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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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ain’t No Stopping Now... Panama!

In an airport again. Has been a while, after I stayed home on the farm all summer during the World Series of Poker. Am now about to take a quick post-WSOP trip down to Panama City for the LAPT Panama event that runs from Wednesday through Sunday.

The Main is a $1,500+$150 buy-in with a couple of starting days. It’s the third year the tour has made it to Panama. They drew 338 two years ago (with a $2,300+$200 buy-in), then last fall with the same price tag there were 570 total entries. It’s the third event of Season 7 for the tour, following Chile and Brazil.

This’ll be a first trip to Panama for me, one of a couple of LAPT stops I’ve yet to visit. I’ve never even been to Central America. Am curious to see the skyline and canal and whatever else I can this week, while I am also looking forward to reuniting with all the LAPT folks and players once more.

I think there might be a few making the trip from the U.S., perhaps more than is usually the case for these LAPT events. I say that both because this one falls in the middle of a relatively quiet period on the poker calendar and the trip down isn’t nearly as arduous as the ones down to the lower part of South America. Saw Chris Moneymaker tweet that he may make it, and I’ve heard a few other U.S. players may be going, too.

Indeed, I’m looking at about five hours’ flying time total, which seems like nothing compared to the two-day long voyages I’m often taking for the LAPT events. Will definitely be nice to be there by the afternoon and (hopefully) not be much fatigued from the travel.

Jump back... what’s that sound? Ah, the boarding announcement. Better cut this short. Back with reports from Central America this week.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

On James Garner, Who Portrayed a Poker Player and a P.I.

Actor James Garner passed away over the weekend at the age of 86. Much beloved for a variety of roles, Garner’s most famous ones actually covered special areas of interest for your humble scribbler -- one a poker player and the other a private investigator.

Those of my generation probably most remember Garner from The Rockford Files, the TV series in which he played a private investigator. It originally aired from 1974 to 1980 then stuck around a long while in syndication, and I remember watching it a lot with my Dad. The groovy theme song is pretty firmly etched in my memory.

Besides having engaging, problem-solver plots, the show also highlighted a father-and-son relationship between Jim Rockford (Garner) and his Dad, Rocky (played by Noah Beery, Jr.), and looking back I’m realizing how as a kid that aspect of the show was appealing to me as well.

For those of my Dad’s generation, though, most probably most readily associate Garner with the poker-playing Bret Maverick character he portrayed on TV from 1957 to 1962. I have no memory of watching that one, although I know I did see a few reruns as a kid. And in fact the bouncy theme song to that series describing the Old West hero “livin’ on jacks and queens” sits faintly tucked away in the back of my noggin, too:

I wrote about Bret Maverick once in a “Poker & Pop Culture” piece a while back, a fictional character uniquely associated with poker demonstrating the meaningful connection between the game and the Old West. I also wrote here several years ago about a reprint of a book I’d picked up called Maverick’s Guide to Poker which had been reissued following the 1994 film.

I’m of course familiar with the film adaptation starring Mel Gibson -- I often show a clip of the climactic poker scene in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class -- and while it’s thoroughly entertaining it isn’t necessarily my favorite “poker movie.” Garner does a turn there, too, getting introduced as a supporting character, Marshal Zane Cooper. (And now that I think about it, there is kind of a father-son thing going on there as well.)

By the way, Nolan Dalla shared a nice story yesterday about Garner dating from 2006 when he turned up to play in that year’s World Series of Poker Main Event and on one of the starting days agreed at the very last minute to deliver the traditional directive to “shuffle up and deal” -- only Garner handled it a little differently than expected.

Check out “A James Garner Poker Story.”

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Friday, July 18, 2014

WPT Alpha8 High Rolling into a Second Season

Among the poker news items here at week’s end is that the World Poker Tour’s Alpha8 is coming back for a second season, that “high roller” series which featured four stops during its first season in Florida, London, St. Kitts, and Johannesburg.

The new season will begin with a return trip to London in October, where the buy-in will be £60,000, roughly the equivalent of the usual $100K price tag for these tourneys. For the first go-round for the Alpha8 in London the buy-in was £100,000.

Then in December the tour goes to the Bellagio for a $100,000 event. That stop will coincide with a regular WPT stop, which may well help increase the overall turnout there.

With the first season done, I was curious to look through just who played those first four Alpha8 events, all of which featured small fields with many of the same players showing up to more than one of them.

The Florida stop (which I had a chance to cover) drew 18 players and 21 total entries. In London there were again 18 players, and with two re-entries a total of 20 buy-ins.

St. Kitts was the most popular Alpha8 stop during the first season, with 28 total entries and 23 individual players. Then only nine players made it to South Africa for the final stop, with one re-buying to make the total entries 10.

I’ve been watching some of the shows on Fox Sports 1 which have been entertaining, though very different in feel from most other poker programming thanks largely to the small fields -- more Poker After Dark or High Stakes Poker, I suppose, than the usual WPT shows or the WSOP broadcasts.

A total of 43 different players have taken part in WPT Alpha8 events thus far. Three have played all four of them -- Jeff Gross, Philipp Gruissem, and Erik Seidel. Gruissem won twice (London and St. Kitts), Gross finished third and in the money once (Florida), and Seidel went 0-for-4.

One other player has spent more than Seidel on Alpha8 buy-ins so far, with Antonio Esfandiari firing five times total in three events, including twice in London where the buy-in was £100,000. That adds up to about $640,000 total (with no cashes for the Magician).

A total of 14 of the 43 players who have participated in Alpha8 events have cashed in at least one, with Scott Seiver the only one besides Gruissem to make the money twice (finishing second in London and fifth in St. Kitts).

Here’s a table showing the entries and results for the 43 Alpha8 players (click to embiggen):

Will be interesting to see if the second season attracts different players and/or if fields grow or remain in the usual two-to-three table range.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

From Eugene Edwards' Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game (1900)

Published in 1900, Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game by Eugene Edwards collects numerous anecdotes about poker as it was played during the 19th century, all of which add up to a convincing testament to the game’s popularity as well as to its special relationship to American culture more than a century ago.

Before getting into the various stories of particular characters and notable hands that make up the historical narrative, Edwards uses the first chapter to explain “What Is Poker -- Its Origin, and Why We Like It.”

He begins with a general observation about Americans being especially eager when it comes to playing games, our fondness for baseball being a primary example and our readiness to import other games (golf from Scotland, lacrosse from India, etc.) further demonstrating such a predilection. Card-playing is special, though, says Edwards, because of its accessibility to all, no matter how old or young.

He then rattles through various card games of the day, dismissing each for various reasons as coming up short of representing “the Great American Game.” Euchre, for example -- “the ladies’ game” -- is too French. Seven-up is “the country boy’s game.” And whist is both too closely identified with England (even the Queen plays it) and requiring of “too much brain work.”

“When you shuffle up all the games, however, there is one that stands out before and beyond all the others,” Edwards continues, “like a lighthouse on the sea coast or a water tank on a prairie, and that is POKER.”

From there he offers a thumbnail sketch of the game’s origins, taking a few shots in passing at the European nations whose games were precursors to poker for their failure to embrace “the modern and perfected game” of poker (“we know how cordially Europeans detest innovations”). Such is probably the most dated of the sentiments in the chapter, given the game’s widespread popularity in Europe today.

“Therefore we may say with truth that America monopolizes the game of poker, and it certainly is the game that best fits our national character,” Edwards triumphantly concludes, speaking of how the game requires nerve, money, strength, and brains each of which (in his estimation) are areas where “we lead the world.”

Edwards edges closer to jingoism as he successively dismisses Germans, the French, and the English as not nearly as well suited for poker as are Americans. But despite the heavy-handed commentary, he does make several salient observations about the game itself, praising in particular its accessibility (being easy to learn) and its ongoing challenge (the learning never stops).

“It is such a simple game to learn,” writes Edwards, noting how a person with any familiarity at all with other card games “can be taught the game of poker in a half hour -- and then spend the rest of his life learning it.”

“That is the main beauty of the game,” he continues. “You think you know it all after you have played ten hands and then after a hundred seances you begin to realize there is something for you to learn. There is so much human nature in it, and human nature is so complex.”

By 1900, poker had well established itself in American culture, a pastime which could be referenced just a few years later by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in his “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings as an instantly recognizable aspect of modern American life. Edwards notes how by the time of his writing the game had already endured a period of demonization by opponents and survived, alluding to a time “thirty or forty years ago... when cards were held up to scorn as the invention of the devil, and all card players were placed but a shade above a forger or pickpocket.”

That time, Edwards insists, had by then passed. “We do not hear so much of that wild talk nowadays,” he reports.

Of course, such “wild talk” would never go away entirely, returning again and again throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fifteen Years of Multiple Bracelet Winners

In 1999, Eli Balas won his second of three career World Series of Poker bracelets in that year’s $5,000 limit hold’em event. Balas topped a field of 110 to win, including besting Annie Duke heads-up on Mother’s Day. In fact, according to Conjelco’s report on the event, Balas had at one point been down to just 500 chips at a time when that represented less than one big bet, but had come back to win.

That report says the finish represented Balas’s first bracelet win, although in fact the Israeli-born Las Vegas resident had won one seven years before in an Omaha Hi-Low event. It also says his best finish prior to that was a third-place showing, but earlier in that year’s WSOP he’d come runner-up in the $2,500 seven-card stud event to David Grey.

In other words, Balas just missed being a multiple-bracelet winner in 1999, something no player accomplished that spring when only 16 events were contested.

I was reading about Balas last night. I had been looking up when the last time there had been a WSOP without at least one player winning multiple bracelets, and I was kind of surprised to have to go all of the way back to 1999 to find the most recent instance.

Here are the multiple bracelet winners from 2000-onward:

  • 2000: Chris Ferguson (2)
  • 2001: Scotty Nguyen (2), Nani Dollison (2)
  • 2002: Phil Ivey (3), Layne Flack (2)
  • 2003: John Juanda (2), Johnny Chan (2), Layne Flack (2), Men Nguyen (2), Phil Hellmuth (2), Chris Ferguson (2)
  • 2004: Ted Forrest (2), Scott Fischman (2)
  • 2005: Mark Seif (2)
  • 2006: Bill Chen (2), Jeff Madsen (2)
  • 2007: Tom Schneider (2)
  • 2008: John Phan (2), Jesper Hougaard (2)
  • 2009: Jeffrey Lisandro (3), Brock Parker (2), Phil Ivey (2), Greg Mueller (2), J.P. Kelly (2)
  • 2010: Frank Kassela (2)
  • 2011: Brian Rast (2)
  • 2012: Antonio Esfandiari (2), Phil Hellmuth (2), Greg Merson (2)
  • 2013: Daniel Negreanu (2), Tom Schneider (2)
  • 2014: George Danzer (2), Dominik Nitsche (2)
  • I was just writing about that huge collection of multiple bracelet winners in 2003 a few weeks back after Joe Cada won his bracelet this summer, making him the first of the last 12 ME winners (going back to 2002) to follow the ME triumph with another bracelet win.

    Worth noting from this list is how Hougaard (2008), Kelly (2009), Esfandiari (2012), Hellmuth (2012), and Negreanu (2013) all won one bracelet at the WSOP in Las Vegas and another either at WSOP Europe or WSOP Asia Pacific. Also, I should say that after I initially compiled this list Kevmath reminded me about Dominik Nitsche being a multiple-bracelet winner this summer, too, after following his WSOP National Championship win (for which he earned a bracelet) with another victory in a $1K NLHE event.

    Even without counting those guys, though, there has been at least one player every year to pick up at least two bracelets in Vegas since 2000.

    Feels like kind of an improbable streak, doesn’t it? Fifteen straight years? Sure, there were 65 events this summer (64 of which have completed), but back in 2000 there were just 24 (albeit with much smaller fields, too). Seems remarkable, and not unrelated to that “same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year” discussion from yesterday.

    Wouldn’t really know how to begin to work out the probability of such a streak to occur -- if anyone is inspired to do so, I’d be curious to know.

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    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    November Nine Not New to Newhouse

    Before the bubble burst in the World Series of Poker Main Event when there were still 746 players left, I wrote a Day 4 preview in which I included a few “Regarding the Record Books” items collected in a short section near the end.

    The obvious item to include in that category was Ronnie Bardah going for his fifth straight year of cashing in the ME, something he’d manage to accomplish that day. Bardah broke a tie with a half-dozen other players to establish a new record all on his own.

    Allen Cunningham entered the day with 314,000 chips -- the average was a little under 269,000 -- and with only 53 eliminations to go until the money looked like he’d probably be picking up his seventh career ME cash and thus move into a tie for fifth on the all-time list. So Im mentioned that. He didn’t get it.

    Finally, I noted how Mark Newhouse was the sole remaining November Niner from a year ago still alive in the event, tossing in that if he somehow made it back to the final table it would be the first time in 10 years anyone ever pulled off the feat. Dan Harrington, of course, finished third in 2003 (when 839 played) and fourth in 2004 (when 2,576 did), marking the last time it had been done.

    Really, though, that was a stretch even to mention before Day 4. “There’s a long way to go,” I added by way of disclaimer, noting that Newhouse still had four days of poker to survive to make it there.

    The Chapel Hill, North Carolina native entered that Day 4 in 131st of 746 -- a bit better than Cunningham’s position, but by no means in an especially advantageous spot to assure a deep run. By day’s end there’d be 291 left and he was 27th in the counts. Then after Day 5 he’d pushed into the chip lead with 79 remaining, and the idea of a return trip to the final table began occurring to many.

    He would start Day 7 in 11th position of 27, which made referring to the possibility much more reasonable in yesterday’s preview. Then he did it, finishing last night third in chips of the final nine.

    So far in two consecutive Main Events Newhouse has outlasted 13,017 players -- a lot more than Harrington did during his back-to-back final tables, not to take away from the accomplishment of “Action Dan.” Was thinking at first that had to be a record, then I remembered Dennis Phillips took third in 2008 (out of 6,844) then 45th in 2009 (out of 6,494), meaning Phillips outran 13,290 others during those two years.

    Something kind of incredible, though, about final tabling this tourney in consecutive years.

    People on the forums are rightly bringing up Mike’s old line from Rounders, the one he says with agitation to Jo when defending poker as a skill game. “Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year?” he asks. “What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?”

    The line was more applicable in 1998 than today, although even then the fields for the WSOP Main Event were getting big enough that you weren’t seeing too many return trips to the final table by players. That’s why Harrington’s was so special, as was Mike Matusow’s in 2005 (after having gotten there in 2001) and the near-miss of 2001 champion Carlos Mortensen last year when he finished 10th.

    Those quoting the line with reference to Newhouse are doing so ironically. With so many playing, it’s absurd to think the same guys are going to get back to the WSOP ME final table “every year.”

    But somehow Newhouse is there again. Part of another November Nine. And another four-month delay during which he’ll be earning a lot more attention this time than he did last year.

    There are some stories in this final nine -- the foosball champion, the Dutch leader with some big online scores and stories, the first Brazilian ever to make a WSOP ME final table, a couple who’ve never cashed at the WSOP at all and a few others with only a few small scores in prelims before.

    But Newhouse’s return will be the main thread in the narrative from here to November, there’s no doubt. As it should be.

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    Monday, July 14, 2014

    The Last Day of the Summer in the Middle of July

    The best part of the summer ending at the World Series of Poker when it does is that there’s still half the summer to go.

    Today marks the final day of play at the 2014 WSOP until November as the Main Event will be playing down from 27 to a final table before once again -- as they’ve done every year since 2008 -- pausing the tournament for nearly four months before finishing things out.

    That “November Nine”-era exactly encompasses my own reporting on the WSOP, as 2008 was the first time I went out to Las Vegas to help PokerNews report on the Series. I continued going out every summer since until this one, this time instead staying close to the farm while I helped out the team with articles and in other ways from afar.

    Today, for example, I’ve written a preview of Day 7 mentioning all 27 of the players and highlighting a few of the more interesting storylines. Check it out: “WSOP What to Watch For: Main Event Day 7 Preview -- From 27 to the November Nine.”

    After doing essentially the same thing for six years, this year following the action and writing about it from home has been different, for sure. I was saying late last week that now’s the time I probably miss being out there the most, with this day -- the day they play down to nine -- has always been the “finale” (so to speak) for me when it comes to the WSOP.

    It does make for a fairly exciting finish, although still -- after seven years of it -- I still think the day is anticlimactic and the delay not preferable. But after writing thousands and thousands of words about the WSOP this summer, I suppose I’m more or less ready for the “end” -- of sorts -- to come.

    Last year we reported 633 hands total on Day 7 (i.e., all of them). Check the PokerNews live updates today for hand-for-hand reports all of the way from 27 players down to nine.

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    Friday, July 11, 2014

    Poker and “The Truth”

    Now’s the time -- probably the only time all summer -- that I’m genuinely missing being out in Las Vegas.

    The first days of the Main Event are always intriguing, in particular because they are often the only time all summer you see a certain category of recreational player well represented in the field -- amateurs taking big shots, the “bucket list” guys, and so on -- and as I was saying yesterday I think ESPN has dropped the ball somewhat by ignoring that part of the tournament (especially this year as they are skipping all of the way ahead to Day 4 in their coverage).

    That said, it’s true that when the money gets closer, the bubble bursts, and then the last few days play out that things get really fun, even for those of us just watching. Again, part of the enjoyment comes from the fact that some of those amateurs are still in the sucker, their lives being affected in significant ways with every hour that goes by. But the pros rise up, too, and the poker gets more and more intriguing to follow.

    And, of course, there’s that hard-to-explain feeling of coming to the end of a long journey with everyone involved -- players, staff, colleagues -- that makes the last days of the WSOP so special each summer. So I’m missing that.

    I am enjoying the coverage, though, and in particular got a big kick out of the interview Rich Ryan and Eric Danis got to do yesterday with NBA player Paul Pierce for PokerNews/GPI. Pierce would be an example of that sort of player I’m describing -- the amateur kind of taking a shot, even if for “The Truth” (Pierce’s nick) the bankroll pressure isn’t quite the same as it would be for most.

    I loved Pierce’s enthusiasm when talking about why he likes poker (the competitive aspect unsurprisingly is the game’s biggest draw for him). I wrote a little summary of the visit while embedding the video over on Learn.PokerNews -- it’s worth a look if you’re a basketball fan, or even if you just like seeing somebody who enjoys poker talk about why he does.

    Click over and watch it, if you are curious: “‘It’s a Beautiful Game’: NBA Star Paul Pierce Talks Poker at the WSOP.”

    I was saying something similar here last Friday. I enjoy hearing these positive messages about poker, but I think I also just enjoy watching/hearing people enjoy themselves, no matter what they are doing.

    Pierce would bust before the end of the night, but was smiling ear to ear even as he left. ’Cos the truth is, poker really is a beautiful game.

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