Thursday, January 05, 2017

“I’m Reading Their Hand”: LBJ, Nixon, and the Week Before the 1968 Election

Several friends recently passed along to me an article from The New York Times that appeared on New Year’s Eve, one sharing a bit of news regarding Richard Nixon’s actions during the final days prior to the 1968 presidential election when he won a narrow victory versus Hubert Humphrey. They did so both because they know about my ongoing “Nixon studies” and because there’s a small poker reference in the article, too.

The article is titled “Nixon’s Vietnam Treachery” and was written by John A. Farrell who is currently at work on a Nixon bio coming out later this year. The story being told in the article is not new at all, although Farrell does pass along some relatively unknown evidence regarding Nixon’s role in possibly preventing a peace settlement from occurring in Vietnam just prior to the election. (The evidence isn’t new, although it hadn’t gotten a lot of attention before.)

To give a little context, by mid-October 1968 outgoing president Lyndon B. Johnson was hopeful to find some way to end the war before leaving office. After months of negotiations, Johnson had a breakthrough of sorts when the North Vietnamese finally agreed to enter into talks with the South Vietnamese in Paris if the U.S. called a bombing halt. Such talks hardly meant peace would be imminent, but they represented an significant first step toward such an eventuality.

What’s been known for quite some time now (thanks primarily to some FBI-supplied evidence) is that high-level members of Nixon’s campaign team were communicating with South Vietnamese leader Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu at the time, urging Thieu not to enter any peace talks just yet while promising a better negotiating position once Nixon took office. Such a move is rightly regarded with suspicion, obviously motivated primarily by the fact that an announcement of peace in Vietnam on the eve of the election would serve as a last-minute boost to Humphrey in what had become a tight race to the finish.

In The Making of the President 1968, Theodore H. White recounts the day-by-day developments leading up to Election Day, telling how with just one week to go (on October 29) “the promised end of the war in Vietnam was beginning to leak from every news source around the world.” Two days later, on Thursday, October 31, Johnson announced the cessation of bombing “in the belief that this action can lead to progress toward peaceful settlement of the Vietnamese war” (as LBJ said).

The promising news remained atop the headlines for about a day before doubts began to creep back in to cloud the picture regarding peace in southeast Asia, and by Saturday The New York Times was reporting that the word from Saigon was that the South Vietnamese couldn’t participate in any talks. The way White reports it (sharing what was known at the time), it appeared President Thieu had agreed to the talks without having secured the support of his cabinet or the national assembly, and that once they objected the deal had been dashed.

White then introduces the mysterious Anna Chennault into the story, the Chinese-born widow of a WWII hero who became involved in politics and chaired a number of Nixon’s citizen committees during the ’68 campaign. Chennault had numerous connections throughout Asia, and (says White) had learned about the secret negotiations in October. Using her contacts (including some within the South Vietnamese government), “she had begun early, by cable and telephone, to mobilize their resistance to the agreement -- apparently implying, as she went, that she spoke for the Nixon campaign.”

LBJ found out about Chennault’s chicanery, and that weekend accused the Republicans of sabotaging the peace effort, including having a somewhat tense phone conversation with Nixon on Sunday regarding the matter. (You can hear that phone call, with a transcription, over on YouTube.)

All of this tumult during the final week before the election certainly had some effect on the outcome, but it’s hard to say how much.

The situation recalls the one surrounding the final days before the 2016 election. I’m referring of course to FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress saying the bureau would be investigating more of Hillary Clinton emails, a letter Comey delivered just 11 days before the election, then his announcement two days before Election Day that Clinton would face no charges regarding the messages -- a dubious two-step that also likely had some, hard-to-measure effect on a certain number of voters near the end.

As noted above, it has been known for a good while that members of Nixon’s team -- among them campaign director John Mitchell and vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew -- were talking with Chennault, which would explain how she could represent herself to the South Vietnamese as speaking for Nixon.

A few books have delved more deeply into the Nixon-Chennault connection, with William Bundy’s A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (1998), Jeffrey Kimball’s Nixon’s Vietnam War (1998), and Anthony Summers’s The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (2000) among the more earnest efforts. More recently Ken Hughes’s Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate (2015) looks even more closely at the story.

As with Watergate, the extent of Nixon’s particular involvement here has long invited much speculation and debate. Was Nixon directly involved with Chennault’s suggestions to the South Vietnamese that they not enter peace talks and wait for a Nixon administration to move forward? Or was this (as with the Watergate break-in and some elements of the cover-up) an example of some of his subordinates freelancing with a kind of vague endorsement from the top man? The new NYT piece sheds some additional light on the situation.

As Farrell shares, notes taken by Nixon advisor H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (later RN’s White House Chief of Staff and key Watergate figure) recount an October 22 telephone conversation in which Nixon advised him to tell others to do what they could to thwart LBJ’s efforts to negotiate the beginning of peace talks. “Keep Anna Chennault working on SVN,” Haldeman scribbled, a fairly direct-sounding directive from Tricky Dick. “Any other way to monkey wrench it?” added Haldeman, referring to Nixon’s ostensible desire to come up with futher means to scuttle the talks.

Such notes strongly suggest that despite Nixon’s later claims to the contrary, he was not only aware of what was going on behind the scenes with regard to those representing him while pressuring Thieu not to enter talks just yet, he was encouraging that effort. The NY Times piece concludes with a reference to another phone call between LBJ and Everett Dirksen, the Republican senator from Illinois who had served as Senate Minority Leader for nearly a decade -- one that can also be heard over on YouTube, if you’re curious.

That call came on Saturday, November 2 (a day before the call to Nixon), and finds LBJ speaking directly about the apparent sabotage. LBJ declares “this is treason,” complaining outwardly that “they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.”

Indeed, for Nixon -- then technically a private citizen -- to have anything at all to do with the country’s talks with a foreign power like this was obviously out of bounds, a violation of the Logan Act, a federal law forbidding unauthorized citizens from negotiating with other governments. (A few weeks ago I was alluding to another, much less outrageous example of this same sort of violation prior to my recent trip to Prague, one involving Frank Zappa’s dialogue with Václav Havel.)

Johnson encourages Dirksen to talk to his party colleagues, telling them how they “oughta keep the Mrs. Chennaults and all the rest of them from running around here” while threatening to go public with the information that the Nixon team was obstructing negotiations that would hopefully lead to an end for the war.

“I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important,” says Johnson. (The mind wanders toward a certain president-elect’s strange communications regarding a certain foreign power.)

Also tucked into that conversation is a poker metaphor, used by Johnson to refer to the fact that he is privy to what all sides have been up to, including what Chennault has been doing on behalf of Nixon.

“Now I’m reading their hand, Everett,” says Johnson, adding “I don’t want to get this into the campaign.” (The NYT piece shares that quote, too, near the end.)

Those conversations are fascinating to listen to, especially the one between Nixon and Johnson, both of whom were accomplished poker players. Understanding the larger context, it is clear both knew full well what the other “player” had in his hand, with both also obviously walking a fine line trying not to give too much away to each other.

Photo: Richard Nixon Foundation.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

A Post About Posting

Just firing a short one here today both to wish everyone a Happy New Year and to make a short announcement regarding the blog and my posting schedule here in 2017 (and beyond).

For years I’ve been hinting here at slowing the pace of my posting, though somehow have kept up the same routine of sharing something every single weekday -- and weekends sometimes, too, such as when doing “travel reports” -- without exception.

Sometimes I’ve fallen behind a little and had to backdate things to fill in gaps. Typically what I’ve done (say, when on a trip) is to sketch a quick draft of a post and save it, then go back later to finish. That has been the case for a good while now.

I started Hard-Boiled Poker way back in April 2006, adding to the list of what was then a fast-growing crowd of other “poker blogs.” Full of enthusiasm about both playing the game and writing about it, it didn’t take me long to work up to that five-post-a-week pace by the start of 2008, which I’ve continued for nearly nine years.

I remember sometimes during the first few years when I’d make lists of topics about which to write each week, often having to whittle the list down to just five. Coming up on the 3,000th post here, which if you divide by 10-and-a-half years you can figure out what kind of pace that means.

Of course, once you’ve written about something once or twice or ten times, the urgency to write about it again diminishes. As I imagine does the desire to read about such things, too.

In any case, the plan going forward is to check in regularly -- at the very least once per week -- and as a result try to give a bit more substance to each post, perhaps making them more like features than journal entries.

That said, I won’t self-impose any sort of formal restrictions, other than the only one I’ve ever followed here which is to make every post have at least something to do with poker, even when it isn’t about poker at all.

Meanwhile, I’ll have much else to share in the coming weeks and months -- including a new novel that is already on its way (no shinola!) -- plus some other writing projects that are already well along. More about all of that soon.

Image: “Found Blur Motion,” ilouque. CC BY 2.0.

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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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