Friday, July 03, 2015

Eight Years, Eight Hands: Looking Back Through the 2007-2014 Main Events

Readying here for the Fourth of July tomorrow, and for the start of World Series of Poker Main Event on Sunday. Hard to believe the whole sucker has almost played out again already.

Thinking about the Main Event inspired me to rummage around a little through the last eight years’ worth of live reporting from the WSOP on PokerNews -- a pretty cool, easy-to-navigate archive. From each of the eight years I chose a single hand from either the final table or close to it and presented all of them in a compilation over in the PokerNews Strategy section.

Some of the hands were more consequential than others, but each featured some interesting, even fascinating decisions made by the players involved, thus inspiring the title of the compilation “The Second-Guessing Game: Key Decisions from WSOP Main Events (2007-2014).”

Part 1 covers the following hands:

2007 - The elimination of Philip Hilm in ninth place by Jerry Yang in just the 15th hand of the final table. Recall how Yang began that final table in seventh while Hilm was in first.

2008 - A huge hand early on from the final table between Dennis Phillips (with A-K) and Ivan Demidov (with A-Q) that suddenly sent start-of-final-table chip leader Phillips down to ninth of nine.

2009 - The wild Billy Kopp-Darvin Moon hand with 12 players left that saw both flop flushes and Kopp suddenly ousted in 12th.

2010 - The dramatic hand in which Jonathan Duhamel knocked out Matt Affleck in 15th, cracking Affleck’s aces after they were all in on the turn and Duhamel filled a straight on the river.

Part 2 then carried things forward with these hands:
2011 - Kind of a cool hand from heads-up between Martin Staszko and Pius Heinz in which both were bluffing away without a pair and Staszko finally pushed Heinz off his hand.

2012 - Andras Koroknai’s huge six-bet shove with K-Q-offsuit, called by Greg Merson called who held A-K-suited to knock Koroknai out in sixth.

2013 - J.C. Tran’s fold with six players left to Jay Farber’s four-bet in a blind-versus-blind hand. Tran had A-Q while Farber had pocket sixes.

2014 - Mark Newhouse’s elimination hand in which he battled to the river versus William Tonking, finally pushing his last chips in with pocket tens on a 2-4-J-4-J board, and Tonking found a call with pocket queens.

Remember those hands? Click over to relive ‘em and/or think about some of the strategy followed in each.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Zinno’s Paradox

Last night Anthony Zinno won his first ever World Series of Poker bracelet, topping a field of 175 in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship (Event No. 60) to earn a better than $1.12 million first prize.

That’s Zinno’s fifth cash this summer at the WSOP, and incredibly he’s made the final table all five times. He’s also won two WPT Main Events this year as well as a WPT Bay 101 High Roller, so it has been some year for the Boston resident.

In terms of the occasionally discussed (and occasionally derided) WSOP Player of the Year race, Zinno’s win was worth 619.11 points according to the formula followed by the Global Poker Index, which added to the 1,323.61 he had previously gave him 1,942.72 points total.

That moved him into second place behind current leader Mike Gorodinsky who has six WSOP cashes this summer including a third, a second, and a first, with the latter coming in the $50K Poker Players Championship (Event No. 44). (Gorodinsky, you’ll remember, was wondering a short while back what exactly the incentive was for chasing the POY.)

Gorodinsky also cashed in the $25K PLO event, finishing 17th, a result worth 279.49 POY points. Added to the 1,771.21 he had before, that gives Gorodinsky 2,050.70 points total.

So Zinno was behind Gorodinsky prior to the conclusion of Event No. 60, then earned enough to pass Gorodinsky but didn’t because the latter also earned points in the same tournament.

Will it keep happening for Zinno, that every time he cashes and earns points Gorodinsky will also cash to remain ahead of him?

Could it happen that in order to win WSOP POY, Zinno would have to traverse an infinite number of divisions in order to reach Gorodinsky, but since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of divisions, Zinno will never be able to pass Gorodinsky?

Really, we all should have seen this coming.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Watching the High Rollers

Have to admit my eagerness to follow what has been going on at the World Series of Poker has been coming and going here over the last week or so. Kind of surprising to look up and realize the Main Event is almost here (it starts Sunday).

In fact, I’ve found my attention as a poker-spectator divided this week somewhat by what’s happening over at the ARIA Resort & Casino, in particular by that big three-day “Super High Roller” cash game featuring $400/$800 blinds, $200 antes, and a quarter-million minimum buy-in. That’s leading up to a $500,000 buy-in “Super High Roller Bowl” tourney at the ARIA that starts tomorrow.

All of the action at the ARIA is being delivered over the PokerCentral Twitch channel, albeit without hole cards. It’s all being shot as well for broadcast later on NBCSN. The cash game has at times resembled the old High Stakes Poker shows given the emphasis on table talk and having lots of well known personalities sitting around the table. And I think I heard something about Gabe Kaplan and A.J. Benza coming back to do the commentary, although I’m not 100% on that.

Among those taking part thus far have been Jean-Robert Bellande, Bob Bright, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Colman, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey, Matthew Kirk, Paul Newey, Doug Polk, Andrew Robl, David “Doc” Sands, Scott Seiver, Jennifer Tilly, and Sam Trickett.

There have been some huge pots and interesting props -- if you’re curious you can read PokerNews’ recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 and/or look through the live reporting blog.

You might’ve heard about one hand from yesterday involving Daniel Colman and Doug Polk in which the flop came AsQcQc -- that’s right, a second queen of clubs snuck in there. The craziest part of the hand, though, was the fact that neither Colman, Polk, nor anyone else at the table seemed to notice the duplicated card, and in fact the hand played to a conclusion before the fouled deck was realized. Take a look:

Seiver had a funny line soon after when Robl holding ace-queen called a preflop all-in by Polk who had a pair of kings. “Obviously Andrew’s playing this because there’s a bonus queen in the deck,” Seiver cracked.

The Qs did fall on the flop in that one the first time they ran it, and Seiver said “I’m rooting for another queen of spades.” The Qh then came on the turn to put Robl ahead, but a king came on the river to give Polk kings full. (Polk won the second run, too.)

Going back to hand with the duplicated card, though -- everyone’s so unfazed, despite the huge amount of money on the line. Safe to say if something similar happened at the Rio -- say, at a WSOP final table -- the response would hardly be so ho-hum.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Many Will Play the WSOP Online Event?

This Thursday the World Series of Poker will be staging its first ever online event, a $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament to be run on the WSOP.com site in Nevada (Event No. 64).

I believe it is supposed to be a two-day event, even though the structure sheet suggests it is a three-day affair. I think the plan on Thursday is to play down to a six-handed final table, then have those players come to the Rio on Saturday to finish things out in person.

The rules for the event provide more details regarding it, along with some other confusing things like one line stating “There is no buy-in or entry fee required to participate in the tournament” (Section I, Rule #7). I think that’s referring to the six players coming to the Rio on Saturday not having to buy in again, but it’s an odd line.

Before the WSOP I was asked to predict how many would play the event, and having little clue what to guess I said 1,116. The guesses of my colleagues at PokerNews ranged from as low as 500 to as high as 2,000.

Meanwhile the BLUFF guys also tried to predict this one, with Kevmath going with 725 as their low and Paul Oresteen saying 4,300 to be the one outlier guessing a big turnout.

If I had a chance to revise my guess today, I’d aim lower with my prediction. How many do you think will play?

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Monday, June 29, 2015

No Time to Read, Must Comment

Continuing to follow that “battle of Hastings” I discussed here late last week. Find myself still checking that 2+2 thread about it fairly frequently while also reading some of the commentaries such as the thoughtful one contributed by the Australian player James “Andy McLEOD” Obst yesterday over on the Calvin Ayre site (presented as an interview, though in fact an essay by Obst).

No major advances occurred over the weekend, really. In fact, the most noteworthy recent developments concern how certain high profile pros have been reacting and responding to the story.

Speaking of the 2+2 thread, I noticed today someone chiming in some 1,500 posts into it with one of those amusingly oblivious posts that often come up deep in an active discussion, saying essentially (I’m paraphrasing) “I heard something about this but haven’t read -- what’s this all about?” The question earned the derision it deserved, as well as a pointer to the “Cliffs” of the discussion that appear as the thread’s initial post.

Such a contribution is a bit like the daydreaming student who suddenly becomes aware of the possibility that something either in the discussion or the teacher’s incessant yammering might in fact be important for him to know. He thrusts up his hand and shamelessly asks for a recap, insensible to the fact that he’s distinguishing himself as an obstacle to actual dialogue.

Saw someone tweeting something similar today about not having followed the story, though nonetheless being eager to share a position regarding it, namely, that whatever it was about, it likely confirmed other theories this person has advanced in the past about online poker.

Sort of thing happens a lot online, of course. Read the comments to any post or article, and you’ll frequently find many only responding to the headline, leading photo, or whatever text or picture might have successfully baited the person to click over to the page.

That’s a different kind of non-contribution, perhaps even more frustrating for those who are actually engaged with the story and trying to find something constructive to take away from what is happening. Kind of a like a movie review by a person who is only acquainted with the title, perhaps has seen a trailer or has a general idea of the plot, and has picked up on the fact that others are talking about it and so feels compelled to talk about it, too.

Some time ago I got on a kick of listening to a lot of film-related podcasts, including a couple focusing on low-budget, “exploitation” and cult fare for which discussions about the making of the films can be as interesting (or more so) than discussions of the films themselves.

One such podcast was devoted to the whole “video nasties” phenomenon that arose in the U.K. during the mid-1980s, going through and reviewing all of the films that were put on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list -- 72 in all. (Here’s a link to the show’s website, if you’re curious.) Each episode opens with an audio clip of Mary Whitehouse, the activist who led the charge against the video nasties, in which an interviewer is asking her if she herself had in fact seen any of the films she was petitioning to have banned.

“I have never seen a video nasty,” she responds. “I actually don't need to see visually what I know is in that film.”

What a line, eh? Seems to imply she was able to “see” the movies in some manner other than “visually.”

It’s a quote those who have studied the whole “video nasties” story enjoy bringing up when criticizing the movement to stop the sale of what in truth was a pretty arbitrary compilation of videos, representing as it does a kind of bald-faced, strangely unembarrassed hypocrisy.

That’s the example I think of when someone butts into a conversation the person hasn’t been following, only to deliver judgments and conclusions about what the person thinks might be at issue.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

On the “50/50”

Was looking this afternoon at the structure sheet for that new DraftKings-sponsored “50/50” event on the World Series of Poker schedule for tomorrow (Event No. 55).

You’ve no doubt been hearing about this one -- the first time, I believe, that the WSOP has featured a “sponsored” event like this, with the daily fantasy sports site having paid to have the tournament branded with its name in the event’s designation.

The structure sheet isn’t that interesting for the most part, given that it is identical to the other $1,500 NLHE events on the schedule. It’s the line about the payouts that is notable, reflecting that “50/50” idea also in the event’s name.

There’s a somewhat popular DFS format called “50/50” in which half the entrants make the money. The times I’ve tried it, it has always been a “double-or-nothing”-type payout with all of the cashers winning an equal amount. I put “double-or-nothing” in scare quotes because in truth winners don’t exactly double their buy-ins because of the juice taken.

For example, in a 10-player $50 buy-in “50/50” event on DraftKings, the top five players each win $90 and the bottom five win nothing. I’ve occasionally played these, which aren’t so bad for casual, novice-types like myself who isn’t really willing to put in the time required to try to build top-flight line-ups.

Speaking of, I was mentioning here many months ago how I had won a couple of freerolls on what was then a new DFS site called Fantasy Draft. Things never really seemed to get off the ground over there, and so I barely visit the site these days, but I did happen to play a small buy-in MLB contest with a guaranteed prize pool this week.

I hilariously picked a starting pitcher who gave up eight earned runs in less than three innings of work, sending me to the bottom of the leaderboard. I think I finished something like 34th out of 35. In fact I think I only beat a dude who forgot to fill in a line-up.

I still made a profit, though -- as did the non-line-up guy -- because so few players had entered and the top 50 were guaranteed to make the money. (Wished afterward that I had entered 10 line-ups.) It was way better than a “50/50” -- it was a “100/0”!

The WSOP’s version of a “50/50” event will similarly feature the top 50% of players making the cash, but that’s where the similarity ends. As the structure sheet spells out, after 10% of the buy-ins are taken out for entry fees (7%) and the tournament staff (3%), the remaining prize money ($1,350 per player) will be divided as follows: “Payout - 25th-50th percentile = $1000, 10th-25th percentile = $1500, Top 10% = Standard percentage payout with remaining prize pool funds.”

In other words, while 50% of entrants will technically “cash,” half of those players actually will be losing $350 while those making the next tier will earn just $150 for their efforts. Then the top 10% -- who would otherwise be dividing up all of the prize pool -- will be paid with what’s left. Depends on how many take part, but I’m guessing something like a third of the prize pool will be used to cover those extra payouts (going to the 10th-50th percentile finishers).

While I kind of like the idea of the sorta-but-not-quite-double-or-nothing “50/50” DFS games, this doesn’t really strike me as a very enticing payout structure for a poker tournament. Then again, I guess there was no way to mimic exactly the DFS model, as they couldn’t well have hundreds of players tying for first.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Battle of Hastings

This past Sunday, poker pro Brian Hastings jumped on Twitter to allege an instance of angle shooting perpetrated by an opponent of his during a World Series of Poker event. Hastings has won two WSOP events this summer, and this incident occured at the final table of one of them, the $1,500 10-game mix.

“PSA,” tweeted Hastings. “Alexey Makarov aka Lucky Gump (I think) tried to angle shoot at 10 game FT. Floor ruled against him tho. Beware.”

Several sprang to Makarov’s defense as Hastings described a hand in which Makarov had asked for a misdeal following the awkward delivery of the first three cards in stud. Hastings believed Makarov only made the request after seeing everyone’s upcards, including the deuce Makarov had been dealt.

Before long Hastings was reporting that he “may have overreacted” and that “Alexey and I made up and are friends again.” In other words, it appeared a very minor episode and if it weren’t the WSOP where every little dust-up gets extra scrutiny, few would have noticed it.

Discussion about it, though, prompted David “Bakes” Baker -- one of those who has brought to the fore game integrity issues with the Modiano cards being used at the WSOP -- to complain that Hastings himself had been involved in some shenanigans during the weeks leading up to the series, having played high-stakes mixed games (including SCOOP events) on PokerStars under another person’s account.

“So after I FT’d the SCOOP 2k a bunch of well known pros messaged me telling me @brianchastings was behind the NoelHayes account on Stars,” tweeted Baker.

Hastings normally plays as “$tinger 88” on PokerStars, and indeed, a player registered in Ireland named “NoelHayes” had made one of the $2,100 NLHE final tables during SCOOP, finishing fourth and in fact knocking out Baker (a.k.a. “WhooooKidd”) in fifth.

Playing on a second account is of course against Stars’ Terms of Service which explicitly limits players to just one. “In the event that PokerStars becomes aware of additional accounts opened by a User,” says the applicable item in the TOC, “PokerStars may close such additional accounts without notice and may confiscate funds held in such additional accounts.”

Much noise ensued over Twitter as well as on Two Plus Two where a thread to discuss Baker’s allegation was swiftly begun. As some in the thread have noted, the story evokes a much older one involving Hastings and his huge $4.2 million winning session versus Viktor Blom on Full Tilt Poker in December 2009.

Blom -- that is, “Isildur1” (whose identity was unknown at the time) -- lost those millions versus Hastings, then the latter revealed in an interview how he had supplied hand histories involving Blom compiled by his then CardRunners pro colleagues (something that also skirted close to crossing a line in FTP’s terms, although the site determined Hastings was not guilty of any violations). Here’s a post from then introducing that controversy, if you’re curious.

The 2+2 thread raged onward for a couple of days and more than 240 posts. One side issue brought up by some concerns the highly-publicized bracelet bets Hastings made prior to the start of the WSOP and the idea that some making those bets didn’t realize he’d been playing high-stakes mixed games online during the spring.

Early this morning -- just before 5 a.m. Vegas time -- Hastings chimed in with a fuel-on-the-fire contribution to the thread in which he pointedly avoids addressing the whole “NoelHayes” question.

After making clear “I have nothing to add to the conversation publicly” and dismissing “what strangers on the internet” have to say about him, Hastings laments “something like this being a major story in the poker world at a time in which the WSOP is in full force and we should be trying to promote and grow the game of poker, rather than drag it through the mud.”

He brings up the state of online poker in the U.S. and efforts to bring the game back, calling it “unfortunate that certain people have been on bad runs and choose to take their frustrations out outwardly” -- i.e., by criticizing his apparent multi-accounting. He adds “this will be my last post in this thread,” although he already has come back a couple of times to further the theme that efforts to uncover his misdeeds are hurtful to the game as a whole.

Needless to say, such a post was not received well at 2+2. Indeed it makes little sense as an argument, which for me comes off like Nixon in his 1974 State of the Union stressing the need to put an end to the Watergate investigations (“One year of Watergate is enough”) in order to allow the the nation and its government to start “devoting our full energies” to other important issues.

Certainly yet another story of high-stakes multi-accounting reflects somewhat badly on the game, but not acknowledging it or considering it worth looking into would obviously be much worse for poker. Compare the cheating allegation in the $10K Heads-Up event a few weeks ago (still apparently being investigated). Sure, even an accusation reflects badly on the game in general and the WSOP in particular, but the damage caused by a reputation hit hardly compares to harm caused by actual cheating.

Hard to tell, to be honest, amid all the back-and-forthing what exactly to think about what has been alleged, including whether or not some “may have overreacted” here as Hastings might have done with Makarov. Even so, it will be curious to follow where this battle proceeds next.

(EDIT [added 6/25/15, 6 p.m.]: The thread and story takes another turn, with Baker sharing a direct message from Hastings in which the latter admits to having played on Stars on the “NoelHayes” account [which some have pointed out would have to have been done from the U.S. via VPN, another big no-no]. If curious, click here.)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dick Van Patten, a Poker Pop

Was sorry to hear the news yesterday of the passing of actor and poker enthusiast Dick Van Patten at age 86.

I have had several occasions to interact with his son Vince, both while covering him in World Series of Poker Main Events and when working with him a few times at World Poker Tour events. I have written here before about enjoying those conversations, which have pretty much all been about poker. Meanwhile I’ve always been curious to talk further with him about his tennis career (and once beating John McEnroe -- no shinola), all of those TV roles, Rock ’n’ Roll High School, and other stories from his teen idol days.

In truth, I was a little young to have followed either Vince’s tennis playing or to have noticed him on television during the ‘70s and early ‘80s (although I do remember seeing him back then in Hell Night when that slasher turned up on HBO). On the other hand, I was very familiar with his father, thanks primarily to Eight Is Enough. That show aired from 1977-1981, and I’ll bet I saw practically every episode once the repeats went into syndication in the years that followed.

I’d notice him again in the several Mel Brooks films, in particular High Anxiety (a fave), then also in some other ‘70s titles like the Firesign Theatre’s Zachariah, Soylent Green. Westworld, Gus, and Freaky Friday.

I wasn’t paying any attention at all to televised poker in the 1990s, so I missed Dick Van Patten having prefigured his son’s later career as a commentator when he teamed with Jim Albrecht from 1993-1995 for ESPN’s telecasts of the WSOP Main Event final table. You can hear him in this clip of the final hand of the 1995 WSOP ME won by Dan Harrington, when there were no hole cards and the scene was considerably more modest than is the case today:

The New York Times obituary mentions Van Patten’s poker playing in passing, noting how a People magazine profile “said that Mr. Van Patten’s only vices were twice-weekly poker games and regular visits to the racetrack.” However, according to the accounts of most -- including Vince -- both cards and the horses were pursuits to which he was especially dedicated.

Several of the stories circulating today repeat an anecdote both father and son would later laughingly tell, one from the days when the teenaged Vince would participate in his pop’s poker games. As the story goes, at a late hour the boy would ask if he could go to bed, and his father would tell him to “shut up and deal.”

He played the family patriarch in Eight Is Enough, and the obit describes him as having been a “father figure” on the set, too. While my memory of the show is now admittedly dim, it’s hard not to think of him similarly, an image enforced even further in the poker world where his son serves as our primary link to him.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Winner’s Photo

The event attracted a whopping turnout. Together they built a sizable prize pool, promising a big score for the winner.

After the call to shuffle up and deal, cards went in the air. Play was fast and furious from the start, with many notables in the field.

In one hand the dealer burned and turned the river, completing the board. The big blind checked, and his opponent went deep into the tank before emerging to fire another barrel.

Soon he was firing another bullet, too, still battling for the coveted title.

Practically down to a chip and a chair, he gamely fought his way back to avoid being the bubble boy, then won a huge pot to send the last woman standing to the rail.

The chips continued to fly back and forth across the felt as the field whittled further. When the final table began he was short-stacked, but after picking spots carefully he chipped up to move within striking distance of the lead.

Before long just two remained. The heads-up duel was long and grueling, a back-and-forth, push-pull affair as the lead swung to and fro.

Finally there was a shove and a call. It was a classic race, a coin-flip situation. He stood up, addressing the poker gods as he did.

“One time,” he said.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

The U.S. Open, the WSOP, and Player Complaints

The U.S. Open concluded late last night -- late for us on the east coast, I should say, as it was held out in Washington state at the much-talked-about Chambers Bay course in University City -- ending somewhat dramatically with a surprising three-putt by Dustin Johnson on the last hole to give the 21-year-old Jordan Spieth a second straight major title.

It was a stirring finish, but I was fascinated as well by all of the complaints from players (and others) about the Chambers Bay course during the four days of the tournament. If you followed the U.S. Open you likely heard those complaints, too, so I won’t rehearse all of them here. If you haven’t heard about them and are curious, see this story from yesterday on ESPN which collects many of the criticisms, or this one from today in which some of those who played can be found listing all of their issues with the course.

The state of the greens received most of the attention -- that pic of one of the greens was posted to Instagram by the player Ian Poulter (whose frustrations are included in the second article listed above). Comments by other players that it was like putting on broccoli or cauliflower were humorous. And Johnson’s three-putt -- even if not directly consequent to the poor greens -- seemed to put a somehow appropriate punctuation mark on the gripe-filled week.

The complaining reminded me more than once of what has been happening at the WSOP this summer, where a lot of players have been similarly outspoken about various aspects of the series with which they haven’t been satisfied. Such criticisms are not atypical, mind you, but have perhaps been coming with a bit more frequency and volume than has been the case over recent years.

I’m not going to rehearse those complaints, either, which have involved the playing cards, structures, scheduling, communication issues, media coverage, the POY formula, among other issues. Matt Glantz summed up a few of the criticisms in a piece for BLUFF last week the headline for which -- “Matt Glantz Says the World Series of Poker is Losing its Luster” -- indicates the position being advanced.

To explore the comparison a little further, both the U.S. Open and WSOP enjoy a special place in the respective fields for those participating in each. “If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won't do that for a major,” wrote Poulter of the U.S. Open. That sounds a lot like players complaining about the WSOP, yet still playing because of its “major” status.

Some have responded to players’ complaints about Chambers Bay with the very logical observation that since everyone plays the same course, all are equally subject to the conditions (good or bad) which means the integrity of the competition is not affected. The fact that Spieth -- who just won the last major at the Masters playing on the immaculate Augusta course -- came out on top again would seem to support that position.

That said, when the deficiency of those conditions rises to the level of potentially affecting the integrity of the competition, that’s the point at which the willingness to accept such problems begins to break down. That’s where the piling on tends to start, too, whether justified or not.

From afar, players’ complaints about the new Modiano cards being used this year are the ones that most directly concern the issue of game integrity. Late last week poker pro and bracelet holder David “Bakes” Baker posted a thorough summary of the problems with the cards and how easily they can be marked.

The WSOP announced plans to replace the decks a few days ago, although I think they weren’t introduced until yesterday (for Day 1 of the $50K PPC, but not for other events). Kind of recalls a similar announcement at the beginning of the 2007 WSOP following the fiasco of the “Poker Peek” cards that trucks carrying new decks were on the way.

In any case, I found the whole analogy regarding players’ complaints at the U.S. Open and the WSOP curious to consider, as well as how both examples offer us a lot to think about with regard to the staging of high-level competitions, issues of game integrity, and the way groups tend to respond to undesirable stressors.

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