Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Safe and Sound

Back on the farm at long last. Have already reunited with the horses and cats, all of whom seem to be doing well after having endured a colder two weeks here than was the case in Prague. That's Maggie (standing) and Ruby (sitting) to the left, both relaxing on a mild winter’s day.

Alas for Vera, there was a mix-up with her flight resulting in her journey back taking a little longer. She’s having to stay an extra night in London on the way back, which is a pain but all things considered could be worse.

Spent the flight watching various stuff on the Lufthansa menu of entertainment offerings. Started with a pretty good documentary about Freddie Mercury (The Great Pretender), focusing mostly on his non-Queen stuff.

Then watched the 2011 political drama The Ides of March that George Clooney directed and co-wrote and starred in (along with Ryan Gosling). The mildly twisty plot was not at all convincing, I’m afraid, nor were the characters that compelling. Meanwhile the version of presidential politics it presented seemed especially naïve, probably even more so in retrospect (i.e., post-Trump).

Filled in space with some television, including trying an episode of Magnum P.I., a show I never really watched much back in the day. Tom Selleck is fine, but good golly the episode was dreadful.

I’d have been much better off having read instead, but after so many days in a row of traveling and working I was just too damn tired to do so.

Speaking off, I’m signing off. Looking forward to a little down time here over the holidays, to rest up and recharge before the crazy poker-coaster cranks up again in the new year.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 11 -- Coffee, Crepes, and Communism

The last European Poker Tour festival is done, with winners emerging from both the Main Event and final High Roller in Prague. Both endings involved deals, and in fact when it came to the High Roller the sucker culminated with a deal rather than a victor being decided on the felt.

The Main Event had gotten down to three players when the deal talk first began. Essentially David Peters wanted more and couldn’t get the other two to give him what he wanted, so they played on and Peters ended up taking third (and earning considerably less than he would have with a deal).

Then at heads-up came another discussion and a completed deal, after which Jasper Meijer van Putten outlasted Marton Czuczor to win the trophy. Here’s a recap of the final day from Howard Swains that shares all of the final day’s highlights, including those deal talks.

Meanwhile later in the evening over in the high roller Patrick Serda and William Kassouf struck a curious bargain that gave Serda (who had a big chip lead) the larger cash prize but Kassouf the trophy and title, ending play with the deal (i.e., without playing it out for a small leftover bit of cash).

I was on the Main Event, and so wasn’t around for the multiple discussions punctuating the High Roller’s finish, which had to have been interesting to witness given Kassouf’s involvement. You can read Jack Stanton’s end-of-event recap for a bit more on how it all went over there.

Before play began, Vera Valmore and I made a return trip to a breakfast place we enjoyed before, lingering for a while over coffee and crepes with apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, and whipped cream (yum). From there we took a short subway ride over to the Museum of Communism located in the center of Prague on Na příkopě, itself an interesting, bustling area to walk around.

The not-so-easy-to-find museum is tucked away just above a McDonald’s, which gave us a chuckle. There’s a casino nearby as well, something else the museum advertises as a way to play up the contrast between how the Czech Republic looks in 2016 compared to the era the museum chronicles.

It’s a modest collection of materials related primarily to Czechoslovakia’s history under Communist rule from just after WWII through the Velvet Revolution. We took an hour or so winding our way through the various rooms looking at the photos, artwork and other propaganda, lingering over a couple of videos, and reading the long descriptions attached to each display.

Despite the often grim subject matter, the museum takes a humorous approach to things, particularly in the gift shop where the postcards and refrigerator magnets have more to do with kitsch than culture (“You couldn’t get laundry detergent but you could get your brainwashed”). I did get a kick out of one display near the end telling the story of the Plastic People of the Universe, that political “Prague Rock” band I wrote a little about before embarking on this trip.

The Kafka one might have been better, and as we left I found myself going over The Trial and The Castle in my head while remembering the dozens of times I taught “The Metamorphosis” to world lit classes. But I didn’t regret getting over to Na příkopě and exploring a different part of the city with Vera.

Kind of like with those tournaments, the museum visit was a bit of a compromise with which to end things here in Prague.

Home tomorrow! Has been great fun, and especially so with Vera here. But we’re both more than ready to get back to the farm. Let me go another 5,000-plus miles or so and we can talk again.

Photos: Museum of Communism.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 10 -- Food, Friends, and the Familiar

They are down to six now in the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event. David Peters remains in contention, and also could (I believe) overtake Fedor Holz for the 2016 Global Poker Index Player of the Year with his finish.

The last EPT High Roller is also down to a final group of 22 which like the Main will be playing down to a finish on Monday. Adrian Mateos, Ihar Soika, Martin Finger, and William Kassouf are among those still in the running over there.

We finished up by nine o’clock or so, and so Vera and I and a few of my colleagues ended up reassembling over at the Cafe Bistro in the Hilton Prague for an evening meal. That's above is a shot looking down on the restaurant, taken from the glass elevator I’ve ridden up and down many times over the last 10 days.

The dinner was enjoyable, bookended by a couple of fun conversations with friends (old and new).

When Vera and I got there we joined Mickey May, one of the team photographers here in Prague. I liked introducing her to Vera and hearing her tell the story of her husband, Jesse, writing Shut Up and Deal and how he named his protagonist (a fictional version of himself) after her -- Mickey Dane. (Mickey is from Denmark.)

Later on we were joined by the poker player Kristen Bicknell, the Canadian who has now won a couple of WSOP bracelets including one this past summer in a $1,500 NLHE Bounty event. She went fairly deep in the Eureka Main last week (finishing 31st) and played a couple of other events here, too.

Was fun hearing her tell us her interesting story. She was an online grinder, playing millions of hands over several years and being a SuperNova Elite on PokerStars. She won the Ladies Event at the WSOP in 2013 -- something I recall as I was there that summer, although I didn’t report on that event -- though she really wasn’t playing live all that much back then.

More recently, though, she’s begun taking more poker trips and playing more tournaments, including having a run in the EPT Grand Final Main in the spring (where she finished 60th) and winning that second bracelet over the summer.

As was the case with Mickey, I’d heard some of Kristen’s story before, having heard her tell it on the PokerNews Podcast back in early July. Even the meal was familiar, as I’d had the same burger at that same restaurant a few days before. Can be nice, though, to experience a little bit of the familiar when in a foreign land.

One more day, and one which Vera and I intend to spend part of doing a little more touristy stuff, including a museum visit. Deciding between the Franz Kafka one and the Museum of Communism at the moment (kind of leaning toward the latter).

More tomorrow -- meanwhile check the PokerStars blog for updates on the poker.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 9 -- The Maze of Life

Today the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event continued apace, playing down from 65 players to just 18. There are a few familiar folks still in the running, including David Peters and Team PokerStars Pro Felipe “Mojave” Ramos.

Of course, they’re all pretty familiar to us by now after four days of this tournament plus seeing most of these folks in other events over the last week-and-a-half. One player coming back to a short stack is one such example, the Czech player Martin Kabrhel who talks at the table as much as any player I’ve covered in a while -- more than William Kassouf, even, who was making noise as part of the €10K High Roller field on Saturday as well.

For your humble scribbler, however, Saturday’s highlights all came away from the Hilton Prague Hotel as Vera Valmore and I were able to make a couple of excursions, one in the morning before play began and another in the evening once things had wrapped up.

The morning one involved joining our friends Howard, Stephen, and Gareth for a subway ride down to Vysehrad, the historical fort built on the Vltava River a thousand years ago (or more) where are located a few of Prague’s oldest buildings.

Indeed, one of the first sights we saw as we made a loop around the hilly “city within a city” (as Howard advertised it) was the Rotunda of St. Martin, a chapel built in the 11th century said to be the oldest Christian house of worship in the country.

There was the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and other old, Gothic structures at which to marvel. We also walked through the famous Vysehrad cemetery where many of Prague’s most famous are buried, mostly painters, musicians, sculptors, and others responsible for the country’s considerable contributions to the arts.

The Romantic composer Antonin Dvorak is buried there, whose Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), commissioned while he was in the U.S. during the 1890s, is one of the more famous symphonies ever composed (and was played during the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969).

So is the poet and journalist Jan Neruda whose collection of short stories from the 1870s were famously translated into English during the 1950s as Tales of the Lesser Quarter. Playwright and novelist Karel Capek who wrote science fiction and is often credited with having coined the word “robot” (in a 1920 play) is there, too, along with about 600 others, I believe.

The various shapes and sizes of the headstones well suit the creativity of those resting underneath, creating a kind of crazy quilt of different designs that are fascinating to look upon and even inspiring. Hard not to think, also, about the many paths life can take a person, all of which end similarly.

The entire fortress is a bit like a maze, actually, with various paths all winding and criss-crossing through it. Appropriately, on the way out not far from the Rotunda of St. Martin is a circular maze on concrete. We watched as Gareth chose to negotiate his way through it, and I snapped a few photos as he did.

Reading around online, I found a reference to this “magical maze” and how those who enter it “while ruminating over an important task or urgent issue... will find the solution upon reaching the exit.” While we weren’t aware of this story at the time, we nonetheless had fun making an emblem out of Gareth’s circuitous journey, applying it more broadly to the human condition.

After the poker, Vera and I grabbed dinner at the hotel and then took another, more direct walk straight over to the Christmas market to see it all lit up at night. We’d each been there separately during the day, but it was fun to return together and be among the crowds enjoying a festive Saturday night filled with lights and music.

We’re angling toward a museum visit or two here during our last couple of days, if we can manage it. Meanwhile wind your way back over to the PokerStars blog for more from the last EPT festival.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Travel Report, EPT13 Prague, Day 8 -- Czeching In

Just a quick note to report Day 3 of the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event went relatively quickly, the field being trimmed from 231 to 65 in time for us all to escape for a nice dinner at a place called the Krystal Bistro located about a 20-minute walk or so from the Hilton Prague.

Was a brisk evening, although the temps have been pretty mild throughout our stay, remaining well above freezing with little precipitation. In fact it has been much colder back home on the farm in North Carolina these last couple of weeks -- not what we expected as we’d thought we’d encounter snow and frigid conditions here.

Great atmosphere at the Krystal Bistro, and the eats were fantastic. I had snails au gratin for an appetizer and the veal entrecote with foie gras for a main course -- both scrumptious, making me wish I had two stomachs so I could order them again.

While meals (and most things) at the hotel are not inexpensive (although not inordinately pricey), we’ve enjoyed a few great meals in Prague and spent relatively little, the dollar being especially strong here at the moment. It’s a work trip, but as Vera and I are discovering Prague is a nice vacation destination, too, for a number of reasons.

With a full belly, then, and I’m signing off. Will have to get up early Saturday to get some work out of the way, as we have some more walking around planned before work tomorrow. Meanwhile walk over to the PokerStars blog to see how things continue to play out in both the Main Event and the soon-to-start final High Roller.

Image: “Vchod” (adapted), Dušan M.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 7 -- The Beginning of the End

Thursday was Day 2 of the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event, the last Main Event ever for the EPT.

Late registration ended with the start of play, and when the numbers were all added up there were 1,192 players who took part in the €5,300 buy-in event -- a record for Prague. That meant the top 231 would make the money and were able to share the €5,781,200 prize pool, and as it happened they reached that point of the tournament with the last hand of the night.

With a few hours to go me and Nick, one my blogging partners, made a bet regarding whether or not the bubble would burst before night’s end. We factored in the possibility that they might get to the end of the day’s schedule having gotten very close to 231 -- perhaps close enough to start hand-for-hand play -- and would therefore extend things thereafter in order to ensure the bubble would go pop on Day 2. In that case, we decided, our bet would be a push, and indeed that’s exactly what happened.

Crazily there were no less than eight all-ins in which the at-risk player survived (either by winning the pot or chopping) before the ninth one fell and finally the day was done. One of the tougher bubbles I can remember, and it seemed sorta fitting for the last ever European Poker Tour Main Event.

There’s been a few references around the tournament room to this being the “last EPT,” especially since the Main Event began. Again, it’s only just a name change, and in my end-of-night recap I riffed a little on the “what’s in a name?” line while alluding to the fact that there won’t be too much different next year beyond the signage. But there remains this feeling that we’re coming to the end of something, especially being here and around so many people for whom the EPT has been a big part of their lives for such a long time.

Ever since I more or less became involved full-time with poker, I’ve become accustomed to this feeling that everything about it feels weirdly tenuous -- as though it’s all going to end at any moment, even if there exists no rational basis for such an impression. This feeling dates back to the very first time I ever went to report on a poker tournament, when I was fairly comfortable with the idea that it wasn’t going to be anything but a one-time deal.

I don’t mean to suggest this feeling is especially negative or less than constructive, like some kind of apocalyptic mindset full of fear and anxiety about everything blowing up. But rather just a kind of useful edginess, kind of like when playing in a poker tournament and continuing with an understanding that (if you aren’t the chip leader) every single hand could theoretically be your last one.

We had the media event after play was done and I wasn’t able to make too much happen in it, becoming short and experiencing that very feeling until finally jamming with ace-ten, being up against both ace-jack and ace-king, and indeed meeting my end. Nothing jarring about it.

There’s something healthy about being always ready for the end, I think -- that is, not fooling yourself into thinking something is going to continue indefinitely when you know that isn’t really possible, and instead being mentally prepared and ready for worst-case scenarios. I suppose that’s why the bubble being so especially stubborn to burst seemed appropriate, as though the tour itself had to do some work before accepting the truth that the end is nigh.

Still a ways to go for me, though, before the end -- four more days of work plus travel home. But tomorrow we’ll have a shorter one, I think, and I’m looking forward to a nice dinner out with Vera and the others. Meanwhile, visit the PokerStars blog to follow this last EPT Main to its conclusion.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart / PokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 6 -- Whizzing Along

I mentioned how Vera Valmore has joined me here in Prague, having arrived last night. We’ve been lucky to be able to get together on these trips occasionally, and are looking forward to enjoying the very Christmas-y Prague over the next few days during the holiday season.

On Wednesday I was on Day 1b of the European Poker Tour Prague Main Event, which was huge (as expected). After last night’s late one, I was able to get off early tonight and so Vera and I took a cab over to the other side of the Vltava River for a nice dinner at a restaurant called Hergetova Cihelna.

Although we’d made a reservation, once there we were a little uncertain as the restaurant proper was closed for a private event. We eventually figured out there was another annex-like location nearby where they were serving.

As we walked around we saw how right in the same area is the Franz Kafka Museum, a place we may go back to before the trip is done. There was also this hilarious art piece/fountain just outside featuring two animated male figures peeing which I’ve since learned is a 2004 piece titled Piss by Czech sculptor David Černý.

We laughed and laughed at the sight of the figures, just standing there whizzing along. The figures are made of bronze and the middle sections swivel back and forth, with each figure’s manhood rising up and down as well as they go wee. We were there at dusk and so my photo is no good, so I’m sharing another one up above (click to embiggen).

Since it was dark we also didn’t realize that the base of the statue is shaped like the Czech Republic, which suggests the figures are peeing on the country. Reading around a bit, I’m seeing that visitors can actually send a text message to the fountain and they will pee the message.

There’s actually a fairly famous piece by Černý back home in Charlotte (I’m realizing), another animated fountain called “Metalmorphosis,” the title of which recalls Kafka as well.

In the restaurant our view was directed the other way -- not at statues of dudes peeing, but over the river. The food was fantastic. I started with a duck consommé with egg yolk ravioli then had the filet mignon, while Vera enjoyed an appetizer of baked beetroot with goat cheese and a main course of baked pike perch. So good.

Back at it tomorrow for Day 2, where the last ever EPT Main Event keeps whizzing along. Check the PokerStars blog to follow.

Image: “Praha, Hergetova cihelna, čůrající fontána” (adapted), Jan Polák. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 5 -- Finished

All poker tournaments have structures which in most cases extend out a few levels beyond where the event actually concludes. It varies, of course, but most of the multi-day, multi-table tourneys I’ve ended up reporting on over the years have by now settled into a predictable pattern which finds them ending somewhere in the early-to-mid 30s, level-wise.

Tournament directors have formulas they’ve internalized that give them a good idea what to expect when predicting when an event will end. A few of my tourney reporting colleagues over the years have similarly come up with their own ways of calculating when, say, the bubble will likely burst, when bustouts will slow down thereafter once in the money, and when a tournament will likely conclude.

Regarding the latter, one rule of thumb I’ve heard has to do with counting the number of big blinds in play once a tournament reaches heads-up, then figuring that once the two remaining players’ average stacks dips below 50 BBs (or 100 BB between them), the sucker should be ending not too long after that.

For instance if there are 10 million chips in play, you look for the level where the blinds reach 50,000/100,000 and figure that’s around the point things are going to end. That’s hardly a hard-and-fast rule, of course -- as Tuesday night’s final day of the Eureka Prague Main Event final table proved.

There were eight players to start the day at noon, and with the average stack at around 40 big blinds we knew it wasn’t going to be a super-quick day, but didn’t really think it would last all of the way to midnight as it did. In fact I don’t think anyone did, given that they never even took a dinner break, in part because they’d whittled down to four players by the dinner hour, then got to three not long after that and so it seemed like things might be ending sooner than later.

But three-handed play went on for a long while, protracted further by some attempted deal-making that didn’t work out initially, then finally happened. They got to heads-up a little after 10:30 p.m., with Hubert Matuszweski sitting with about 32 million and Vladas Tamasauskas with just over 18 million to begin. (I was mentioning those long names yesterday -- as it happened, two of the longest lasted the longest.)

The pair made it to the end of Level 39 in which the blinds were 500K/1M, meaning there were just around 50 big blinds total in play. When the tournament clock reached the end of that level, we could help but laugh at how rather than go on to Level 40, it simply read “FINISHED.” Which is exactly how me and my blogging partner Jack were feeling right about then.

“We’re through the looking glass now,” I joked in the blog. “Uncharted territory. Your maps are no good here.”

They soon got a Level 40 programmed in there, and many more small, checked-down pots followed. Somehow they got all the way to Level 41, where the blinds were 800K/1.6M -- i.e., just around 32 big blinds total between them. Soon enough Matuszweski -- a.k.a. “The Hube” (our delirium-inspired nick for him) -- won the thing, and we really were finished.

More exciting for me, though, was the fact that Vera arrived in Prague during that long endgame and will be sharing the next week here with me! Looking forward to enjoying the city some more with her over these next days, when people aren’t carrying poker tournaments deep into the nights.

Am moving over to help with the EPT Prague Main Event, which is already and running. Visit the PokerStars blog to follow that one all of the way to the end early next week.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 4 -- Long Day, Long Names

It was another long one today and tonight helping cover the penultimate day of the Eureka Prague Main Event.

There were 62 players left to start today from the 2,031 who began the event (a record for the Eureka here in its very last Main). From that group just eight made through to tomorrow. Interestingly, the guy who led to begin today -- Piotr Romanczukiewicz of Romania -- actually ended the day with fewer chips than he began, making him eighth of eight heading into tomorrow.

There were a few familiar folks among the ones not quite getting to the last day, including Eoghan O’Dea, Tom Hall, Kristen Bicknell, and Team PokerStars Pro Marcin Horecki. The Polish pro finished seventh in this same event three years ago, and this time made it all of the way to 12th.

Alessandro Giordano carries the chip lead to the final table. Like Romanczukiewicz he has a long name, something of which those of us blogging are acutely aware. In fact for a lark I looked at some of the other long names left (Tamasauskas, Bengourane, Matuszewski) and figured out the average length of the final names is 9.375 letters. That’s gotta be on the high side, yea?

When it ended I went to enter my receipts as I try to do after every day of work so as to prevent too much of a pile-up of busywork at the very end. I realized I didn’t have any. We’d had a dinner break, but I had other things to get done and ended up working through it. Gonna have to find something here to eat before hitting the sack. Turns out writing poker hands, which can provide various degrees of intellectual stimulation, actually provides zero actual nourishment.

Visit the PokerStars blog to see how this here Eureka plays out and to follow everything else happening at this last ever EPT.

Photo: courtesy Tomas Stacha / PokerStars blog.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 3 -- Time, Time Hear the Bells Chime

Writing here at the end of a long workday -- more than 13 hours, all told -- preceded by two-and-half hours or so of walking around Prague, and so forgive me for being a little fatigued here with this brief report.

The Eureka Prague Main Event has now played down to 62 players from a record-breaking starting field of 2,031. Ended crazily with a final, two million-chip pot hand in which a player raise-shoved the flop with top pair of nines and the other talked himself into calling with bottom pair of fives, thus giving the former a huge chip lead to begin today’s Day 3. (You can read about it here, if curious.)

Besides sweating the NFL games during the evening, the most exciting part of the day came early on, though, when Howard, Gareth, and I made the journey to “Old Town” in Prague to see the Christmas market, walk over the Charles Bridge to the other side of the Vltava River, peek at St. Vitus Cathedral, and see other sights.

Lots of people out on a Sunday morning, most of whom were clearly tourists with their phones out at all times. I got mine out once as we happened by the famous Prague astronomical clock -- a.k.a., the “Prague Orloj” -- which I’m reading was built in 1410 and is the oldest astronomical clock in the world still operating.

It was just about 10 o’clock when we approached it, which meant we were able to hear the clock sound the hour and run through its show of the apostles appearing in the little windows up above and other moving parts. (Since my phone’s camera isn’t so hot, I’ve included a better photo of the clock above -- click the pic to embiggen.)

Speaking of time, the hour is late and so I’m going to turn in now and try to rest my bones for Monday. I expect I’ll get back down to Old Town for some dining, souvenir shopping, and more sightseeing over the next week. The Christmas theme was in evidence, of course, with lots of decorated trees and a generally festive mood all around.

Meanwhile, check the PokerStars blog for more on the Eureka and that €50K Super High Roller that began yesterday and drew the usual suspects.

Image: “Prague astronomical clock,” Steve Collis. CC BY 2.0.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 2 -- Overflow

As expected, the second and final starting flight of the Eureka Main Event was massive in terms of turnout, with more than 1,400 players coming following the just over 600 who played Day 1a. Was kind of interesting logistically to see how tournament staff organized handling that many players, given that the main tournament room (plus some overflow space just outside it) only really has about 100 tables.

There’s some additional space elsewhere in the Hilton Prague Hotel, and in fact that was used for other events (including the finish of the €10K) and cash games. But the main area was all devoted to the Eureka, or at least for most of the day until they finally played down to under 1,000 players and some tables became available.

With that many wanting to play, later registrants had to wait for seats and so they grouped the alternates in 25-player blocks, seating them every half-hour or so up right up until late afternoon/early evening, just before the dinner break. All went pretty smoothly, it appeared, thanks in large part (I imagine) to advance planning for the eventuality.

As always, it’s a little nuts for just a couple of us to report on such a huge field, with the sheer amount of action happening overflowing the available brain space as well (not to mention physical limits imposed by having to run back and forth from the tourney room to the laptop). Once near the end when there was still 600-plus left I did a full pass gathering chip counts, and thought as I did of that Unibet Open mannequin challenge from last week and that desire to “pause” everything for a couple of minutes in order to catch up.

All went well, though, and in the end 450 made it through from today to join the 168 Day 1a survivors for Sunday’s Day 2. Shyam Srinivasan ended up bagging the most at night’s end, just barely nudging past Gabriel Nassif for the Day 1b lead, although neither had as much as Mathias Jensen ended with the night before, so Jensen will have the lead to start play tomorrow.

Other highlights from the day included breakfast with Mo Nuwwarah who is here for PokerNews and who got in a couple of days early to do some sightseeing. He and I talked NFL football at length, something he does each week on the Gridiron Gamble podcast. Dinner with my blogging partner Jack Stanton was fun as well as we hit the buffet here at the Hilton, a modest one compared to bigger hotel-casinos back home, but fine and convenient for our purposes.

Back at it Sunday, when I’ll be sweating NFL games as well once we get to the evening here. Gonna do a little sightseeing myself in the morning, though, so perhaps I’ll have something more than poker to talk about here tomorrow. Meanwhile, look in over at the PokerStars blog today to see what’s happening with poker in Prague.

Photo: courtesy Tomas Stacha / PokerStars blog.

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Friday, December 09, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Day 1 -- Early Pragueress Report

Doing fine so far here in Prague. One day of work is done and there are still 11 more to go.

Got to rest a bit Thursday afternoon and early evening while awaiting my buddies to arrive from England, then in the evening me, Jack, and Marc went out to get some food at a place nearby called the Pivovarsky Klub.

For beer drinkers, the Pivovarsky is probably a must-visit place, serving more than 200 varieties of beer most of which are from Czech breweries -- the most (they say) of any place in the entire country. The food is good as well, as Marc and I very much enjoyed the roast duck and potatoes while Jack probably outdid us with his venison goulash.

Got to bed at a reasonable hour, then was up and at ’em today for Day 1a of the Eureka Prague Main Event, a €1,100 buy-in tournament that drew more than 1,800 players a year ago.

There were about 600 playing today’s first Day 1 flight, and there will assuredly be a lot more playing in the second and final starting flight on Saturday.

There were a few “notables” among the field, and one fairly exciting three-way all-in hand near the end that helped 19-year-old Mathias Jensen of Denmark enjoy the overnight chip lead, one in which he spiked a two-outer on the river to knock out two opponents. You can read about that hand here.

Can’t say tonight’s dinner was all that memorable. It being a busy Friday night, most places in the area were packed and we had to take a third or fourth choice and eat some fast food at a nearby Vietnamese place. But there will be more good eats to come, as well as a bit of sightseeing as I’ve made some plans to try to do that this weekend.

Meanwhile, keep checking back over on the PokerStars blog for more from EPT Prague and the Eureka.

Photo: courtesy Tomas Stacha / PokerStars blog.

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Thursday, December 08, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Prague, Arrival -- A Nice and Funny Afternoon

Ahoj from the Czech Republic!

I arrived in Prague a little after lunchtime today. Not as cold as I thought it might be, after having received some advance warning about snow yesterday. Blue skies today, though, with a light jacket plenty enough cover.

The long flight to Munich was only half-full, meaning I drew a whole middle row to myself for stretching out and even dozing a bit (unusual for me on flights). From there it was a quick hop over to the Václav Havel Airport Prague, named after the republic’s first president (whom I mentioned yesterday).

“Welcome to Praha,” said the airline attendant after we touched down, the city’s name in Czech sounding like laughter. “Have a nice and funny afternoon,” she added, and I couldn’t help but grin. The vending machines labeled “very goodies” in the terminal kept spirits high as well.

My shuttle to the hotel lasted nearly as long as that latter flight, carrying me through a couple of tunnels to my home-away-from-home for the next couple of weeks. Have a nice view looking out on the Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic. Have wandered just a little so far, but expect I’ll be exploring a lot more in the days to come.

Gonna try to get some rest here before grabbing some dinner later. Will do what I can to keep updating things as we go, likely in short bursts as there will be a lot else to do while I’m here. The festival is already underway, in fact, with a €10K single re-entry event having just kicked off.

You can follow that one on the PokerStars blog, then tomorrow check back over there for the Eureka Main Event which I’ll be helping cover (and which should be a big one). Or Czech back over there, if you must.

Meanwhile, have a nice and funny rest of the day, everybody.

Image: “Václav Havel Airport,” Pirátská strana. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Prague Rock

Back on the road today, heading to the airport in just a little while to hop a plane that will carry me over the Atlantic for the last ever European Poker Tour festival in Prague, Czech Republic. This’ll be a first visit to Prague for your humble scribbler, so I’m greatly looking forward to experiencing what everyone tells me is going to be a real winter wonderland.

Despite being to Europe many times and even living in France for a year, I never made it to the Czech Republic. Growing up, of course, it was Czechoslovakia, part of the Soviet bloc up until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. Then came the Velvet Revolution and eventually in 1993 the split of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

I remember during the early-to-mid ’90s learning a bit about the writer Václav Havel who served as the republic’s first president. Aside from writing a lot of poetry and many plays, Havel was a big supporter of the arts and musicians, and had a famous friendship with Frank Zappa of whom he was a big fan (one reason why I was led to learn more about Havel).

In fact, in 1990 Havel even designated Zappa Czechoslovakia’s “Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture, and Tourism.” I vaguely remember that causing a ruckus over here when then-president George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker got upset over a civilian being made a liaison with with a foreign country.

Baker told Havel “you can do business with the United States or you can do business with Frank Zappa.” (All of this reads interestingly against growing turmoil regarding our current president-elect’s unorthodox -- and frightening-to-some -- approach to international diplomacy.)

Zappa was a huge underground favorite in Czechoslovakia, despite his music being officially blacklisted by the authorities right up until the revolution. He influenced a number of bands, including several from Prague. The most famous example was a group called The Plastic People of the Universe, named after the Mothers of Invention’s song “Plastic People” opening their second album, Absolutely Free.

By the mid-seventies The Plastic People of the Universe had become quite popular and politically active, getting involved in numerous protests against the Communist regime. In fact, following one of these protests came disturbance of the peace charges and harsh prison terms for the band’s members.

Those punishments (and others) prompted still more protests, including the important Charter 77 manifesto co-written by Havel that prompted still more attempts at cracking down on dissent with arrests of those signing the document. Charter 77 would become a hub of sorts around which gathered the forces leading to the subsequent revolution.

I only know one of The Plastic People of the Universe’s albums, one from 1974 called Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned, which unmistakably demonstrates the influence of early Zappa/Mothers. Apparently the album wasn’t allowed to be released and so bootleg tapes of it were circulated by fans for a few years before it came out on vinyl in France a few years later.

I know of a couple of bands of this same era from Czechoslovakia, my acquaintance with these “Prague Rock” outfits an offshoot of my ongoing interest in Krautrock being produced at the same time right across the border in Germany.

I especially like a band called Fermata, or at least their groovy 1977 album Huascarán (the only one of theirs I know) which reminds me a lot of later Soft Machine. They’re actually Slovakian (i.e., not from Prague). But from the Czech side there’s another group called Modry Efekt -- or Blue Effect -- from Prague that a lot of people like. They often get compared to Yes, with their 1977 album Svitanie (or “Dawning”) usually highlighted as their best (like with these other bands, it’s the only record of theirs I’ve heard).

Been spinning all three of these the last few days. The Plastic People record is clearly accomplished and a fun listen, although not being able to follow the lyrics -- mostly drawn from the works of Czech poet Egon Bondy (another “underground” artist whose writings were censored) -- makes it hard for me to appreciate it fully. Modry Efekt also features some occasional vocals, although they are more part of an instrumental mix and do make you think of Yes (whose lyrics I’ve always found opaque, anyway). Meanwhile the all-instrumental Fermata disc is probably my favorite of the three -- super spacey and pleasurably complex (and great writing music).

Talk soon, once I’ve rock-and-rolled my way over to Europe.

Photo: EPT.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Big Numbers at the Bellagio

The World Poker Tour has returned to the Bellagio this week for the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic, a $10K buy-in event that has become a huge punctuation mark of sorts to the poker calendar each year.

I had the chance to help cover this one three years ago, the last time (I believe) it still had Doyle Brunson’s name attached to it. Dan Smith won the event that year, topping a 449-entry field to win about $1.16 million.

In 2014 they drew 586 entries, and Mohsin Charania won it, earning $1.18 milly. Then last year there were 639 entries, with Kevin Eyster taking the title and a big $1.59 million first prize.

This year the Five Diamond is even bigger with a whopping 791 entries, which means the first prize is way up to $1.938,118 and even the runner-up will win seven figures. It’s a re-entry tournament, which helped boost the overall total. Still, that’s a huge turnout, suggesting the Five Diamond has become kind of a must-play for many top pros as they plan out the close of their tournament year.

Am seeing Jennifer Tilly is second in chips out of about 270 players heading into tomorrow’s Day 3. Tilly sent a funny (and insightful) tweet late in the day alluding to her status near the top of the leaderboard.

“Trying to hold on to my big stack is exhausting!” she wrote. “It’s like trying to keep a giant rock from rolling down the hill.”

I know some players thrive when they have a big stack, and in fact some aren’t comfortable otherwise. But many (most of us?) are more used to being in the middle somewhere or on the short side, which can sometimes make the new challenges presented by having a lot of chips especially taxing or even anxiety-producing.

I guess the Five Diamond (and WPT) is itself kind of experiencing having built up a “big stack” (in a way), with such a big field having turned out. As always happens with tours and particular events, drawing huge numbers presents a new challenge for organizers, sometimes causing problems as they discover various reasons why it isn’t so easy to accommodate so many. Thus will certain events peak in terms of turnouts, then fall back to something more sustainable thereafter.

I haven’t followed things that closely, so don’t know how well the Bellagio -- which doesn’t have the biggest room -- managed things these last couple of days. Hope all has gone well, though, and that sucker can continue to grow going forward.

Have to admit Tilly’s giant rock metaphor made me think as well about my status in my Pigskin Pick’em pool, where I continue to maintain a lead (and have for most of of the season). It is exhausting -- that is, the amount of mental energy I’ve found myself putting into this sucker when both picking games and sweating them every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday.

Am hoping Tilly can keep that big rock of chips right where it is as the tournament continues. Meanwhile I’ll be jetting in the other direction tomorrow, heading over to Prague for the European Poker Tour’s last festival, where I imagine some of those playing in Las Vegas this week will be heading once they are done.

Will have to see how well EPT Prague does to close out both 2016 and the EPT (nominally, anyway, as the rebranding begins in January).

Image: “2008-03-26_IMG_0519_Las Vegas - Fountains at the Bellagio” (adapted), Dieter Weinelt. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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Monday, December 05, 2016


Watched the first half and part of the third quarter of that sad Carolina Panthers game last night versus the Seattle Seahawks. Carolina beat Seattle twice last year, including in the playoffs, but injuries and other roster changes have left the team a shadow of last year’s self, unable to compete with a quality opponent such as Seattle.

Team games like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer are endlessly curious in the way they challenge individuals to communicate with one another in a variety of ways. I’m referring not just to verbal communication, but also to what might be called “complementary physical action” that enables players to gain an advantage over opponents by their positioning, passing, and collective attempts to score. You know, teamwork.

Baseball demonstrates the same kind of communication, though often the relationship between, say, all nine players on the defensive side is less overt, with the communication more often occurring between pairs or groups of three. Meanwhile any given football play (for example) has all 11 on either side being forced to work together constantly, which is a lot harder than it looks sometimes.

As a result, whenever a given line-up endures turnover thanks to injuries or other changes in personnel, that presents a new test for those who remain. The coaches who manage them exert an important influence over how well the new groups of individuals interact, but so, too, do the players bring more or less ability in this regard. That is to say, over and above their individual talents, each has a certain skill set evoking that category by which many of us were evaluated starting back in grammar school -- “works well with others.”

The Panthers aren’t working so well with one another, leaving them 4-8 at present when they were a gaudy 12-0 at this point a year ago. And it seems clear enough that all the individual parts aren’t nearly as in harmony as before -- the “teamwork” thing isn’t working.

Football is like poker insofar as skill matters but luck likewise affects results. Take forced fumbles, for instance. Last year opponents fumbled 24 times against the Panthers during the regular season (1.5 times per game), and Carolina recovered 15 of them (62.5%). This year Carolina has caused 13 fumbles (just over one per game), but have only recovered five of them (about 38%).

Being able to force fumbles at a higher clip would suggest greater team defense (skill), but recovering them more often involves a combination of skill (being faster to the ball) and luck (being in an advantageous position when the ball pops out).

But truthfully, that hard-to-measure skill of “team chemistry” is more important than a few balls bouncing the wrong way. Being able to jump higher, run faster, and outmaneuver opponents physically is important, but being able to work together has an even greater influence on a team’s results.

Image: Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson..., Jack Kurzenknabe, public domain.

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Poker on Pause at the Unibet Open

If there’s one experience all poker tournament reporters have shared, it’s that anxiety associated with not being able to cover everything that’s happening.

No matter how many are assigned to an event, there’s always more going on that can be adequately chronicled. Heck, even if there is just one table left and there are two of you each taking turns watching hands and writing them up, there are often still lots of non-essential-but-still-meaningful details associated with any poker hand that necessarily escape the attention of an observer.

Most get used to this feeling, not letting it bother them too much that while they are at one table watching a hand there’s a lot going on elsewhere that cannot be covered. Even so, there will arise those moments when even seasoned tourney reporters wish everyone would just stop for a moment in order to give them a chance to catch up.

Today the gang at the Unibet Open created what I couldn’t help but experience as a visual representation of that very desire, shooting one of those “mannequin challenge” videos during a break at the Unibet Open Bucharest Main Event.

It’s fantastic, really, involving 300-some people, and like I say does a neat job dramatizing the reporter’s dream to freeze the action in order to get a look at everything that’s happening.

I think my favorite moments are Frank Op de Woerd’s best supporting actor cameo and the one-outer at the end. Take a look and enjoy:

Photo/video: Unibet Open.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

“It was a Euphenism”

I’ve graded thousands of student essays over the years. I’ve long considered such work one of the more important and meaningful aspects of teaching, regardless of the subject matter. Helping students learn how to communicate effectively is another way of helping them learn how to think in logical, constructive ways. That’s what they’ll carry forward and will help them later, more so than anything else they learn in a given class.

As important as it is, though, I’ll admit grading papers is among my least favorite things to do. It can be especially challenging when the essay is so riddled with problems -- both “surface-level” errors (grammar, usage, punctuation, etc.) and issues having to do with the content (poor reasoning, factual errors, improper citation, etc.) -- that it becomes hard to decide where to start with one’s response.

In such cases, it becomes necessary to prioritize the problems, picking one or two big ones to concentrate on rather than fuss over every detail and thus overwhelm the student with negative feedback.

Imagine the poker pro hearing a novice player describe a misplayed hand riddled with mistakes at every step. Rather than highlight each one, the pro decides to focus on the decision to limp in from early position with king-six offsuit as an initial misstep. Let’s talk about position and starting hand selection, thinks the pro, and for now leave aside other errors coming later in the hand.

Earlier today our president-elect gave a brief speech during the afternoon in Indianapolis, and I happened to tune in as it began. He spoke at a facility belonging to Carrier, the company that manufactures and distributes heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. The point of the speech was to celebrate news that the company would not follow an earlier plan to outsource jobs to Mexico and shut down its Indianapolis plant, with Trump himself claiming credit for having brokered the deal.

It was a complicated bit of propaganda, frankly, and a few (though not many) reporting on it have already pointed out the claims made by Trump regarding both the deal itself and the planned-for outsourcing of jobs aren’t necessarily to be taken at face value. It’s also highly unorthodox and even threatening to a free-market system for a president or president-elect to be directly involved in attempts to save individual companies or jobs in such a fashion. Again, some have noticed that, but most seem not to be focusing on that so much with their reports.

Setting those deeper issues aside, though, near the start of Trump’s remarks he referred to having made a promise on the campaign trail that the Carrier plant wouldn’t close and jobs wouldn’t be outsourced. In telling the story, he confessed he’d forgotten he’d ever made such a promise for Carrier specifically, though did recall making more general statements about keeping jobs in the U.S.

Apparently, Trump saw a worker -- “great guy, handsome guy” -- on television reiterating Trump’s assurance, saying “Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.” He had no memory of making such a pledge, but then he saw a video showing that indeed he had said exactly that. “They played my statement,” said Trump. “I said ‘Carrier will never leave.’”

“But that was a euphenism,” Trump continued. “I was talking about Carrier like all other companies from here on in.”

I had to rewind the DVR to make sure, and indeed that was what Trump said. Like a teacher grading a paper, it was one of those “where to begin?”-type moments.

In fact, transcripts and articles of the speech are silently editing out Trump’s weird mispronunciation, with those responsible perhaps feeling too embarrassed to bother drawing attention to the mistake.

But I will.

First, the word is euphemism, not “euphenism.” As they say on Monday Night Countdown, C’MON, MAN!

Second, what Trump is describing is not a euphemism. That would be choosing a less harsh way of describing something in order to remain polite or observe a certain level of decorum. You know, like saying “to pass away” instead of “to die.” Not really Trump’s style, if you think about it. I mean, after all, his catch phrase on Celebrity Apprentice wasn’t “You’re being let go.”

No, it was more accurately metonymy, although no one outside of English class is going to say “I was using metonymy” there. That’s when a speaker refers vaguely to something specific (like, say, “Washington”) in order to suggest something more general (like “the government”).

Third, it seems more clear that what Trump really intended to say was that the promise he’d made (and forgotten) on the campaign trail regarding Carrier shouldn’t have been taken literally. “I didn’t mean it that way,” said Trump, implying a kind of amazement that the worker he’d seen on TV had taken his words at face value.

“I wonder if he’s being sarcastic,” added Trump when recalling how he initially responded to seeing the fellow saying “Trump promised us that we’re not leaving.”

You can see where this is going.

There’s a surface-level problem, a bald-faced, easy-to-spot “error” that can be easily corrected by circling a word and writing out the correct spelling nearby.

But the word is the wrong word, so that would require more writing in the margin to correct.

But there’s an even more serious problem being demonstrated regarding a lack of appreciation of the relationship between words and what they normally signify. The speaker doesn’t believe what he is saying, and when someone else does he’s surprised, thinking his auditor perhaps isn’t being truthful (is “sarcastic”) when expressing such belief.

There’s not enough room in the margin to explain all of this. And even if there were, someone with such a strange understanding of words and their meanings would likely have a hard time following the explanation, anyway.

I think this is the position in which a lot of media covering Trump might be at present, finding it a lot easier to make “silent edits” than to try to investigate and explain all of the deeper, more profound errors being demonstrated just about every time he opens his mouth.

I liked the tweet appearing below that popped up in my timeline yesterday after the speech. Its conclusion is not really an available option to the writing teacher, but it’s one the present circumstance seems to be forcing upon a lot of people:

Image: “blah blah blah” (adapted), Michelle Milla. CC BY 2.0.

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