Friday, August 01, 2014

Writing and Playing

A thread was started over on Two Plus Two last week by a poster complaining about commentary regarding a particular player on a poker broadcast. The poster was specifically talking about Dan Shak and referring to some commentary on EPTLive.

The poster had some things to say about how some players might be discussed more favorably as players when compared to others, although might have been a little unfair in this particular instance as the subsequent discussion helped point out.

In fact EPTLive co-host James Hartigan posted a few times to help clarify some of the commentary highlighted by the original poster, with his response being both interesting to read and constructive. From there the short thread moved on to talk more broadly about poker commentary before winding down a few days later.

One of the more interesting points made in the thread came from Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke who contributes to the EPTLive shows and for that reason was encouraged to join in the discussion. He spoke humbly about the challenge to produce good, insightful strategic commentary on poker, noting how easy it is to be wrong with one’s read of a situation or player.

“Writing about poker correctly is a lot like playing poker,” Fricke then added.

Fricke mainly refers to writing (or discussing) strategy, and what he says makes a lot of sense. Commenting on hands well presents a challenge very similar to playing them well.

I was tempted, anyway, to apply the point more broadly to other kinds of poker-related writing which likewise can require technical knowledge, analytical ability, and creative thinking. You could even take the analogy further and talk about how writing about poker well also involves being able to read others, understanding how stories are put together and affect others, and even sometimes enjoying luck in the form of good timing or other external factors that lie outside one’s “skill.”

In what other ways is writing about poker like playing poker?

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reagan, Carter, and Nixon Play a Hand of Draw Poker

From 1956 to 1958, Chrysler produced in limited numbers a luxury sports car called the Dual-Ghia. The name came from Dual Motors in Michigan which bought chassis from Dodge then shipped them to the automobile design firm Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy where the cars were put together. Although the original plan was to create about 150 per year, only 117 Dual-Ghias were ever made.

The Dual-Ghia sported a hefty $7,600 price tag, making it more expensive than the highest-priced Cadillacs, and several celebrities owned them including Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Glenn Ford, and Desi Arnaz (who wrecked his). Then-Vice President Richard Nixon apparently had one. So, too, did Ronald Reagan.

At that time Reagan was about a decade away from becoming governor of California, but by then his acting career was already starting to slow down. He’d star with his wife Nancy in the WWII film Hellcats of the Navy in 1957, one of his very last films. His last role would be to play a gangster in The Killers (1964), then he would be elected governor a couple of years later.

Among all the stories of poker-playing presidents floating about, you don’t find too many involving Reagan. He played golf like all the presidents did. He also rode horses, enjoyed swimming and target shooting, and played football in college. He’s likely to have played cards from time to time -- as did practically all men of his generation, especially politicians -- but you don’t usually see him in the roll call of poker-playing presidents.

There is one story about Reagan playing poker, though, suggesting that he apparently lost his Dual-Ghia in a high-stakes poker game to none other than Lyndon B. Johnson. (No shinola.) Details of the game are scarce (and perhaps apocryphal), and you only really see the story come up in references to the Dual-Ghia and not to either Reagan or Johnson. Funny to think of it actually happening, though.

Hunting around for something more about the LBJ game led me to Rich Little’s comedy LP The First Family Rides Again which appeared in 1981, the first year of Reagan’s two-term presidency. The title of Little’s album refers back to Vaughn Meader’s best-selling album full of inspired skits showcasing his John F. Kennedy impersonation, The First Family (1962). Meader had a follow-up come out in the spring of 1963, The First Family Volume Two, which was also popular and sold well. In fact, Meader has a cameo on Little’s record.

Some of us remember Little very well as another prolific impersonator whose fame peaked back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s a cut on The First Family Rides Again called “The Big Game” which has Little doing all the voices for a poker game between Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Reagan.

I’ll admit to grinning a few times while listening, such as when Nixon is the first suspect when the pot is short, Carter tries to fold before the hand is dealt, and Ford thinks the game is “Go Fish.”

Click here to listen to “The Big Game.” (Picture above an inset from Andy Thomas’s 2007 painting “Grand Ol' Gang” which you can read more about here.)

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GG, Mike: Farewell Episode Up

Just saw that the new episode of the Two Plus Two Pokercast is now available, the final one featuring co-host Mike Johnson. Sucker’s more than three hours long, but it should be well worth listening to for a few reasons.

I know the show contains a ton of “call backs” to earlier episodes which ought to make it fun as a kind of mini-history lesson of the last decade of poker. Looks like our buddy Kevmath made a guest appearance, too, for a trivia challenge with Mike, which ought to be fun to hear. And lots of different people from the poker world appear live as guests as well as with recorded farewells, too. (There might even be one in there from this longtime fan.)

When I heard Mike was going to leave the show about a month ago, I wrote a post here. I mentioned how sorry I was to hear Mike was leaving the show, but how I also well understood the desire to step away from the constant grind of talking about poker after doing it for so many years.

The show will be continuing with Adam Schwartz who is going to be bringing in different folks to sit alongside him going forward, although there’ll be no replacing Mike.

I’m just starting up the episode, and I’m hearing they began it with the intro to the old Rounders, the Poker Show, the original show Mike and Adam began on the Vancouver sports talk station way back in 2005. Ah, I remember that. This should be fun.

Click here to listen.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dispensing With the Drama: Watching the “One Drop”

“They really should just dispense with the drama and get to the business of chopping this pot.”

So says Norman Chad during ESPN’s presentation of what was in fact one of the more dramatic hands from this summer’s “Big One for One Drop,” the one from Day 2 that saw Cary Katz eliminate Connor Drinan in a hand in which both players were dealt pocket aces, but Katz won after four hearts appeared among the community cards to give him a flush.

Here’s the hand, already posted on YouTube:

Chad is joking, trying in post-production to add to the surprise a little by suggesting to the audience that the hand would be ending in a split pot as happens almost 96% of the time in such situations.

But watching the hand tonight on ESPN’s “One Drop” coverage, I couldn’t help but think that in fact nearly all of the drama had been dispensed with, despite the unusual outcome of the hand.

Why do I say this? A lot of reasons.

Some drama is removed when we know the players’ hole cards beforehand. The suspense experienced at the time leading up to Drinan’s all-in five-bet and Katz’s instacall is not shared by the viewer whatsoever. We know as soon as we see both players’ hands how the preflop action will end.

Then, of course, for many of us watching, we know how the postflop action will end, too. For us there is no suspense at all about the hand, nor even about its place in the tournament as a whole, resulting in Drinan’s ouster and helping boost Katz somewhat toward what will be an eighth-place finish (just inside the money).

Haralabos Voulgaris opined back when the tournament was playing out that “nobody cares who wins,” which I said then I thought was not entirely untrue. That said, knowing who does win makes it that much harder to care to watch it play out again a month later.

There are other reasons why the drama is diminished for this particular hand, including the lack of backstory regarding either of the two players involved. But even if we had that backstory, that might not have helped add drama either.

Most of the players in the “One Drop” sold significant action, something alluded to in passing in the show. Drinan actually won his seat via a $25,300 satellite, then sold action afterwards to guarantee himself a profit from the tournament regardless of his finish. In other words, he certainly didn’t lose $1 million in the hand (although he did lose the chance to continue onward to play for the millions awaiting those making the final table).

And while Katz and Drinan both show some emotion, that, too, is pretty muted. “If I lose like this, whatever,” says Drinan after the flop brings two hearts to give Katz a freeroll. Then it happens, and even though there is a reaction from the crowd, both players, and observer Antonio Esfandiari saying it’s “so sick,” it’s all still kind of overwhelmingly “whatever.”

I mentioned back when the “One Drop” was playing out how lamentable it was that there was no live stream of the event. Recall how Kevmath fielded endless questions about it, then began referring followers to another Twitter account -- @NoOneDropStream -- with a single tweet delivering the bad news.

The WSOP Main Event coverage will crank up soon, and again the inherent problem of delayed coverage diminishing suspense will be evident. The live presentation of the final table should be compelling, I think, but really I can’t find myself wanting to bother with any of the edited shows in between.

We are more than a decade into this format for televised poker. It’s a format for which the drama was dispensed long, long ago.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 4 -- Manos: The Hands of Fate

The final day at the Latin American Poker Tour Panama Main Event was kind of a strange one. The final table zipped by quickly, finishing in less than five hours. That wasn’t so odd, as these LAPT final tables do tend to move along quickly. Also, in this case they’d gotten a little deeper in the structure than usually happens thanks to a very long final table bubble (about three hours), so there were tons of short stacks at the start.

But after almost a dozen hands passed yesterday, there were six eliminations within the space of about 15 minutes of poker, which was a little bit head-spinning. The all-ins just kept coming, and while there were a couple of small double-ups thrown in there, most ended with knockouts.

The Argentinian Fabian Ortiz who began the day with the chip lead was the one handling most of those bustouts. He actually lost the lead on the day’s first hand after triple-barreling in a blind-vs.-blind confrontation to drop about half his stack. But he got that back quickly, then began motoring through the others in short order.

Heads-up looked like it might end in a single hand, actually, as Guillermo Olvera of Mexico shoved all in on the river and Ortiz had to tank a while before calling. But Olvera had Ortiz beat and they continued on, in fact playing more than two hours more before Ortiz at last came away with the win.

It marked Ortiz’s second LAPT title after winning back in Season 2 in Chile. He became only the second player in the LAPT’s history to win two Main Events, the other being Team PokerStars Pro Nacho Barbero.

Interestingly, the final hand yesterday saw Ortiz winning with K-7-offsuit, managing to outrun Olvera’s A-7 when a king fell on the turn. King-seven was the exact hand with which he won the LAPT2 Chile event as well, suggesting the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference above. (Photo of Ortiz holding up the hand of fate by Carlos Monti.)

Gotta run as my shuttle to the airport is coming. Still promising that report on the trip to the Panama Canal on Saturday, which I’ll share later this week. It was a fun week, and again it was great to work alongside the LAPT folks, all of whom are excellent at what they do besides being a lot of fun to hang around with.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 3 -- Short Cuts

It was a memorable day yesterday that began with my getting up very early in order to take a tour into Panama City, highlighted by a visit to the Panama Canal.

The trip was arranged through LAPT travel, and they set me up with a terrific guide who took a couple of us throughout the city to visit various sites, learn about the country’s history, and of course check out the Canal where we were able to see a ship passing through.

The Panama Canal is such a marvel to consider. Such a complicated history regarding its conception and initial construction at the start of the 20th century, and of course its operation is also incredibly complex.

That turned out to be my foremost impression from my visit to the Canal -- simple awe at its being such a creative, ingenious solution to a difficult problem. I managed to write a little about the trip in a post for the PokerStars blog yesterday, titled “The world’s most famous short cut.”

I didn’t have time to give the subject the treatment it deserved as there was a lot of poker to report yesterday, too. The 47 players played down to a final table of eight, taking all of the way to midnight to finish up with the Argentinian Fabian Ortiz finishing as chip leader as he seeks his second career LAPT title.

Only Ortiz’s countryman Nacho Barbero has ever pulled off the double, and in fact my first ever LAPT trip was to Lima to cover Barbero’s second LAPT win.

The morning trip and long Day 3 added up to a more than an 18-hour day for me, and thanks to having to take care of other business this morning I also don’t have time here to give the Panama City trip enough time for a proper report. So I’m having to take a short cut here with today’s post. I’ll write more about it next week once I’m home, including sharing more pictures.

Meanwhile, to follow today’s last day at LAPT7 Panama, head over to the PokerStars blog. You can watch a live stream of the final table, too, by clicking here.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 2 -- Talking Towers

Was another busy day on the seventh floor of the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel as they continued the LAPT7 Panama Main Event, playing from 179 players down to just 47 (into the money). That sets up what I think ought to be a longish Day 3 today, although often whenever I anticipate such on the LAPT things rush along more quickly than I expect.

I’m writing in haste early Saturday morning, just before taking my trip and tour to the Panama Canal which I’m squeezing in prior to the start of play today. Will try to take some pictures and deliver a report here of that trip, if not this weekend perhaps after I get back home.

Just a couple of quick highlights from yesterday to share, both involving the great Carlos Monti, the photographer with whom I get to work each time I come to report on these LAPT events.

On the ride into Panama City from the airport on Tuesday, I’d noticed the skyline and all of the many high-rises filling the landscape. Then once the tournament got going in earnest and players began constructing towers of chips from their starting stacks, I had a post idea that I shared with Carlos.

He neatly realized the comparison I was imagining in a couple of photos, which made for a fun write-up yesterday called “Towers upon towers.”

Also, before play began yesterday Carlos showed other talents during the preparations before Day 2 began. Enjoy:

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 1b -- November Niners

Another long day yesterday for Day 1b of the LAPT7 Panama Main Event. A huge turnout actually ended up bringing the total number of entries to 550 for the event, just a little under the 570 from last fall and I think above expectations.

Had a couple of highlights along the way, one being a quick chat with Badih “Bob” Bounahra of Belize who traversed Central America to play. We talked just a little about his November Nine run from 2011, his WSOP this year (which included a third place in a $1K event), and his continued love of deuce-seven.

Sort of an interesting turn of events today as Bounahra got seated at the feature table with Scott Montgomery, who also of course made a November Nine back in 2008 (the first one). Most agreed it was certainly the first time two November Niners had been seated at the same table at an LAPT event, and possibly the first instance of two playing in the same tourney.

Looks like 179 made it through to Friday’s Day 2, which apparently will be a shorter day -- just eight one-hour levels without a dinner break. Then there will be a party at the pool afterwards, which should be a good chance to relax a little and possible get some good eats as well.

I’m most excited, though, about having booked a trip to see the Panama Canal on Saturday morning. Gonna have to get up early to make it there and back before the noon start of the tourney, but it’ll be worth it, I’m told. More on that when it happens.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Day 1a -- Veni, Vidi, Veneto

A full day yesterday for Day 1a of the LAPT Panama Main Event at the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel here on Vía Veneto y Av Eusebio Morales in Panama City.

As expected there was a relatively modest-sized field for the first Day 1 flight, although the 174 total entries I think might have been a little more than some were thinking might turn out.

Most (but not all) of the usual suspects were present, and while the first levels of any tournament generally don’t provide too much excitement in the way of poker, there were some intriguing hands and I also had a chance to meet some interesting players.

Early in the day I chatted with Joel Micka who arrived bright and early for the first hand at 12 noon after having stayed up late the night before making a deep run in the Super Tuesday, the weekly $1,050 no-limit hold’em tourney on PokerStars (he finished 10th). A friendly guy who has had a lot of online success plus some good live results, too, including a huge million dollar-plus score in early 2013 at the PCA when he took runner-up in the Main Event.

Also enjoyed talking to Angelina Rich, someone with whom I felt like I probably had a little more in common for a few reasons. A relatively new player, Rich has enjoyed some success during the past year winning the Women’s Sunday on Stars, also cashing in three events at EPT10 Sanremo including winning the Women’s Event a few months ago, plus winning her seat into the LAPT Panama tourney via FPPs.

Rich has a degree in fashion design and started a during the past year as well called Rich Street Fashion, and we had a chance to talk about her poker education as well as her blog yesterday.

I expect I’ll meet a few more new folks today. There will be some of the same faces back again, too, as the tournament allows reentries, meaning people like Humberto Brenes and Leo Fernandez of Team PokerStars Pro who busted last night will surely be returning.

Staying right here in the venue is extremely convenient, something I don’t always get to do on these trips, although I suspect it’s gonna keep me from seeing too much of Panama City this week. Perhaps later when we do get to some shorter days there will be a chance at least to walk around a little.

More mañana.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Panama, Arrival -- Between the Americas

I send along an update from Central America and the Republic of Panama, my home away from home for the rest of the week as I’m here to report on the LAPT Panama Main Event for the PokerStars blog.

The trip in was relatively easy, with no surprises along the way other than perhaps a little extra excitement on the ride from Tocumen International Airport to the Veneto Wyndham Grand Hotel where I’m staying and where the tournament is being played. Zipping along in the shuttle at 100 km per, we had a couple of close calls with others jockeying for position along the two-lane Corredor Sur, but made it in good shape. And good time, natch.

Riding in we were traveling west and did for a time duck out over the Gulf of Panama, before curving back inland. Could see the skyline, kind of a distinctive feature of Panama with its several tall buildings not bunched together but spread out along a lengthy swatch of the coastline. Am west of the canal, I believe, spanned by the Bridge of the Americas.

I checked in and hung out in the room just a short while before connecting with Sergio, my fellow blogger who handles PokerStars’ blog for Brazil. We relaxed in the bar area next to a large pool which was pretty popular when I first arrived, but soon the skies turned gray and opened up to send everyone under cover.

We shot the breeze for a good while, then eventually ventured out into have a nice dinner at a Peruvian restaurant a couple of blocks away called Machu Picchu where I filled up on seafood appetizers (calamari and parmesan shrimp) and a delicious sea bass entree.

As Sergio pointed out, we’ll be mostly confined to the hotel-casino for the next few days where it’ll be a lot of burgers and fast meals, although we’ll probably get out -- and likely back to the Machu Picchu -- once the weekend comes and the tourney days are shorter.

Not sure what kind of field size we’ll see tomorrow, although it sounds like with the WSOP having just ended and the Brazilian Series of Poker having their BSOP Brasilia event next week there will probably be a somewhat smaller group here than last fall when there were 570 total entries.

Gonna file this one now and get some rest. Probably will only have time for the short reports this week between all the other stuff I have to get done. More to come.

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