these little pictures into their text (itself sometimes abbreviated with acronyms and other shorthand).

    Several months ago, I was in the middle of a multi-way chat where everyone was firing off these emojis at a high clip. As a joke, I clicked on the “turkey leg” emoji and sent it along -- a kind of non-signifying signifier saying “Hey, I’m here!”

    Since then, Vera and I have gotten in the habit of sending turkey legs back and forth to each other. I’ve even used it with others in random places, realizing that in certain contexts it doesn’t matter what little picture you send. Or at least it doesn’t matter to me, as sometimes I’m sure those receiving them aren’t quite sure what they mean.

    Imagine my delight today at being able to send turkey legs all around, and without any additional explanation needed!

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    Wednesday, November 23, 2016

    Poker on the Radio

    A quick one today just to point you to a new “Poker & Pop Culture” column that went up yesterday on PokerNews, this one concentrating on popular poker songs over the decades.

    The column is titled “Top 10 Most Popular Poker Songs,” although that’s a little misleading as I didn’t necessarily try to present a definitive ranking, but rather just highlight 10 poker-themed songs that were inarguably popular among contemporary audiences.

    The list is chronological, starting with Bert Williams’s “The Darktown Poker Club” (1914) and ending with Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” (2008).

    Nearly all of the songs included are poker-centric, you could say, with only T. Texas Tyler’s “The Deck of Cards” (1948) and Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” (1964) perhaps being less specifically about poker. (Tyler’s could refer to any card game, while Presley’s is of course about gambling and Vegas, generally speaking).

    It’s mainly meant to inspire some debate and perhaps some suggestions regarding other songs not mentioned in the article that ought to be part of such a list. Take a look and let me know if you have any thoughts.

    Image: “Vintage Westinghouse Wood Table Radio,” Joe Haupt. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Tuesday, November 22, 2016


    It’s probably undeniably partisan-sounding to suggest something as audacious as the idea that there is a non-zero chance the result of the 2016 presidential election was entirely unaffected by some variety of selective tampering or outright fraud.

    Making such an overture is probably also an invitation to charges of groundless paranoia, not unlike the reaction many had nearly a decade ago to suggestions that online poker could in any way be rigged.

    Earlier today poker pro David Paredes -- one of those who originally began to raise suspicions about cheating on UltimateBet (which turned out to be true) -- sent a tweet alluding directly to the latter while indirectly commenting on the former.

    “When my friend and I first examined odd-seeming data on UB, every smart poker player called me an idiot. We wound up getting 22M refunded,” said Paredes.

    We’re two weeks on, now, from that surprising Election Night that began with continued confirmations of Hillary Clinton’s wide lead in the polls suddenly being consumed by actual returns that reversed the outcome in favor of Donald Trump. The initial response by some included dismay regarding the seemingly erroneous polling data, with many exceedingly curious about how the pollsters could have gotten it so wrong.

    In the last few days talk of recounts and closer scrutiny of the ballots in certain states is getting a little louder. It still doesn’t feel much like anything will come of it, but it’s enough to inspire some interesting lines of speculative thought.

    Stepping back from it all and imagining a scenario in which there was some form of tampering done in a few key states that affected the outcome, I’m reminded of poker’s early history and the rampant cheating that marked the game’s first century. In particularly I’m thinking of schemes followed through by card sharps in saloons and steamboats who set up their victims initially with unsupported accusations about cheating and/or games being unfair before cheating themselves.

    One method falling into this category was for the card sharp to lose a few hands, then call for a new deck as a way to imply a belief that something untoward was going on. The request might be accompanied by grumbling about cards being marked, which ideally would elicit protestations from others that the game was honest. A new deck would then be introduced -- one that he himself had doctored earlier -- enabling the sharp to cheat and win in a game others had already declared to be square.

    Another tactic sometimes used by cheaters would be to make conspicuous pronouncements about how much they were losing when in truth they were cleaning up. For example, there’s a long story in John Nevil Maskelyne’s Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill (1894) about a Spanish sharp named Bianco who marked cards in advance and had decks shipped to locations in Havana he subsequently visited.

    “He played everywhere, of course, and where he played he won,” explains Maskelyne. “To avert suspicion, however, he was careful to complain constantly of the losses he had sustained.”

    Going further, sometimes among a group of colluding players the one managing the cheating would himself purposely lose in order to throw off the scent. George Devol refers to such a scene in Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi (1887) when once was playing with his cheating partner Canada Bill Jones. “Bill did the capping,” he says, “and as he lost, their suspicion did not light on him.”

    The common thread here is that losing players are less likely to be thought of as cheaters, and more likely to be of the group accusing others of cheating. Meanwhile the winners are more likely to be defensive about games being fair in order to ensure their victories are understood to be legitimate.

    During the final months of the campaign, Trump (who according to the polls had been consistently positioned as losing) consistently forwarded a “rigged election” narrative, even going so far as to enlist supporters to volunteer to be a “Trump Election Observer” and “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” (Here’s an archived version of the invite from Trump’s website, now removed.)

    In fact Trump went so far as to file a lawsuit on Election Day in Las Vegas having to do with how voting was being managed in the state. The complaint concerned early voting and polls being allowed to stay open later than scheduled, something the Trump campaign characterized as evidence of a “rigged system.” A judge rejected the suit that afternoon, directing the campaign to take it up with the Secretary of State, but the story lingered throughout the day and early evening as a continuation of the “rigged” narrative being advanced.

    Here’s an overview from Politico detailing the many types of fraud that were preemptively suggested by Trump’s campaign. The narrative earned a predictable response from the Democrats (who by all indications were “winning”) who decried the suggestions as not only lacking evidentiary support but a threat to the stability of the nation’s government. “Why Trump’s talk of a rigged election is dangerous” was the headline of one CNN article that made the same sort of argument found in many places during late October/early November.

    Many of those calling for audits now find themselves in a position not unlike the one occupied by those poker players who’d earlier insisted on the game being square who then later themselves began to harbor suspicions about cheating.

    What might come of it remains anyone’s guess. Indeed, amid such an atmosphere of failed predictions, it is hard to be confident about any forward-looking statements, although it seems more likely than not that nothing substantial will result from these calls to “audit the vote.”

    That is to say, as was the case in 1960 and 2000, there may remain doubts in the minds of some about the legitimacy of the election result, but ultimately it doesn’t appear there will be any serious, legally-consequential revisiting of the matter during these next couple of months.

    I wonder, though, how the story of the 2016 campaign and election will be told decades from now -- and in what ways the word “rigged” will be used in the telling.

    Image: “Vote!”, kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop). CC BY-SA 2.0.

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    Monday, November 21, 2016

    Risk Versus Reward

    I continue to lead in my Pigskin Pick’em pool, which means I’m necessarily locked in and following closely just about every NFL game each week. I’d be watching and checking scores anyway, but my motive for doing so has increased considerably thanks to the pool standings.

    Amid all those missed extra points yesterday (which created a few interesting spots, strategy-wise), there were a few instances of coaches faced with key fourth-down decisions late in games. A couple stood out, both involving teams that were ahead and looking at a fourth-and-short with just a few minutes left.

    One came late afternoon when the Los Angeles Rams were up 10-0 against the Miami Dolphins with six minutes and 45 seconds remaining. The Rams had a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 30-yard-line, and rather than go for it decided to try a 48-yard field goal that like those PATs ended up a miss (hitting the left upright).

    Miami subsequently marched down the field to score a touchdown in less than three minutes, held the Rams to a three-and-out and got the ball back, then took just a minute-and-a-half to mount another TD drive to win 14-10. Rams coach Jeff Fisher was maligned somewhat afterwards for not going for the first down rather than try to stretch the lead from 10 to 13 -- certainly more so than would have been the case if L.A. had managed to hang on to win.

    Another instance came in the night game between Washington and Green Bay. In that one the Redskins were up 29-24 and in fact there was exactly the same amount of time left -- six minutes and 45 seconds. In Washington’s case, they were on their own 41-yard line and facing a fourth-and-1. They decided to go for it, got a couple of yards and the first down via a quarterback sneak, then went on to score a TD themselves and more or less seal the game.

    Of course, in the latter situation Green Bay’s offense was proving hard to stop for Washington (they’d scored TDs their last two possessions), so the desire to retain possession was higher there than was the case in the Rams-Dolphins game where Miami hadn’t scored a point in any of their 11 possessions. In any case, Washington coach Jay Gruden earned accolades for what was deemed a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth in that spot, although again it’s easy to imagine the decision being judged differently had it not worked out the way it did.

    “Gruden was feeling risky all night,” writes ESPN, alluding both to the fourth-down try and Washington having gone for two-point conversions twice earlier (failing both times).

    Meanwhile many noted the very conservative game plan followed by the Rams who had rookie QB Jared Goff making his NFL debut, with Fisher’s decision to try that field goal earning some censure for being too risk-averse. “Los Angeles could have won that game if Jeff Fisher was less conservative on fourth down late in the game,” concludes RamsWire, articulating a thought shared by many.

    Neither of these fourth-and-1 decisions were unambiguous in terms of their reward. That is to say, making the first down didn’t guarantee victories, although certainly would meaningfully improve the team’s chance of winning the game. The risk each presented wasn’t cut-and-dry, either, although it appeared Washington faced a greater one with a smaller lead and worse field position.

    I saw a stat not long ago stating that over the last 20 years nearly half of all NFL games ended up being “one score” games decided by seven points or less. Games finishing with margins of eight points up to 16 are also often still in doubt by the middle of the fourth quarter, which means the majority of NFL games present situations in which teams that are ahead face similar challenges to weigh risk versus reward when it comes to clock management and possession.

    Like a player with a final table chip lead, such teams and coaches still often have to continue to take risks in order to increase their chances of winning. In other words, they usually can’t just “fold” their way to the win.

    My frontrunner status in the pool is causing me to identify somewhat with this position. And the example presented by these coaches and their disparate ways of handling the endgame is making me recognize I shouldn’t become too conservative with picks going forward, since being overly risk-averse may lessen my chance at the reward of winning the sucker.

    Photo: Advanced Football Analytics.

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    Friday, November 18, 2016

    WPT Success for Sexton

    “I work much too hard for every Panther win.”

    That’s what I texted a friend late last night after Carolina hung on to beat New Orleans 23-20.

    Was kind of a familiar story with the Panthers starting strong and continuing to maintain a big lead through three quarters, entering the fourth up 23-3. Then the offense just shut down altogether, having three straight three-and-outs to give the Saints the ball back over and over, enabling them to climb back into the sucker.

    Thankfully Carolina was able to convert on a third down late -- the team’s only first down the entire fourth quarter -- to milk just enough time to make it difficult (though not impossible) for New Orleans to mount one last drive to attempt a tying field goal. The Saints came up short, and the Panthers eked out the win.

    Meanwhile starting in the afternoon I had dialed up the streaming coverage of the World Poker Tour Montreal final table at the Playground Poker Club, following along with a lot of the poker world to see if WPT host Mike Sexton -- who brought the chip lead to the six-handed final table -- might win his first WPT title.

    We all know Sexton pretty well by now, of course, given that the WPT is in its 15th season and he’s been there from the very start. He played a fairly prominent role during the poker “boom” of the 2000s (to which the WPT shows contributed significantly). And over the years just about everyone who has been around the poker world has gotten to know him in some capacity, his unofficial status as “Ambassador of Poker” being well confirmed.

    I have covered Sexton in a number of tournaments over the years, of course. Also had the chance to help report on a few WPT events as well -- including at the Playground Poker Club -- at which I’ve gotten to chat with him about his years living in North Carolina and playing in underground games before moving out to Vegas. Not too long ago I read and reviewed his new autobiography, titled Life’s a Gamble, which filled in further gaps about his interesting life (and the history of the WPT).

    By the time the game ended it was down to heads-up between Benny Chen and Sexton, with Chen enjoying the chip lead to begin their duel. I’d noticed a few hands go by in which Chen seemed to be running especially well connecting with boards, and his lead increased as a result.

    Looking back through the WPT live updates, I see that Sexton nearly pulled even in an early hand between the pair, but Chen pushed back out ahead and maintained the lead over the first several dozen hands the pair played. At one point Chen had 17.775 million to Sexton’s 1.675 million, a better than 10-to-1 chip advantage. That’s an even bigger edge, percentage-wise, than the lead the Panthers had entering the fourth.

    Sexton doubled once with Q-10 versus Chen’s 9-4-suited and chipped back a bit. But then Sexton fell back and found himself all in and at risk again, this time in a bad spot with A-4 versus Chen’s A-Q-suited. Fortunately for Sexton a four came among the community cards and he survived, and after 90 hands they were still going at it.

    I ended up hitting the sack some time after that as they’d end up playing almost a couple of hours more. Sexton would double up two more times -- once with pocket kings, another time coming from behind with J-10 versus A-8 -- finally wrestling the chip lead away from Chen. It was just two hands later Chen would shove with K-J, Sexton snap-called with pocket queens, and the big pair held to give Sexton the title.

    They played 158 hands of heads-up, and Chen had the chip lead for 156 of those hands. In other words, it played out not unlike some of these NFL games where one team is ahead for 59-plus minutes only for the other team to pull it out in the end -- as almost happened to the Panthers.

    Kind of neat to see Sexton get this one. He’s been playing WPT events since the sixth season, and had made a couple of WPT final tables before. Easy to understand Chen’s disappointment, though, having had to endure the big comeback during which he had Sexton on the ropes for much of the endgame (not to mention everyone pulling for his opponent).

    That’s the way these games go, where it’s often the case you have to work hard for these wins.

    Image: “Mike Sexton | WPT Five Diamond (S13),” World Poker Tour. CC BY-NC 2.0.

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    Thursday, November 17, 2016

    Trumpster Fire

    There’s something kind of unusual going on around here. I smell smoke.

    No, nothing in the house is burning. Nor is anyone burning leaves or anything nearby, at least not today. But the smoky smell is lingering. Everyone is starting to notice.

    It comes and goes. I’ve smelled it more often in the mornings when feeding the horses, while in the afternoons it seems to die down. Then it’ll come back later as the sky darkens and night falls.

    We’ve been aware of the smell for several days, perhaps a week. The longer it lasts, the more worrisome it becomes. In the last day or two I’ve started to think of it as symbolic, too, representing a similar kind of vague threat that recently started to hang over us.

    Our farm is located in the western part of North Carolina, a couple of hours away from the mountains. It’s up there that around 15 different forest fires have been burning up something close to 50,000 acres over recent days, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes.

    Firefighters have had difficulty controlling the fires thanks to the drought conditions we’ve been experiencing in this part of the state. And there’s no rain at all in the current 10-day forecast, which doesn’t bode well.

    I’ve been staying inside mostly. Yesterday I noticed our county had been colored in “red” on the map, designating the air quality as “unhealthy.” There’s a worse color -- “purple” for “very unhealthy” -- although none of the counties have been shaded thusly just yet, I don’t think.

    I mentioned the symbolism suggested by the smoky smell and the vague feeling of anxiety it inspires. I refer of course to the flashpoint of last week’s election, and the gradually building apprehension caused by the president-elect’s quizzical movements and proclamations, stress-causing tweets, and hazy plans to make over the country in ways even his ardent supporters have to regard as troubling.

    And there were plenty of supporters, including around here. I mean if you look at a different map of the state, around three-fourths of the counties were red on that one, too.

    I won’t recount all of the many whiffs of trouble we’ve been noticing. For that you can read Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker who provides a catalogue of items in a new article titled “Donald Trump’s First, Alarming Week as President Elect” -- kind of like hand histories, you might say, from a series of inexpertly played hands.

    Recounting much from the election winner’s two interviews, the half-dozen press releases from his transition team, his “several important personnel and policy decisions,” and his 23 tweets, Lizza concludes the “first week was marked by seeming chaos,” suggesting that “what we’ve learned so far about the least-experienced President-elect in history is as troubling and ominous as his critics have feared.”

    We don’t know what’s coming next. Most of us like to think whatever changes the future might bring won’t be destructive or hurtful or otherwise for the worse. But we don’t really know. Depends on a lot of things, including things we can’t control. Not unlike the wind, or the rain (or lack thereof).

    The smell persists in a threatening way. Sometimes, after being exposed to it for a while, we become less aware of it. But then it hits us again -- bitter, a little pungent, even stinging.

    And we wonder how close or real the danger really is.

    Photo: Citizen-Times.

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    Wednesday, November 16, 2016

    Down from the Bookshelf

    On Monday I mentioned in passing my ongoing “Poker & Pop Culture” series over on PokerNews, which continues on a weekly basis. This week I completed another section of columns and so wanted just to share those here.

    Starting a few weeks ago I began looking at a number of poker books published from the 1870s through the 1920s, most of which fall under the “strategy” category. These include the first full-length books focused solely on poker -- i.e., that aren’t just devoting a section or chapter to the game, but deal with poker only.

    The appearance of such books is itself proof of poker’s growing popularity post-Civil War and on up through the early 1900s. The books also provide a lot of evidence regarding poker’s place in the culture as well, including the way the game wasn’t so readily accepted by many and sometimes outwardly viewed as dangerous and something to be avoided -- even by the books’ authors in a couple of cases (no shinola).

    In fact, when it comes to these books about strategy (most of which focus on five-card draw), I personally find these contextual references and allusions much more interesting than the actual strategy discussions. Actually in some cases the strategic advice is quite good and even prefigures a lot of later poker strategy, but wonky discussions of odds of probabilities aren’t nearly as compelling as the digressive tidbits and anecdotes revealing various cultural responses to poker.

    Here are books covered in the five articles:

  • Robert C. Schenck, Draw. Rules for Playing Poker (1872)
  • Henry T. Winterblossom, The Game of Draw-Poker, Mathematically Illustrated (1875)
  • John Blackbridge, The Complete Poker-Player (1875)
  • Jack Abbott, A Treatise on Jack Pot Poker (1881)
  • Talk of Uncle George to his nephew about draw poker (1883)
  • William James Florence, The Handbook of Poker (1892)
  • Garrett Brown, How to Win at Poker (1899)
  • David A. Curtis, The Science of Draw Poker (1901)
  • R.F. Foster, Practical Poker (1904)
  • Algernon Crofton, Poker. Its Laws and Principles (1915)
  • H.T. Webster et al., Webster’s Poker Book (1925)

    And here are the columns in which discussions of these books appear:

  • The Congressman Who Accidentally Wrote a Poker Book (Schenck)
  • Professor Henry T. Winterblossom Does the Math (Winterblossom)
  • Strategy Books Telling How to Play, But Warning Not To (Blackbridge, “George,” Florence)
  • Laughing and Learning with “Webster’s Poker Book” (Webster)
  • Everything New Is Old Again (Abbott, Brown, Curtis, Foster, Crofton)

    The series will be moving away from these old musty books for a while, talking about other topics like poker during wartime, poker in the movies, poker in popular music, poker in the White House and more.

    Image: “Old Books 1,” Charles Hackley. CC BY 2.0.

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  • Tuesday, November 15, 2016

    A Nguyen-ner’s Story

    During the weeks leading up to the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event final table, a series of articles appeared on PokerNews titled “Simulating the November Nine.”

    Marty Derbyshire got up with a poker training site called Advanced Poker Training and they ran some simulations of the final table based on the players’ profiles, stacks, and positions at the table. It was really more of an experiment than anything, not a genuine attempt to predict a winner.

    Somewhat unexpectedly, the simulations showed Qui Nguyen winning more often than any of the other players. I remember making a joke at the time that if Nguyen indeed managed to come out on top, the simulations could help show the Qui to his Nguyen.

    I don’t remember a lot of laughter in response. Perhaps a groan or two (which as all dedicated punsters know is the next-best thing.)

    As it happened, Nguyen did win the sucker. He had entered the final table second in chips, though I don’t think too many thought to guess he’d be the one the emerge from a group including many other higher profile players, some of whom had hugely impressive online résumés.

    Nguyen wasn’t covered too extensively on ESPN, either. By my count he was only shown in a half-dozen hands, most of which weren’t too interesting from a strategic standpoint. The most memorable one of Nguyen’s that was shown came with 14 left when he rivered trip fives with A-5 versus a short-stacked James Obst, and Obst made a tight fold despite having made a flush.

    Anyhow, if you watched the final table it was clear Nguyen was the most aggressive player of the bunch, and probably the most creative, too, although I haven’t studied the hands too closely.

    Today I read an interesting backstory of sorts regarding his final table run, written from the perspective of one of the Advanced Poker Training guys, Steve Blay. Thanks to the PN series and the simulations, Nguyen ended up getting together with APT and even wore a patch at the final table. Meanwhile Blay got to go out to Vegas and watch the final table play out, cheering on the eventual winner as part of Team Nguyen. Afterwards, Blay wrote an entertaining recap of the experience called “A Common Man’s Brush with Poker Royalty.”

    It’s an entertaining read, offering a bit of background on Nguyen plus some behind-the-scenes type stuff from the November Nine, all delivered very enthusiastically by a genuine poker fan. The article reminded me of some of the excitement I felt the first time I went to the WSOP, when such “brushes” with famous players and the novelty of it all made everything that much more fun to experience.

    Photo: Jayne Furman /

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    Monday, November 14, 2016

    In Memoriam

    News of a few deaths sadly coming over the wires here in recent days. Doesn’t matter how much a person has done or how long that person has lived, always feels like things are unfinished when the end arrives -- for the individual and for those of us left behind.

    Leonard Cohen’s passing on the eve of the election last Monday cast a pall over the past week for many (and added further to the pall caused by the election results for a decent percentage of that group).

    Have to confess that I never quite connected with Cohen’s music although always appreciated his important place in the singer-songwriter story. I knew “Suzanne” and a few other tracks, and over this last week have been listening to more and realizing how huge the gaps are in my knowledge.

    Unfairly I’d had Cohen lodged in a little-visited part of my memory occupied as well by Rod McKuen, another poet-slash-songwriter who achieved a similarly huge following although without the consistent critical acclaim of Cohen. Rolling Stone offers a decent overview of Cohen’s oeuvre and significance.

    Leon Russell passed away yesterday, and like Cohen he had been mostly performing on the edges of my awareness previously. I suppose I knew him mostly through Joe Cocker (who covered both Russell and Cohen on his Joe Cocker! breakthrough), though that was obviously just the very tip of a vast catalogue.

    “Tight Rope” is the Russell song permanently part of the classic rock rotation, although as a songwriter he’s a bigger part of our collective consciousness than most of us realize, penning an early version of the Stones’ “Shine a Light,” “Superstar” (made famous by the Carpenters), “This Masquerade” (a hit for George Benson), and dozens of other familiar titles. Check The New York Times obit for the full story.

    Finally I was sorry to hear of the passing the poker writer and historian Johnny Hughes last week. I never interacted directly with Hughes, although certainly read with interest his many contributions to poker forums where he could be found sharing various poker-related tales and sometimes arguing with other posters over their veracity.

    Hughes wrote both fiction and nonfiction. When working on my own “Poker & Pop Culture” series I’ve frequently encountered Hughes’s explorations of similar ground, in particular when dealing with the Old West and its colorful cast of characters, some of whom he covered in Famous Gamblers: Poker History, and Texas Stories.

    My buddy Dr. Pauly knew Hughes much better, and he penned a thoughtful tribute for Club Poker over the weekend that’s worth a look.

    Each of these three deserve better remembrances than I can provide, so follow those links for more.

    (The photo up top is one of several so-so shots I took inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta a few weeks ago, which as an elaborate memorial to those who have passed seemed suitable to use here.)

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    Friday, November 11, 2016

    On the Relative Watchability of Poker (Again)

    Just a quick sign-off to the week today to share something unrelated to politics or elections or the like. I mean, it’s a poker blog, you know?

    Saw my buddy Tim Fiorvanti -- formerly of BLUFF magazine and now writing for ESPN -- tweeting out today a new article appearing on ESPN in which one of the site’s senior writers Arash Markazi shares a personal reflection of having watched this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event final table.

    Markazi isn’t necessarily a “poker guy,” although as he explains at the start of his column he plays now and then and like a lot of people during the 2000s found a lot of enjoyment in watching televised poker.

    He shares the not uncommon view that a big reason why he found poker TV compelling back then was “because of the characters I had become connected to while watching all those shows.” He also got a little tired of it all even before Black Friday, and sounds as though he’d drifted away from watching over recent years (again, like many others).

    Markazi went to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino this year to watch all three nights of the final table. To summarize his general impression, he wasn’t too entertained, finding it all much too tedious and tame. To be fair, Markazi seems to be applying some of the criteria for what makes a sporting event entertaining to this in-person experience of the final table, which most of us who have spent time watching people play poker know isn’t really the best way to judge.

    Even so, he persuasively laments that even after watching players going at it for more than a dozen hours, he “had no real connection to them” and thus couldn’t find a way to be engaged.

    He thinks back to Jamie Gold at the 2006 WSOP Main Event final table who helps provide a sharp contrast between a fond poker watching memory and the more recent experience. He talks to Gold as well, who affirms the much-shared point that “you need to have players talking to have heroes and villains.” Since the 2016 WSOP Main Event final table featured relatively little of that, there was necessarily going to be (in Markazi’s estimation) a “disconnect between the viewers and the players at the table.”

    Interestingly, Markusi doesn’t mention any of the coverage leading up to the final table, which I have to assume he didn’t see. If he had, he would no doubt have discussed the prominent role William Kassouf played in those shows, cast as he was as a kind of “villain” precisely because of his table talk or so-called “speech play.”

    He might also have addressed the WSOP’s somewhat confused handling of Kassouf, which could have been interpreted as representing a position directly opposed to the one Markusi and Gold espouse in the column -- namely, that table talk is a very good thing when it comes to making poker more interesting as a “spectator sport.”

    Anyhow, check out Markusi’s article if you’re curious, titled “Poker is lacking the heroes and villains it so desperately needs.”

    Image: “Bax's parents watching him play the #mainevent #finaltable #wsop #poker #gojohnnygo #bax,” Dutch Boyd. CC BY 2.0.

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    Thursday, November 10, 2016

    Oh, Yeah... Online Poker

    Was asked yesterday about what the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president might mean as far as online poker in the United States is concerned.

    It’s a good question, although as I thought about it I quickly realized that if I were to make a list of issues to be concerned about regarding Trump’s taking over, there are probably 70 or 80 others I’d rank higher importance than online poker. Then again, it is an issue I am at least attentive to, given how much of my life is affected by the vagaries of poker’s place in the culture.

    My first instinct was to say it probably didn’t matter much at all who won on Tuesday, as neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton were going to be huge proponents of any sort of federal regulation permitting online gambling and/or poker in the U.S.

    I remember my shuttle ride from Atlantic City to the Philly airport last weekend. My loquacious driver was a Trump supporter, and even had a little Trump/Pence sign he held up and shook at me when making one of several points about the current state of his state and of the nation as a whole.

    Thanks to the event from which he was driving me -- the inaugural PokerStars Festival New Jersey series -- we’d gotten onto the topic of online poker in the U.S. He was insistent Trump was the candidate to support for those wanting online poker up and running again. I expressed doubt, though, saying I wasn’t sure either candidate was going to be all that excited about such a cause.

    I was thinking in part of the possibility of someone like Sheldon Adelson, the deep-pocketed Trump supporter and anti-online gambling lobbyist, perhaps influencing a Trump regime in a certain unpleasant direction. Then again, there’s New Jersey governor Chris Christie now standing by Trump’s side who signed NJ’s online gambling bill into law three years ago. Meanwhile VP Mike Pence has openly supported the Adelson-backed Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), if that might be said to tip the balance.

    In any event, the Obama administration obviously has not viewed online gambling a cause to support, and if you think about certain measures like the surreptitious “Operation Choke Point” that targeted online gambling (in part), the evidence suggests an outward (if not so evident) antagonism toward it. I wouldn’t imagine a Clinton administration would have been so excited to adopt an alternate position than the current one allowing for the slow, slow trickle of state-by-state legislation with no federal push.

    Like I say, it probably doesn’t matter much. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act -- the 10-year anniversary of which just recently passed -- has effectively reduced online poker in the U.S. to the point of near-insignificance, at least on the federal level. That could change one day, but just as I felt a week ago, there’s no more reason to think that it will anytime soon.

    Even so, there’s a whole lot else to worry about first.

    Image: “poker-online-logo” (adapted), texasholdempoker. CC BY 2.0.

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    Wednesday, November 09, 2016

    Upside Down, Unexpectedly

    Poker steels a person to handle the unexpected.

    Those who’ve played the game even for a short while -- and who’ve paid attention enough to absorb some of the odds and probabilities and learn what is likely and what is not -- become accustomed to surprises. You know, kings cracking aces, the occasional one- or two-outer showing up on the river, or various runner-runner revelations that can make improbable winners of all-but-certain losers.

    Of course, even when in possession of this knowledge, we still experience a certain level of surprise when such things happen. If we’re human, that is. Experiencing such emotion is part of what helps keep the game interesting to a lot of us. After all, in our “normal,” day-to-day lives, we rarely experience surprises, and indeed often try to map out our activities so as to avoid them.

    Regardless of who you supported, the result of last night’s presidential election was more than likely not what you expected to happen.

    Watching the coverage play out starting during the early evening when the first polls closed on the east coast, all the reporting emphasized the high likelihood of Hillary Clinton winning. In fact more than one outlet used a poker metaphor to describe Donald Trump’s needing to win several states in which Clinton was favored, saying his position was like “drawing to an inside straight.”

    A couple of hours in, though, just after nine o’clock ET when another round of states’ polls closed and more projections and calls were delivered, the situation suddenly swung the other way. For Trump supporters, it was a delirously exciting 20-25 minutes or so; for those backing Clinton, it was a nightmarish sequence, occurring rapidly enough to make it hard to grasp fully the implications of what was happening.

    The betting markets were slightly ahead of the game with their numbers last night. My friend Rich Ryan was tweeting out Pinnacle’s lines on a regular basis all night. Actually he’d been doing it for a week, with “HRC” the big favorite, climbing as high as -780 as things got going last night. In the space of an hour that figure dropped to -124, then after lingering there a while the sucker flipped to show “Trump/Other” at -122. An hour later Trump was up as high as Clinton had been, and by shortly after 11 p.m. here it already seemed all but certain there was no way Trump would lose.

    I had CNN on, and sure enough Jake Tapper was revisiting that poker analogy not long after the flip had occurred. Recalling the earlier reference to Trump’s seemingly slim chances, he noted how the situation had been changed to Clinton being the one drawing not just to an inside straight, but to an inside straight flush, suggesting the need for a one-outer rather than a four-outer. (Am still hunting down the exact quote -- when I find it I’ll include it here.)

    I was mentioning yesterday Nate Silver’s much-cited election forecast. He’d famously predicted 49 of 50 states plus D.C. correctly eight years ago, then got all 50 of them right along with D.C. in 2012. This time he (or his models) whiffed on five key states -- Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan -- all of which he had going Clinton’s way, and all of which Trump won.

    Signing off from the coverage over on FiveThirtyEight last night, Silver actually wrote he wasn’t surprised by the outcome given that the polling had indicating the possibility of a competitive race. But he also admitted that “in a broader sense... it’s the most shocking political development of my lifetime.”

    Yesterday I also brought up the analogy of picking NFL games, bringing up again that Pigskin Pick’em contest I’ve enjoyed over the last several years. Sometimes when writing about the contest I’ve alluded to those “Win Probability” graphs and how wild they sometimes appear in games that end with unlikely finishes where one team snatches victory away from the other following a final, surprising twist (or two or three).

    The graph tracking last night’s developments was similarly dizzying. Just below is the one from The New York Times, which is pretty much identical to the ones created by other outlets overnight:

    The reasons both for Trump’s win and for the failure of so many to see it coming are going to be discussed for some time. I have my own ideas, though don’t necessarily want to try to sort them out here just yet.

    When a poker hand or football game gets all twisted around at the end, it’s usually easy enough to isolate the card(s) or play(s) that caused the outcome. This one is a lot more complicated, though still can be explained.

    All of that effort will have the effect of lessening the shock of experiencing that head-spinning half-hour last night. When the blue and red graph lines unexpectedly dived upon one another, crossing paths in a sudden rush that literally turned the story they were telling upside down.

    I mean, really... whatta river.

    Image: “Election 2016” (adapted), DonkeyHotey. CC BY 2.0.

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    Tuesday, November 08, 2016

    On Being “In Play”

    Happy Election Day, all.

    I voted this morning. I would have tried voting early, but I was on the road -- to Malta, then to New Jersey -- for pretty much the entire time early voting was available for me.

    I arrived at the nearby church that functions as my polling station right at 6:30 a.m. so as to avoid any long lines later today. The place was already packed, and in fact it was hard finding a place to park. But the whole process only took about a half-hour to get through, and now I’m back on the farm where I’ll be tuning in tonight with everyone else to see how it all goes.

    North Carolina is a “battleground state” this year, with enough electoral votes to matter and genuine uncertainty over whether it’ll be tipping toward Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I noticed yesterday Nate Silver had placed NC on a “Tier 1” line with Florida as a key indicator of how things are ultimately going to go.

    Eight years ago the state barely chose Obama, while Romney won by a wider margin in the last election. The polls having been suggesting Hillary wins NC by a smidgen this time, but it’s truly up in the air at the moment. (Bill Clinton lost NC by small margins in both ’92 and ’96.)

    It’s curious to be voting in a state that is “in play” like this, given how most elections that hasn’t really been the case. It reminds me a little of the Pigskin Pick’em game that has been increasingly distracting me every week since I’ve been out front in the sucker since Week 2.

    Every week’s slate of NFL games contains many games that essentially aren’t significant since practically the entire pool picks the same way. Such was true, for instance, with last night’s Buffalo-Seattle game in which almost everyone took the Seahawks (and won, although it was a close one).

    Meanwhile other games last weekend were most definitely “in play” -- e.g., Philadelphia-NY Giants, Carolina-Los Angeles, and Denver-Oakland, which in each case saw about half the pool go one way and half the other. Those outcomes therefore meant something, affecting the pool standings, while the unanimous (or near-unanimous) games did not.

    Of course, what I’m describing is all a matter of perception. It’s like when we talk about a poker hand and after fourth street brings an apparent “blank” we cheerfully say “the turn changed nothing.”

    But almost always the turn is not wholly insignificant (except in those relatively rare instances when a player is already drawing dead after the flop). It moves the game forward another betting round, having meaning even if it doesn’t change who is ahead in the hand.

    So, too, do these games (or states) that aren’t “in play” still significant to the overall contest. (In fact, who’s to say, really, which states are and are not, until later tonight?)

    In any event, regardless how the election turns out, things have certainly changed here in the U.S. and will continue to do so going forward. After the last year-and-a-half, it feels like practically everything is “in play” now.

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    Monday, November 07, 2016

    The Name Game

    Glad to be back home where I’ll be settled over the next stretch, at least until December when that very last European Poker Tour stop in Prague arrives.

    Got to talking with a couple of different people last week about the EPT (and LAPT and other tours) all coming to conclusions here with the end of the calendar year. Well, nominally coming to conclusions, as for the most part a lot of the same stops are still going to be featured among the new “PokerStars Championships” and “PokerStars Festivals.”

    I was writing about back in September not long after the announcment was made in Barcelona about the new branding and tours.

    This New Jersey festival was interesting in part because there were many folks from different tours all there, kind of like happens in the Bahamas each January (at the no-longer-named PCA).

    Kind of got the sense everyone is a little sorry to see the specific tours go away, which’ll mean the records and stats associated with them will be somewhat frozen right where they are going forward. But folks also seem intrigued to see the beginning of this new schedule and the unifying of all the tours (and the start of new records and stats).

    The PokerStars Festival New Jersey ultimately played out like a kind of “preseason” event, I think -- not quite what the Festivals are going to be going forward, even if sharing the same name.

    Will be interesting to see, say, six months or a year from now what the thoughts are regarding it all, and whether the new names change the games or not.

    Image: PokerStars Live.

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    Sunday, November 06, 2016

    Travel Report: PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Day 5 -- The Jersey Shore, Dock’s, and Mo

    Good morning from the Philadelphia International Airport. Am here plenty early for my flight back home, so thought I’d spend part of the time sharing a couple of notes from yesterday, my last helping cover the PokerStars Festival New Jersey at the Resorts Casino Hotel.

    Was a laid back day, relatively speaking, given that the Main Event had finished up a day early and the High Roller was already down to just four players. I ended up following that one to a conclusion -- Jack Duong outlasted Jennifer Shahade heads-up to win the trophy -- and recapping things, then not long afterwards went for a short stroll across the Boardwalk and onto the Jersey shore.

    It was another pleasantly mild day, making for some nice, postcard-worthy shots all around. That’s one up above of the Steel Pier, a thousand-foot-long amusement park jutting out into the water nearby, closed currently (it operates from April through October).

    A little later on Brad, Jess, Joe, and I took a ride over to Dock’s Oyster House over near Caesars in Ducktown, a district so named for the duck houses built by the Italian immigrants who raised poultry there a century ago. Dock’s has a history stretching back even further to the 1890s, a family-owned high-end seafood place Joe had seen featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and so we had all been looking forward to getting the chance to get over there (and “off campus,” so to speak).

    We all commended Joe afterwards on having made a terrific suggestion, as both the atmosphere and our meals were excellent all around. Brad and I started out by diving into multiple trays of the Cape May Salts oysters from a couple of hours south at the southern tip of the Cape May peninsula. Then I had the seared sea scallops over mashed potatoes with broccoli rabe and roasted tomatoes. Just fantastic.

    Bourdain refers to Dock’s as “a symbol of what Atlantic City was and could be again.” It did feel a little like a trip back in time to a different Atlantic City, one perhaps more closely resembling the one each of my parents visited back in the 1960s. Hard to believe now, but in ’64 the Dems had their national convention in AC at the Boardwalk Hall just a mile or so away from the Resorts.

    After lingering some more in Ducktown at a tavern across from Dock’s, we made our way back to Resorts in time to see our buddy Mo Nuwwarah heads-up in the 8-game event that had begun early in the afternoon. The event had drawn 50-some runners, and in the end Mo had to outlast a couple of very formidable foes in Barry Greenstein (who took third) and Chris Reslock (who finished runner-up) to earn the silver spade.

    Was a blast seeing Mo with the chip advantage at the end running especially well through rounds of limit hold’em, seven-card stud hi/lo (which we referred to as “Hi/Mo”), and deuce-to-seven triple draw. Indeed, on the winning hand Mo drew three and just like that he had a 7-6-5-4-2 (a “number four”). After that we hung out some more, celebrating Mo’s victory a bit at the Margaritaville bar before calling it a night.

    Got a decent night’s rest, with the extra hour thanks to Daylight Savings Time having ended last night. Was an entertaining shuttle ride to the airport this morning thanks to a very talkative driver, with up-and-down the history of Atlantic City being kind of a running theme around which he opined on numerous other topics.

    Overall it was a very fun trip, made more so thanks to getting to work with great folks like Brad, Jess, and Joe and also alongside a number of friends, many of whom I’ve known and worked with for seven or eight years now. Happy to be heading home, though, and very glad to be staying put for a while after these last few weeks of running around.

    Talk again soon from the farm.

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    Saturday, November 05, 2016

    Travel Report: PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Day 4 -- A First Festival Champ

    When we arrived for Day 3 of the PokerStars Festival New Jersey Main Event yesterday, the thought was we’d likely be having a short day as just 23 remained and the final table was scheduled for Saturday. But plans changed and the players decided to push on through to a conclusion, which meant another noon-to-midnight day for those of us reporting on the sucker.

    Was kind of a fun finale to follow, as it turned out, with some interesting hands and a heads-up comeback that finished with Jason Acosta -- who’d qualified online for the event on PokerStarsNJ -- outlasting Mike Gagliano. Matt Affleck made the final table as well, finishing fifth.

    Brad Willis wrote up a nice recap of the final day of play that includes a little about winner Acosta and gives a good idea of how the day and tournament went.

    It was definitely a modest affair, relatively speaking, with only a $200K prize pool and $38K up top. But as I was saying earlier in the week it seemed like all involved had a good time and it worked as a kind of initial step back into the live tournament game in the U.S. for Stars.

    Will be looking in the finale of the High Roller today, along with some of the other things going on including a “Run It Up” 8-game event featuring Jason Somerville (who won the Chad Brown tournament, I forgot to mention) and a lot of his followers from here in the area. Check the PokerStars blog as usual for updates and more.

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    Friday, November 04, 2016

    Travel Report: PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Day 3 -- Shirt Tales

    Worked through Day 2 of the PokerStars Festival New Jersey Main Event on Thursday, a relatively short day during which the field was whittled down to 23 players. Still several in the field who’ve notched big scores before, including Darren Elias, Matthew Affleck, David Vamplew, Michael Gagliano, and Randy “nanonoko” Lew of Team PokerStars Pro Online.

    Afterwards I grabbed a dinner with Jess Welman and Lance Bradley, where among the topics discussed was Lance’s famous “shirt bet” with Antonio Esfandiari. Not a bet per se but a freeroll for Lance that requires him to wear the same shirt (when in public) for one year in order to win $8K from “The Magician.”

    If you haven’t heard about the bet, you can read all about here from Lance himself on PocketFives. As you might have guessed, Lance was quite careful when dining. I had a French Dip sandwich that came with an awkwardly-shaped gravy boat full of au jus with which I was extra cautious while sitting within striking distance of Lance and the shirt.

    The situation inspired me to share that New Year’s Eve tale from a couple of years ago I wrote about here, one involving a reckless busboy and me ultimately wearing a full glass of red wine. Of course Lance has imagined such a horror already and thus has worked through both strategically how to avoid it and mentally how to deal with it should it occur.

    Meanwhile that Third Annual Chad Brown Memorial tournament last night was a roaring success, drawing something close to 90 players who rebought enough to create 300-plus entries I believe. Appeared a very good time for all involved, and as I was saying yesterday I was to be encouraged to think again of Chad who was such a friendly guy and so well liked by so many.

    I ended up making an early evening of it, passing up on a chance to play some poker and I think I made a good call as I was already asleep in front of Thursday Night Football by nine-thirty. Am seriously catching up on rest here after all the travel of late.

    Back at it today for the Main Event and perhaps more as the Festival continues. Check the PokerStars blog again to see what’s happening.

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    Thursday, November 03, 2016

    Travel Report: PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Day 2 -- Extra Innings

    Was another fun day at the Resorts Casino Hotel helping cover the second Day 1 flight of the PokerStars Festival New Jersey Main Event. The overall turnout for the sucker is coming in at just over 200 players, I believe, so while it’s a small one there’s nonetheless a lot of excitement surrounding it, plus the players -- many from the area, unsurprisingly -- appear to be having a good time.

    While the poker was interesting, that thrilling Game 7 of the World Series gradually began occupying everyone’s attention more and more as the night wore on. It was near the very end of play when Cleveland’s Rajai Davis hit that stunning two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game, and the whole tournament room exploded in noise in response.

    We’d more or less finished up everything we had to do by the end of the ninth inning, and so were seated at an empty poker table before a big screen when that sudden rain delay gave everyone an extra 15 minutes to think about what had happened and what was to come. Brad Willis snapped that pic above of the team adding an extra hour or so to the day as Chicago and Cleveland prolonged their battle into the 10th.

    It all seemed fittingly apocalyptic for an Indians-Cubs World Series Game 7, and the finish was nail-biting as well. Fun stuff to experience with a group.

    The group returns to the tournament room today for Day 2 of this Main Event, where 70 players are returning. Later tonight is the Third Annual Chad Brown Memorial Tournament which I plan at least to check in on as it happens. I had the lucky opportunity to get to know Chad a bit and am glad at least to be around as his friends gather to remember him and to raise some money for charity.

    Check the PokerStars blog today for news on that event as well as the PSF New Jersey Main.

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    Wednesday, November 02, 2016

    Travel Report: PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Day 1 -- Main Events and World Serieses

    Was a fun, not-too-stressful day helping cover the first Day 1 flight of the PokerStars Festival New Jersey Main Event at the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City yesterday.

    The turnout for the $1,100 tournament was modest (81 players), and while there ought to be considerably more for today’s Day 1b I don’t think the bar has been set too high as far as expectations go. Kind of an early run of the Festival format, I think, plus just getting back in the U.S. is a big step for Stars regardless.

    During the evening one interesting side story was both the World Series of Poker and the baseball World Series happening on the big screens around the tournament area. (I know, the correct plural for “series” is of course simply “series,” but it’s more fun to be less serious and say “serieses.”)

    Since the Cubs jumped out to that big lead versus the Indians to force a do-or-die Game 7 tonight, the attention was drawn more so to the last night of the WSOP Main, especially thanks to all the fireworks early on with Cliff Josephy doubling up, then Gordon Vayo doubling through him, then Josephy’s attempts to get back into things before busting on the 16th hand of the night.

    Kind of a funny moment during the last break of play here, as the players were drawn to watch the crazy set-over-set hand between Josephy and Vayo, making it necessary to extend the break by a few minutes in order for them to see it through. That’s a hastily-snapped shot above of players watching it play out.

    We finished before midnight and so I got back to the room to watch a little more of that crazily long heads-up between Vayo and Qui Nguyen. Then I slept with the television on, waking occasionally to crown noise whenever Vayo would double-up again. Was fully awake to see the conclusion this morning -- it ended around 6:30 a.m. here on the east coast -- and Nguyen’s victory.

    From what I could tell, Nguyen played a bold style throughout the final table and presented lots of challenges to the others, making his win seem well deserved even if he did run well by picking up big hands in key spots along the way.

    And even though I didn’t sit and study every single one of the 384 final table hands this time, I watched enough to appreciate ESPN’s coverage, which is probably just about as good as it could possibly be at this point.

    Back at it here in New Jersey in a little while. Check the PokerStars blog to see how the Main Event they have going here continues to play out.

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    Tuesday, November 01, 2016

    Travel Report: PokerStars Festival New Jersey, Arrival -- From NC to North Carolina Avenue

    Hello from Atlantic City. Place looks a bit different from the last time I was here over three years ago.

    That’s partly because no less than five casinos (of the 12) on the Boardwalk have closed since then, including the Trump Taj Mahal right next door to the Resorts Casino Hotel where I’m staying for the PokerStars Festival New Jersey.

    The trip up was easy-breezy, with the ride from the Philadelphia airport to AC taking nearly as long as the flight from Charlotte. The Resorts is actually on North Carolina Avenue -- one of those Monopoly streets here in AC -- which somehow felt right to this Tarheel. Got checked in mid-afternoon and wandered around a bit, taking in the “vintage” feel of the place.

    Am reading that the Resorts first went up back in 1978, and while there have obviously been renovations and new construction -- including the tower in which I’m staying which went up a little over a decade ago -- there’s definitely a bit of a stepping-back-in-time feeling when you turn certain corners of the place.

    I found the tournament rooms and media area, reuniting with my buddy Jan of the EPT with whom I was just working in Malta as well as the PokerNews guys, other EPT folks and some from the LAPT, too, and a few others I haven’t seen for some time. It really is going to be a reunion of sorts for me, especially since I haven’t been to the WSOP in a while.

    Later on met up with Brad, Jess, and Joe for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. The place where we’d originally planned to go was closed, and indeed the whole Boardwalk was fairly quiet without a lot of foot traffic on a mild, breezy Monday evening. Nick (with whom I also was just working in Malta) had a delayed flight and so missed dinner, but we’ll get up with him tomorrow.

    Got up very early this morning -- I’m still somewhat on European time -- and after a bit went down around 7 a.m. to the Dunkin Donuts, trekking through the casino to get there. Always a somewhat grim scene, seeing patrons of the slots and table games that early, and uncanny, too, as the lack of windows, noise, and smoke all conspire to make you forget it’s not dusk, but dawn.

    Not too sure what to expect in terms of the tournaments, but it ought to be a fun one, I think. The $1,100 buy-in Main Event starts today at 11 a.m. ET, so don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, and head over to the PokerStars blog a little later to see what’s happening.

    Photos: “North_Carolina_Avenue,” Mark Strozier. CC BY 2.0; “Resorts Casino Hotel,”

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