Saturday, October 22, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Malta, Day 3 -- Double-Knockout

Another long-but-not-too-long day here as I helped cover Day 3 of the Italian Poker Tour Malta Main Event.

They played down from 31 to the eight-handed final table, but kept on going in order to get the tournament down to six for Sunday. The pace was relatively steady throughout the day and night, getting us to eight-handed in good enough time. Then came a lull, and with the stacks moderately deep it appeared it might take a while to get to the end of the night.

There was one short stack -- Filip Demby -- but he’d been folding for a long while and appeared ready to do so much longer until a premium hand finally came along. But suddenly another player, Daniel Portiansky, open-pushed his below average stack, and when it folded to Demby he kind of surprised us by calling all in.

There was still another player left to act, Alexander Lakhov, and after just a short bit of consideration he called. Having the other two covered, Lakhov tabled pocket queens while the all-in players each had ace-king. The board ran clean, and boom -- we were done.

That got us out of the tournament room in good enough time to take another dining trip, this time to the bottom of the Hilton Malta right next to the casino to a Thai restaurant called the Blue Elephant.

The food was fantastic. For a starter I had the fancily-named “Pearls of the ‘Blue Elephant,’” kind of a sampler of the best starters that included chicken satay, spring roll, Thai fish cake, dim sum, crispy paper prawn, and enoki seafood salad. Then for entree I had the Massaman lamb curry with coconut milk along with Thai sweet potatoes (with cashews), and rice.

To follow that earlier one that ended Day 3, dinner was another double-knockout. I wish I’d had two stomachs to eat it all a second time.

Of that entree, the menu said “this dish was described in a poem by King Rama II.” I’ll refrain from waxing too lyrical about it, using that precedent as an excuse to get on with other things. Still, the dish was as delish as one could wish.

Both Ismael Bojang and Dominik Panka made that final six. Check the the PokerStars blog on Sunday to see if either of them can grab the IPT trophy.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Malta, Day 2 -- Back at It

My second day of reporting here in Malta involved my helping cover Day 2 of the Italian Poker Tour Malta Main Event, a €1,100 buy-in tournament that saw 775 enter and now just 31 advancing on to Saturday’s penultimate day of play. The work has really begun.

A decent number of recognizable folks still left in this one, including Dominik Panka, Rasmus Agerskov, Ismael Bojang, Stean Jedlicka, and Cate Hall. Ole Schemion, Martin Staszko, and Pierre Neuville were among those cashing today. I’ve mentioned before how the EPTs generally speaking often feature a high percentage of good tournament players, and such can even be the case in these relatively lower buy-in prelims or “side events,” even though this one is labeled a “Main” by the IPT.

There were a lot of semi-unusual hands (runner-runner saves, straight flushes, quads, etc.), as we highlighted a little at the start of the end-of-day recap. As happens with players, though, after many years of doing it’s hard not to look on such out-of-the-ordinary happenings with a somewhat clinical eye. Which is probably a good thing, from a reporter’s point of view, as you are better able to keep track of it all.

We got out early enough to take a stroll a couple of blocks over to have a fantastic dinner at the Lore & Fitch steakhouse here in Saint Julian’s. Had a filet mignon which was excellent, and my buddies sampled some Italian beer which they liked a lot. Have already experienced some way above average eats as well as some very hospitable service, too, which has made everything more comfortable.

Still, I miss being on the farm and find myself getting bit a little earlier than usual by the homesick bug. Maybe it’s all those cats meowing that I sometimes hear even up in my hotel room, making me think of our Freckles and Sweetie, both of whom like to meow a lot, too. Was a little frustrated over the last couple of days as well knowing I couldn’t be at home to help out with things when a little bit of trouble arose on the farm here at week’s end -- nothing too major, but felt a bit helpless being five thousand-plus miles from being able to do anything.

I sometimes will refer to whatever digs I end up in while on the road my “home away from home,” but that’s just a phrase. It’s never really “home” out here -- just more or less accommodating while I’m away.

As always, head over to the PokerStars blog to follow along with this IPT and the other events happening on this here archipelago.

Photo: courtesy Manuel Kovsca / PokerStars blog.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Malta, Day 1 -- Gambling with the Nuts

Day 1b of the Italian Poker Tour Main Event here in Malta was a busy one, with a big turnout of well over 500 players bringing the total field for the €1,100 event up to 775.

Work-wise the day was fun, highlighted by getting to reunite with the various folks who regularly help cover and run these European Poker Tour festivals. The Portomaso Casino is nice and the tournament room well arranged to make it easy getting around. We’re actually perched a couple of floors up from the players (see the shot above pointing up at the media section). That means we have some stairs to negotiate frequently, although escalators and an elevator help in that regard.

Not too much stands out as far as the poker goes -- it being a Day 1 flight, that’s typically the case. Probably the most memorable hand I saw involved William Kassouf getting knocked out when his pocket aces were cracked versus an opponent’s pocket fours, a four on the board doing him in.

“Gambling with the nuts,” he said (more than once) as a kind of punctuation mark on his tournament, echoing the phrase we’ve heard a lot during the WSOP coverage on ESPN.

I ended up talking to Kassouf sometime afterwards a little bit about the hand -- I’d caught part of it but missed a preflop step, and he patiently helped fill in what I’d missed. A friendly dude, as has come across at times on the shows and pretty consistently on the interviews I’ve heard.

As I was talking about earlier in the week, everyone is forming opinions about him right now, with most doing so on the abbreviated evidence of the ESPN coverage. Not to say my interaction wasn’t also very limited, but he seemed an amiable fellow.

Cutting it short as I’m still in catch-up mode as far as sleep goes. Go over to the the PokerStars blog to follow along with what’s happening in Malta.

Photo: courtesy Manuel Kovsca / PokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Malta, Arrival -- What’s New, Pussycat?

Hello from the Mediterranean! I made it to Malta in one piece, once again experiencing some run good with my travels.

The overnight flight to Munich was quite comfortable. Flew Lufthansa, who have always provided a nice ride in my experience. Watched an old episode of Columbo (awesome, like they all are) and the recent film The Nice Guys starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling (inconsistent, but entertaining), so was happily locked in the 1970s with Same Difference-like crime stories.

Was another short flight from there to Malta. Got to my hotel by mid-afternoon and not too long after got up with my buddy Gareth who is here to play. We ended up taking a longish walk all of the way to Valletta where we grabbed a bite to eat. Really liked getting out and looking around, given that this is a new place for me.

I’m staying relatively close to the Portomaso Casino where the festival is playing out, near the Spinola Bay and looking out on the St. Julian’s Bay. Our winding walk down south to Valletta meant circling inland around the Marsamxett Harbour and a marina past all of the many hotels, shops, and restaurants -- two or three miles, at least (although I don’t know for sure as I didn't bring my Fitbit).

Along the way we chatted a bit about the drive over from the airport and how we both saw a lot of construction and less immediately impressive landscapes and architecture than is the case in the more touristy central region of the island.

Malta is an archipelago consisting of three islands, with the one named Malta the largest of the three. I was looking online to find the square mileage of Malta (122 sq. miles) is less than half that of the city of Charlotte, with about 450,000 inhabitants or so packed in that small area.

Speaking of, the sidewalks were fairly jammed with people all of the way to Valletta, the cloudy skies not keeping them inside. We parted after dinner and I walked back alone as night descended along with what ultimately became a fairly steady rainfall, and that didn’t scatter the crowds either. The scene somewhat recalled that of Punta del Este thanks to the close proximity of the water and the many boats and yachts, although Uruguay was a lot less populated last month during its off-season.

Lots of stray cats about, including these two at left relaxing of the hood of a car.

It was over in Sliema (on the way to Valletta) I spotted the 10-foot high cat statue pictured up top as dusk was starting to settle. Reading about the statue, it’s the work of an artists named Matthew Pandolfino who put it up there in the Ta’Qali National Park about seven years ago, and apparently other artists are invited to paint it over every couple of months. (You can click on the pics to embiggen.)

After I got back I took a quick trip over to the casino to reunite with some folks and get a sense of things. Gonna pack in early here as I need to catch up sleep missed last night while flying over.

Will be helping cover the second and final Day 1 flight of the Italian Poker Tour (IPT) Main Event, a €1,100 buy-in tournament that drew 219 runners for Wednesday’s Day 1a. There’s a €10K event going on already as well, with a number of other high rollers and the Main Event coming up over the next week-and-a-half.

Check the PokerStars blog for updates from the festival. And keep checking here for other stuff from my prowling about with the Maltese kitties.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On the Move to Malta

Writing a quick one here from the airport where I’m waiting once again to begin another tourney journey. Heading to Malta this time for the European Poker Tour festival which has already begun there on the tiny archipelago just off Italy’s boot.

This’ll be a new destination for your humble scribbler. I’ll admit I don’t know a heck of a lot at present about where I’m heading.

Back during my full-time teaching days I had a colleague swing a year-long sabbatical to Malta, although I never really talked much with him afterwards about his experience. Of course, Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel The Maltese Falcon is one of my fave reads, although that book has about as much to do with Malta as it does falcons.

In fact, toward the latter part of my detective novel Same Difference -- which is pretty deliberately meant as an homage of sorts to Hammett, Chandler, Cain, and other hard-boiled greats -- characters joke around a little about that novel’s story and how the Maltese falcon at the heart of it turns out to be a fake. (There’s a similar reference to the even more elusive postman in Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.)

We’ll see what comes of this new poker plot I’m embarking on, and will try to sort out the important from the trivial. As always, I’ll try my best to keep in touch here as it goes.

More later from the Mediterranean!

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Like a Boss

Been following those WSOP Main Event shows on ESPN, which have now dwindled down to the last couple of weeks prior to the “November Nine” (which actually starts October 30).

The pair of shows from Sunday (episodes 11 and 12) focused on the first part of Day 7, starting with 27 players and only getting down to 21. A ton of time was spent highlighting William Kassouf’s table talk and tanking, with the last hour in particular dominated by examples as well as the rest of the table getting increasingly upset about his “speech play” and very deliberate pace.

It’s a bit misleading, I think, to watch all of this play out in edited form as we are, although that isn’t preventing many from weighing in on Kassouf, the WSOP staff, and the other players. I will say that ESPN has managed to create a fairly compelling mini-drama out of it all, fashioning a kind of “villain” role for Kassouf (reality TV-style) over whom viewers can get animated as they take sides.

Knowing how things end up going for Kassouf later in the day, it’s hard not to foresee some sort of “karmic” climax to his performance (spoiler alert -- he runs kings into aces to fall in 17th).

The ganging up on Kassouf shown this week at times seemed every bit as bothersome as Kassouf’s own antics, but as I say, it’s hard to judge without having been there. Even being there, it would be hard to know for sure how to assess what was happening, given we can’t see players’ cards and thus can’t say with certainty whether or not they are playing their hands in “acceptable” ways (scare quotes deliberately added).

Nearly 10 minutes of the latter portion of this week’s shows were devoted to a single hand in which Kassouf opened, a player shoved a short-though-not-insignificant stack, and Kassouf had to decide whether or not to call with pocket treys. He correctly assumed he might be racing (the shover had two unpaired overcards), but his contemplation ended up getting interrupted and delayed further by other players’ objections plus a lengthy visit from floor staff.

It seemed a lot like Kassouf had successfully managed to get nearly everyone to crack -- players, staff, and perhaps some of those in attendance, too. Even Lon McEachern and Norman Chad humorously got in on it, with Chad acting as though he was being affected as well.

I’m not saying I’d have enjoyed being part of that scene, but from the outside (and through the heavily blinkered lens of ESPN’s edits) it sure seemed like Kassouf had everyone right where he wanted them, as though he were the one in charge of everything.

You know, like a boss (as Kassouf likes to say of himself). And we know how much poker players prefer to be their own bosses.

Image: “‘Like a Boss’ T-Shirt @Target LOL Spotted by Mike Mozart” (adapted), Mike Mozart. CC BY 2.0.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Poker Hall of Fame: Carlos Mortensen and Todd Brunson Make 52

Saw yesterday how Carlos Mortensen and Todd Brunson had been elected as the 51st and 52nd members of the Poker Hall of Fame. Now’s the time for the World Series of Poker to create a commemorative deck of cards featuring pictures of all 52 members.

If I’d had a vote I certainly would’ve given support to Mortensen’s candidacy, though there were other nominees I’d have probably chosen this year ahead of the younger Brunson (though he’s certainly deserving).

Mortensen is a WSOP Main Event champion (2001), and I tend to have a bit of a prejudice in favor of that select group when it comes to the PHOF. With three WPT titles, nearly $12 million in career tourney earnings, and a near-miss to make a second WSOP Main Event final table in 2013 (when he finished 10th), he was a shoo-in. That’s not even counting the highly advanced chip stacking skills that further distinguish the Spaniard (originally from Ecuador).

Todd Brunson has won a lot in tournaments as well (nearly $4.3 million, including a WSOP bracelet in 2005), although he’s much better known as a high-stakes cash game player. His notable heads-up battles with Andy Beal -- including a $13.5 million win over two days (as chronicled in Michael Craig’s The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King), then another belated reprise versus Beal in early 2015 which Brunson is said to have won another $5 million -- are legend-making and probably enough to earn him serious PHOF consideration.

I’m going to guess he got a lot of support from the living Poker Hall of Famers, and perhaps not quite as much from the media who voted. Speaking of living PHOFers, he joins his dad, Doyle Brunson, as a PHOF member, which has to be fairly unusual as far as hall of fames go, generally speaking.

The only other father-son combo I can think of in any sports hall of fame would be Bobby and Brett Hull, even if Ken Griffey, Sr. and Jr. spring to mind (Jr. got in this year, Sr. isn’t a HOFer).

In any case, congrats to both. And if the WSOP is reading, feel free to steal that special WSOP PHOF deck idea!


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The UIGEA: 10 Years Ago Today

Ten years? Ten? Hmm... can we even remember that far back?

A couple of weeks’ worth of dread preceded the president signing the bill into law. There’d been a few months of less specific fretting, too, as I recall, although few seemed genuinely concerned.

In July 2006 this blog was only three months old. A lot of my posts to that point had been about playing poker -- online poker, that is. Not unlike many of the other hundreds of poker blogs at the time. Occasionally I’d write about other things -- hard-boiled novels, for instance -- as well as other poker-related topics emanating from “the rumble.”

I did notice that month the passage of a bill in the U.S. House, something called the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act,” and wrote a post here at the time about it titled “Raising a Glass to the Return of Prohibition.” I can’t honestly say that when writing that post I was all that concerned about my ability to play online poker being curbed at all, though.

One reason why I wasn’t so worried was the fact that the bill the House had passed wasn’t the much harsher seeming “Internet Gambling Prohibition Act,” the one certain legislators had been working over for the previous decade or so. Rather the “UIGEA” -- the acronym some of us would become very familiar with (and others consistently screw up) -- was only focused on credit card companies and financial transaction providers, meaning playing online poker wasn’t a problem. And, well, getting money to and from the sites didn’t seem like it would be a problem, either, or at least all that seemed too abstract at the time to bother us.

Besides, the sucker still had be passed by the Senate, then signed by the president. And pretty much everyone in the poker world who’d actually been following these attempts at legislating online gambling were predicting that wouldn’t happen.

We made it to the end of September 2006, then woke up one Saturday morning to realize the unthinkable had happened. The UIGEA had been snuck onto another piece of legislation and passed through the Senate with hardly any resistance at all. I wrote a post that morning titled “Deals in the Dead of Night” remarking on the event, still naively occupying a position of only moderate concern.

I noted at the time how it was already a given that then-president George W. Bush would sign the bill into law, but could only muster the opinion that “then things should get more interesting” once he did.

I’m remembering the following two weeks. It was that Monday, October 2nd, that PartyPoker (now styled “partypoker”) announced it would be cutting off the Americans. Somewhere mid-week I remember having a phone conversation with Party support and having it confirmed that yes, indeed, I would have to withdraw my funds as I wouldn’t be able to play on the site once the bill became law.

Like everyone else I began to wonder if all the other sites would follow suit, but both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were quick to confirm they wouldn’t be pulling out of the U.S. It all seemed a lot more uncertain, then, as we got the news that week that the UIGEA would be signed by Bush the following Friday the 13th, a suitably ominous-seeming day for the event.

We got to October 13, 2006, and while sitting at a desk with a banner reading “Securing the Homeland” Bush indeed signed the “SAFE Port Act” into law. In his comments Bush spoke of how the law “will make this nation more prepared, more prosperous, and more secure.” He went on to thank various legislators, reiterate the importance of protecting Americans from terrorism and making our borders and seaports secure, and winning the “war on terror.”

In his comments Bush didn’t mention the internet at all, nor the UIGEA which had been sneakily appended to the bill before its passage. It seemed almost like he might not even be aware of it.

Some of us were aware of it, though. And gradually more and more of us would become aware of it, especially four-and-a-half years later when Black Friday suddenly occurred as a kind of a belated next step in the UIGEA’s “long game.”

And now, exactly one decade after the UIGEA was signed into law, all of us here in the United States who’d like to play poker online (as they do in much of the rest of the world) are necessarily aware of its consequences -- even if we don’t know the reason why.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Unpredictable Leader

Among the various, repeated themes of this year’s presidential election has been the unpredictability of the Republican party’s unbelievable choice for a nominee.

Ever since he announced his candidacy in mid-June 2015, observers have been focused intently both on his strange, highly unorthodox campaign and his penchant for saying and tweeting out odd, often unexpected comments and criticisms -- statements made all the more strange-seeming given his status as a candidate and eventually the frontrunner choice of his party.

I mentioned just a couple of days ago my Richard Nixon course and how the current presidential campaign does (or does not) compare to ones from the past. In the course we discuss some of Nixon’s poker strategy, something he himself talked about at length in a few different contexts. There’s one quote in particular from Nixon that we as a class tend to go back to frequently when discussing both his poker playing and the strategy he’d employ in campaigns and while in office -- a quote about being unpredictable.

The quote actually comes amid a discussion of how poker and politics tend to overlap, so the advice Nixon is putting forward actually relates to both. Speaking in 1983, Nixon complains about what he calls “the almost insatiable tendency of American politicians to want to put everything on the table. Their inability to know when to bluff, when to call, and above everything else, how to be unpredictable. Unpredictability is the greatest asset or weapon that a leader can have.... And unless he’s unpredictable, he’s going to find that he loses a great deal of his power.”

To be fair, Nixon was speaking primarily of a president dealing with foreign heads of state, although the observation applies not only to poker but to other areas of political strategy. Nixon often in his campaigns made big “moves” or “plays” that were unanticipated by many of his opponents. As president he also often would be unpredictable, often using televised speeches to make genuinely surprising announcements about Vietnam, the economy, various policies and initiatives, his trips to China and Russia, and later on, Watergate.

I wrote a little about this quote and its connection to the Republican candidate earlier this year, responding to a pundit who was congratulating him for being “the best poker player in the Republican field” and in particular being very good at being unpredictable.

I’ve taught the Nixon course a few times now, and during our discussions of the quote we’ve tended to agree with the idea that unpredictability may well be a good campaign strategy. We can also readily see how it might be a favored trait when dealing with foreign powers, especially when in conflict with them.

However, we’ve also recognized that we don’t necessarily like our leaders to be too unpredictable with us. We need to be able to count on presidents not to say or do things that don’t at least conform with our idea of what we expect of them (never mind wildly oppose that idea). Even if they present ideas or courses of actions we hadn’t specifically anticipated, we need those ideas and courses of actions to fit with our earlier “read” of the person whom we’ve chosen to lead us.

That’s because even though it may be hard to remember when we think about our relationship to our elected leaders, we aren’t their opponents. At least we shouldn’t be.

The unpredictability of the Republicans’ current leader -- earlier heralded as savvy and strategic -- has become much less celebrated over recent weeks. It has also become a genuine cause of concern for those contemplating what his presidency might be like, including among many of those formerly enthused about his unpredictability.

What happens next? It’s hard to say. And yeah, that’s unsettling.

Image: “I wonder if #TheDonald reads every tweet about him” (adapted), Steve Baker. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hail to the New Bubblebassador

This year’s World Series of Poker Main Event saw the top 1,011 finishers make the money. From a starting field of 6,737 for the $10,000 buy-in event, that meant the top 15% cashed. Those who made the minimum of $15,000 still realized a decent return, plus the not insignificant story of cashing in the world’s most famous poker tournament.

This year a fellow named Adam Furgatch was the player who late on Day 3 found himself finishing 1,012th, one spot shy of the money. All in for exactly one big blind with Q-9 versus Georgios Zisimopoulos’s A-7, Furgatch failed to improve and was out even before hand-for-hand play could begin.

The Californian was hardly in sour spirits, though. In fact, from his perspective, he’d earned a pretty neat story out of the deal, too.

I remember reading Howard Swains’s post about Furgatch’s knockout on the PokerStars blog back in July, where Howard noted Furgatch “actually seemed pretty delighted with the way things panned out.”

Knowing he was either barely going to miss the money or make that min-cash, Furgatch found a lot of silver lining in the result -- which also happened to include a free entry into next year’s WSOP Main Event (not a bad consolation prize).

“I was going to go out soon more than likely, with my chip stack,” Furgatch told Howard. “But now I get the experience of being the bubble boy.”

Marty Derbyshire talked to Furgatch for PokerNews as well, and he similarly told Marty how much he valued the experience of bubbling, noting that “the difference between that and maybe going out a few hands later for an extra $5,000... the experience may be worth $5,000.”

I was reminded of Furgatch this week when watching the new episodes of the WSOP Main Event coverage on ESPN. They’re up to Day 6, but for some reason decided this week to flash back to Day 3 and share Furgatch talking again about how interesting and worthwhile the experience of being the bubble was to him.

Along the way, this year’s 1,012th-place finisher jokingly invented a title for himself.

“I must say that I will take my duties as bubblebassador -- poker’s bubblebassador -- very seriously,” says Furgatch. “Because for everybody who plays for hours and hours and days and days and doesn’t quite get to the money... just never give up, never give up. Which I didn’t and all of a sudden something very strange and magical happened. So you just never know in the game of poker.”

Had to grin at that, as well as his concluding promise to “do my best to represent all... the poker bubblers everywhere.”

Just by inventing and assuming the “bubblebassador” title, Furgatch has already gotten his tenure off to an excellent start. Which is important, because bubblers tend to start better than they finish.

Image: ESPN

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