Thursday, November 20, 2014

Charting and Graphing the 2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table

Darrel Plant who writes the Mutant Poker blog has a couple of nifty items over on the PokerNews Strategy section this week to which I wanted to draw your attention.

One is a post detailing all of the many times 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Martin Jacobson pushed all in on the first day of the final table (when they played down from nine players to three).

If you recall, Jacobson entered the final table eighth in chips out of final nine, and thus had few options early on besides open-shoving or reraising all in. Even after he’d accumulated some chips, he slipped back down under 10 big blinds again at one point and so had to revert back to a push-or-fold strategy.

Darrel goes through all 19 instances (!) of Jacobson going all in on that first day of the final table, sorting out what his equity would have been every time had opponents called (which by and large they did not). Check it out: “Pushing His Way to a WSOP Main Event Title: A Look at Martin Jacobson’s All-Ins.”

Darrel’s other piece this week is a groovy graph showing chip movement throughout the 328 hands of the final table, complete with annotations highlighting knockouts, double-ups, and other important moments along the way.

That’s a small version of the graph up above -- to see the big one in all its colorful glory, check out “Graphing the Changing Chip Stacks at the 2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table.”

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

WSOP Final Table Ratings

Saw over on Wicked Chops Poker today a short piece about the TV ratings for last week’s Main Event marathon on ESPN’s networks.

Interesting to read how the ratings on Monday night were actually up from a year ago and down only marginally on Tuesday when they played down from three-handed to a winner.

As the “Entity” notes for the second night it was kind of a “worst-case scenario” as far as the U.S. audience was considered with a Swede, Norwegian, and a Dutchman comprising the final trio, although I’d guess numbers wouldn’t have moved too markedly even if an American had still been in the hunt.

Also interesting to read how both the World Poker Tour shows (which I sometimes catch) and the Heartland Poker Tour ones (which I don’t know if I’ve ever seen) are doing okay, too, in terms of maintaining their audiences. WCP believes all of this points to greater promise for TV poker, and that “over the second half of this decade, there will be more, not less, poker on TV.”

I don’t know if I’m quite as optimistic, but I’d certainly like to see such a future play out. Also wouldn’t mind seeing a little more variety with poker TV, if possible, which may or may not figure into a strategy for maintaining or increasing viewship.

In any event after losing interest and becoming distracted from the whole run-up to the November Nine, I did enjoy the comprehensive coverage of the finale (as I mentioned last week), and so am glad a decent number of others appear to have, too.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Fill of Phil

Phil Hellmuth recently appeared as a guest on Rounders co-scriptor Brian Koppelman’s “The Moment” podcast which is part of the Grantland “pop culture” category of content.

I’d heard something about the appearance, but hadn’t got around to listening. Then after all of the ruckus regarding Daniel Colman’s comment in a Two Plus Two thread about the show calling Hellmuth -- or, at least, “people of his attitude and character” -- “a cancer to this world,” I decided to dial it up, perhaps to listen and weigh in here about it.

Hellmuth is no doubt a fascinating character in poker. He’s also one of a very few in the game known to non-players or casual observers of the game and its subculture.

Occasionally I’ll get asked about him by those who’ve seen his antics on television. “Is he really such a jerk?” the question usually goes. I can’t really answer without lots of qualifications. Yes, I’ll say, he’s awful at the tables. But those who know him best insist he’s a “good guy.” And he’s also highly diverting for those of us who report on tourneys, always adding an extra layer of entertainment (for better or worse) to what can sometimes be plodding proceedings.

I don’t go deeper into Hellmuth’s troubling association with UltimateBet or other possible marks against him. Or for him, for that matter.

I’ve written here before about my ambivalence toward the Poker Brat. A couple of years ago there was a lot of talk following his 13th bracelet win (in the WSOP Europe Main Event) that perhaps the WSOP would be signing him up in some capacity to represent the brand and/or the (then still-to-come) online site.

Some seemed weirdly enthusiastic about such a possibility, but I wasn’t. Referring both to his UB/Cereus past and consistently poor behavior at the tables, I concluded “the WSOP could do much, much better than to hire the world’s whiniest winner and poker’s poorest sport” as a representative.

All of which probably explains why I couldn’t even get through the first half-hour of Koppelman’s podcast, during which Hellmuth…

  • shares details regarding his extensive charity work,
  • suggests that he’s earned everything he’s got in poker without being backed,
  • insists “the only place to measure poker greatness is by bracelets won,”
  • brags “I’ve crushed people in the mixed games” and “I’m the biggest winner on Poker Night in America,”
  • notes how everyone respects him and he gets along with everybody,
  • laments how he missed out on a big contract with an online site worth $20 million-ish when Black Friday arrived,
  • drops names (including Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton),
  • reports “I’m under siege for autographs everywhere I go,”
  • and also -- repeatedly -- explains that he’s never cheated on his wife despite having had opportunities to do so.
  • Koppelman does gamely try during that opening blast to dig beneath the surface a little, and perhaps he gets there later on. But I found it too much of a struggle to give another moment to “The Moment,” having heard enough PR from PH to last a while.

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    Monday, November 17, 2014

    UP Goes Down

    Sour news to end last week with the announcement from Ultimate Poker they were folding for good. Brings to mind how often it seems those players who show up early for tournaments and get seated first end up being among the first to be eliminated.

    I’m looking at the website this evening the front page of which doesn’t even reflect the fact that UP is done. There’s the notice to New Jersey players, first posted less than two months ago to announce Ultimate Poker was leaving the Garden State, but one has to dig around a little to learn that the Nevada games ended today, withdrawals can be made as usual for the next week, and any remaining player balances will be refunded by check thereafter.

    The New Jersey pull-out had seemed primarily consequent to the troubles of Trump Taj Mahal Associates, the land-based casino with which UP had partnered up. Details of “multiple breaches” of their agreement on the part of the Trump group -- not the least of which being TTMA’s owing UP’s parent company some significant cabbage -- all colored that move as unsurprising and not necessarily indicative of Ultimate’s shutdown being imminent.

    That said, the prospects for Ultimate in Nevada were hardly rosy. The front page of the website not being updated to reflect the latest news seems kind of emblematic, in fact, of the feeling of stasis that has characterized Ultimate Poker pretty much from the get-go.

    The news caused me over the weekend to look back at what I posted here on April 30, 2013, the day Ultimate Poker dealt its first hand in Nevada. Seems hard to believe that was only a little over a year-and-a-half ago, but as often happens in “poker time” things move quickly. And for UP, it all moved much too quickly, and mostly in the wrong direction.

    In that post I was hopeful for UP, if not overly optimistic. My main concern then was that the site successfully operate “minus the scandals and other problems that became such a conspicuous part of our previous experience with online poker here in the States.”

    It did that, I suppose -- the fact that the funds in all of the 25,000 NV accounts with money in them will be reclaimed (as the UP account tweeted) is a kind of faint silver lining. But as the tweets and forum posts have been spelling out in bits and pieces, while there was an adherence to the regulations that permitted the site to serve U.S. customers, the company’s management perhaps wasn’t quite as disciplined.

    Terrence Chan’s thoughtful “post-mortem” video blog provides insight along those lines. Posts by “Union of the Snake” on 2+2 (here and here) provide some interesting reading as well, with the points made corresponding closely to those made by a “wise man” on a certain podcast just a few days before, one regular listeners know more often than not opens with an ’80s ear worm.

    The slow-moving story of Online Poker 2.0 in the U.S. will continue pretty much as it had even when Ultimate Poker was still sitting short-stacked at a table full of short stacks. But the inauspicious launch and fall of the first to the table can’t be much of a source of encouragement for those still in the game.

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    Friday, November 14, 2014

    Newhouse’s Ninth (Second Movement)

    Back in mid-July when I was churning out preview articles during the World Series of Poker Main Event, I noted before the start of Day 4 how of the 746 players remaining, the only November Niner from 2013 left in the field was Mark Newhouse.

    I made a reference in that day’s preview to Dan Harrington’s back-to-back final tables in 2003 and 2004, stubbornly suggesting the possibility that Newhouse could be the first since then to achieve the feat despite his being 131st of the 746 in the counts. I was as amazed as everyone else to see him sticking around through the next three days’ worth of poker -- even leading at the end of Day 5 with 79 left -- to make it to the final table again.

    In 2013 he was eighth of nine to start the final table, and so his ninth-place finish wasn’t too unexpected. This year he was third in chips with nine to go, encouraging most to expect a deeper run.

    On Monday night he’d suffer a setback in Hand #44 versus Andoni Larrabe. In that one Newhouse held pocket eights, but lost after Larrabe turned a set with his pocket fives -- a hand nicknamed “presto,” also the tempo performance direction of the second movement of Beethoven’s ninth.

    As it would happen, Newhouse would choose a speedy pace thereafter in what would prove his final hand.

    Newhouse would get back what he lost to Larrabe and then some right away, chipping back to 23.7 million (47 BBs) just a few hands before his showdown with William Tonking in Hand #56.

    I’d been following the updates on PokerNews beforehand, and so knew when watching the hand develop what was about to happen. Was still suspenseful to see play out, though, in that oh-no-don’t-go-in-there-that’s-where-the-boogeyman-is kind of way. Particularly during the 10-second interval between Tonking’s river check and Newhouse’s fateful shove.

    Newhouse had another middle pair -- pocket tens -- in the hand, and would bust in ninth when Tonking called his shove holding pocket queens. As it would happen, Martin Jacobson would be holding two tens as well in the hand that won him the bracelet a night later.

    Jonathan Grotenstein has written an entertaining account of the final table for All In that touches on Newhouse’s story (among others). He notes the contrast between the extensive preparation of the other Niners over the last four months and the hiatus from poker taken by Newhouse, a time spent “doing his best not to think about anything at all.”

    Speaking with several non-poker playing friends the last few days about what happened in the Main Event, Newhouse’s story is the easiest one to foreground. That would be true even if he weren’t from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, making his story kind of a “local” story, too.

    Chapel Hill’s Mark Newhouse stunned after early elimination at World Series of Poker” went the headline in The Charlotte Observer. The article describes him as “the man who said he wanted to finish anywhere but ninth,” though doesn’t mention that incredible-in-retrospect tweet from Newhouse from back in July (see left).

    I tell my friends about how remarkable it was for Newhouse to make the final nine of 6,352 one year then do it again in a field of 6,693 the next, never mind to finish ninth both times. Searching for analogies to help describe going out first at the final table both years, I reach initially for the Buffalo Bills’ four straight Super Bowl defeats, another example of an incredible achievement ending in defeat. Or the Patriots going 18-0 and then losing Super Bowl XLII.

    But neither seems quite right as a comparison. Newhouse’s second straight ninth-place finish in the WSOP Main Event is a unique feat, a wonder highlighting poker’s capacity not only to provide us with a head-spinning number of possible outcomes but sometimes also to produce the one result that would seem the least likely of all.

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    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table Hole Cards (Complete)

    As I did in 2012 and 2013, I’ve once more gone through the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event to chronicle all of the hole cards shown during ESPN’s broadcast. Unlike in the past, you can find this year’s list over on PokerNews in a handy table form with the added bonus of links to each of the hand reports. I have also added the players’ positions, something I didn’t do in past years.

    Here it is: “Complete List of All Hole Cards Shown During the 2014 WSOP Main Event Final Table.”

    This year ESPN handled the hole card thing a little differently, although some may not have realized it. In the past they’d only show hole cards after a hand completed, and only of the players who were still in the pot at the very end. This time they’d show cards whenever a player entered a pot voluntarily from the start of the hand.

    Thus there was no guesswork when watching the hands regarding what cards players held, which changed the nature of the commentary quite a bit. I saw a lot of divisive commentary on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday nights about Antonio Esfandiari’s analyses. While I only listened to it in bits and pieces as I gathered hands today, I’m gonna say he, Lon McEachern, and Norman Chad all acquitted themselves just fine once again on that front -- a very challenging task, really.

    While there could be errors in my list -- there were 328 hands all told -- I think it’s likely more accurate than my lists from the past two years, in part because I was able to use both my DVR recording and some backup from WatchESPN online to help with a few hands my recording didn’t catch. If you can believe it, I actually used an old school VCR before, which made putting the list together a lot more taxing.

    Anyhow, I hope the list will be of use to some looking to analyze more deeply the play at the 2014 WSOP ME final table. Excuse me now if I step away from the keyboard for a while, as my fingers are tired and brain is a big bowl of mush at the moment.

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    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 4 -- Turn 21, Win a WPT

    The last day of the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble was an enjoyable one, with Eric and I doing the hand-for-hand updates of the final table eventually won by Ryan Van Sanford who’d just turned 21 back on Saturday.

    This was a televised tournament, meaning they had the whole crew there including Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, and Lynn Gilmartin shooting all of the on-site footage that’ll end up going into the broadcast some months from now. That’s a shot of the trophy presentation above, with the WPT cup on which they etch the names of the champs appearing about as big as Van Sanford.

    Van Sanford had the chip lead going into the final table, and among the final six definitely appeared one of the stronger players left. I’d also pegged Jason Helder as a likely candidate to win, although he ran into series of really unfortunate hands during the first two levels -- e.g., flopping two pair versus a set, flopping trips and chopping with an opponent who had the same hand, running pocket queens into pocket aces -- that made it hard for him to avoid going out in fifth.

    Got a chance to talk to Helder some in the airport this morning who’s a friendly guy and a good player. He’s had some success over recent years including a dozen WSOP cashes and a final table, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him showing up at more final tables sooner than later.

    Despite his age, Van Sanford has also racked up a number of cashes this year playing in Florida where you can play poker if you’re 18 or older. I didn’t really talk to him too much -- just a brief chat about a hand once -- but he struck me as very mature for his age. I also heard other players saying the same at the tables, including Mike Gracz and Jacob Bazeley who were making a similar comment to him as they got down to the last 18 or so.

    On the dinner break the night before the final table I was sitting for awhile with Van Sanford and Farhan Madhani, the latter being another strong player who ended up finishing seventh in the tournament after clashing in a big hand with Van Sanford before going out (the one I’d asked Van Sanford about, in fact).

    I liked overhearing Madhani giving Van Sanford good advice about handling things going forward, especially if he were to go on to win (as he did). Very cool, I thought, for a guy with more experience to help out another like that.

    As I say, covering the final table was fun and as always it’s kind of a marvel to watch the WPT crew in action as they create all of the materials on the fly that will be put together in the edited show later. The fan boy in me can’t help but enjoy seeing Sexton and Van Patten seated over to the side -- just as they appear on the show -- delivering their commentary in bits and pieces along the way. It’s all impressive to watch, and highly entertaining as well.

    Speaking of watching poker, I did get back in the hotel room in time to watch the finish of the WSOP Main Event and Martin Jacobson’s remarkable win. I’d actually picked Jacobson despite his eighth-place stack going in, and he obviously had to withstand some risky spots on Monday night in order to get chips with which to battle. But once he did, “MJ” was certainly playing above the rim the whole way, and emerges as a most deserving winner.

    I managed to DVR all of it and so will likely have more to say about the November Nine once I get to sit down and watch it. Meanwhile, as much fun as Jacksonville was, I’m looking forward to getting back home. More to come this week from the farm.

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    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 3 -- Same Old Gold

    Have a couple of quick highlights from yesterday’s Day 3 of the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble to share.

    They played down from 27 to six players yesterday, starting at noon and winding up right around 10 p.m. to make it an much earlier finish than we had the first three days here.

    Ryan Van Sanford of Fort Lauderdale ended the night with the chip lead. I knew Van Sanford was young, and likely the youngest of the final 27 when play began. Heard someone say he was just 21 at one point, confirming that suspicion. Then at the end of the night when the final tablists filled out their bio sheets I learned he only turned 21 last Saturday. Couldn’t help but reflect a little after that on where I was back in late 1993 (i.e., in grad school already).

    Jamie Gold ended up making it to the final two tables before going out in 16th place. Again, as I was noting yesterday, there was lots of table talk from Gold and other evidence to support what Christian Harder tweeted earlier in the event when referring to Gold: “He played and talked exactly like he did when he won the WSOP.”

    Again, it was a kind of uncanny watching Gold perform, given how strongly it was echoing the behavior most of us saw back during the 2006 WSOP coverage. There were pretty much all of the same antics that both make watching the game more interesting but also drive some of the players kind of nuts with the way he pushes the boundaries of angle-shooting and rule-testing.

    Early yesterday I noticed him frequently saying “nice hand” whenever an opponent showed any resistance on an early street. That is, he wasn’t saying it after a hand completed, but during it, such as when he would bet the flop and an opponent would call. No idea what effect it was having on other players, but as a reporter it was jarring to keep hearing the phrase at the wrong moment like that when following the action.

    There was one fun hand that saw Gold fold on the turn in the face of an all-in shove from Harvey Vandeven. His fold was preceded by a lot of anguished talk as he revolved his hole cards in his hand, exposing them for those who were curious (which would warrant a penalty), though not exactly showing them. He also was saying what he held, though again, not exactly.

    Finally he folded, showing he indeed had what he was indicating he had. Then Vandeven showed one of his cards to reveal Gold was ahead when he folded, and that produced a lot of merriment at the table and some good-natured congratulations from Gold. Here’s the hand report, if you’re curious.

    He’s a character, all right. Definitely possesses what on the surface appears to be a lot of humility about himself and his game, yet his words and actions are often so ambiguous its hard to know what’s sincere and what isn’t. In any case, he added some extra entertainment to what has already been a pretty fun tournament thus far. (Photo of Gold above by Joe Giron.)

    Harder ended up getting all of the way to the final 10 before running pocket queens into not one but two players holding pocket aces. Before the community cards were dealt, Jason Helder cracked that it would be funny if Harder’s opponents made a set, and Harder quick-wittedly replied that he was pulling for that to happen (as it would mean a fouled deck).

    Others making deep runs included another blast-from-the-past of sorts, Mike Gracz (who finished 11th), Jacob Bazeley (15th), David Diaz (18th), Darryll Fish (21st), Shannon Shorr (26th), and Anthony Zinno (27th).

    They don’t start back until 4 p.m. today, so you can check over at the WPT site beginning then for updates to see if Van Sanford wins. I’m going to assume he’d be a youngest-ever WPT champion -- I believe Nick Schulman won one at 21, too -- but I don’t know for sure.

    We’ll probably be edging toward a conclusion by the time the WSOP Main Event picks back up tonight three-handed. I did end up watching some of that last night -- getting back in the room just in time to see Newhouse’s incredible bustout in ninth again. I’ll probably write more about that later in the week after I return, but for now my attention points back to the bestbet Jacksonville for one more day.

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    Monday, November 10, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 2 -- Chip in the Box

    Day 2 at the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble was a marathon of a day, lasting from noon until after 2 a.m. They played from 161 players down to 27, with Jason Helder who ended the Day 1 flights with the chip lead still the pace-setter with a leading stack.

    Jamie Gold is among those still in the hunt, too. In fact he was the first player to get to 1 million chips yesterday before coming back to the pack by night’s end. He again was the source of a lot of table talk and interaction, making things a degree more interesting for the observer than is usually the case. Can’t speak to how his presence and behavior affected others who were playing with him, but most seemed to roll with it.

    I was writing about reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 on the way here, a time-travel story. Indeed, there’s a “time travel” feel to watching Gold here doing all the same things we saw him doing back in 2006 during his Main Event run.

    Daniel Strelitz (54th), Zo Karim (49th), last year’s “Scramble” winner Jared Jaffee (47th), Matt Jarvis (45th), Mohsin Charania (44th), John Racener (39th), former NFL player Richard Seymour (37th), and last year’s third-place “Scramble” finisher Margo Costa (33rd) were among those cashing yesterday.

    Probably the most memorable moment yesterday came shortly after they’d reached the money. Matt Jarvis was actually the shortest stack in the room with 55 left, and only 54 paid. But he survived into the money, then shortly after had won a pot that saw the dealer sweeping chips afterwards to him seated next to him in Seat 1.

    The dealer got a little too close to the jackpot box in between them with the move, and a chip found its way into the box which led to a lot of hilarity and a little consternation as there wasn’t a key handy to get in there to retrieve it. (See pic above by the great Joe Giron.)

    In fact, it wasn’t clear at the time if just one chip fell in or perhaps more, and so when play continued while a key was fetched and Jarvis got involved in a hand, that created a somewhat intriguing situation. You can read about “Jarvis and the Jackpot Box” here.

    Gonna close it here as Day 3 is already almost here. Check the WPT site for updates today in between tuning into the November Nine and following the PokerNews coverage of that tonight.

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    Sunday, November 09, 2014

    Travel Report: Season XIII WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, Day 1b -- Scrambling from the Start

    These last two days have been two of the more enjoyable Day 1s I can remember covering in a poker tournament. There are a lot of factors leading me to say that, among them getting to work with great folks including a friendly and cooperative venue staff. Again, though -- as I mentioned yesterday -- having these bounties made the early stage of the tournament much more interesting both for the players and those covering them. And the “chip leader bonus” for the end-of-day leader once more provided a lot of excitement as things wound down, too.

    To clarify, there were a total of 40 bounties worth $2,500 assigned to particular players, some more than once after they busted and re-entered. There was also a $5,000 prize given to the player ending Day 1a with the chip lead, then another $5K for the Day 1b leader. The money for those prizes didn’t come from the prize pool, by the way.

    The bestbet Jacksonville also ran a ton of satellites for the $5K event, which definitely helped boost the numbers. Ultimately they drew 461 entries, which to be honest was probably about twice what I thought it would be before coming down here. Thus they’ve more than doubled the $2 million guarantee.

    I mentioned excitement at the end of the night yesterday associated with the “chip leader bonus.” Several players were bunched around the 280,000-chip mark, and in fact 2006 WSOP Main Event champion Jamie Gold -- with whom I ended up chatting a few times during the day -- was one of them. Then on one of the very last hands of the night there was a set over set over set situation (no shinola) that resulted in Corey Hochman surging up to 324,000 to end the day with the lead to win the prize.

    Gotta run as play is soon starting again. Check over at the WPT site for updates on Day 2 today where 161 players return, 15 of them bounties.

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