Sunday, May 01, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 6 -- A Tale of Two Sevens

That’s a shot looking back at Monaco from the bay, one I'll admit I didn't take but rather grabbed off the EPT Live stream earlier today which I was locked in and watching all day.

Helped cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event today, which meant a day of sitting rather than running up and down stairs and back and forth across the Sporting Club. A nice change for sure, and the final table proved exciting enough with the Frenchman Stephane Dossetto outlasting the entertaining Niall Farrell of Scotland to win.

Interesting bit of uncanniness at the end of the event, as Dossetto won with a final hand of pocket sevens. His name -- as he made a point of telling us the night before -- means “two-seven,” at which time he made a reference to winning a hand with a seven on his way to the final table. So his winning with two sevens was curious, as was the fact that he made a set on the last hand (another word contained within his name).

When the night was done, Nick and I were out in time for me to check in on the Charlotte Hornets-Miami Heat score in their Game 7. Confirming the Hornets had already fallen behind by 30 in the third quarter, we scurried back over to the Mozza restaurant we’d visited and enjoyed a week before, both getting the kobe beef ravioli and that octopus salad I’d had the last time. C'était délicieux.

Probably the most fun of the whole day was walking with Nick through Monaco with only a semi-perfect memory of where the restaurant was, then between the two of us together managing to angle ourselves exactly toward our destination. Wasn’t the most difficult of challenges, mind you, but still felt like a welcome victory.

Got back to the room before midnight, and so am looking forward to a decent night’s worth of sleep after having come up short in the z’s department last night. In the hopes of achieving that goal, I’ll cut things off here.

If you’re curious about how that FPS Monaco final table went, check out the recap. Moving over to the Main Event today, which moves into Day 2 with what looks like a huge field, so check in over at PokerStars blog for that as well tomorrow.

Image: EPT Live.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 5 -- Cracked

“That should be some sort of art installation.”

So suggested Remko Rinkema, speaking of the cracked window there to the left. One of a few looking out the media room onto the Mediterranean Sea, it has been cracked in this way for as long as anyone can remember, and there are a lot of lengthy memories among those who have been covering EPTs over the last dozen years.

Was a little overcast today, making for a less stunning view through those cracks. More often the sky is a light shade of blue and the water a deeper one, with cruise ships typically passing to and fro to create an animated postcard constantly in motion behind us as we work.

The window takes on a symbolic significance with each passing day, too, as everyone tries to hold it together while the festival unrelentingly marches onward. In truth, aside from a few sore throats and a cough here and there, everyone seems to be managing just fine as we approach the halfway point of this year’s European Poker Tour Grand Final.

Five days are done, and six more are left. Today’s fifth day was a long one for your humble scribbler who again was helping cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event. Meanwhile the EPT Main got started, the €100K Super High Roller finished up (won by Ole Schemion with Mustapha Kanit part of the heads-up chop, natch), and a myriad of other side stuff was going on as well to make for another crowded time at the Sporting Club.

Our tournament started with 1,261 runners, 60 of whom returned for Day 3. From that bunch just six are left to play tomorrow, with France’s Stephane Dossetto the leader just ahead of the often entertaining British player Niall Farrell. They’ll be streaming “cards up” coverage of the final table on Sunday, so if you tune in over at EPT Live starting at 2 p.m. Monaco time (that’s 8 a.m. ET), you can watch this one play out to a conclusion.

None of the players seemed to crack up today, at least not in observable ways. A decision made near the end of the night to keep on playing down to six players (rather than stop at eight) was met with approval. It’ll make for a shorter day on Sunday, for certain, which I think also will make things a little easier for these final half-dozen if they wish to jump in the second Day 1 flight of the Main.

Check out yesterday’s coverage of all the big events over on the PokerStars blog, and tune in today for some FPS final table fun as well, as I’m sure James Hartigan, Joe Stapleton, and Matt Broughton of EPT Live will have viewers cracking up.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Days 3-4 -- If We’re Counting

Thought with yesterday’s anniversary post I’d combine a couple of days’ worth of base-touching regarding how things are going in Monaco this week -- days 3 and 4 here (out of 11, if we’re counting).

In truth, the two days weren’t all that different from one another, as both once again saw me spending most of my waking hours over at the Sporting Club at the EPT Grand Final helping cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event.

On Thursday the tournament played out Day 1b, which was énorme with 912 players coming out for that flight alone. The 1,261-player total for the event well exceeds the 993 who played it last year, and marks the second-biggest field in the six-year history of the FPS.

They ended up seating folks all over the place in a few different locations, which meant a lot of steps for your humble scribbler (and scrambler). We added still more to our total when going for a jaunt over the border to Nice for dinner at the same Vietnamese restaurant we enjoyed going to a year ago.

I wrote a post here then titled “Monaco is a Maze” describing the walk to the restaurant and featuring a picture of the steep stairwell going up about five flights to get to that eating establishment. Well, this year that stairwell was blocked, which meant a long, winding trek and a lot of uphill to get there this time, then we found a slightly shorter path involving a couple of mysterious elevators that helped get us back. (Over 16,000 steps that day, if we’re counting)

That night ended with one of those silly moments only those who do a lot of this tournament reporting thing find fun. Having literally eyeballed a player’s stack for no more than one-third of a second before the chips got dumped into a bag, I ventured a guess to my blogging partner-in-crime Nick they totaled 263,000 and turned out to have guessed the amount exactly. This story I then repeated at least a half-dozen times before leaving as joking self-promotion of extraordinary powers of perception.

Friday saw the bubble burst, as pictured above -- can you spot me in the crowd? (click to embiggen) -- after which the big field got carved all of the way down to 60 players. Again, it was mostly business as usual, reporting-wise, with Nick and I surviving the day in good shape and enjoying a surprisingly early finish as staff decided to cut things short by a level.

Poker-wise, it was interesting to see the Brazilian Leonardo Pires enter the day as the chip leader, more than double his stack during the first two hours to sit with over 700,000 when no one else had half that, then in a little over two hours more get knocked out with a min-cash. Pires was the same fella who led several days in a row at the PCA this year before going out in 13th.

I’ve actually already slept a couple of hours tonight (and yes, I’m counting), and so am gonna try not to distract myself looking at score updates from Game 6 of Hornets-Heat and go back to sleep right now. I mean all these mouton aren’t going to count themselves.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Decade of Hard-Boiled Poker

Ten years of blogging?! What kind of applesauce is that?

It’s true. Ten years ago today, inspired by other poker bloggers, some podcasts, and a love of poker and writing, I decided on a whim to begin this blog. No shinola.

I write today from the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. I suppose ten years ago I could have imagined coming here for some other reason, perhaps. Vera Valmore and I did spend a whole year in France once before, during which we loved visiting Nice. But I couldn’t have then pictured a scenario where I’d be here writing about poker.

Nor would I have imagined going other places to do the same, as I’ve done a lot over recent years. And all because of this here blog. Amid my other posts on Hard-Boiled Poker, I’ve been submitting dispatches from tournaments all over the globe, including from Las Vegas, Ukraine, Peru, Morocco, Atlantic City, Uruguay, Macau, Pennsylvania, France, Connecticut, Florida, Spain, Niagara Falls, Chile, Canada, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Bahamas, Monaco, Brazil, Ireland, and even my home state of North Carolina (at Cherokee).

Such “Travel Reports” have been just part of the story, of course, among the 2,750 posts (including this one) that have appeared here. For the first five years (up through Black Friday), a lot of the focus was on my own low-limit poker adventures, mostly online. Other topics -- film, literature, music, television, politics, law, business, history, science, math, philosophy, psychology, and (more recently) life on a farm -- have been the focus of all of this relentless scribbling, too, with all of them somehow having something to do with poker the blog's leitmotiv, poker.

It was around Black Friday most of the other poker blogs all started going away. Their fading began a couple of years before, really, mostly in direct correlation to the rise of Twitter. I got my @hardboiledpoker account in 2009, and it was then most of the seats at the blogging tables began emptying in earnest. Still a few of us grinding along, though, for some reason finding it necessary to communicate in chunks lasting more than a sentence or two at at time.

The blog started as a hobby, then quickly became an unexpected entry into a large, fun, exciting community of others also enthusiastic about poker -- and about writing and reading about poker. Then came other opportunities and eventually a second, unexpected career for me, a life twist I described several years ago in a post called “Detour.”

The title of that post was an homage to the 1945 hard-boiled film starring Tom Neal as a down-on-his-luck hitchhiker. Neal’s character takes an unforeseen turn in that story, as did my own. I certainly didn’t see such a change coming ten years ago, back when I invented this “Short-Stacked Shamus” character and borrowed Neal’s image to use as a kind of avatar for it.

A “shamus” is a detective. And his being “short-stacked” suggests a down-on-his-luck context for his sleuthing, as though his situation mirrors in some way the desperate one Neal’s character (who becomes kind of a detective) endures in the film.

None of that really describes me or the adventure on which this blog has carried me. No, I’ve run especially well here, and it’s all thanks to those of you who have stopped by now and then or perhaps even more consistently. Friendly and generous responses kept me writing in the beginning. Continued good feedback kept me going in the middle. And the knowledge that some are still coming around even ten years on has kept me at it still today.

Thanks to everyone for making all of this traveling around -- both out into the world and the inner traveling that necessarily happens with every post -- so enjoyable for me. No shinola.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 2 -- Step by Step

Was a long one at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo today helping over the first Day 1 flight of the France Poker Series Main Event. Basically a noon-to-midnight workday this time, as it will similarly be for the next few days for your humble scribbler.

The poker went about as expected, with a big turnout of 349 entries -- well over the number who played Day 1a of this same event a year ago, which suggests tomorrow’s second and last Day 1 flight will be fairly massive. They managed to play down to just 91 tonight, although I expect tomorrow we’ll see the Day 1b field end with more than twice that still with chips.

Lots of steps today registered on the FitBit -- something like 14,000, I think, just about all taken going back and forth between the media room and the main tournament area. Started to flag near the end after having had only four or so hours’ sleep last night, but made it through more or less in one piece.

At least I didn’t start out the day playing a set of tennis as did my blogging colleagues, Stephen and Howard. They bought a pass to play over at the nearby Monte Carlo Country Club, something I believe they’ve done before in past years, and after playing happened to see none other than Novak Djokovic, currently the top-ranked men’s tennis player in the world (by a lot), working out on a nearby court. No shinola!

Not too much to report otherwise so I’m gonna cut it short and try to get some more rest tonight. Am a little tempted to stay up late for the Hornets-Heat Game 5 (which starts at 2 a.m. here, but I imagine I wouldn’t last very long even if I stayed up late enough for the tip.

Better to rest up for another day full of steps tomorrow. Meanwhile, check the PokerStars blog for all the scoop on what happened today both in the FPS Monaco and the second day of the 10K Single Re-Entry High Roller.

Photo: courtesy Jules Pochy/PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 1 -- Early Fireworks and a Side of lasagnaaammm

After sleeping a solid 12 hours -- from before midnight to almost noon -- your humble scribbler had more or less gotten his body clock in order here in Monaco and was ready for the first day of action at the European Poker Tour Grand Final at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo.

Thankfully today’s Day 1 of the €10,000 Single Re-Entry High Roller event wasn’t scheduled to start until 6 p.m., which gave me a chance to get a few things done and relax some more during the afternoon before heading over. The tournament drew a bigger field than I think was expected, with nearly 180 entries on the first day (and late registration open a couple of levels into tomorrow’s Day 2).

Aside from reuniting with several good friends and colleagues with whom I get to work at each of these EPTs, there were a couple of other highlights during the day.

One was an unexpected fireworks show happening out over the Mediterranean late in the evening -- loud, bright, and majestic. Our work area has a few large windows looking out over the sea, each framing a nice view of the show. (That’s a shot by Rene Villi of the PokerStars blog up above, taken from the outside.)

The other came via Marc Convey, my longtime blogging partner with whom I’ve been working on events for something like eight years now. Knowing how I enjoy the personality of the Italian player Mustapha Kanit, a.k.a. “lasagnaaammm,” Convey -- without my knowing it -- got Mustapha to deliver a personal update of his chip count for me:

Gonna cut it off there and hit the hay now, as I’m looking at a much shorter night’s sleep tonight before getting back at it tomorrow starting at noon. I’ll Moving over to help cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event, where the field will be considerably bigger. Meanwhile you can check the PokerStars blog to see what happened during today’s action.

Photo: courtesy René Velli/PokerStars blog.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Arrival -- From Green to Blue

Bonjour mes amis. I am writing late on a Monday night from a hotel in Monaco, having arrived here earlier today. It’s my home-away-from-home for the next couple of weeks as I’ll be helping with the reporting from the European Poker Tour’s final stop of Season 12.

Took the red-eye to London, then had another two-hour hop down to Nice. Both flights were fine, with the first half of the transatlantic one occupied by dinner and a viewing of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Had seen it long ago, of course, but this time through watched with a much more thorough understanding of the different conspiracies Stone weaves together to create his narrative. Also knew practically all of the bit players introduced throughout the story -- i.e., the historical versions, I mean -- and so was even aware of embellishments and omissions here and there.

The all-encompassing monologue delivered by Donald Sutherland’s “Mr. X” (based on L. Fletcher Prouty) is the great highlight, of course, signaling a recognition, I think, that the scope of the mystery is ultimately too great for any single person to be capable of tackling alone. In other words, a conspiracy of investigators (which now would have to involve members of several different generations) would have to come together in order to unravel fully a conspiracy that resulted in JFK’s killing.

A shuttle carried me from Nice to Monaco, one I shared with Jason Mercier and Natasha Barbour, both here to play, of course. Talked playoffs with Mercier a bit, as he’s a Heat fan and I’m for the Hornets, although I’m not too enthusiastic about Charlotte’s chances against Miami.

Took it easy during the afternoon, then met up with several of the fellas for a delicious dinner at an Italian place called Risotrante Mozza located not too far from where we’re staying. For an appetizer had insalata tiepida di polpo, that is, a salad with potatoes and octopus that was mouthwateringly flavorful. Then it was pizza for the main course, the tartufo featuring truffle and potato slices with rocket salad on top, also delicious.

Expect to have a few more nice meals along the way here, although there will be the occasional 20-euro cheeseburger thrown in as well.

Weather here is comparable to back home -- blue skies, sunny, and a light wind making it very spring-like. The deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea out back (see above) contrasts sharply with the green on the farm, though, which I’m already missing as Vera sends me another picture of Sammy, Maggie, and our yearling, Ruby (a.k.a., the “Roobster”).

It’ll be a late start tomorrow as the first big event, the €10,000 Single Re-Entry High Roller, doesn’t get going until 6 p.m. local time. You can follow reports over on the PokerStars blog.

Gonna try while here to provide some brief reports on the blog each night after things conclude. Have a big day, in terms of the history of Hard-Boiled Poker, coming up this Thursday, though, where I may have to write about something else, too. Any guesses what that might be?

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Poker vs. Chess in Russia

Interesting item from yesterday’s Chicago Tribune regarding the rise of online poker in Russia over recent years, one point of which is to suggest how poker has now more or less overtaken chess as the national game, at least in the view of certain observers.

The article’s title, “Online poker’s killing the Russian chess star,” kind of awkwardly reprises that of the Buggles’ prescient 1980 pop hit “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the effort to do so probably misplacing the article’s emphasis somewhat.

The article does include some generalized nostalgia about the Soviet era’s chess “celebrities” -- people like Mikhail Botvinnik, Garry Kasparov, and Anatoly Karpov (none of whom is actually named in the article). And it does remark on the growth of online poker in Russia, citing figures such as the fact that 16% of Russians in 2013 played poker (up from 11% two years before) and that Russians account for 8.4% of all players on online sites.

But it doesn’t really provide a convincing causal link between the fall of chess and rise of poker. That’s not to say there isn’t a link, but the article doesn’t dig too deeply and thus doesn’t really show how poker “killed” (or is “killing”) chess.

In fact, interestingly, the real emphasis of the article has to do with current legislative efforts in Russia to legalize online poker, which as happened many times over here in the U.S. has led to studies about potential revenue and debates about whether the game’s skill component sufficiently distinguishes it from other forms of gambling.

I say the link between the decline of chess and the ascent of poker isn’t so obviously established in the article, but there is one interesting connection described. Speaking of possible federal regulation of online poker, it sounds like some of the potential revenue would be earmarked to help reinvigorate chess among the country’s population.

“In a nod to sensitivities about the decline of chess,” writes the author, “the government plans to use the tax proceeds that result to fund the National Chess Federation, so that it can foster passion for the game once more.”

In any event, it sounds like the status quo isn’t going to hold much longer in Russia as far as online poker is concerned. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. And whether or not the government’s next move helps online poker continue to grow in popularity (and chess, too, I suppose). Or, as happened in the U.S., it has the effect of checkmating it away.

Photos: “Chess,” Tame M. CC BY 2.0; “Poker XII,” Bastian Greshake. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today

In a bit of a funk at the moment, not the good kind. Very similar to the one I was in back in January after David Bowie’s passing. Like you, I first started seeing the tweets about Prince earlier today, and after a few uncertain minutes saw it confirmed that he’d passed away at 57.

Like Bowie, Prince was one of those genre-blending artists that managed to capture just about all of us at some point or another. And in a similar fashion, once he did capture us we were destined to remain under his spell thereafter.

1999 would have been the first Prince record I heard, way back in 1982 when 1999 was the hard-to-imagine distant future. Soon after that I’d collected the earlier LPs, with Dirty Mind always getting the most plays, a record I once wrote about over on 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute.

Then came Purple Rain. Kind of like what happened a dozen years ago when everyone suddenly was playing poker, everyone suddenly liked Prince. It is simply a perfect pop/rock record, already cinematic in scope even without the accompanying film. I think at one time or another each of the nine tracks has had a turn standing out as a “favorite” for me on that particular disc, and each for different reasons.

Was writing recently about old concerts I’d seen, and in fact among those I did happen to see Prince and the Revolution during the Purple Rain tour in November 1984. I remember the white “cloud” guitar with the handle and (of course) his culminating a solo once with a stream of something flying out the top and out over the crowd as though it were a sexual climax. (There are certain things you just don’t forget.)

Vera Valmore happened to have seen Prince at that same show -- or one of them, anyway, during the three-performance run in Greensboro -- back before she and I had ever met. We were just talking about that concert last weekend when in Asheville, in fact.

During that conversation I mentioned how I probably wouldn’t be able to find online any audio files of those shows as I had with the Springsteen one from ’85. If you’ve ever looked for Prince stuff online or on YouTube, you’ve discovered it to be relatively scarce thanks to his considerable efforts to protect his product -- to have some measure of control over his art and how it was made available and received.

An exception is this performance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame from 2004, where Prince joined Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison’s son Dhani in a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the performance occasioned by Harrison’s induction. Prince takes over the song’s latter half, and you gotta love his wry whaddya-think-of-that look near the end after his preeminence has been well established.

Stuck close with Prince all of the way through the mid-’90s where (as with Bowie) I lost the thread for a while before picking it back up again more recently (with Musicology and 3121). Then went back even before the beginning for those ultra-funky, impossible-to-sit-still-through Loring Park Sessions 1977, recorded just a year out of high school.

As with Bowie, Prince has had a permanent spot for me in the ongoing life soundtrack, and will continue to do so. Many will spend the next few days describing his combining and reimagining rock, pop, jazz, fusion, funk, R&B, and other styles, as well as other elements of his many cultural contributions. I think the thing we connected with most, though, is the effort and production of a genuine artist, someone who (relentlessly) created and inspired.

And as a result added considerably to this thing called life, helping many to get through it.

Photo: “Prince playing MadCat, Coachella 2008,” Scott Penner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Now That’s a Lot of Cabbage

Something recently reminded me of that specialized “hard-boiled” lingo one finds in novels by writers like Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and others. I think it must have been a delayed echo from that Robyn Hitchcock show I was writing about a couple of days ago, specifically his tune “Raymond Chandler Evening” I’ve continue to hum all week.

I was going back through some posts on the blog recently -- just cleaning up some dead links here and there. Ended up lingering for a while, reading several including a few early ones where I tried (somewhat vainly) to write using that “hard-boiled” patois.

That didn’t last very long (thankfully), although a few phrases and words have stuck over the years, including using “cabbage” to refer to money. It wasn’t my normal voice, of course, and while my detective novel Same Difference has a few hard-boiled elements (including style-wise), I didn’t go for the lingo so much there, either, finding it hard enough to tell a story without giving myself that additional challenge.

I’ve toyed with another novel idea, a story set in the late 1920s, actually, where it would be not inappropriate to include characters sounding like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. So ripe for parody, that. Can only really be done with tongue partially in cheek.

Probably wouldn’t have made it to one year on here writing about poker had I tried to keep up that applesauce. Let alone ten, a milestone that’s coming up in just over a week. (No shinola.)

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